Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – #KindnessMatters

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Originally, this year’s theme was going to be sleep but with the impact of the pandemic on the world’s mental health, the Mental Health Foundation changed the theme to kindness:

“We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic – with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus.”

Their website offers some really powerful insight into the importance of kindness:

“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.”

We all know about Captain Tom Moore’s incredible fundraiser and Dolly Parton’s massive donation towards researching a cure, as well as other wealthy and/or famous people giving money to various charities that support all kinds of people struggling during this time. These are all amazing acts of kindness but the foundation are encouraging people to share acts of kindness they’ve experienced so I thought I’d list some of mine:

  • My street’s WhatsApp group – As many streets or communities do, my street has a WhatsApp group and the generosity displayed in it is really heartwarming. People are offering the use of various equipment, like ladders or gardening tools; people are offering to help those less able than themselves; people are giving things away for free, like packets of seeds, cooking ingredients, unwanted furniture, art that they’ve made, and so on. The sense of community has grown so much since the lockdown and that’s really nice to see.
  • My neighbour helping us to rescue my cat – When one of the kittens went missing, the WhatsApp group helped locate her (which has caused her to become somewhat of a local celebrity) and the owner of the garden with the tree she was stuck in was so lovely about letting us in to retrieve her (we were social distancing, of course). When I tried to get her and couldn’t, my amazing neighbour climbed all the way to the top of the ladder, got his shirt off while perched up there, and used it to drag her off the branch she was clinging too. He handed her straight over to me for a cuddle but asked for a quick cuddle with her himself to apologise for squishing her a bit while getting her down. He told my Mum later that he’s actually terrified of heights but didn’t even think about it while helping us. That actually made me cry. I’m so, so grateful to him – especially with a fear of heights – for getting Sooty down because even with us standing below her, she seemed absolutely paralysed and unable to get down.
  • The generosity of my neighbours – The family next door to us (the father was the guy who rescued Sooty) are just so lovely and have an allotment that they work super hard at. Whenever they bring vegetables back, they give us some and they often share cake or other gorgeous food that they’ve made. They’re honestly some of the most generous people I’ve ever met and I feel so lucky to have them as neighbours.
  • The trumpet player on my street – There’s a guy who lives in the street who has offered, via the WhatsApp group, to come and play ‘Happy Birthday’ on his trumpet for anyone who has a birthday while we’re in lockdown. It’s kind of bizarre but then the world is truly bizarre right now and it’s a lovely, special gesture for a birthday that could otherwise feel very un-special.
  • The handful of people helping my Granny – There are several people who have been helping my Mum’s Mum with her shopping and computer and series of electrical problems, as well as checking in with her (safely) to make sure she’s doing okay, and I’m so grateful. We speak frequently but we’re too far away to be helpful in the practical sense so I’m really thankful for the people making her life easier and safer.
  • The support of my module leader and tutor during the assessment period – This was a while back but still in the lockdown period so I think it counts. I found this assessment really stressful and difficult, whether that’s because I’m still not used to the Masters standard of essay writing or my mental health I don’t know, but my tutor, Dan – who is also the leader of this module – was so helpful. He helped me with sourcing material and gave me really useful feedback. The Masters course is the first time in education where, as an autistic person, I’ve felt truly, 100% supported in my learning, rather than being made to feel like a hindrance, a hitch in the otherwise smoothly running classes. This means so much to me, more than I can possibly articulate. While no autistic person should ever be made to feel this way, it still happens far too often so to have tutors be so accommodating (in such a non-judgemental way) has meant the world to me and made the course possible.
  • Kalie Shorr playing a song I’d requested during one of her livestreams – I said this multiple times but Kalie is one of my favourite musicians, Nashvillians, and people. I wouldn’t call us friends but we’ve met several times during my trips to the US and gotten on well (maybe one day we will be friends – that would be really nice). Since the lockdown began, she’s been playing a lot of livestreams, which has been really cool, and during one of those livestreams, she played a song that I’d requested. It’s an unreleased song, one that she posted a snippet of on her Instagram stories ages ago but I fell in love with it and had been desperate to hear more. So the fact that she actually played it meant a lot to me. And by some good fortune, that livestream took place when I was having a really hard week and it really lifted my spirits so I’m really grateful to Kalie for that.
  • My friend sending me a Sara Bareilles CD – I’m not sure now whether this was just before the lockdown or just after the lockdown started (anyone else having major issues with judging the passing of time?), but a friend of mine was passing on some CDs, knew how much I love Sara Bareilles, and sent me a copy of Little Voice. As I have the money, I’m slowly collecting my favourite albums on CD or even vinyl, so I really appreciated him gifting it to me.

