Nashville Looks Good On You

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This trip to Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d had this vision of going out there and writing a load of songs and going to show after show after show and seeing all the friends I’ve made out there. I managed to do some of those things – and I’m really proud of what I achieved – but my mental health really dominated the trip, much more than I’d hoped it would.

We got off to a pretty rocky start when I forgot to take my medication the night before we flew out. We had to leave at two o’clock in the morning so I never really went to bed and therefore my nightly routine was disrupted. Plus I was excited and nervous and just generally all over the place. We got to the airport and I couldn’t even walk the distance to security, I was so completely out of energy. I thought it was the lack of sleep and stress of travelling but I physically couldn’t do it. We ended up asking the airport staff for assistance and they were absolutely amazing, at every airport we travelled through over the trip: they got me a wheelchair and took me wherever I needed to be, getting me early access to the planes, and so on. It was so helpful and honestly made the whole thing possible. I don’t know what I would’ve done without their help. It took a few days to recover and it was only then that we realised what had caused it.

The reason we go at this time of year is because the Nashville Songwriters Association International hold the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, where hundreds of songwriters perform songs that they’ve written. They have a great mix of famous and up and coming so you get a lot of different, beautifully written songs. All of the shows that I went to were good and some of them were fantastic. My favourites include Lori McKenna, Alyssa Micaela, Emily Shackelton, Hannah Ellis, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows. They were truly incredible.

There were a couple of other musical highlights too. By some wonderful coincidence, Kelly Clarkson was playing the Bridgestone Arena while we were in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to see her and I’ve always wanted to go to a show at Bridgestone. And to make it even sweeter, Kelsea Ballerini – who I LOVE – was opening. So it was perfect. The show was amazing and I had a blast. Totally a bucket list moment.

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The other musical highlight was getting to see my friend, Caylan Hays, perform. We’ve written together several times and on my last trip, she came to see me play a gig and by another beautiful coincidence, she was playing on the last night of our stay. She was fantastic. She’s such a talented writer and I love her voice. Throw in some gorgeous electric guitar and I was in love. You can check out her music here.

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And of course, I got to go to two Song Suffragettes rounds. I love this organisation with my whole heart and so it meant so much to me to see both shows while I was there. They – the people who run it and the girls who play – are so inspiring and I hope I can play with them again someday.

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I had several writing sessions while we were there and for the most part, they were a struggle. I love the people I was writing with dearly but my brain still isn’t right: a casualty of my depression and the medications I’m taking. We’re still trying to find the balance where I’m emotionally stable and not creativity stifled. Still, I’m trying and I so appreciate these writers for having patience with me while I work through this. I also got to spend some time with friends, old and new, and they really inspired me in this dark patch of my life.

But throughout the trip, I really, really struggled. My anxiety was so high that I actually had trouble breathing and my depression was so overwhelming that I found myself falling apart (even in public places, which I’m usually able to avoid doing) multiple times. There were lots of tears and lots of Diazepam; it was very hard. I struggled desperately with wanting to go home and I was battling suicidal thoughts (helpfully described by Claudia Boleyn as, “my brain trying to kill me”) for most of the trip. In truth, it was a bit of a nightmare but there were some really great moments that helped me manage it and of course, I had my wonderful people (my Mum and my writing partner, Richard Sanderson) there to support me. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, shout out to Pancake Pantry for teaching me what it’s like to get excited about food.

Why Sara Bareilles Means So Much To Me

Since I’ve already posted this week (tips for talking about mental health), I wasn’t sure whether or not to post again today, whether I wanted to write something else as well as that. But last night, I went to the opening night of Waitress the Musical in London. The music was written by Sara Bareilles (who I LOVE) and the songs I’d heard from it (she released some of them as an album) were absolutely gorgeous. So I was very excited to go.

The show was amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking, and exactly what I needed. It’s not the story of the chosen one facing ridiculous obstacles; it’s about a woman who found herself very unhappy and how she tries to find happiness. Jenna, a baker at heart, discovers that she’s pregnant and starts making plans to run away but of course it isn’t that straight forward. I won’t give anything else away because if you can see it, you really should. Plus they make the theatre smell like a kitchen full of freshly baked pies. It was lovely.

