Posted on January 9, 2021
So that’s it. The third semester of my Masters is officially completed. As I write this, I have just submitted my assessment work and have a week before the next semester starts (online, due to the current number of COVID cases). I have some reading to do for the next module but before I dive into that, I just want to reflect on the last semester, the ups and downs, and all that I’ve learned.
It began with a great deal of stress, and long before the semester was due to start. At the beginning of the pandemic, I’d said I absolutely didn’t want to do my course online and would defer if that was going to be the case. But as the new semester drew closer, I got more and more anxious. I didn’t want to defer but I also didn’t feel safe commuting to and then through London for two hours of classes a week so, after many hours of talking with my family (and many tears), I decided that the best option was to attend as an online student. It was a sad decision to make because I’ve always loved the group dynamic of my university classes but it just didn’t feel safe or responsible to attend in the way I’d have to.
And then, in the week or so before classes started, there was a great deal of stress around getting the right timetable as an online student: conflicting information, the classes not showing up on my online timetable, and so on. When things were already so stressful (the anxiety about the pandemic aside, I was really nervous about whether or not I was mentally up to doing the module with my mental health so fragile), this just triggered a series of really terrible meltdowns. It was a horrible and exhausting way to start the semester, especially the one I’d always been most anxious about: Musical Language in Songwriting. Music theory has never been a strong area of mine so the idea of experimenting with these concepts was very daunting.
While this was very distressing, I don’t want to point fingers or place blame. These are hugely difficult times and no university – no institution – is perfect, even when the world is running according to what we consider to be normal. So it’s not fair to expect everything to run smoothly. And now that I’m on the other side of the semester, I can only sing the praises of my tutors: over and over, I’ve seen just how dedicated, hardworking, passionate, and supportive they are. There have been bumps in the road, of course, but even with the sheer amount of stress they’re under – and that’s just the stress I’m aware of as a student – I’ve been consistently met with warmth, thoughtfulness, and understanding. And I’m just so beyond grateful for that. I couldn’t have completed this semester without their support.
I wrote about my first week back (here) but to summarise, it was a challenge. My uni were using a blended model of teaching so the lecture was online and the workshop was onsite (but as an online student, I was looped in through the online learning platform). The lectures were straightforward since we were all online, and productive once we got into a rhythm and stopped accidentally interrupting each other. The workshop, however, was more complicated: between not physically being there and only being able to communicate through the tutor’s laptop, plus not being able to see or really hear my course mates, it was very difficult. But I spoke to my tutor after the class and the next workshop was better.
I’d thought we were making progress but then suddenly, between week two and week three, I was moved to a new workshop group, an online group made up of just the online students. That really threw me; the constant uncertainty was doing a real number on my mental health. I was really struggling during this time: my anxiety over the pandemic, the expectations of the course, and being able to do well in the module was incredibly high; I was hugely frustrated with the whole situation; I was feeling overwhelmed by my depression, my low energy levels and side effects of medication… I was constantly in tears, constantly having meltdowns.
But slowly, as things started to settle, my mental state started to settle too. I had a really positive meeting with one of my tutors where he went through the learning outcomes and grading criteria and generally what makes a good assessment portfolio. I’ve found that having a meeting like this early on in the semester both helps me to work on the assignments more effectively and avoids unnecessary anxiety. As I said, I felt really supported throughout this module and I’m so grateful for that, both in terms of the module itself and in terms of the broader picture.
The assignments were challenging and definitely interesting, including a reimagination of a cover, a reimagination of an original song, and a brief that still makes me shudder: a song in an uncommon mode, using both 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures, with extended chords and an example of chromaticism (I struggled particularly with this one). We also had to consider the arrangement of each songs and to an extent, the production. The briefs definitely stretched me and prompted some very interesting songs, many of which I absolutely wouldn’t have written if I’d not done the module. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with them but I definitely learned a lot from writing them. Having said that, I did spend a lot of time feeling very unsure of myself and the quality of my work, both in terms of whether they were actually good songs and whether they were fulfilling the grading criteria.
About halfway through the semester, my course mates from the year before (those who’d done the Masters full time and completed it in one year rather than two) graduated and I joined them for the online ceremony to celebrate them and their achievements. We were all disappointed not to be able to get together to celebrate properly but hopefully that plan is simply postponed rather than cancelled. They all deserve it and it would be so lovely to see them again.
