A Week in My Life (February 2020)

So I thought it might be fun to document a week in my life, both as a person with mental health problems and Autism and as a person doing a Masters in songwriting. So recently, for a week (one of my more interesting weeks), I took notes on each day so this is those days collated, a week in my life right now.


MONDAY

My Monday started at home in Brighton (doing origami for the #30dayfeb) but I was hugely nervous (and excited) because I was playing my university’s songwriters’ circle that evening. And what made it extra special was that it was the LGBTGIA+ History Month Special. I proudly come from a proudly LGBT family and identify as queer myself, although that label is as far as I’ve gotten. When your mental health and Autism take up your whole life, there’s not a lot of time for figuring out your sexuality. I haven’t talked about sexuality on here much because I felt like I needed to know specifically what I identified as (gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc) before I said anything but now I’m thinking that not knowing yet is also important to talk about. I don’t want to do too much of that here though because I think it deserves its own post.

Anyway, I was nervous but also really excited.

I caught the train to London and the tube to uni where the songwriters’ circle was being held. I met Richard (Richard Marc, my best friend and writing partner) there and we practiced for a bit: we were playing a song we’d never performed before. So we worked that out, ran through it until we were confident with the performance, and then went to get food before going back for our soundcheck. That went well and we met everyone else who was playing; they were all absolutely lovely.

The special guest was an alumni, RIS, described as: “an up-and-coming Sofia-born electropop artist based in East London. The queer singer-songwriter’s brooding vocals bring euphoric melodies to life over dramatic alt-pop tracks, rich with sizzling synths and sonic ear candy.” They were really lovely and I absolutely love their songs: I can’t wait for them to release more.

The other students, Lea Frances, Francesco Pio Ricci, Becky Kerly, and our host tutor, Anjali Perin, were all amazing and interesting and different and it was a really  incredible experience to be a part of. You can actually listen to the whole circle here and hear everyone’s beautiful music and stories. There’s something strangely spiritual about a songwriters’ circle and I hope you can feel that without actually being there. Speaking for myself, it felt magical and exactly how songwriting and songwriters’ circles should feel: a coming together and sharing of stories, of songs, and of souls. And holding it in a music university, getting a sing-a-long isn’t difficult and that’s one of, I think, the most special things you can experience as a songwriter, as a performer. The whole event was so wonderful and I felt so lucky to be a part of it.

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TUESDAY

My lecture didn’t start until eleven so I got a bit of a lie in after the late-ish night and all of the emotion but then I had a bit of a headless chicken morning, running around, back and forth, getting ready and packed up for uni. But I made it on time, a little early even so I got to chat to my friends. It felt like a very weird morning: I just felt super emotional and like crying at every little thing. It was hard work to stay composed.

The lecture covered the grading criteria for the assessment essay, which was really helpful. I find the language really confusing so going through it with a tutor explaining it in detail and in real, human language made is much more accessible and easier to understand.

But the main part of the lecture focussed on Max Martin – we cover one songwriter a week and look at techniques they use and so on. It’s really interesting, especially because they’re all really different. So, for Max Martin, we focussed most on melody, syllable count, and melodic math: a device used to make melodies really tight and memorable. It was fascinating, especially to someone who puts lyrics before melody. I don’t know if I could ever do it consistently because lyrics are so important to me but it’s definitely something I’d be up for trying out, just to see what the result sounded like.

Then I have a four hour break before the next class but I spent some of it hanging out with my friends, an hour at a meeting about the upcoming Nashville trip, and then two hours writing with one of my best friends on the course, Luce, while our other friend, Sharné sat in the room with us and worked on some of her own work. We worked on a song for a couple of hours, getting quite methodical and looking at the deeper message of the song and so on but I don’t think either of us were in quite the right frame of mind to write so the three of us just ended up talking. They’re such lovely people that talking with them, whether it’s about random stuff or intense, emotional stuff, the conversations mean a lot to me.

The second and final class of the day was the workshop, where we play songs we’ve written based on the previous week’s artist’s techniques. A lot of people don’t turn up, presumably because it’s not assessed and they need the time for other things, so it was just me, Luce, and Sharné, which was actually really nice. There was a lot of time for feedback and I really enjoyed working on their songs and my song more intensely than we would usually have time for. They had both written great songs, both of which I really loved.