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It was a great evening but what made it all the more special was that Sara herself was there, introducing the show and then bidding the audience goodnight. I haven’t seen her since her two London shows in 2014 and I’ve really missed her. She’s funny and warm and genuine and she even sang us a little of her latest single. It was so nice to see her again.

I went to both London shows in 2014 and at the first, I left her a letter. I was really struggling with depression and social anxiety and I just wanted to thank her for all her music had done for me, how much it was helping me with all I was dealing with. And during the second show, she dedicated her song ‘Uncharted’ to me. It’s my favourite song of hers and it was such a special moment. That show was just a beacon of joy and having that through the difficult stuff that followed is something that means so much to me. I’m more grateful than I’ll ever be able to express.

I’ve been listening to Sara’s music since I was thirteen and I’m now twenty four. A lot has happened in that time: I got through sixth form, took a lonely year out, decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, worked through my degree, moving out of my childhood home, plus all my mental health stuff. I’ve had her music through all of that and it’s helped me process it and get through it.

When my depression is at its worst, I can’t listen to music. I find it hard to put into words because it’s so deeply rooted in feeling but it’s suffocating and miserable and painful. It takes me a long time to recover from that state and coming out of it leaves me feeling fragile and raw. It’s like I’m made of glass and anything too loud will shatter me. It causes me a lot of distress. I can’t listen to music straight away – it’s just too much, in terms of both emotion and sensory information – but I can listen to Sara Bareilles songs. They’re gentle and genuine and they strengthen my soul. I’ve had her music in the best of it all and the worst of it all and that means the world to me.

I also really connected to and loved her book, Sounds Like Me. I read it in one sitting and just fell in love with this new form of her writing. Again, her writing was so gentle and I loved getting even more of the stories behind the songs. If you want to understand me, read the chapter ‘Red.’ Reading the book, I felt connected to her and that was very strengthening.

She’s also one of the reasons I got into songwriting. Her lyrics are beautiful and honest and heartbreaking and I learn something from every song. If I could write songs half as well as her, I’d be ecstatically happy. And when it comes to pursuing music as a career, her choices as a creative have really inspired me: to be authentically me, to try out everything I can, to be brave, to stick to who I want to be and to what I want to create. When you’ve got people trying to mould you or redirect you at every turn, that’s magic.

Sara Bareilles and her music will always be so special to me. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank her.

Tips For Talking About Mental Health and Mental Illness

Today is Time To Talk Day 2019, a day dedicated to talking about mental health and breaking down some of the stigma associated with mental illness. It’s always ‘time to talk day’ on this blog so to do something special, I thought a post about talking about mental health might be appropriate. It’s true that the more you talk about this stuff, the easier it gets but starting is hard and we all need help sometimes. So with that in mind, here are some tips for talking about mental health stuff:

You are telling someone about your mental health:

  • Start with writing – Talking is hard. If it’s going to make the process easier, it’s absolutely okay to start with writing, whether that’s writing it all down in a letter or email or simply ask to have a conversation about a particular topic by text. I used a Facebook message to let all of my friends know that I’d been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder; it was the most efficient way of getting all the necessary information to all of my important people.
  • Bring helpful information – You don’t have to remember all of the information and sometimes it can help both of you to have something concrete to refer to.
  • Know that you can stop if you need to – You don’t have to reveal everything. The basic facts can be enough. This is your story and you can share as much or as little as you want. Talking about mental health and sharing your experiences can be helpful but that doesn’t mean you have do it if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
  • Remember that some people won’t understand – Unfortunately, not everyone will understand or react helpfully. Chances are you’ll come across someone who will say something hurtful and it will be devastating. It will. There’s no way around that. Allow yourself to feel it and then let it go. There are more good people than bad.

Someone is telling you about their mental health:

  • Hear them out – Try not to interrupt, even if it’s to reassure them. It may have taken a lot to get to this point.
  • Appreciate the courage/effort it took – They’ve probably been thinking about this conversation for a long time and worrying about how it will go but they did it because they care about you and want you to know what’s going on with them. They worked through all that anxiety for you and that’s a really big deal.
  • Don’t dismiss or minimise – It’s natural to want to brush off scary things and make them smaller and therefore less scary but that invalidation can be devastating, especially if this is something that they are currently really struggling with. If you’re at a loss of what to say, try “Thank you for telling me all of this” or “That must be really difficult” or “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
  • Let them know that you will be there for them going forward – Make sure they know; don’t let it just be implied. Tell them and then check up with them. It doesn’t all have to be about mental health: it can be staying in semi regular text contact, a silly card because it reminded you of them, or just trying to catch up a bit more often.