Six (out of twelve) weeks in, I was exhausted all the time. I was also still struggling with the nerve pain in my hand – the pain that I’ve been experiencing since the middle of the first lockdown – which was only getting worse, making it even more difficult to play instruments. I was still waiting for my rheumatology referral – that didn’t come through until the last week of the semester and even now, they still don’t know what the problem is.
The latter half of the semester was much more focussed on the assessment, at least it was for me. I worked on the songs I’d already written during the module before taking them into class again for more feedback so that I could get them as good as possible for submission (although I did impulsively write a rap that ended up being part of my portfolio). I also worked on the other part of the assessment: a short essay, analysing one of the songs I’d written and how I’d employed different aspects of musical language. I worked as hard as I could, determined to have at least most of the work done by Christmas so that I could have a break of some kind before the next semester started, unlike last year when I had to work straight through the Christmas break.
Despite the meeting early in the semester, I found it very difficult to judge whether I was doing ‘well enough.’ The learning outcomes and grading criteria felt incredibly vague and therefore not at all Autism-friendly, causing me a lot of anxiety. I mean, it’s Masters level and they have to cover all of the different styles of songwriting on the course so I do understand it but as an autistic person, it’s been one of the hardest parts of the course (uncertainty being a common area of difficulty for autistic individuals). I had multiple conversations with my tutors about it and although they noted it, it’s not like they could change them in the middle of the semester. I guess we’ll see if anything changes over time. I did get useful feedback on my songs and essay during those conversations but I still have no idea what to expect grade-wise.
By the end of the semester, I was almost done: I was making final edits to the songs and trying to cut down the word count of my essay. But the last week was hectic to say the least. I had a really lovely last day of classes – both groups I was a part of were so positive and fun to be a part of – and then a final one-on-one session with my tutor for any last feedback before the deadline (the first day after the Christmas break). That was really useful, especially as I was so close to finishing everything. I also had a meeting with my tutor for the next semester, so that I could prepare for it or, at the very least, get my head around what the expectations of the module were. Again, another attempt at reducing unnecessary anxiety, plus it was really nice to see him again; he’s taught me on and off since my first day on the BA (he actually auditioned me for the BA!) and he’s such a great teacher. I feel like he gets me and my approach to songwriting and I’m really excited to have him as a tutor again. And the semester itself ended for me with a meeting on behalf of ICMP where a group of us (students from different courses) spoke about our experience with the university. That felt good; I only ever want to leave things better than I found them and that meeting felt like an opportunity to do that. It’s re-inspired me to keep trying, even if I didn’t really need to be re-inspired.
I had one last session with Richard, sorted out a couple of technical issues with the tracks, and then I spent every day working non-stop. On Christmas Eve, I managed to finish everything. I was done – or had done as much as I could do without endlessly obsessing over every tiny detail – and could have an actual break between semesters. I really needed that and I had a good Christmas, despite everything going on. I wish I could’ve been with more of my family but we all recognised how risky that was. So we had a truly bizarre and hilarious Christmas Quiz and Zoom call and then dinner within our bubbles; it wasn’t perfect but I think we truly made the most of it and I really enjoyed it, even if there were difficult moments.
After a pretty restful break, I logged onto the student gateway to upload all of my work on New Year’s Day, several days before the deadline. But, for some unknown reason, the pages weren’t set up in a way that allowed us to upload the work required for the assessment. I had multiple meltdowns over it and after a handful of emails to various tutors, I was given an alternate way to submit. I shouldn’t really be surprised: this has happened multiple times and with the deadlines always on the first day back, there’s usually no one to contact for help. I was lucky to have had a tutor respond. Fortunately, it did get fixed on the morning of the deadline and we were all able (and asked) to submit. They usually fix it in time but it’s very stressful every time.
As I’ve already said, I’d been dreading this module but I ended up enjoying it a lot than I’d expected. It was still stressful but the tutors were incredibly supportive and my course mates were engaged and encouraging. It felt safe to bring in whatever I’d written, even if I really wasn’t sure about it (the rap, for example). It is hard being part time though, just as much this year as it was last year: for me at least, I’ve always felt ‘other’ to a certain degree, excluded (unintentionally) from the main group, the full-timers. Rather than being part of two years worth of Masters students, I’ve just felt not quite a part of either. It’s hard to explain but I’ve just never felt truly part of the course, like I’m always missing out on something because I’m only there (or ‘there’) half of the time. Does that make sense? I’m not even sure. Being part time has definitely been better for my mental health but it has made things more complex socially.
