What I Did In Lockdown – Part 3

So, on the 4th January, England went into another national lockdown and this list was once again revived. This one felt much more like the first lockdown than the second, where many schools, businesses, etc were still open. When schools and universities started to open, my course remained online (it was one of the courses that could function solely online and meant less people going back to the uni) so lockdown continued for me. My life has only just started to involve going out again – swimming, getting a haircut, (safely) seeing a few people – and that’s why I’ve kept this list going as long as I have…


  • Uploaded all of my assessment work for the Musical Language module.
  • Suggested a topic for Kalie Shorr’s podcast, which she used, and then mentioned me and my music during it, which meant a lot to me.
  • Followed the news about the riots at the Capitol building in Washington D.C.
  • Started building my family tree on AncestryDNA and learning about who my relatives are, especially on my father’s side. This included messaging with distant relatives (cousins multiple times removed, for example), which was a pretty surreal experience.
  • Listened to and fell in love with the bonus tracks from Taylor Swift’s evermore.
  • Started a new (very beautiful) subscription of Vitamin D supplement.
  • Had a socially distanced chat and exchange of Christmas presents with one of my best friends.
  • Had a bit of a reset therapy session: we caught up and then set some goals to work on.
  • Had multiple writing sessions with Richard.
  • Wrote and posted a blog post about the third semester of my Masters.
  • Tested out a new method of overcoming my Trichotillomania: using a strip of elastic to tie my hand to my portable desk, preventing my pulling hand from reaching my hair.
  • Finished my ADHD assessment and was diagnosed with ADHD, although it’s a complicated one as there is much overlap between Autism and ADHD.
  • Had a Netflix party with some friends where we watched How To Train Your Dragon.
  • Started my new university module, The Writer’s Voice (online, of course).
  • Binge-watched The Wilds.
  • Had a productive meeting with one of the careers team at my university.
  • Had multiple writing sessions with my friend and coursemate, Luce.
  • Watched and critiqued the first draft of the acoustic session videos.
  • Watched the film, How It Ends.
  • Watched the film, Ava.
  • Due to technical issues, my friend, Aislin, and I wrote a song using basically texts and a google doc; and not only that, it was a song we loved and felt really proud of, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Watched Joe Biden’s inauguration; I found it very inspiring and emotional.
  • Had a consultation with an Occupational Therapist (via phone) for the pain in my hands.
  • Continued with my therapy sessions.
  • Worked on a couple of songs with my friend and coursemate, Dan.
  • Got my AncestryDNA results back, which was really interesting in some ways and frustrating in others.
  • Had a long catch up call with one of my best friends.
  • Had my first session for a new mentoring programme.
  • Had a meltdown after an unexpected change with a university class and ended up missing the class entirely.
  • Watched the series, Tiny Pretty Things.
  • Had a COVID test.
  • Had my COVID test come back negative.
  • Had multiple sessions with my friend and coursemate, Anna.
  • Watched one of my best friends, Luce, do her second online show.
  • Finished the acoustic session videos.
  • Began Occupational Therapy for the pain in my hands.
  • Wrote a blog post about the first year without our dog, Lucky.
  • Wrote multiple songs by myself.
  • Started FAWM – February Album Writing Month, a challenge to write fourteen songs in twenty eight days.
  • Had a phone call with the Chronic Fatigue Service that proved to be not only unhelpful, but deeply troubling: we discovered that I’d never received the results of blood-work from two years ago that showed multiple (potentially dangerous) abnormalities that should’ve been investigated and he told me my case was too complicated for them, that they didn’t feel they could help me.
  • Ran into a friend that I haven’t seen for ages and we planned a call and (online) movie night.
  • Had an ECG: hypermobility can result in heart problems (in a small percentage of people) so I’ll have to have regular heart check ups.
  • Had a writing session with my friend and coursemate, Amy.
  • Continued to spread awareness of how ableist, offensive, and dangerous Sia’s film, Music, is.
  • Posted my blog post about the first year with our lovely dog, Lucky.
  • Watched the film, Peppermint.
  • Celebrated the beginning of Taylor Swift releasing her rerecorded albums, starting with ‘Love Story (Taylor’s Version).’
  • Wrote with my friend and coursemate, Harrison.
  • Watched the film, The Dig.
  • Had a long overdue movie night (in the middle of the day) and catch up with two of my best friends.
  • Posted two blog posts on the same day about Trichotillomania. (x) (x)
  • My Mum had her first COVID vaccination.
  • Had a difficult video call with one of my tutors about one of the Masters modules, in which I got very upset.
  • Watched Series 1 and 2 of The Bay.
  • My Mum trimmed my fringe for me.
  • Received the about-face makeup (by Halsey) I’d bought and tested it out; I particularly liked the matte lip product.
  • Rewatched Criminal Minds from start to finish.
  • Had several writing sessions with my new friend and coursemate, Phill.
  • Received the Chronic Fatigue Service’s post-session report before they sent it to my GP and corrected all of the errors in it (such as when I was diagnosed with ASD).
  • Watched the film, Taking Lives.
  • Rewatched all three seasons of Absentia.
  • Had another mentoring session, which was really thought-provoking and productive.
  • My university had a reading week so I didn’t have any classes.
  • Had a planning session with Richard after one of our writing sessions.
  • Found the new COVID-19 plan announced on the 22nd February thoroughly unclear and confusing.
  • Watched New Amsterdam Season 1.
  • Wrote several songs based on fictional stories and characters, which isn’t my writing comfort zone but was really fun.
  • Started watching Unforgotten Series 4; I’m ecstatic to have Nicola Walker on my screen again, especially playing such a great character, but given the end of the last series, I can’t help but worry that this will be the last.
  • Had multiple sessions with my friend and coursemate, Simon.
  • Watched the film, Escape From Pretoria.
  • Completed FAWM (February Album Writing Month), actually writing 14 songs in less than 28 days.
  • Had a socially distanced catch up with one of my oldest and best friends.
  • Had a second COVID test.
  • Did several Autism research studies (from home, of course).
  • Dyed my hair.
  • Had a writing session with my friend and coursemate, Joy.
  • One of my best friends, Richard Marc, released his debut single, ‘Put It In A Postcard,’ which I helped write.
  • Had my COVID test come back negative.
  • Learned that my ECG had come back clear.
  • Had official confirmation that I’ve been diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
  • Had a meeting with uni staff to discuss the options around the process of changing my antidepressants in order to take medication for my ADHD.
  • Watched New Amsterdam Season 2.
  • Met a potential DSA mentor (it didn’t work out).
  • Was unexpectedly triggered during a seminar and got extremely upset, although I was somehow able to pull myself together enough to manage the class.
  • Bought tickets for me and my family to see Tim Minchin when he (hopefully) tours the UK at the end of the year.
  • Announced the Honest EP (Sunburst Sessions).
  • Fell down the stairs but fortunately wasn’t too badly banged up.
  • Sweep had to go to the vet because she seemed to be having trouble moving around comfortably but the vet wasn’t worried and thought she’d probably been knocked around in all the wind we’ve been having and has given her some painkillers. We also asked if she had any guesses as to what breed Sweep is since we have no idea and her guess is Long Haired Domestic Cat with potentially some Norwegian Forest Cat, so that’s what we’re going with unless we decide to do one of those pet DNA tests.
  • Had a good catch up call with one of my oldest friends.
  • Caught up with The Grammys, celebrated Taylor Swift’s folklore winning Album of the Year, and cried over all of the acceptance speeches.
  • Watched The One (Season 1).
  • Had a particularly good response in class to one of my songs, which is one of my favourite songs I’ve written recently.
  • Had a really productive meeting with my course leader about my Masters final project.
  • Had an upsetting and thoroughly unhelpful appointment with a specialist I’d been referred to.
  • Had another set of blood tests – I’ve completely forgotten what they’re for or who requested them with so many people involved right now but they might give us more insight into my fatigue.
  • Posted the first of the Honest EP acoustic sessions, ‘Bad Night (Sunburst Sessions)’.

