International Women’s Day 2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, I thought I’d share fifteen awesome fictional women that have inspired me or empowered me or made me feel seen in a world where I often feel invisible. Originally I thought I’d do a list of awesome women from real life but with everything I’ve got on my plate right now, I didn’t feel that I could do a good enough job in time. And given that these would be real people who just might see what I’d written (unlikely, yes, but still possible), I’d hate to do a rush job; I’d want to be able to dedicate some serious time to it to make sure I did these women justice.

This post will involve spoilers for the characters and the books or TV shows they’re a part of so if you don’t want to have a story spoiled, please skip the character and move on to the next character!


1. Sephy Hadley (Nought & Crosses, Knife Edge, and Checkmate by Malorie Blackman) – The story of the Noughts & Crosses trilogy (now a series) takes place in a world where the dark skinned Crosses are revered and the light skinned Noughts are reviled. Sephy is the younger daughter in a prominent, privileged Cross family and, naïve to the racism she’s been largely sheltered from, she’s confused and frustrated when her childhood friend, Callum – a Nought whose family lives on the poverty line – starts pulling away and taking his frustration with the way he and all Noughts are treated out on her. As much as she loves him, their conflict and her difficult home life result in her escape to a boarding school, where she becomes involved in politics and the fight for equality, becoming a Noughts Right activist. But all of her plans are destroyed when she is kidnapped by the Liberation Militia, a terrorist organisation that Callum joined after she left for boarding school. Despite (and sometimes due to) her privilege, she suffers deeply, both due to her own destructive decisions and the destructive decisions of others. She struggles with her mental health, with the guilt over certain choices she makes and the resulting consequences, and how to prevent past mistakes from irreparably damaging the future. Forced to grow up fast and face some major challenges, she does deal with a lot of insecurity but it all comes from a place of such deep, unconditional love: for Callum and for their daughter, Callie Rose. Pretty much everything she does is due to her desire to protect Callie Rose but past trauma causes her to make mistakes, often making their relationship a contentious one. It’s been a long time since I read the books but I always felt for Sephy, admired just how vast her love for Callum and Callie Rose was even when she wasn’t good at showing it and I empathised with how she was constantly trying only to make things worse. The conversation where she finally manages to make things right feels just as special and cathartic as if you, the reader, are experiencing that redemption yourself.

2. Ros Myers (Spooks) – Ros was one of the first TV characters that I fell in love with and whose storyline I found myself seriously invested in. After playing a vital role in foiling a coup against the Prime Minister led by her boss and funded by her father, a prominent figure in the government, she transfers from MI6 to Section D of MI5 (the unit the show follows). Given that she makes no effort to connect with the rest of the team (earning her the reputation of ‘the ice queen’), it takes a while for her to find her place there but eventually her impressive skills and unwavering loyalty (especially to Harry, the head of the unit) win her the trust of the team and eventually the position of Section Chief. She’s not a straightforward character and that was something I always found fascinating about her. Her willingness to sacrifice anything and everything to protect her country is beyond admirable but it did, on several occasions, conflict with her other most dominant trait: her loyalty. At one point, she betrays the team because she thinks she sees a better solution to the problem they’re facing and at another, she is forced to sacrifice the life of a teammate to protect a room full of people the world probably couldn’t function without, even though many of them are pretty awful human beings. Plus she frequently puts herself in serious danger without a hint of fear or doubt. Her dedication, her loyalty, and her strength… they’re all traits I hold in the highest regard. She also has this unshakable sense of purpose, this absolute certainty in what she does; that’s definitely something I’d like to find (or build, if that’s the way it works) at some point in my life.

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3. Emily Prentiss (Criminal Minds) – Criminal Minds follows the BAU, the Behavioural Analysis Unit, a team that use psychological profiling to track down and catch criminals, most commonly serial killers. Despite arriving under somewhat of a cloud, Emily becomes an integral, irreplaceable part of the team (one of the things that’s really nice about the show is that each of the team have slightly different relationships with one another and Emily is no different in that regard; each of her relationships with the team is unique and I could delve into the details of each one and why they are the way they are because I find that really interesting but I won’t – otherwise we’ll be here forever). She’s tough and stubborn and positively allergic to bullshit, willing and definitely able to defy those in power or positions of authority when necessary; she’s a force to be reckoned with. Bonus points for being hilariously sarcastic. She’s incredibly intelligent and a brilliant profiler, but she also cares as deeply as she thinks. She’s compassionate, both with her team members and the victims they work with, and she clearly feels things very intensely, from long ago traumas to the haunting outcomes of many of their cases; while she prides herself on her professionalism and her ability to compartmentalise, she isn’t afraid to be vulnerable with the people she trusts. Despite some fairly wonky writing at times, she’s an interesting and multifaceted character, one that we see grow a hell of a lot over her time on the show: we see her go from an awkward and insecure new agent to a highly respected agent and eventually to Unit Chief, something that, for me at least, felt particularly satisfying given her loyalty to the team and her commitment to what they do. And as much as I love her for all of these things, I think what I love and admire most about her is her absolute, unwavering loyalty to her team. For example, one of my favourite storylines involves an enemy from her past reappearing and threatening the team to punish her for her part in what happened to him. Instead of telling the team and putting them in even more danger, she goes rogue and attempts to take him down herself with dire consequences.

