A Somewhat Reluctant Birthday Post

My birthday this year was definitely weird, hence why I’m only just writing about it a couple of months after the fact. I’ve been struggling to process the last few months just because of how much stuff has happened: the final project of my Masters wrapping up, the final assessment, the Masters being over, the sudden death of my Granny, her funeral, performing again for the first time in eighteen months, changing my medication, graduation, the celebration of life for my Granny… It’s been a lot and I honestly have no idea how I feel most of the time. But I’m hoping that, by putting it into words, it’ll help. Somehow.

So, for the last few years, I’ve been trying to ease my anxiety around birthdays with some birthday rules I picked up from Tumblr a while back. My first post about them is here, but the basic idea is to do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy, to make each birthday unique and special. For some reason, this year was harder than the previous ones and I really struggled to commit to an idea for both rules. But, given that it’s now two months later, I think I need to let it go and stop obsessing. Whatever’s causing my anxiety over this, it’s taking up too much energy that I need elsewhere.

So, I’m writing it down and putting it to bed…


Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

I was going back and forth on what to do when the perfect thing fell into my lap: the opportunity to perform again for the first time in about eighteen months! And not only that but it was two gigs, the first at the original Hard Rock Cafe in London and the second at the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly Circus. So, while I was very nervous, I was also very, very excited. Given the tight turnaround between getting the gigs and them actually happening, Richard and I only managed to practice together once. Fortunately, we are very well practiced at the Honest EP songs and picked them up again quickly so we could, for the most part, focus on the other songs we were playing.

The first night was actually the night of my birthday and I was so nervous that I could barely breathe. My body felt so awkward and it was almost like I couldn’t remember how to perform, how to hold my body, how to not bump into the microphone, how to talk between songs… But, by the second half of my set, it was all rushing back and I was just overflowing with that unique joy of getting to do the thing you love most in the world (well, other than the songwriting itself but you know what I mean). I was SO HAPPY. I was positively giddy with it. It wasn’t my strongest performance ever but after eighteen months of playing to my living room, I wouldn’t have expected it to be. It was jumping in at the deep end. And although it felt so awkward at the beginning, it all came back very quickly and I couldn’t wait for the next night so I could do it all over again.

The second night went well, on the whole. Despite the night before, I was still nervous and it was a very different space; the lower ceiling meant that the sound bounced around differently and it took a while to adjust (just like everything, adjusting to the space you’re performing in is a skill that requires practice) but, again, I had so much fun. Performing songs that I’ve written about things that matter to me… it’s when I’m doing that that I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most in sync with the world around me. It’s the best feeling. Everyone was so lovely and I had such a great time.

It was just so fun to perform again. And it was so fun to perform with Richard again (and what a trooper he was, having moved house the day of the second performance). I loved getting to play the songs from the Honest EP, I loved performing some of my unreleased songs, and I loved playing a few brand new covers (including ‘Lullaby’ by Kalie Shorr and ‘this is me trying’ by Taylor Swift, both of which are among my favourite songs). I’m so grateful to everyone at both shows – those working in the venues and the other performers – and my friends and family who came to support and celebrate with me; it was just a complete joy and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my birthday any other way, even if I was beyond nervous about it.

Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.

I was very aware that Taylor Swift was releasing Red (Taylor’s Version) in November and given how much the original means to me, I knew I would want to spend money on it when it came out. So I tucked some money away until the album was released on the 12th November. As much as I loved it before, I fell in love with it all over again, not to mention the new songs: they’ve added so many new layers to the world of the album. It’s a stunning album and every time I listen to it, I feel like I’m learning even more about songcraft.

Along with the album and the vinyl, I treated myself to some of the accompanying merch, including the scarf and the notebook. Oh, and the jumper with ‘Taylor’s Version’ across the front; that was just so perfect. What she’s doing with the rerecordings is incredible and, as someone entering the music industry, it’s both encouraging and inspiring to have a woman like her advocating for the rights of songwriters and artists. Plus, it seems fitting. Her music has had such a huge impact on my life; I wouldn’t be who I am now if not for her music.


So while both of these things were Good Things, it was a weird and hard birthday. There’s just been so much to process – so much change – and so much anxiety; it was hard to settle on a decision because nothing felt right. But I’m starting to think that, given everything going on, nothing was going to feel right. So it’s time to move on. It’s time to stop worrying about it. I did the best I could with that birthday I had and it was good, even if it was messier than I would’ve liked. Such is life.

The Pros and Cons of Winter

I love every season but by the end of it, I’m always ready for the next one. But, as a neurodivergent person with multiple physical and mental health conditions, different seasons present both different excitements and different challenges. With winter around the corner, I thought I’d share some of the good things and some of the difficult things, along with how I’m learning to cope with the difficult things. This list is, of course, specific to me and my location so it’s not going to match everyone’s experience but hopefully they’ll be something useful to you in here, even if your experience of the season isn’t the same as mine.