Another one of the focuses of this week is to think about how to build a kinder future. I can’t explain it any better than they do so, again, I’m gonna post what they’ve said:

“We have a once in a generation opportunity not only during but also following this pandemic for a reset and re-think about what kind of society we want to emerge from this crisis.

Our own reports and others such as Sir Michael Marmot’s 10 years On report reveal how inequality is rising in our society and its harmful effects on our health. Life expectancy is falling for the poorest for the first time in 100 years. As child poverty rises, children and young people in the poorest parts of our country are two to three times  more likely to experience poor mental health than those in the richest. After the 2008 credit crunch it was the most vulnerable in our communities who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. This not the hallmark of a kind society. We must not make the same mistakes after this pandemic. 

Applied kindness could have a transformative impact on our schools, places of work, communities and families. As the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said, now is a time to put values above valuations. We must seize this time to shape a society that tips the balance in favour of good mental health, for all of us, but especially for those who are most vulnerable.”

I have to hope that the kindness I’ve been seeing, the general community focussed behaviour and mindset will only continue after the lockdown ends, even though our lives will be busier, with work and school and so on. We’ll go back to our normal lives but that normal doesn’t have to be the same as the old normal. Hopefully we can build a new normal, one that’s kinder, more connected, more neighbourly, and more flexible, because of this experience with the pandemic and the lockdown. How beautiful would it be if we could create something so good out of such a difficult, distressing time? It won’t, of course, bring back the people who’ve died but perhaps it could be a tribute to all those who have suffered during this time. Maybe it’s naïve but I have to have hope.

I couldn’t make this post without acknowledging the incredible courage and strength and… kindness isn’t a big enough word by far… of the all the NHS staff, care workers, key workers, teachers (fuck the Daily Mail), and all those working unimaginably hard to protect us, keep us safe and healthy and moving forward despite everything going on. We can’t thank them enough. We’ll probably never be able to thank them enough. Someday, somehow, I’ll figure out a way to say  a proper thank you, a way to give back and help people in their honour.

But coming back to Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation are, as I said, encouraging people to share the acts of kindness they’ve experienced or witnessed, using the hashtags, #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek on social media. You can find out more and access further resources through their website. And to quote them once more:

“No act of kindness is ever wasted.”

Web

Mass Observation – A Day in the Life of UK Lockdown

On the 12th of May every year, the Mass Observation Archive asks people to keep a diary for a day in order to capture the everyday lives of people all over the UK. This year, 2020, is the 10th anniversary but we are also living in the midst of a global pandemic, making this year a unique one, to say the least.

I’m a dedicated diary writer and have been for years so this is the ideal project for me. I love the idea of so many people’s experiences in one place, the idea of collecting as many versions of one day as possible and trying to build the fullest picture of it. So I was very excited to take part in this day, even if I’ve recently been floored by one of the most awful periods of depression I’ve ever experienced.

Some important things to know before reading this: I am autistic, struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, and Borderline Personality Disorder. All of the symptoms get worse under stress. I’m halfway through a Masters Degree in Songwriting. I’m really struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly when it comes to my anxiety, with the fear that my loved ones will get sick), self isolating with my Mum, separated from my three other parents, my brother and my friends.


I slept badly, waking up at eight with my alarm. I’ve been trying to keep to my pre-lockdown routines and on a normal day, I would’ve gotten up and got to work on something but I had a throbbing headache, probably due to the restless night. So I buried my head under my duvet and tried to hide from the light coming in through my curtains.