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4. Helen Magnus (Sanctuary) – I’m honestly not quite sure how to sum up Helen Magnus (played by Amanda Tapping) in one paragraph. At the beginning of the show, we know that she was born in England during the Victorian Era and is 157 years old due to a dangerous biological experiment she and her Oxford colleagues conducted on themselves (while they were in their thirties). As well as being an M.D., she has doctorates in Teratology, Cryptozoology, Xenobiology, and Biology, and is the Head of the Global Sanctuary Network, a series of facilities that tracks down, protects, and learns from the unknown and extraordinary creatures and people that inhabit the world, described in the show as Abnormals. She heads the Sanctuary in Old City which, in addition to its scientific functions, both serves as a permanent and temporary residence for many Abnormals. Despite being born in an era where women were at a distinct disadvantage, Magnus was always strong-willed and forthright. She’s beautiful, enigmatic, and incredibly intelligent (an expert on multiple subjects, fluent in several languages, and the foremost authority on Abnormals, just for starters); she’s also an excellent diplomat and commands the attention of every room she walks into. She is or was personally acquainted with multiple famous historic figures, including multiple world leaders, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, and Dr Martin Luther Kind Jr. Louis Pasteur was a close friend of her father and was her godfather. She’s at ease and confident in high pressure social situations, comfortable taking charge with a no-nonsense approach that most likely stems from her Victorian upbringing. She’s also well trained when out in the field, extremely competent at multiple forms of hand to hand combat, comfortable with a wide variety of weaponry, a skilled pilot, and technologically savvy. While she stays true (and proudly so) to her traditional English heritage (a dedicated tea drinker with great distain for coffee, her preference for staying busy, and so on), she is driven by her desire to learn, about anything and everything, in order to help and protect Abnormals. Her longevity has been a real asset in that regard, not that she ever takes a break; she frequently works through the night, entirely dedicated to the task at hand. But despite the advantages of her longevity, she has long considered it a curse as it ultimately means she will outlive everyone she knows, everyone she loves. This has caused her immeasurable pain and explains her guardedness (although that likely originated from her Victorian upbringing). But she never gives up; she never stops fighting or looking for a solution. She was one of the first television characters that I saw as a role model: I deeply admire her, her passion for knowledge, her drive to help people… She makes me want to be the best possible version of myself and to help and give the most I can. (I have actually met Amanda Tapping briefly and I did try to thank her the impact Magnus has had on my life but I was so overwhelmed that I don’t think I did a very good job; all being well, I do have another opportunity coming up, pandemic permitting, so hopefully I’ll be able to make actual, eloquent sentences this time.)

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5. Alexandra Udinov (Nikita) – As hard as it was to choose between Alex and Nikita herself (if I included every awesome female character I love, this list would’ve had us all running for the hills due to it’s length so, at the very least, I tried to stick to one character per show/book/etc), Alex just won. I love them both but I think I connected to Alex in a way that I never quite did with Nikita, even when I didn’t agree with her actions. Anyway, context… After the murder of her prominent Russian family when she’s only thirteen, Alex ends up a victim of human trafficking and a drug addict in the US where Nikita tracks her down and gets her clean. In an attempt to give Alex a reason to live, Nikita reveals that the rogue Black Ops division that trained her were behind Alex’s parents’ death and together they attempt to bring the unit down. But it’s obviously far more complicated than that. Alex is a really interesting character because she’s gone through so much and yet she’s still so young; she’s always been defined by others and never been able to figure out who she is on her own terms. Hiding all of her vulnerability behind a tough exterior as both a coping mechanism and a form of protection, she comes to define herself by her pain (of which there is a significant amount) but the more she learns about her parents and her childhood as well as the best and worst of the people around her, the more she starts to realise that that isn’t a sustainable way to live and how it’s preventing her from moving forward in her life. And so she has to learn how to fight through and process her trauma, learn to let go of the parts that are damaging and how to use her experience to find her place in the world.

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6. Samantha Carter (Stargate SG-1) – A member of SG-1, the front line team for the US Air Force classified organisation Stargate Command, Samantha Carter (also played by Amanda Tapping; this was pre Sanctuary and Helen Magnus) is the resident genius, an astrophysicist and Air Force Officer who progresses from Captain to Colonel during the timeline of the franchise. Stargate Command has multiple SG teams travelling to other planets using a device known as a Stargate, which creates a wormhole that connects to the Stargates on other planets, to form alliances and attain whatever technology they can to defend themselves against the dominant, malicious species in the galaxy, determined to control as many planets as possible. Carter is usually the one to save them – the team, the SGC, the planet – whenever they get into trouble, something that happens to them relatively often as the flagship team. She’s often forced to choose between the two sides of herself: she’s incredibly intelligent, curious and keen to explore and learn, but she’s also an impressive soldier and pilot, more than competent with weapons and in hand to hand combat. This combination quickly earns her great respect among those involved in the Stargate project, although it does cause conflict on occasion. She’s also intensely compassionate – her first instinct to be kind and to help. She very close to her three teammates and would do anything for them. One of the ongoing storylines revolves around her relationship with her commanding officer, Col. Jack O’Neill: they slowly develop feelings for each other but when they’re eventually confronted about them, they agree to ignore them to keep the team together (the Air Force would never allow them to have a relationship and remain on the same team) and continue doing the jobs they do so well. However, that’s easier said than done, especially when they repeatedly meet parallel universe versions of themselves who are together, who didn’t have the Air Force regulations standing in their way. Sam Carter has always meant a lot to me, with her core drives to learn and to help being the same as mine. She’s also always inspired me, inspired me to be the absolute best that I can be (she actually inspired me to study Physics when, until then, it had just been a hobby) and to remember that there’s a solution to every problem, even if it’s not always easy to find.