But ultimately, the module has been a good experience (although I’m sure my perspective on it will be affected to a certain degree by the grade I get). I think the biggest thing I’ve learned, or the skill that has developed the most, is how my decisions serve the song I’m writing; it’s made me much more conscious of my choices and it made me realise how much I already knew about the techniques we were using but just using them instinctively rather than deliberately. So that was surprising but it has opened up doors in my songwriting.
It was also exciting to start looking ahead to the next two modules: we had extracurricular sessions where students from last year presented their final projects to give us an idea of what that last module would be like. It was reassuring because it made the whole thing feel much more clear and less like a huge, intangible, overwhelming pile of work. Now it feels like an exciting challenge and I can’t wait to get started, regardless of the stress and anxiety involved.
Category: anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, covid-19 pandemic, holidays, meltdowns, mental health, music, university Tagged: anxiety, arrangement, asd, assessment, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic meltdown, autistic student, cfs, christmas, christmas break, christmas holiday, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, coronavirus, covid-19, depression, essay, essay writing, fatigue, graduation, graduation ceremony, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, meltdown, meltdowns, mental health, mental illness, music language in songwriting, music theory, musical arrangement, musical language, online classes, online learning, online university, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, part time student, songwriting, stress, tutor, tutors, university
Posted on December 31, 2020
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 ‘Invisible‘ music 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…
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.
“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)
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Posted on November 14, 2020
While I was going to write a series of posts about the events of this week, the way all of those events played out made that much more difficult than I’d anticipated so, after a lot of thought, I decided to put them all together in one post because I still really wanted to write about all of them. It was an intense week, with some really big events and a lot of anxiety.
The week in this post started on Monday 2nd November and ended on Sunday 8th November 2020, the autumn semester’s reading week. It involved an Autism webinar, the US election, Bonfire night, as well as the beginning of England’s second national lockdown.
My Mum was visiting her Mum, masked, social distanced, and outside where possible before we all go into lockdown again. So I was all on my lonesome, which is pretty unusual these days. Apart from the cats. Once Queen Lucy realised I was awake, she was climbing all over me, very clearly telling me that it was time for breakfast. So I dragged myself out of bed and went downstairs to feed the pride.
I spent the morning doing various admin tasks like replying to emails and finishing a couple of blog posts before having a shower, getting back to my computer in time to get a ticket to Tim Minchin’s upcoming livestream for his new album, Apart Together. It’s scheduled for the end of November so that will be something really fun to look forward to during lockdown. In the description of the event, they describe him as an ‘inimitable poly-talent,’ which is absolutely true and I just can’t help thinking what it would be like to be described that way. What an awesome compliment.
That done, I settled into my little home studio space and got to work. There were a handful of songs that I had been neglecting and so I finally forced myself to stop procrastinating and prioritising other things and spent several hours recording vocals for them. It’s stupid: I don’t know why I put off recording vocals so much. I guess they make me feel anxious and insecure, like I’ll listen to myself and suddenly realise what a terrible singer I am (which, yes, I recognise is ridiculous because while I know I’m not the greatest singer out there, I know I’m not terrible). But anyway, I always put it off and then when I finally do it, I remember how much I enjoy it. As I said… ridiculous, and yet we’ve all had that experience in one way or another.
It was a challenge because it was really windy outside, so windy that the microphone was picking it up and I had to delete multiple takes because the wind noise was so obtrusive. And then, Lucy decided that she was being left out of something important. I managed to convince her to lie on my bed (instead of climbing all over me) but even her stretching and clawing the duvet was making it into the recordings. I ended up barricading myself in my bedroom for the rest of the tracks. Fortunately, she (and the others) didn’t start yowling until just as I was finishing up so I was able get everything done without the feline interruptions. I think they’ve developed a form of separation anxiety after having me at their complete disposal (by which I mean I’m available to be sat on at almost all times) since late February and the closed door was just unacceptable.
I had a short time to rest and order my thoughts (change hats, if you will) before signing into an online meeting about an upcoming conference that I’m a panelist for. Just typing that out is wild to me; this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I mean, ideally it would’ve been on a literal panel, talking directly to people, rather than through a screen, but I’m not complaining. I’m nervous but excited. The other panelists were all really nice and we had a good discussion and planning session.
