Nashville Looks Good On You

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This trip to Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d had this vision of going out there and writing a load of songs and going to show after show after show and seeing all the friends I’ve made out there. I managed to do some of those things – and I’m really proud of what I achieved – but my mental health really dominated the trip, much more than I’d hoped it would.

We got off to a pretty rocky start when I forgot to take my medication the night before we flew out. We had to leave at two o’clock in the morning so I never really went to bed and therefore my nightly routine was disrupted. Plus I was excited and nervous and just generally all over the place. We got to the airport and I couldn’t even walk the distance to security, I was so completely out of energy. I thought it was the lack of sleep and stress of travelling but I physically couldn’t do it. We ended up asking the airport staff for assistance and they were absolutely amazing, at every airport we travelled through over the trip: they got me a wheelchair and took me wherever I needed to be, getting me early access to the planes, and so on. It was so helpful and honestly made the whole thing possible. I don’t know what I would’ve done without their help. It took a few days to recover and it was only then that we realised what had caused it.

The reason we go at this time of year is because the Nashville Songwriters Association International hold the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, where hundreds of songwriters perform songs that they’ve written. They have a great mix of famous and up and coming so you get a lot of different, beautifully written songs. All of the shows that I went to were good and some of them were fantastic. My favourites include Lori McKenna, Alyssa Micaela, Emily Shackelton, Hannah Ellis, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows. They were truly incredible.

There were a couple of other musical highlights too. By some wonderful coincidence, Kelly Clarkson was playing the Bridgestone Arena while we were in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to see her and I’ve always wanted to go to a show at Bridgestone. And to make it even sweeter, Kelsea Ballerini – who I LOVE – was opening. So it was perfect. The show was amazing and I had a blast. Totally a bucket list moment.

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The other musical highlight was getting to see my friend, Caylan Hays, perform. We’ve written together several times and on my last trip, she came to see me play a gig and by another beautiful coincidence, she was playing on the last night of our stay. She was fantastic. She’s such a talented writer and I love her voice. Throw in some gorgeous electric guitar and I was in love. You can check out her music here.

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And of course, I got to go to two Song Suffragettes rounds. I love this organisation with my whole heart and so it meant so much to me to see both shows while I was there. They – the people who run it and the girls who play – are so inspiring and I hope I can play with them again someday.

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I had several writing sessions while we were there and for the most part, they were a struggle. I love the people I was writing with dearly but my brain still isn’t right: a casualty of my depression and the medications I’m taking. We’re still trying to find the balance where I’m emotionally stable and not creativity stifled. Still, I’m trying and I so appreciate these writers for having patience with me while I work through this. I also got to spend some time with friends, old and new, and they really inspired me in this dark patch of my life.

But throughout the trip, I really, really struggled. My anxiety was so high that I actually had trouble breathing and my depression was so overwhelming that I found myself falling apart (even in public places, which I’m usually able to avoid doing) multiple times. There were lots of tears and lots of Diazepam; it was very hard. I struggled desperately with wanting to go home and I was battling suicidal thoughts (helpfully described by Claudia Boleyn as, “my brain trying to kill me”) for most of the trip. In truth, it was a bit of a nightmare but there were some really great moments that helped me manage it and of course, I had my wonderful people (my Mum and my writing partner, Richard Sanderson) there to support me. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, shout out to Pancake Pantry for teaching me what it’s like to get excited about food.

Happy International Women’s Day!

In honour of the fact that today is International Women’s Day, I would like to honour some of the amazing women in my life. I’ve been very lucky to grow up surrounded by strong, intelligent, compassionate women and I’m very grateful for that. There are so many I could list – I’m incredibly fortunate to be friends and acquainted with so many talented and generous women – but here is a selection:

My parents – I am lucky enough to have four parents, all women and, of course, they deserve the greatest of thanks. They have encouraged me, supported me, and protected me for almost twenty-five years. Each of them inspires me differently and I love them all dearly. My Mum deserves a particular shout out. She has been my champion through all the Autism and mental health stuff; she’s my hero. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

My therapist – I have said it before but I’ll say it again: I’m so, so grateful for my therapist. She is an incredible human being and she’s done some incredible things. She’s saved my life for sure. She’s warm and honest and stubborn and I’m just in awe of her.

My Autism friends – For the first time, I have friends who also have Autism. It took me a long time to figure out what being autistic truly meant to me but last year, I heard about a group for young women with Autism and decided to give it a try. The friends I made there are so special to me. The things that always made us feel different and alone are the things that now connect us to each other and that’s pretty magical. To feel understood is something so easily taken for granted but it’s one of the most important things in the world.

Song Suffragettes – I’ve talked about Song Suffragettes before (here and here) but they’re a fantastic organisation that I’ll keep talking about forever. They showcase the up and coming songwriting talent in Nashville and they consistently push against the sexism in the music industry. So many of my favourite songwriters I’ve discovered through their shows and it was a huge honour to play with them during one of my trips to Nashville.

