Plans For My Empty Semester

Because of the way my course is organised for part time students, I now have a semester without classes while the full time students do their third semester. I’ve been looking forward to this, not just to take a bit of a break but to work on new music with the skills I’ve learned, return to hobbies I haven’t had the time or energy for while doing the course, and to just generally catch up with things, be productive, and get some long awaited projects done. Of course, everything changed with the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

So my list is different now, depending on what is possible and what isn’t. I’d started collating this list – this post – before lockdown was announced and I’ve been reluctant to simply scrap it all just because it no longer fits with the future I’d expected. So I thought I’d post it anyway, just divided into different categories, for posterities sake if nothing else. I guess I just want to remember what I’d thought this summer would be like versus what it ends up being like.

Impossible:

  • Get back to swimming regularly – That’s obviously not possible as all the gyms are closed.
  • Mental Health Awareness Week Assemblies – For Mental Health Awareness Week, I was supposed to go back to my old secondary school and do a series of assemblies, talking about mental health, my experiences with it, and play some songs. I was really looking forward to it but then we went into lockdown and schools had closed long before Mental Health Awareness Week.
  • London gigs – I was scheduled to play a couple of shows in London but they were cancelled due to lockdown. Hopefully they’ll happen when it’s safe again.
  • Concerts – I was due to see several shows over the summer including Taylor Swift at Hyde Park and The Shires in London and Brighton but they’ve all been rescheduled or cancelled. I understand it, of course, but I’m still gutted because I was really looking forward to those shows.
  • See Waitress The Musical again – I was hoping to see Waitress at least one more time before it closed but it’s run ended during lockdown and they’ve announced that it will not be returning. I’m so, so sad that I’ll never get to see it again. But I’m grateful that I got to see it as many times as I did and that the last time was Sara Bareilles’ last show. That made it extra special.
  • Get caught up with my photo albums – I’ve wanted to get my photo albums up to date for months but there’s a problem with the external drive that holds my Photos library and since all the shops are closed, including the computer repair shop I go to, I can’t get it fixed until they reopen and it’s safe to go there. And therefore I can’t catch up with my albums yet.

Difficult or Different:

  • Music Theory lessons – I had a plan to improve my knowledge and understanding of music theory during this time, to prepare myself for the next semester but now, my teacher and I can’t meet or even travel to meet for lesson. In theory (pun intended), we can still have lessons using Zoom or FaceTime but it’s definitely more difficult when we can’t sit side by side at the piano, when I can’t lean over to watch his hands, and when he can’t adjust my hands on the keys, and so on. I’m sure we can find a way but it’s definitely more complicated than it was before.
  • Have as many cowriting sessions as possible – I really wanted to spend as much time as possible writing with my friends and course mates. They’re all so amazing and unique. Of course, we can still write using Zoom and FaceTime but it’s not a creative process that I’m super comfortable or productive in. I’ve been doing some but I find them exhausting and just not as much fun as I usually find collaborating.
  • Catch up with my friends – To be fair, I have been catching up with friends but it’s obviously always over Zoom or FaceTime. We can talk and I’m grateful for that but we can’t hang out or hang out in groups and I miss that. I miss just chilling out together, doing things companionably, and my god, I miss hugging them.
  • Sort out my bedroom – This is another project I’ve wanted to do for so long and while there are still aspects I can do (and still plan to do), there are a lot I can’t, which is very frustrating.
  • Create my studio space – Again, this requires changes that aren’t possible right now because having aesthetic building work done obviously doesn’t come under the lockdown advice but there are things I can do and have started to do. Despite the difficulties, I’m creating a space to work – some of which will be permanent and some which are makeshift and I’ll change later when it’s possible – so it’s a start.
  • Create a space to make YouTube content – This project I have yet to figure out and I’m not sure if it’s even possible without certain changes in my room, changes that won’t be possible until life is more normal again. But I’m still turning it over in my head, how and where to create an aesthetically pleasing space to make videos from. So we’ll just have to wait and say when it comes to this one.

Still Possible:

I feel like it’s important to add an extra note to this one because, while all of these plans and activities are physically possible, they’re not necessarily possible. I’ve been seriously struggling with my mental health, especially with my anxiety and depression, and my creativity has taken a serious hit too. So, while I do want to do these things and they are within the rules of what’s allowed and technically possible, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to achieve them, or achieve as many of them as I would like.

