A(nother) Week In My Life (In Lockdown)

It hasn’t been that long since my last week-in-my-life post but life is so different week to week at the moment that I thought I’d do another one once I started to see how the week was turning out. I thought, if anything, it would be interesting to be able to look back and see how different different periods of time could be during this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

The week in this post started on Monday 20th July and ended on Sunday 26th July.


MONDAY

I got up around eight, determined to be productive: do admin, send emails, work on blog posts, and so on. But I quickly discovered that the internet was down for the whole street and so I had to adjust my plans. I went back to my photo library and managed to finish sorting out my photo library: I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this but when I loaded my photo library onto my new laptop, there were multiple duplicates of every single photo and the only way to be sure that I was getting rid of all of them (and not losing any of the originals) was to go through it manually. It took about two weeks of dedicated work but that morning, I finally finished deleting the duplicates, cutting the library down from 85,000 to 30,000 – no wonder Photos was running so slowly… I wasn’t quite done: I had to finish organising the remaining original photos into albums but it was real progress and that was very satisfying.

Since I was filming the music video for my next single, ‘Back To Life,’ the next day, I’d recoloured my hair a couple of days earlier (it had grown out A LOT) but since my usual dye had been discontinued, I’d had to guess at a new one and I wasn’t super happy with it so with my Mum’s help, we dyed it again, using a much redder dye than the previous one. It still wasn’t quite what I wanted but it was better than before.

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I spent the afternoon working on (and finishing!) my next blog post, My Lockdown Favourites, and then, in the evening, I tried on the outfits and jewellery for the video, just to make sure that everything matched and was comfortable enough to move freely in. I avoid weighing myself because of my struggles with food – I don’t believe I have an eating disorder but I have gone through phases of disordered eating so I’m careful to avoid things that trigger that, like keeping a frequent eye on my weight – but I don’t think I’ve gained much, if any, weight during lockdown. My weight fluctuates within a certain range and I’m currently wearing the bigger size of jeans but that did happen pre-lockdown times. So I was relieved that everything was comfortable and that I don’t need to spend money on new clothes.

I was happy with the two different looks and as comfortable with our safety plan as I could be, given that I find just going out incredibly stressful, but I still felt very anxious about making the video. We were shooting early to avoid as many people as possible, would be masked (apart from me when I was on camera), and would be socially distanced, but I was still anxious about being out, about acting relaxed and happy for the upbeat song while feeling so anxious, as well as all the normal anxieties about making music videos and being filmed. So it’s safe to say I was struggling. But if we didn’t shoot the video, we couldn’t move forward with the EP, and I would continue to carry all of that anxiety.

In an attempt to relax a bit before bed, I caught up with one of my parents over FaceTime and watched an episode of The Mentalist with Mum. Then we went to bed early, given that we had to get up pretty early for the video shoot. I don’t know how I’ve managed to come up with three music videos (four shoots in total), all that have involved getting up at vaguely ridiculous hours.


TUESDAY

My alarm was due to go off at six but I woke up at five thirty. That was positively luxurious compared to Richard’s ‘call time,’ since he’d had to leave his house before five (he was catching the first train from London – we’d talked about this a lot before we even started planning but he said he felt safe doing it, otherwise we wouldn’t have gone forward with the filming). But that extra time was good: it gave me some time to settle myself and collect my thoughts.

When my alarm went off, I got up and got showered, made up, and dressed in the first outfit I’d be wearing. I had a bit of breakfast and it was all going really well when, of course, I discovered a problem: a white residue had appeared on the frames of my glasses. It’s happened before but Mum had managed to get rid of it using a general household cleaner but nothing seemed to be working this time. We were supposed to be picking Richard up from the train station but I couldn’t do the video with my glasses looking the way they did (it was really noticeable and would look horrible) and I was rapidly spiralling into a meltdown, which I really couldn’t afford to have if we were going to film the video. In the end, Mum had to go and get Richard while I desperately tried to clean them, using anything and everything I could think of. A combination of googling and just experimenting later, I discovered that a thorough scrubbing with toothpaste was the answer. So, just in case you ever find yourself with the same problem…

PRO TIP: If your glasses develop a white residue on the frames, a good scrubbing with toothpaste will make them look as good as new.

I was just finishing when Mum and Richard got back and we headed straight out to the beach. I’d expected it to be pretty quiet, given that it was eight in the morning and a section of the beach a good distance from Brighton, but it was actually quite busy: there was an almost constant flow of people, most of whom weren’t wearing masks. This only added to my stress, in terms of safety and in terms of filming.

I don’t want to give too much away since this post will go up before the video is released. But we shot footage in three different locations (which included a somewhat awkward outfit change) and got everything we needed. I’d been worried about singing and making eye contact with the camera, something I’ve never done before, but that turned out to be much easier than before. It was hard work though, especially considering I’ve been inside for the last several months and my high level of anxiety. But we got it done and I’m cautiously optimistic about it as a finished video.