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Amanda Tapping – Amanda Tapping was my first hero and so will always be special to me. She played Sam Carter in Stargate SG-1 and Helen Magnus in Sanctuary and both of those characters had a really significant impact on me. It took me a while to figure out that I could be like them – I spent most of my teenage years trying to be just like them – without having to be exactly like them. For example, I could pursue the things I love and the things I’m good at with the same intensity and passion and commitment, rather than trying to turn myself into a duplicate of either of those characters. Amanda herself is also a worthy hero: she’s struggled and succeeded throughout her life and she’s dedicated significant time, money, and effort to helping others. For example, she’s run conventions that have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity and where she makes the dreams of fans like me come true: I was an anxious mess when I finally got to meet her but she was kind and compassionate and wonderful. She’ll be my hero forever.

Chloe Bennet – Chloe Bennet currently plays Daisy Johnson in Agents of Shield, my favourite character in my favourite show. This character is an actual superhero and that, of course, is a cherished connection to my Dad. Watching and following superhero related things has allowed me to feel close to him. I know he would’ve loved Agents of Shield. Daisy massively inspires me but Chloe does too, especially since she’s talked so openly about her mental health. (x)

Taylor Swift – I’ve exalted Taylor Swift multiple times (here, here, and here) so I won’t repeat myself but her kindness and her dedication to helping others and doing the right thing continually inspires me and motivates me to be a better human being. I’m also massively inspired by her artistic drive and her commitment to exploring her own creativity. She’s constantly building on her work and it takes my breath away every time.

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Sara Bareilles – If I know you in real life, then I’ve probably told you (multiple times) about Sara Bareilles dedicating her song ‘Uncharted’ for me at her London show while I stood in the front row (the video is here). It was magical. Her singing and songwriting and piano playing take my breath away and I’m so inspired by the way she makes the music that she wants to make and doesn’t fold to the fickle whims of the music industry. I’m also really inspired by the way she’s pursued multiple different creative projects, like writing a book and writing the music for a musical.

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Maren Morris – I have loved Maren Morris’ music from the moment I heard ‘My Church’ and her concerts are some of my favourite memories. Her songwriting is direct and honest and every song inspires me to get better as a songwriter, a singer, and a human being. Her story shows that there is something magical about being yourself, truly and authentically, and that inspires me every day.

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Claire Wineland – I was and still am so inspired by Claire (I talk about her in way more detail here) and her approach to life and living. I will carry her in my heart forever.

These women are a huge part of why I am who I am and I’m so incredibly grateful to them. As Felix says in Orphan Black, “To my galaxy of women, thank you for the nurture.” Amen.

2018 in Review

This year has been a struggle. Almost eighteen months ago, I made the decision to change my medication and that has basically been my life ever since. Lots of pills and doctors appointments but mostly dealing with the side effects, everything from nausea to shaking to a complete inability to think clearly. I don’t think I realised what a huge undertaking it was going to be but it’s not exactly surprising: you’re throwing all the chemicals in your brain and body out of whack. I tried Venlafaxine, Lithium, and Lamotrigine; I weaned myself off Venlafaxine, tried Amitriptyline, and now I’m taking Pregabalin and Clomipramine. This is the most promising combination so far and I’ve actually had a few really good days so I’m cautiously optimistic. But it’s been a long, hard road, sometimes so difficult that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. And I don’t really feel able to acknowledge the good bits without paying tribute to the really tough things I had to go through and so got through.

The first of The Big Difficult Things was moving house. God, that was a struggle. Having thought that I’d found some sort of peace around it, when it came to the day, I was absolutely devastated. There were a lot of tears – from all of us. That house was my home for fifteen years – home to the greatest triumphs and tragedies of my life – and so, to some extent, it will always be my home. I think I could probably walk into my old bedroom twenty years from now and fall right back into that old rhythm.

I’m still learning the rhythms of the new house. There are days where it feels normal and then others where I hate it so much I could scream. Most of the time, it still feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s house with all our stuff in. But every day is a step in the right direction. We’re filling all the empty space with memories, slowly but surely.

I’ve been writing a lot about Claire Wineland of late but I couldn’t write about this year and not mention her. Her death was another of The Big Difficult Things of this year. I stumbled across her YouTube channel late last year and have been following her on social media ever since. She was – and still is – a big inspiration for me and her death hit me really hard. It just makes no sense to me and never will and I’m still struggling to cope with that.

And through all of this, depression has been my constant, oppressive companion. While I had experienced depression before, this was a whole new kind of prison. The lows were lower than I’d ever experienced and there were several pretty scary moments. And as well as affecting my mood, my depression made it almost impossible to write songs. I’ve had many discussions about writer’s block over the years and I’ve always thought that there are things that can make writing difficult and so you have to figure out what’s causing the block and address it. In my case, it feels like depression suppresses the creative part of my brain: I don’t get random sparks of inspiration, I can’t solve problems creatively, and any active creativity – like songwriting – is like pulling teeth. It feels like writing songs requires a certain level of functioning that I’m just not capable of reaching while depressed. I want to write more about this – about depression and writer’s block – but that’s for another post.