My only complaint about the classes is how cold the classrooms are. They’re absolutely freezing, so cold that we’re wearing our coats, scarves, and gloves in class. The air conditioning is on even in December and January. We’ve asked them to turn it off but there’s been no change. Especially on a day when I was very emotional, being so cold just made me want to cry.

Fortunately, my Mum was working in London and the end of our days coincided so she picked me up and we drove home together, catching up about our days. We got home and I was so exhausted that I went straight to bed. It had been a long and emotional couple of days.


WEDNESDAY

After my busy Tuesdays (and this busy Monday), I take Wednesday as a rest day. And I tend to work on at least one weekend day. I might technically be doing my course part time but I have to be very flexible about the way I work because of Autism and mental health problems cropping up and making work difficult. I can’t write a song or research an essay if I’m recovering from a meltdown for example. It sucks, because it means I have to plan my life very carefully to allow for these problems but also be very flexible in case they do. It’s so frustrating. I hate it.

I did my origami and then spent the day bouncing between writing my diary and the continuation of moving my songs all into one notebook. They were very calming tasks. I tried to work on a song but just couldn’t make my brain work (I think I was too tired) and then, when I gave up, I lay down on the sofa and accidentally had a three hour nap.

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All of the cats!

I finished the day having dinner and watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit with my Mum (it’s the show that just the two of us in the family watch). It was very relaxed and really nice to spend some time with her.

I had had serious anxiety about the work I have to do all day but had been managing it with Diazepam. It’s something I deliberately try not to think about on rest days because they’re my weekend where I have fun or recharge. I’ll spend the other days of the week working on those things but rest days are for resting. It’s still hard to shut off that anxiety though, even with the Diazepam.


THURSDAY

As had become my pattern, I started my day with my piece of origami for #30dayfeb. On this day, it was another bird. I did a lot of birds. They were pretty and not too challenging (I wanted challenging but some of the origami tutorials I watched were virtually impossible for a beginner like me).

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Most of my morning involved going to therapy. It ended up being a very intense, upsetting session – therapy can be a bit of a funny paradox because if you leave feeling exhausted and drained, chances are you’ve worked really hard and done some important work; you’ve just got to look after yourself afterwards. We were talking mainly about a difficult relationship in my life and how to handle it as well as my OCD and how it’s affecting my Masters work. Trying to control it enough to get the work done is gruelling and exhausting and sometimes it feels just too hard. It spiralled into harder and harder stuff and I ended up in tears. Getting myself together to leave was a struggle. And then, to make things worse, the cab I needed to get home didn’t turn up and I was left waiting in the rain for half an hour, until my therapist came to check on me. She lent me her phone and I called another one.

I eventually got home and called my Mum at work, sobbing down the phone because it had been just too much after a difficult session. Plus changes in plans really throw me. Talking to her managed to come me down a bit and I felt a bit better when we hung up. I was tired enough to sleep but my brain was whirring too fast so I was still awake but groggy when Mum got home.

We had some dinner (and some red bull) and caught the train to London. We were going to see Waitress again, mainly so that I could try and meet Sara Bareilles after the show. She’s had such an impact on my life that I just really, really want to meet her and thank her. And getting to see the show again isn’t exactly a hardship. I love the music, the cast is fantastic, and the story always inspires me; it makes me feel like I might end up happy, even if it’s not in the way I expect or currently want it to. That’s big for me. And Sara is just amazing. She just is Jenna. She’s plays the part like it was written for her and she sings like Jenna is a part of her. ‘She Used To Be Mine’ is one of my favourite songs ever and there’s something magical about hearing her sing it live. This show is so important to me and it always will be.

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Sara’s bow!

We rushed outside to see if I could meet her and we met some of the other cast who kindly chatted with us and signed my ticket but Sara herself didn’t appear. After a while, the security guard said she’d left but I was reluctant to just go, having been told the same thing in the past and gone home only to see people posting selfies with her on Instagram. But this security guard had been really nice to us earlier in the night – so I felt I could trust him and his explanation – and he told us that she had an early engagement the next day and so she’d had to leave straight away (as it turns out she was on This Morning the next morning so it was entirely true). So we went home. We have one more opportunity to meet her before her run ends so hopefully I’ll get to meet her then. I know a lot of people don’t get my dedication to seeing shows more than once (I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing them multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once, especially if it’s only on for a limited time?) and meeting the artists but they’ve really shaped my life and therefore become part of my life so it feels important to connect, even if in the tiniest way.

