National Album Day 2020

Back in the early weeks of lockdown, I wrote a (very long) post about my favourite albums from the 2010s. I love albums; I love the putting together of a collection of songs to create a bigger, more expressive and more meaningful piece of work, both as a listener and as a songwriter. I think it adds so much more to the listening experience than the release-one-single-at-a-time approach. I love diving into them and getting lost in these little pocket universes they create and generally, once I love an album, they remain high on my musical lists.

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And since today is National Album Day (as well as World Mental Health Day), I thought I’d do a little write up of my favourite albums of 2020 so far…


Manic by Halsey (January 2020) – Despite coming out so early in the year and with all the competition since, it’s easy for me to say that this is at the top of my list of 2020 albums, or of albums in general. I absolutely adore it. I love her previous work and the way each body of work existed in a larger metaphor (Badlands is another of my very favourite albums) but there was something truly special about this album and how personal it was, how it felt like we were truly seeing Ashley for the first time; there was something so sacred about that, especially on the first listen. I love how eclectic this album is – in genre, production style, featured artists, subject matter – because that’s something that’s always been indicative of her as a person: she experiments with her hair, her style, her musical projects, her artistic projects, and so on. That the album reflects that feels very authentic and real. And yet somehow it fits. It works. I could write in depth about every song but I’ll just stick to a couple of points: I loved how you feel the transition from Halsey to Ashley in ‘Ashley’; I love the journey, both lyrically and production wise, that we experience through ‘Forever … (is a long time)’; I love the vivid imagery and storytelling that we get in songs like ‘Finally // Beautiful Stranger’; I love and feel honoured by her willingness to be so open and vulnerable about some of the most difficult parts of her life, such as we hear in ‘More’ and ‘929.’ I’m so inspired by her as a songwriter and as an artist and as a person that I think this album will be very special to me for a very long time, if not forever.

Favourite Tracks: Ashley, You should be sad, Forever … (is a long time), 3am, killing boys, More, Still Learning, and 929.

Good Years by The Shires (March 2020) – I’ve loved The Shires’ music since they released ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ in early 2015 and Ben and Crissie are just such lovely people. Their voices sound gorgeous together, complimenting each other perfectly, and their melodies are always incredibly catchy; I’m usually singing the melodies before I even know the lyrics. The production is also stunning; I would describe it as having the glossiness of pop music while staying very true to the country instrumentation and arrangement. There’s a warmth to it; I always feel enveloped by the very sound of the songs. My only wish would be for some development album to album, for example in the song content; after their first album, love songs feature heavily on every album and I just think it would be really interesting to hear them sing about different subjects. They proved on the first album, Brave, that they could do it and do it well with great songs like ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ and ‘Made in England’ and they’ve come so far since then.

Favourite Tracks: Lightning Strikes and About Last Night.

kelsea by Kelsea Ballerini (March 2020) – I’m consistently awed by Kelsea’s ability to perfectly balance country and pop, blending the intimate storytelling and warm instrumentation of country and the glittery production and melodies of pop. And I love how you can feel her growth in each album, as an artist, as a songwriter, and as a person. To me, this album sounds like the universal inbetween of becoming a real adult: getting comfortable in your skin but still nursing some of your deeper insecurities, walking that line of the steadiness of adulthood and the flightiness of youth, and establishing the anchors of your identity while continuing to grow.

Favourite Tracks: club, the other girl (with Halsey), bragger, half of my hometown (feat. Kenny Chesney), the way i used to, and needy.

Lady Like by Ingrid Andress (March 2020) – I’d been excited for Ingrid to release music ever since I first heard her play ‘Lady Like’ at a Tin Pan South round in 2018. She was just fantastic and I couldn’t wait for her to release more than the two singles that were on iTunes at the time. It only took one song to tell what an amazing talent she was. I love the album – I particularly love her lyrics, her ability to weave humour into one song and then vulnerable, heart-wrenching imagery into another, and it’s really cool to have so much piano in country songs – but I was a bit disappointed that there were only eight tracks and that I’d heard all of them by the time the album came out. It’s great, of course, to finally have them to blast in the car and so on, but I would’ve loved to hear a song she’d been holding back for the release or something like that. And I was really sad that ‘Blue,’ which she’d played on tour, didn’t make the album because it was absolutely stunning.

Favourite Tracks: Bad Advice, We’re Not Friends, More Hearts Than Mine, Life of the Party, and Lady Like.

folklore by Taylor Swift (July 2020) – I’ve already written a bit about this album (and because I am such a songwriting nerd, I’m writing another post about it in more detail because there’s just so much to say about it) but I couldn’t not include this album in this post. I’ll just try my best not to go overboard. This feels like the album of a pure singersongwriter, an album where the songs themselves are given centre stage to shine. Somehow the album is her most experimental yet while still being so true to the songwriter that she has always been. I love the production style, which often centers around the piano, the minimal arrangements, and the lower vocal range that Taylor takes the time to explore. I love the different narratives and perspectives that she writes from while still sharing her emotions and experiences. And I love how vulnerable she allows herself to be, over and over again. Whether these lyrics are autobiographical or drawn from elsewhere – “You know the greatest loves of all time are over now,” “I can see you starin’, honey, like he’s just your understudy, like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me,” “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace,” “I’m still a believer but I don’t know why, I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try,” “Before I learned civility, I used to scream ferociously any time I wanted,” “Pulled the car off the road to the lookout, could’ve followed my fears all the way down,” “And you know damn well, for you I would ruin myself, a million little times,” “But the rain is always gonna come, if you’re standing with me,” and “Stood on the cliffside, screaming, ‘Give me a reason'” – they prove what an incredible songwriter she is, what a deeper thinker she is, and how deeply she feels emotions (something that has always made me feel really connected to her and her writing). These are emotions she’s related to, whether the events happened to her or not, and to turn those feelings into something so beautiful and to then share it with the world is so, so special. There’s so much more I could say but it’s a stunning album and I love it more than I can express. It’s one of those albums that arrived in my life just when I needed it and my god, I am so grateful.