Here’s what I posted on Instagram afterwards…

Braved my anxieties to work on something special with the lovely @sandersonphoto today 🌊 (x)

After so much physical exertion (for the last year or so, even standing for extended periods of time can make me feel lightheaded and dizzy), it was a struggle to get back to the car. My whole body hurt, particularly my hip and knee joints and my steps got shorter and shorter. It felt like there was broken glass between the bones at each joint. It was horrible.

Eventually we made it back to the car and then home. We sat socially distanced in the garden for some lunch and then, as I watched Richard attempt to reconnect with the cats, I ended up falling asleep in my chair, completely exhausted by the emotion, the anxiety, and the physical activity. Fortunately Richard understands that this does happen – it’s happened before. I didn’t sleep for long and then we had a good catch up before dropping him back at the station around four. We were both really wiped from the early starts and the shoot.

Home again, I flopped down on the sofa and caught up with my other three parents who were all eager to hear how it had gone. Then me and Mum watched a couple of episodes of The Mentalist, had dinner, and went to bed early.


WEDNESDAY

It was a really tough day because I was in a lot of pain after the shoot the day before. My whole body hurt, every single time I moved, every time I even shifted my weight. It was hideous. No one has managed to explain why I experience this level of pain after ‘normal’ levels of activity and our investigation has been stalled by the pandemic. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to find out, or at least find some solid ways of managing it so that I don’t feel so limited (I think the lack of exercise – swimming is the only form of exercise that I can do without pain – hasn’t helped).

I’d planned to have a very gentle day anyway, knowing I’d be tired, so I settled in to watch Absentia Season 3. I knew from watching the first two seasons that I would get so absorbed that I wouldn’t want to stop until I finished it so I dedicated the day to binging the whole thing. I’m finding this to be a really good form of escapism at the moment, especially because I don’t have the concentration to do anything but watch it. Anyway, it was really good and I really, really enjoyed it. Having only started it a month or so ago, it’s already one of my favourite shows. I think the first season is my favourite but I’ve loved all of them and I love Emily Byrne (played by Stana Katic). She’s such an interesting character with such a complex history that I could just watch endless episodes of her. It’s definitely a show that I’ll watch over and over again.

This is the trailer for Season 1 even though I was watching Season 3 – I just don’t want to spoil the show for anyone.

I was so overwhelmed when I finished it that all I could really do was sit and absorb it. But eventually my brain started working again and I had a quick scroll through social media (I haven’t been spending much time on it recently but I do try to check in every now and then so that I’m update to date with what and how my friends are doing) before doing a bit of work, despite my dedication to a day of relaxation. A Dutch journalism student had reached out to me, asking if he could interview me as a new artist dealing with the pandemic. I’d been happy to help and he’d sent me a series of questions that I’d been thinking about so I pulled them up and wrote out my answers before sending the document back to him.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents (it’s hilarious – we talk more now than we did pre-pandemic even though we’re currently doing less and therefore have less to talk about, leading to some pretty bizarre conversations) and then me and Mum had dinner with The Mentalist. And after taking some time to digest, she gave me a massage (I think I’ve mentioned previously that she used to be a massage therapist) to help with all the pain I was in. It wasn’t exactly comfortable but I think it helped in the long run.

Lying on the carpet post massage, I was so relaxed that it was very hard to get up. I didn’t end up going to bed until around eleven.


THURSDAY

Despite the less than early night, I woke up at six and couldn’t go back to sleep. I was still tired but I enjoyed the cool and quiet of the early morning. It’s the time of day when I feel most calm, I think.

I stayed curled up in bed but I got to work, answering all of my outstanding messages (and there were A LOT of them). Over the last month or so, I’ve found that taking a couple of days away from social media can be really good for my mental health but then almost all of my socialisation with my friends is through social media so I’ve been working at finding a comfortable and healthy balance. The messages do pile up every now and then though so I’m not there yet. But I’m trying.

That done (and it felt like a real achievement considering how many messages there were), I got up and went downstairs to feed the cats. I was still in pain but it was mainly just in my joints and where the body bends, rather than absolutely everywhere like it had been the day before. So that was progress.

I spent the morning updating my bullet journal and working on various blog posts with Friends on the TV with volume turned down low (background noise helps me work and it seems to be the only thing that doesn’t distract me). I was just getting on with that when I got a handful of notifications from Taylor Swift’s social media accounts, announcing that she was releasing a new album at midnight (or 5am for me in the UK).