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Marisha Wallace (who plays Becky – she has an incredible voice and is utterly hilarious) signing my ticket.

We caught the train home and fortunately got back not too late, considering we’d waited afterwards (I appreciate that they hadn’t just left us waiting in the cold). I went straight to bed and was asleep in seconds.


FRIDAY

I did my origami (an apple) and then spent the morning doing some reading for my Masters, working on my songwriting book when I needed a break. It was very gentle and chilled after the emotional day and late night from the day before – the perfect antidote.

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Lucy keeping me company.

I had a late shower but ended up sitting on the bathmat, sobbing because there’s just so much sadness in me. There’s so much sadness, past and present, happening in the world and to the people I love. It overwhelmed me and I just got so upset. It happens sometimes, quite a lot in fact. I’m an emotional person but I’ve been particularly emotional recently.

In the afternoon, I had an appointment with the doctor. Mum always comes with me to these appointments, especially with doctors I’m not familiar with (the Autism specialist doctor has been away), in case I get overwhelmed and because she knows my mental health and Autism history really well, sometimes better than me. We talked to the doctor about the pain I’ve been having from my fingers to my shoulders (I was, at that moment, having some really bad pain in my hands and left shoulder), which is obviously cause for concern. We talked about support for people with Autism, which there still seems to be a distinct lack of, plus several other things. I found it very unhelpful and distressing but Mum seems to think that the information we got, good and bad, means movement – in her plans and research, I suppose. So I guess that’s something.

To cheer me up, we went home via the nearby pet shop. We need to replace the cat tree/scratcher so we went to look at the ones they had and there were some possibilities but we need to do some measuring before we commit and buy one. But we did buy a couple of little cat toys, mainly to make me happy: a little unicorn and a little Grumpy Cat (we try to avoid buying toys that look like real animals so that they don’t give us a huge shock, thinking the cats have brought in a mouse or something). They’re really cute.

The unicorn toy and the Grumpy Cat toy.

Then we came home and had a gentle evening. I did some reading for my essay and then me and Mum had dinner in front of SVU. When I finished eating, I did some diary writing. It was an attempt at calm but I was still very anxious, even taking Diazepam. I’d intended to go to a friend’s gig in London but I just had too much pain in my hands, arm, and shoulder that I just couldn’t do it. I felt so bad because it’s been so long since I’ve been to one of her shows and I felt like a bad friend for ‘not supporting her.’ I could’ve managed the show but the travel just made it too much. I felt really guilty for not going, something I struggle with a lot – guilt, that is. So it was a difficult evening.


SATURDAY

I spent most of Saturday songwriting (after doing my origami). I tried to write both with a pen and on a computer – diary, blog writing, or research – but my hands felt thick and stupid (which we think was a side effect of a medication I’ve now stopped taking since it wasn’t helping and there were too many side effects – none of them serious but all of them unpleasant and unhelpful) so it was a real struggle. Playing piano was really the only thing that wasn’t difficult in that sense and so I spent a lot of the day playing, writing, and editing songs, several of which I really like.

I also put up my blog post about Lucky, which I’m really proud of.

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Me and Lucky on Christmas Day with his new toy.

Me and Mum spent some time in the afternoon and early evening talking about a presentation I have coming up, talking rather than writing since my hands were still struggling. Then we had dinner and watched some TV together. I ended up falling asleep on the sofa at seven because I was so exhausted by everything going on and Mum had to all but drag me off the sofa and steer me to bed.


SUNDAY

I woke up stupidly early (at half past four) and couldn’t go back to sleep as hard as I tried. Eventually I got up and moved to the living room, putting the TV on low and getting to work: sending emails, social media messages, and so on. I’m better in the mornings, more awake and less anxious, so those things feel easier.  I organised my diary and did some blog writing. It was a productive start to the day, despite the painfully early start.

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Mouse keeping me company while I worked.

