I Believe In Nashville

Apparently I’m incapable of doing things halfway: I went from barely leaving the house to going on an almost three week trip to the US. The songwriting festival, Tin Pan South, was starting up again and I’ve been going every year since 2016, to write songs and network and just learn from the best songwriters in Nashville. I was utterly terrified – about the COVID risk, about how even a minor bout of COVID could affect the trip, about all of the uncertainty and anxiety that I was going to feel every day without having a true safe place to return to and recharge, etc – but I felt like I had to go. My Mum and I were as careful as we could be: we wore masks pretty much all of the time (being autistic makes that hard but I did the best I could) and we went through so much hand sanitiser. I was practically showering with it. I cried pretty much every day (whether from anxiety, stress, or exhaustion, I don’t know) and I was on my knees by the end of the trip but it was amazing and a lot of really cool things happened.


BOSTON

We flew from London to Boston, which was relatively simple – my anxiety aside. I’d already burst into tears at least twice before we actually left the runway. I was very anxious about COVID (and there were so many things that already made me anxious that now had an entirely new context because of COVID) and about flying (it’s not my favourite thing) and I think I was just really overwhelmed by everything ahead of me. The flight felt ridiculously long and while I was relieved to be back on the ground (and eventually into the hotel where we could take the masks off after wearing them for so long), I was immediately overwhelmed by being abroad, by all of the differences. Getting to the hotel room and being able to just collapse was a great relief.

Months earlier, I’d bought tickets to the Bleachers show where they’d be playing their album Strange Desire from start to finish in the hope that I’d be able to combine it with the Nashville trip – the date was, after all, pretty close to when Tin Pan South usually took place. So I chanced it and by some stroke of luck, it worked out and we made our connection in Boston with a day in between to go to the concert. I had no idea what the disabled accommodations were going to be like but, on the whole, the venue and staff were great, which made the concert possible for me and it was incredible.

I still don’t know if I can describe the concert, beyond saying how amazing it was. Charly Bliss were a really fun opener and I’m very excited for them to release the new songs they played; those were the ones that I really got into. And Bleachers were just fantastic. Jack Antonoff in particular was just like an endlessly ricocheting ball of adrenaline; I barely got any photos of him that were in focus because he was just in constant motion. It was so incredibly special to hear songs like ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘Like A River Runs,’ all of which I love so much. It still feels kind of unreal, like I can’t quite believe I was really there.

The next day, we struggled up – I felt completely wrecked by the concert – and caught our flight to Nashville.

NASHVILLE

When we got to Nashville, we took a couple of days just to rest and to allow me to collect myself. I was exhausted and a few days holed up in my Airbnb – where I didn’t have to worry about wearing a mask or the risk of COVID – was absolutely needed. And while there are always things to see and exploring to do in Nashville, we’d decided to keep our excursions to our highest priorities; we wanted to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID so that we could do all of the things that we really, really wanted to do.

So those first few days were spent chilling out, watching TV, catching up with my diary, and listening to Maren Morris’ new album, Humble Quest. I think I’ll forever connect it with Nashville now. Between listening to it as I flew into the city and watching her Amazon Prime show that first weekend, the album’s setting will always Nashville.

The show was great and I cannot wait until she comes back to the UK. I’m already in love with this album.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES 

My first show back was a big one: Song Suffragettes’ 8th Anniversary show. Usually a Song Suffragettes show consists of five girls and they go around three times, performing three songs each (in total), before closing the show with the cover song performed together. But for this song, there was the first round of five girls who each performed twice plus a cover, a break in which THE Nicolle Galyon interviewed THE Kelsea Ballerini, and then a second round with five more girls who each performed twice as well as a cover song. It was a long but very excellent show.

The first round consisted of Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, Lanie Gardner, and Mia Morris on percussion (she also played a song in this round – a rewrite of Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’ from the point of view of Stacy, which was hilarious). They were all great but, as I think is the case with every songwriters’ round, there were some that resonated with me more than others. I’ve known and loved Kalie for years so I always know she’s going to be my favourite (if you haven’t listened to her music, please check her out – she’s very special) but I didn’t know the others and found I particularly enjoyed Ava Paige’s songs too. I also loved the cover they did, ‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since (along with ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris).