I hope this has been helpful or at least not boring. I wishing you all a lovely Time To Talk Day and I’ll see you in the next blog post.

Because Sometimes You Need To Laugh

I don’t know about you but I’ve had a pretty intense few weeks. It’s stressful and exhausting and I’m looking forward to a few days on my sofa with some good TV and my animals. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share some YouTube videos that make me smile, even when I’m having a really bad day.

1. An arctic fox laughing…

2. Simon The Cat Refuses To Dog…

3. Because everyone needs to see a husky having a tantrum…

4. Dog vs Strawberry…

5. Because we all secretly want a munchkin cat…

So I hope these brought a smile to your face. Do you have any favourite YouTube videos? If you’re having a tough time at the moment, I’m thinking of you and sending you good vibes. I know it might feel unbearable but I hope you try to bear it for a little longer. Things change, little bit by little bit.

My Personal Warning Signs of Depression

In a recent therapy session, my therapist and I were talking about this latest depressive episode and what I’ve learned from it. Because I’ve learned A LOT. I’m not ‘un-depressed’ yet but coming out of it a bit has given me a new perspective on it, on my depression and how it affects me. Hopefully that perspective will be helpful to me in the future. Because depression can creep in very slowly, you don’t always notice the signs but in hindsight, there are a handful of things that should be red flags in my mind. Maybe being aware of these things can help me prevent the depression getting as bad as it did this time.

  • Unable to write songs – I don’t mean a bit stuck. I mean a continued inability to reach the level of functioning necessary to write songs. Songwriters, do you know what I mean? I know exactly the feeling I mean when I write this and although it does sometimes come out of nowhere, it is the biggest sign that depression is creeping in again. It’s very distressing to be unable to do the thing I love the most.
  • Losing my excitement – This was something I didn’t realise was gone until it returned. I’d get excited about things in theory but I assumed the dampened emotional response was just part of the depression numbness. But since I’ve started to feel better, my excitement has resurfaced about as dramatically as a volcano. It’s fun but a bit disconcerting. So, in future, if my excitement seems to have gone AWOL, I know that it’s a potential sign of depression.
  • Overwhelming anxiety about the future – I am always anxious about the future so this is a tricky one but when it becomes overwhelming and it feels like more than I can cope with, than I could ever cope with, and it goes on for an extended period of time, it’s a symptom of my depression.
  • Feeling hopeless – Similar to the previous one, feeling overwhelmed by hopelessness is a real sign of a depressive episode. It feels like everything inside me has stilled, like there’s a new, sharp clarity to everything. Everything becomes very simple and really pointless. We all feel hopeless now and then but when this feeling doesn’t pass, I know I’m in a depressive episode.
  • Increased suicidal thoughts – This one is the final straw, the most telling sign. I’ve always felt very strongly against suicide so when these thoughts start to filter into my everyday thinking, I know I’m in trouble.

There are symptoms common in everyone – like low mood, fatigue, low self-esteem, and so on – but these are my personal warning signs. Do you know what yours are? Are they similar or different?

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The Next Chapter in the Medication Chronicles

Just over two months ago, I finally stopped taking Amitriptyline and started taking the new medication I’d been prescribed, Clomipramine. I’d had the prescription for over a month but I just hadn’t felt able to start taking it: I felt so drained and so worn down by what felt like an endless train of medications that made me feel worse instead of better. And on the off chance that it worked, I didn’t feel ready to feel ‘better.’ It’s hard to explain but it felt like I’d physically feel better – chemically happier – but still have all these ‘depressed’ thoughts, a juxtaposition that I did not feel strong enough to cope with.

But on this particular night, I felt a little more steady and so I took advantage of that: I stopped taking the Amitriptyline and started the Clomipramine. I felt different almost straight away; it took less than a week. I felt physically lighter, like a fog had lifted, a fog that I hadn’t felt settle. It was disconcerting – I felt a little bit like I might just float away – but it felt good too. It felt cathartic.