Favourite Tracks: the 1, exile (feat. Bon Iver), my tears ricochet, mirrorball, this is me trying, illicit affairs, and mad woman.

If It Wasn’t For You by Caylee Hammack (August 2020) – I first heard Caylee sing at Tin Pan South in 2017 and I just fell in love with her songwriting. I’ve been waiting for her to release music ever since and so when she announced this album I was ecstatic. ‘Family Tree’ was the perfect first single: it feels like such a central theme in the album and one of the strongest songs in every aspect. Just because of what was going on in my life when it came out, I haven’t had the opportunity to really delve into it – into the lyrics and stories and so on – but I’m really loving listening to it and just taking it all in (full disclosure, I cried when I first heard ‘Forged In The Fire’ and ‘Mean Something’). She has an amazing voice and I love her ballsy, unapologetic attitude but that she can also let that fall away and open up to write and sing these incredibly vulnerable songs. Her lyric writing is also something really special: her songs are full of little details that make them so unique. I can’t imagine anyone else singing them and really making them work. There are also various production choices that really stick out to me, things that you – or at least I – don’t hear all that often, like her use of backing vocals and ‘non-musical sounds’ like the cheering of a football game on TV in ‘Family Tree.’ My only sadness concerning this album is that she didn’t include a song she sang when I heard her at Tin Pan South, probably one of the most heartbreaking songs I’ve ever heard: “Laid an old friend in the ground before saying ‘I’m sorry’, and that’s something that I don’t expect forgiveness for, I should’ve called more.” I would’ve loved that song to be included on the album because it was absolutely beautiful.

Favourite Tracks: Preciatcha, Sister, Forged In The Fire, Family Tree, Mean Something (feat. Ashley McBryde & Tenille Townes), and Small Town Hypocrite.

Badlands (Live from Webster Hall) by Halsey (August 2020) – Before I talk about the live album, I have to mention the original first because it’s one of my favourite albums of all time. I love how different it is; I love the production and all the extra details that give it it’s unique sound; I love her vocals and the the myriad of little ways she uses her voice to convey emotion; I love the stories she tells and the lyrics she writes, all of the detail she includes and within them, which ones she chooses to develop, the themes she brings into the songs time and again. She’s truly one of my favourite artists.

But back to the live album. I love how much energy and passion she puts into her performances and I love how you can hear her smiling and responding to the crowd as she sings (and oh my god, how gloriously loud the crowd are). Her vocals are incredible (they’ve grown so much since she toured this album) and I love how she’s made little changes: changing the rhythm, speaking a line instead of singing it, and so on. The music behind her, whether it’s live or programmed or a combination of both sounds great and I can absolutely imagine her up on that stage, leaping around just as she did when I saw her on the Badlands Tour in 2016. I also loved the spoken parts (and especially relevant to this post, how she talks about how much she loves albums and how much everyone in the crowd loves albums if they love Badlands as much as they clearly do) because she speaks so beautifully and has such an interesting way of seeing the world. I guess my only sadness about those tracks is how clearly she’s talking to the audience right there (as it should be in a live show, in my opinion) and it just reminds me how I’ve never felt part of the fanbase – or any artist’s fanbase – regardless of how much I love her. I always feel on the edge, feel like if I took one step back and disappeared, no one would notice. And given just how close Halsey is with her fanbase – always taking photos, signing things, replying to tweets, getting tattoos with them, making them feel truly valued as individuals – it’s not difficult to feel even more invisible than usual. I guess that’s one of the downsides of artists being able to connect to fans one-on-one: it’s great for the fans it happens to, but really hard for those it doesn’t.

It’s worth noting that it’s hard to separate my favourite songs from the Badlands album and my favourite performances from the Badlands (Live at Webster Hall) album but I’ll try my best because they’re not necessarily the same…

Favourite Tracks: Castle, Hold Me Down, Hurricane, Roman Holiday, Colors, Tiny Little Babies – Talking Break, Strange Love, Forget Her and Find Her – Talking Break, Coming Down, Control (this one is so powerful), Young God, Gasoline, Some Kind of Stardust – Talking Break, and Is There Somewhere.

