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.

And A(nother) Week In My Life (In Lockdown)

I hadn’t intended to do another of these posts so soon but again, when I looked back at my diary at the end of the week, it felt like another very different week in my experience of lockdown. I guess I’m just trying to represent my experience of this time – and the variation within it depending on both the internal and external circumstances – as accurately as possible, for myself as much as anyone else.

The week in this post started on Monday 3rd August and ended on Sunday 9th August.


MONDAY

I was up by eight thirty and already at work. I planned out my week and then more specifically my day in my bullet journal before clearing my email inbox of rubbish and attending to the rest.

Next, I got to work on the ‘Back To Life‘ music video. Richard had sent me the first draft and I went through it clip by clip, making notes on what I liked, what I didn’t, any changes I wanted to make, any suggestions I had (all against their time codes). It’s not the most fun job in the world: staring at your own face for hours can get pretty draining, whether you’re a self conscious person or not, but I got it done and sent my notes back to Richard.

My main plan for the day was a writing session with Richard but I had a bit of time before our start time so I did some work on my next blog post before setting up our Zoom meeting. We’re working on multiple projects at the moment and we’d planned to work on some of my stuff that day. There was one song we’ve been working on for a couple of sessions now but while I liked the sound of the production, it just didn’t feel like it was the right mood for the song. So I made the slightly terrifying suggestion of starting over and coming at it from a different angle. That’s what we ended up doing, using different reference tracks and instrumentation. It sounded so much better by the time we called it a day.

We also spent a bit of time working on a second song, creating the basic shape of the track and deciding what sort of instrumentation fitted the mood of the song. So it was a very productive session, a very productive four hours.

We hung up and I stretched out on the sofa, exhausted. I love writing sessions, whether they’re focussed more on the song itself or the production, but I do find them tiring and especially so when we’re working over Zoom. It’s just that bit harder to translate your ideas to the other person when the time lag complicates your communication or you can’t point to something on their screen and so on. I’m grateful that we can have our sessions at all but I do find them harder than face-to-face sessions and greatly look forward to it being safe to have those again.

I spent the afternoon and evening working on various blog posts with the TV on in the background. It was nice and gentle but I was still being productive, which definitely helps with my mental health and in turn, my ability to manage this period of time in general. Then I did some catching up with my diary before getting ready for bed.

I was just finishing up when I got a text from Richard with an MP3 attached, the song we’d spent most of our session working on. After our initial struggle with it, I was amazed by how good it sounded, how perfectly the new production fitted with the song. I went to bed, excited and proud of what we’d achieved.


TUESDAY

Me and Mum got up early and headed for the nearby woods for a dog walk with one of our friends. She’s just recently gotten a rescue puppy (who is utterly gorgeous) and as well as seeing each other and catching up, she wanted some advice from us as (previous) dog owners. I had been really looking forward to it but I was also anxious about going out (a constant anxiety still) and then I almost had a meltdown, triggered by difficulties with managing my mask and my glasses. I don’t know if any of you fellow glasses wearers have struggled with this but my glasses rest right where the wire of the mask is and I constantly battle with keeping them both functional and at least somewhat comfortable. I’ve since bought a mask that doesn’t have a wire as my glasses keep the top in place but for this particular walk, I ended up doing a lot of it without my glasses, which (had everything been normal, wouldn’t have bothered me all that much) just added another layer of stress because I really had to focus on where I was putting my feet – I’m so short sighted that even the ground is very blurry without my glasses.

I hate sounding so negative over what was a really lovely walk – it was just an unexpectedly difficult start. It was wonderful to see this friend again and it was so nice to have some dog time, especially puppy play and cuddles. I’ve missed our dog so much since we said goodbye to him in January but I doubt any of us will be ready for another dog for a good while so this was a nice compromise. My anxieties aside, it was a very pleasant way to start the day, although I was a bit knackered afterwards. Exercise is an area that’s really suffered for me throughout lockdown so I think it was a bit of shock to the system.

We came home and I ended up having a pretty quiet day. I mainly worked on catching up with my diary – my Moby Dick – and spending time with my Mum. We’re usually pretty independent during the day and then come together in the evenings but that evening I had a movie date with a group of friends.

At seven, we started our video call and ended up spending an hour catching up and just chatting, which was really lovely. It’s been a long time since our last date for various reasons so there was a lot to catch up on and I think we’d all just missed each other’s company. Speaking for myself, I know that I’d really missed them and was just delighted to see their faces again.