  • Learned about Travis Meadows’ surgery, donated to the gofundme, and shared the link.
  • Watched one of my best friends, Luce, do an awesome online show.
  • Posted my blog post about being diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Watched Creating The Queen’s Gambit, which just made me want to watch the show again.
  • Joined the judging panel for a songwriting competition.
  • Screeched at the penultimate episode of Unforgotten Series 4.
  • After a really fascinating seminar on Jungian archetypes, I spent hours reading more about them.
  • Suddenly found out quite a lot about my Dad’s side of the family, which was amazing but pretty overwhelming.
  • Had another meeting with one of the tutors to fine tune the approach to my Masters final project.
  • Did an interview with an Autism publication.
  • Attended Betsy Lane’s Zoom party to celebrate her (awesome) new single, ‘Plan For Paris.’
  • Rewrote my professional bio, or attempted to at least.
  • Had a long phone call with one of my best friends, which I think I really needed (plus she said something to me that may be the most special and important thing anyone has ever said to me).
  • Worked on multiple blog posts for World Autism Awareness Week 2021.
  • Had an excited little freak out about Lexie Grey (played by Chyler Leigh) appearing in Grey’s Anatomy again, even though I’m not watching the show at the moment (I just can’t manage living the pandemic and watching entertainment about it – but I loved Lexie so I look forward to watching it one day).
  • Worked with Richard on my next release.
  • I posted the second video in my acoustic session series, ‘Clarity (Sunburst Sessions).’

  • Had a lovely, long call with one of my best friends.
  • Received a late Christmas gift from one of my parents: a vinyl of the Honest EP!
  • Got a very sweet comment from Natalie Hemby (one of my favourite songwriters) on Instagram.
  • Wrote and submitted a research proposal for a conference.
  • Got my first COVID vaccine!
  • *SPOILER ALERT* Was deeply, deeply upset when Cassie died in the Unforgotten finale – I’m not sure I’ll ever feel the same way about the show and I don’t think I’ll be able to watch the next series.
  • Wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete,’ inspired by Unforgotten but informed by my own experience.
  • Had the initial meeting about the next and final module of the Masters, called The Major Repertoire Project.
  • Worked on a really special song with my friend and coursemate, Anna.
  • Went to a drop-in session (online) with my tutor to get some advice on my assessment work.
  • Posted the third video in my acoustic session series, ‘Sounds Like Hope (Sunburst Sessions).’

  • Had several video calls with my friend, Luce, where we worked on our songs for our assessment portfolios.
  • My Mum cut my fringe again. It was alarmingly short this time.
  • Put up a blog post for every day of Autism Awareness Week.
  • Had my last workshop of the semester, which felt quite emotional.
  • The research proposal that I submitted for the conference was accepted!
  • Celebrated Taylor Swift re-releasing her album Fearless as Fearless (Taylor’s Version).
  • Posted the fourth video in my acoustic session series, ‘Back To Life (Sunburst Sessions).’

  • Rewatched The Wilds while I worked on various things.
  • Started watching The Shires’ online concert but couldn’t finish it because of family commitments.
  • Got some really exciting news about a creative project I’ve been involved with (I can’t talk about it yet since it isn’t my project to announce).
  • Got a new fidget toy that also seems to be complimentary to my Occupational Therapy exercises.
  • Finished my marking for the songwriting competition.
  • Rewatched Dare Me while I was working on various tasks.
  • Met and had my first discussion with my Major Repertoire Project (the final module and project of the Masters) supervisor.
  • Posted the fifth and final video in my acoustic session series, ‘Honest (Sunburst Sessions).’