Being a part time Masters student means I have an empty semester from yesterday until the end of September and I had all of these plans: practice the songwriting skills I’ve learned this year, establish a recording space at home, and get back to swimming, to name a few. But then the pandemic happened and we went into lockdown and all of my plans went out the window. I’m terrified all the time. Everything feels pointless. I can’t focus on anything. And my creativity – my ability to write songs – feels completely blocked. I’m stuck in this frozen state and I just feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like screaming and crying and hyperventilating but I feel like if I start, I’ll never stop. But even distracting myself is hard. I just can’t make myself care about a TV show or whatever. It all feels too big, like there isn’t enough space in my brain for anything other than this howling fear. And this has only been made worse by the government’s most recent, incredibly unclear statement about easing the lockdown. The idea that the government think this is acceptable when hundreds of people are still dying every day makes me sick with fear. I didn’t vote for them but I at least thought they cared about the people they were governing.

The only thing that I’ve found actually helpful in distracting myself is reading fanfiction. It’s something I’ve found effective as a relaxation technique over the last year, dealing with my wildly fluctuating mental health, starting my Masters, and this pandemic. It’s easier than reading a book because I’m already familiar with the worlds and the characters, which is a relief when I’m constantly exhausted by all this fear. Escaping into a comforting world is just that… comforting. So I spent several hours doing that, reading through old favourites from my teenage years when I first discovered fanfiction. It just gave me a break from everything. As much as possible, anyway.

Eventually though I got up and went downstairs. I thought that maybe working on one of my anxieties would help my overall level of anxiety so me and Mum went out into the garden to do some filming for a music video. My original idea is now impossible with the lockdown, which has been very upsetting because I was really looking forward to it, so I’m having to come up with something new, something that’s been difficult and frustrating because the original idea felt so perfect. I’m not super happy with the current back up plan but I need something. So me and Mum spent several hours filming [I’m omitting some bits here because I don’t want to give away the video if this is what we end up using]. I have absolutely no energy at the moment so I was completely exhausted by the end of it, even though I don’t feel like I actually did that much. I ended up falling asleep in the comfy chair in the kitchen, sleeping for a couple of hours.

I woke up, stiff and uncomfortable and just as anxious. Apparently trying to work through an anxiety didn’t help. Maybe I didn’t solve that anxiety, maybe all of this is just too big.

I had a shower and then settled on the sofa in the living room. There are so many things that I could be doing with my time but I just don’t have the motivation, the emotional energy. I just can’t see the point – what does any of it matter when hundreds of people are dying everyday, when people are losing loved ones, drowning in unbearable grief? It’s in moments of quiet that these thoughts overwhelm me and I feel my throat start to close up.

I dived back into fanfiction until dinner snuck up on me. Me and Mum ate in front of a Lucifer rewatch – for some reason, it was the only show that didn’t make me want to scream. We watched until we were both falling asleep, until the cats were crawling all over us for their pre-bedtime snack (otherwise they do their level best to wake us up at five in the morning). So we fed them and headed for bed.

It’s hard to admit – maybe because I’m twenty five and feel I should be stronger than this – but I haven’t been able to sleep without my Mum with me for weeks now, possibly longer. All of my mental health stuff is worse at night, particularly my anxiety. It just builds and builds until I’m in a panic attack or worse, a full autistic meltdown. Having my Mum with me, feeling her heartbeat and hearing her breathe, makes things just okay enough to fall asleep, although sometimes it takes a sleeping pill too.


If you’ve been keeping a diary or still want to jot down some thoughts about yesterday, I really encourage you to do so and send it to the archive. The page is here, in case you’d like to submit or learn more about this and their other projects.

Living in Lockdown

When I’m not spiralling into an anxiety-induced meltdown over the pandemic, the resulting quarantine, and (particularly) the thought of a loved one getting sick, I can look at living in lockdown in a somewhat detached, practical sense (something that has taken over a month to be able to do). Intellectually speaking, we’re living in unprecedented times, experiencing something that our parents are experiencing with us for the first time – something that very rarely occurs. There are very few people alive who have witnessed the last pandemic of this scale: the Spanish Influenza in 1918. So this is a big deal, one that will be written about in history books and studied in the future – from political, sociological, and psychological points of view to name just a few. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently and I can’t help thinking how often history is told from the point of view of the powerful and how terribly, appallingly wrong that is, especially given the number of mistakes being made by the people in power during this period (I’m speaking from the UK but I think we’re all aware of the mistakes being made by other governments, especially that of the US). So, if we want that to change, we have to write it ourselves, write our own experiences of living in lockdown, both for the history books but also for our own sake, so that we don’t forget what this experience has been like and how our lives have been changed by it. And as true as it is that we’re all in the same position – all in lockdown with limited access to our families and friends, the world outside, and our ‘normal lives’ – each of us will be experiencing this differently so I think the more experiences written about the better. So here I am, writing about mine, both for the reasons I’ve already listed but also to keep from drowning in it all, in the anxiety and the fear and the attempt to keep going as if this isn’t a traumatic experience.