I was pretty knackered after all of that so I lay down on the sofa and attempted to do some blog post writing. I didn’t get very far – I think I was just too tired – but I made progress on a couple of posts so that was something.
I had a place on a webinar in the evening about Autism in young people but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get into it and the anxiety and frustration and confusion – likely combined with my anxiety about the pandemic, the US election, and the impending lockdown – resulted in a lot of distress. I wouldn’t call it a panic attack or a meltdown but it was a serious overload of difficult and upsetting feelings. I talked to Mum about it afterwards and she suggested emailing them to see if they had a recording I could watch since I’d paid for a ticket and then not been able to attend. So that was a job for the next morning; I was too upset and all over the place to try and write a coherent email.
Despite not attending the webinar, I ended up staying up far too late, bouncing between writing for my blog and in my diary. Lucy curled up with me and, completely exhausted, I was asleep in a matter of minutes.
I woke up with a headache that even my prescription painkillers couldn’t kick. I’d had a busy day planned out, with the US election the next day (I knew it would dramatically affect my emotions and therefore my ability to work so I’d planned to get as much done beforehand as possible). I tried to get up and get things done but I just felt so unwell that I ended up shifting my week around to give myself a lighter day. I just couldn’t do the more demanding tasks I’d planned to do.
I didn’t manage to get much done that morning. My head was pounding and I was tired and I just couldn’t concentrate enough to get as much done as I would’ve liked to. I did start the essay for this module for the Masters, working out the different sections and the elements I could talk the most about. I also managed a little bit of blog writing; I swear, just as I think I have a decent buffer of posts, they’re gone and I’m panic writing to make sure that I have something to post (not that I’m panic writing this post – I just thought I had more posts lined up than I do).
Early afternoon, I joined the the video call set up by a group from my Masters classes last year (they were the full timers who’d done the whole course in one year while, as a part timer, I’m taking two years to do all of the modules) to watch their online graduation ceremony. As far as I know, everyone was watching the ceremony but not everyone was in the video call, including one of my best friends but we were chatting via WhatsApp. When the ceremony ended, the university had organised video calls for each course and so the majority of the full timers logged on, plus a few of the part timers as well as our course leader to celebrate together. Some of the other tutors on our course also dropped in briefly to say hi. It was so nice to see them all. It feels like so long since I’ve seen most of them and I do miss them; I feel like we had a really lovely dynamic. We chatted and caught up and had a drink together and the whole thing ended up going on for about three hours. I was pretty social-ed out afterwards but it had been so nice to see everyone and celebrate their achievements.
Not long after we all hung up, my Mum took Lucy to the vet as I think the cysts she developed a few months ago have returned. They were back within the hour and the vet had confirmed my theory. The recurrence has also confirmed where they’re coming from and so she’s booked in for surgery on the 12th to remove the cysts and hopefully fix the problem. Apparently it’s not much more complicated than the previous surgery and she’s a very healthy cat so there’s no reason to worry unduly. He’s a great vet: we haven’t known him long at all and yet he already takes my high levels of anxiety into account when giving explanations and laying out the options. I really, really appreciate that.
Lucy has never seemed distressed by going to the vet but she’s always very pleased to be home. She often comes and cuddles up with me if possible though. I don’t know if she feels in need of affection, if she was trying to get rid of the unfamiliar smell of the vet, or whatever but it was very cute.
We weren’t confident about the support bubble rules going into the second lockdown so one of my other parents (who we’re in a support bubble with) came over for the evening and we hung out, had dinner, and watched some TV together. It was really nice and I think we all needed it.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, I’d been working on a personal essay to go out as part of the campaign for my recent single, ‘Honest,’ and I finished it at around eleven. I could barely keep my eyes open by that point but I thought it was at the very least decent, as did my Mum when she proofed it for me – I’ve had much more positive feedback since, which has been good for my confidence as I was feeling quite insecure about it. But anyway, given how tired I was, I decided to leave it as it was and have another look at it in the morning before sending it off.
I’d been doing my best not to think about the US election all day, avoiding social media as much as possible, but when I went to bed, all the anxiety rushed in. I was so terrified of Trump getting in again; I was almost overwhelmed by the dread of waking up to that as the result. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t relax enough to sleep and ended up taking both my anti-anxiety medication and a sleeping pill.