My brain basically short-circuited. It was such a shock – a good one, yes – but a shock nonetheless. I was incredibly excited but I also had this weird mix of adrenaline and anxiety rushing through my system; I think the only way I can describe it is that it’s like when my plans suddenly get derailed and I’m left scrambling to try and figure out what the new plan is. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Having said that, I don’t want to come across as negative because I was genuinely immensely excited but sudden changes are a lot to handle when you’re autistic so I was dealing with a lot of overwhelming emotions.

Given this news, my concentration was shot for the rest of the day. Usually, we have a lot longer to wait between announcement and release so the anticipation builds over months but this time, it felt like it was all compressed into less than a day. It took hours to get back into a headspace that wasn’t just ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! TAYLOR SWIFT IS RELEASING A NEW ALBUM AND WE’LL HAVE IT IN LESS THAN TWENTY FOUR HOURS!’ and even then, the thought would leap up out of nowhere and smack me in the face, derailing my thought process. So it wasn’t the most productive day ever.

I spent (or tried to at least) the rest of the day trying to catch up with my diary so that I could immediately write down my thoughts on the new album the next day. I didn’t quite make it but I got close enough that I would still be writing about it on its release day.

Something that I started doing with the ‘Red’ album was predicting which songs I would like based on the titles. Obviously that’s not much to go on and there’s no logic to it really but it’s a fun exercise. My guesses for ‘folklore’ were ‘the last great american dynasty,’ ‘exile’ (I mean, a collaboration with Bon Iver?!), ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘seven,’ ‘august,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘epiphany.’ So I wrote those down, set multiple alarms to wake me up for my traditional 5am first listen, and went to bed early.


FRIDAY

My alarm went off at 4.45am and I flipped through various apps on my phone, just trying to wake myself up for the 5am release. But when the time came around, the album wasn’t available on iTunes. Fortunately lyric videos for each song had been uploaded to YouTube so I watched those according to the track listing. It’s always really important to me to listen to a new album in order because that’s a creative decision the artist made when they put it together. I often continue to listen to albums like that (unless I’m in a specific mood and need the validation that songs of a similar emotion provide).

As I listened, I noted down my thoughts about each track. I love how our relationships to songs change over time and as we discover all the layers within them so I always find it really interesting to look back and see what my original thoughts were for comparison. I don’t know if anyone cares but I’m going to stick them in here because I love the album and loved it from the first listen.

  1. the 1 – I instantly loved the nostalgic feel, created by the warm and gentle production. It had gorgeous lyrics with beautiful imagery and the melody felt easy and natural; I was singing along by the end of my first listen. It was instantly a favourite.
  2. cardigan – This one felt darker and a little more jaded with slightly more chaotic production. But it still had a warmth to it; it reminded me of a fire on a winter evening. The lyrics were detailed with more beautiful imagery.
  3. the last great american dynasty – This one has such an expansive, detailed story and I just loved the idea of this truly shameless woman but I didn’t personally connect to the song until it flipped and the story turned personal and then I was grinning like an idiot. The production felt very fitting with the story being told and again, the detail (and wide vocabulary) made for a great song.
  4. exile feat. Bon Iver – This is the collaboration I never knew to hope for. Bon Iver has a gorgeous voice and I just loved the two opposite sides, telling their story both in concert and over each other in a way that only intensified an already incredibly emotive song. It was an instant favourite and had me sobbing on the first listen. The lyrics were absolutely stunning and while I loved pretty much all of them, I really loved the first and final lines of the main chorus. There was just something about it that hit me square in the chest.
  5. my tears ricochet – The vocals in this one were particularly gorgeous and the lyrics were gorgeous and rich, kind of reminding me of velvet and stately rooms. The story is a mystery but beautifully detailed and I’m looking forward to listening over and over again until I understand it better. (I have to add that as soon as someone pointed out that it was, or at the very least could be, about the betrayal of Borchetta and sale of her masters, I fell in love it, with the metaphor and the emotion.)
  6. mirrorball – I instantly loved the guitar sound and I just loved the lyrics, how fragile they were but still so full of hope for love. It had some really beautiful lyrics and somehow, the whole song – lyrics, melody, and production – sounded just like a mirrorball.
  7. seven – I found this one a bit hard to follow but it had real character and some beautiful lyrics. I also really loved the relationship between the characters in the song.
  8. august – This one just sounded like a hazy summer day to me and the story was just so clear. The production was full and glorious and again, I loved the relationship between the two characters and the obvious complexity of their relationship, even though we don’t know who they really are or if they’re real at all.
  9. this is me trying – I was instantly struck by the production: thick and stunning and emotional. And I loved the reverb on the vocal and how it added to the emotion of the song. It was a favourite straight away, with gorgeous lyrics and imagery, and it was so honest and vulnerable in its simplicity. I just wanted to close my eyes and live in it. I found the rhythm of the bridge a little bit jarring but I’m sure I’ll get used to that with more listening. It seemed more real than some of the others. I’m not sure why but some of them just seemed more real.
  10. illicit affairs – It took me a while to get into this one – I found the verses lyrically beautifully but the rhythms tripped me up a little – but I loved the stripped back-ness of it. I loved the chorus lyrics and I adored the bridge: the pain and the fury in it were just so real, so brutally honest and vulnerable.
  11. invisible string – I thought this one told a really lovely story with both tongue-in-cheek lyrics and beautifully sincere ones. But I didn’t like something about the production of the vocal, something that made it a little uncomfortable to listen to.
  12. mad woman – Definitely the biggest oh-my-god of the album. I kind of wanted it to be a huge, relentless wall of sound but I think the calm, beautifully honed steel approach is probably more effective, given the subject matter (another take on Borchetta, Braun, and the sale of her masters). I loved it and loved her refusal to be shamed for being angry. The lyrics were truly awesome and I loved how she went straight for the jugular, all in in an incredibly gratifying demolition.
  13. epiphany – I found this one hard to listen to because the emotions were so raw but it was beautifully written, a stunning tribute to the people described and their stories. I cried from the first verse until long after the song finished.
  14. betty – I thought this big, busy story was told really well but I didn’t really connect with the characters. I just ended up getting distracted wondering who the characters were, who the songs were about. The production also wasn’t really a style I love but the key change did make me smile. And hearing her sing, ‘would you tell me to go fuck myself’ made me laugh, even though she’s singing in character.
  15. peace – This is, I think, one of the most beautiful, vulnerable, honest love songs I’ve ever heard. It reminds me of wedding vows, of all of the promises she’s willing to make but then asking him if they’re enough to outweigh the hard times. She lays everything bare and I think that’s part of what makes the song so special. The production is also simply gorgeous (even though I would’ve loved a big, glittering bridge but I get that that’s not how this genre or style seems to work). It was another real favourite and I was a puddle of tears by the end.
  16. hoax – This one feels intricately connected to ‘peace’ somehow: a darker but still painfully honest, vulnerable love song. Having said that, I could be completely wrong. I don’t feel like I fully understand it with just one listen because there are just so many lyrics and metaphors and emotions to unpack but I’m looking forward to listening to it over and over again and sharing theories with other fans until I understand it better. But back to the song, the beautiful lyrics are only accentuated by the simple production. It ends the album on a very complex note, which isn’t something she traditionally does.