I was aware of the Coronavirus before it even moved out of China but it felt like such a horror movie scenario and caused me such anxiety that I worked really hard not to think about it too much. It seemed unlikely that it would get all the way to the UK so I focussed on the anxieties in front of me and got on with my life. Besides, surely the government would be prepared should it reach us, given how much warning they had. I didn’t vote for this government nor do I trust them but I assumed that their egocentric motivations would have them preparing the country as best they could, for themselves if not for their people.

But then the virus started to move from country to country and more and more people in the UK began to take the idea that it might reach us seriously. I battled with my anxiety around it, trying to act responsibly without thinking so hard about it that it sent me into anxiety induced meltdowns. To an extent, I felt fairly unafraid of getting the virus as a young, physically healthy person but having said that, I was very aware that I was in regular contact with immunocompromised people and I was terrified of getting it and passing it on to them. So I was careful to wash my hands, use hand sanitiser, and avoid busy areas and travel times where possible. My anxiety had already been high before the virus made the news so it was a daily battle, as it often is.

Then everything seemed to happen at once. One day I was making plans with a friend for later in the week and the next she was on a plane back to her home country because of the travel ban. I didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye (that’s my little bit of self-pity done because I know, without a doubt, that she made the right choice and I absolutely support her decision). Before that week of classes began, our course came together (electronically) and decided that we didn’t feel it was safe for us or others if we were travelling to and from uni, etc, so suddenly my weekly routine was gone, my education disrupted, and my friends were all going home, again without any of us actually getting to say goodbye to each other. I know we can all talk via social media and video calls and that this isn’t forever but depending how long this goes on, we may never come together as a course again and that is an idea I find really difficult to get my head around emotionally.

I think it was the next week that we went into official lockdown. My university pulled out all the stops to support us and within days, our classes had been moved online but prerecorded lectures and a forum aren’t the easiest ways to have discussions and a sudden lack of access to the library and facilities wasn’t an easy adjustment. I found the online classes difficult. Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciate how hard they worked to keep our education up to date and as normal as possible – but it’s not the way I learn best. It’s just a personal thing. It also made working on the assessment essay much more challenging. Fortunately, I had a tutor who was incredibly supportive and with his help (and my Mum’s), I managed to get it in with good time, despite the added stress and the impact that had.

The essay, despite the anxiety it caused me, was actually a good distraction. As soon as it was done and submitted, I really started to feel the effects of being in lockdown. After all, up until then, I was pretty much doing what I would’ve been doing anyway: spending all my time on my assignment. But with that done, it all started to sink in.

The most obvious struggle is that I miss and worry about my family. I have four parents, only one of which I’m living with, and the others are all on their own; my brother is living by himself in London; my Mum’s Mum is also living by herself, a significant distance from any of us, even if we were allowed to visit each other (I’m thinking more in the case of an emergency where we would obviously keep our distance from each other and be very careful); and I have multiple family members categorised as vulnerable. So I have a lot of people to worry about and worry about them I do. The constant anxiety is exhausting. And as grateful as I am for video calls, it’s just not the same. I miss BEING with them. I desperately miss HUGGING them. I try not to dwell on it – or stress about how much longer we’ll be separated – because that is only more damaging to my mental health but it’s hard. It’s really hard.

On a similar note, I also really miss my friends. We have video calls, regular calls, texting, social media, movie dates on platforms like Netflix Party, and so on but again, it’s not the same. It’s not the same as hanging out with them, or hugging them, or going on coffee dates, or having writing sessions. As I’ve already said, I’m trying not to think about how long it could be before I see them again. We’ll manage, thanks to the technology we have,  but it will be really wonderful to see them again.

The other thing that I’m really struggling with right now is my mental health.  For those of you who know me or have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that, amongst other things, I struggle daily with anxiety and depression. These are the particular problems that have only gotten worse since the appearance of Covid-19 and the lockdown.

