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.

A Week in My Life (Reading Week)

A while back, I had a reading week as part of my university semester, where classes don’t happen and we stay home to focus on our studying. Being a part time student meant that it wasn’t much of a change as I’m only at uni one day a week but not having to expend the energy that that requires allowed me to do more, both in terms of uni work and in other areas. Yes, I researched for my essay, prepared for a presentation, and wrote songs, but I also did a whole bunch of things for my job as a singersongwriter.


MONDAY

I got up, did my hair and makeup, and caught a train to London. I’d booked a slot at the Selfie Factory at The O2 Arena, thinking that Richard (Richard Marc, who also does all my photography – he’s a photographer as well as a writer, musician, and producer) and I might get some good social media content. I get very self conscious having my photo taken but I’m trying to get over that anxiety and it looked like fun.

I used the train journey to send a load of emails, which made good use of the time, and then I met Richard at The O2. The Selfie Factory was small but it had some really fun set ups and we had great fun, especially in the ballpit.

We got some nice photos and when our time ran out, we headed home. Again, I used the train journey to be productive and worked on a rough script for my university presentation – we all had to give presentations on our essay subjects the next week when we were back in regular classes. I’d already made the slides with the information but I wanted a rough script to keep me on track and provide extra information.

I got home and, even though I was exhausted, I practiced several of my songs as I had a recording session coming up later in the week that I needed to be prepared for. I wasn’t super familiar with the arrangements of the songs I was singing so it was quite hard work but I definitely made progress, getting used to the rhythm and melody. It was a good practice.


TUESDAY

I started the day with another big batch of emails: uni stuff, music stuff, gigging stuff.

That took an hour or so and then I spent the rest of the day doing research for my assessment essay. There’s not much to write about here really; I just read relevant sections of books, read articles, and pulled useful quotes, putting them in separate documents to keep everything organised. This session was focussed on imagery, specifically in songwriting, obviously. It’s surprising how few books on songwriting go into any detail around imagery.

IMG_5270

At least I had some good company (and entertainment).

I had a gentle evening, working on a blog post and watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. There’s something very comforting about the familiarity of them and the time when I first watched them.


WEDNESDAY

I spent the morning practicing for the recording session, going over the songs, and then, after lunch, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist.

The practice had moved since my last appointment so there was an element of anxiety about going but it was okay and turned out to be a really productive session. My psychiatrist agreed with my decision to come off the Aripiprazole, since it clearly wasn’t working, and we discussed what else we could try to help with my anxiety. We also talked about what could be causing my drowsiness and decided to try reducing my Pregablin as it’s clearly the current medication situation that’s causing it. So we’ll see how that goes. And considering we’re changing that, we decided to stick with the Diazepam for my anxiety so that we’re only changing one thing at a time and can clearly see the results. Otherwise you can’t tell what’s causing what. So that’s progress and we’ll just have to see what the effects are.

Late in the afternoon, I caught a train up to London in preparation for the recording session the next day, using the time to do some more reading for my essay. My frequent train journeys are great for any reading I have to do for my course. From Victoria, I made my way to where I stay in London: the flat belonging to one of my parents. I was suddenly, out of nowhere, overwhelmed with anxiety and although I took Diazepam as soon as the feeling started, it obviously doesn’t kick in straight away so I spent most of the journey talking to said parent, a mix of distraction and reassurance. I’d just started to feel calmer when I got there.

We had dinner together and then I spent the evening in the pursuit of catching up with my diary. It feels like a hopeless task; I’m so behind, what with the time taken up by uni work and managing my mental health. I’m hoping to catch up once I’ve submitted my essay. It’ll take a while though.


THURSDAY

I slept terribly. So terribly that I barely got any sleep at all, the worst I’ve slept in years. Maybe I was nervous about the recording. I finally got a solid hour or so just before my alarm went off. But it was an important day so I dragged myself up, got ready, and headed to the University of West London where we were using one of their studios to do the recording.

It was a beautiful studio and we had a lot of fun. Having said that, we worked bloody hard. We worked from about eleven until six, filming and recording for a project that I’m not going to talk about yet. It’s a surprise. It does mean there’s not a lot for me to write about, other than the fact that I’m super grateful to everyone (all tagged below) for the work they put in. I really, really appreciate it.

When we finished, I was so tired that I thought I might throw up. I manage to help pack up a little but eventually I just had to leave. I felt bad for not staying to the very end but everyone was very understanding. I got home and barely made it through dinner before falling asleep at about half past eight.


FRIDAY

I slept for twelve solid hours and woke up feeling like an entirely different person. Still, I had a slow, gentle start. I had breakfast, got showered and dressed, and did some reading for my essay.

Around lunchtime, my Mum arrived, on her way home from visiting her Mum (this was when we still thought we were going to Nashville and she’d obviously wanted to spend some time with her before we went). She’d stopped in London because we had a plan to have lunch with one of my best friends, Sharné, and her Mum, who had come to visit her. The four of us had hoped to spend a little time at the songwriters circle I’d played (the one I mentioned in my previous A Week in My Life post) but it was busy and loud and it just wasn’t the right setting. So we’d planned lunch at this awesome Italian restaurant.