While I think we all felt that it was unlikely we’d wake up to an official result, it was nonetheless tough to wake up and see that it still wasn’t over. But worse, was that it could still go either way when I checked the news first thing. I saw this meme making the rounds on social media and it felt very relevant; I’m pretty sure that this was how my face looked.
It ended up being a long, anxious day of refreshing the various news sites, waiting for updates and not getting much done. I did manage to edit the personal essay and send it off but other than that, I just bounced between writing blog posts and working on my Masters essay without making much progress in either. I was just so anxious; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I may not be American nor do I live in the US but I have friends and family who do and the political decisions made there have the potential to ripple so far out, affecting so many countries and so many people. So to say I was stressing would be a massive understatement.
Slowly though, the numbers did start to shift in favour of Biden more and more. It wasn’t a done deal by any means but it was going in the right direction. I was refreshing my phone relentlessly; I could barely concentrate for five minutes without having to check to see if there was an update.
In the evening, Mum and I had dinner and then went for one last swim before lockdown closed all the gyms. We tried to make it as safe as possible, going close to their closing time when it’s always quiet. Plus they keep all the doors open to help with the ventilation. I still almost fell apart in the changing room because the experience was so stressful – whether it would’ve been a meltdown or an anxiety attack, I don’t know. But the staff helped us out and the few people swimming were very obliging about making it possible to put as much distance between all of us as possible.
We had a really good swim, including some of the new hydrotherapy exercises, and by the time we got home, Biden only needed six electoral votes to win and Trump needed fifty six. I was so excited; I actually felt like I might throw up from the anticipation. Again, I found it very difficult to sleep.
And so begins Lockdown 2.0…
I slept long and deep and when I did finally wake up, I didn’t get up for quite a while, going through the election coverage. The numbers hadn’t moved and it was making me edgy.
I got up, had breakfast and a shower, and got down to working on my essay. I’d only been working on it for about half an hour though when a friend called and we ended up talking for over an hour. It might not have been the way I’d planned my morning but it was really good to have that chat; I felt better for it.
When we hung up, I managed to do a bit more work on my essay before getting myself made up to do some filming. It’s getting dark so early now that I couldn’t wait any longer or I’d lose the light. I set up my little corner (I’d love to have a more permanent space at some point) and filmed some bits and pieces for the ‘Honest’ single campaign. It was a bit of a struggle – cold and uncomfortable and the cats wouldn’t leave me alone – but eventually I got them all done, which was an important job to have ticked off my list.
That done, I went back to my uni work. I spent most of the afternoon working on one of my song assignments: a reimagination of one of my own songs. It’s weirdly hard: you spend so much time trying to make a song perfect and then you have to turn around and create something entirely new from it, bring out a different emotion or try it out in a different genre. I took this really big, fiesty pop song that had this whole ‘I don’t need you’ vibe and turned it into this quiet piano song that was based on the moment of that realisation when it’s still fragile and tentative. I worked on changing the chords and then recorded them but they were still just one chord per bar; I planned to take it to a friend who is a much better piano player than me to help me expand on it, breaking up the chords and changing it a little for each section to keep it engaging since it was just going to be piano and vocal.
I was just finishing and stretching out on the sofa to relax when the fireworks started going off. I hate Bonfire Night. If you’ve read this post, you’ll know why but the short version is that, not only do fireworks massively trigger the noise sensitivity associated with my ASD, I had a firework thrown at me when I was at the cinema as a teenager. So fireworks make me very anxious and the more there are, the more anxious I get.
I was doing okay: I’d done some blog writing, Mum and I had had dinner in front of Legally Blonde (a friend of mine has been trying to get me to watch it for ages, ever since I’d said that I’d never seen it), but then excruciatingly loud fireworks (that we later found out were being let off a few gardens down from ours) started going off. It could’ve been machine gun fire. The sound triggered one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever had: I was shaking, hyperventilating, sobbing, screaming (apparently I was screaming ‘stop’ over and over but I never really remember meltdowns afterwards), pulling out my hair to the extent that I was drawing blood… I have no idea how long it went on for but it felt like it could’ve been an hour. Eventually it stopped but meltdowns – my meltdowns at least (I don’t want to speak for anyone else’s experience) – often take a while to settle. I’d barely started to relax when a few minutes later, it all stared again and re-triggered the meltdown. Even after they did finally stop, it was still a long time before I was responsive again, able to interact with my surroundings, able to talk again. It was horrific. It was absolutely horrific.