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7. Ellie Linton (Tomorrow Series by John Marsden) – The series begins when a group of teenagers go on a camping trip in the Australian bush and come home to find that their country has been invaded. Everyone they know and love has been captured and the only safe place for them is their camping hideaway, locally known as ‘Hell.’ It has the potential to be a bit of a cliché – kids forced to be heroes – but with such a focus on how emotionally complicated and morally complex the situation is, it never feels predictable or stale. The story is narrated by Ellie as she writes down everything that happens to them, an idea they quickly adopt so that, maybe, what they go through and sacrifice won’t be forgotten or lost in the chaos of it all. She documents everything from her emotional turmoil, and the conflicts within the group to their attacks on the enemy, the losses of people they love, and the devastation over what’s happening. She feels everything incredibly deeply and although there are, of course, periods of time where she has to shove her emotions aside, she is profoundly affected by what she is forced to do and what happens to her throughout the war. It’s never explicitly stated but it’s clear that she’s dealing with a serious amount of trauma. Fortunately for her, she’s strong willed and determined despite the often overwhelming fear and uncertainty; she never, ever gives up, even when it seems that there is nothing left to do. Regardless of the almost inconceivable odds against them, she still believes (or forces herself to believe) that she and her friends can make a difference and that’s more than a little inspiring to me.

8. Olivia Dunham (Fringe) – FBI Agent Olivia Dunham begins working in a new, highly classified unit after a series of strange, science or technology based events start happening, many of them fatal for the people involved. She works with Agent Astrid Farnsworth, Dr Walter Bishop (a genius but mentally unstable scientist specialising in fringe science who, until ‘the pattern’ started, had been institutionalised for nearly two decades), and Peter Bishop, Walter’s estranged son, who is brought in as a civilian consultant by Olivia to essentially look after his father, although he proves his intelligence and wide range of skills, making him just as valuable to the team as his father. Olivia is driven by a strong sense of justice, working relentlessly to solve every case and while she keeps her own emotions tightly under wraps, she is compassionate with victims and loving with her sister and young niece. Throughout the seasons, we learn about her traumatic childhood and how that has informed who she is and through alternate timelines and parallel universes, we see how things might’ve been different. This also gives Olivia a chance to re-evaluate her life and what she really wants. This show is so complicated that it would take thousands of words to properly explore her character but I loved Olivia from the start because of her strong sense of right and wrong and because of how unbelievably hard she worked because getting justice for the victims of the fringe events mattered, even if no one would ever know the truth due to the classified nature of the work. It was never about credit; it was always about the people and how every single one mattered, regardless of who they were or how important society believed them to be. They were all important to her. But beyond that, I loved watching her evolve over the course of the show. Fundamentally, she was the same person with the same core values but slowly, she became more open, more trusting, more loving. Having been pretty much alone and self reliant up to becoming part of the Fringe team, it was actually quite emotional to see her lower her guard and let people be a real part of her life, even if there were some (serious) bumps in the road. At the beginning of the show, she didn’t really have anyone and by the end, she had so much more than I think she ever thought possible. There was something really beautiful about that, about how much life can change and change you, often for the better.

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9. Olivia Benson (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) – After twenty two seasons of Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay), it’s hard to know how to sum her up. From a Detective in the Manhattan Special Victims Unit (that primarily investigates sexual offences), she rises through the ranks to where she is now, the Captain and Commanding Officer of the unit. Watching her become Captain was incredibly satisfying and emotional because she gone through so much and worked so damn hard; she’s come so far and she’s earned it beyond a shadow of a doubt. She’s grown so much and become so self assured, so confident in her abilities. It’s been an amazing journey to watch. She’s incredibly strong, determined, and resourceful, probably a combination of a painful childhood and everything that’s happened to her while she’s been on the job; she’s been in more dangerous, traumatising situations than one can count. Having said that, the show and Mariska’s performances do a good job of normalising therapy and showing the positive effects it can have. Olivia is also very intelligent (for example, she speaks multiple languages including Italian, Russian, as well some French and Spanish) and has become very skilled at dealing with people within the Justice system, has the respect and reputation and knows how to wield them to get the best outcome for the people they’re trying to help. She’s deeply empathetic and she’s always been good with the victims of their cases, gentle but empowering, helping them to regain their confidence and agency. At her very core, she’s driven to help people – I’m not sure what she’d do if she couldn’t help people – and I think that’s why she’s lasted so long in a job that often burns people out in just a few years. She’s been a big inspiration to me ever since I started following the show, for all the characteristics I’ve just mentioned. If I can be half as good a person as she is and do half the good that she does, then I’ll be happy.

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10. Daisy Johnson (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) – As I said in my post about Daisy, I could write a thesis on her and her character arc (if you want to read my mini-thesis, head to that post). I loved her right from the beginning. She’s funny and smart and tough but she also feels her emotions deeply and is incredibly driven, often by those deep emotions and her sense of what’s right and wrong. From a hacktivist living in a van to a loyal, dedicated agent and superpowered hero (she’s able to manipulate vibrations, to the extent that she’s caused earthquakes as a result of losing control of her emotions), she grows up and goes through a lot but in the end, she finds family in her team and a place to belong in SHIELD, two things she’s spent her whole life searching for. To quote myself from my previous post: “She’s not perfect, of course – she makes her fair share of mistakes and bad decisions. Sometimes she hurts the people she loves. But while every blunder becomes a part of her, she doesn’t allow them to define her. She’s defined by the future, by what she does next. She inspires me to be the same. And above all else, her motivation is to help people and that’s something that’s never changed; it’s something that’s at the very core of her and I find that really inspiring too.”

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11. Cassie Stuart (Unforgotten) – I’ve loved Nicola Walker for years, loved the various characters I’ve seen her play, but I think DCI Cassie Stuart is my favourite. She heads a team within the Metropolitan Police Service that we’ve now watched investigate multiple cold cases (although this seems to be more of a coincidence than by design, i.e. they’re not a cold case unit but the cases featured have involved crimes committed decades previously). These cases are not only difficult due to the loss of evidence over time, the deaths of people involved, and so on, but also because they’re often interviewing family and friends who have been grieving (or, maybe worse, hoping) for years, which is obviously a lot of emotion to be on the receiving end of. Cassie is a fantastic detective, smart and experienced, but she’s also extremely compassionate: she feels it all and that makes these cases unbearable at times. There’s so much more I could say about her but that’s the thing I admire most about her, how compassionate she remains in the face of such pain and distress, both because that’s what the other person needs and because that’s just who she is. She cares about people and while that makes her who she is, it isn’t an easy burden to carry. I relate to that on a visceral level, as a person who has always cared deeply about others, sometimes to my detriment. But having said that, I wouldn’t change it. Nor, I think, would Cassie, not really. It takes a lot of strength but caring that much, it makes the world so much bigger and so much more vivid and real in a way it could never be if you didn’t.