It started out quite stressfully due to pouring rain and terrible traffic but once we were all together, it was lovely. They’re both so lovely. We all got on really well and have a lot in common; it was just unfortunate that we didn’t have longer. Hopefully we’ll get another chance at some point.

We said goodbye and me and Mum headed home to Brighton. When we got in, I curled up on the sofa with a couple of the cats and had some diary time. I was exhausted and really just needed some quiet, rest time.


SATURDAY

Richard came down first thing because we were performing at the Access Open Day at The Brighton Dome. We picked him up from the station and went home so he could drop off his stuff and we could have a quick run-through, especially of the songs that we’ve only just started to perform like ‘Clarity.’

We headed to The Dome and had everything explained to us, where we could store our stuff, hang out between sets, and so on. We were playing once at 12.30pm and again at 2.15pm so we’d have time to kill between sets. There were other talks and activities going on but I’m never able to concentrate when I’m about to perform.

Both sets went really well. I felt like my voice sounded really good, I didn’t make any (obvious) mistakes, and I felt really confident in my body and how I was moving as I performed. I’ve done a few gigs recently but before a couple of months ago, it had been a long time since I’d performed so it’s felt a bit like starting all over again. But this felt completely natural and quite possibly the best I’ve ever performed. I’m just sad more people didn’t see it because they were performances I was really proud of. But I had a great time, telling the stories behind the songs and singing my heart out. It felt so good. And that’s the important thing.

This is a picture from the first time I played there:

7071D4BF-46A0-4A51-A9D0-FC35184967BC.jpeg

When we got home, we were both still buzzing with adrenaline so I suggested we write a song since we’re not getting a whole heap of opportunities to write together at the moment with both of us on Masters courses. So we got to work and managed a track and half a song before we ran out of energy. It was really fun and I’m really excited to finish it.

And before the day was up, I put up a blog post as I always try to do on a Saturday. This one was the one about February Album Writing Month, where I tried to write fourteen songs in the month of February. I’m proud of succeeding in the challenge and proud of the post I wrote about it.

We had an early dinner and were basically falling asleep on the sofa so we dragged ourselves up and went to bed early. I was asleep within minutes.


SUNDAY

We had a gentle morning, watching Friends together and companionably working on different things. I finished a blog post and put it up, #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s. It covered my attempt and completion of Liberty’s Mother‘s challenge to do something positive for your wellbeing from the 1st February to the 1st March. I’d chosen origami.

Richard went home because I had a few things to do, as much as I would’ve liked to have him stay and work on the song and chill out together. So we dropped him at the station, came home, and I got to work, practicing my presentation for the following Tuesday. I was confident with the material and the questions I wanted to ask; I just wanted to make sure it was within the time limit. So I ran that a few times and then spent the rest of the day resting. I also have dinner with some of my family on Sunday nights (when we can manage it) so that was really nice.


So that was my reading week. Not as productive uni work wise as I would’ve hoped – I wanted to have started writing the essay rather than still adding research to my structure – but it was very productive in the working-as-a-singer-songwriter sense. And those opportunities don’t come around super often so I’m really grateful for them. So it was a good, if exhausting week.

Grateful 2019

This year has been a weird year, something I don’t really want to get into until I do my end of year review. But it has been a weird year and with all the medication changes and mental health issues, it’s only the last three months that are really clear in my memory. I’m very aware of being grateful – there’s so much to be grateful for – but having had such a fuzzy brain, I feel sure that I’m forgetting things, something that’s causing me a lot of anxiety. Pieces of the year are just missing from my memory, whether blurry or plain misfiled, and so I worry that there are moments in there that I should and would be grateful for if only I could get a grasp on them. But I can’t. So this is the best I can do. Please forgive me if I’m leaving things out.

My Mum – I always list (or shout out) my Mum because she is the person that I am most, most grateful for. Being the person I am with the disabilities I have, I couldn’t survive in any way without her and for that, for her presence, I am so grateful. She goes above and beyond to help me through the bad days and achieve on the good days and I’m just in awe of her. She is the most caring person I know.

Richard (my best friend and writing partner) – During the first part of the year, Richard and I planned an EP that we were both so, so excited about. And then suddenly, overnight it felt like, that excitement disappeared for me. It was replaced by paralysing anxiety, so bad that I couldn’t even talk about the project. It was awful. But we got through it and the EP – Honest – is now slowly being released, all of which is largely because of Richard, both practically and emotionally. And that’s just our working relationship. He’s always there to text me shitty jokes, to help me write songs when I’m banging my head against the wall, to eat sweets and watch The Good Place with. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

My Family and Friends – I often give a specific shout out to Mum and Richard because they seem to be the ones who most commonly see and help me with my bad days and my anxieties but the rest of my family have also been amazing this year. They’ve always been there when I’ve needed them. I haven’t seen many of my friends as much as I would’ve liked to this year. Between the depression, the trying of different drugs, and starting the Masters, it’s been a messy and complicated year that I will write about more in my end of year review. Hopefully I’ll get to see them more next year.

