2019 in Review

I don’t even know how to sum up this year.

If I’m honest, most of it’s blurry. The first half of it anyway. I was still trying medication after medication so I was kind of living in a haze. It’s scary to look back at a time not that long ago, search for memories and not be able to find them, find the details. Or worse, not even know what memories to look for. I hate it and it’s scary and I try not to think about it. Thank god for photos though. Looking back through my photos helped me to remember and I’m grateful for that. 

I got to go to the opening night of Waitress The Musical and to my complete surprise, Sara Bareilles was there, both to introduce the show and to bid us all goodnight. The show was amazing: I loved the music, I loved the characters, I loved the story, and the meaning in the story. And seeing Sara Bareilles in person for the first time since 2014 was extra special.

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I also got up stupid early to see her do a surprise set in St Pancras station. Apart from the fact that she has an incredible singing voice and is a great performer, even just sitting at a piano, there’s something magical about seeing a person you admire so much in real life. And my Mum was a trooper, running after her team (my medication meant I could barely stand up for the whole performance) and making sure she got my letter. So that was a good morning, even if I felt very unwell for the rest of the day (I’d overstretched, given the meds I was taking).

We had a nerve-wracking few weeks where our dog, Lucky, was incredibly unwell. I saw it happen: his head just tilted to the side and he stood there, looking so… wrong. I was convinced he was having a stroke. Plus his eyes were moving back and forth really quickly; I couldn’t imagine how he could even see. Despite a trip to the emergency vet then and there, we didn’t find out until the next day that he had Geriatric Vestibular Disease, which is basically vertigo. He was really, really sick. He wouldn’t eat and that’s really the sign that a labrador is sick. Mum was feeding him pieces of boiled chicken by hand just to keep him going. They gave him a morphine patch but that just made him sicker so they eventually removed it. It took a long time but eventually he was back to his old self. It’s not the same: he has a permanent head tilt, his balance is terrible, he can have trouble walking. But he seems to be happy and he’s certainly loved. So we’re getting through. Day by day, we’re getting through.

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I was fortunate enough to go to Nashville again, which was amazing, even though I was really, really struggling on my medication. I was depressed, overwhelmingly anxious, and my hands felt thick and clumsy, making playing guitar a real ordeal. As wonderful as it was to be in Nashville, I felt very guilty for not being as happy as I felt I should be.

Having said that, I had some really great experiences while I was there. I got to go back to my favourite places, see two Song Suffragettes shows (which are always such special experiences for me), and hang out with my friends who I only get to see once a year. I didn’t get to see everyone but I had a lovely time with the people I saw. I even got to see the awesome Caylan Hays play a show and hear all of her new songs. That was really, really special.

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Tin Pan South was amazing as usual, although I had to make some tough decisions over which shows to go to. They were all amazing though. My favourite was Nick Wayne, Hannah Ellis, Josh Kerr, and Natalie Hemby. Natalie is another person I hugely admire and she actually knows who I am now, which I’m honoured by. We got to have a proper conversation, which was one of my favourite moments of the trip. And I’d love to write with her one day: that’s a bucket list write.

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I also got to see Kelly Clarkson (who I’ve always, ALWAYS wanted to see live) in concert and Kelsea Ballerini was the opener, which was awesome because I love her. It was an amazing concert and I loved every second of it.

It was an amazing trip but I hope that next year I’ll be in a better place, a place where I can enjoy it properly and effortlessly. I think that’s gonna be one of my goals for 2020.

Here at home I also got to see some amazing concerts. My favourites were Maren Morris (I saw her twice but the second time was front row at the Royal Albert Hall, which was the most surreal, amazing experience) and Ingrid Andress, who had the whole crowd singing despite only having released a few singles. It was amazing. And she remembered me and we talked about writing together when I’m next in Nashville, although I’m now not sure it’s going to happen. But it was amazing to know that she was up for it. Hopefully one day.

I also saw Halsey in a super small venue and she was fantastic. We had trouble with the accessibility, which caused me a lot of anxiety, but the show was incredible. She’s an amazing, amazing performer. I love her. But I feel very out of place at her concerts, which is hard.