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12. Aza Holmes (Turtles All The Way Down by John Green) – I was so excited when I learned that John Green was writing a book with a main character struggling with OCD and I absolutely loved it, loved Aza and really related to her, to how she thinks and how she processes the world. Aza is sixteen years old, trying to manage school, friends, and life in general, while desperately struggling with constant anxiety about bacteria, infection, and dying from Clostridium Difficile Infection (also known as C. diff). She describes the anxiety as ‘thought spirals’ or ‘invasive thoughts,’ over which she has no control. The only way she’s able to manage it is to check and clean a permanently open cut on her finger, proving to herself that she doesn’t have C. diff. We struggle with a lot of the same things, from the littlest things to the biggest things: with ‘thought spirals’; with her sense of identity (she describes her search for her self as opening Russian dolls, looking for the final solid one but never finding it; with relationships (“I can’t have a normal life if I can’t kiss someone without freaking out.”), which is actually pretty comforting since there are so many stories where a relationship is the thing that makes a person’s mental health better; with the loss of her father and how much it affects her, even years later (“And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone,” “I remember after my Dad died, for a while, it was both true and not true in my mind… My father died suddenly, but also across the years. He was still dying really – which meant, I guess, that he was still living too,” and how she imagines the moments they should’ve had, so clearly that sometimes she forgets that they didn’t happen), which is so painfully real for me. I was deeply affected by the breakdown of Aza’s mental health, having experienced similar downward spirals myself, where my mental illness has me doing things I would never rationally do. And the climb back up was similarly moving because it was so agonisingly relatable: “Everyone wanted me to feed them that story – darkness to light, weakness to strength, broken to whole. I wanted it too.” She feels so fragile after everything she’s been through and her thought spirals are still there, her life suffocated by her anxiety. At one point, she says, “I could never become a functioning grown up like this; it was inconceivable that I’d ever have a career,” and that is one of the hardest and scariest parts for me when it comes to managing mental illness and disability. But over time, Ava starts to accept the reality of her mental health (“I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life,”) and slowly, things start to improve, which we notice in the way she thinks about herself and her life: “You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.” Real progress is often slow and subtle and we don’t even necessarily notice it at the time but it is progress. And seeing the progress she makes gives me hope. I’m pretty sure this paragraph is a bit more chaotic than the others but that is just because I relate to Aza and her experiences so strongly, even if the actual events aren’t that similar. But it was like my thoughts and feelings were being put into words and that was such a profound experience. I don’t think you can really know how important it is to have a character you relate to until you can’t find one. Reading the book made me feel less alone. It made me feel seen. It made me feel understood. And I’m so, so grateful for that.

13. Ginny Weasley (The Changeling by Annerb, a Harry Potter series fanfiction) – In the original books, I preferred Hermione to Ginny but then we obviously saw a lot more of the former. While rereading old favourites from my fanfiction days (I both read and wrote it during my teenage years but revisited it a few years ago as a relaxation strategy), I discovered this story, where Ginny is sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. The story creates real depth around the houses and the traits that define those within them: for example, we learn about what ambition, loyalty, conflict, and rules mean to Slytherins, from both positive and negative perspectives. This life-altering moment, this complete change in how she’d expected her life to pan out, obviously has a dramatic effect on her development as a person and how she experiences the events described in the series. She’s strong willed and reserved: she knows the value of secrets, knows it so well that she becomes an incredibly skilled Occlumens and Legilimens. But she’s also deeply loyal and takes her responsibility for others very seriously, sometimes to her own detriment: that’s one of her consistent qualities, that she always puts others ahead of herself. She can think twenty steps ahead in every direction so she’s prepared for any possible circumstance and outcome, a skill that saves multiple lives throughout the story. She’s also beyond passionate about quidditch, the one thing that seems to make her feel completely in sync with the world and with herself. That’s another one of her consistent qualities: she gives her all to everything she does. This, I think, is what I admire most in her and something that I try to emulate whenever and wherever possible.