  • Write new songs/work on old songs – I’ve been trying so hard at this and I’ve managed some but with my creative and concentration struggles, it takes a lot of hard work and is really emotionally draining. It’s amazing when I can break through the fog though.
  • Sort through my clothes – This is something I’ve started to do but it’s tricky because there’s nowhere to take the clothes I want to pass on. It feels good to be clearing out some of my stuff and creating some space though.
  • Catch up with my diary – I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of ‘catching up with my diary’ but I’d hoped to use this time with limited distractions to really get caught up. But with my concentration in such shambles, it seems to be taking even longer than usual, which is endlessly frustrating. I have to keep going though. My OCD doesn’t take a break just because there’s a pandemic.
  • Start learning the Kalimba – I bought a Kalimba and it was going to be a present to myself for finishing my second semester assessment. I love the sound and I really want to learn how to play but, as I’ve already said, my concentration and motivation haven’t been great so I’m struggling to apply myself to it.
  • See a meteor shower – I have technically done this one already but it wasn’t a very impressive show so I’m looking forward to the big one, the Perseids meteor shower, in August.
  • Update my songwriting book – My songs are all over the place (in various notebooks, my laptop, different hard drives, and random pieces of paper) so I’d really love to compile them all into one book, something I’ve just started to do.
  • Watch some of the things on my To Watch list – I’ve been trying with this one but I’m finding it quite difficult to watch new things. It’s like there isn’t enough space in my brain and I don’t have enough spare emotion to invest in new characters and a new world, etc. Does that makes sense? I’m going to keep trying though. I think it’s going to be a case of just hoping that the trying and a moment of feeling okay will coincide.
  • Improve my guitar skills – I feel like my guitar skills have come to a bit of a halt recently and I really want to get out of that rut and get better. I don’t feel the need to be the best guitarist in the world but I’d love to be proud of what I’m playing when I play solo, rather than feeling like I’m playing a really simple part just to accompany myself.
  • Start coming up with ideas for my Masters final project – It’s not for a while yet but I want to have some potential ideas for my final project so that I have time to think them over and make sure I choose something that’s a good fit, for the exam criteria but also for me as an artist. It will just make me feel more prepared and more inspired when the time to start arrives.
  • Improve my piano skills – Just as with my guitar playing, I want to get better at playing the piano. I love playing the piano but I still feel like a really basic player. I want to be able to play more interesting chords and progressions, with more interesting and unique rhythms and melodies.
  • Read some books from my To Read list – During my course, I don’t tend to have time to read anything other than course related material so I was really excited to read some different stuff, especially fiction. But as with watching new films and TV shows, it just feels too hard to learn a new world and new characters and concentrate enough to get through a book.
  • Take some classes on Skillshare – I love learning. I remember being a kid and someone asked me what I wanted to do when I left education and I was completely mystified by the idea that you’d ever want to leave education, ever want to stop learning (obviously you don’t stop learning things when you leave education but I was very little and that’s what I understood it to mean). I never want to stop learning things and I was excited about having a solid chunk of time where I could focus on learning things outside the sphere of my Masters, as much as I love my course. Having said that, it’s hard to take in new information when I’m struggling with my concentration.

Uncertain:

  • Shooting a music video – It was during this time that Richard and I had planned to shoot a music video and now we don’t know when we’re going to be able to do it, given how far apart we are and the infection risk of travelling there. In theory, we’d be able to do it socially distanced so if we can figure out how to get the two of us there, then we might still be able to create the video I’d always imagined for this song.
  • EP gig – I really wanted to throw an event (a gig and a party rolled into one, I guess) to celebrate the EP and all we achieved with it but I don’t know when gigs are going to be allowed again or, more accurately, when they’re going to be safe again so I’m not whether this plan is possible. I don’t want to do it until it’s completely safe but I also don’t want to wait until months after the EP is complete to have this event. So I’m not sure where we stand with this plan.

I truly have no idea what the next few months will look like (especially with the government making a mess of everything, especially the lockdown) so I don’t know how many of these things I’ll be able to accomplish. Each day is unknown and that’s both terrifying and exhausting. I think that, whether you’re a person with mental health problems or not, just getting through this period of time (and managing your health – physical, mental, and emotional) is achievement enough. So I guess, when the next semester starts, I’ll look back at this post and see what I managed to do while keeping that in mind.

Goals For 2020

So the 19 for 2019 was probably overambitious, especially considering the instability of my mental health. I just didn’t realise how fragile it really was until it crashed. A lot of this year is going to be about looking after and rebuilding my mental health. So this year, I’m going for something a little gentler: a handful of goals that aren’t super specific. They’re more about trying than achieving.

GET BACK TO SWIMMING – For a year, I swam almost everyday and I loved it. It made me feel really good in my body. But then the depression, the medication side effects, the fatigue, and the meltdowns all made that impossible. I was either too unwell or too physically weak. But I really miss it. It wasn’t possible during the first semester of my Masters (my anxiety was so high and I was having so many meltdowns that I just didn’t have the energy) and I’ve spent the holidays working on my assignments but I’m optimistic that this next semester will be a bit gentler and I’ll  have the time and energy to start building the swimming in again.