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I, with Richard Sanderson (Richard Marc on social media), spent most of the year working on my first EP. It was such a learning curve but I loved it, for the most part. It took an exceptional amount of work and I have to give so much credit to Richard and to Josh Fielden who mixed the songs because part way through, I tumbled into a really deep depression, accompanied with the worst anxiety I think I’ve ever experienced. It took a long time for me to get back to a place where I could work on it. It’s part of my musical story so I’m really glad it’s coming out, even if I still have a lot of anxiety about it. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know the story of the first single and you’ll know more about the rest of the songs soon.

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I spent several months in a deep, deep depression, the worst I’ve ever experienced. I basically lay on the sofa and thought about dying. It was awful. I don’t really know what else to say about it. It was just still, but with a mess of agonising turmoil underneath.

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Then, in the middle of the summer, one of my cats had kittens, despite the vet telling us in her vet check the week before that she absolutely wasn’t pregnant. We came home from dinner and Mouse was waiting for us. She took me upstairs to my room, curled up in one of the cat beds, and over the next few hours, she had a couple of tiny, adorable kittens. She got distressed every time I tried to leave so I stayed through the whole thing (and saw some pretty disgusting stuff that I never needed to see).

Having the kittens in my life has done wonders for my anxiety. Watching them grow and play and explore was so calming and mindful for me. And now that they’re older, all five cats play as a family. They’re a pride. It’s gorgeous. I don’t know what the future holds but having them in my life has been one of the most, if not the most, positive thing this year. I’m really, really grateful for them. Having said that, everyone’s spayed now so there won’t be any more surprises, which is probably – definitely – a good thing, as adorable as kittens are. The stress is just too much.

Somewhere in the middle of the holidays of kittens, I started taking Phenelzine again, which was a really difficult decision. I’m still struggling with the side effects but I am better than I was. I still have moments of depression but it’s not constant and I’m managing the anxiety with other medications. And best of all, I can write songs again. That is the best possible outcome.

September loomed and I spent time with the Disability Coordinator at my uni, something they had never had before. I actually felt hopeful about having someone who understood me. And then, she became extremely unreliable and that resulted in one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever had – in the middle of Victoria Station. That triggered a period of multiple meltdowns a day, which turned the weeks into a blur. It was awful. I started my Masters Degree in Songwriting in one of the worst states I’ve ever been in.

Despite being part time, the Masters took up every day of the week, working on songs and trying to research while battling my OCD, which had suddenly spiked. I had no time off, no time to breathe. I felt like I was failing at everything. I think I’ve gotten better at managing it (and it’s going to be a focus in therapy when we start again in the new year) and I managed some research and I wrote some songs I’m really proud of. I enjoyed the course and classes but balancing everything with Autism and mental health problems was a nightmare. I’m going to write a post about the course in more detail but it still needed to be included in this post.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I turned twenty five. My Mum bought me twenty five yellow roses.

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The first single of the EP came out a few weeks into the course and it was a complete surreal – if incredibly stressful – experience. I had no idea what to expect, especially since I’m an independent artist, but for what was really a first, first single (considering ‘Invisible’ had no marketing and so on), I think it did pretty well. It got added to several playlists on Spotify and had radio play, local and BBC Introducing. That’s been amazing and I’m excited to see where the next one goes.

And now I’m finishing the year with basically no Christmas break because I’m working on the assessments for my course everyday. They’re causing me so much stress I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m also terrified of the fireworks tonight (another story I’ve talked about before) and don’t know what I’m going to do to avoid them because I have work to do and they cause awful meltdowns. So, all in all, not the best way to end the year. I’m cautiously optimistic about 2020.

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“2019 has been an incredibly difficult year. I feel broken. I feel like I was shattered into a thousand pieces and then put back together wrong. And if I’m honest I don’t know what to do about it. But there were good moments too and I’m so grateful for those. 2020, please be kind.” (x)

A Year of Kittens

In the afternoon of the 26th February 2018, my gorgeous cat Lucy had her second litter of kittens. As with her first litter, she made a nest on one of the levels in my wardrobe and that’s where she headed when she went into labour, after checking that I was right behind her. For both labours, she came in search of me and yowled until I followed her up to my room. She was very insistent. So I went and sat with her; every time I tried to leave, she yowled. So I sat there all day and saw far more than I needed to… But it resulted in these two handfuls of fur: we nicknamed the older, grey one ‘Mouse’ and the younger, tabby one ‘Tiger.’