Eventually we stopped rambling and got into the movie. We’ve been binging the Studio Ghibli films and this time, we watched Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I absolutely loved it. I loved the story and it was just so beautiful – I mean, they’re all beautifully animated but this one seemed particularly stunning. It’s definitely at the top of my list of Studio Ghibli films. We talked about it a bit afterwards and while we’d had differing opinions on the last film (Kiki’s Delivery Service), we all really enjoyed this one.

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When we said goodbye and hung up, it was getting pretty late so I started getting ready to go to bed. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it already but over the last couple of months, I’ve been struggling with really bad pain in my arms, from shoulder to finger tips. That night, my right arm and shoulder were really, really hurting and even though my Mum gave me a massage, it was still really bad and made it difficult to get to sleep.


WEDNESDAY

I slept really badly because my shoulder was so painful. Every time I rolled over and put my weight on it, I woke up and had to readjust my position and then get back to sleep again. It wasn’t a restful night and I really struggled to wake up. As soon as my brain was fully awake, I felt the anxiety kick in; I just felt so overwhelmed by how much I feel like I have to get done before university starts, in whatever form that takes.

The pain in my shoulder only got worse as I used my arm so my Mum worked out a schedule of painkillers to keep the pain at a minimum and keep me using it so I wouldn’t seize up or start compensating with the other shoulder. It’s been a problem for a while but since it’s only getting worse, we decided to call my GP the next morning and try to get a Zoom appointment.

I did some admin for the upcoming release of my new single, ‘Back To Life,’ and then settled in to work on my photo albums. After finally finishing the organisation of my photo library, I’d selected the photos I wanted for my physical photo albums (which were about eighteen months out of date) and sent them off to be printed. They’d arrived that morning and so I went through them, slowly getting them in chronological order. It took all afternoon and I still had to put them into the albums but it was very exciting to be so close to finishing such a mammoth job.

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Early evening, I did some more admin work, replying to some emails, and listening to some songs a friend had sent me to give feedback on. I’d left it a bit late in the day to do the whole lot but I managed to do an initial listen to all of them to get the overall vibe and an in-depth listen of a couple, making detailed notes of my thoughts and suggestions. So it was a productive evening.

Then me and Mum had dinner in front of The Mentalist, which we’ve been rewatching for a couple of weeks now. I love the show but I particularly love its second life, with the FBI team rather than the CBI team. *Spoiler Alert* We’d reached the episode where Vega dies, where they attend her funeral, and Jane and Lisbon discuss the future of their relationship when they work such dangerous jobs. It’s a heartbreaking episode and even though we’ve both seen it multiple times before, we both sat there with tears streaming down our faces. What can I say, I get attached to fictional characters. Like, very attached.

It had been pretty hot all day so it took me a while to get to sleep. I don’t do well in the heat so I was dreading the predicted heatwave.


THURSDAY

One of my cats, Lucy (or Queen Lucy as we often call her due to her being the cat we’ve had the longest and therefore the cat that rules the house), woke me up at four, yowling loudly as she played with a toy. At almost any other time of day, it would’ve been very cute but at four am, not so much. It took me ages to get back to sleep.

I got up at nine and finished listening to the songs I’d started working through the night before. I wrote down all my feedback for the remaining songs and then listened to them all again to see if any new thoughts came to me. I also included questions about various lyrics and production choices, challenging the meanings and choices so that everything would be really tight and cohesive. I was deliberately picky, as my friend had asked me to be (sorry, I’m being deliberately vague about who it is because I don’t want to announce anyone’s project before they have). As good friends, they trust my critique, rather than feeling like I’m being critical; we’ve worked together a lot so we trust each other to just want the song to be the best song possible.

That done, I spent a couple of hours catching up with my diary (I’m just so behind at the moment) and then had my therapy session at four. We spent most of the hour just catching up on the week and talking about how I’d managed the challenges and the difficulties that had come up. With the pandemic, we’re doing A LOT of distress tolerance. I do wish we could move forward and work on some of my long standing issues but from past experience, I know that when you start to unravel some of those things, you often feel worse before you feel better and I just don’t think I can handle that right now. I’m just about managing to cope day to day and I really don’t want to make things worse for myself when I’ve worked so hard to even get to this point with the pandemic going on.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents while my Mum had the Zoom appointment with the doctor. I still struggle with talking to doctors, I’m still figuring out how to do Zoom meetings with new or less than well known people, and I struggle with communication in general. So me and Mum talked about everything we wanted the doctor to know and then she did the call. She was on the computer for a long time but when she came back, she did have some good news although a large chunk of the plan does involve waiting, which I’m not super thrilled about. But my doctor has adjusted the medication plan a bit (she’ll prescribe me something stronger if it continues to get worse but for now, we’re sticking with over the counter stuff to avoid extra side effects) and referred me to occupational rheumatology where they’ll probably fit me for support braces or refer me on to physiotherapy or both. But that’s unlikely to happen for a while. So pain medication, massage, and trying to build or improve habits that at the very least don’t make the pain worse. I’m limited exercise wise by not being able to swim but we’ve set up a rough badminton court in the garden to allow for some gentle exercise, especially for my arms and shoulders.