Having said all of that, there have been good days, as well as good experiences on bad days.

By far the best part of this year has been the time spent with my friends and family, whether that be online or in the physical world, in Nashville, London, or Brighton. Or anywhere in between. These people have kept me going through the hardest period of my life so far and I’m so ridiculously grateful to them for that.

I got to travel a little bit this year, which was amazing. I managed to get back to Nashville where I had the most intense ten days possibly of my life. I got to see some lovely people, write songs (or try to), listen to some of the best songwriters in the world, and play a Song Suffragettes show. Even though I was incredibly anxious about it, that may very well have been the best day of my year.

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I also travelled to Iceland for the first time and saw so many beautiful things, including a 60m waterfall, the Diamond Beach, and the Northern Lights. The natural scenery in Iceland took my breath away time and again. It felt like the first breath you take after being underwater. Of course, there was a lot of anxiety during the trip but it helped me in a way that only the magnificence of nature is able to.

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There have been more wonderful live music events than I can count: Paramore, Kelsea Ballerini, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby (and all of Tin Pan South in Nashville), Frank Turner, Betsy Lane, The Shires, Sinead Burgess, The Brummies, Halsey, Kina Grannis, Aislin Evans, Maren Morris, and of course, Taylor Swift. Despite the anxieties around concerts, these are the places where I feel most alive and so, throughout this difficult period, I’ve always tried to ensure that there was another concert to look forward to.

And despite my musical struggles this year, I’ve actually played a few gigs and played shows that I am so proud to have been a part of. I got to play with WRTW again and it was even more fun than the first time (if that’s possible). I played Autism’s Got Talent in London, which was such a great opportunity. I played for Brighton Soup and Disability Pride in Brighton, two amazing organisations that I can’t praise enough. I also played Summer Fest in Worthing, my first show with my awesome friend, Richard Sanderson. And of course, I got to play a Song Suffragettes show when I was in Nashville.

I’ve also managed to do a handful to Autism research studies, as well as giving blood. I’ve been feeling so useless so I tried to contribute as best I could during this time where I’ve felt incapable of contributing anything at all.

Another big part of this year was getting used to the kittens: my cat had two kittens in February and me and my Mum just fell in love with them so we ended up keeping them. I love them dearly but it has been a major adjustment and a real struggle, especially with the daily battle that is depression. So this has been both a good and a bad thing. I want to write more about this whole experience because there were – and still are – a lot of complicated emotions involved. But above it all, we have Lucky and Lucy and the kittens and I love them more than life itself.

So, that’s it: 2018. It has been a hard, hard year, and one I’m very happy to leave behind but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months and the next year. I’ve felt better in the last couple of weeks than I have all year and I’m hopeful that this is characteristic of what’s to come.

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“2018, the year of living, fighting, but ultimately, surviving depression. There was a lot of gold in the grey but I’m so ready to move on to 2019.” (x)

2018 in Songs

Just as I did last year, I want to send off 2018 with the songs that made up my year, the songs that marked the happy moments and the sad, the lost and the lonely. Here goes:


1. Damn Sky by Kalie Shorr

I am obsessed with Kalie’s most recent EP, Awake. It’s SO GOOD. The songwriting, the production, the guitar parts, the vocals… I love it. There are multiple songs I could’ve chosen for this list but I think this one is so empowering. These songs have been the soundtrack to my year and I listen to them practically everyday.

What do you do when your whole heart breaks

And love only leaves you blind

Somebody had to light the way

So I learned to have the stars in my own damn sky

 

I got the nails, I got the hammer

If I got myself, I got the answers


2. I Am Disappeared by Frank Turner

Back in February I went to my university’s monthly songwriters’ circle and Frank Turner was the special guest. I love his songwriting, especially his lyric writing. The stories he tells are so rich and vivid. He asked if anyone had a request and someone shouted out this song and I just fell in love with it on the spot. It’s become a soundtrack to my anxiety, but not in a negative way. It’s like it translates my anxiety into something real and that’s such a relief.

I keep having dreams

Of pioneers and pirate ships and Bob Dylan

Of people wrapped up tight in the things that will kill them

Of being trapped in a lift plunging straight to the bottom

Of open seas and ways of life we’ve forgotten

I keep having dreams


3. Without by Megan O’Neill

Another month, another songwriters’ circle. Megan was the special guest at the March circle and I just fell in love with her voice. And her lyrics and her melodies. With every song she played, I was more and more inspired. This one is a particular favourite.

If I can’t have you, you can’t have me

‘Cause it’s all or nothing and there’s nothing in between

If you’re halfway in, I’m halfway out

Baby, we can’t shine in the shadow of a doubt

I can’t live with a love you can live without


4. Babe by Sugarland feat. Taylor Swift

I still can’t quite believe that two of my absolute favourite artists/bands collaborated and created such a beautiful song (and performed it live – what I wouldn’t give to have been there). It’s one of those songs that I’ve just had on repeat. I love Jennifer Nettles’ voice and Taylor Swift’s lyrics blow me away as usual. The imagery is especially gorgeous. I also love the combination of their voices, a nice treat that we otherwise wouldn’t have.