More Love: Songs from Little Voice Season One by Sara Bareilles (September 2020) – I’m aware that having not seen the show, Little Voice, yet, listening to this album may be a different experience than that of someone who has seen the show. I do really want to watch it but with my mental health in mind, I’m conflicted: I want to see anything Sara Bareilles is involved in creating because I love her and I love her work but I’m also wary that media about my chosen career path, about becoming a singersongwriter, has the capacity to seriously trigger my anxiety, something that I’m extra cautious of in these present times when my anxiety is already so high. But regardless of that, I couldn’t let a Sara Bareilles album come out and not listen to it. I have found it a little harder to get into than some of her others (but again that maybe be that I haven’t seen the show that gives the songs context). But there’s something so distinctly Sara Bareilles about it that I love. The songs feel hopeful and have a certain warmth, creating an instant emotional connection. It’s just stronger with some than others. The production feels like the big sister of the Little Voice album and her vocals her just incredible. Her lyrics are just stunning as always – “I’m barely brave enough to be breathing,” “So I will write it down, all the jagged edges,” “I’m facing all of my fears, I’ve lined them up and wonder how I’ve been with them for years,” “I hit my head against the wall, a portrait of my grief,” and “Looking over the precious moments, it hurts don’t it, they can cut both ways” – and I feel like they’re coming to me just at the right time. There’s something about Sara’s music that has always felt just so healing and I’ve never needed that more than I do right now. I think it’s also worth noting that I’ve never had to pause an album so many times to write down song ideas.

Favourite Tracks: More Love, Simple And True, Coming Back To You, and Little Voice.

ballerini by Kelsea Ballerini (September 2020) – While I’m pretty sure I prefer kelsea to ballerini, I think this is a really fascinating project and it’s really cool to see how different the songs could’ve been, what a different life they could’ve had. I found the instrumentation a little repetitive but I loved some of the changes she made, particularly the little lyric tweaks that gave you a brand new, and often a more vulnerable, insight into the songs. Some songs had a completely different emotional vibe that was really unexpected but so cool to experience. As fans, the songs obviously speak differently to us with these changes but I admit that I’m super curious how they’ve taken on new meaning for Kelsea. It will be really interesting to see, when she is able to tour again, how she chooses to perform these songs, which version she chooses or leans into more.

Favourite Tracks: club, homecoming queen?, bragger, half of my hometown, the way i used to, needy, a country song, and la.

Lady Like (Deluxe) by Ingrid Andress (October 2020) – This album was announced less than an hour after I wrote the paragraph of Lady Like, where I talked about wanting some songs I hadn’t already heard. That made me laugh; it was like I had willed it into existence. The livestream before the release was great and it made my little songwriter heart happy to hear all the stories from the behind-the-scenes of writing those songs. And when it was over, the album was available on iTunes. I love that she changed the tracklist to tell the chronological story (using the tracklist to actively tell a story is something I’ve always been a fan of, rather than just putting the songs in an order that sounds good – not that there’s anything wrong with that) so it was a bit like listening to the album all over again and I just feel like it gave the album a slightly different vibe, a different emotional context. I’m not gonna talk about the songs from the original album because I’d just be repeating myself but the five new tracks were definitely a cool addition to the album as a piece of art (I’m still sad about ‘Blue’ though – hopefully she’s just saving it for a future project). I liked the simplicity and honesty of ‘Feeling Things,’ ‘Boys’ is youthfully lighthearted and flippant, and ‘Waste of Lime’ is full of the acerbic wit and attitude that Ingrid does so well, just as well as she does vulnerable and heartfelt. And the added voices of Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman from Little Big Town bring a beautiful, almost choral effect to ‘More Hearts Than Mine.’ As I said, I think these extra tracks really add to an already great album and I’m so glad that Ingrid decided to expand on the Lady Like era before moving onto the next project.

Favourite Tracks (not including those from the original edition of the album): Feeling Things and Waste of Lime.


I’ve struggled to sit and just listen to new music over lockdown – my brain seems insistent that I always be doing something to keep my anxiety at bay – so there are still multiple albums that I really want to listen to but haven’t been able to focus enough yet to do so. Some of these are:

  • Gaslighter by The Chicks
  • Rise and Shine by Cassadee Pope
  • Petals For Armor by Hayley Williams
  • Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
  • Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
  • Such Pretty Forks in the Road by Alanis Morissette
  • Stay Alive by Laura Jane Grace

I’m really looking forward to them though and having something to look forward to in times like these is definitely not a bad thing.

A Week In My Life (Going Back To University In A Pandemic)

So, I’m officially back at university, which feels very weird to say after six months of unstructured time in lockdown. With the ongoing pandemic and my mental health issues, it may be overly ambitious but, as I said in a recent post,  I really needed to try. So I thought I’d write a blog about the first week back as it was bound to be an ‘interesting’ experience. I’m only ‘in’ one day a week but that doesn’t account for extra work and assignments, as well as trying to balance extra theory lessons, therapy, and so on. So, unsurprisingly, I was pretty anxious going in.

The week in this post started on Tuesday 22nd September and ended on Monday 28th September 2020. It begins on a Tuesday as my academic week begins on Tuesdays this semester and I thought the week’s activities would make more sense in that context.


TUESDAY

I’d tried to go to bed earlier than usual the night before, which I had managed to a certain extent, but getting up was still a struggle. It’s been so long since I’ve been required to get up for something relatively early in the day and finding the motivation to get out of bed was a problem I’d long thought I’d conquered. It was very tempting to roll out of bed at five to nine and attend my lecture as I was. But I really didn’t want to look like a befuddled, just unfurled hedgehog so I eventually managed to drag myself up and into the shower. That was fine but apparently my makeup skills have drastically deteriorated since lockdown began; getting my eyeliner to match was practically impossible – I’d decided to wear makeup in the hope that it would make me feel more motivated, more normal, more in a university mindset, since I always wore make up to university. I got dressed – smarter than my usual lockdown attire but still comfortable – and put on jewellery for the first time in ages. Then, as the day’s classes were on the whole more introductory than anything else, I set myself up on the sofa with my collapsible desk and laptop and logged into the online class, ready for the nine am lecture.