14. Marisa Coulter (His Dark Materials) – It’s been years since I read the books and if I’m honest, I don’t remember them well (I mean, I did read all three in four days). And when the TV show was announced, I wanted to give it a fair chance where I wasn’t constantly comparing between the show and the books so I didn’t reread them beforehand. Set in a world world where all humans’ souls manifest as animal companions called daemons, Lyra, an orphan living at Jordan College in Oxford, sets serious change in motion when she goes in search of her missing friend. Given the complicated nature of the His Dark Materials trilogy, there is so much more context that I could include here but, for the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it there as this post is about characters more than the fictional worlds they live in (unless it’s absolutely necessary to include extra context for my thoughts to make sense). As much as I love Lyra in the TV adaptation, there is just something (many somethings) about Mrs Coulter (Lyra’s absent mother) that are just utterly fascinating, that have completely captivated me from the beginning. I swear, I finish every episode and say, “Ruth Wilson should’ve won an award for that episode.” She might be a villain but to call her something so commonplace is almost insulting for she is far more nuanced than that. She’s exceedingly intelligent, beautiful, and enigmatic, effortlessly commanding the attention of every room she enters. To anyone watching, she seems utterly composed and yet, under the surface, she is, without a doubt seethingly dangerous. She is ruthless in her pursuit of power, whether that be political or over a single person. Control is everything. She retains fierce control over her emotions and on the few occasions her control has slipped, the explosions of repressed emotion are almost painful to witness (something I think we can put down to Ruth Wilson’s incredible acting skills). She has even managed to exercise all but complete control over her daemon, a golden monkey, which is to say that she has all but complete control over her own soul, something no other human seems capable of without unbearable pain and distress. In the present, she presents as unconcerned by the separation from her daemon but, with such a tight grip on her emotions, who knows what she truly feels and one has to wonder what she experiences every time she punishes her daemon for offering affection. Why does she do it? What does it say about how she feels about herself? Is she punishing herself for giving into the temptation and sin that result in Lyra and her own ruined reputation or is she doing all that she can to suppress any expression of emotion in order to succeed in their brutally patriarchal society? Is it both? How did she even manage it? There are so many questions and so few answers. We know she had an awful childhood, we know her affair with Lord Asriel (Lyra’s father) damaged her reputation possibly beyond repair, we know she’s had to fight for everything she has, even the things that people think they’ve given her… This obviously doesn’t excuse the terrible things she’s done but make for a fascinating character and for fascinating discussions around what makes people who they are and do what they do. Clearly, she’s not a role model but she is a pretty incredible example of the complexity of human beings, of the damage sexism, discrimination, guilt, and self hatred can do, of how people choose to wield the power they have (and if we didn’t know she was powerful before, her display of controlling the soul consuming spectres – something that was previously unheard of and yet something she seems to do effortlessly – has proven that), and how far someone will go to get what they want. She’s a character I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, one so complex that she may be impossible to completely unravel. I think her self control is what I think most about, what that must be like – not that I’d ever want to emulate it. If she can control her emotions so fully – control her soul so fully – what does that make her? What does she feel? Does she feel at all, apart from those rare moments where her emotions seems to erupt out of her like lethal molten lava? What does that do to a person? Are they even a person anymore? I would’ve thought it would make a person feel powerful, would feel satisfying to have that much power over yourself, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a safe road to head down. For how long can you follow it before you can’t turn back? As I said, a complex character and so, so many questions. But I think that’s good. We need characters that challenge us and challenge our thinking. That’s one of the great gifts of art, in whatever form it comes.

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I just had to include this quote because I think it sums up Mrs Coulter so well: “She’s also a deeply intelligent complex woman in her own right, and her suppressed rage and cruelty clearly stem, in large part, from her own history and experiences. Her hard exterior is clearly a necessary result of a life lived in a deeply patriarchal society—the only way she gains any modicum of respect and power for herself is to behave, at all times, as though she were a man. Her iron-like self-control and vicious repression of her emotions are all clearly a means to an end, and the few moments when her icy veneer breaks are all the more terrifying for both their violence and their rarity. Even her relationship with her daemon is different. Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey is the one daemon in His Dark Materials that doesn’t speak or have a name, and often functions as the id that reveals the hidden cost of her iron control over her own demeanor. (And its loving interaction with Lord Asriel’s leopard Stelmaria in the first season’s final episode is an admission of an entirely different type.) It’s the constant visual evidence that she’s not as removed or in control as she seems. Externally, she knows the façade she needs to present to the Magisterium, Asriel and everyone else around her. Internally, she’s often barely hanging on, as evidenced by her violence toward her monkey—and by extension herself. Mrs. Coulter has even trained herself and her daemon (after what must have been years of nightmarish experimentation) to push through the pain of separation, so much so that they can now both function at great distances from one another. Since HBO’s His Dark Materials has largely underplayed the primacy of the human-daemon connection in the name of budgetary restrictions, this ability (and the constant suffering it entails) perhaps does not seem as big of a deal as it ought to. But it really is. This is a woman willing to put herself and her very soul through tremendous torment in the name of getting what she wants.” (x)

15. Emily Byrne (Absentia) – The TV show, Absentia, was one of my 2020 discoveries and I instantly found myself invested in Emily and her story. An FBI Agent with a husband (also FBI) and young son, she goes missing while tracking a serial killer and is eventually declared dead in absentia. However, six years later, she’s found alive, having been tortured but with almost no memory of who abducted her or what happened to her. She’s deeply traumatised and reuniting with her family is emotional and painful: her husband has remarried, her son has no memory of her, and she and her brother had serious issues between them that aren’t magically solved by his relief that she’s alive. The FBI relaunch their investigation into her abduction while she struggles to regain some sense of normality (side note: it’s one of the only shows I’ve seen that is truly invested in representing a character’s mental health, showing the effects of her trauma, the triggers both expected and unexpected, the steps forward, the slips back). When the investigation starts to suggest that Emily kidnapped herself and was the accomplice of the serial killer she’d been chasing when she disappeared, she goes on the run in an attempt to find out the truth and consequently prove her innocence. Stana Katic is incredible in the role: Emily is tough and determined and doesn’t give up for anything; she’s relentless. She’s stubborn and more than a little reckless, a trait I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she possessed before she was abducted but one that I’m sure was heightened by what she went through. She’s also incredibly resourceful, sometimes unbelievably so. But despite the fierceness she presents to the world, she’s still a gentle person at heart. She loves Flynn, her son, more than anything and would do anything for him; as they reconnect, you can see how much pure joy she gets just from seeing him. On a related note, we see such a range of emotions from Emily: most likely due to her trauma still being so fresh, her emotions are unbearably raw and right on the surface all the time. She ricochets between them with alarming speed. But despite said emotions, she’s still strong enough to fight her way through it all, face her triggers, evade the FBI manhunt, and begin to unravel the mystery of what happened to her. I can’t say that I relate to her because I’ve never been through that sort of trauma but I have been through some shit and her strength really inspires me. Her ability to balance being tough and being gentle, her willingness to do anything for the people she loves, the willpower she possesses to move forward with her life despite everything that’s happened to her… I just really respect the hell out of her.