Suddenly, I was excited again. I was excited about pretty much everything, from swimming and playing with the cats to bigger things like future writing sessions and far away holidays. I hadn’t realised that that was something that had disappeared. I’d been excited about things in theory, in the way I thought about things – I could recognise that something was exciting. But I wasn’t actually feeling it. So to have it back was exciting in itself. It was amazing and I savour the feeling every single time it appears.

The most exciting thing is that my creative brain woke up and started firing again. It’s like my depression completely suppressed my creative brain and so I was physically unable to write songs, to function at the cognitive level necessary to write songs. I wrote about this in a post a few weeks ago. I’ve got several writing sessions coming up which I’m really, really excited about so I’ll keep you guys updated as to how they go.

I’ve also been taking Pregabalin – for several months now – to manage my anxiety. It has reduced my anxiety to a degree but I’m still dealing with A LOT of anxiety, so I need to talk to my psychiatrist. But it has helped. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been side effect free: I’ve been experiencing muscle twitches, mostly in my legs but sometimes in other parts of my body too. And it’s gotten worse as I’ve increased the dosage. That can feel quite scary, to not be in control of your body… I’m in the process of trying a new anti-anxiety, Flupentixol. It doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect so far but I’m trying not to lose hope.

The excitement and the giddiness have faded a bit since the initial boost. I’ve had a pretty bad week: my depression got overwhelming for a moment there. I’m coming out of it but it was pretty scary and I still feel quite shaken by it.

So that’s an update on the medication front. As per usual, it’s been a bumpy road but things are better than they were and for that, I’m really grateful.

The Old New Year’s Resolutions

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I hope you have all had a lovely, relaxing holiday period and that you feel hopeful about the year ahead. I’m feeling lighter than I have in a long time and for the first time in months, I’m actually excited about what’s coming next.

But, before we move on to the new year and all the new plans, I want to pause for a moment. This time last year, I set several resolutions – more like goals – for 2018. Now, 365 days later, I want to look back at them and look at how I did, whether I achieved them or not…

WRITE MORE SONGS – Technically, yes. I did write more songs. Not as many as I would’ve liked but more songs nonetheless. As I mentioned in my review of 2018, my depression seemed to completely suppress my creative brain so writing anything was a really struggle. But I’m cautiously optimistic about my songwriting in the near future.

RELEASE MUSIC – Yes, as I said in my halfway-through-the-year post, I have music out in the world (you can listen to my first single, ‘Invisible,’ here). It was a long, hard journey to that first milestone but we made it and I’m excited about what’s coming next.

FIND THE RIGHT MEDICATION – I found many wrong ones but, fingers crossed, I’m onto a good one. Right now, we just have to wait and see (my least favourite sentence in the world).

WORK ON BEING HEALTHIER – I feel really good about this one. Since August, I’ve been going to the gym and swimming for at least half an hour most days of the week and I’ve kept it up for six months. I’m so proud of myself and I love it so much. It helps me make sense of the world and it makes me feel really good. Food is still a daily struggle but I’m not restricting and I’m also not eating everything in sight. So that’s something.

BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT – I feel like I’m going backwards with this one. My depression has been all consuming and just as it started to let up, anxiety rushed in to fill the void. So I’m struggling here. I don’t know what else to say about this one.

READ MORE BOOKS – Yes! I definitely did that! My small, achievable goal was five books and I managed to read ten! So I’m very proud of my efforts in this department. Hopefully I can keep this up going forward.

IMPROVE MY MUSICAL SKILLS – This is another casualty of my depression. My lack of concentration and motivation has just made it impossible to do any consistent practice. Even when I tried my hardest, I couldn’t do it and then I’m really good at beating myself up over it. That’s another thing I need to work on. But as I’ve already said, I’m cautiously optimistic about things moving forward.

GO THROUGH MY POSSESSIONS – Well, I did that. We moved house and so I went through everything as I packed it. That was very overwhelming so I’m sure I missed stuff. I’m still creating a new order and finding things that I can throw out or give away but I made a huge dent in this resolution and I’m pleased with my effort.

So I guess it is now time to make some new resolutions. Watch this space…

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