  • Ended up spending the day in A&E after three days with a migraine had my doctor concerned that I might be experiencing side effects from my COVID vaccine.
  • Dyed my hair again.
  • Finished my coursework for The Writer’s Voice module.
  • Worked on a song with my friend and coursemate, Alessandro, which incidentally meant that I’d written with every person in the group.
  • Submitted my coursework for The Writer’s Voice module.
  • Celebrated one of my parents’ birthdays.
  • Attended several (online) networking meetings organised by my university.
  • Rewatched Blood & Water (Series 1).
  • Upped my Occupational Therapy regimen.
  • Got a haircut for the first time in MONTHS. 
  • Had another migraine that lasted for several days.
  • Released the Honest EP (The Sunburst Sessions).
  • Had a very distressing and unhelpful follow up appointment (by phone) with a rheumatologist (different from the original one).
  • Hit a stumbling block in getting treatment for my ADHD.

As I said in the last part of this list, hopefully there won’t be reason to continue this post; hopefully there won’t be any more lockdowns. But I guess only time will tell. I’ve found it strangely comforting to keep this list; it’s kind of like a time capsule for these strange periods of time, if that makes sense.

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well and I’ll see you in the next post.

February Album Writing Month 2021

So, every February for the last several years, I have been attempting FAWM or February Album Writing Month, an annual songwriting challenge where participants try to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February. And it’s definitely a challenge. If you have a job, are in some form of education, or have time consuming responsibilities (such as looking after family, handling health issues, etc), you likely have limited time to write. But having a time based challenge like FAWM – with a Twitter spitting out prompts and forums full of people sharing ideas and tips – can be a really great way to help carve out some time and boost motivation. I’ve always found it to be a great experience, one that has produces really interesting songs, whether I actually manage to complete the challenge or not.

I completed it last year and wrote some songs I’m really proud of it, plus I had so much fun, so I was really excited to do it again this year. I was collecting ideas and come 1st February, I was raring to go but then a lot of difficult medical stuff came up, hitting me like a ton of bricks. All of that really messed with my head and it suddenly felt a lot harder to manage everything: my physical health, my mental health, my uni work, writing at all, let alone extra writing. I felt like I was constantly on the edge of burning out. But then, as time passed and I worked my way out of the fog, I was able to focus on songwriting again and, for the second year in a row, I managed to complete the challenge of writing 14 songs in 28 days.


These are the songs I wrote:

  1. One More Time – Coming out of a really tough time, I think I wrote this song kind of to myself, encouraging and reminding myself to get up ‘one more time’ because that’s the only way to get through. It was hard to write but I knew the moment I hit the right chorus and I just fell in love with it. It’s definitely one I’d like to release at some point; hopefully it can can do the same thing for someone else as it did for me.
  2. Astronaut – Having always been fascinated with space and the stars, I was always going to end up writing at least one song about being an astronaut (funnily enough, the FAWM Twitter’s prompt the next day was about being an astronaut). I’m not sure it’s quite there yet but I feel like it’s a really solid foundation and I do love some of the lyrics and melodies, so it’s just about really tightening it up, I think.
  3. Half of the Conversation – This song started as a cowriting exercise in a uni seminar and we all liked what we came up with so much that we kept booking sessions together until we finished a first draft. One of the group wants to use it, which the rest of us are totally happy with. So I’m currently trying to arrange a session with him to redraft and make sure he’s happy with it.
  4. Taking Care of Me – This one is another cowrite with a friend/coursemate. We’ve been meaning to write together for ages and we finally managed to make it work (with plans for another session to redraft and make the song the best it can be). We had a really fun session that started on one idea and ended up on a completely different one, about practicing setting boundaries and making time for yourself and putting yourself first when you feel that it’s best for you. I really like what we came up with, plus it has one of the oddest lyrics I’ve ever strung together in it.
  5. Prison (Redraft) – I first wrote ‘Prison’ during FAWM last year and was really proud of it as a first draft but with the pandemic and then going back to uni, I haven’t managed to work on it again until now. I’m really pleased with the new and improved version and I feel like the metaphor is even stronger.
  6. Keep The Memories – I wrote this song with a friend/coursemate, about a person who screwed me over and really messed me up (although I should’ve seen it coming). We have quite different styles but we ended up with something really cool, something that I definitely wouldn’t have done on my own. I’m still tidying it up and refining it but it was a really fun experiment and I’m pleased with it as a first draft.
  7. Roots (Redraft) – I cowrote this with a friend/coursemate just before FAWM began and then, during FAWM, we had another session where we worked on it. We both really loved the first draft but we experimented with some sections and refined others and hopefully made it better. I think it’s one of my favourite cowrites to have been a part of.
  8. Father’s Eyes – I wrote this song with the same person I cowrote ‘Roots’ with and while it was hard to write – writing about my Dad always is – I feel good about what we’ve come up with. It’s not exactly comfortable but it’s honest and special and I’m grateful to have had someone I felt safe with to explore the idea and write the song with. I’m looking forward to working on it more and getting it just right. That will feel really good.
  9. Last One Standing – Since the pandemic, I’ve been experimenting with writing stories based on fictional stories and characters. This particular one is about Daisy Johnson from Agents of Shield, possibly my all time favourite show, about her owning how truly powerful she is and how important SHIELD and what SHIELD stands for are to her. I love this song so much. I’ve already edited the lyrics a few times to make sure it’s as clear and impactful as possible and I think it’s really close to being done.
  10. Soul – Another fiction-based song, this one is from the perspective of Emily Byrne from Absentia, another of my favourite shows. It covers some of her emotional processing at the end of Season 1, after her trauma, after being on the run, after the mystery is (apparently) solved. It’s not my favourite song I’ve written but the idea and the melody just wouldn’t let me go. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point and find a better way to do what I was trying to do.
  11. Ashes – This one is another Daisy Johnson inspired song, inspired by the end of Season 3 where *SPOILER ALERT* she abandons SHIELD to go after the Watchdogs (as we later find out in Season 4). We don’t see her make that decision in the show and I’ve always been intrigued by the various ways it might’ve played out. I wrote this from her perspective, when she’s still very much drowning in her guilt and pushing away all the people that care about her.
  12. Hurricane – I already have a song called ‘Hurricane’ but when it comes to this song, not only is ‘Hurricane’ a working title but I highly doubt I’ll ever release this song. It was another experiment, another Absentia inspired song based on the early interactions between Emily and Cal and how their traumatic experiences give them a deep understanding of each other, something that they haven’t received from anyone else. I always really liked that about their relationship, that even though their experiences were different, there was a level of understanding unique to the two of them, something that strengthens both of them. So I tried to write a song about it. Again, I’m not sure I’ve gotten it right yet but there are parts of it that I really like.
  13. Monster – My third and final Absentia inspired song revolved around how various people and circumstances tried to turn Emily into a killer, into a monster. And when I started writing it, I intended for this version of Emily to embrace that, like, ‘Okay, you want a monster? I’ll give you a monster.’ And while that’s how the narrative played out, it became more complex. Almost of her own accord, she embraced what they’d given her (the skills, the emotional compartmentalisation, and yet this unrelenting rage, etc) and turned it back on them. She flipped the script: ‘You wanted me to be a monster? Well, here I am and this is what I’m capable of. Are you scared yet?’ It was probably the most interesting writing process during FAWM; I felt more like I was along for the ride than I had with any of the other songs. It’s not perfect yet – it needs some redrafting – but it feels like a really solid song.
  14. Even Me – I wrote this song with a good friend/coursemate about how, after a break up, all the things and places that were made special by the relationship feel ruined. We had such a great session: it was really productive but we also had so much fun and I’m really happy with how it’s turned out. It needs some refining but I feel like it’s a really solid first draft.
  15. Redraft of a friend/coursemate’s song – I didn’t cowrite this song so I don’t think it’s fair to share too much about it but a friend from my course asked if I’d help her redraft and refine a song she’d written and we had a really productive session. We did some restructuring to improve the flow of the narrative and the narrator’s journey; we switched out some lines to add emotional impact; we rewrote a section to add another layer to the situation described. The song was good already but I feel like we really tightened it up. It felt really collaborative and I had a really good time. Bringing a new idea to life is magical but there’s also something deeply satisfying about honing an idea to, hopefully, be the best it can be.