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So that turned out far longer than I’d expected or intended it to be but I hope it was interesting. There are many more amazing female characters that I could’ve included but given how long this post became, I thought I’d stop at fifteen. But it’s awesome that there are so many great women in the media for us to look up to, to inspire us and motivate us and make us feel seen. There’s a way to go – marginalised groups are still very much underrepresented in fiction, especially mainstream fiction – but things are improving and I’m hopeful. And I’m grateful for the wonderful characters we currently have.

Goals For 2020 Reviewed

It feels like I made these goals a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then; the world feels like (and, to an extent, is) an entirely different place now. I’m not sure it’s possible that anyone could’ve predicted how this year would play out – maybe certain elements but not the whole picture. I don’t know about you reading this but I really struggle to reconcile the person I was before the pandemic, with the hopes, issues, and perspectives I had then, with the person I am now with all of 2020 taking up so much space in my brain. It feels like 2020 was bigger than (or at least, as big as) my whole life up to this year; I know that’s the illusion of time but regardless, I’m finding it very difficult to make sense of everything I’ve experienced in the last year.

With the way the world was turned upside down this year, I have no idea how to think about 2021 but before I address that, I wanted to just take a brief moment to look at the goals I set at the beginning of this year, pre-pandemic, and see how I did, despite everything that’s happened.


GET BACK TO SWIMMING

I struggled with swimming at the beginning of the year, having essentially had no break between my first and second semester. I was exhausted before the second semester had even started. I found it very difficult to balance my uni work, my exhaustion, and swimming so going to the pool did fall by the wayside more often than not. And then, just as the semester was coming to a close with my empty semester (and plenty of opportunities to swim) in sight, the pandemic really hit the UK and we went into a national lockdown. That obviously meant that all of the gyms were closed, eliminating the opportunity to swim.

As the restrictions lifted, I did try going back to my normal pool but it just didn’t feel safe so my Mum and I spent a long time looking for a pool that were really careful and meticulous about their safety precautions. Eventually we found one and although we couldn’t go as much as I would’ve liked (due to the limited number of people they allowed in the pool at a time), it was wonderful to swim again. I just loved it.

When I was diagnosed with hypermobility, I was referred for hydrotherapy (we’re still waiting on that) but the specialist encouraged me to keep swimming as it’s the best exercise for hypermobile people and gave me some basic hydrotherapy exercises to start doing while we waited for the referral to go through. Unfortunately, I only got one more swim in before the UK went into a second lockdown and the gyms closed again. I am all for the lockdowns (not that that second one felt much like a lockdown) but I was upset to lose the swimming.

I got a little bit of swimming and hydrotherapy exercises in between the end of lockdown and everything closing for Christmas and now the Tier Four lockdown, which I was pleased with although I’m really missing the swimming. I have no idea how long it will be before the gyms open again and I can swim but I feel like I’m in a really good place with it so it won’t be hard to get going again.

START WEARING MY INVISIBLE BRACES AGAIN

I struggled to wear them while I was going to university. Sensory-wise, I find wearing them to be really overwhelming, to the point where I can’t concentrate because the pressure in my mouth takes up all the space in my brain. I usually wear them at night to avoid that but it often just gets too much and then, once I’m out of the habit of wearing them, it’s really hard to get back into it again.

Several months into lockdown, once I started to feel a bit more stable, I actually managed to wear it almost every night. I even made progress and moved onto the next one in the series. But again, when uni started, it started to feel like too much very quickly. It’s a lot of sensory stuff during the time when I’m supposed to get a break from everything. It’s really hard, but I’m not giving up.

COMPLETE YEAR 1 OF MY MASTERS DEGREE

This is a simple one, thank god. I completed the second semester of my Masters Degree a few weeks into the first UK lockdown and that was the first year completed. Most of my friends were full time and had to power through with their final project mid lockdown, which I am endlessly impressed by. I genuinely don’t think I could’ve done that. So I’m super proud of them, not only for the amazing work that they created but that they created it in such difficult circumstances.

So I managed this one and I’m proud of that, even though it was largely unaffected by the pandemic. The Masters has been a hugely challenging experience for me and so getting through the first year does feel like a big achievement. And what’s more, I actually did well on the essay for the second module, despite my anxieties. So I’m really proud of that too.

As of the end of 2020, I have completed three of the five modules of the Masters, although I don’t yet know how I’ve done in the third. But I’ve done it. I prepared for it, I worked hard throughout the twelve weeks, and put everything I had into the assessment (I always feel like I could’ve done more but I’m trying to get better at recognising what my limits are and I do think I did the best that I could). Now I just have to hope that it was all enough to get a good grade. I know that the skills I’ve learned are the important part but I still struggle to disconnect my self esteem from my grades. It’s a lot of unlearning to do after so many years in education.

CONSUME NEW MEDIA RATHER THAN JUST FAMILIAR MEDIA

I’d gotten into a bit of a rut, just rewatching old favourites, so I really wanted to branch out and try new things. I didn’t manage much during the uni semester since I was so busy; I was almost constantly working and background noise helps me work so familiar movies and TV shows worked quite well in that regard.

When we went into lockdown, my mental health was so bad and my anxiety around the pandemic was so high that I could barely get off the sofa. I rewatched a lot of my favourite things, needing the comfort and familiarity and nostalgia, but after a while, I tentatively started watching new things. They turned out to be a much needed form of escapism and I discovered so many awesome films and TV shows. It also kept my creative brain working even when I wasn’t able to use it; since it has started functioning again, I’ve written several songs based on stories or characters that I found myself emotionally invested in.