  • Anxiety is my constant companion, although fortunately I have my ’emergency’ medication (to be taken as needed) for when it gets really bad, like I-can’t-breathe bad. My anxiety rises to that level at some point most days and the medication has kept it about as manageable as I think I’m going to get in the current circumstances. But my anxiety isn’t constantly that overwhelming (at least not anymore) and I’m wary of going through the medication too fast so most of the time, I’m just left with this relentless pulsing under my skin that leaves me restless and unable to think as clearly as usual.
  • My depression has been really bad too. Some days are a complete write off from the beginning, where all I can do is stare at the TV. Most of the time though, my mood is better but more precarious. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope: one little knock and I’m going to plunge straight into the darkness. It feels like I have to constantly watch my step, be hyper aware of any possible threat to my mental health, otherwise I’ll fall and who knows how long it would take to build myself back up again, given the uncertain, scary times we’re living in. Maintaining my mental health in this period is like trying to build a house of cards of shifting sands. It’s practically impossible.
  • Since the lockdown started, I’ve had serious difficulty concentrating. On anything. Getting my university assignment done took more force of will than I knew I had and while I knew that I’d need some recovery time after that and after finishing an intense semester, weeks later my ability to focus hasn’t returned. I’ve had phases where I’ve struggled to focus (likely caused by my fluctuating mental health and trying different medications) but it’s never been this bad. I can’t read a book, I can’t watch anything, I can’t do anything without my concentration drifting. Everything takes ten times longer to finish and ten times as much energy, if not more.
  • Most distressingly for me is that my creative brain is completely dead. Out of power. It just feels empty and I have no ideas. I’ve suffered extended periods of writer’s block before and usually experience it to a degree along with the exhaustion of finishing a difficult semester and stressful assessment period but it’s scary to feel that it’s still not working, even after several weeks have passed. I’ve tried all my strategies for writing and all my strategies for writer’s block but nothing is working. It feels like my brain is broken and that’s really, really upsetting.

I’ve still been having therapy, but via Zoom instead of in person. In theory, it shouldn’t be that different but somehow it is. I’d never really considered how important it is to have a space to work through all the hard stuff and then be able to walk away from it, which you just can’t do when you’re having therapy in your living room. Plus, Zoom calls are exhausting – here’s a good article about that – which only adds to how exhausting therapy can be. Then, when it comes to the content of a session, it all feels a bit frozen: it’s hard to tackle difficult emotions when we’re in the middle of different difficult emotions. And when I’m just about coping, feeling so fragile, I don’t want to trigger something and make life even more emotionally difficult for myself than it is already. So the whole thing is really tricky and confusing. Having sessions is definitely better than not having them but it’s not straightforward. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be when we made the plan just before lockdown.

And just to add to that, I’ve been struggling with sleepiness as a side effect of my medication for months but that’s gotten a lot worse since self isolating (perhaps from the increased anxiety – I don’t know). I’m exhausted by the smallest things and I seem to need so much more sleep. And that hasn’t been helped by a sudden, intense bout of hay fever, which has bestowed upon me the additional symptoms of an itchy, blocked nose and sore, itchy eyes. It’s been so bad that even having the windows open makes it dramatically worse so going outside definitely hasn’t been an option (I can’t take antihistamines because of my other medication). So I can’t even go in the garden, making me feel all the more trapped. Inhaling steam helps but only for short periods of time. The recent rain has been a blessing, giving me several days of relief. I’m cautiously hopeful that it’s started to settle – I’ve managed a couple of trips into the garden without incident – but I don’t want to speak too soon.

And lastly, for now at least, I’m really struggling with how uncertain everything is, uncertainty having always been something that causes me anxiety. We don’t know when the lockdown will end, we don’t know when we’ll be safe again, we don’t know when we’re going to see our friends and family again. I don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of my university course. And so on and so on and so on. So on top of the ongoing fear, there’s nothing solid to hold onto. Many of my summer plans have become impossible or at least difficult, while some have been cancelled outright, which has obviously been very upsetting and left me without anything to look forward to or anchor me. I feel very lost. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people at the moment. I try to focus on each day as it comes but it’s hard. We’re all so used to looking and planning ahead.