I actually worked on several more songs but didn’t manage to finish them or couldn’t arrange the cowriting sessions within the time period to finish them. And while most of these songs are still first drafts, I feel really good about a lot of them and where they’re headed. So I’m pretty proud of myself, especially considering how much I was struggling earlier in the month.

Although it’s called February ALBUM Writing Month, I don’t tend to think about writing a cohesive album, more an album’s worth of material. Creating a really good body of work takes so much thought and planning and usually a lot more than 14 songs to get a really good, cohesive body of work. But the challenge gets me so excited and energised when it comes to my songwriting that that’s the real benefit for me. I’m not going to be able to keep writing at this pace with all my uni work and health stuff going on, but I’ve really enjoyed this time to really dedicate to my writing and obviously I’m going to keep writing as much as I can around everything else I’m balancing.

I’d love to include links to these songs so that you guys could hear them (recording, production, and uploading is part of the challenge but I don’t want to put them out there when I don’t know what’s going to happen with them). I haven’t had time but, as I said, I don’t know if I’m going to release them or not and I wouldn’t want to spoil that. Because some of these songs are definitely headed for release…

2020 in Review

What the fuck was this year? I don’t even know. To think I ended 2019 with the phrase: ‘2020, please be kind.‘ I really don’t know how to write about this year. Time has become a bit of a nebulous concept and after a lot of thought, the only way I could divide up this year was by separating it into three ‘chapters’: pre-pandemic, lockdown-into-summer, and semester three of my Masters. It’s a bit of a weird system but then, is there anything about this year that hasn’t been weird?

So, here we go. This is my review of 2020, a year I’m sure none of us will ever forget.


PRE-PANDEMIC

The beginning of the year, the two and a half-ish months before the pandemic became less about ‘wash your hands’ and more ‘we’re going into national lockdown’ (in the UK anyway), feel impossibly long ago and kind of frighteningly busy. Looking back through my photos, it’s so odd to think that that version of me – of all those people in the pictures – had no idea what was coming. And now we’re entirely different people. I mean, I know I’m a completely different person because of the last nine months. I’m only speaking for myself but I imagine that a lot of people can relate to that feeling. I look at photos of myself from January, February, March and I almost don’t recognise myself…

Anyway, on with the review.

I wrote up January at the time because it was such a busy, emotional month. I had a frantic Christmas break, preparing for my January assessments (due to a misunderstanding about the assessment, a lot of my research wasn’t helpful and so I had to redo it so I got almost no free time during that holiday). That was incredibly stressful, as was the presentation, and I was beyond exhausted afterwards. And between the second single of the Honest EP, ‘Clarity,’ coming out and the very distressing DSA assessment in the following week, I didn’t really get any rest between the first and second semesters. And to top it off, I was pretty upset about the grade I received and by the time I felt coherent enough to appeal it, the deadline had passed. But in hindsight, it was the first grade of the Masters with a very new approach to working and grading so it’s probably not that surprising, especially as an autistic student.

The new module I was studying, Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”), was really interesting and for the most part, the lectures were really engaging, something that was definitely aided by how passionate my tutor was about the subject. I’ve known him since my BA and he’s so knowledgeable; he’s a really great teacher and he’s a big part of why I did so well in the module. Not that my tutor in the first module wasn’t great – she’s truly awesome and so inspiring and I learned so much from her – but I learned a lot about how the Masters worked in that first semester that I was able to put into practice for the second semester, making it easier on my mental health and helping me to work more effectively, which did result in a much better grade. I found the songwriting classes less inspiring but since I was challenging myself with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for a big part of the module, that wasn’t too big an issue.

I got to spend some really good time with my friends, both in and out of uni. A couple of them came down from London to visit me, which was really nice. Others I spent time with at uni or around London. I also had lots of writing sessions with people, which was really, really fun. I love my uni friends so much – I love my non-uni friends as well, of course, but during the semester, I rarely get to see them because I’m so busy – and there are a solid handful of people I’ve met during my time at BA and MA that I know I’ll be friends with for a really long time. I feel like I learned a lot about friendship this year, as I mentioned in my grateful post, and I just feel so lucky to have met these people; they are so wonderful and I’ve found it really hard to be separated from them for so long. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again and being able to spend time with them in real life whenever that will be.