What a waste
Taking down the pictures and the plans we made, yeah
And it’s strange how your face doesn’t look so innocent
Your secret has its consequence and that’s on you, babe

I break down every time you call
We’re a wreck, you’re the wrecking ball
We said no one else, how could you do this, babe?


5. Running Out Of Red Lights by Lena Stone

I have loved Lena’s writing ever since I saw her perform at Tin Pan South in 2016 and I feel like I’ve been waiting for her to release this song for almost as long. It’s so beautiful and the sense of urgency is so real. And I freaking love the electric guitar part, more than life itself. Just kidding, but I do really love it. I can’t wait for her to release more music.

Six blocks down from your new place

High heels never hitting those breaks

If nothing’s gonna stop me then it’s too late

To change my mind

Wishing I could leave you in the rearview

‘Cause every yellow that I run through

Gets me closer to crashing to you

Tonight

And I’m running out of red lights


6. Tennessee Bound by Sinead Burgess

I saw Sinead Burgess open for The Shires on their tour earlier this year and I loved her writing from the first song, which was this one. I was in a really bad place and her energy just woke me up. It was magical. And now, every time I feel like I’m getting lost, I listen to it and it reminds me of that. I’m really grateful for that.

Hell, I’m ready for my brand new life

Get a new apartment, change my hair, no I won’t be thinking twice

About the things that I’m gonna miss

‘Cause I sure as hell ain’t going out like this

So I’m ready for my brand new life


7. New Light by Baylor Wilson

I have Song Suffragettes to thank for the discovery of this song. They posted a video of it on their YouTube channel and I just fell in love. I love her voice. And I love the lyrics: they’re all beautiful but there’s one – “I thought ‘love’ was just a word that people use, until I heard you say it and I said back to you” – that takes my breath away every time I hear it. There’s something about it that makes me believe that love really is out there somewhere.

Every wrong turn turned out all right

And even when the sun sets, it’s still gonna rise

I see it in a new light

I see it in a true light

Every chapter, every verse of my life

Every time that I look in your eyes

Every cloud and all the blue in the sky

Now I see it in a new light

 


8. Nightmare by Nikita Karmen

My inner songwriting nerd gets so excited about this song. I saw Nikita Karmen at Tin Pan South earlier this year and I just fell in love with the way she writes lyrics. They’re smart and funny and quirky and wise; I get major songwriting jealousy. And the fact that she deliberately rhymes ‘right’ with ‘right’ and then ‘left’ with ‘left’ – in the SAME SONG – makes me shriek every time I hear it; I love it.

It was just a little doubt that got left behind

From a love that didn’t work out

Just ghosts from yesterday

But they don’t live here now

Reach over to my left

To know you never left


9. Eyes Closed by Halsey

I got to see Halsey live this year (twice!) and it was an amazing experience (even though I was in a really difficult place). This was the first song on the set list and the crowd sang along so loudly that it took my breath away. Literally. I felt breathless with… just awe. The concert was amazing and the crowd was amazing and it was really, really special. This song reminds me of that and I’m really grateful for it.

Now if I keep my eyes closed, he looks just like you

But he’ll never stay, they never do

Now if I keep my eyes closed, he feels just like you

But you’ve been replaced

I’m face to face

With someone new


10. Get Up by Nick Wilson

I heard this song at one of my university’s songwriters’ circle and then listened to it on repeat for the next week. It’s beautiful. The imagery is gorgeous, the production is amazing, and his voice sounds incredible. And it sounds even better live!

You gotta get up, you gotta get up
I know it’s always better than you think it will be
It’s never enough, it’s never enough
You don’t know what you want until you know what you need
Don’t break the silence when it’s beautiful
Just hold your tongue
But you gotta get up, you gotta get up now


11. The Goldfish Song by Kina Grannis

I finally got to see Kina Grannis live this year after following her on YouTube for years and years. That was so exciting and I got to hear so many favourite songs, old and new. This is one of those favourites and I’ve been listening to it on and off for the last few months. I guess it just really resonated with me.

I know what you’ve been thinking

It’s too soon to empty my cocoon

This butterfly’s not ready

But wouldn’t she know better than you


12. Loving You, Using You by Caylan Hays

Caylan is one of my favourite people and I am so excited that she’s putting her gorgeous songwriting out into the world. We’ve written together several times and I always look forward to it because she just has this way with words that is different to anybody else I’ve ever met. This song is so raw and so honest and I’m so excited for the project she’s about to release.

Maybe I’m loving you because I’m lonely

Maybe I’m holding you because you know me

Maybe I’m loving you

Oh, because you’re lonely too

Maybe I’m here because I’m grieving

Maybe I’m terrified of leaving

Maybe I’m loving you

Maybe I’m using you

I wish I knew the truth


13. The Middle by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey

I know that the format of this is twelve songs – one for every month – but I have to include this one, a song for the whole year if you like. This is no doubt my most played song of the year – it feels pretty fitting that just a few weeks ago, it was nominated for multiple Grammys. And I got to here it performed live and acoustic. I love it. Maren’s voice is beyond gorgeous and there is no song more fun to sing in the car.