Once Mum was up and we’d had breakfast, we did some house jobs (such as fitting the new cat flap) and I talked to a friend who was very upset before getting down to work on my presentation. I’d been talking to various people since it was set as an assignment so I felt prepared when I sat down to make the presentation slides. I spent the day working on the slides and beginning a script for what I was going to say.

In the evening, I ran it past Mum (who does a lot of presenting as part of her job) and she critiqued it for me. Then one of my other parents came over and we had dinner in front of Tim Minchin’s Orchestra Tour DVD. He’s truly an incredible musician and performer.

It was a productive day and I went to bed as late as I could manage – about ten o’clock – and took a sleeping pill to make sure I got a good night’s sleep.


I hope that was interesting, that it gave you a glimpse into my life. Let me know if you want more of these because it was definitely interesting to write.

Goals For 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve Been Re-diagnosed With OCD

If you guys follow me on social media, you’ll know that this week, I posted about going back to therapy and being rediagnosed with OCD…

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I’m back at therapy! And this is one of my therapist’s dogs who thinks she’s small enough to sit in my lap. Anyway. I never deliberately stopped going but our schedules have been very difficult to align for a while, particularly with me starting my Masters, and so it’s been a good several months since I’ve had a session. I almost feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it, do therapy. But I’m back and hopefully it will help with my anxiety, which has been severe for a while now. And on that note, I’ve been rediagnosed with OCD! I’m gonna write more about this in a blog post soon but this is really good for me. I have a plan of action. It’s gonna be a long road and I am anxious about it but I feel better knowing what the treatment options are, some of which I’m already doing. So despite feeling very unwell, it’s been a positive week. It’s progress.

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So, that basically explains what’s been going on with therapy (I’ll update you on all of that as I continue with therapy) but I wanted to talk a bit more about the OCD diagnosis because that’s kind of a big deal.

Back in 2016, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, OCD, and BPD. And then I was diagnosed with ASD. But in the last year, my psychiatrist reorganised my diagnoses and decided that the symptoms he’d originally seen as OCD fell under some of the other diagnoses, particularly the ASD. But recently, it’s become very clear that it really is OCD.

If you remember this post, I talked about having a massive meltdown, which triggered daily, multiple meltdowns. It was awful and one of the most difficult periods of my life, mental health wise and otherwise: dealing with that and trying to manage the beginning of a Masters. It was pretty hellish. I’m not sure when it stopped but it slowly faded and I’m now only having a meltdown every couple of weeks or so – still a bit more than usual but much more manageable.

But that really triggered something in my obsessive diary writing. My diary writing has been pretty compulsive for years: I NEED to write everything down. It’s like, if I don’t record everything that happens to me, I’ll forget who I am. It’s a constant battle, but it suddenly went from manageable to completely overwhelming. It takes up all my time or it would if I didn’t have all this research to do for my Masters. So these two things are  constantly pushing up against each other, which causes me a lot of anxiety. But the diary writing usually wins, which only causes me more anxiety, anxiety that I’m going to do badly in my Masters. And even though I know all of this, I still can’t stop writing. And because there’s more life than there is time to write, I’m just getting more and more behind. More anxiety. So I’m just a big ball of anxiety. It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger and going faster and faster.

It took forever to get an appointment with my psychiatrist (so the anxiety has gone on a lot longer than was necessary or fair, in my opinion), but eventually I got an appointment. And of course, the time was then changed last minute, the sudden change of plan sent me spiralling into a meltdown. So it took a long time but I finally saw him and we talked about all of this in great detail and he decided to re-diagnose me with OCD. I’m so relieved because now it has edges; it’s not some vague, amorphous cloud of stress hanging over me. A diagnosis gives me something to work with.

We talked about the treatment options, medication and therapy. Medication wise, I’m already taking the things he would recommend so that’s that avenue covered. I don’t know much about the therapy route yet. As far as I know, I’ll have to reduce the writing bit by bit, which – in itself – is going to create more anxiety. Hurray. Not. It’s the whole ‘it’s gotta get worse before it gets better.’ But now I’m back in therapy and I have an amazing therapist so although I’m terrified of even more anxiety, I know I’ll have thoughtful, compassionate guidance. I don’t know when we’ll start because, as my psychiatrist pointed out, right before a set of assessments isn’t necessarily the most productive or helpful time to do this sort of stuff. But even though I’m scared, I need to start working on this soon or every semester is going to be like this one: a daily battle of OCD versus real life. And I really, really don’t want that.