START WEARING MY INVISIBLE BRACES AGAIN – Again, I did really well at this for a while but the mental health crash derailed it and it was just one thing too much. I was going through so much during the day that pressure in my face during the night was just more than I could take. But my teeth haven’t completely regressed so at least I’m not starting from the beginning. I’m wearing them again and it’s uncomfortable and hard but I’m trying my best to focus on the end goal: straight teeth that make me feel confident when I smile.

COMPLETE YEAR 1 OF MY MASTERS DEGREE – Because of the way the part time course is set up, I only have one more semester this academic year and from what I understand of it, it shouldn’t cause me the same levels of anxiety as the last one, as much as I enjoyed it. I’m also kind of looking forward to the assessment because it’s an essay where you can write about anything music related. How cool is that?! All the possibilities! And that’s year one done so all things going well, that should be possible. I’m cautiously optimistic.

CONSUME NEW MEDIA RATHER THAN JUST FAMILIAR MEDIA – With all the mental health stuff, it’s been hard to engage with anything that isn’t safe and comforting. It’s been especially difficult in the last few months when my OCD has been so bad, because it’s hard to concentrate on something new when I’m trying to write everything down. I’m going to be working on that specifically but also my mental health in general this year so hopefully those needs won’t take up so much time, leaving some time for watching, reading, and listening to new things.

GET BACK TO THERAPY AND FOCUS ON MY MENTAL HEALTH – I only went to therapy sporadically in the second half of the year last year because my therapist and I couldn’t get our schedules to match up and because of certain things going on in our lives and although I don’t yet know my timetable for the new semester, we (me, my Mum, and my therapist) are all determined – furiously so – to make it work because I really need the support. Things have gotten really bad and I really, really need the support.

WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS IN MUSIC – This is probably the hardest one and a lot of the time, it feels unbearable to even think about. While I need to work on not comparing myself to others in general – in all situations – I figure that’s too big a task for such a difficult feeling so I just picked one area. Music has always been my happy place and I want it to stay (or go back to being or something) my happy place and it’s not, when I look at other artists and feel lost and sad and lonely and angry and bitter. So I want to work out – probably with therapy – how to focus on me and not worry about other artists beyond a practical, objective sense. This feels really, really hard so I don’t know if I’ll manage it in a year or whether I’ll even manage to start but I want to so I’m trying to think about it and figure out a place to start because I don’t want to feel all of these things. I want my happy place back.

So these are my goals for this year. It’s difficult to really even think about things like this at the moment because everything feels so, so hard that I just feel overwhelmed. I feel like everything chips off pieces of me and at twenty five, I shouldn’t feel so small. I shouldn’t feel like there’s so little left of me. I’m struggling and I don’t know how to keep going and I don’t know what to do and a big part of me wants to just give up but I don’t know how. How do you give up? Because life just keeps going on without you. I guess that’s why my main goal this year is my mental health because I don’t know what to do anymore.

19 for 2019 Reviewed

In January, I was inspired to try the 19 for 2019 challenge, setting myself nineteen goals to achieve by the end of the year. They didn’t have to be massive goals; they could be one off things to simply try. I was inspired so I came up with nineteen things and gave it a go. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of what a hell of a year I was about to experience.