I’m really looking forward to hearing ‘the lakes’ and seeing how that fits into the album and I’m just really excited to listen to the album over and over and over again, until I know every little detail. Again, because I love it so much (and because I’m a Songwriting Nerd), I’ll probably make a whole post about it at some point once I’ve listened to it more and have a better understanding of the stories. If that’s not your thing then I absolutely won’t be offended if you skip that post.

I bought some merch (the international shipping is atrocious but I’m trying not to beat myself up since I’ve barely spent any money since lockdown began) and spent the morning on Tumblr, reading people’s reactions and theories and analyses of the new songs. This is always one of my favourite parts of a new Taylor album, everyone coming together to peel back all of the layers in each of the songs. It reminds me of this Daisy Johnson quote from Agents of Shield (my favourite TV show): “Usually one person doesn’t have the solution, but a hundred people with one percent of the solution? That will get it done. I think that’s beautiful… pieces solving a puzzle.”

Early afternoon, I had a Zoom session with my therapist. We talked through the week since my last session, discussing the difficulties and how I’d dealt with them. She also let me ramble about Taylor Swift for a little bit because she knows how much I love her and how important her music is to me, both as a person and as a songwriter. For the most part though, we talked about how much I have and still am struggling with the different reactions people have had and are having to the pandemic and lockdown. I’ve never been able to get my head around the way some people have managed to be super motivated and productive during this time while I feel like I can’t move past the fact that we’re in a pandemic, that tens of thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands of people are mourning, and so on. It’s like this giant roadblock that I just cannot navigate around. Yes, I’ve been able to do bits and pieces here and there but this is always in the middle of my brain, making it impossible to be much more than minimally functional. I don’t think a person is bad or wrong for being able to compartmentalise or manage however they are managing; I just don’t understand how someone actually does it. Usually I can understand how someone might approach a situation differently even if I can’t actually do it myself but right now, I can’t. I wish I did; I wish I knew how to not feel constantly overwhelmed by distress and grief and fear.

By the time we finished, I was really starting to flag; the early start, the emotions of ‘folklore,’ and the difficult discussions in therapy. I was TIRED; I was struggling not to fall asleep on the sofa. I lay there for a while, just processing everything, and when Mum came upstairs to check on me, we ended up watching The Mentalist together while I did some diary writing. My emotions were all over the place and I just needed some gentle time.