Me and Mum had an early dinner with The Mentalist. *Spoiler Alert* We’d finally reached the final episode where Jane and Lisbon get married and it’s so lovely to see them all so happy, especially Jane, after going through so much sadness and struggle. I wasn’t convinced by their relationship at first but then I fell in love with it and watching the wedding scene usually results with me grinning like an idiot or actually crying at how sweet it is.

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I was just thinking about going to bed when Richard texted me to remind me that we were announcing the release of ‘Back To Life‘ the next day, which had somehow completely slipped my mind. I swear, the pandemic has completely messed with my head – life pre-pandemic feels a bit like a dream and the way we did things feels kind of hazy. So suddenly I was in a panic about what to say when I announced the release of the song, especially one with the title ‘Back To Life’ during a pandemic (something that’s been bothering me for a long time). So I ended up spending more than an hour (at least) figuring out how to say what I wanted to say and how to say it in the best way possible.

I finally got to bed around midnight but it was so hot that, even after I discarded my duvet, it still took me a long time to get to sleep.


FRIDAY

Lucy was gracious enough to let me sleep until five this time before waking me up, chasing a toy around my room, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep as hard as I tried. It was very frustrating.

When Mum got up, we had breakfast and rewatched *Spoiler Alert* the wedding scene in the final episode of The Mentalist, grinning like the sappy idiots we are. No regrets. It was a nice, positive way to start the day, watching characters you love get their happily ever after.

I spent the morning working on my blog post about JK Rowling’s recent transphobic comments and how complicated it is to reconcile a childhood hero with the problematic person they are in the present. I’m absolutely not condoning what she’s said or making excuses for her – if you’ve read the post, you’ll know that I refuse to support her while she makes such insensitive, harmful statements – but I also wanted to comment on some of the other connected issues. While her transphobia is without question the most important issue here, there are multiple points within the overall problem, like how her prejudices may have bled into the books and how difficult it is to make sense of these two different versions of her. I wanted to explore as many of these thoughts as possible.

It was so hot by the middle of the day that I felt like I was melting; I didn’t want any part of my body to touch any other part. It was horrible. Thank god for the fan I bought a few years back. I was reluctant because it was pretty expensive but having had several unbearably hot summers in a row, it’s been amazing; I would’ve been unable to function without it. I’ve only just been functional with it.

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Early afternoon, I had a Zoom session with Richard and we mapped out a more detailed plan for releasing all the content around ‘Back To Life‘ before working on some of his music. We’ve always been a well matched pair because while his strengths are more musical, mine are more lyrical and so we’ve always been able to support each other really well. That’s one of the things that’s always felt really special about our working relationship.

Eventually I got too tired to do much good, so we scheduled another session and I had a rest, doing some blog writing with the TV on in the background.

In the evening, one of my parents – who, I guess, is in our bubble – came over and, while I don’t think you have to social distance if you’re in a bubble, we had dinner and hung out, still keeping a certain level of distance. The three of us are continuing to remain pretty isolated but it still feels sensible to stay somewhat distanced for the most part.

At seven o’clock, my alarm went off and I posted my announcement on my social media accounts…

That done, I felt able to be more present and enjoy the evening and although I was really tired, it was really nice to hang out with my parents. With times such as they are, I never take those moments for granted, especially since I’m not able to see all of my parents yet, together or apart. We don’t have to DO anything in particular; it’s just so nice to be together and talk face to face. It’s still so ingrained in me to greet people with a hug or squeeze their hand that I have to actively struggle against those automatic motions but it doesn’t make me want to burst into tears anymore. I’m just really looking forward to being able to do it again.

When she left, me and Mum settled down with Rizzoli and Isles, another show we haven’t watched in years, and I did some blog post writing. I absolutely agree with the philosophy that our productiveness isn’t tied to our worth as people – I wouldn’t debate that for a second – but I’ve also discovered that being productive plays a massive part in managing my mental health, even if it’s as simple as watching a movie that I’ve wanted to watch for a while but not gotten around to doing so. I guess it just depends on your definition of being productive – I don’t necessarily equate it with ‘producing’ something; it’s just doing something that I intended to do. If I intend to have a quiet and restful day and I do, then I have been productive.