‘Invisible’ Music Video – Out Now!

I’m so excited to announce that the ‘Invisible’ music video is finally out. This time last year, I put this very special single out and although I’d planned to put the video out straight away, life and mental health got in the way. But now it’s Mental Health Awareness Week again and I thought it was time this video saw the light of day. I would love it if you’d watch and I really hope you like it. It’s so, so special to me.

Almost two years ago now, I got together with Rosie Powell (my incredible director and videographer) and we planned this video. I really wanted to focus on the lyrics and the story behind the song so we came up with the idea of painting the lyrics on a wall (shout out to one of my parents for letting me paint all over my old bedroom wall). I was super excited. But having never been ‘in’ a music video before, I was  also really nervous about being on camera. I felt really self conscious and worried about how my issues with eye contact would affect the video. Autism problems, am I right?

Day one was painting day. We set up in my childhood bedroom (and by that I mean, we lugged all the furniture out – which I then fell over multiple times) and got to work painting the lyrics on the wall.

It was really fun but weirdly, really hard work: it was very physical and I was exhausted by the end of it. It was also really cathartic to physically put those words out into the world. I’m not very artistic – I’ve never been very good at drawing or painting – so this was all new to me: seeing what I’d imagined in my head out in the real world. It was very satisfying to see this…

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… turn into this:

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It was a really good day and I’m really proud of the work we did.

Day two had Richard (my writing partner and general partner in crime) coming down to Brighton and we shot the ‘performance’ section of the video. I felt very self conscious with the camera on my face so much but both Rosie and Richard are so lovely that I felt very safe. Again, it was exhausting – that might be my issues with fatigue coming into play – but really satisfying and fun.

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I had a lot of plans for this single and the video but alas, they weren’t to be. Life happened and my mental health took a lot of hits (if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll be aware of some of them). My depression has been brutal and made doing anything musical almost impossible. It’s been a long, hard road but I’m so, so glad this video is out in the world. I’m so proud of it and I’m so grateful to have worked on it with such lovely people. I wouldn’t have wanted my first music video to have come to life any differently.

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Getting A Diagnosis – The Mental Illness Edition

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while but it’s such a big topic that I was very daunted by just how much I needed to include. I’d open a word document, stare at it for ten minutes, and then switch to something else. You’ll see what I mean. Getting a diagnosis is a complicated and emotional process that is so different for everyone but I had no idea how difficult it would be when we started pursuing it. So I thought I’d write out my experience just to put out into the world one version of the story. Maybe yours is similar, maybe it’s different. Hopefully you’ll get something out of it either way. And if you’re trying to get one, maybe this will give you some idea of the hurdles. I don’t want to scare anyone off; it was a brutal experience but it was absolutely life changing and life saving, both for my mental health and for who I am as a person.

I’m going to split this into two posts because although they’re linked, the processes for getting the mental health diagnoses and getting the ASD diagnosis were very different for me. I don’t know if that’s the same for everyone. This post will be about getting the mental health diagnoses.

My mental health problems became very acute when I failed an exam at sixth form in March 2013. I was eighteen and it was the first time that had happened. There’s a lot of stuff behind why that was the breaking point but I’ll talk about that in a different post. Otherwise we’ll be here forever; I’m already splitting this post in half. I hadn’t been oblivious to my mental health up until that point but I hadn’t recognised the signs for what they were; my knowledge of mental health had been pretty limited. But I’d always felt like there was something wrong with me (I now know that it’s different rather than wrong but that’s how it felt and sometimes still does feel) and I know that my depression and anxiety had been building up to that moment, that critical incident.

After that, I started seeing a psychiatrist that a family member had recommended (my GP had been unhelpful at best and distressing at worse). He diagnosed me with Clinical Depression and gave me an anti-depressant called Paroxetine to try. I don’t have enough experience to judge whether he was a good psychiatrist or not but I don’t remember feeling particularly supported by him. I only saw him a few times before I switched to a psychiatrist closer to where I lived. The Paroxetine made me incredibly sleepy; it was like they put me into a waking sleep that I still don’t feel I’ve really woken up from. I switched to Sertraline but that was even worse: I felt like a zombie and that was so upsetting that I (unwisely) stopped taking it cold turkey. That was a Bad Move, such a bad one that I still capitalise the first letter of each word. For a while I was very dissociated and then my anxiety came back, even stronger than it had been before. So I was a bit put off by medication but the diagnosis was helpful and I started going to CBT.

