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)

A Week In My Life (December 2020)

Since my last week-in-my-life post didn’t include any time ‘at’ university, I thought I’d write another one this semester, one that included uni time and all that that entails.

After three really bad mental health days, I was a bit wary about the week ahead – starting it feeling so depleted. It ended up being a very mixed week, as they’ve all been recently. Maybe it’s an end of term thing: I start off strong but then I hit a wall somewhere in the middle and it doesn’t always take much. I’ve worked hard this semester so hopefully I’ll be able to finish all of my assessment stuff fairly quickly – it’s mostly just polishing now – and get some proper holiday time. Last year, I had to work every day of the Christmas break, only taking Christmas Day off. So some time off would be really nice.

The week in this post began on Monday 30th November and ended on Sunday 6th December 2020.


MONDAY

I slept badly so I took my time getting up and having a shower. I had some breakfast (and ALL of my pills – there’s so many at the moment, what with my normal medication, extra supplements, and some antibiotics) and then I got myself sorted for my session with Richard.

We spent about three hours on the call, working on the production for a new song I’d written, and then just chilling out together, chatting about our uni work, the various projects we’re working on, the tv shows we’re watching, and so on… We’re always texting and we have our Zoom sessions but we haven’t hung out together in months and I really miss that.

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When we finally hung up, I was exhausted and what started as an episode of The Split while I recovered turned into finishing the second series. It was really, really good – even better than the first series. Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan were particularly fantastic. I love Nicola Walker; she was incredible in Spooks, Scott & Bailey, River, and now in Unforgotten and The Split. Her performances throughout this second series have been breathtaking and the ending had me in floods of tears. She blows me away every time.

I spent what was left of the afternoon and early evening working on my assessment essay. Then Mum and I had dinner together before starting a rewatch of Unforgotten (yes, we’re on a bit of a Nicola Walker kick at the moment), while I did some diary writing. I’m so far behind, what with everything I’ve been dealing with healthwise and doing for uni. My anxiety over it is so high but so is my anxiety over my uni work so the two are constantly pushing against one another. I never have any respite from it and it’s exhausting.

I managed to go to bed reasonably early, which was an achievement, especially since I had to get up early the next morning for uni.


TUESDAY

Again, I slept restlessly but with disturbing dreams that I couldn’t quite remember when I woke up; it just left me feeling kind of uneasy for most of the day, which wasn’t fun. I swear, I’ve had as many nightmares or disturbing dreams since the pandemic began than in my whole life up to that point. It’s horrible; I really feel for anyone who deals with this generally, independent of the pandemic.

I got up, got showered and dressed, had breakfast and pills before logging into my first class of the day. I could only stay an hour of the two (pre-arranged with my tutor) but we spent that hour identifying and discussing different kinds of hooks and how they’re used in songs. Then I had to sign off for a call about my rheumatology referral. It seriously cannot come quickly enough; the pain in my arm, hand, back and legs is only getting worse as time passes.

Before I got down to work, I checked my Spotify stats and saw that the Honest EP has surpassed 30,000 streams. It’s a weird feeling, knowing that so many people have heard these songs. A good feeling, but a weird feeling. I can’t really describe it.

I spent several hours working on my essay, all but finishing the first draft. So that was a good bit of work done – more than I can usually manage between classes. I had some lunch, some time to dedicate to my diary writing, and then I was signing back into class.

The afternoon’s workshop was a productive one. We got through a lot of songs and we had some really good discussions, despite only having an hour. Everyone was really lovely about my song, which meant a lot since it was such a personal one. I also had questions about the grading criteria and learning outcomes because I find the language very unclear and that lead to a good conversation about the assessment as well as inclusivity and accessibility of the course. So it felt like a really positive class, in all sorts of ways.

When my class finished, my Mum and I FaceTimed with my Granny for her birthday and I also got to see my aunt (they’re in a bubble together), which was really lovely. I don’t think I’ve seen either of them in person since Christmas, which has been hard, even knowing that it’s the right, responsible thing to do. It a weird world – a difficult world – when the best way to love someone is to stay away from them.