Dinner and another episode later, me and Mum got in the car and went for a drive. I always introduce her to new albums on long drives and it’s a tradition we both really love (something we haven’t done since before we went into lockdown). We didn’t have anywhere to drive to so we just decided to drive up to a particular junction on the motorway and back, listening to the album beginning to end. For some reason, it feels like an album that sounds best in the dark, hence why we’d waited until the evening. It was really fun and we both really enjoyed it. Mum’s initial favourites were ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘mad woman.’ After a day of listening to it, my top three were ‘this is me trying,’ ‘mirrorball,’ and ‘exile.’ But I really, really love a lot of them. It’s mostly a case of which ones do I love more or less and which ones do I connect to more or less.

There was a diversion due to roadworks so we ended up getting home pretty late. We were sorting out the cats and getting ready for bed when we came to a decision on something we’ve been discussing for a while: we decided to buy the one thing I wanted for my birthday, a Gretsch hollow body electric guitar. I’ve wanted one for months and it was going to be my birthday present but me and Mum had discussed it and decided to buy it a couple of months early so that I can make the most of it before university starts again in early October (my birthday is at the very end of September). I want to improve my skills and also just play for fun as much as possible before I have to start factoring in university work, in whatever form that takes. We’ve been talking about it for a while now but that evening, we decided to finally stop talking about it and actually do it. It was very exciting and would be arriving in just a few days (the picture below is from when it arrived).

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SATURDAY

I woke up feeling tired and unsettled and anxious and it just got stronger and stronger throughout the day. I just felt really overwhelmed by all the things I feel I still need to do before uni starts again, which ironically and frustratingly made it harder to get anything done.

It was a rainy day so the cats spent a lot of time indoors with us, which was a comfort. They’re usually busy playing in the garden so it was nice to have them around. They were all pretty affectionate but Sooty was especially snuggly and I gratefully accepted every invitation to cuddle.

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I posted my weekly blog post, My Lockdown Favourites, and then spent most of the day catching up with my diary. It’s so easy to get behind and that causes me such anxiety. I also spent a bit of time at the piano and continued messing around with a couple of song ideas I’ve been working on recently. I’ve been experimenting with writing from the point of view of fictional and historical characters over lockdown and although I find it much harder than writing about my personal experiences, it’s a fun challenge and one that I think is improving my songwriting skills, as well as resulting in some interesting songs. So, all in all, it was an okay day.

In the evening, one of my parents came over for dinner in the garden. We’d also planned to watch Hamilton together but given how stressed and anxious I’d been, we decided to postpone that until next time so that I’d actually be able to enjoy it. I’ve really been looking forward to seeing it so I was grateful for the flexibility; I wanted to be able to really get stuck in and engage with it and I just didn’t feel able to that day. Still, it was really nice to see her in really life and hang out together.

When she left, me and Mum watched a couple of episodes of The Mentalist while I did some diary writing and then we went to bed, far too late as usual. Sleeping badly has got me all twisted up about going to bed so I dread it and put it off and usually end up sleeping worse because of it. It’s a habit I’m trying to break but so far I haven’t done very well. It’s just so easy to get sucked into trying to finish whatever I’m doing.


SUNDAY

I slept restlessly (as is my new normal) and woke up feeling tired and low. But I dragged myself up and me and Mum fed the cats – it really is a two person job with five very eager cats. They’re so cute though and watching them practically inhale their food and then skip out into the garden to play is a good way to start the day.

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Mum headed out straight away and drove to our gym since she hasn’t been able to get anyone on the phone. Because of my Chronic Fatigue and the ongoing problems with my joints, weight bearing exercise can be really painful so swimming is really the only serious exercise I can do. I’m really concerned that gyms are opening too early but as they are, I at least wanted to know what the safety precautions are and what my options might be. Our gym has a therapy pool that was always empty first thing in the morning so we would use that but when she returned, she reported that the therapy pool wasn’t an option because they didn’t have enough life guards yet. And when it came to their safety precautions, I just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk. But we’re going to keep talking to them and try to work out an arrangement as a disabled member. So it’s not the end of the road but it was very disappointing and didn’t help my mood.

I was supposed to have a music lesson (via Zoom) but my anxiety was even worse than the day before so, in the end, I cancelled it. Fortunately my teacher is one of my parents and so she understands that if I say I can’t do something, I really can’t. I’d really tried to motivate myself and push through my anxiety but I just felt like I was going to start crying at any moment. It was just too much.

So I curled up on the sofa with the TV on low and continued catching up with my diary. I always get behind when Taylor Swift releases an album because I end up writing so much about it – the lyrics, what I like and what I’d do differently, the production, my overall thoughts – and sticking in interesting analyses from Tumblr. I’m always amazed at how quickly some people are able to analyse a song and see all the layers while I’m still overwhelmed by the amount of layers and all the emotions the songs evoke.