I have no idea how much time that ate up, just that I was absolutely drained afterwards and barely able to sit up on the sofa. We finished the movie (I liked it for the most part but there’s a really problematic scene where one of the lawyers tricks a gay man into outing himself in public, which is just not okay – I get that it was almost twenty years ago but that doesn’t make it comfortable to watch) and headed for bed. The one thing I will say about it being Bonfire Night was that one of my cats, Sooty (pictured below), stayed with me all evening, snuggled up nice and close. I don’t know if she understood my distress or whether she, herself, needed some comfort but it was very nice to have her with me all evening. Nothing really helps with the meltdowns but it did help before when it was the odd bang and after when I was a collapsed on the sofa. She was an excellent little companion.
Despite being so exhausted by the meltdown, I couldn’t sleep, no matter what I did. Maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was fight or flight… I don’t know. But I couldn’t fully relax for hours, even with the help of a sleeping pill. I think I eventually went to sleep at some point between two thirty and three.
I struggled up the next morning and after a while, decided to post about the experience. I’d seen #banthefireworks and similar hashtags trending on Twitter the night before, mainly to do with how traumatising they are for pets and for wildlife. It was, however, the first time I’d seen people with sensory issues and Autism mentioned as well though, which felt like quite a big deal. I’d been too out of it the night before to write anything at all but with my head a little clearer, I thought that maybe it could be a good idea and maybe raise some awareness about what the experience of Bonfire Night (and fireworks in general) is like as an autistic person. So I posted this on Twitter and on my Instagram stories:
I actually got a really lovely response with a handful of likes and kind, supportive comments.
I got up and got myself ready for the day and settled down to do some blog post writing. I was feeling very fragile after the meltdown(s) the night before so I put on one of the movies that I discovered during the first lockdown and ended up watching a lot because it just feels good. It’s called ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ with Rebel Wilson. I’m generally not a rom-com fan and I hadn’t seen Rebel Wilson in a role that didn’t make me cringe so I was initially wary when my friend recommended it but I ended up loving it. It’s just the ultimate feel good movie. So I had that on in the background as I tried to write (my thoughts always feel kind of fuzzy and not quite connected after a meltdown, sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for days – it can get really upsetting if I spend too much time thinking about it; feeling like your brain doesn’t work just feels so horrible and scary).
Mid afternoon, I had a session with my therapist. I haven’t ‘seen’ her for a while so we had quite a bit of catching up to do. We talked in depth about the night before, as I usually need to after an experience like that. I feel pretty lucky that I had a therapy session within less than twenty four hours, even if it was still very raw. But better that than in a week or two. The other main thing we talked about was how I’m struggling more than usual with my OCD: with the new semester of uni and the promotion of ‘Honest,’ it’s been really hard to find the time and emotional energy to keep up with my diary (for those unfamiliar, my OCD manifests as a compulsive need to write everything down. The overwhelming anxiety and pressure to keep up and do well in my Masters and what is effectively my job seems to be the only thing that can overpower my compulsive writing but then the anxiety around that only builds and builds until I feel like I can’t breathe, like my mind is coming apart and I’m no longer able to form coherent thought processes. We spent a while talking about that and about starting to tackle it as an issue, something we haven’t done because the pandemic has had such an impact on my mental health. It was an exhausting session but it was good to see her and hopefully, in therapy at least, I’m moving out of the frozen state I’ve been in since the pandemic hit the UK. I’m reluctant to commit to that as a statement but I’m cautiously optimistic.
I was pretty much done after that; I didn’t have any energy left. I posted a video to remind people about the new single but that was pretty much all I could manage for the rest of the day.
Since I was too tired to do anything, I ended up watching a new film, Inheritance. The trailer had looked good and while it wasn’t the best film ever, I thought the acting – especially the scenes that involved just Lily Collins and Simon Pegg in a room – was really good and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It was very dark though so I can definitely see it appealing to some and really not to others.
While the fireworks weren’t anywhere near as bad as the night before, people were still setting them off throughout the evening, which really heightened my anxiety. I could barely eat; it felt like my throat was closing up and swallowing was actively uncomfortable.