My lecture class is online and we spent two hours going over the new module, Musical Language in Songwriting. We went through the learning outcomes, the details of the assessment, and listened to a selection of songs, hearing some of the musical concepts we’ll be learning about to then try out in our own music. I’ll admit to being anxious about this module: it relies on music theory more heavily than the other modules do and that’s not an area I feel super confident in. So while my tutors are really nice (I’ve met them both before) and I know I could go to them if I needed help, I am still nervous about not being able to do what is asked of me.

We had a two hour break where basically all I managed to do was eat some lunch. I’d forgotten how exhausting it is to go back into education when you’ve had a significant break, how exhausting university can be in general (especially when you’re dealing with issues like anxiety, for example), and how exhausting it is to study/work in an entirely new format. I’ve used Zoom and FaceTime and so on to socialise but I haven’t used it in this context before and it definitely felt like new territory. So I watched some TV and made sure I had a track ready to play in the Workshop.

The Workshop was much more of a challenge than the lecture. This was the onsite class but as I’ve already discussed, I’ve opted to do the whole module online. I felt that feeling safe and being safe was worth a little added difficulty in class. But it was a lot of added difficulty. I was one of two online students – and the other will usually be onsite – and I just felt very removed from the class. The position of the camera meant I couldn’t see any of my classmates and I couldn’t really hear what they were saying or the songs they were playing. That made it very hard to engage as part of the group and anyway, my only way to do that was to type into the chat box that showed up on the tutor’s laptop. Not exactly a great system in group discussions. I spoke to my tutor about the problems and made a note to speak to my student support person. It did make the class a struggle but hopefully, with some feedback, the situation will get better.

I don’t really know what I expected it to feel like. There had been so much administrative drama beforehand that I hadn’t really thought beyond the actual day ‘at’ university. But then it was over and I felt restless, anxious, and depressed. I don’t know what I expected it to feel like (or what I would’ve expected if I’d thought about it) but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that. So that was a bit upsetting.

Given that my lectures finished at three, I’d planned to log out of uni and get on with stuff: work on some blog posts, write in my diary, or even work on my songwriting assignment for the week. But I was so exhausted and so drained that I couldn’t concentrate on anything – staying awake took all the energy I had. I know I watched a Harry Potter movie (they’ve always been comfortable and familiar background noise) but I don’t really remember watching any of it. I made several attempts at blog writing but suddenly it was the evening and I hadn’t really done anything. I know that going back to uni and going to classes, even undemanding ones, is a big deal and that we shouldn’t base our self worth on our productivity but I felt really frustrated that I hadn’t managed to do anything. I feel like I have so much to do all the time – too much to do – and it just feels impossible to keep up. It’s exhausting, mentally and emotionally.

In the end, I just went to bed early but, of course, I couldn’t sleep. After a while, I was getting so frustrated that I got up for a bit and tried out Dare Me on Netflix. I watched a couple of episodes and although it felt pretty exaggerated and over the top, I found the characters and their motivations interesting and I found it visually appealing: the styling, the settings, the colouring. I don’t know if I’ll keep watching but it helped distract me from everything and eventually I was able to get to sleep.

First day back at university since late March: attempting to navigate online classes, trying to remember how to talk to people rather than cats, and desperately hoping not to make an idiot of myself on camera. (x)


WEDNESDAY

After such a disturbed night, I really, really struggled to get up. I just wanted to sleep all day. But eventually I dragged myself out of bed, got ready, and managed to eat something just in time for my Zoom session with Richard at eleven thirty.

Despite only officially receiving the first assignment the day before, the goal of the session was to work on this first song: a song with a modulation (a key change, for those of you unfamiliar with music theory) and the title ‘Little Pieces.’ I had, in fact, already written a song for this brief. I’ve been speaking to one of my tutors on and off over the summer to make sure I was as prepared as I could be for the module (hence my music theory lessons), especially considering how nervous I was about it and at one point, he mentioned what the first assignment was going to be. Knowing that I really struggle with modulations, I spent some time experimenting with them in various songs, in different moments of songs. And then recently, a concept matching the ‘Little Pieces’ idea popped into my head and I had to write it down before it disappeared. I tried out multiple possibilities for a key change and finally landed on one that felt like it matched the song rather than feeling like it had been shoe-horned in. Since the homework hadn’t been assigned yet, I didn’t do any more – I just emptied the ideas out of my head.

Once the task had been assigned, I looked at it again (I decided it was okay to use my song since it had been explicitly stated that we could use an older song if we did happen to have one called ‘Little Pieces’), made some tweaks, and sent it to Richard. We’re supposed to write the songs ourselves but we can bring in producers or session players as long as we’re making the artistic decisions. Richard and I usually produce very collaboratively but this time it was really on me to choose the arrangement, the specific instruments and effects, and give direction, if not exact instructions, on how instruments that I don’t know or have great experience in, should be played. So, to give you some examples: the track was based around my piano recording; I chose the electric guitar sounds, sometimes from a reference and sometimes from hearing a plugin, and in some cases, I sang a riff that Richard then interpreted (but made them better as he’s a much better guitarist than me, which was fine as they were sketches I was suggesting rather than exactly what I wanted); I directed how the song built and where that began; I suggested dropping beat one after the chord change to emphasise it as I was trying to make it a moment in the song rather than move smoothly over it. Having said all of that, I did use the opportunity to learn from Richard as a more knowledgeable and experienced arranger and producer. He told me about specific things that he would do, explained why certain things made sense musically, and suggested effects (like creating a pulse within a bass pad) that I didn’t even know existed. It was all my call but being so new to being in the production driving seat, it was very helpful to have someone point those sorts of things out to me. I definitely learned A LOT.