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I also did a bit more work organising my photo library but I hadn’t got very far before I was interrupted (very pleasantly) by one of my parents dropping in to say hello. She hadn’t planned on staying long but then we got talking about ‘folklore.’ She’s a huge music nerd so she’s always interested to know what I’m listening to. I played her a couple of the songs and that turned into a full album listening party, which was really fun, although I’m always a little anxious about playing her music that’s special to me because she can have really strong opinions. But she was really into it (she particularly liked ‘mad woman’) and asked me to share it with her so she could listen to it some more. So that was very cool.

I ended the day having dinner and watching The Mentalist with Mum (we are both complete saps when it comes to the Jane and Lisbon relationship in the final season) while I continued writing my diary.


So that’s another week of my lockdown experience. I feel like, aside from unexpected difficulties with my mental health or an autistic meltdown, I’m finding a groove where I’m as productive and comfortable as I can be. It’s far from what I would’ve wished for during this period (apart from the new Taylor Swift album) but I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m managing a bit better, in the sense that I’m better at taking things day by day.

So I hope this was interesting to read, interesting to see someone else’s experience and maybe escape your own life for a bit. I hope you’re all doing well, staying safe and coping the best you can.

Sleeping and Dreaming in the Time of Covid-19

Since the pandemic began, many people seem to have been having trouble sleeping, from not getting enough to getting too much to having vivid and often scary dreams. It’s been well documented – scientifically and anecdotally via social media. I’ve had problems with fatigue for years but over the last several months, my struggles in the sleep department have dramatically increased and so I thought I’d do a bit of research into the subject and see how my experiences compare to those of others.


SLEEP

We all know that sleep is massively important to our wellbeing. It’s vital to the functioning of our immune systems, the health of our organs (especially our brains), and the maintenance of our mental health to name a few. The ideal amount of sleep ranges from person to person but most adults need seven to nine hours in order to perform at their best, with children and teenagers requiring even more. But during the pandemic, most people are getting far less than the amount they need, making it even more difficult to handle the stress and uncertainty that have become the norm over the last several months. Personally, I’ve spent much of the pandemic and lockdown either getting less than five hours sleep or getting nine hours but waking continuously and struggling to get back to sleep.

It’s not surprising that the pandemic has had this effect. The loss of time anchors like scheduled work hours, anxiety over you or your loved ones getting sick, economic instability, isolation, and increased screen time are all factors that are contributing to this surge in disturbed sleep and continuing lack of sleep can cause real problems. In the short term, it can become difficult to concentrate and make decisions and can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. I’ve definitely experienced these effects (despite already struggling with anxiety and depression, they’ve both become much more significant and life altering since the pandemic began). In the long term, it can put you at risk for dramatic and dangerous health problems.

Fortunately, there has been a lot of research into sleep and the factors that affect it…


ADVICE ON IMPROVING YOUR SLEEP

  • Keeping a routine – Setting times to get up and go to bed (and sticking to them) helps you to programme your brain and internal body clock, making it easier to get to sleep and wake up at normal times. Building other factors into your routine, such as relaxation techniques and turning off screens (ideally) ninety minutes before bed, can also aid with this.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep only – With so many of us working or studying from home, it’s tempting to be comfortable and settle on our beds but that then makes it much harder to settle down and sleep because our brains have associated the space with thinking and processing rather than relaxing.
  • Consistent exposure to natural light – Natural light is one of the triggers for our circadian rhythms (our sleep wake patterns) so making sure we get plenty of natural light helps our bodies to better regulate our sleep.
  • Avoid naps if possible – We all know that naps make it harder to get to sleep at night because we’re less tired when it comes to bedtime but it’s very tempting when we’re having trouble sleeping. Of course, the problem then perpetuates itself. So avoiding naps altogether (or as much as possible) is the obvious solution to this. As someone who has struggled with energy, I know that sometimes naps do become unavoidable but it’s important to keep them short where possible and to avoid allowing it to become habit.
  • Exercise – While many of our exercise habits have been disrupted, it’s still important to exercise and burn energy, something we all know helps us to unwind and sleep. There are lots of alternatives to going to the gym, from walking to home exercises (there are SO MANY on YouTube) to just doing physical jobs around the house. However, the closures of gyms have been problematic for those requiring specific types of exercise due to injuries or illnesses that affect movement. For example, weight bearing exercise is often very painful for me and so I have desperately missed being able to swim, my main form of exercise pre-lockdown.
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine – Both of these have been proven to disrupt our sleep and therefore many doctors and scientists are recommending avoiding these during this time when our sleep is already disrupted.
  • Meditation or relaxation techniques – Many people have found these to be helpful when it comes to reducing stress and getting to sleep, before the pandemic and during. Apps like Calm are highly recommended with guided meditations and breathing exercises to aid with relaxation, mindfulness, and better sleep.
  • Practice kindness and connection – Human connection (whether in the flesh or via technology) and positive actions have been proven to reduce stress and therefore aid relaxation and sleep. We all need space and alone time but it’s so important to avoid isolating ourselves, something that’s very easy to do when there are literal isolation procedures in place. Spending time with animals is also good here, especially if making conversation feels too overwhelming.