  1. Stop pulling my hair out – Complicated. I’ve gone long stretches without pulling my hair out but then the stress induced habit has usually been replaced by another one. Right now I’m going through an incredibly stressful time and have recently started pulling again. Maybe next year’s the year.
  2. Read ten books – I read a handful of books early in the year but I didn’t really start to enjoy reading again until I read This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. I devoured that: he has a beautifully personal writing style. Not long after that, I started my Masters Degree and I had an overly ambitious reading list so I read a lot. Plus, I had a phase of reading books from my childhood when I went through my bookshelf. So I definitely read more than ten books.
  3. Get a tattoo – I still haven’t managed to do this. I still like the thought of getting one and have multiple ideas but I really don’t like the way they blur over time. I don’t think I could bear to have a blurred tattoo on my body so I still haven’t gotten one.
  4. Continue swimming (or let it evolve) – There were periods of the year where I did manage this but sometimes the medication I was on meant I physically didn’t have the energy. And then when the kittens were born, I loved watching them in the early mornings, which was when I swam (before the gym got busy and stressful). Add in doing the Masters and what a drain on my energy that was, I haven’t been swimming half as much as I’d life. It’s definitely something I want to get back into in 2020.
  5. Write more songs – Given all the changes of medication (something that always seems to affect my songwriting) during the first six months or so of the year, I wasn’t able to write. I tried. I tried really hard and managed a few with the help of some wonderful cowriters. But now that I’m back on the Phenelzine, I am able to write again, alone and with others and I love it. For me, writing a song is the best feeling world; it’s feeling alive, it’s feeling connected to myself, to my soul, to the universe. It’s feeling real. So I’m writing again, as much as I’m able. And as I’ve started my MA, I’m writing for that too. I’m very aware of how much I’m learning and how much my songwriting is developing.
  6. Get my photo albums up to date – I did. And then they got out of date again. It was something I’d hoped to do over the Christmas break but I’ve literally been working on my assessments every single day. Fortunately my photos are well organised so when I have some time, it won’t be a terrifying task to attempt.
  7. Pursue the cause of my tiredness – I’ve tried. My god, I’ve tried. I’ve seen doctors and been to the Chronic Fatigue Clinic for a general session but that wasn’t at all helpful. I knew everything they told and have known for years and the other people there hadn’t been dealing with it for a fraction of the time I have been. So I didn’t feel very positive about that experience. I’m waiting for a follow up from them but I had no idea when that will be or how much it will help me.
  8. Improve my instrument skills – I barely did anything musical for a significant part of the year due to medication side effects and crushing depression so I’ve probably gone backwards in my instrumental skills. Having said that, I have been working on them since I started the Masters (particularly the piano so I didn’t have to carry a guitar up and down from London). So not a total loss. And hopefully this will continue as I continue with the Masters.
  9. Watch a meteor shower – In January actually, I did manage to catch a meteor shower and it was beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how magical meteors are; they’re just takes me breath away. And there was one huge one that streaked across the sky, like a knife cutting through the roof of a tent and letting in light. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
  10. Write more poetry – I did write a little poetry, but that was only during NaPoWriMo. Either my mental health was going down the drain or I was too busy writing songs for poetry. Why is there never enough time? Sometimes I feel like the world is moving really fast around me while I move at an ordinary speed.
  11. Finishing decorating and organising my room – I started to and then I somewhat undecorated it with the creation of the music video for my single, ‘Bad Night.’ While it’s mostly been returned to rights, there’s still some damage (a fist sized crack in the plaster that I haven’t gotten around to repairing). It’s just one of those things that’s always on the list but slips down to more urgent things. Hopefully I’ll get there at some point.
  12. Find an alcoholic drink I like – I’m now back on a medication that means I can’t really drink. The odd drink is fine but yeah, I can’t really drink. Before that though, I tried a lot of different types of alcohol and just really hated all of them. I also discovered that I’m allergic to limes, which are in a ridiculous amount of alcoholic drinks, including one that I actually did like. The one drink that I do enjoy is a passionfruit mojito even though it does contain lime extracts. So far, drinking them – and I’m not drinking them very often – doesn’t cause a reaction.
  13. Find a tea or coffee I like – Nope, they all still taste awful to me. I find it frustrating because drinking coffee is such a ‘normal’ thing and I feel like, having been denied so much by my Autism, it’s unfair that I don’t even get to be normal in this tiny way.
  14. Get invisible braces – Success! I was fitted for invisible braces and have received the first half of the set. I did really well at wearing them for a while but during the second half of the year, I haven’t done so well. It just felt like too much when I was struggling with serious anxiety. I’m hopeful that, with what seems like a less stressful semester starting January, I’ll be better at wearing them.
  15. Go rock climbing – Nope. I would’ve loved to but again, all the medication and energy stuff made that impossible. Another dream for another year.
  16. Participate in FAWM – I tried really, really hard to take part in February Album Writing Month but as it was (obviously) at the beginning of the year when I was trying different medications and therefore really struggling with my writing, I didn’t get far. I made several solid attempts and wrote several parts of songs but I didn’t manage to write even one full song.
  17. Participate in NaPoWriMo – Again, I tried and did write some poetry but nothing I was terribly enthused by. And I wasn’t particularly consistent and didn’t do it everyday but I tried. I tried.
  18. Donate blood again – I would’ve loved to have donated blood again but a lot of the medications made me ineligible to donate, which sucks because it’s something that’s really important me. So this is off the cards for the moment but as soon as it’s possible again, I’ll be back.
  19. Join the bone marrow register – Another one I’ve failed at. There’s just been too much health stuff and I’ve just been too unwell to think about it. Plus there were long stretches where I simply forgot. I want to do it so it will stay on the list until I manage it.

So it’s a pretty mixed bag and considering the year I had, I’m surprised I managed any of them at all. I’ve struggled throughout the year, especially recently, with how little I’m achieving and the frustration and anger and guilt that comes with that, that comes with living with mental health problems and a developmental disability. I’m trying to focus on the fact that, where I could, I tried. I tried to do as many of these things as possible.

Overall, an interesting challenge but I think I’ll try something different for 2020. I haven’t found the right kind of goal system yet so I’m just gonna have to keep looking and keep trying.