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We worked for almost four hours and I was absolutely exhausted by the time we closed the video call. I was also weirdly emotional. I just felt really raw and anxious and overwhelmed. I felt like I had too much to do but time was passing too quickly to do it all and I could already see myself getting behind in everything; the thought made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. I did take some Diazepam but it didn’t shift the feeling completely.

I spent most of the rest of the day trying to work on blog posts but ultimately just flipping from one screen to another. I think I was just too tired to concentrate. Nothing could really hold my attention so it felt like I’d wasted the afternoon and evening, which just made me feel frustrated and even more overwhelmed.

Me and Mum had dinner with Friends – mainly because I was feeling too overwhelmed to choose something else (nothing felt right) and because we knew we were both too tired to watch something new, that we’d both just fall asleep and end up rewatching it. We do have a list of new things to watch though and I don’t want to give up my progress in consuming new media just because I’m back at uni. Having said that, it will probably be less, just because I have more things to fit into a week now.

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Eventually we just abandoned the day, gave the cats their before-bed snack (otherwise they wake us up at five, demanding breakfast), and went to bed. I was completely exhausted and although it did take me a while to relax, it didn’t take too long to get to sleep.


THURSDAY

I slept better than the night before but still not hugely well and it was a struggle to get up. I keep making plans to dedicate a day to a massive sleep in but it always seems to get pushed down the list of priorities. There’s always something to do, something I feel I need to do more. I never wake up feeling particularly refreshed so it’s difficult not to think of sleeping in as a waste of time. Why do something that’s supposed to be enjoyable if you don’t actually enjoy it?

I spent the morning working on various different blog posts. I honestly love writing for this blog, even when it’s difficult. Putting my thoughts or experiences into words – turning them into something tangible – just makes the world feel a little more manageable. And I really needed that. I was feeling really quite fragile and overwhelmed. I felt like I might start crying at any moment.

The list of the semester’s assignments had been added to the module resources so I looked through them and identified which ones felt more difficult than others, which ones I might need help with the theory of before working on the actual song. When my theory lesson rolled around at one thirty, we worked on different time signatures and how to play them on the piano, as well as different modes. That particular assignment involves multiple time signatures, a mode other than the most commonly used (the Ionian), extended chords, and an example of chromaticism – basically, my worst nightmare. I’m not going to achieve all of that in a week so I thought getting a head start on how to actually put those ideas into practice might help for when the assignment comes around.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working – very slowly – on blog posts and my diary. Again, I was just exhausted. I think this week is just A LOT and hopefully it will get at least a bit better as I establish a rhythm and better organise myself around my classes and assignments. I’m learning that booking in sessions and appointments in the morning just knocks me out for the day so I’m going to try, moving forward, to move them to the afternoon so that I can at least get some stuff done in the mornings while I still feel awake(ish) and capable.

I also finished Dare Me. It was definitely interesting. I think it did try to juggle too much in too short a season, making certain moments pretty blunt when they could’ve been more subtle and nuanced, but I loved that it predominantly revolved around female relationships: Beth and Addy, Addy and Coach French, Beth and Coach French, the spiderweb of connections within the cheer squad… I also found the characters themselves, especially the central three, really interesting and I liked that my opinions and feelings for them evolved throughout the season, according to the choices they made and so on. Originally, Addy was my favourite and I definitely related to the magnetic pull of a powerful, female authority figure in her life but over time her naivety began to grate on me as Coach French became more and more obviously manipulative. My first impression of Beth was that she was vicious purely because she got a kick out of it and because she liked being in control but the more I learned about her, the more I felt for her; she was so much more complicated than she seemed on the surface and she definitely ended up my favourite. I’ve been turning it all over in my head ever since I finished it and although I initially wasn’t that bothered about whether there was a second season, I do want one now, having done all this thinking about the characters. I want to know more about them and see how their stories continue to unfold.


FRIDAY

I woke up in the middle of the night, wide awake, but my cat, Lucy, came for cuddles so it wasn’t all bad. Eventually I managed to get back to sleep but then I was so tired that it was a really effort to wake up in time to be ready for my therapy session at eleven. But then, after much stressful back and forth, it was put off until next week. I hate it when plans change suddenly on the day. It just throws me for a loop and I think that, if I hadn’t already taken a Diazepam, I would’ve been having a serious anxiety triggered freak out.

It took a while to settle again, to be able to focus again and I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon working on blog posts. With this week being relatively light in terms of uni work, it made sense to create a buffer of posts so that, if things get really stressful down the line, I can focus on other things with the reassurance that I can continue posting on the blog even though I haven’t been able to write.

In the afternoon, one of my parents – who is in a bubble with us – came over for a visit. We did some catching up and I gave her the recording equipment she’d asked if she could borrow. Then she and Mum went out to get fish and chips for dinner so that they could both have a break from cooking and we ate together, watching Lucifer. I did some diary writing and it was just a really nice, chilled evening. After two episodes, we had a hug – based on one of those ‘how to safely hug during a pandemic’ guides – and said goodnight. Me and Mum (and Lucy) watched some Agents of Shield (we’ve almost reached the end, which is very sad) before going to bed.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep. No matter what I tried – and I have many techniques for getting to sleep – I just couldn’t drift off. At about one am, I got up and read for a bit – just because I was so bored and frustrated, which probably wasn’t helping – and then eventually, I managed to go to sleep around three.