STRANGE DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES

Along with difficulty sleeping, a significant number of people have reported struggling with nightmares, or more nightmares than usual, and I’ve definitely experienced this phenomena. Here’s a few examples of the dreams I’ve been having:

  • Walking on a deserted, desert-like planet (not dissimilar to pictures of the surface of Mars).
  • My Mum having only one day left to live and the panic of having so little time left with her.
  • Losing my dog, Lucky, in the London Underground and never being able to catch up to him as much as I shout for him.
  • Being trapped in a packed London Underground tunnel, people pressing in on all sides (this is a recurring one).
  • Various post apocalyptic scenarios.
  • Walking about destroyed cities.
  • Very vivid experiences of self harming.
  • England being invaded and bombed and the house exploding around me.
  • Breaking precious and fragile possessions.
  • Trying to walk one way down a hugely busy street with endless amounts of unmasked people walking the other way, rushing past and bumping into me (another recurring one).

I also often wake up feeling unsettled and anxious, sweating from dreams that are already fading, disappearing before I can figure out what had happened in them.

There are multiple theories for why we dream but the most common seems to be that, while we’re sleeping and our consciousness is resting, our subconsciousness is processing the events of our day, the big events in our lives, our emotions, our stresses and anxieties, and so on. We’re all obviously dealing with elevated levels of stress and intense emotions during this time so it’s not surprising that our brains are working overtime trying to make sense of it all, producing vivid and often weird or disturbing dreams. Our brains are trying to process something that it has no context for.

While the exact cause and content of these dreams is still being debated, there’s a lot more research into why we feel like we’re dreaming more in the last several months. On average, we dream four to six times a night but most of the time, we simply don’t remember them; but due to the disturbed sleep that many of us are experiencing (caused by stress, massive changes to lifestyle, and social isolation to name a few), we’re waking up during our dreams and that’s why we’re remembering them. Therefore, it seems as though we’re having more dreams when really, we’re just remembering more of them.

If you’re interested in sharing your experiences of these types of dreams or learning about the dreams of others, a website, I Dream of Covid, has been set up to do just that. You can submit your own dreams and read through the dreams of others. It’s really fascinating.

Here is a fascinating interview with Dr. Deirdre Barrett, the assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, about pandemic dreams. She obviously has a much greater understanding of dreaming and of these dreams and offers some valuable thoughts and advice. She’s also running a research study into these dreams that involves an open survey where you can share your experience of pandemic dreams, adding to her data if you feel comfortable doing so and want to help.


TIPS FOR MANAGING QUARANTINE DREAMS

Considering the fact that these dreams are most likely helping our brains (and therefore our entire beings) cope with this incredibly stressful, uncertain period of time, it’s not necessarily in our best interests to try and prevent or reduce these dreams. But, having said that, I’m pretty sure we’d all rather not have to experience them, remember them, or have them hang over us. So that leaves us with the option of attempting to avoid remembering them. Here are some tips that will hopefully help in that endeavour:

  • Try to get better sleep – If you can sleep for longer periods without waking up, you’ll be less likely to remember the dreams you’re having. Hopefully the tips in the above section are helpful in regards to this.
  • Do something positive or relaxing before going to bed – Going to bed with a positive and relaxed mindset before trying to sleep has been proven to improve our quality of sleep, so creating a nighttime routine including things that help put you in a good mental space is worth investing in. These things will differ for everyone: some people like to have a bath; some people like to take time to read; some people like to meditate or journal. I personally enjoy watching a favourite TV show with my family or going for a swim (whether this is currently possible is still uncertain).
  • Avoid the news and social media before bed – Filling your head with scary images and upsetting information is obviously not going to help you relax. The  resulting anxiety is likely to continue the cycle of sleep disruption and remembering the dreams you’re having, the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here. It’s hard to ignore the compulsion to feel like you’re up to date but it’s a good habit to establish, in general as well as during the pandemic.
  • Talk through your nightmares with someone you trust – These dreams can feel very disturbing and so talking them through with someone you trust can lessen the anxiety they cause or even dissipate the dream itself (if you can work through whatever it is that’s causing that specific dream). But even if that doesn’t happen, sharing what you’re going through can at least prevent you from feeling isolated by the experience because, as we’ve seen, many of us are having a very similar experience.
  • Reach out to sleep experts or therapists – I don’t want to offer something I’m not qualified to comment on but many sleep experts and therapists specialising in sleep have been sharing resources online or offering consultations online. If you’re really struggling, professional help might be the most productive way to get your sleep back on track.