PROS:

  • The sensory experience – I think winter is my favourite season as a sensory experience. I love the crispness of the air; I love looking at all of the beautiful lights and pretty Christmas decorations; I love the smells associated with winter and Christmas (in my house, at least), like satsumas, the meals we generally only have in winter, the super sweet smells of sugary puddings and sweets, Christmas trees, and so on; the sight, sound, smell, and warmth of a fire. There are, of course, downsides, like busy shops and blaring Christmas carols but, over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding those things.
  • Fires in the evening – My Mum and I both love having a fire to end the day, like a little treat for ourselves. As I said above, I love the sensory experience and we both find it a really good destresser. One of our favourite things about this house is the gorgeous fireplace and every year, we both get really excited about having fires again.
  • Potential for snow – I love snow. It makes me so happy: watching it fall, standing in it as it falls, how beautiful it looks first thing before anyone has disturbed it, the way it crunches when you walk through it, watching the cats try to make sense of it, and so on. And because we get it so rarely, it’s always special. No, it’s not guaranteed but I still enjoy being excited about the possibility.
  • Christmas – I struggled with Christmas in my late teens and early twenties, which I think was largely to do with how much I was struggling with my mental health and ASD. But as I’ve gained a greater understanding of the long-term issues I deal with and talked about them with my family, Christmas has become much more relaxed and enjoyable. They’ve been fantastic at working with me so that I can do the parts that I really enjoy and not do the parts that I struggle with. It’s become such a better holiday since then. I see friends and family (COVID depending, obviously), spend warm and relaxed evenings with my favourite people, get a Christmas tree and decorate it with the decorations my family have been collecting for years, not feel guilty (or at least feel less guilty) about doing things I don’t usually feel like I have time for (like reading books or watching movies all day), exchange presents, and so on. We’ve found a way to make it a really special, enjoyable time.
  • The cats spend more time inside – With the colder weather, my cats (whose presence I find very soothing) spend most of the day inside when, in the summer, they spend almost all of their time outside. So having them around more is lovely. They’re usually in the living room with me, curled up on the cat tree or sprawled across the furniture, or, even better, snuggled up with me on the sofa. They’re gorgeous and it’s one of my favourite things about winter.

CONS:

  • The cold – I hate being cold. You can usually find me in a big jumper or wrapped in a blanket. I’m often cold in the summer so it’s even harder to stay warm in the winter. I’m super grateful for the heating, the fire, my electric blanket, and so on.
  • Managing temperature – I really struggle with temperature regulation. I get hot or cold really quickly but then it can take hours to return to normal (and then it can suddenly jump to the other extreme). And going from really cold outside to really warm inside can just make that even more tricky. Layering helps but only to a certain extent. I have been doing some research and there are brands that make clothes to help with this so I really want to investigate these as I can afford it. (x)
  • Different fabrics – Clothes for cold weather can cause sensory difficulties. They can be bulky, heavy, itchy, and so on, as well as making me feel claustrophobic and trapped in my own clothes, which can cause a lot of anxiety. As I said above, I tend to do a lot of layering with the clothes I’m comfortable in but that isn’t a fix all. I’m still looking for a coat that doesn’t stress me out and I really hate wearing gloves. But I’m still trying to find the best option.
  • Ice – I might love snow but the amount of ice around in winter can be pretty perilous. And between my less than perfect balance and my chronic pain making me somewhat unstable, I do worry that every step could disappear underneath me and land me on cold, hard pavements with painful consequences. Given how bad my pain has been recently, a fall could be very painful and that pain could linger for quite a while.
  • More difficult to meet friends – Especially with COVID in the mix, I find it much harder to meet up and hang out with my friends in the colder months. It’s so much easier (and cheaper) when we can hang out in a park or on the beach or something like that, plus it feels safer considering the times we’re currently living in. But finding somewhere to hang out inside poses certain challenges, like COVID anxiety, meeting everyone’s dietary needs, the costs of hanging out in a cafe for example for an extended period, and so on. It’s just that bit more complicated and harder to organise and I find that plans often get pushed back again and again. So I often end up seeing my friends less in winter which makes me sad.
  • Feeling sealed inside – In an attempt to keep the heat in and save money on the heating, we keep the windows and doors closed as much as we can. And while that does the job we’re trying to do, the side effect is that I often feel a bit claustrophobic, like I’m sealed into my house with only the same air circulating (obviously this isn’t scientifically true or I would’ve suffocated long ago). And that feeling really stresses me out. Mum has taken to leaving the windows cracked open at night to get some fresh air in, which does help, but the feeling does still start to creep in by the end of the day. So I’m still working on that.
  • Less light, more darkness – While I like how cozy the house feels when it gets dark early, I do sometimes find it stressful; it feels like the day is actually shorter and I have less time to get done everything I need to do. Plus, autistic individuals are often low in Vitamin D so with fewer daylight hours than usual, that can become a bigger problem. I’m already low in Vitamin D so I take a supplement prescribed by my doctor to avoid a serious deficiency that could cause health problems.

I don’t know if this is helpful but when I sat down to do some research for this post – to see what other autistic/neurodivergent individuals find good and difficult about winter – I couldn’t find anything for autistic adults. Everything I found was directed at parents helping their children to adjust to the change in season but that doesn’t just go away as we grow up, although the challenges might change. So, since I couldn’t find a single post or article relating to adults, I felt it was all the more important to write something on the subject. So I hope this has been helpful in some way. Let me know what you would include on your list or how you manage the seasonal change!