So pull me closer
Why don’t you pull me close?
Why don’t you come on over?
I can’t just let you go

Oh baby, why don’t you just meet me in the middle?
I’m losing my mind just a little
So why don’t you just meet me in the middle?
In the middle


So there we go. My 2018, my songs of 2018. As always, there could’ve been so many more but I’ll leave it there. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed writing it.

Grateful 2018

Last year, I posted on Christmas Eve about the things I was grateful for (here) and I really liked it as a practice. Since we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, there’s no holiday directly related to being thankful and I think it’s important to make time to think and feel these things. And I always feel overwhelmed by how lucky I am at Christmas so this seems like a good time to do it, to do this post.

My family – I am endlessly grateful to my family. They have loved and supported me through some really difficult times this year and even though that’s what family should do, I’m so, so grateful to them for doing that. I don’t take them for granted. A particular shout out to my Mum for going above and beyond. She’s my hero.

My friends – I am also endlessly grateful to my friends. I haven’t seen as much of them as I would’ve liked this year but I’ve been doing my best to stay in touch. They mean so much to me and I hope they know that. Again, a particular shout out to Richard because he has been incredible this year, supporting me as a friend and a writing partner. I’m more grateful than I can say.

My therapist – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am so grateful for my therapist. My depression has been brutal this year and there were more than a few moments where I had no idea how I was going to survive (I say that like it’s over and I’m not sure whether it’s over or not). I absolutely wouldn’t have made it through that without her.

Song Suffragettes – If you don’t know what Song Suffragettes is, prepare to have your musical life changed. It’s an organisation in Nashville that focuses on boosting the up and coming female songwriting talent and they have weekly shows showcasing these awesome women. I was lucky enough to join them on my last trip to Nashville and it was definitely the best day of my year (and one of the best in my life). Everyone involved is so lovely and they are doing such important work. Check them out on Twitter here.

Claire Wineland – I’ve written about Claire quite a bit (here, herehere, and here if you’re interested) but she’s been on my mind a lot. I miss her – her presence in my life – more than I know what to do with but I am so grateful to have had her at all. That doesn’t make me okay with what happened (not at all) but I am grateful. She was an incredible human being and she’s still helping people even though she’s no longer here.

Flowers – This is a simple one but having beautiful, colourful flowers around improves my mood and improves my day. In a year that’s felt very dark and colourless, having flowers in the house has made a noticeable difference to my day-to-day life.

My bullet journal – Having somewhere to organise my thoughts and my life has been so helpful. Up until now I’ve never had a system that really worked for me so this is a big deal. I’ve written more about it here.

Lauren Kaech – I discovered Lauren on YouTube earlier this year and I have found her videos and her attitude really inspiring. I talked about her in my post about social media favourites and she makes videos about her experience of living with an eating disorder. And while that’s not an experience I can directly relate to, there are aspects that I can. She talks about facing the things that scare you, the realities of happiness, and a whole host of recovery related topics that apply to anxiety and depression as well as eating disorders. I’m so grateful to have had this in my life this year and at my very worst (in the very worst of my depression), looking forward to her videos got me through the day and kept me going.

Swimming – I’ve written a whole post about this (here) but I wanted to include it here because I’m so, so grateful for it. Almost every morning, I get up and go to the pool and do something that makes sense. Even if the rest of the day doesn’t, that does. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping this up for six months, especially given how bad my depression has been.

Taylor Swift – Miss Swift was on my grateful list last year and the reasons are all still relevant. But this year, I got to see her live (twice!) and that experience was so much fun in the middle of a really dark place. I felt all that weight lift for a couple of hours and that is a big deal. I’m also really grateful to her for voicing her political opinions (breaking her career long silence on the subject) and encouraging young people to vote. In the twenty four hours after she made her Instagram post on the subject, 65,000 people registered to vote, which is just incredible. It made me really proud to be a fan. I don’t think I can say more than, as always, I am grateful for Taylor Swift.

So there you have it. I could write more – there are so many things to be grateful for – but I’ll stop there. I’m wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy Christmas and I’ll see you in the next post.

Goin’ Back To Nashville, Thinkin’ ‘Bout The Whole Thing

Ten points if you understand that reference.

As many of you know, I was in Nashville from 1st April to 11th April so here is a post all about that: the travel, the being away from home, some of the things I did, and how I felt about it all. A big part of this is that I do just want to write down some of my thoughts about it but I also think that documenting these experiences as a person with Autism, as a person with mental illness, could be helpful, especially when there is so little information and testimony about living with these issues.