I also FaceTimed with one of my parents who’d had a particularly rough day. So it was a very social day! It was good to do but I definitely felt drained afterwards.

I was having some downtime, doing some blog writing and watching TV, when another of my other parents called me and told me to change channel to a very cute programme about puppies. It was indeed very cute and it did make me wish for a puppy again, not that we intend to get one in the foreseeable future – we don’t have enough time to properly devote to one so it wouldn’t be fair. But I’m always up for any puppy time I can get.

But the best bit was how one of my cats, Mouse, reacted to it. She was fascinated by the puppies, even patting the screen, trying to touch them. It was utterly adorable. She sat patiently through the advert break and was just as absorbed by the puppies when they returned to the screen. She watched intently for the rest of the programme and then, when the credits rolled, she got up and walked away. It was the funniest thing.

So that was very adorable.

Mum and I had dinner with another few episodes of Unforgotten and I finished my essay. Well, the first draft anyway. It needed a read through and a tidy up before I sent it off but what I’d wanted done for my tutorial session was essentially done. A productive day’s work and in bed before eleven: not bad at all.


WEDNESDAY

So Lockdown 2.0 has ended, not that it felt like much of a lockdown. If you’re going to call it a lockdown, then you have to do what you did in the first lockdown and shut everything down. Otherwise it’s not going to make a difference, people are going to have even less faith in it as a safety measure, and they’ll flaunt the rules because they don’t think it matters. It’s been driving me up the wall. I’m so frustrated: with the government, with the people ignoring the rules (and boasting about it), anyone who is putting casual convenience over the safety of others… Yes, that’s a generalised statement. I’m aware that there are important and necessary reasons to go out but there just seem to be so many people who just don’t care that we’re still in a pandemic and I find that incredibly distressing.

I woke up at eight and intended to get up but then suddenly it was quarter past nine so I must’ve accidentally gone back to sleep. I did manage to get up then and headed straight for my desk to record the vocals for the song I’d been working on with Richard. Even though I love it, for some reason, I find it really hard to motivate myself to start recording so it seems that the easiest way is to just get up and do it before I can get into a procrastinating mindset.

That done, I had breakfast and a shower, leaving me with just enough time to tidy up my essay and send it to my tutor before heading out to have a blood test. I had one a month or so ago and it showed dangerously low Vitamin D levels so I’ve been on a high dose Vitamin D supplement to try and build them up again. This blood test should tell us whether they’ve helped and what the next steps are.

It was almost dark by the time we got home so we settled down in the living room, lit a fire (one of my favourite things about this time of year and about this house – the fireplace) and continued watching Unforgotten. I also kept working on my Lockdown 2.0 blog post. I’d been keeping the list updated throughout the lockdown so it was just a case of tidying it up, adding all the right links, and writing an introduction and conclusion.

I had to stop in the middle to sign in to my tutorial. I had a really good session with my tutor. He was complimentary about what I’d already done and had some really good feedback so I feel pretty good about my next steps. I know what I need to do and now I just need to do it. Then I get one more tutorial before the holidays for any final feedback or guidance. The deadline is in sight, which is more than a bit scary. I just really, really want to do well.

I was exhausted afterwards but I still managed to finish and post the Lockdown 2.0 blog. So I guess it was a pretty productive day.

That done, I had a quick scroll through social media and saw that people had started to post their Spotify stats of the year, both as listeners and as artists. I always find this difficult, regardless of any rational talking to I give myself, regardless of whatever I’ve personally gone through or achieved that year; it just taps into my lifelong insecurity of not doing well enough, not being ‘good enough.’ So it’s not easy. This year should’ve been different, with four of the five tracks from my EP being released since January, but Spotify doesn’t count anything after 31st October and with ‘Honest‘ coming out on 30th October, only one day of its streams were counted. So my most successful song wasn’t a part of my Spotify Wrapped, making it completely inaccurate. So I haven’t shared it – haven’t wanted to – and I feel a little bit robbed of that. I have included the percentage increases here but in reality, they’re a good bit higher since ‘Honest’ did so well.