So here is what I’ve experienced and learned about sleeping and dreaming during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. It’s been a really interesting blog post to put together. I hope it’s helpful and/or interesting and I wish you all sweet sleep and sweet dreams.

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SOURCES

  1. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-guidelines-covid-19-isolation
  2. https://thesleepdoctor.com/sleep-pandemic/
  3. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/
  6. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2020/05/12/quarendreaming-why-your-pandemic-dreams-and-nightmares-are-so-weird-and-intense-and-what-to-do-about-it/
  7. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/lockdown-coronavirus-dreams-vivid-strange-sleep-emotional-state-a9486206.html
  8. https://www.sleep.org/articles/how-often-dreams/
  9. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/03/why-youre-having-pandemic-related-nightmares-and-how-to-sleep-better.html
  10. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/mental-health/why-so-many-people-are-experiencing-weird-pandemic-dreams-n1188901
  11. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/05/harvard-researcher-says-dreams-indicative-of-virus-fears/
  12. https://www.cnet.com/news/is-the-coronavirus-pandemic-giving-you-bad-dreams-heres-why-and-how-to-cope/

Reducing and Coming Off Pregabalin

Months and months ago, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist and we reviewed the medications I was taking and how I was faring mentally. There was a lot to discuss but we spent a significant amount of time talking about how affected my life is by the sleepiness I experience, as well as the high levels of anxiety I’d been experiencing despite taking the Pregabalin. The result of this conversation was the decision to reduce and eventually stop taking the Pregabalin as it didn’t seem to be helping.

The reduction ended up being pretty uneven, without any particular structure. That was mainly due to the decision to take my time and take less as I felt able to; I didn’t make any alterations during my assessment period at university, for example, as I figured I had enough to cope with. But there were also periods when I was so preoccupied that I simply forgot that I was in the process of reducing it and only lowered the dose when I remembered. Fortunately it wasn’t as traumatic a transition as some of them have been.


150mg —> 100mg

Dropping from 150mg to 100mg, I noticed fairly quickly that my levels of anxiety were going down. At the very least, I had fewer periods of the paralysing, suffocating anxiety that short-circuit my brain, killing my ability to do anything at all. I also started to have more periods of general okay-ness. I wouldn’t quite describe my mood as good, but it definitely moving in a more positive direction than it had for a long time.

I was experiencing specific anxiety around the spread of Covid-19 but I figured that was normal for most people, especially those who already suffer from higher levels of anxiety or anxiety disorders. My as-needed prescription for Diazepam was helpful when it came to managing that, as well as taking precautionary measures.


100mg —> 50mg

I immediately suffered from side effects after this change. I had almost migraine level headaches that I could only manage by lying in bed in my darkened room. They remained at that intensity for several days before fading to a dull throbbing that painkillers took care of for the most part. I also had trouble keeping food in my system; I don’t think I need to go into any further detail on that.

I didn’t feel any different once the side effects passed but after a while, my Mum commented that I seemed less sleepy. I wasn’t convinced but kept an open mind and eventually I did think that I wasn’t feeling quite as drowsy. Part of that was down to the fact that I was drinking less Red Bull than I had been. That seemed to prove that I was needing less caffeine to function and was therefore feeling less sleepy.


50mg —> 0g

Again, I felt the side effects straight away. I had the same headaches although fewer of them and my digestive system also struggled. But with this reduction, I was also nauseous on and off for days and constantly shaky. It was very unpleasant and still hasn’t faded completely, even though I’ve been Pregabalin free for a couple of weeks. But maybe that’s been underneath the Pregabalin all along. I don’t know.

Aside from the side effects, my ability to sleep well disappeared overnight. I can’t be sure that it’s connected but it did start happening around the same time so I think it’s important to include here. I either wasn’t sleeping or having vivid nightmares that left me feeling disturbed and unsettled throughout the next day. I’ve read that this has been a common complaint during the pandemic so I’m thinking that it’s more to do with that than the Pregabalin however, it did start just as I finally stopped taking said medication. It seems unlikely that there’s no link at all.


Now, a few weeks later, I think it’s safe to assume that I’m no longer being affected by the Pregabalin or any withdrawal symptoms. Having said that I am still pretty sleepy and drinking at least one can of Red Bull a day, usually two. I still feel pretty weak and shaky, especially if I have to stand up or exert myself for more than about fifteen minutes. I’m also still sleeping badly with nightmares almost every night. It’s pretty gruelling.

I’m continuing to review the medication situation with my psychiatrist – although it is more difficult while we can’t have face to face appointments – and there are multiple options to think about. I haven’t decided what to do yet. We’re also continuing to investigate physical causes for my fatigue, although that has been put on hold by the lockdown. The restrictions are loosening but I’m not sure what that means for this situation. So, for now, all I can do is research and hope to make the right decisions when the time comes.