The flight out was smooth. In the literal sense, anyway. But about an hour before we arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, I started sneezing. I didn’t think much of it until we were walking through the airport and it still hadn’t stopped. And then my nose started to run (this is gross and probably too much information, but it was like water was just leaking out of my nose) and all the sniffing I was doing to try and stop it gradually gave me a terrible headache. So that was a struggle. And it just wouldn’t stop. By the time we arrived in Nashville several hours later, I had the beginnings of a migraine and was practically useless. Fortunately, I was travelling with my Mum and one of my best friends, Richard (who is also my writing partner), so I could hand over responsibility and focus on staying upright. We got to our accommodation and I fell asleep as soon as I sat down (getting back up and walking to the bed was the most asleep I’ve ever been while awake and, no joke, I laughed hysterically until I fell asleep). The jetlag got me good – I was so tired that I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon every single day – and I still hadn’t gotten myself in sync by the time we were flying home.

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Before I get on to the rest of the trip, I have to say that none of it would have been possible if my Mum hadn’t come with me. This was my third trip to the US and she has been with me each time, sometimes working and sometimes taking a holiday – she freaking deserves one with how hard she works, at everything – and I could not do it without her. This probably deserves it’s own post but in short: she helps me keep my anxiety under control, helps me process everything that’s happening, removes the stress around food by either being there to catch me when I fail at it or completely assuming responsibility for it… She is the certainty I need when every other thing around me is uncertain. All of these things make it possible for me to be functional, let alone make the most out of the trip and the opportunities I’m presented with. She is a complete superstar and I’m so, so grateful.

Another thing that I think is important to mention is how much I struggle with food when I travel. I have huge, huge anxiety around food (see my recent post) and there aren’t many things I can manage. I remember thinking, before my first trip, that there would finally be things I could eat but my perception of the food was wrong; I was convinced I’d gain loads of weight but I actually lost more than half a stone. Since then, both me and my Mum have been more prepared: we travel with things like rice cakes (one of my staples), shop on the first day, and never rely on restaurants or venues. So, this time, we made a huge thing of Stir Fry at the beginning of the week and I basically ate that all week. I know that some people would find that boring but for me, it was comforting to know that there was a meal a day that I wouldn’t have to worry about. Sometimes that’s all I can manage so I need to know that it’s something I can eat. Again, a major shout out to my Mum for supporting me with that. And to Pancake Pantry for getting me excited about food.

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The reason for going at this time of year is the Tin Pan South songwriting festival. Over five days, there are a hundred songwriters’ rounds where all of these incredible songwriters play their songs – some famous, some never released – and tell the stories that inspired them. As a songwriter, it’s the most amazing and motivating experience. As you guys probably know from my playlist post, I saw so many people that I was so excited by but I’m not sure anyone is interested in that, given that this is primarily a mental health blog. Let me know if you would be interested in that. But having said that, I can’t not mention some of them: Natalie Hemby (one of my all time favourite songwriters) was incredible and hilarious; Alyssa Micaela and Emily Shackelton were wonderful; Abby Anderson’s ‘History’ was one of my favourite songs of the festival; the show with Jeff Cohen, Kara DioGuardi, Jamie Hartman, and Ingrid Andress (one of my favourite finds of the week) was mind blowing and definitely a highlight; and Nikita Karmen was another great discovery. All of the shows were fantastic though and I felt so lucky to be there. I felt (and do still although my mental health has crashed since) so, so inspired and can’t wait to write new songs having learned so much.

And on that note, I got to hang out and write songs with one of my favourite people in Nashville. Her name is Caylan and we met during my first trip to Nashville in 2016. We wrote one of my favourite and most personal songs several days later. She is such a beautiful songwriter and again, we wrote some really cool songs and it was so, so nice to see her again. I also did some writing with Richard, which is one of my favourite things to do.

The biggest, most exciting part of my trip was playing a Song Suffragettes round. I’ve been following them on social media and watching their shows on Periscope for years now and I have always been so inspired by their mission to promote these incredible up and coming young women in country music. I’ve always done my best to see the shows in person when in Nashville and it has truly been a dream of mine to play at one of their rounds. And on this trip, that dream came true. It was nerve wracking but it was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had and definitely so in the last year: everyone behind the show was so lovely and the other girls were so sweet and so welcoming. My performances weren’t perfect but I’m still proud of them and I felt so, so honoured to be there. It was inspiring and motivating and so special. We finished the show with a cover of ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift, which we’d put together in the back room before going on stage and, again, that was really fun. Oh, and the video of that is now on YouTube!

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After the show, we went out to the lobby to meet and talk to anyone who wanted to talk. That turned out to be a real highlight. I hadn’t expected anyone to want to say more than hello since it was my first time playing and no one would’ve known me before the show but so many people came up to me and the conversations we had were and are very special to me. Two of the three songs I played are incredibly personal, including one about my experiences with trying to get help with my mental health, and these are the songs that seem to really connect with people. I’ve had people come up to me, tell me what it meant to them to hear these songs, and share some amazingly personal stories. It blows my mind that a little song that I wrote in my friend’s front room on a Thursday afternoon has made people feel safe enough to share these really important things with me. I’m so honoured. That whole night was so special to me. A massive thank you again to everyone behind Song Suffragettes for all you guys do and thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting me to play.