(I haven’t got photos with all of my friends from this year and I do like to use photos from the year I’m writing about but don’t worry, you’re most certainly not forgotten.)

As well as writing A LOT, I was releasing music and got to play several really, really fun shows but I want to keep the music stuff together so I’ll come back to those.

One sadness of that time was that my favourite place to eat in Brighton closed, first temporarily and then permanently. That was very sad and I know a lot of people were upset by it. They made amazing Belgian fries with loads of homemade sauces and drinks – that I LOVE – that I’ve only ever had when I’ve travelled to and around the Netherlands where I have family. And the staff were absolutely lovely and it was always such an enjoyable experience; I always took friends there when they visited Brighton. So that was a shock. With everything going on this year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go (and I’m not sure it would’ve survived as an independent business) but I have missed it. It was a true Brighton gem for the time it existed.

I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of January, the pre-pandemic part of the year, and possibly the whole year, was having to let go of our beloved Lucky, our nearly sixteen year old black Labrador who we’d first met at three days old. He was very old (most Labradors live to between ten and twelve) and had developed some very difficult health problems in the last year or so of his life. We got home one night and he didn’t get up. He didn’t lift his head. He didn’t wag his tail. He was just done. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever been a part of but the next morning we took him to the vet and they put him to sleep. It was awful and I still miss him everyday, even though I know it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have been more loved, by us, by everyone he met. He was a bit of a legend. I still wish him back but, again, as I said in my Grateful post, I’m glad that he hasn’t had to live through the pandemic, the sensitive soul that he was; it would’ve been very stressful for him. And the idea that we might’ve had to have him put down during one of the lockdowns where we couldn’t be with him is unbearable, so I do take some comfort from that timing. Still, the house feels empty without him.

Life was fundamentally different after that but we kept going, day by day, and there were good moments. I got to see my course mates put on an awesome show at a local venue, Song Suffragettes announced that they were coming to the UK on tour (I’m pretty sure I dug into my savings to get a ticket for every show…), and my Mum and I celebrated Lucky’s sixteenth birthday, even though he was no longer with us. I’d been planning it and so we just decided to celebrate for ourselves. I think that, in the future, we will think of him or go on a specific walk or something to remember him, even if we don’t actually ‘celebrate’ his birthday. The date will just be an excuse to dedicate some time to thinking about him and all the years we had together.

As well as dedicating the month of February to FAWM, I also took on the #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s, organised by my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother, to raise awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss focussed charities. The challenge involved doing something everyday for thirty days that was positive for your wellbeing; I saw a lot of people doing yoga, for example. I chose origami and made a different piece everyday. These were some of my favourites:

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I was lucky enough to see several shows and concerts before everything closed down. That’s something I’ve really missed this year as they’re sort of THE thing that I spend my money on and go out to. I was going to see The Shires, Alanis Morissette, OneRepublic, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, the Song Suffragettes UK Tour, Taylor Swift at Hyde Park, and Tin Pan South in Nashville – those last three cancellations in particular hit me the hardest. I’d been so looking forward to them so I was really, really upset when they were postponed and then eventually cancelled.

However, I did manage to see Halsey twice on The Manic World Tour, which was incredible. I love her, I love this album (it was one of my favourite albums of the year), and the show was just mind-blowing. It was awesome to see her get to play at The O2 Arena (her biggest headline show to date, I believe), especially on International Women’s Day. She’s an amazing performing but I also love how she speaks to the crowd; it feels like she’s speaking just to you. I wanted to run out of the arena ahead of all the crowds so that that illusion wouldn’t be broken. Both shows, but especially that show in London, felt very special.

I also got to see Sara Bareilles in Waitress The Musical several times. I’ve seen several actresses (all amazing) play Jenna but there was something really special about seeing Sara play her, as the person who’d written so many beautiful songs coming from her perspective as a character. It took a minute to stop seeing Sara as Sara and start seeing her as Jenna but once I’d gotten my head around that, I was just enthralled. She was fantastic and so special; I loved the show all the more for seeing her in the lead role. I was lucky enough to go a handful of times and of those, on several special occasions (sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident): I saw Sara’s first show, I saw the one year anniversary of Waitress in London show, and I saw Sara’s final show, which also turned out to be Waitress’ final London show. So while I knew that show was special, I didn’t realise quite how special it was until much later. I tried my best to meet Sara (one day, I hope…) but for most of the shows, Sara was either out of the building before we could line up or we were hustled away pretty quickly. I did see her on the last night – she walked up and down the queue of people waiting and waved to everyone – but she didn’t stop to talk or take pictures or accept gifts because of the growing concern about COVID-19. That show was actually the last thing I did before we went into lockdown, not that I knew it at the time.

Everything changed very quickly. One day I was talking to my friend about plans we had later in the week and the next, she was on the plane home before the borders closed. I made the decision to start self isolating but before I would’ve had to go back to uni (or, having come to this decision, contact them about it), the classes were moved online.

LOCKDOWN-INTO-SUMMER

The UK officially went into national lockdown on the 24th March. I’d already been self isolating for eleven days, as had my Mum, apart from necessary trips out (food shopping and business related stuff that had to be done in person). I had two weeks of online classes plus my assessment essay, which I was already working on. It’s strange: at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the outside world because I was a hundred percent focussed on my essay (and it was probably the most difficult, research heavy essay I’ve ever had to write). Maybe I was channeling all of my anxiety into that so that I didn’t have to engage with my paralysing anxiety about the pandemic. But then the essay was done and submitted and it all came flooding in.