Hopefully next year, or whenever it is that I release more music, the figures will be more accurate and I’ll feel confident in sharing them. This ‘comparison anxiety,’ as my friend called it, was something I really wanted to work on in therapy this year but even when I’ve felt able to ‘go’ to therapy, it’s been difficult to get much further than damage control around the pandemic. That’s been really difficult – a real frustration – this year. I’ve just felt completely stuck at therapy: while I want to move forward, I’ve only felt able to maintain the fragile balancing act I’ve managed to create. And I haven’t even been able to do that a lot of the time.

Early evening, my Mum and I FaceTimed with my Granny before having fish and chips with one of my other parents. We watched the new episode of His Dark Materials (Series 2 Episode 4) and it was so good. Oh my god, that cliffhanger!

I was just getting ready for bed when I felt the pain in my back. It had been aching all afternoon but that’s not unusual right now but then it started to get worse, sharper and higher. It came on so suddenly that I couldn’t get from the bathroom to the bedroom without Mum’s help and then, when I collapsed on the bed, I couldn’t move because the pain was so bad. It seems to come in waves: there’s the pain and then it surges like a series of electric shocks before finally (FINALLY) receding back to the original pain level. And I never know how long it will go on for; sometimes painkillers seem to make a difference  and sometimes it seems to go on for ages regardless. I’m not entirely sure how long this one went on for but it was at least half an hour. And then it always takes quite a long time for me to get my body to relax afterwards, my muscles having been so tense while the electric shock pain was so bad. So even though I was exhausted, it took me a long time to get comfortable and drift off.


THURSDAY

It took me a long time to get up because I was so stiff and sore. The rheumatology appointment can’t come soon enough. I struggled through breakfast and a shower and then had a Zoom production session with Richard, continuing to work on the song we’d started on the Monday. Considering how out of our normal styles the song was, I think we did a good job, especially for a demo and I’m definitely interested to hear what my class have to say when they hear it.

We also had some chill time, just chatting and hanging out, almost like we would if we were actually together, which was really nice. We’re coping with remote sessions but I cannot wait to hang out again properly, have face-to-face writing sessions, and actually do things together. Or not do things together but do that together in the same room, if you know what I mean.

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When we finished, I did a couple of FaceTime calls with family and then collapsed on the sofa. I was completely exhausted. Me and Mum watched the last episode of Unforgotten Series 3 and oh my god, it gets me every time (if you know, you know – I’m not going to spoil it but the acting is incredible). Nicola Walker does not get the credit she deserves, although from what I’ve read in interviews, she seems to be pretty happy just buckling down on great projects and not doing the whole spotlight thing. (I’m so annoyed with myself that I missed seeing her in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – I would love to see her on stage and it’s such a great book.)

Mum and I were having a relatively chilled evening until I asked her about her call with my doctor. There had been multiple things to update her on and ask about but some of the advice she’d given was just really triggering and upsetting. I will talk about it at some point because I think it’s an important thing to have conversations about but it’s not something I’m personally ready to talk about yet. But it really upset me and just killed the warm, cozy mood of the evening.

And then, to make matters worse, Mouse (the cat) brought in a dead mouse, which is something that almost always sets off a meltdown (fortunately Mum understands this and is okay with dealing with it while I do my best to avoid said meltdown). I managed to remove myself quickly enough that I didn’t have one but it was just the final straw on what I could handle that evening so even though it was still quite early, I went to bed. It was all just too much.


FRIDAY

I slept for about twelve hours but I still woke up feeling exhausted, depressed, and miserable. I feel like I spent most of the first lockdown working really hard to get my mental health into some sort of box so I felt like I wasn’t constantly overwhelmed but most days, it still feels like I’m walking on a tightrope and it takes so little to knock me off and back into that suffocating depression. And that’s exactly what the night before did.