I spent the evening bouncing between trying to write blog posts and trying to write my diary, not achieving much with either. Again, I think I was just too tired. But it was still a bit too early to go to bed and I wanted to try and do something, even if it wasn’t much.
I FaceTimed with one of my parents before going to bed, which was really nice and then, during the call, I got an email saying that I’d got a ticket to Halsey’s upcoming livestream for the launch of her new poetry book, I Would Leave Me If I Could, which was really, really excited. And when I went to bed around eleven, Biden was very close to winning. So that was a good mental state to be going to bed with.
I struggled up at nine thirty and got straight to work, recording vocals for the reimagination of my song before my session with Richard. That went pretty quickly and smoothly because I was fairly solid in the new melody. I think it’s pretty good, although I was a bit concerned that the rhythm of the melody wasn’t that different from the original. I didn’t have the time to rework it so I thought I’d take that to class and ask for advice, both in terms of whether they thought it was a problem and how I should go about changing it if it was.
That done, I had a shower and breakfast, published my blog post about going back to the gym (pre this new lockdown), and then logged into Zoom for my session with Richard. We spent the next three hours working on the reimagination of my song and of the cover song. I found it quite frustrating since it was mainly arrangement and production based, so all I could do was offer direction and suggestions but Richard had to do all of the physical work, considering the Logic project was on his screen. This is one of the things I find hardest about collaboration via programs like Zoom: you can’t just take over from one another, swap chairs or instruments, or even point to things on the screen. Sometimes I end up finding it hard to engage and sometimes I just end up wanting to scream because I feel so limited. Most of the time it’s fine and I’ll gratefully accept the fact that we can work long distance at all but every now and then, the frustration just gets too much.
After hanging up, I put Friends on for background noise and spent a few hours working on upcoming blog posts.
I wasn’t refreshing the news as obsessively anymore so I didn’t discover it for myself. I got a text from Richard at 4:28pm with a screenshot of the BBC News announcement. I actually shrieked and shouted to Mum to tell her. I was positively giddy with relief: I laughed hysterically and then I just started crying because I was just so overwhelmed with so many emotions. It was like I could breathe again. And considering that’s how I felt when it isn’t my country or government, I can only imagine how everyone in America – those who had worked so hard to get Trump out and Biden in – were feeling.
The majority of people that I was seeing on social media were hysterical with joy and it being such a historic moment, I felt that I really wanted to add my own to mark the occasion…
We were just finishing dinner when the fireworks started going off. They weren’t bad enough to trigger a meltdown but they did make me anxious, cause me to flinch and lose my train of thought. I was going to be very pleased when those few nights of fireworks were over.
We had a quiet evening of TV (me and Mum are currently rewatching Hustle – it’s easy to watch but still such a good show) and I tried to do some gentle work on my Masters essay but I ended up in a state about all the musical theory language that I was supposed to be using but didn’t understand, being a self taught musician rather than having had lots of lessons or doing grades. So that was very stressful and I got very upset so I emailed my tutors to ask for some guidance.
I was still buzzing about the election news but it had been somewhat dampened (temporarily) by my uni anxiety so I went to bed just feeling like a complete mess. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and anxious and it was all just too much. By that point, I needed the emotional fresh start a new day would give me.
It wasn’t easy but I managed to wake up around eight thirty. I got distracted from getting up when I checked my social media though, looking through all of the posts about Biden getting in. There were a few negative posts but on the whole, my feed was mostly filled with positive ones, which was a nice way to start the day. Obviously our social media isn’t an objective view of any subject so I wasn’t going to base my knowledge of the election outcome on the reactions I was seeing but seeing so much positivity and joy on my timeline was a real lift in a very difficult week.
Eventually I tore myself away, had a shower and breakfast, and got down to work. I spent the morning working on blog posts and doing some Christmas present planning and shopping. And then I dedicated the afternoon to preparing for the conference. It’s a conference about University and the Covid-19 pandemic and I’m on a panel discussing autistic students and coping with change. So I wrote down all my thoughts, organised and input them into the powerpoint we would be displaying. It took a couple of hours but I was pleased with the work I’d done. Now I just have to pull together my notes for when it’s my turn to speak but I didn’t want to do that until we’d all met again and signed off on the powerpoint as a group.