Between the inevitable post semester and assessment period crash and the pandemic anxiety hitting me full force, I just went to pieces. I was either having meltdowns or staring blankly at old tv shows, too overwhelmed by fear to function. That went on for weeks and to be honest, it’s kind of a blur. I think I was in some sort of checked out, survival mode haze. I just could not cope. In hindsight (and in the few moments of coherent thought I had at the time) I was and am so grateful that I had that summer semester off. Many of my friends on the Masters were having to work on their final projects during one of the toughest periods of our lives (and created incredible work in spite of it) and I just could not have done it. My mental health was in tatters. Even now that I’m in a better, more stable place, I still feel deeply traumatised by the events of the last nine months: by the constant fear and paralysing anxiety, by the sheer overwhelming grief that so many people have experienced and are experiencing, by the confusion and frustration and outright horror at how the government – the people we depend on to lead us and take charge during extreme situations – have behaved. I mean, how do you cope with completely losing faith in your country’s leaders? Who are you supposed to turn to? Anyway. That could easily turn into a rant and that’s not what this post is about.

I’m not really sure when I started to come out of that because it was such a gradual process. But slowly, with LOTS of ups and downs, I started to feel more able to engage – if only with the people directly around me and the things that I enjoyed doing. Thank god for the cats (and Mum – I’ve talked about how grateful I am for her in my Grateful post – but we both agree that the cats were a lifesaver during the lockdown). They’ve been so good for my mental health this year. It’s so mindful to watch them; you can’t help but feel calmer, watching them play or snuggle and so on. Especially without Lucky, their cuteness and cuddles have been vital and the ridiculous playful moments have made me laugh even when it felt impossible. I’m so, so glad to have had them around during this time and they certainly seem to enjoy our constant presence at home; a day rarely goes by without one cat or another draping themselves over me. As I said, they’ve been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without them.

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I had online therapy sessions but I struggled with them and often ended up cancelling at the last minute because they just felt too overwhelming. All I could think about was the pandemic and my fears around it; I didn’t want to dig into that even more and it felt impossible to talk about anything else. So my sessions were fairly sporadic throughout the lockdown and most of the year really. I think, in hindsight, therapy just felt too big, too overwhelming to be helpful while all of my emotions felt so incredibly heightened and raw. I was just focussing on getting from one day to the next. The cats were a big help; I started escaping into the worlds of new films and TV shows, like Absentia and Away; and I lived for the livestreams that a handful of people were doing in place of live shows. My favourites were Kalie Shorr’s, both because I love her and because she did so many of them. She did interviews with both interesting and entertaining questions, played covers, and played her own songs, released and unreleased. I’m so grateful to Kalie for doing all of that; they really helped me keep going, helped me get through the darkest of my pandemic-induced depression.

As I said, towards the end of the first UK lockdown, I became a bit more functional, although it was like balancing on a tightrope: one little knock and I was plunging back into overwhelming anxiety and depression. And it happened a lot. But I also had better, more productive moments. I managed to write a couple of songs (which is pretty monumental what with my mental health being so bad); I had writing and production sessions with Richard; I started gentle music theory lessons in preparation for the upcoming semester with one of my parents (she’s a music teacher); I spent a lot of time playing piano (I started experiencing awful nerve pain in my left hand – as well as in my back and leg – during the first lockdown so playing guitar was basically impossible); and I stayed up until almost six am to watch Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show and chat with her in a meet and greet session afterwards. So I was doing just about okay. Probably the biggest help was that all of my family (and most of my friends) were being exceedingly careful around going out: fortunately able to work at home, they only went out for essential trips, like food shopping and picking up medication, etc. I’m so grateful to them for that. So beyond grateful.

The lockdown began to loosen and more and more people were out, which I found terrifying. The silence outside had been weird at first but suddenly every little sound turned me into an anxious mess. Hearing people converse outside the shop we live above, for example, caused so many panic attacks (for fear that those people were spreading the virus). It was awful. For most of the summer, I kept the windows and curtains closed, enclosing myself in my own protective little bubble. It was the only way I could find to protect my mental health. With the gyms opening, I was desperate to swim again (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s the only exercise I can do) – both for my physical and mental health – but I just didn’t feel safe at my usual pool. Their precautions just didn’t feel tight enough. On the plus side, after various COVID tests, I finally got to see my brother for the first time in months – longer than I think we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. We were still careful but it was so, so wonderful to see him.

Meanwhile, music stuff (mostly to do with the Honest EP) was still happening. Again, I want to keep most of this together (I’ll probably put it all in one paragraph towards the end) but I think this particular day is important beyond the musical context. I’d spent a lot of time worrying about the music video for ‘Back To Life,’ the next single due to be released at the time because my original idea wasn’t going to be possible during the pandemic, even with the lockdown restrictions having been loosened. Richard and I spent a long time discussing it and eventually came up with a plan…

The filming of the video was a big deal for me. I found it very difficult and very stressful being out for so long (even though our planning meant that, of the videos we shot for the EP, this one took the least time) and just being near people caused me a lot of anxiety, even down on the beach at the water’s edge. We were incredibly careful and I did manage to enjoy it to a certain extent but I’m grateful not to have to do another music video under such conditions. It took everything out of me; I spent the next three days on the sofa, barely able to move from the exhaustion. I have no idea how I managed to look so relaxed and even happy in the video. But, as I said, I’ll talk more about it when I talk about the whole EP process this year.

The rest of the summer was pretty gentle. I was trying really hard to improve and manage my mental health. It still wasn’t great but I was coping better than I had been earlier in the pandemic. So I spent a lot of time doing things that have proven to be good for my mental health: I listened to the Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, on repeat; I played a lot of piano; I wrote songs when I could; I had video calls and online movie nights with my friends; I kept writing for the blog. I took part in research projects involving Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, and Anxiety; helping out with these always gives me a mental and emotional boost because it feels like some good is coming out of my difficulties, even if they don’t improve my experience directly. I also watched the final season of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show ever. That was a very emotional experience because the show, and the character of Daisy Johnson, have been a really important part of my life over the last few years and the emotional processing of stuff from my childhood.