I really struggled all day. I just felt completely unmotivated and so, so tired. I was also having to deal with side effects of my antibiotics – they left me with a disgusting taste in my mouth all the time – which was just an extra strain. I only had one day left so I tried to focus on that but it just felt so much harder than it would’ve had I not already been feeling so awful. I did manage to finish and post the blog post about What’s Next for the Honest EP so that was good to do and helpful for my mental state – ticking stuff off my list always gives me at least a bit of a boost.

The good news of the day was that Kalie Shorr had re-released (I guess) her debut album, Open Book (which I wrote about here), but as Open Book: Unabridged, the original album plus four more songs. ‘My Voice’ and ‘Lying To Myself’ had already been released as singles and she’d played ‘Eighteen’ during her livestream concert but ‘Out Of It’ was completely new, which was really cool. They’re all stunning songs and all in their own way. ‘My Voice’ is empowering and unapologetic, as well as a very effective middle finger at the Country labels in Nashville. ‘Lying To Myself’ paints an aching authentic picture of insecurity after a break up with incredible lyrics like, “I picked out all my favourite things you said, then like a delusional architect, I built you up like a house of cards” and “You liked it up on that pedestal ’cause damn, you looked incredible, but coming down’s inevitable.” ‘Eighteen’ is a brutally honest, heartbreaking song about looking back at a relationship that really wasn’t okay, where you were all in but you were only ever treated badly. And ‘Out Of It’ is similar to a previous Kalie song, ‘Awake,’ but this time, she’s saying ‘no’ and isn’t going to get pulled into the bullshit; this time, she’s cutting the cord between herself and the other person. And because I’m a lyric nerd, here is my favourite (or one of my favourites) from each song:

My Voice: “Too rock for country, too country for punk / But who said I had to pick either one / Tattoos at the Opry / I could cover em up but it’s not me”

Lying To Myself: “I’m a little out of touch with reality, it’s never been that nice to me / I like the pictures I paint the best”

Eighteen: “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be chasing eighteen”

Out Of It: “Your mom and dad put you through hell / You tell your secrets ’til you scare yourself / It’s a big dramatic entrance then you leave / And now I’m the girl I said I’d never be”

Late afternoon saw me dragging myself through some preparation for a mental health assessment that I have coming up, which was another thing I needed to do. But I was so tired that it took forever and I spent a lot of the time it took with my head on my arms, just trying to think. It was just a really bad mental health day. There was no way around it so I just tried to get through it. I was too tired to do anything really but I still tried to write my blog post about the UniversitiesUK Conference. I find it so hard to just do nothing; it causes me a lot of anxiety so even when I’m exhausted, I’m still desperately trying to do something.

By necessity, it was a quiet evening and I went to bed early, all too aware of how soon I had to wake up again to watch Maren Morris’ livestream concert.


SATURDAY

After MANY alarms, I struggled up at 2am to watch Maren Morris’ livestream concert. It felt very strange to not be a part of the crowd, singing (or screaming) along with her but it was so good to see her perform and hear her gorgeous voice again. It was very comforting, like a reminder that some things don’t change. The world might’ve turned upside down but Maren Morris is still Maren Morris, an exceptional songwriter, singer, and performer. So I was really grateful that she and her team put together this show for us.

I didn’t get back to sleep until about five and couldn’t be roused for anything. I eventually woke up at twelve and then I felt so tired and heavy that I could barely get out of bed. I spent several hours unable to do anything but lie on the sofa and watch TV. Disrupting my sleep patterns always throws me for six and with the depressive feelings still very overwhelming, I was really struggling.

Eventually I managed a shower, which completely exhausted me. It also makes me feel sick and dizzy to stand up for the amount of time it takes to sort the shower, have the shower, and then get dried and dressed. One more thing on the list of things being investigated.