I had some chill time before one of my other parents arrived for our weekly evening together (she’s in our bubble and it seems that bubbles – those that bring a household and a single person together anyway – are still permitted during this lockdown). We’d decided, given that we were already in a bubble and none of us do anything out but the essentials, that we felt safe to continuing seeing each other.
We had a really good evening. She’s a music teacher (or at least that’s one of her hats) and has been for decades so she was able to help me out with my essay: we went through the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements of every section of the song and it was kind of hilarious how consistent I’d been without being aware of it: almost every element built on the idea of tension and release, except the release never comes. Non-diatonic chords, uncommon intervals, irregular time signatures, syncopation for days… The song had been an experiment in the weird and it was certainly that.
We had dinner with a movie (we missed the new episode of His Dark Materials because I got the time wrong – me and Mum made a note to watch it the next day) and while my parents were content to relax with the rest of the movie, I went back to blog writing. My brain struggles to sit still, to do one thing without getting distracted or bored. So I kept writing, with Sooty curled up between my knees. It seems to be her new favourite place.
Once it was just me and Mum again, we took our time winding down and then headed for bed. I checked my phone one last time and saw that, as promised if Biden won the election, Kalie Shorr had released a worktape of one of her unreleased songs, ‘Strawberry Blonde.’ It’s such a great song. Her lyric writing especially just blows my mind:
“…Sometimes I still get wasted
To stop thinking ‘bout the time I wasted
I started taking long walks again
And I started talking to God again
You’d hardly recognise me with my rose-coloured glasses gone
You might find it surprising I stopped taking shit from anyone
I got a new tattoo so you don’t know what I look like when my clothes are off
And I went strawberry blonde…”
I learn so much from her songs and I’d love to have the confidence she has in her writing style, in herself as an artist and as a person it seems. She is one of the people I want to write with most; I feel like it would just be so much fun and I’d learn so much. Plus I think we could write one badass song. She’s such an inspiration to me and has been ever since I met her and started following her career in 2016. I don’t know if she knows what an impact – what a positive impact – she’s had on my life.
My brain was going off like fireworks (ironic, I know, but it’s the only metaphor I’ve found that fits) after hearing that song, lyrics bursting into life behind my eyes, which of course I had to write down so as not to forget them. My brain is often at its most active and creative at night. So it took me a long time to get to sleep.
So it was a hell of a week. There was good, bad, really good, and really bad. I can’t say whether it was the week I expected or not because I had no idea what the week was going to look like, mostly due to the US election. Most of all it was exhausting. The new week felt daunting, going in so depleted, but it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.
I hope this was interesting; I hope you enjoyed it. And I’ll see you in the next post.
Category: about me, animals, anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, covid-19 pandemic, diagnosis, emotions, event, favourites, holidays, meltdowns, mental health, music, ocd, therapy, university, video, writing Tagged: a week in my life, alt pop, anti anxiety medication, anxiety, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autism webinar, autistic, autistic adult, autistic blogger, autistic meltdown, autistic meltdowns, autistic student, best friends, blogger, blogging, bonfire night, cat, cfs, christmas, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, collaboration, compulsive writing, conference, coronavirus, covid-19, cowriting session, diary writing, donald trump, essay, essay writing, exhaustion, family, family of cats, fatigue, film, fireworks, graduation, graduation 2020, graduation celebration, graduation ceremony, gym, halsey, honest, honest ep, honest single, i would leave me if i could, indie pop, inheritance, inspiration, isn't it romantic, joe biden, kalie shorr, kitten, legally blonde, livestream, lockdown, lockdown 2.0, lockdown 2020, ma student, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, medication, meltdown, meltdowns, meme, music theory, musical theory, noise sensitivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, panel, part time masters student, personal essay, piano, poetry, poetry book, president, president biden, production, recording, reimagination, reimagined, richard marc, singersongwriter, singing, social bubble, social bubbles, social media, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting assignment, songwriting challenge, songwriting inspiration, songwriting session, strawberry blonde, support bubble, support bubbles, swimming, swimming pool, therapy, tim minchin, university, us election, us election 2020, vet, webinar, week in my life, working, writing, writing session, zoom, zoom calls, zoom writing
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as several mental health issues. I’m a singersongwriter (and currently studying for a Masters in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
I’m currently releasing my first EP, Honest, track by track and all five songs are now available on all major music platforms. However, there’s still more content to come…