And I continued to work on my music theory as the module was based on these concepts and I wanted to be as prepared as possible but I found the idea of going back to university very stressful. I really didn’t want to defer so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the new semester, what I felt safe doing. I’d originally thought that I’d much rather defer than do online or blended classes but now that the semester was almost upon me, I felt a lot less sure. After a lot of thought and discussion with my family and course mates, I decided to go back as an online student. It wasn’t ideal because of the lack of social interaction and how much harder it made cowriting sessions but I didn’t feel safe commuting to London to be in a building full of people from all over for just two hours a week. It just felt like too much anxiety for not enough reward. Online seemed like the most productive way forward. But even with that choice made, the process of going back to university, getting clear information, the correct timetable, etc, was incredibly stressful, causing meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. I really wasn’t at all sure whether I was going to be able manage university classes during a pandemic.

SEMESTER THREE OF MY MASTERS

The beginning of the semester was a bit rocky as the university tried to make blended classes (the online and onsite groups combined as one using Microsoft Teams) but in the end, it was simply easier and a more productive use of the time to split the onsite and online groups. My groups were great and everyone was really supportive and encouraging, tutors and students alike. Plus it was fun to work regularly with Richard again. The work was hard and the songwriting briefs difficult since musical language isn’t my strong point but after really positive meetings with both of my tutors, I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or miss a brief if I needed to. As long as we was experimenting with our music – with the use of melody, harmony, arrangement, etc – and turned in the assessment work, everyone was pretty relaxed about what we were working on.

Despite a pretty heavy workload, I managed to get up to quite a lot during the semester. I celebrated my 26th birthday with the family I could and had a couple of socially distanced meet ups with friends; it was simple and quiet but I’m not really into big celebrations anyway. It would’ve been nice to see more of my family though.

I saw a lot of really awesome live-streamed shows, including Ingrid Andress at The Bluebird Cafe, various shows throughout the virtual Country Music Week and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Festival (I’m so grateful that we didn’t lose out on them entirely because of the pandemic), Halsey’s poetry book release day livestream, Maren Morris’ livestream concert, and Kalie Shorr’s charity StageIt show. But my personal highlights were Sugarland’s livestream show, Kalie’s ‘Unabridged For The First Time’ show (even though technical difficulties meant I missed bits of it), several of the Tin Pan South shows, and Tim Minchin’s ‘Apart Together’ livestream show.

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I also attended several webinars and conferences about ASD and mental health, as well as actually speaking at one. That was a really special experience, being invited to speak on a panel and share my experience about being autistic. I felt like I was really able to use my experience to help other people and several of the attendees confirmed how useful my contributions had been. So that felt like a really significant moment.

Even though I was still on the course, many of my friends did the Masters in one year rather than two. They had a virtual graduation ceremony, which I attended in support. They all created such incredible work and under such difficult circumstances; I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they go on to do. Some of them have already released really cool and interesting work and I know that many more are working on really cool projects. We had a celebratory drink via video call afterwards, which was good fun. I hadn’t seen a lot of them since March so I really enjoyed that.

I finally found somewhere to swim that actually felt safe, or as safe as possible: they had really strict safety measures. So I finally got to swim again and it was awesome. Each session gave me such a mental boost and it felt so good to exercise and really stretch my muscles again. I couldn’t get there as often as I would’ve liked (they spread the bookings out to keep the numbers low) but it was absolutely wonderful to be going again. It was erratic, especially with the second lockdown and most of the country now in Tier 4, but I enjoyed every second of it while I had it and I will again when the pool reopens.

The swimming was also good for the nerve pain in my back and leg. A few months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with hypermobility (very common with autistic individuals) and referred for hydrotherapy, which I’m unlikely to get for a while, but the swimming and basic exercises I’d been given did help. Or they seemed to anyway. I’ve also been referred to Rheumatology, Occupational Therapy, Pain Management, and had an MRI just to rule out anything unrelated to being hypermobile. It’s been a very slow process but I feel like we are starting to make progress, which feels really good.

The US Election was obviously a massive deal and not just in the US. I’m really glad that it fell during my reading week because there’s no way I would’ve been able to concentrate on classes. I’m honestly surprised by how much work I got done that week, given how much time I spent checking the news outlets for updates. In the end, it was Richard who texted me that the result was in. I shrieked, I laughed, and then I cried. I was so relieved.

Apart from swimming, the second lockdown didn’t change much for me. I was spending most of my time at my laptop, working on uni stuff. I had to turn in a portfolio of songs and an essay on the 4th January and, determined to get an actual break this year (unlike last year), I worked super hard: I wanted to have all of the work done before Christmas. So the end of the semester was intense and suddenly it was the last week, the session with Richard, and then the Christmas holidays. I worked every day from the end of the semester to Christmas Eve but I did manage to get all of the work done, which I was very proud of.

Christmas was weird. We obviously couldn’t see our larger family but then we couldn’t even see my brother because London went into Tier 4 (and then we went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day). I’d been prepared for a very different Christmas but it didn’t really emotionally hit me until a few days before and then I found it pretty difficult. We tried to embrace the difference: we decorated our tree with origami creations rather than our usual decorations; we structured our day differently… we kept it as different as we could so that the forced differences (like the lack of my brother) didn’t stick out so much. But we still managed to have a good day, I think. My brother and his partner had made a really great quiz, which we all had so much fun doing. That was definitely the high point for me. We were all together, laughing our heads off, and that felt really good.

I also just want to throw in here that there were some really great albums released in the fourth quarter of the year, which definitely boosted my spirits and inspired me a lot. There was Taylor Swift’s folklore: long pond studio sessions, which was both incredible and a fascinating look into the stories and emotions explored throughout the album; Kalie Shorr released the deluxe version of Open Book, Open Book: Unabridged, which included four new tracks, all of them as stunning as the original album tracks, if not even better – ugh, can you tell I love this album? And then, as if folklore wasn’t a big enough surprise, Taylor Swift released a second surprise album, evermore, which was another amazing album. The three of these, plus Manic by Halsey, were the musical highlights of my year. I love them all and I learned so much from them as a songwriter.