After the cover, they cleared the stage and set it up for the Nicolle Galyon and Kelsea Ballerini interview. They are both just such cool people and have achieved some incredible things; it was very inspiring. Nicolle asked some really interesting questions and Kelsea shared a lot of fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging stories and advice. And then they played a couple of songs that they’ve written together – ‘i quit drinking’ and ‘half of my hometown’ – as well as telling the stories behind the writing of them. It was a really, really cool experience and I feel very lucky to have been there.

The second round was made up of Emily Brooke, Caroline Watkins, Lauren Hungate, Madeline Merlo, Peyton Porter and, again, Mia Morris on percussion. I particularly liked Emily Brooke; I’ve seen her before and I really like her music. And they all told great stories about what inspired the songs.

It was an amazing show and experience and it was a great reintroduction to Nashville. I also got to reconnect with the people I know at Song Suffragettes (and those who I’ve spoken to online but not met) and that was really, really nice. I was kind of scared that, after three years away, the previous years of building relationships might have ended up meaning nothing but that completely wasn’t the case and I’m really grateful for that.

TIN PAN SOUTH

As I said, Tin Pan South is the big reason for coming to Nashville and I had some amazing shows on my list. There were some very tough choices too, great rounds that I struggled to choose between. But I think I made the right choices, for me, for this trip.

I could write about every single show in a ridiculous amount of detail but then we’d be here forever. So here are my highlights of the week…

  • Caylee Hammack – I first saw Caylee years ago and she was so good that I became a fan on the spot. She’s fantastic, both as a singer and a songwriter; I loved her songs then, I loved her album, and I loved the songs that she played during the round. And she’s hilarious. She’s also absolutely lovely: we spoke before and after the show and she was just such a sweetheart.
  • Nicolle Galyon – One of the rounds I went to was the Songs and Daughters round, made up of writers from Nicolle Galyon’s female focussed label, Songs and Daughters. Nicolle was fantastic (although I wish she’d played ‘We Were Us’ but then she does have a huge list of amazing songs to choose from) and even though, I’m kind of in awe of her, I did have a short conversation with her after the round and she was really lovely.
  • Madison Kozak – Madison was on the same round as Nicolle Galyon. I first saw her years ago and fell in love with her and her song ‘First Last Name.’ She did play that one, which made me very happy, and I loved every other song she played on the round; I can’t wait for her to release them.
  • Emily Shackelton – I’ve been a fan of Emily Shackelton for years so I was very keen to see her live again. I love her songs and she’s got a gorgeous voice; I’m so excited for her to release new music soon. I got to speak to her briefly after the show, which was really nice. I hadn’t gotten into the groove of talking to new people again (remember, COVID aside, I’ve just come off three months plus of being home alone while I tried the ADHD meds) so I felt kind of awkward and like I’d forgotten how to do the whole social thing but she was kind and generous with her time and I really appreciated that.
  • Kalie Shorr – The whole round made me laugh harder than I ever have at a Tin Pan South show and Kalie was just hilarious. I loved every song that she played and I loved the stories she told about them so that even the songs I already knew felt different because of the new insight. She’s a brilliant writer: she’s funny, smart, and empathetic, which makes for some really unique and just beautiful songs. I first met her in 2016 and we’ve talked on and off over the years but it’s usually through social media since we’re on different continents so it was really nice to connect and have a real conversation face to face.
  • Natalie Hemby – Natalie is one of my favourite Nashville people. She’s one of my songwriting heroes, she’s a wonderful person, she’s hilarious, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. She was on her last song, I think, after a stunning round when she gave me a shout out in front of the whole audience and all of the ridiculously amazing and deeply respected songwriters on stage. She introduced me and said some really lovely things, which was just so sweet of her. (She actually invited me to sing too but my Autism brain short circuited due to the sudden change of plans and I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could’ve told you the lyrics to literally any song at the moment, including songs I have personally written, let alone the song she was playing at that moment. I’m trying not to kick myself for it – it’s just how my brain is.) We got to catch up afterwards, which was really lovely. She really is the sweetest.
  • Notable mentions to both Jeffrey Steele and Chris DeStefano – Both of these guys put in amazing performances that I couldn’t not mention them. It’s funny because they’re so different from each other but they are both such compelling performers, performing very different but incredible songs.

AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK / DAY

It was World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Week and World Autism Awareness Day while I was away and, knowing that I’d be busy in Nashville, I’d prepared a series of posts to put up on my blog. I also posted this on Instagram:

OTHER FUN THINGS

While I didn’t do a whole lot more than go to shows, I did do a few things that are specific and special to Nashville…

  • SEEING FRIENDS – Over the years, I’ve made a handful of friends in Nashville and I’m still nurturing new relationships. I didn’t get to see everyone that I would’ve liked to but I did get to see some of my songwriter friends, some of my friends at NSAI, and some of my friends at Song Suffragettes. With three years since my last visit, it was really, really lovely to reconnect with all of these people and hopefully I’ll get to see the others next time or via technology in the mean time.
  • PANCAKE PANTRY – Chocolate Sin from Pancake Pantry is one of my favourite things to eat so I was very excited to finally get back to Pancake Pantry after so long. It was even better than I remembered and I had to remind myself to eat slowly enough that I could breathe. It’s not often that I enjoy food that much so it’s nice to experience that, something which I assume other people experience more often.
  • THE CANDLE BAR – I love my candles from the Candle Bar and I’ve managed to stretch my last one over three years by being very stingy about using it so I was very excited to get a new one. But then we got there and that particular fragrance wasn’t on the shelf. I was in the middle of feeling overwhelmed by what I should choose instead – none of them were really grabbing me the way my favourite does – when my Mum asked about it and they said they’d be putting it back on the shelves the next week but could pull it out for us since they had it ready to go. That honestly made my day. The pink pepper grapefruit candle is the only candle that I’ve ever really loved and since Mum loves it too, we made two to take home with us. I’m very excited to be able to burn them a little more liberally again. The woman who ran the session was lovely and full of fun information about candles and the candle making process and I just had such a good afternoon.
  • COMMODORE GRILLE – It was on my first adventure in Nashville that I discovered the Commodore Grille’s excellent chocolate brownies and it was on one of the few trips out to eat that we went out and got one. Well, one each. It was so good and I’m so glad we were able to find the time to do it.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES

I did manage to get in a second Song Suffragettes show while I was in town, which I was very grateful for. This round was made up of Jillian Dawn, Sam Bowlds, Olivia Faye, Elana Jane, Paige King Johnson, and Mia Morris, Mia being the only one I knew previously. They were all great – they always are – but I think my favourites were Jillian Dawn and Paige King Johnson; their songs just spoke to me more deeply than the others did for some reason.

On the whole, the travel had been good. I had disabled assistance at all of the airports and until the trip home, that was great and had made the whole flying ordeal a lot easier. But on the return trip, everything kind of went to hell and it was a bit reminiscent of ‘a series of unfortunate events.’ I almost had a meltdown on the flight from Nashville to Dallas because of a mix up with the seats, which was horrible.

And while the Dallas to London flight was okay (I mean, it was long and cold and uncomfortable but nothing went wrong), everything went wrong from the moment we landed, from problems with gates to confusion with the disability assistance to the freaking coach home. And by that time, we were both so tired (and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out) that I was definitely moments from bursting into tears. But we did eventually – eventually – get home.


It’s been about a week since I got home now and I’ve been a bit of a mess. The jet lag hit me hard, on top of my exhaustion from the trip itself, and my mental health hasn’t been great. I guess I’m just feeling really overwhelmed, like all of my feelings have been turned up to eleven (I mean, even more so than usual).