Back in the living room, I put on Lucifer and attempted to do something productive. Mostly I ended up jumping between this and my diary, writing a few sentences here and there before switching back, just too tired to think enough to write anything decent. So that was frustrating, plus I had the nerve pain in my leg again – not the electric shock version but the bit that always comes before that (even if it doesn’t turn into said electric shock feeling) where it aches deeper than feels physically possible. So that didn’t help.

Mum and I had an early dinner and then she went for a swim. I really wanted to go and felt like I should – I’d been looking forward to it ever since the pool closed for lockdown – but I just had absolutely no energy. So she went and hopefully I’ll feel able to go next time. I got some good writing done though, so at least the time didn’t go to waste.

Having gotten up so late, I ended up going to bed too late, which was a bit of a pain. My sleep schedule is so easily knocked off course and then so difficult to correct. It was worth it though. Seeing Maren Morris perform is always good for my soul.


SUNDAY

I slept restlessly and struggled up around ten. I still felt incredibly depressed and it took a huge amount of effort to just get out of bed, into the shower, and up into the living room. I had a quiet day, not that that I think I could’ve managed anything else. I managed to finish and post my blog post about speaking at the UniversitiesUK Conference. I also finished all the paperwork for the upcoming mental health assessment and worked on the interview questions my university had sent me about doing the conference (that interview has since been posted). So, considering how awful I felt, I did manage to get something out of the way and check some things off the ongoing list, which – as I think I’ve said – at least helps me to keep my mental state from sinking lower. Having said that, I don’t want to promote the idea that being constantly productive is essential for your mental health; I’ve just found that, if I can tick something off of my to do list, even if it’s something tiny, then that can help me to keep moving forward, help me not to get stuck in my depression. It doesn’t always work; sometimes I just have to surrender to a bad day and hope that the next one will be better. But trying , even if not succeeding, does seem to do something positive.

In the evening, one of my parents came over and the three of us had a chilled evening, eating dinner in front of the fire and continuing our rewatch of Lucifer. It was gentle and undemanding and I did feel better for it. I often simplify my mood into two levels: surface and deep. And in this case, even though my deep mood was still very depressed and twisted up, my surface mood was a bit lighter. Calling it a surface mood doesn’t, to me at least, make it any less important than the deeper mood; it just means that it’s the mood that deals with the day to day stuff while the deeper mood is the one that you carry inside you and the one that sits with all the big, important stuff in your head and in your life. I guess, I see this mood as the one that’s so intricately intertwined with a person’s overall mental health. For example, in the previous few days, I was depressed on both levels (I’m not sure how good a job I’ve done of illustrating that but it’s the truth) but after the Sunday evening, my surface mood started to lift out of that depressed place. My deeper mood was still there though (and still is as I post this). But the lightening of my surface mood did make it a bit easier to face Monday and the coming week.

I tried to go to bed early but as usual, failed. I swear, I’m desperate to sleep all day and then, at about seven o’clock in the evening, my brain snaps on and starts firing wildly, almost too fast for me to keep up with my own thoughts. It’s so frustrating. It’s almost as if my brain has got day and night confused.


So there you have it: another week completely different from the last. I think I’m grateful for that – it must be better than feeling like you’re stuck in a hamster wheel surely – but it’s not without it’s difficulties. When planning is the thing that makes life easier to bear, it can be hard when each new week seems to bring something unexpected.

You guys seem to like these posts so I’ll be sure to do another one soon but probably not until the new year. Touch wood, I can get all of my coursework done in the next ten days and then I can have some time off (although I’m not exactly sure whether it will feel like time off – my brain already has an anxiety fuelled to-do list waiting for me – but I’m going to try my best.) Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this and I hope to see you in the next post.