GET BACK TO THERAPY AND FOCUS ON MY MENTAL HEALTH

I was consistently going to therapy before the lockdown and felt like we were doing good work but since the pandemic began and my therapy sessions moved onto Zoom, they’ve been much harder and much less productive than I’d like them to be (and I definitely missed some because I just felt too overwhelmed by everything going on). But digging into the hard stuff is often painful and I’m not exactly keen to upset the fragile balance of my mental health that I’ve managed to maintain, for the most part, over the last few months. I’ve just found it so frustrating because the sessions always end up focussing on just getting through instead of moving forward, which is especially demoralising because I feel like the pandemic has been undoing some of the work we’ve done. So I’ve really tried but it has been beyond difficult. I have to hope that this year it will get easier at some point.

WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS IN MUSIC

This was something I really wanted to work on this year, in therapy but also in practice as I released my EP and played gigs. I’ve just always really struggled with insecurity and I guess what you could call comparison anxiety, always feeling insecure and anxious and bad about myself. At worst, it can make me feel really bitter about music. And I really, really don’t want that because music is the thing that makes me happiest.

Lockdown was oddly unifying because the music industry just shut down and pretty much everyone was forced to stop what they were working on. We were all stuck and frustrated. The comparison anxiety wasn’t really present, both because no one was really releasing anything and because the pandemic anxiety was so high that there wasn’t the space or energy to be anxious about anything else.

The only real exception to this was the releasing of Taylor Swift’s folklore but that was so different to what I’ve been working on that, rather than comparing myself, I found myself far more focussed on what I could learn from it. I also spent the summer learning the songs of my favourite writers and artists to improve my musical skills and that also had me focussing on learning and getting better rather than on how I wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough. So I felt like I was actually doing well, all thing considered, like I might actually be making progress in this area.

But then the industry started up again and people started releasing and promoting and so on again and I realised I hadn’t made as much progress as I’d thought. The pandemic anxiety compounded all of the anxiety I have normally around releasing music, leaving me at even more of a disadvantage and making it feel even harder to ‘keep up’ and work through my issues around it.

I always find it hard when everyone starts posting their Spotify Wrapped but I was actually looking forward to it this year, having released four tracks and the EP having reached over 30,000 streams on Spotify. But it turns out Spotify stops counting your streams on the 31st October, one day after my single, ‘Honest,’ was released, the single which brought in most of my streams. So my Spotify Wrapped wasn’t at all accurate and didn’t reflect the year at all; I didn’t end up posting it at all.

I’d really hoped to make some progress with this goal but without the work in therapy and the added anxiety of all that’s been going on this year, I don’t really feel like anything’s changed. And that’s hard. But I’m trying to focus on how proud I am of the EP and how proud I am of how far it’s gone, considering that it’s my debut EP that was pretty much made in various bedrooms with a handful of friends. Because I am really proud of that and grateful for everything that’s come out of this experience. Hopefully I will make some progress in this area this year because I don’t want to feel like this. I just don’t think I know how to get to that place on my own.


I feel like this has been the most helpful approach to a new year of those I’ve tried so far. I like the setting of goals (rather than a strict list to be checked off) because it gives me some structure and helps me to progress as a person without loads of pressure or the constant fear of failing or not trying hard enough. I feel like, for me, it falls nicely between being too much and too little.

As I said, the world was a very different place and I was a very different person when I set these goals so the fact that I made any progress at all in any of them feels like an achievement but I would like to manage more next year. I’m hopeful (because I have to be – it’s too easy for the depression to infiltrate otherwise) that this year will be better, at some point at least. Maybe then I can make some real improvement with some of the more difficult areas of my life and, until then, I’m gonna work on what I can. That’s probably all any of us can do right now.

2020 in Review

What the fuck was this year? I don’t even know. To think I ended 2019 with the phrase: ‘2020, please be kind.‘ I really don’t know how to write about this year. Time has become a bit of a nebulous concept and after a lot of thought, the only way I could divide up this year was by separating it into three ‘chapters’: pre-pandemic, lockdown-into-summer, and semester three of my Masters. It’s a bit of a weird system but then, is there anything about this year that hasn’t been weird?

So, here we go. This is my review of 2020, a year I’m sure none of us will ever forget.


PRE-PANDEMIC

The beginning of the year, the two and a half-ish months before the pandemic became less about ‘wash your hands’ and more ‘we’re going into national lockdown’ (in the UK anyway), feel impossibly long ago and kind of frighteningly busy. Looking back through my photos, it’s so odd to think that that version of me – of all those people in the pictures – had no idea what was coming. And now we’re entirely different people. I mean, I know I’m a completely different person because of the last nine months. I’m only speaking for myself but I imagine that a lot of people can relate to that feeling. I look at photos of myself from January, February, March and I almost don’t recognise myself…

Anyway, on with the review.

I wrote up January at the time because it was such a busy, emotional month. I had a frantic Christmas break, preparing for my January assessments (due to a misunderstanding about the assessment, a lot of my research wasn’t helpful and so I had to redo it so I got almost no free time during that holiday). That was incredibly stressful, as was the presentation, and I was beyond exhausted afterwards. And between the second single of the Honest EP, ‘Clarity,’ coming out and the very distressing DSA assessment in the following week, I didn’t really get any rest between the first and second semesters. And to top it off, I was pretty upset about the grade I received and by the time I felt coherent enough to appeal it, the deadline had passed. But in hindsight, it was the first grade of the Masters with a very new approach to working and grading so it’s probably not that surprising, especially as an autistic student.

The new module I was studying, Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”), was really interesting and for the most part, the lectures were really engaging, something that was definitely aided by how passionate my tutor was about the subject. I’ve known him since my BA and he’s so knowledgeable; he’s a really great teacher and he’s a big part of why I did so well in the module. Not that my tutor in the first module wasn’t great – she’s truly awesome and so inspiring and I learned so much from her – but I learned a lot about how the Masters worked in that first semester that I was able to put into practice for the second semester, making it easier on my mental health and helping me to work more effectively, which did result in a much better grade. I found the songwriting classes less inspiring but since I was challenging myself with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for a big part of the module, that wasn’t too big an issue.