Mental Health Update (March 2022)

TW: Mentions of self harm and suicidal thoughts.

It’s been a while since I did one of these updates and the last few months have been A LOT. An update is somewhat necessary, if only for blog cohesion. It’s all been pretty awful, hence all of my posts about medication: we’ve been desperately trying to get a handle on things. I’m not sure we have but there’s a natural point here, around medication and my upcoming trip to the US, so I figured now was probably the best time to do it…


The end of last year and beginning of this year was bad. Really, really bad. I was the most depressed I’ve ever been, self harming and suicidal. I’ve been suicidal in the past but never like this, never to this extent. It was awful but it was also kind of cozy and cotton wool-y, especially compared to what came next. I had a kind of anxiety-induced breakdown, something beyond and different to a meltdown, that just wrecked me. Like, it was so bad that I missed being suicidal. The anxiety was paralysing and the whole thing completely wrung me out. It was unbearable but it was probably the only thing that would’ve forced me onto the new medication – something I’d been resisting out of sheer exhaustion and hopelessness. But I couldn’t go on feeling like that. I was scared the medication would bury the stuff that needs dealing with and I still am but I couldn’t go on like that.

So I started taking Moclobemide but I was also taking Diazepam pretty consistently, given how bad my anxiety was. Things are better than they were – and I’m writing again, which is a good sign – but they’re still not great. I’m still struggling with a lot of stuff. I haven’t been able to go to therapy for a while now and I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to go back – that unexpected twist in the road certainly hasn’t helped. So I’m feeling kind of stuck in terms of how to move forward.

Physically, things haven’t been awesome either. My appetite hasn’t recovered much from the battering it took from the ADHD meds; I’m still not really eating but I am doing better than before so that’s something (the whole thing definitely hasn’t helped my already complicated relationship with food). And after a short break, my chronic pain is back with vengeance. It’s throughout my whole body but my arms, wrists, hands, and fingers in particular have been especially painful. I’m still waiting to hear back from the Pain Clinic. I haven’t written much about my experience with them; I guess I’ve kind of been waiting to have something to write about but so far, I haven’t received any proper support. They said they’d get back to me after their next team meeting but that was early November at the latest so I’m not exactly holding my breath. The Chronic Fatigue Service gave up on me – they literally told me my case was too complicated – and I don’t have high hopes about this experience either. I’ve been waiting for some sort of support for this pain since May 2020 and I know that the NHS have been overwhelmed but that is a really, really, really long time when you’re in pain.

My sleeping is better but still not great. The melatonin helped somewhat and I managed to wrestle my sleep cycle into something a bit more reasonable: rather than lying awake all night and then sleeping through the day, I am now at least sleeping mostly at night. But I’m incredibly tired all the time and I’m drowsy in the day again, just like I was when I was taking Phenelzine. I’ve picked up my Red Bull habit again – although not to quite the same degree (yet) – which I really never wanted to do again.

Between the sleepiness and the not feeling that much better, I’m not convinced by the Moclobemide. It’s pretty reasonable to assume – at this point – that MAOIs are the only antidepressants that help at all but as I said in my Moclobemide review, this level of better doesn’t feel like enough. I still don’t feel great; I don’t even really feel good. And I’m so sleepy, all the time. I don’t feel like it’s that much to ask for: to feel functional, to write songs, to have the capacity to feel good, to even be happy sometimes. Is that really more than I should hope for?


It’s been a long few months and it’s all left me feeling very raw. And, as excited as I am to get back to Nashville, I’m also terrified. The COVID risk aside, the whole world has been through this huge thing so how could going back not be different, feel different? It also just feels very soon to be out in the world for so much of every day when I still feel so… fragile, I guess. It’s like I’ve just started putting myself back together and I’m not ready for the Jenga tower to get toppled again, to start over. I don’t know if I have it in me. I just really hope – really, really hope – that everything goes as well as it can while I’m still getting my feet under me.

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.