That ended up not being the right thing for me and the energy it took was just too much so I quit, not forever necessarily but I needed a break and we wanted to explore some of the other options. I tried several other things over the next year before deciding to try medication again. Both that first psychiatrist and the CBT consultant had been private but I couldn’t get the NHS to help me. I have to say here that I have so much (SO MUCH) respect for the NHS. It has saved the lives of several of my friends and I will defend it to the death but I don’t feel it has yet got it right when it comes to mental health. In my case, my anxiety was so bad that I found it incredibly difficult to talk to people I didn’t know. My Mum would explain the situation but we were repeatedly told that if I wouldn’t talk they couldn’t help. That was very distressing. Logistically I understand that it’s more difficult to communicate if a person can’t talk but that’s not an excuse to refuse care. The not talking was a result of my anxiety, which falls under their job description. They should’ve helped me. They should’ve at least tried. But they didn’t and I was struggling so much that we were forced to go private. I am endlessly, endlessly grateful that my family have been able to make that possible. It has, without a doubt, saved my life.

We found a new psychiatrist in the summer of 2014 and after such a horrible year, I was determined to make it work. I walked into his office, sat down, and started talking. I still don’t know how I did that. I was just as anxious as I had been before but I guess that’s desperation for you. Maybe it was my survival instinct. Anyway. My psychiatrist has since told me that he couldn’t believe I had such bad social anxiety because I had been so articulate and direct. Again, I’m putting that down to desperation (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ability to mimic ‘normal’ behaviour – something that many girls with autism have learnt to do – came into play here too). But as I told him more, he started to understand where I was coming from and what I was dealing with. He put me on Phenelzine, which made a massive difference (I’ve written more about that here) and we continued our sessions so that he could get as much information as possible.

I wanted him to give me a diagnosis. I wanted a name for the thing (or things) that had so much power over me. I wanted to know what was really me and what was this indistinct, suffocating black shadow. I thought he’d have me do a load of diagnostic tests and questionnaires and then give me his findings but it felt more like therapy, but with a focus on my past experiences (rather than strategies to move forward). He didn’t seem in a hurry to find the answers and I didn’t know how to fast track the process. Eventually we got the deadline I wanted: my university said they couldn’t help me until they had an official diagnosis. But again, it wasn’t how I’d expected it to be and again, it was incredibly slow. Throw in that I’d just started university (which came with new people, new classes, and commuting into London) and I was under a lot of stress, as you can probably imagine. How I didn’t have more autistic meltdowns, I have no idea.

I couldn’t just do nothing. I spent hours searching the internet, looking for anything that might explain my experience. I examined diagnostic criteria and read medical papers; I scrolled through forums and took diagnostic tests. I’ve read a lot about the back and forth on self diagnosis (something I definitely want to discuss in more depth at some point) but for me, I needed a professional diagnosis, both to get the help I needed and to validate how much I’d struggled. Grouping my symptoms together and trying the strategies advised for whatever label fitted that group wasn’t going to be enough. So I used those test results as a starting point. Eventually I came across Borderline Personality Disorder and more specifically, the ‘quiet’ presentation of BPD. This means that they have many of the same symptoms (including mood swings, problems with self worth, unstable identity, and difficulties with relationships) but rather than ‘acting out’, they ‘act in’: they direct their negative emotions inwards, hiding them rather than projecting them onto others. Many struggle with issues around self hatred and self harm. If they lie or manipulate, it’s to protect themselves from perceived abandonment and they may avoid or distance themselves in relationships because they don’t want to be abandoned or because they feel they don’t deserve those connections. The ‘quiet’ presentation made a lot of sense to me because while I struggled with many of the problems associated with BPD, I rarely lash out so this felt like something to explore.