The last couple of days were a bit of a blur after that but my last activity in Nashville was a memorable one. We went to The Candle Bar to make our own candles, something I’d seen on Instagram and really wanted to do. I really, really struggle with candles because of how sensitive to smells I am so I was excited to find out whether I could create a candle that I could not only tolerate but also enjoy. Because you’re pouring out the fragrance and the wax, you are in control of how strong the candle will smell; obviously you want to be able to smell it but this made it possible to add slightly less of the fragrance so that it won’t be overwhelming. It was a really fun experience, simple and chilled and interesting. I had commitment issues over which container to use and had to change once I’d chosen the fragrance because the colour of it didn’t match how it smelled, but choosing the fragrance was easy: there were only two that I liked. I ended up going for the pink pepper and grapefruit because, as a smell, it had no sharp edges, if that makes sense. There was nothing jarring about it. Since I’ve been home, I’ve only lit it once but I really like it. It’s subtle, which is perfect for me, but I can still smell it and it does actually smell like the fragrance I chose. So I’m really happy with it and would definitely recommend the experience.

And then it was time to go home. Usually I dread going home but after the roller coaster of emotions that I went through on this trip and having the kittens waiting for me, I was ready to go. But it was still hard. I’ve jokingly compared my love for Nashville to a long distance relationship but fortunately, I know it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll be back and it will be there, waiting for me. The plane ride home went fine, although we took extra precautions and I wore a mask for most of it. I felt ridiculous but I kept reminding myself that I was trying to avoid more illness and discomfort, that I am allowed to take care of myself.

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Before I sign off, there are a couple of other things that I wanted to mention and the first one is about the emotions throughout the trip. The first half of the ten days was really hard: I was overwhelmed by anxiety and struggling to stay ahead of a particularly bad episode of Depression, my self doubt was paralyzing, and I just had this overwhelming longing to go home where I felt safe and less like I was going to fall apart at any second. It was horrible, but fortunately it did pass (although it’s come back in full force since I’ve been back) and I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip apart from some anxiety (which is totally normal – I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t anxious, and very anxious at that). The lows were very low and the highs were very high, as usual. And with everything on top of that, I was completely and utterly exhausted. So it was definitely a rollercoaster.

The other thing I want to say is that it was vital that I had some time out from it all. I’m going to write a ‘tips for travelling when you’re autistic’ post but I also want to include it here. With all the emotions, the anxiety, the walking and standing, etc, I had to have some recovery time. Apart from the times where I just fell asleep on the sofa, we would watch TV together (shout out to Episodes and Queer Eye – highly recommend both). I tried to ignore the little voice in my head that kept telling me I was wasting the trip by doing that but I tried to remember that I was doing it to ensure that I could make the most of the trip. It’s hard to see it that way sometimes. But without rest, I wouldn’t have been able to go out every night – sometimes to two shows – and I wouldn’t have been able to write the best songs I could and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the experience. So yes, if you need to take breaks, take breaks.

And that’s it for this post. I hope it was interesting, that there were a few helpful things in here. I have lots of blog posts on the go or in the planning stages so I’ll talk to you all soon!

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Nashville Playlist

So, as you guys know, I’ve been in Nashville and I just got back on Thursday. I’m working on a post all about the trip – partly because I just really want to write about it and partly because I think there is some stuff in there that could be useful to others – but that’s taking a while so, in the mean time, here is a little list of songs that I listened to while I was away, one for each day. Since I was there for the Tin Pan South songwriting festival, many of these songs haven’t been released yet or were performed by the original writers rather than the person that usually performs them. So, for the songwriters out there, I hope this will be interesting. Also bear in mind that, especially while the festival was going on, I was hearing between twenty and fifty songs a night so a lot of thinking went into these choices…


SUNDAY – ‘Love Is A Wild Thing’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk, and Daniel Tashian)

I hadn’t had a chance to listen to Kacey’s new album until I got on the plane and I just fell in love with it. She’d performed this one at Country2Country and I was so excited to hear it again. It did not disappoint and it’s one of my favourites of the album.

Even if you lose it, it will find you

There’s no way to stop it so don’t try to

Running like a river, trying to find the ocean

Flowers in the concrete

Climbing over fences, blooming in the shadows

Places that you can’t see

Coming through the melody when the night bird sings

Love is a wild thing


MONDAY – ‘Give It All Back’ by Jordyn Shellhart

I first heard Jordyn at a Song Suffragettes show (an organisation aimed at showcasing new female songwriters in country music) and I instantly fell in love with this song, with it’s energy, with it’s golden hope. You know when you’re listening to a song and it feels like your lungs are expanding, your head tilts up, and your whole body gets lighter? Yeah, I had that with this song. And then I was lucky enough to hear it in a Tin Pan South round later in the week.

If we got all we ever wanted

But it cost us all we ever had

Pinkie swear, baby, let’s shake on it

If it comes to that,

We’ll give it all back


TUESDAY – ‘Fight Like A Girl’ by Kalie Shorr (Written by Kalie Shorr, Lena Stone, and Hailey Steele)

This song has been out for a few years now but hearing it live is just another thing altogether and, of course, Kalie performed it when I saw her play at Song Suffragettes. I sort of forget how much I love it and then it just smacks me in the face and leaves me breathless. It’s such an anthem and I particularly love the lines about her Mum because I feel exactly the same way.

