2018 in Review

This year has been a struggle. Almost eighteen months ago, I made the decision to change my medication and that has basically been my life ever since. Lots of pills and doctors appointments but mostly dealing with the side effects, everything from nausea to shaking to a complete inability to think clearly. I don’t think I realised what a huge undertaking it was going to be but it’s not exactly surprising: you’re throwing all the chemicals in your brain and body out of whack. I tried Venlafaxine, Lithium, and Lamotrigine; I weaned myself off Venlafaxine, tried Amitriptyline, and now I’m taking Pregabalin and Clomipramine. This is the most promising combination so far and I’ve actually had a few really good days so I’m cautiously optimistic. But it’s been a long, hard road, sometimes so difficult that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. And I don’t really feel able to acknowledge the good bits without paying tribute to the really tough things I had to go through and so got through.

The first of The Big Difficult Things was moving house. God, that was a struggle. Having thought that I’d found some sort of peace around it, when it came to the day, I was absolutely devastated. There were a lot of tears – from all of us. That house was my home for fifteen years – home to the greatest triumphs and tragedies of my life – and so, to some extent, it will always be my home. I think I could probably walk into my old bedroom twenty years from now and fall right back into that old rhythm.

I’m still learning the rhythms of the new house. There are days where it feels normal and then others where I hate it so much I could scream. Most of the time, it still feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s house with all our stuff in. But every day is a step in the right direction. We’re filling all the empty space with memories, slowly but surely.

I’ve been writing a lot about Claire Wineland of late but I couldn’t write about this year and not mention her. Her death was another of The Big Difficult Things of this year. I stumbled across her YouTube channel late last year and have been following her on social media ever since. She was – and still is – a big inspiration for me and her death hit me really hard. It just makes no sense to me and never will and I’m still struggling to cope with that.

And through all of this, depression has been my constant, oppressive companion. While I had experienced depression before, this was a whole new kind of prison. The lows were lower than I’d ever experienced and there were several pretty scary moments. And as well as affecting my mood, my depression made it almost impossible to write songs. I’ve had many discussions about writer’s block over the years and I’ve always thought that there are things that can make writing difficult and so you have to figure out what’s causing the block and address it. In my case, it feels like depression suppresses the creative part of my brain: I don’t get random sparks of inspiration, I can’t solve problems creatively, and any active creativity – like songwriting – is like pulling teeth. It feels like writing songs requires a certain level of functioning that I’m just not capable of reaching while depressed. I want to write more about this – about depression and writer’s block – but that’s for another post.

Having said all of that, there have been good days, as well as good experiences on bad days.

By far the best part of this year has been the time spent with my friends and family, whether that be online or in the physical world, in Nashville, London, or Brighton. Or anywhere in between. These people have kept me going through the hardest period of my life so far and I’m so ridiculously grateful to them for that.

I got to travel a little bit this year, which was amazing. I managed to get back to Nashville where I had the most intense ten days possibly of my life. I got to see some lovely people, write songs (or try to), listen to some of the best songwriters in the world, and play a Song Suffragettes show. Even though I was incredibly anxious about it, that may very well have been the best day of my year.

IMG_0323

I also travelled to Iceland for the first time and saw so many beautiful things, including a 60m waterfall, the Diamond Beach, and the Northern Lights. The natural scenery in Iceland took my breath away time and again. It felt like the first breath you take after being underwater. Of course, there was a lot of anxiety during the trip but it helped me in a way that only the magnificence of nature is able to.

IMG_1074

There have been more wonderful live music events than I can count: Paramore, Kelsea Ballerini, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby (and all of Tin Pan South in Nashville), Frank Turner, Betsy Lane, The Shires, Sinead Burgess, The Brummies, Halsey, Kina Grannis, Aislin Evans, Maren Morris, and of course, Taylor Swift. Despite the anxieties around concerts, these are the places where I feel most alive and so, throughout this difficult period, I’ve always tried to ensure that there was another concert to look forward to.

And despite my musical struggles this year, I’ve actually played a few gigs and played shows that I am so proud to have been a part of. I got to play with WRTW again and it was even more fun than the first time (if that’s possible). I played Autism’s Got Talent in London, which was such a great opportunity. I played for Brighton Soup and Disability Pride in Brighton, two amazing organisations that I can’t praise enough. I also played Summer Fest in Worthing, my first show with my awesome friend, Richard Sanderson. And of course, I got to play a Song Suffragettes show when I was in Nashville.

I’ve also managed to do a handful to Autism research studies, as well as giving blood. I’ve been feeling so useless so I tried to contribute as best I could during this time where I’ve felt incapable of contributing anything at all.

Another big part of this year was getting used to the kittens: my cat had two kittens in February and me and my Mum just fell in love with them so we ended up keeping them. I love them dearly but it has been a major adjustment and a real struggle, especially with the daily battle that is depression. So this has been both a good and a bad thing. I want to write more about this whole experience because there were – and still are – a lot of complicated emotions involved. But above it all, we have Lucky and Lucy and the kittens and I love them more than life itself.

So, that’s it: 2018. It has been a hard, hard year, and one I’m very happy to leave behind but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months and the next year. I’ve felt better in the last couple of weeks than I have all year and I’m hopeful that this is characteristic of what’s to come.