So, buoyed by momentum that discovery had given me, I took it to my psychiatrist. And he shut me down straight away. He said that I didn’t fit the criteria and moved on to something else. I didn’t understand: I was struggling with so many symptoms associated with BPD, almost all of them when you factor in the ‘quiet’ presentation. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t worth, at the very least, a little bit more discussion. And at the end of the session, he said that he thought we’d done all we could do. I was devastated. And incredulous: we hadn’t achieved anything. If that was it, I was back to square one. Or minus one after everything the process had taken from me.

That session sent me into the worst place I’d been and after a particularly horrific meltdown, I spent several days in a fragile, barely responsive state. But once I recovered from that a bit, I got to work. I went back through my research and symptom by symptom, anecdote by anecdote, I wrote down everything I related to, everything I’d experienced, anything that could be relevant. It wasn’t that I was certain it was BPD, it was that I was certain it was something. This seemed as good an explanation as any and my psychiatrist wasn’t offering anything better.

When I was done, the document was seventeen pages. I’m pretty sure it was longer than my dissertation for university. And then we went back. I presented him with all my research and something very surprising happened. I’d hoped he’d accept it as something to explore and not only did he do that, he admitted he’d been wrong and apologised for dismissing it. Even now, that feels like a very important moment. In my experience, medical professionals aren’t naturally inclined to apologising, let alone admitting to being in the wrong. And I’d been ignored for a long time. When it came to my health, physical and mental, doctors had always looked at the most obvious option and then, when that didn’t fit, they’d just shrugged their shoulders and brushed me off. So this was a big deal.

And at the end of that session, I had my diagnosis. Or more accurately, my diagnoses. He pulled together everything he’d learned about me and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Depression, and OCD. It was a very strange experience. Momentous and anti-climactic at the same time. I felt light enough to float away but so exhausted and heavy that I wasn’t sure I could get out of my chair. I felt like I might burst into tears at any moment but I had this weird, hysterical urge to laugh. I felt invincible and incredibly fragile at the same time. Very strange.

Finally getting names for the monsters I’d been struggling with was incredibly validating. It was real. I wasn’t ‘crazy’ or ‘over dramatic’ or ‘too sensitive.’ It also made it real to everyone else. And although part of me was steadfast that something was wrong, I had started to doubt myself, having been dismissed by so many people. I was constantly fighting against falling into a well of despair, of fear that this was just going to be how life was for me. But the diagnosis confirmed that they were problems and most problems have solutions of some sort.

The diagnosis enabled me to get the support I needed at university and gave us some idea of what kind of talking therapy might help. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is recommended for people with BPD and that’s what I’m still doing, about three years later.

(I have no relevant photos for this post so here are a couple from around that time.)

A Need For Balance

In this video, Samantha Pena talks about her experience of OCD, what it’s like to live with it, and what she’s gained. Her experience is pretty different to mine but there are definitely parts of this that I strongly relate to, especially the intensity.

Here are some quotes from the video:

  • “It’s like being underwater for an extended period of time. You’re holding your breath and it’s scary. And without even thinking about it, your body naturally tells you that bad things will happen if you stay underwater. Your body tells you to fight to get out of that situation. That’s the way my body felt every time I touched something asymmetrically.”
  • “OCD is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s one of many anxiety disorders and it all starts with the obsessions. The obsessions are the recurring, uncomfortable thoughts and worries that lead to the compulsions. The compulsions are in response to the obsessions, attempting to satisfy them, and it becomes a disorder when your obsessions and compulsions take up so much of your time that you are unable to move through your day ‘normally.’”
  • “I avoid door handles because the cold metal sensation takes a lot for me to recuperate from.”
  • “Anytime I’m itchy, I’m twice as itchy.”
  • “An average day for me means avoiding thirty two different sections of lines on the ground, sixty fixes for any time anyone touches me or bumps into me, mentally preparing for a hundred and twenty four door handles, two hundred and seventy casual encounters anytime I have to touch something, and four hundred and twenty itches. In total, that’s nine hundred and six obsessive-compulsive thoughts that occur within one day. And that’s only symmetry related.”
  • “I was so anxious that it hurt. It was easier to deal with my [school] binders than to live my own anxiety.”
  • “I always mentally prepare for my day. I always have a plan. I even plan to plan my next plan.”
  • “There is an overall understanding within me that life has a need for balance.”
  • “I often hear the expression I ‘work better under pressure.’ I have OCD. I am literally always under pressure.”