SATURDAY

I woke up far too early, which was annoying because I was still tired and sleepy but I definitely enjoyed the cool and the quiet. It’s my favourite time of day – before the world wakes up and starts rushing around, making so much noise – and we were due for another really hot day so I relished the cool air.

I had as quick a scroll through my social media as I could manage, having not been on it for a couple of days (apart from posting about ‘Back To Life‘). As I’ve said previously – during this time – it’s been better for my mental health to stay away from social media but then I do miss seeing what my friends and family are up to. So I’m trying to find a balance and for the most part, I think I’m doing okay.

That done, I settled into the living room and got to work, putting Friends on low for background noise. I posted my blog post about exam results and then spent the rest of the morning working on other blog posts.

By the middle of the day, I was really struggling to do anything because it was just so hot. I felt like I was melting and my brain seemed to be functioning very slowly, not unlike my laptop, which was definitely overheating with the fan whirring loudly. So I decided to take a break and work on something that required much less movement and brain power: slotting my newly organised photos into my albums. I also used the time to watch a film from my To Watch list – one of my New Year goals was to consume more new content rather than just familiar favourites and the lockdown has a good time to do that. It’s been good for me in other areas too. I’ve been challenging my songwriting skills and trying to write from the perspectives of different characters instead of just from my own life experiences and finding new characters and stories that inspire me has made it a really enjoyable practice.

I ended up watching Fantasy Island (mainly because I love Maggie Q), where a group of people arrive on a tropical island after winning a competition, their prize being to have their greatest fantasy fulfilled. I’d seen quite a few negative reviews of it but personally, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t life changing but it was interesting and the twists and turns were cool. It was good entertainment and made for a mentally restful afternoon.

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In the evening, me and my Mum had dinner together with a couple of episodes of Rizzoli and Isles and I spent a couple of hours working on blog posts. As usual, I put off going to bed, partly because my room was so hot. Again, thank god for my fan.


SUNDAY

I slept long and deep, a welcome experience after months of restless sleep at best. I did have some strange dreams, but not disturbing ones. One included a storm cloud on fire, which was incredibly beautiful – much better than some of my previous dreams. I didn’t get up until almost ten but then I dived into the day, intent on being as productive as possible.

I finished my previous week-in-the-life post and then had a music lesson with one of my parents. We worked on the chords for two of the songs I’m working on and then had a long conversation about reharmonisation and how that works. I learnt about that during my BA by only briefly and that was several years ago so, with the Musical Language module coming up, I definitely needed a refresher. We might need to go over it again just to give me a quick reminder but I feel like I’m pretty solid on the basic principles. So that was good to do.

By the time we finished, it was so hot that I didn’t want to move. I lay on the sofa and watched the second series of Liar. It had been airing when we went into lockdown and it just slipped my mind; it only came back to me a month or so later and by that time, it was gone from ITV On Demand. I’d resigned myself to never knowing how it ended but then it popped up on Virgin On Demand. So I watched that through the heat of the day. It wasn’t the best show ever – I felt like there were quite a few inconsistencies and plot holes – but I was glad to see how it ended. Plus I used the time to continue adding the captions to the photos in my albums. So, considering the heat, I feel like I was pretty productive. Oh, and I also posted the first teaser for ‘Back To Life‘ on my social media.

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5 days.

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We ended up eating dinner outside on the deck in the cool darkness and then we went inside to watch Rizzoli and Isles with some much appreciated ice cream. I kept working on the photo album captions, making it to March 2020. I was almost giddy with glee at being so close to the finish line.

That giddiness shot through the roof when I checked Instagram to see how the teaser was being received and saw that Desmond Child (writer of Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ to name just two of his more famous songs) had liked it. I have no idea how he found it but it all but short-circuited my brain. I mean, he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame! So that was very, very cool.

This is the screenshot I sent to Richard…

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It took me a long time to come down from that high so I didn’t get to bed until midnight. I’m really not doing well with this whole go-to-bed-early plan.


I’m always hesitant to say stuff like this – probably because of a leftover childhood superstition that I’ll jinx things – but I do feel like I’m coping better mentally, that I’ve found a way of managing things day to day. I mean, I’m still not able to read or focus on anything involving big chunks of new information for extended periods of time but generally, I feel like I’ve found a routine that’s working for me. I’m still really struggling emotionally but I don’t think that’s really going to change until it truly starts to feel safe again. The fear and anxiety is just a constant presence in my life that I try to manage, to varying degrees of success.