SATURDAY

Despite plans for a lie in (my Mum had actually forbidden me from setting an alarm), I woke up at half past nine, not much later than usual. My sleep did recover a bit after the initial few months of restless, nightmare filled nights but apparently that’s over and we’re back to this mess of a sleep schedule.

Eventually I managed to drag myself out of bed and spent a couple of hours writing up my diary, before having a shower and getting myself put together (ish – as much as I ever do in lockdown) for the day. Then I went back to my laptop and did some admin. Facebook recently charged me a big amount for no reason that I can figure out and looking through my bank statements, there are some things that don’t add up (oops – maths pun) so we’re trying to get that sorted out. I also set up my bullet journal for the month of October and filled in all the dates I have so far. I’m trying to juggle a lot and for the sake of my mental health, I really need to not let stuff get on top of me, overwhelm me. And the only way I know how to do that is to plan as much as possible.

In the afternoon, I got hit with a wave of anxiety. I’m not sure what was behind it. It’s probably just everything: ongoing pandemic anxiety, a big change in my routine with starting uni, uni assignments that stretch my abilities, lack of sleep, and so on. But I don’t know what exactly triggered it in the moment. I had thought I’d try going for a swim but all the anxiety was just too much so I stayed home and worked on a couple of things. I all but finished a track I’ve been working on with Richard, finalising the arrangement and mixing the levels, and I worked on an upcoming blog post. So even though I didn’t get to swim – I’d really been looking forward to it – I did get some good stuff done so I felt good about that.

I also started watching Blood & Water on Netflix. I didn’t get very far before needing to go to bed but I’m definitely intrigued. The missing person concept has always interested me (in fiction – I don’t think I can think of anything worse in real life) so whatever happens, I’ll probably HAVE to watch it through to the end, just to know what happens. And on a more personal note, listening to the South African accents was quite soothing: one of my best friends is from South Africa and I haven’t seen her (apart from video calls) since mid March when she had to fly home. Obviously not every South African accent is the same, just like with any accent, but every now and then, I hear a word or sentence that really reminds me of how she speaks and I can’t help but smile.


SUNDAY

I finally had a halfway decent night’s sleep, even though I wanted to go straight back to sleep as soon as I woke up. I stayed snuggled up under my duvet for a while, reluctant to leave my warm nest, but eventually I dragged myself out and got straight to work. I recorded some extra vocals on my current track and did all of the editing and mixing for them. I’m not very good at it yet but I think I did an okay job.

I went on to work on an upcoming assignment that involves a lot of complicated elements – multiple uncommon time signatures, an uncommon mode, extended chords, and an example of chromaticism – but that just turned me into a frustrated, teary mess. It’s so hard and I can’t figure out how on earth I’m going to manage it, hence why I’m starting it now because there’s no way I could do it in a week. I’m struggling with just the time signatures; I haven’t even attempted to tackle the rest. In the end, I had to give up because I just felt so overwhelmed and incapable. And it doesn’t help that I’m worried that if I don’t submit this song (with all of its examples of different musical techniques), I won’t get a good grade. So it wasn’t a particularly good start to the day: feeling stressed and anxious and stupid because I can’t figure out how to do this one assignment.

After a bit of chill time (Netflix and blog post writing), I headed for the bathroom and Mum helped me dye my hair. I usually refresh it before a semester starts but I just ran out of time last week so we decided that doing it for the second week (and my birthday, which is on the 29th) was good enough. It’s not the most thrilling of things to do but it gives me such a confidence boost that the amount of time and all the faff it takes is worth it.

Mum and I spent a couple of hours watching Agents of Shield while I did some blog writing and then my brother and his Mum came for a visit to celebrate my birthday. We’ve all been super careful around going out and everyone (apart from me as I’ve barely left the house) has recently had a Covid test so we figured we were safe, or as safe as possible. We caught up, had dinner together, and then put a candle in a lemon meringue pie. I got a deliberately out of tune ‘Happy Birthday’ and I blew out the candle; I think we can probably all guess what I wished for.

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It was a really nice evening and a really, really lovely way to start my birthday celebrations. I love my family so freaking much and not seeing them has been so hard. So getting to see them, even just for a short visit was so special.

When they left, it was a bit too early to go to bed so me and Mum watched another episode of Agents of Shield, quite possibly my favourite episode of Season 7: ‘As I Have Always Been.’ It’s an amazing episode and it just has everything: incredible acting, high jinks and hilarity, gorgeous character moments, and emotion in spades. It’s one of the best episodes I think they’ve ever done. So that was a good way to end the day.

Despite almost falling asleep on the sofa, I couldn’t sleep when I got to bed. After trying various tricks – running stories through my head, writing stories in my head, listening to a movie on my laptop (with the screen off), listening to music – for about three hours, I took half a sleeping pill and eventually fell asleep.


MONDAY

I woke up suddenly from vivid, disturbing dreams at seven thirty but didn’t get up straight away. I needed a little while to straighten out my thoughts, separate the dreams from reality. They’d had a weird, almost video-game-like quality. I can’t really describe it; it was just unlike any other dream I’ve had before and it really threw me.