A Day In My Life (University With Autism Spectrum Disorder)

As opposed to my usual week-in-the-life posts, I thought I’d do something slightly different this time and zoom in on what it’s like to be an autistic student at university (one doing an MA in COVID-19 times anyway). This is obviously just my experience – as the saying goes, ‘if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person’ – but I thought it might be an interesting post to write. I feel like it’s so important to share our experiences as autistic people, especially when media is being created that can be harmful to us (i.e. everything that’s been going on with Sia’s new film – I feel like I should be writing about that but I still don’t know how to; it makes me so upset that I can’t really write anything that feels articulate enough to represent the significance of the issue). So I hope this is an interesting read.


THE NIGHT BEFORE

Monday was hugely busy, with a production session, two doctors appointments, and working on the essay of the module in the spaces between. I’ve been working on it somewhat steadily but since I have a feedback session coming up, I’ve been a bit more random in my approach to writing it – fitting writing time in wherever I can or just writing about certain things as they occur to me –  so that I can get as much out of that session as possible.

So it was one of those days where I barely had time to think.

On Monday evenings, the Masters course have a song sharing session between 7.30pm and 9.30pm. I’ve been a couple of times but I tend to find it too much. I’m most creative at night and so filling my head with new songs and song analysis right before I try to sleep really messes up my ability to sleep, which I have to try to do relatively early with my first class on a Tuesday at 9am. And if I don’t get enough sleep on a Monday night, I’m useless in every class on the one day I have classes. So, unless there’s a really good reason, I can’t really prioritise them.

I also find them quite hard socially: as much as doing the Masters course part time was the right thing for me, it has meant that for both years, I’ve never quite felt part of the group. There’s a handful of us in the same position and I can’t speak for them but it’s always left me feeling a bit ‘other,’ like I don’t really fit anywhere – not quite part of the group in the first year and even less part of the group in this second year. Everyone on the course is lovely but it does have a pretty big impact on the social side of the course. And when you struggle with feeling like you don’t fit in, it’s hard to feel it in yet another area of your life. So sometimes that factor just makes it too hard on my mental health. Maybe it will feel easier when one of my best friends rejoins the course in January.

So, instead, I used the time to do some more work on my essay before emailing everything required for the feedback session to my tutor (I wanted to make sure he had enough time to go through it all before we met on Wednesday afternoon). Then I tried to unwind a bit. Somehow I still ended up going to bed too late – not that 11pm is hugely late but for me, the night before a class, it’s on the border of being dangerously late.

I have a prescription for sleeping pills because my anti-depressants can cause problems with my sleep but I try to avoid them where I can. Having said that, knowing how exhausting a uni day can be, I usually take one the night before to make sure I’ve had enough sleep to give me the best chance of getting through said long uni day.


THE DAY ITSELF

I wouldn’t say I slept well and I struggled to get up but I’ve had worse nights so I just tried to push through the fatigue. I got dressed and made up and then collapsed on the sofa for a rest. Standing for the time it takes to shower, get dressed, and do my make up makes me feel weak, and lightheaded, and sick – something we’re still investigating with, unfortunately, very little progress – but getting up as early as I had meant that I did have enough time for some recovery time. It’s all down to planning. My life is dependent on planning. I also managed to eat some breakfast and take all of my pills. I’m taking quite a few at the moment – more than the ‘normal’ ones that help me maintain my mental health – because of a Vitamin D deficiency and horrible nerve pain down my left side (I’ve been waiting for a hospital appointment for the latter since about April or May, which may be my personal record for appointment waiting times).

My seminar started at nine (if you’ve read my previous university posts, you’ll remember that I’m doing all of my classes online this semester). My normal tutor (who is legitimately one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met) started the class before handing us over to a guest tutor who gave us a two hour class on arranging strings and horns. He was incredibly knowledgeable and engaging and so it was really interesting. Plus, Tiger came and sat with me for most of it, which was very nice. University with cats is a definite advantage of online lectures.

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I was struggling to concentrate by the end of the class so I was relieved when we wrapped up. It was a lot of knowledge and sensory information to try to process and sort through and digest. I felt more than a bit dazed. Fortunately, the session was recorded so I can either go back and listen to it in shorter sections or go back and search for something specific.