We’ve had a quiet few days up to new year, which is good. It’s been nice to have a bit more space to breathe, if that makes sense; there’s a bit less pressure in my life at the moment. Having said that, being in Tier 4 with a spike in COVID cases, has caused my anxiety to rise again.

And that’s the year…

So it’s time to talk about the music. With more content coming, I don’t want to go into too much detail; I kind of want to save the real round up for when everything is done, but I do want to do a quick review of my musical year because I think this is the first year where I’ve really felt like a professional singersongwriter. Of the five tracks on the Honest EP, all but one were released this year (the first single, ‘Bad Night,’ came out late last year). The second single, ‘Clarity,’ came out in early January with an accompanying music video; it did even better than ‘Bad Night’ and was even selected as BBC Sussex & BBC Surrey’s BBC Introducing Track of the Day. That was very cool!

I got to play a handful of gigs, all of which were so much fun. I headlined one of Indigo Eve’s nights, where people both waved their phone lights to a song and sang along to another. It was one of best gigs I’ve done and one of the best nights of the year. I played as part of my university’s songwriters’ circles, which is probably my favourite uni event; it was particularly special because it was the LGBTQ+ History Month special. That meant a lot to me and it was a great round. All of the performers were fantastic and the atmosphere was so positive. Looking back at my Instagram post about the show, I said, “I’m just on a joy train!” That was very accurate; it was a wonderful night. I was also invited to perform in the foyer of The Brighton Dome for their Access Open Day event; it was so much fun and I was giddy about the fact that I was performing there again when it was the first place I publicly performed. And before the lockdown started, I even managed a day in the studio, recording a fun project with some friends.

Everything slowed down when lockdown began but with a lot of help from Richard, we did eventually get the EP cycle moving again, starting with the release of ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘. A month or so later, the third single of the EP, ‘Sounds Like Hope,’ came out, followed by a music video beautifully animated by the lovely Lois de Silva. This one didn’t do as well as the previous two but it was a much slower, less radio friendly song so that wasn’t surprising. Having said that, it got some of the highest praise of the EP so although it didn’t reach as many people as the others, it seemed to really resonate with the people who did hear it.

The summer was a very exciting time, in terms of the EP. I got to ‘perform’ in the virtual Disability Pride Brighton Festival: they played the ‘Invisiblemusic video and it was streamed online and on TV! That was very cool: seeing myself on the television for the first time! Then, as I described earlier, Richard and I planned and filmed the music video for ‘Back To Life.’ I was very anxious about putting this one out, given its upbeat sound and title during the pandemic. But in the end, I decided that to leave it out would be to release an incomplete body of work, as the song is an important part of the EP. So I announced it with this message: “Given the difficult and often distressing times we’re currently experiencing, I seriously considered delaying the release of new music, especially as we reach the more upbeat songs on the EP. But I didn’t want to leave the story half told. This song represents the upward turn after a painful chapter of my mental health and it feels important to include because while there are brutal lows, there are also wondrous highs. They’re all important and all part of the journey.” (x) I released the song in August, hoping that people would understand that the title was metaphorical, rather than literal. It didn’t do quite as well as the others had but given everything, I wasn’t surprised. It may have done better in a world without the pandemic but then we’ll never know, will we? Richard edited the video – with my feedback at various stages – and despite it not being what I’d originally imagined, I absolutely loved it. I’m really proud of it, especially given the circumstances and stress under which it was made.

And then, in October, I released the fifth and final single of the Honest EP, the title track, ‘Honest.’ It’s my favourite song on the EP and putting the last of our budget into promoting it, it did really, really well – the best of the EP. I’m so proud of it: the song means so much to me. It felt fitting to have the music video show some of the weird and wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ of this EP process…

As I said, the project isn’t over yet so I don’t want to write anything that sounds like too much of a conclusion but I’ve learned so much from it, from this year. I’ve learned a lot, dealt with enough stress that it’s probably taken years off my life, and never been so proud of anything I’ve done. I can’t wait to share the rest in 2021…

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This blog post spiralled into something much bigger than I thought it would. But then, given that ‘normal life’ sort of evaporated around us and everything was constantly changing, maybe it’s not that surprising. I guess, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t leave to assumption so I included them just to be sure. Hopefully it’s made sense and got you thinking (or not thinking) about your experience of this year. It’s weird, isn’t it: we’ve all gone through this massive, world-encompassing event together and yet our years will look quite different. It reminds me of a quote I saw on social media (that I will have to paraphrase, unable as I am now to find it): “We’re all on the same sea but we’re all in different boats.” So, yes, we all experienced a global pandemic but our personal situations created a spectrum of experiences, with either end looking nothing alike. But I think we can all say that we’ll always remember this year. I know I will.

Although I spent a lot of the year feeling very negative, feeling depressed or anxious or frustrated or angry, I’m actually finishing the year feeling overwhelmed by gratitude. Yes, I’m anxious about being in Tier 4 and the rising COVID numbers – I think it would be ignorant not to be – but I’m just so grateful for all the positive moments and experiences that I’ve had this year. And, of course, the people in my life. I could not have gotten through this year without them.

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I don’t even know how to fully sum up this last year. If I thought 2019 was difficult, 2020 was on a whole new level of emotional chaos. I’ve been in survival mode for most of it, just trying to wade through waters that kept rising and rising, and every time I thought I’d found my balance, another strong wave appeared to knock me down. It’s easily been the hardest year of my life and one I know I won’t ever forget. But as painful and terrifying and exhausting as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments too: pre-pandemic gigs, releasing my EP, the contact with my friends and family, time with my cats, the awesome music, movies, and TV shows I’ve discovered this year, the chances to swim… So despite all the negative emotions I’ve experienced this year (and continue to experience), I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the good in my life. // There’s a blog post with all my ramblings via the link in my bio 💜” (x)