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(Day 1 – 27th February 2018)

They were gorgeous. Utterly gorgeous. They were soft and warm and just so cute. I loved every minute with them and as you can imagine, I spent most of their kittenhood with them in my bedroom. Watching them grow and explore and experience the world around them was enchanting: they are so completely and fully engaged with everything they do, from eating to playing to getting into trouble. Your whole world shrinks down to the room you’re sitting in. It’s very mindful to watch. And I found their innocence very healing. Then (and now) they look at me with such trust that it takes my breath away.

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When they were two months old, we moved house. Of all of us, the cats were the least traumatised: they continued to eat, sleep, and play. They even ventured outside and fell in love with the garden. I don’t think there’s anything as cute as kittens pouncing on long grass.

I was very distressed by the move (and still am to some extent) and it really exacerbated both my depression and my anxiety. So I found it very difficult to know how I felt about anything, let alone something as significant as whether or not we should keep the kittens. I was also repeatedly weaning myself on and off different medications, which did a number on my emotions. It was a mess. I was a mess. A very sad mess.

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Eventually we decided to keep them. I still felt very unsettled but I figured that since there had been so much change, a little more wouldn’t make much difference (in the context of my anxiety). We’d thought about it a lot: before they were born, we’d entertained the idea of keeping one but after getting to know them and watching how bonded they were right from the start, I knew that I couldn’t keep one and give away the other. We couldn’t keep two out of the little family of three.

Not long after we made that decision, Lucy started getting really irritated with them, hissing and swiping at them as they approached and even going out of her way to have a go at them. And when that showed no signs of stopping, I started to get really upset. That coincided with a medication change that made me so anxious all I could do was cry. I was terrified I’d made a huge mistake, that I shouldn’t have kept them but now I loved them too much to let them go, keeping us trapped in this very stressful situation. It was excruciating.

Fortunately, things have been better recently. They’ve all started to bond again and I often find them all snuggled in a bed together, legs and tails everywhere. It’s completely adorable. We even bought them a cat tree that has both a nest and a mouse on an elastic string; they absolutely love it and I get such joy from watching them play.

Now, I’m not just writing this because I love talking about my cats. Today is the kittens’ birthday and that seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the choices, the anxiety, and all the emotion that has gone into this experience so far. I haven’t got it all figured out yet. I still don’t know if I made the right decision and maybe I never will. Maybe it’s just a case of learning to live this life that I’ve chosen, just as we learn to live with every choice we make, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. But regardless of all of that, I love my animals and I’m grateful to have them in my life. Hopefully that’s enough.

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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)

The Blurt Foundation Selfcareathon 2018

About half way through April, I discovered that The Blurt Foundation were running a campaign all about self care on social media, encouraging people to be kind to themselves with a series of prompts. Then, if you wanted to, you could post a photo of what you did under the hashtag, ‘#blurtselfcareathon.’ I scrolled through and came away really inspired; with all the stress in my life recently, I could definitely benefit from some self care.

‘Self care’ is a phrase that has many people rolling their eyes at the moment. It’s become associated with brands encouraging you to buy luxurious bath products and with Instagram photos of cosy days under a duvet, ignoring all responsibility. And yes, taking time out from your life can be a form of self care but it’s often not that quaint. It can be clearing out all the glasses that have accumulated next to your bed, forcing yourself to eat enough even when it’s the last thing you want to do, or dragging yourself to the shower to get cleaned up. It can be going through your receipts so you know how much money you have left in your budget for the week, or counting out the pills you have left so you don’t run out at a crucial moment. Self care grew from minority groups taking ownership of their health, when society dismissed their concerns. We aren’t helpless when it comes to improving our wellbeing and whether you do that by taking a day off to escape and binge watch a TV show or by researching and reaching out to alternative practitioners because you feel your health isn’t being taken seriously enough, it’s an important point to remember.

Although I didn’t complete the challenge in the traditional sense, I thought I’d share a couple of the prompts and what I ended up doing, whether I posted about it or not:


Letter

“I’ve only just discovered @theblurtfoundation’s #blurtselfcareathon; I’m very late but I’m so excited to join in. The prompt for today is ‘letter’ so here is me, saying goodbye to my childhood bedroom on Tuesday morning: I left a letter I’d written under a loose floorboard for a future resident of the room, asking them to look after it for me. Saying goodbye was really, really hard, but doing this helped a little bit.”