My next class wasn’t until five so I had rather a lot of time to fill. Pre-pandemic, I’d hang out at uni and do cowrites, go to the favourite local coffee shop with friends, or work on whatever was on the list at the time but I’m finding it much harder to use this time effectively, whether that’s due to having my classes online or down to the pandemic just really screwing with my brain. Stuff that wasn’t hard before is now and the only thing I can put it down to is the pandemic, even if I don’t know precisely why. All I know is that it’s a weird time and so it shouldn’t be surprising that certain things aren’t the same as they were before. But it’s still frustrating to have such a big block of time that I could be using productively and not have my brain cooperate. Early in the semester, I ended up staring at my laptop screen, desperately trying to work on stuff and just not being able to. I got more and more frustrated and demoralised and eventually I just had to accept that this is not productive time. So I’ve been trying to come up with ways to fill it that aren’t too demanding but still feel like there’s a point to them; I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted it by just staring at my phone or mindlessly jumping between the open windows on my laptop because that’s just not good for my general mental health. So I’ve been trying things like reading or watching new movies or TV shows – these have been good sources of inspiration in a time where I’ve struggled to find inspiration – or having a nap if I need one… Things that don’t require a lot of energy but still feel worthwhile (most of the time).

I did a quick scroll through my social medias to see if there was anything that needed replying to and then did some admin work: replying to emails, updating my bullet journal, and so on. Just as I was about to move onto something else, I got a load of notifications from social media, all Taylor Swift announcing her acoustic concert film going up on Disney+, folklore: the long pond studio sessions. That was so exciting that it temporarily scrambled my brain, in both a good and a bad way. As an autistic person, I’m really not a fan of surprise drops because I just get hit by a tidal wave of emotions and I feel so overwhelmed that I actually feel sick. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the film because I am so, so grateful for all that Taylor has been putting out during the pandemic (her work really has been one of the things that’s helped me during this time) but the suddenness with which she’s been announcing things has been difficult because that doesn’t give me enough time to do the emotional processing that I need to do. So although I eventually settled into being really excited, I spent a lot of the day feeling painfully twisted up and anxious over the mess of emotion I was experiencing.

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That did leave me floundering quite a bit, I have to confess. So, to try and take my mind off of everything I was feeling, my Mum and I caught up with the latest episode of His Dark Materials. It did help a bit. It’s such a great show; the casting, the acting, the sets, the interwoven storylines, etc are all so beautifully done. I loved the first series and I’m really enjoying the second one. I love Dafne Keen as Lyra (I so related to Lyra’s reaction to popcorn – it was freaking hilarious) and Amir Wilson as Will but I think it was Ruth Wilson as Marissa Coulter and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby who really stole the show this week (pun actually not intended – if you know me, you’ll know I love a good pun). Their big scene together was just so powerful and how Ruth Wilson played the aftermath was particularly emotive.

I spent an hour or so working on a new blog post but after a while, I was just getting slower and slower and eventually I gave up and had a nap. I slept for about two hours before struggling up for my second class at five. I could’ve easily slept longer but I did my best to shake it off and concentrate on the workshop. This is where we (in this case, all of the 100% online students – the rest are blended and do the workshop in person onsite) share the songs we’ve been working on over the week and get feedback from the rest of the group. For most of the semester, we’ve had briefs each week but now we’re just working on whatever’s right for us. So, for example, I didn’t have a song to present because I’ve been working on the feedback for previous songs and the essay, rather than a new song (although I did recently write a rap, although I’m not sure whether I ever want anyone to hear it). Everyone else had songs to play though so I could still participate and give feedback, although I’m not sure how helpful I was because of how tired I was. But I tried. Some days I was just have less energy to work with than others.