My First Concert Since The Pandemic Began

One of the big things I’ve missed during the pandemic is concerts. They’ve always been a big part of every year and losing that – I haven’t been to a concert since Halsey’s Manic Tour in March 2020 – has been really hard. But it’s also hard to feel like they’re safe to go to, now that they’re happening again. I still have a lot of anxiety about going out and about being around a lot of people – it’s not as if COVID is no longer a risk – so going to a concert is a big deal. But normal life does have to resume at some point, even if it happens in baby steps. Since this first show – The Shires in Bromley – was a relatively small concert, it felt like a good one to try, to get the lay of the land in terms of safety precautions, to see how I feel in that sort of environment after everything that’s happened over the last eighteen months, and so on.


This wasn’t quite my first live music event: back in September, I went to my uni’s Songwriters’ Circle, the first one in person since before the pandemic. It was just wonderful. Everyone was so excited to be back together, so excited to get to hang out together, singing along at the top of our lungs. That is one of my favourite things about going to a music uni: everyone’s always up for a sing along.

But this doesn’t feel like a first concert to me, since I’ve been in and out of the building for the last couple of months as I finished my final Masters project. It was just some more people and music. Plus, I’m really comfortable with the safety precautions there: negative COVID tests to get in, a one way system around the building, lots of people still wearing masks even though they aren’t mandatory, and so on. I already feel safe there. But a concert is an entirely new ball game.

My first proper concert was The Shires at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on the 5th October. It wasn’t a venue I’d been to before and road closures made getting there quite stressful, plus it was a pretty bad pain day: my back, my shoulder, and my wrists and hands. So while I knew I would enjoy the show itself, I wasn’t sure whether the stress and the pain would override that. Fortunately getting in was quick and easy and I didn’t have to spend too long on my feet. And although no one had to wear a mask once seated, negative COVID tests were required for entry so it felt as safe as it can, as anything can be at the moment.

Jake Morrell was the support act and he was great: he was funny and personable and had some good songs. My favourite was ‘This House,’ I think. And I liked ‘Freewheeling.’ I definitely want to check out more of his music.

And then The Shires – Ben and Crissie and some of their band – were on. It was so nice to see them; I’ve seen them so many times over the years and the eighteen months since the pandemic began may be the longest I’ve gone without seeing them. So, as I said in my Instagram post, it felt quite apt that my first proper concert back was them. It was a cool twist on their normal shows: it was all acoustic (being in the front row, it did feel a bit like my own personal concert) and they took the opportunity to play a lot of the songs that they don’t play often or haven’t played for years, like ‘All Over Again,’ ‘Drive’ (one of my favourites), and ‘World Without You.’ Of course they played the favourites too, like ‘Nashville Grey Skies,’ ‘State Lines,’ ‘Tonight,’ and ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs,’ which always get people singing along and dancing. Of their most recent album, Good Years, which they never got to tour due to the pandemic, they only played two songs and they happened to be my two favourites: ‘Lightning Strikes’ and ‘About Last Night.’ So that was cool. And they also played one of my all time favourites of theirs, ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ I connected to that song instantly – it being about the loss of a father and how, whatever else you are or end up being, the most important thing you’ll always be is his daughter – and it’s remained very special to me. I actually posted a short cover of it on Instagram years ago:

And to make a cool concert experience even better, they performed a couple of songs from their next album, that is apparently written and produced already so hopefully it won’t be long before we get to hear that. Of the two songs they played, I loved ‘Side by Side’ and I can’t wait to hear it again already. So that made the night extra special.

It was painful – as most things are right now – but it was a good night. It was so wonderful to be at a concert again; they really are my happy place, where I forget about the hard stuff (for the most part – I mean, you can’t exactly forget about physical pain when you’re in it). Hopefully things will continue to improve on the COVID front and concerts can, at some point, come back in full force. That’s the dream anyway.

I was hurting before we got home. I’d stayed sat down as much as possible to protect my knee but apparently my leg has a mind of its own because my foot kept tapping – and therefore flexing my knee – no matter how many times I forced myself to stop. And chronic pain and applause clearly don’t go well together so I think I might have to come up with an alternative for bad pain days (I’ve since found some suggestions here, or maybe the sign language version of clapping is the way to go). And the next morning, my whole body hurt and I was stiff and ache-y. My back and my hands were the worst and unfortunately my painkillers weren’t doing much more than taking the edge off. So that was a pretty unpleasant day but it was worth it.


So that was my first concert back. I honestly thought I’d find it more scary, more stressful – in the pandemic anxiety sense, that is. It was all a bit overwhelming for a moment going in but once we were in the auditorium and the show had started, somehow I forgot about COVID and my anxiety; I was just in the moment and completely absorbed by the music. That wasn’t something I’d expected and it was quite wonderful. All the anxiety, all of the precautions and planning… it was all so very worth it to have live music again.