One more thing… I found this on Twitter the other day and wanted to share it:

I found it really helpful to have various explanations as to why I’m struggling, to know that my brain isn’t actually broken. Of course, knowing this stuff doesn’t actually fix the problems but being able to take a breath and reassure myself that there is a reason and that it won’t last forever has been helpful.

I hope you’re all safe and coping the best you can. And if you’re in the UK and they do loosen the lockdown this coming week, please continue to be careful. I hate being in lockdown but I’m absolutely terrified of what will happen if the government relax the rules, of how many more people will get sick and die. I’m scared out of my mind that someone I love will catch it. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure I’m not the only one with such fears. So please, please be careful. For all of us.

The Second Semester of My Masters

So, that’s it. I’ve finished the second semester of my Masters Degree. That’s a very weird thought. I kind of can’t believe I made it. But I did. And I wanted to write about it, like I wrote about the first semester because all of this is weird and wonderful and difficult and part of the journey.

This semester, the module I studied was called Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”) and my classes were split into two different blocks. The first was a series of lectures, each based around a different artist/songwriter and a specific element of their career, like David Bowie and identity, Prince and authenticity, and Max Martin and his use of melodic math (not all of them were men – these are just the ones that are coming to mind as I write this). I’d expected it to be based more around elements affecting music and it’s creation and consumption, like the history of certain genres, feminism, the constant evolution of technology and social media, rather than specific artists but maybe that was a misinterpretation on my part or simply a different approach that could’ve been taken. I don’t know. It was interesting and I learned a lot but a lot of the reading was very academic which I struggled with, given that I’m having  some trouble with what you’d probably call my cognitive processing. Having said that, we had a great tutor who is really passionate about the module, which made it so much more enjoyable and engaging than a lecture heavy module could’ve been.

The group was larger than I was used to but there were a lot of familiar faces, including my two closest friends on the course. That was definitely a positive, both because I love them and because it helped me to adjust to all the changes. But it was also nice to meet some new people and get to know better the ones that I sort of knew and wanted to know better. So that was really nice, even if it took me a while to adjust to the new group dynamic. I’ve made some good friends from that class, even though it was cut short by the lockdown (I’ll get onto that in a bit).

The second block of classes were practical classes where we discussed in further depth the techniques we’d covered in the lecture class (the technical skills and application) and then we’d go away and write a song based on those techniques. Some of the briefs were really inspiring but on the whole, I found the whole exercise frustrating and a bit of a waste of time. We’d just spent a whole semester working on our creative process and tackling our blocks and weak areas and suddenly we had no time to work on them any further because we were focussing on and trying out other people’s techniques. I just feel like I was finally making progress, particularly in my musical ability (I’ve always struggled when it comes to experimenting with different chords and chord progressions), and suddenly that progress was being curbed dramatically, making it really hard to invest myself in the songs I was writing for this class.

The assessment for this module was a single four thousand word essay on anything related to songwriting. Most people choose a songwriter and then focussed on some aspect of their songwriting or the impact of their songwriting in a certain area, like feminism or the genre they were part of, for example. I really didn’t want to go through the overwhelming stress I went through at the end of the last semester due to lack of clarity around the assignments so I spoke to my Module Leader (who was also my tutor and a tutor I’ve known since my BA) really early in the semester so that I could be as prepared as possible and when I presented the potential subjects I had in mind, he gave me some really good advice: choose the one you’ll learn most from. So I decided to investigate Taylor Swift’s use of imagery and how that links to the authenticity in her songwriting, specifically in her song, ‘All Too Well.’ I thought that would benefit my songwriting the most, since those are elements that are important in my writing and therefore knowing more about them could only strengthen my use of them. So, alongside my classes, I slowly started to gather research about those topics.

I was still researching (I readily admit with the help of my Mum because I found myself struggling so much with the academic language and with my cognitive functioning) when the Coronavirus reached the UK. Classes continued but as a course (there aren’t a huge number of us and we have a group chat on WhatsApp where we’re in constant contact with each other) we discussed the situation and came to the collective conclusion  that we didn’t feel safe travelling to and from uni, as well as being in the busy setting of a university. Our representatives contacted the senior staff and not long after, our classes were moved online. I think it was a week or so after that that the lockdown was announced.