I had an hour break before the evening session, which runs from seven to nine; they’re technically extra-curricular but I try to attend them when I can, especially now that they’re online and therefore more accessible. I don’t want to miss out on anything I don’t have to.

During my break, I had a quick dinner and catch up with my parents. The Grammy nominations had also been announced so I went through those. I’m super pleased for Taylor Swift: folklore is such a great album. Six nominations – Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Song Written For Visual Media – is incredible and I’m really excited for her. Personally, I think she deserves at least several of those, especially considering the other nominees. I’m absolutely psyched for Ingrid Andress and her three nominations: Best New Artist, Best Country Song, and Best Country Album. I’ve been following her for years, having met her in Nashville at least a couple of years before her album was released. She’s an amazing writer and it would be just so awesome for her to win even one Grammy award this early in her career. But I’m concerned about her chances; she has some serious competition in all of those categories. The Best Country Song category, for example, is incredible, full of so many amazing songwriters that I love so much: Natalie Hemby (‘Bluebird’ by Miranda Lambert and ‘Crowded Table’ by The Highwomen, a group of which she’s a member), Maren Morris (‘The Bones’), and then Ingrid, of course. I want them all to win it. I was disappointed that Halsey still hasn’t been nominated. Manic is such an incredible album, as is Badlands (Live from Webster Hall), and it’s so frustrating that she doesn’t get the industry recognition she deserves. Especially given how popular ‘Without Me’ was, I’m really shocked that she’s never been nominated.

I just made it in time for the late session, which involved two of last years graduates presenting their final projects, one about using songwriting to explore different aspects of personality and the other about the experience of their gender transitioning and how sharing that story has the potential to increase understanding and empathy and break down barriers. They were both really cool projects but it was also massively helpful to see their processes, how they’d developed their ideas and researched them and how that research had lead them to writing the songs they wrote. It was fascinating and I definitely feel more prepared for my own project. I’ve got several ideas I’ve been turning over and the presentations have been helpful in my decision making process too. So I got a lot out of it, even if I was completely exhausted by the time the session finished.

It was about half nine and I probably could’ve gone straight to bed but I went and spent some time with my Mum, watching some TV together as we both wound down from the day. But it wasn’t long before we  were both falling asleep so we put the cats to bed (they sleep in the kitchen so that we’re not woken up at five – the time they start demanding breakfast) and headed to bed ourselves.


THE NEXT MORNING

I’m not one of sleeping in so I always set an alarm. Then I can get up and start doing things (I have a real problem with needing to be productive) but usually, the day after a uni day, I sleep through the alarms I set. It doesn’t seem to change anything though. I keep setting alarms and sleeping through them. But that morning was special. I dragged myself out of bed at eight to watch folklore: the long pond studio sessions, as soon as it was available. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable to get up when I was so exhausted but it was absolutely worth it. The film was amazing, so amazing that I still haven’t figured out how to put all my feelings into words yet.

Since this post is just about my day at uni, I won’t write much more but just as I wrote about the Monday night, I thought I’d write about the Wednesday morning. Usually there isn’t a brand new Taylor Swift film to watch so I try to rest and recover my energy – physical, mental, and emotional – from the day before. As I said, I’m struggling with this need to be productive all of the time so with that in mind, I try to schedule undemanding tasks for Wednesdays. That particular day, I had a couple of half hour tutorials with tutors, so I spent the morning making sure I was ready for those. I’d already made notes of what I want to ask and discuss so I spent the rest of the morning going through those to make sure I felt as prepared as possible.


So, as you can probably tell, it takes a lot of planning and prioritising and rationing of energy to make it possible for me to go (or at the moment, ‘go’) to university, to make it possible to live my life in the most positive and productive (to a healthy extent) way. This isn’t an unusual day for me. While stuff like big Taylor Swift announcements and the Grammy nominations don’t happen every day, there’s often something that can cause emotional reactions like the ones described and I deal with fatigue and anxiety everyday. It’s one big juggling act. Every day. One enormous, exhausting juggling act every day.