49101992_10156201160218121_102972983382900736_n

“2018, the year of living, fighting, but ultimately, surviving depression. There was a lot of gold in the grey but I’m so ready to move on to 2019.” (x)

Beautiful, Stunning, Stressful Iceland

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I was in Iceland this last weekend. It’s somewhere that I’ve wanted to go for years and I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights so I was very excited when everything fell together and this trip became possible. Despite only being there for four days, we managed to pack in a lot and it was all just so, so special so I wanted to document it here.

By the time we got there and left our stuff in the hotel, there wasn’t time for much but we did have time to go to the whale museum. I’d read about it and really wanted to go and it was beautiful: a warehouse full of huge models of different species of whale and dolphin. The audio guide was super informative and I learned a lot.

IMG_0560

The scenery in Iceland is stunning – that was probably my favourite thing about Iceland. When we – me and my Mum – started talking about this trip, I asked if we could go somewhere ‘new and beautiful’ and Iceland was certainly that. It was so, so beautiful. I kept having this weird anxiety that my brain wasn’t big enough to hold all of the beautiful things I was seeing.

We visited the Skogafoss waterfall – we actually ended up seeing it twice because the two tours we went on overlapped for certain sites – which was just amazing. You can walk right up to it and I got completely soaked but it was so worth it. I just stood there and soaked up the magnificence of it. It was so, so beautiful.

Down in Vik, in the south of Iceland, we went to the first live lava show in the world, which was incredible. They told us all about the volcanoes in Iceland and then we got to witness real flowing lava. That was so cool, one of the coolest experiences of my life.

IMG_5986

From there, we went on to the beach, a black sand beach. I’d never seen black sand before and it was so surreal. I could’ve stayed there forever because it was just so beautiful and it was all feeding my soul in a way that I can’t really explain.

One of the other things I wanted to do was to walk on a glacier and visit the ice caves but when we went to make that happen, we learned that the hike involved was very physical and therefore more than I could handle. That was really hard to accept. I really, really wanted to go. But my energy and my stamina are so low at the moment that it just wasn’t possible. However, we did get to visit a glacier, which was amazing. It was all so  breathtakingly beautiful.

Our first trip out to look for the Northern Lights was cancelled because of too much cloud but we went out the next night and we did in fact manage to see some of the Northern Lights, a green ribbon above the horizon. It looked different to all the photos I’d seen and it wasn’t as dramatic as you’re lead to believe but it was beautiful and it was a really special experience.

IMG_E0984

“Last night was surreal. We left the hotel at eight thirty and drove around the Icelandic countryside, looking for the Northern Lights. We had a fantastic (and hilarious) guide (shout out to Roman from @graylineiceland) who kept us entertained and informed and even though it took a while, we did find them. It wasn’t a ‘spectacular’ show but I don’t mind. Seeing them at all was so special and this photo, this record of that moment makes me smile so big. It might be faint, it might be grainy, but it’s proof that it happened and I’m so, so grateful for it.” (x)

One of the things I really, really wanted to see was the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. One of my friends had been and her pictures blew my mind so it was first on my list when it came to planning this trip. And it was absolutely stunning. I could’ve stood there for hours, just drinking it all in. There weren’t enough words for all the colours, all the blues, and I was just fascinated by all the different textures in the ice.

IMG_6541

And down from the glacier lagoon is The Diamond Beach, a stretch of black sand that’s littered with chunks of ice. Tiny icebergs! It was so surreal and so beautiful. Each one was different and beautiful and watching the waves rush up the beach, over and around them, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The last thing we did was go whale watching. I’ve been whale watching before (in Australia and New Zealand) but that was a long time ago and I love whales. We’d been told that we were unlikely to see anything at this time of year but we decided that we wanted to try anyway. It was freezing cold and incredibly windy but it was worth it: we spent about an hour with a humpback whale that was feeding near one of the islands and I also saw a dolphin. Plus the scenery was absolutely stunning. It was a great experience to end the trip on.

The thing that struck me most about Iceland was the space. And the quiet. It was good for my soul in a way that I don’t really understand and can’t really explain. Plus the mountains. There’s something about looking at mountains that is just so calming to me.

Having said that, I dealt with A LOT of anxiety while we were away. There was so much uncertainty: I didn’t know what we were going to do about food, I didn’t know how long we would be driving for each day, I didn’t know what I would be required to do, and so on and so on and so on. It was really hard and it was really exhausting. I’d forgotten how much uncertainty and anxiety comes with travelling. Having my Mum with me really helped but it was a real struggle, a moment to moment struggle. As much as I loved Iceland, it was a relief to come home and go back to certainty.

So that Iceland. Beautiful, stunning, stressful Iceland.

I would like to dedicate this post and this adventure to Claire Wineland. She was part of the inspiration for this trip. I was already in the worst depressive episode I’ve ever experienced and her death hit me really hard. It was such a tragedy and I needed to know that there was more than just tragedy in the world. I needed to see that to help me keep going.

Since her death, I’ve been wearing a purple bracelet (the colour of Cystic Fibrosis awareness, I believe – please correct me if I’m wrong or if there is a more fitting colour) because I wanted a constant reminder of Claire and her words and because I wanted to carry her with me. It’s strange: I’ve never had any beliefs about what happens after death but recently I’ve just had this feeling that if I carry her with me, she gets to see the things I see and experience the things I experience. I don’t know why I feel like that or what I believe about life after death but I just have this feeling. I just have this feeling.

IMG_1273

It was all so beautiful that I couldn’t just take photos. I took some video and I’ve put it together into a vlog of sorts:

Music by the wonderful heartsease.