Initially, not much changed for me, apart from the fact that I was no longer commuting to London for my classes. I attended the online classes, did my work, and researched for my essay. Determined not to go through a last week of panic writing, I got to writing as soon as I had enough material and added as I learned more. My tutor was fantastic in recommending sources when I got really stuck (there’s not as much research on imagery and authenticity in song lyrics as you’d think) and giving me some excellent feedback when I finished my first draft, still with plenty of time before the deadline. He’s been amazing throughout the whole module and I’m really grateful. I, again with my Mum’s help, went through the feedback and did the best we could to improve and strengthen the essay before submitting it just under a week before the deadline. So no last minute panicking. I think I did the best I could under the circumstances. But it wasn’t a solo effort. They’re my ideas and my words but I would NOT have been able to do it without my Mum’s support, and gentle pushing on the days where it just felt too hard. I couldn’t have gotten through the researching, the writing, or the editing without her. It is a better piece of work because of her help and I’m so incredibly grateful, both for her help on this assignment and throughout this module but also for her in general, for the ways she has supported me otherwise: helped me manage and protect my mental health, organised my life for me when it took all I had just to stumble through the days, for making sure I ate, even and probably especially on days when I didn’t want to. I’m so lucky to have her and I’m aware of that every minute of every day.

It’s been a weird semester. In a lot of ways it was smoother than the first, both because I was getting the hang of my routine as a Masters student but also because my mental health was more stable, if not necessarily better. I had some great, cherished times with my friends but then they were all suddenly ripped away without proper goodbyes by the lockdown (thank god for video calls). I got to do some really fun cowrites, which were then suddenly stalled for the same reason. They can be rearranged and done by FaceTime or Zoom but it’s not the same: I find it much harder to be creative WITH someone when we’re not actually in the same room (plus the lag time makes singing or playing together a real challenge). I’ll make it work because I love cowriting and I love the people I’m writing with but I do find it harder. I was also really enjoying the lectures and discussions we had in class and online classes just aren’t the same. So what was mostly a pretty positive semester was cut off in its prime and I do grieve the way things could’ve been.

I’m done now. The full-timers have another semester but I’m free until the end of September ish. I’ve completed the first year of my Masters Degree. That’s a very strange sentence to write out. There were many, many moments where I was sure I’d have to defer, despite the fact that the thought made me feel physically ill. But I made it. It was somewhat anti-climactic, given that we’re all in lockdown: I uploaded my assignment, clicked a button, and that was it. Year One done. I don’t think I could sum it – or the emotions I’ve experienced – up if I tried, not without writing a PhD length post. It’s been good and difficult and inspiring and more stressful than I could’ve possibly imagined. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met some wonderful people. I guess I’ll leave it at that.

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Two Years In

As of today, we have been living in the ‘new house’ for two years. So it’s not exactly new. But after living somewhere for fifteen years, two years feels like nothing. In fifteen years, I became a person, my own person. Then I blinked and two years went by. It’s not even comparable.

There were so, so many good memories in the ‘old’ house: the late night games me and my brother would play where we made nests out of our bedding, bringing Lucky home at eight weeks old, listening to the same Annie Lennox CD every year as we decorated the Christmas tree, evenings watching TV as a family, my Dad telling us made up Harry Potter stories until we fell asleep, waking up to Snubby curled up on the pillow next to me even if it meant a mouthful of fur, big dinners with family and friends, bringing Lucy home, things as simple as coming home to the living room windows open and Wimbledon on the television. There are more good memories than I can count.

There were also bad memories, like my Mum crying after her Dad died, coming home after being bullied at school, watching my brother come home after being bullied at school, the early meltdowns, Lucky getting sick, having my heart broken for the first time, being told my cat was terminally ill, taking her to the vet that last time and coming home without her… finding out that my Dad had died. They aren’t memories I want to spend time with but they are moments that made me who I am and so I need them safe. And those walls kept them safe for years. But memories aren’t like possessions. You can’t pack them into a box when you leave a place. So what if you reach your new house and they haven’t travelled with you? At least not with the same clarity, in the same condition, that they were in where you previously lived? What if small details have been left behind?