I had a gentle morning, catching up with my diary a bit and writing some stuff for the blog. I was aiming for a quiet day, considering that I had uni the next day plus an extracurricular class late afternoon but then it all went wrong. I got the opportunity to get some help on what I’m currently calling ‘the nightmare assignment’ (which I mentioned on Sunday) but I just ended up feeling even more anxious about it. It feels like an impossible task. I haven’t even managed to improvise a melody over these new time signatures; I guess I’m so used to 4/4 (we probably all are as a huge chunk of mainstream music uses that key signature) that trying to sing over 5/4 and 7/4 feels both completely unnatural and unmusical. I ended up in tears because I’m finding it so stressful and although I did recover enough to continue with my day, I felt very low and tired. My eyes in particular felt weird and sore, even hours after crying. So it wasn’t the best day.

I spent the afternoon jumping from one task to another, getting bits and pieces done but not really fully engaging with anything. I just felt like a switch had flipped and I wasn’t quite as ‘there’ as usual. I was anxious about the next day as well, which didn’t help, even though I’d put everything in place to be as ready as possible. And I did get an email from my Workshop tutor, saying that they were going to try out a couple of different things to see if that made the class easier – easier to hear, easier to participate in, and so on.

Mum and I had an evening of Agents of Shield while I tried to finish up this post. We had dinner, I FaceTimed with some of my parents, and then tried to go to bed early. I achieved that – it was better than usual anyway – but then I couldn’t sleep and after three hours, I took half a sleeping pill since I had to get up early for uni.

It was also my birthday the next day, which I had a lot of feelings about. I don’t think I dislike my birthdays but I do sometimes find them difficult in the context of my mental health and ‘how far I’ve come (or not).’ But not only was there that this year, I also feel extremely unready to be twenty six, like I only got to have six months of being twenty five. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s to do with the pandemic and the lockdown. I feel like everything I should’ve or would’ve learned, experienced in that year has been cut in half and so I’m not ‘ready’ to be twenty six, as if people are going to expect me to be capable of things a twenty six year old could do (all mental health and Autism stuff aside) that I won’t be able to do because I didn’t get the full experience of twenty five. I feel like this all sounds ridiculous but hey, feelings are weird and then don’t always make sense.

It’s been a long week.


So that was my first week back at university, my first week of a hundred percent online study, as well as balancing the other areas of my life such as my energy levels and my mental health. It’s been emotional and intense and exhausting. I’m not sure how I feel about it all yet, just that it’s a big adjustment. I’m still finding it very stressful and exhausting. Hopefully it’ll get easier and less emotionally taxing with time.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from this week and what I can do to manage everything better going forward and this is what I’ve come up with:

  • Scheduling appointments later in the day is better for my productivity – If possible, having meetings or writing sessions in the afternoon seems to work better as a system. They tend to wear me out and if they’re in the morning, I don’t get as much done in the afternoon. So working in the morning and having appointments in the afternoon is more efficient as someone who has to ration their energy so carefully.
  •  This is going to take a lot of energy – While I knew this from last year, my body kind of forgot in the six months since I last had to manage a university schedule. It takes a lot out of me. I’m not sure if I’ll adjust over time and find it less tiring or if it will just be something I have to manage day-to-day, week-to-week.

I’m sure there’s more but this is all I can come up with for now. I’m sure I’ll learn more as I go.

ME/CFS Research: Photo Diary (Pre Lockdown and During Lockdown)

Not long ago, I volunteered for a research study into ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and part of it involved keeping a photo diary as a visual representation for how my life is affected by my CFS. Obviously my life before the pandemic and my life now are quite different and so the researcher asked me to include pre-pandemic photos as well, to ensure that both experiences were recorded for the study. The collection of photos (and descriptions) I sent her was very long but I thought I’d do an abridged version to post here because it was a really interesting exercise.

(It’s worth noting that this was put together before I started back at university, hence why there aren’t any current references to classes or assignments.)


PRE-LOCKDOWN

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1. During my BA, I frequently took naps in quiet corners of my university between classes and then at my best friend’s flat when he moved onto the same street as the university. I found the commuting exhausting and the classes were long (some of them three hours) and took a lot of concentration. By the end of the semester, I was often really struggling to wake up to go back for the next class. A few times, I slept straight through both my alarm and my class. Fortunately that only happened a couple of times!

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2. I’m currently doing a Masters Degree in songwriting part time and pre-lockdown, I’d go up to London usually once or twice a week for lectures, workshops, and cowriting sessions. This is an example of one of the assignments we had during the first module, which was called Creative Process.

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3. Because living alone would be too much for me – I wouldn’t have the energy to look after myself, let alone do anything more – I commute to university (pre-pandemic anyway), involving lots of underground travel and multiple train journeys a week, something that I find exhausting. This is one of the reasons I chose to do my Masters part time because it reduced the amount of travelling and therefore allowed me to spend more energy on the course/work rather than on travelling.

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4. At the end of any day that involves hard work or anxiety, I’m utterly exhausted and usually end up horizontal on the sofa or going to bed as soon as I get home from wherever I am. In this instance, I’d just done the assessment presentation for the first module of my Masters – which I’d been incredibly anxious about – and was completely exhausted. Plus the day had involved practicing it in the morning as well as travelling to London and back. I was so tired that I could barely stay awake long enough to eat dinner before going to bed.