I’m little but I’m loud

Just wanna make my mama proud

And you can tell without a doubt that I’m her daughter

She raised me to believe

That I can be anything

So when you push me, I’ll just push back harder


WEDNESDAY – ‘Rainbow’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, and Shane McAnally)

I freaking love this song and have loved it since Kacey started performing it way back when. I was really disappointed when it wasn’t on her second album and absolutely ecstatic when it was on her third. And then Natalie Hemby performed it at Tin Pan South and I loved it even more, especially when she talked about the writing of it: it’s about how hard it is to recover from a traumatic experience or period in your life and how, even once you’ve come through it, it can be hard to recognise that. I really relate to that.

‘Cause the sky has finally opened, the rain and wind stopped blowin’

But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again

Hold tight to your umbrella, oh darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell you

That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head


THURSDAY – ‘Doin’ Fine’ by Lauren Alaina (Written by Lauren Alaina, Emily Shackelton, and Busbee)

This was a hard pick (honorary mention to ‘Between Me and a Bar’ by Alyssa Micaela because it’s freaking awesome and was a very, very close second to this song) but I connected to this song so strongly that it had to be this one. Emily Shackelton performed it during a Tin Pan South round and I fell in love with it straight away. This is my kind of anthem: not rainbows or confetti or fairy tales, but the moment when you realise you just might be okay after a really long struggle.

I’m doing fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken

Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open

I still got fear inside of me

I’m not okay but I’m gonna be

Alright

For the first time in a long time I’m doing fine

I’m doing fine


FRIDAY – ‘History’ by Abby Anderson

Again, this one was a really, really difficult choice. Shout out to Ingrid Andress because all of her songs were amazing, especially ‘Ladylike.’ But, like the last one, I related to this song so powerfully that I had to talk about it here. As far as I can tell, she only wrote it recently so I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere yet or even if it will be. I really hope it will. It’s the song I’ve been trying to write my whole life.

It may be something that nobody sees

Something that we carry that will always be

If our paths don’t cross and we never speak

And the world moves on, believe you’ll be

A part of me, part of me

‘Cause we have history, history


SATURDAY – ‘First Last Name’ by Madison Kozak

I’ll stop saying this now but this was another one that I really struggled to narrow down. I was absolutely sure that I would choose a Nikita Karmen song because I was absolutely blown away by her in the first round (seriously, go and check her out) but then I heard this song and I couldn’t not write about it. Songs about fathers speak to me on a very specific level and this one just made me cry because it made me think about what our relationship might’ve been like. It’s a beautiful song.

He’s the son of a salesman

Short glass old fashioned

‘How’s your car been running, baby?

Call your mama when you get home safely.’

My hall of fame

He’s never missed a game

My first last name


SUNDAY – ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift (Written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback)

I listened to this song a lot on Sunday because I was performing at the Song Suffragettes round the next night and at the end of each show, the girls perform a surprise cover to finish. I was out of my mind excited to play that show so I listened to it on repeat to make sure I really knew it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Taylor Swift. It wasn’t one of my favourites on the new album but the experience of learning it and performing it in that setting has made me absolutely love it.

Third floor on the west side, me and you

Handsome, you’re a mansion with a view

Do the girls back home touch you like I do?

Long night with you hands up in my hair

Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs

Stay here, honey, I don’t wanna share


MONDAY – ‘Brand New Heart’ by Lucy Scholl

I first heard this song last year when I saw Lucy perform at a Song Suffragettes round and I instantly fell in love with it. The chorus just spoke to me so clearly. I think it’s much better than the ‘I’m grateful you broke my heart because it made me a better person’ songs because, while it acknowledges the other person’s part, it’s about how she made that new heart, that new person. She hadn’t planned to play it at the round we were both performing in but I asked and she very kindly obliged.

Never thought I’d be so proud of these scars

Showin’ ‘em off like they’re a work of art

I took all the pieces that you broke apart

And I made a brand, brand new heart


TUESDAY – ‘Let Me Be’ by Savannah Keyes

Savannah played this song during the Song Suffragettes round and it’s been on my mind ever since. She talked about how she’d been out with friends and how they’d seen a shirt in a shop window, which had the words ‘eat less’ emblazoned on it. That example of how much pressure is put on girls inspired this song, which I just loved, as did my Mum. It was very powerful.

Let me be daring

Let me be kind and caring

A dreamer with a flower in her hair and

Let me be young and free

Let me be sweeter

Let me be an innocence keeper

A follow-my-heart believer

Let me be seventeen

Let me be


WEDNESDAY – ‘Oh What A World’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk, and Daniel Tashian)

And in a strange full circle of sorts, I ended up listening to Kacey Musgraves on the flight home. After the ten days I’d just had, ‘Oh What A World’ feels like a pretty appropriate closing track.

Oh, what a world, I don’t wanna leave

All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe

Thank God it’s not too good to be true

Oh, what a world, and then there is you