“So what is it that makes us mourn the loss of a structure? It’s not the great architecture, or the way the light pours in through the windows in the morning. It’s the loss of the vessel that held our memories. It’s almost as if leaving a home rich in such a lived-in history causes our memories to spill out everywhere, and we feel like we’ve spun out of orbit, scrambling to collect them… But we have to remember that we have lost the vessel, not the memories. We just have to build a new place to hold them.” – Kelli Kehler on Design Sponge (x)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been walking around, looking at the house and trying to figure out how I feel about it, how I feel about the fact that it’s been two years since we left the place that I’d always considered home. I’d never thought far enough ahead to consider anywhere else home. This is where I live now – I know that – but when I think of home, it’s the old house. But that’s not home anymore either because it’s got other people in it who will have changed things – who will be filling it with their own memories – so I’m not sure where ‘home’ is. In a way, I feel kind of homeless. It doesn’t help that even though we’ve been here two years, we haven’t had much time to do anything to make it ours. Not really.

It’s a grieving process. And it’s one that hasn’t been properly dealt with because there’s been so much going on: medication changes, going back to university, challenges with my mental health. To say it’s been hard is a pretty huge understatement. It’s been one of the hardest things to happen in my life.

But I guess there’s a reason we call it a grieving process. Because it is a process. Our feelings change day to day. We move forward, we move back. Our emotions heighten, they settle, and then they heighten again. It’s ever changing. So rather than sum up the last two years, I’m trying just to think about now and when I think about now, this is what comes to mind: most days, it’s okay or it’s at least not something I think about. But there are still days where I hate it, where it feels like I’m walking around wearing someone else’s skin.

I’ve read various articles about moving out of your childhood home and adjusting to a new house and something that came up a lot was finding things you like about your new surroundings and where you find things you don’t like, try to figure out why and what you can do about it.

So here are some examples…

What do I love about it?

  • The living room feels like a safe bubble, where I can shut out the world when I need to. I especially like it since we hung fairy lights around the room. Plus it’s where the cats spend most of their time.
  • I like the white curtains in my room and the living room. I’d only ever had dark coloured curtains so I thought I’d hate them when we moved in but I actually really like them. As a person who’s sensitive to light, it’s really nice to be able to block out the bright light but still have natural light in the room.
  • I love the fireplace. It’s beautiful and fires in the winter is something that me and my Mum look forward to all year.
  • I love the big, glass double doors that lead out into the garden, which has a deck, a eucalyptus tree, and yellow roses. It’s the perfect garden.

What don’t I love and how can I change those things?

  • I don’t love my room. It’s not MY room; it’s just a room I sleep in. I don’t hate it – I like the colour and the curtains and the bed – but I don’t love it. I want to go through my clothes and get rid of things that don’t feel like me, put some pictures up, and generally just make the space ‘feel’ right. But, to a degree, I think that’s something I’ll only know when I feel it.
  • I want a space to make music – even if it’s tiny – where I can put my laptop, microphone, MIDI keyboard, and so on. I just want my own little space, not something I have to reassemble every time I want to record something.
  • Both me and Mum really dislike the bathroom. We don’t dwell on it but not a week goes by that one of us doesn’t curse one element of it or another. The floorboards are super squeaky, the flooring is ugly, it’s cramped, and it’s just impractically planned out. It’s the only room we’ve always wanted to completely re-do. We’d started the planning process but obviously that’s on hold while we’re in lockdown.
  • The house is still a bit bare, a bit impersonal. It still doesn’t quite feel like ours. I couldn’t figure out why until recently, when I looked around and realised that we still haven’t put up more than a couple of pictures. So me and Mum have pledged to put more personal touches around the house, as well as put up more pictures and photos. Given the lockdown, this is one of the few ‘decorating’ things we can do without leaving the house.

Me and Mum have been talking about this, about this feeling, for quite a while. But with my Masters, I haven’t had the time or the energy to do much about it. And Mum’s been working and helping me manage everything. But my second semester is ending and we’re stuck in lockdown so we’re planning to carve out some time to get more comfortable here – or get me more comfortable, at least, as the one more sensitive to this issue. We won’t be going out to get paint or new tiles or anything like that given the current situation but since we’re both stuck in the house with some extra free time, we thought we’d start with the things we can do while in lockdown, like putting up pictures. We also have a scale drawing of my room and cut outs of my furniture and have been moving them around to try and create a set up that is both practical and feels right to me, enough at least to try out.

So we’ll see how it goes. Nothing’s going to change overnight, but then what does? One step at a time, hopefully this house will feel more like home.

Tips for moving out of your childhood home. (x)