If anything falls under self care, it’s this. This was something I did purely to help me get through a really stressful time. I definitely want to write more about this in it’s own right but it’s definitely relevant here.

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Small Steps

“My new room doesn’t feel like mine yet and I don’t think it will for a while but today I took the first step toward turning it into a safe space for myself. Blue walls and cream carpet to remind me of the beaches I grew up on. There’s a lot left to do but it’s felt really good to start. // Small Steps – Day 22 of @theblurtfoundation’s #blurtselfcareathon.”

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Song

For the first time in a while, I picked up my guitar and it felt really good.

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I didn’t end up posting this as part of the challenge for whatever reason but I think it counts. My therapist and I have taken to celebrating big milestones with cake, specifically from Lola’s Cupcakes (they make the most amazing cupcakes): this one was for three years in therapy. It feels like a lifetime and no time at all. We’ve worked through some really hard moments and started to explore things that I never thought I’d say out loud. That’s a huge deal. My therapist is incredible and I’m more grateful to her than I could ever say.

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Boost

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been to several gigs (pictured: Megan O’Neill and The Shires) and they’ve all been really cool in their own ways. Live music gives me a boost unlike anything else. It reminds me of my dreams; it helps to refocus me; it makes me feel alive.

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There was a prompt specifically dedicated to animals but I couldn’t resist including the kittens in more than one post. I see them everyday after all. And pretty much every moment I spend with them is self care; they have an instant calming effect on me.


This was definitely a positive experience, trying to work the prompts into each day. Self care is something that’s so personal and so we have to figure out what works for each of us. As I said earlier on, it isn’t always pretty or glamorous but taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be a chore. Something like this is a good reminder to try different things, fun things, things that fly in the face of conventional advice. Hopefully you’ll find something that helps but the act of searching is also an empowering one: choosing positive steps is healing.

The Importance of Pets

The last post was a heavy one with lots of emotional stuff in it so I thought I’d go for something that was a bit more light hearted this time – try and maintain a kind of balance. So here we go. The animals in my life have had a really big impact on my mental health so I thought I’d introduce them and talk a bit about the positives of having pets when you struggle with mental illness.

This is Lucky, our thirteen-year-old Labrador. We first met him when he was two days old and we’ve had him since he was about eight weeks old. He’s endlessly friendly and enthusiastic. One of my favourite things about him is how unashamedly excited he gets about everything: people arriving, food (even though it’s the same thing everyday), any kind of attention. It’s a good little reminder to appreciate the good things, even if they are everyday occurrences. As he’s gotten older, he’s become very sensitive, especially to people’s emotions. At it’s most extreme, he’s left the room when people on TV get upset. Poor boy. I can relate to that.

And this is Lucy, my two-year-old cat. She’s all energy and adventure, in the daylight hours anyway. Come the evening, she’s very happy to curl up on my bed with me. She sort of reminds me of a teenager that doesn’t want to be seen with her parents because it isn’t cool but once there’s no one around, she enjoys a good cuddle. She loves Lucky and often tags along on the evening walk around the block. I absolutely adore her. She’s incredibly calming to watch and play with; she’s so present and that’s really good for my anxiety. And having her sleeping beside me helps me to sleep because I can focus on her breathing (and purring) and block out any anxiety I have.

She also had kittens last year, which was a great holiday from real life. They were gorgeous and when I was watching them or playing with them, everything else fell away. It was like the world outside my bedroom didn’t exist. They were the only thing that helped me when Christina Grimmie was killed. I’d been watching her videos for years and she was the same age as me; it was very upsetting (and I’m still dealing with the emotions of that but I’ll save that for another post). Watching them play and wrestle and explore my bedroom with such focus and such fearlessness was very soothing. I’m so grateful to have had them for that period of my life. And I was very aware that, as one of the few humans in their lives, I was affecting who they would become, consciously or not. It made me feel like I was making a difference, even if it was only on a small scale.

But back to Lucky and Lucy. They frequently accompany me to therapy (although not together). Neither are actual therapy pets but having one of them with me often helps, especially when we’re talking about really tough stuff. They can be a distraction, a tension diffuser, a comfort.

So there you have it: my animals. They are so important to me and have such an impact on my life that I couldn’t not write about them. I hope you enjoyed this and if you need me, I’ll be curled up with either or both of them.