The animals in my life – We started the year with our dog, Lucky, and three cats, Lucy and her kittens, Mouse and Tiger. We’d dabbled with the idea of Mouse having kittens, just to do the kittens experience one more time, but just as I changed my mind – it was too much change and I needed everything to stay the same – we came home and Mouse was having kittens, despite the vet telling us the week before that she wasn’t pregnant. And now we have two kittens in the house, two black furballs called Sooty and Sweep. They’re gorgeous and them, plus the rest of the animals, have really helped me with my anxiety (which has been overwhelming) over the last three months and that has been so, so important.

My Masters Degree group – Starting a new course or a new anything is always scary and for me, the scariest part tends to be the new people. Fortunately, I’m doing my Masters course at the same uni I did my BA so that was really the only new thing. But I got really lucky: I ended up in a really small group and they’re all really lovely people. It feels like we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well and we’re all so supportive of each other. The groups are going to change somewhat after Christmas but it became a really safe environment, creatively and personally, and I’ll really miss it. I know I’ll still see them and our friendships won’t suddenly end but I’ll miss our little pocket in space and time.

My benefits being renewed – Given how scary the political climate in the UK has become and continues to become, I am so, so grateful that my benefits were renewed before the election and will last until just before the next election, regardless of what happens in the next few years. That was such a relief to learn. I don’t know what will happen after that but for now, I feel like I can breathe a little bit easier.

Red Bull – The major side effect of my current medication is this overwhelming sleepiness. When I told my psychiatrist about it, he said that it should wear off but that it could take months. I’d been drinking Red Bull to help me stay awake and help me concentrate; we discussed the fact that it’s not massively healthy but it’s his opinion that the sleepiness will wear off, hopefully within a few months and then I can give up my Red Bull habit. So we’re keeping an eye on it and in the meantime, Red Bull is my best friend.

Fanfiction – In times of great anxiety, I’ve reverted to a major hobby of my early teenage years. I read stories from every film and TV show I loved and wrote reams of the stuff. I’m not writing it this time around but reading it and getting lost in new stories from familiar worlds has been a very effective calming strategy. It’s made me feel safe. And it’s kept my creativity (always stifled by my anxiety) burning low, in the background, for when I’m ready for it.

His Dark Materials – I have been in love with this show from the first episode. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so impressed by and excited about a TV show currently airing (I’ve fallen in love with shows after they’ve ended, for example). Daphne Keen is an incredible Lyra and Ruth Wilson blows me away every episode as Mrs Coulter. The sets, the CGI, the characters’ relationships with their daemons, the complexity of the characters, even the introduction sequence are absolutely extraordinary. I’m so gutted that the series is over but I can’t wait for the next one.

Taylor Swift – I’m pretty sure I’ve always mentioned Taylor Swift but I probably always will. Her songwriting is incredible, she’s one of the hardest working people in the music industry, she’s generous, she’s intelligent, and she’s exceptionally kind. She’s one of my favourite singersongwriters and her recent album, Lover, is so, so good: one of my favourite albums of the year, possibly one of my favourite albums ever. It’s beautiful and vulnerable and special. She’s also been saying some very smart and very important things during her recent press cycle:

  • “I’m a woman, I’m not a coat hanger. I need to feel healthy in my life and I need to take pleasure in food and I need to not use my body as an exercise of control when I feel out of control in my life.”
  • “Do not let anything stop you from making art. Just makes things. Do not get so caught up in this that it stops you from making art or if you need to, make art about this. But never stop making things.”
  • “You’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.”
  • “If someone’s gonna take your hand, they’d better take your hand, scars and all.”
  • “I guess what I’m trying to say is that all any of the artists, or really anyone in this room wants, is to create something that will last, whatever it is in life. And the fact that this is an award that celebrates a decade of hard work, of art, and of fun and memories, all that matters to me is the memories that I had with you, the fans, over the years. We’ve had fun, incredible, exhilarating, extraordinary times together, and may it continue! Thank you for being the reason why I am on this stage, from the first day of my career until tonight.”
  • “I think that artists deserve to own their work. I just feel very passionately about that.”

And lastly, she’s fearlessly standing up for artists and their right to own their music. It’s a big, hard fight but she’s using her platform and her power in the industry (“as your resident loud person”) to try and change that. Of course, she’s personally affected by it but she could handle it in private. Except she’s not: she’s speaking out and working to create change. And as a new artist, I really appreciate that she’s trying to make the industry I’m entering fairer and less discriminatory.

I think I’ll stop there. I’ve got my Christmas wrapping to do and a Christmas tree to guard from some very inquisitive cats. I hope you all have a safe, happy, and healthy Christmas where you feel as special and beautiful as you are.

EDIT: Honourable mentions to Nashville and the lovely people there, Agents of Shield, and fairy lights. But if I keep going here, we’ll be here until 2020.