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5. I spent most of my days out of uni on the sofa, working on music, my mental health blog, or catching up with my diary, a favourite movie or TV show on in the background because I work better with background noise. I’m usually joined by a cat or two.

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6. As a singersongwriter, I try to perform as often as I can, both in terms of opportunity and having the energy (I once played three gigs in three days after which I could barely function for over a week because I’d just used up so much physical, mental, and emotional energy). That’s not a common problem – managing my energy around the amount of gigs – as there aren’t a huge number of opportunities with so many aspiring singers in the two cities I perform in, London and Brighton. I love performing. It’s the place I most feel myself, especially if I’m singing songs that I’ve written. I don’t feel any fatigue while I’m performing – I’m feeling so much joy that it’s like I’m flying – and I don’t feel any fatigue until the adrenaline wears off, anywhere between thirty minutes and several hours later.

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7. Since getting an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, I’ve been able to get access to disabled seats at concerts, which does (in certain ways) improve my concert experience. It can be more stressful and it can make no difference at all but at the very least, it makes me feel better. I am in the disabled section and therefore no one can judge me or think that I don’t deserve to be at the show because I’m not dancing around, not ‘enjoying myself enough.’ That makes me feel more able to sit as I need to, which does make the concert experience easier on me and my body. Having said that, I’m not always so sensible out of sheer enthusiasm.

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8. Before the pandemic, my best friend, Richard, and I had almost weekly writing and production sessions. My current EP was made almost entirely by the two of us in various rooms in the various places we’ve lived in over the last few years. These sessions are so fun and invigorating and even when it’s a struggle to find the right words or get the production to sound exactly how I want it to sound, it always feels right. I often feel very drained afterwards because it involves a lot of concentration and communication and we often work for four hours or more at a time. We have had sessions that last all day where I’m barely coherent by the end.

SINCE LOCKDOWN

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1. We have five cats in the house and I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. They’ve always been really good for my anxiety – probably because they are so mindful and live so fully in the moment – but they’ve been an extra comfort during these stressful times. I always try to get a good cuddle in the evenings since I get particularly anxious before bed because I’ve been sleeping so badly and having lots of nightmares during lockdown.

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2. I generally drink at least two Red Bulls a day to keep myself awake and somewhat alert, although I don’t think they work as well as they used to. I’m sleepy all the time, but whether that’s from the CFS or the side effects of my anti-depressants or both, I don’t know. I hate feeling like I need to drink it and I worry about the effects on my health but it’s currently the only way I can stay awake for at least most of the day. My Mum and I are investigating other options, or we were until the pandemic brought everything to halt. We haven’t given up though.

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3. This is my usual day-to-day view at the moment. I have a desk designed for bed or sofa use so that I can work from the sofa, which is more comfortable for me than working at my desk since I’ve been have problems with pain during lockdown (I’ve been referred to various hospital departments but I’m still waiting for the appointments). I’m usually working on my laptop – on my mental health blog, on my diary, on music stuff, etc – and there’s usually a cat draped over me.

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4. I usually have the TV on in the background because I seem to be more productive with familiar background noise, like a familiar TV show or movie. But I’ve also been watching new things during lockdown, both to escape from all of the stress around the pandemic but also as inspiration for my music as not much is happening in my personal life to draw from for songs. This is the very last episode of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show and I was hugely sad to see it end although the ending was as perfect as the end of something you love can be.

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5. Since face-to-face writing sessions aren’t safe at this current time, I’ve been doing all of my writing sessions via Zoom. I’m currently doing about two a week, mostly with my writing partner, Richard. We alternate sessions: one on my songs and then one on his songs and so on. It’s harder work and not quite as fun or productive as a normal pre-pandemic session (who would’ve thought that not being able to point at something would trip up the creative process?) but it allows us to keep creating, which I’m grateful for. I’m always careful not to plan anything too difficult afterwards because these sessions are really draining and after about four hours, my ability to concentrate starts to fade.

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6. I’ve been playing a lot of piano during lockdown. It distracts me from all that’s going on, I want to improve my skills, and I just genuinely love playing, especially in the lower octaves. I find them very soothing. I can play for hours without noticing the passing time; it’s lovely. Playing and singing for hours is, of course, tiring but it’s worth it because I get so much enjoyment out of it.

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7. Because of my fatigue, I spend a lot of time on the sofa, which can get boring and frustrating, but it’s not so bad when I have my Mum (she’s self-employed, primarily working from home – especially now) and the cats around.

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8. Most days consist of sitting on the sofa, working on my laptop. I’m writing a lot of posts for my mental health blog at the moment, preparing for when university starts again and I have less time to write. My Mum often does emails similarly, keeping me company even if we aren’t actively engaging with each other.


So that’s my condensed photo diary for the study. There are, of course, other areas of my life and other areas of my life that my CFS affects, like food and exercise but I don’t have any photos relating to those. For example, swimming is my main form of exercise but pre-pandemic I wouldn’t take my phone further than the locker room and since lockdown began, I’ve been struggling to find a way to swim that feels safe. I may have found one but I’m trying not to get too excited: I’ve missed it so much and I’m so desperate to get back to it, for my physical health, my mental health, and my relationship with my body. I was also reluctant to include other people; my exception was Richard because our work and social media presence are so intertwined. So there are obviously gaps but I tried my best to give an overview. Hopefully it will be a useful contribution to the research.