I got to spend some really good time with my friends, both in and out of uni. A couple of them came down from London to visit me, which was really nice. Others I spent time with at uni or around London. I also had lots of writing sessions with people, which was really, really fun. I love my uni friends so much – I love my non-uni friends as well, of course, but during the semester, I rarely get to see them because I’m so busy – and there are a solid handful of people I’ve met during my time at BA and MA that I know I’ll be friends with for a really long time. I feel like I learned a lot about friendship this year, as I mentioned in my grateful post, and I just feel so lucky to have met these people; they are so wonderful and I’ve found it really hard to be separated from them for so long. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again and being able to spend time with them in real life whenever that will be.

(I haven’t got photos with all of my friends from this year and I do like to use photos from the year I’m writing about but don’t worry, you’re most certainly not forgotten.)

As well as writing A LOT, I was releasing music and got to play several really, really fun shows but I want to keep the music stuff together so I’ll come back to those.

One sadness of that time was that my favourite place to eat in Brighton closed, first temporarily and then permanently. That was very sad and I know a lot of people were upset by it. They made amazing Belgian fries with loads of homemade sauces and drinks – that I LOVE – that I’ve only ever had when I’ve travelled to and around the Netherlands where I have family. And the staff were absolutely lovely and it was always such an enjoyable experience; I always took friends there when they visited Brighton. So that was a shock. With everything going on this year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go (and I’m not sure it would’ve survived as an independent business) but I have missed it. It was a true Brighton gem for the time it existed.

I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of January, the pre-pandemic part of the year, and possibly the whole year, was having to let go of our beloved Lucky, our nearly sixteen year old black Labrador who we’d first met at three days old. He was very old (most Labradors live to between ten and twelve) and had developed some very difficult health problems in the last year or so of his life. We got home one night and he didn’t get up. He didn’t lift his head. He didn’t wag his tail. He was just done. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever been a part of but the next morning we took him to the vet and they put him to sleep. It was awful and I still miss him everyday, even though I know it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have been more loved, by us, by everyone he met. He was a bit of a legend. I still wish him back but, again, as I said in my Grateful post, I’m glad that he hasn’t had to live through the pandemic, the sensitive soul that he was; it would’ve been very stressful for him. And the idea that we might’ve had to have him put down during one of the lockdowns where we couldn’t be with him is unbearable, so I do take some comfort from that timing. Still, the house feels empty without him.

Life was fundamentally different after that but we kept going, day by day, and there were good moments. I got to see my course mates put on an awesome show at a local venue, Song Suffragettes announced that they were coming to the UK on tour (I’m pretty sure I dug into my savings to get a ticket for every show…), and my Mum and I celebrated Lucky’s sixteenth birthday, even though he was no longer with us. I’d been planning it and so we just decided to celebrate for ourselves. I think that, in the future, we will think of him or go on a specific walk or something to remember him, even if we don’t actually ‘celebrate’ his birthday. The date will just be an excuse to dedicate some time to thinking about him and all the years we had together.

As well as dedicating the month of February to FAWM, I also took on the #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s, organised by my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother, to raise awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss focussed charities. The challenge involved doing something everyday for thirty days that was positive for your wellbeing; I saw a lot of people doing yoga, for example. I chose origami and made a different piece everyday. These were some of my favourites:

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I was lucky enough to see several shows and concerts before everything closed down. That’s something I’ve really missed this year as they’re sort of THE thing that I spend my money on and go out to. I was going to see The Shires, Alanis Morissette, OneRepublic, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, the Song Suffragettes UK Tour, Taylor Swift at Hyde Park, and Tin Pan South in Nashville – those last three cancellations in particular hit me the hardest. I’d been so looking forward to them so I was really, really upset when they were postponed and then eventually cancelled.

However, I did manage to see Halsey twice on The Manic World Tour, which was incredible. I love her, I love this album (it was one of my favourite albums of the year), and the show was just mind-blowing. It was awesome to see her get to play at The O2 Arena (her biggest headline show to date, I believe), especially on International Women’s Day. She’s an amazing performing but I also love how she speaks to the crowd; it feels like she’s speaking just to you. I wanted to run out of the arena ahead of all the crowds so that that illusion wouldn’t be broken. Both shows, but especially that show in London, felt very special.

I also got to see Sara Bareilles in Waitress The Musical several times. I’ve seen several actresses (all amazing) play Jenna but there was something really special about seeing Sara play her, as the person who’d written so many beautiful songs coming from her perspective as a character. It took a minute to stop seeing Sara as Sara and start seeing her as Jenna but once I’d gotten my head around that, I was just enthralled. She was fantastic and so special; I loved the show all the more for seeing her in the lead role. I was lucky enough to go a handful of times and of those, on several special occasions (sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident): I saw Sara’s first show, I saw the one year anniversary of Waitress in London show, and I saw Sara’s final show, which also turned out to be Waitress’ final London show. So while I knew that show was special, I didn’t realise quite how special it was until much later. I tried my best to meet Sara (one day, I hope…) but for most of the shows, Sara was either out of the building before we could line up or we were hustled away pretty quickly. I did see her on the last night – she walked up and down the queue of people waiting and waved to everyone – but she didn’t stop to talk or take pictures or accept gifts because of the growing concern about COVID-19. That show was actually the last thing I did before we went into lockdown, not that I knew it at the time.

Everything changed very quickly. One day I was talking to my friend about plans we had later in the week and the next, she was on the plane home before the borders closed. I made the decision to start self isolating but before I would’ve had to go back to uni (or, having come to this decision, contact them about it), the classes were moved online.

LOCKDOWN-INTO-SUMMER

The UK officially went into national lockdown on the 24th March. I’d already been self isolating for eleven days, as had my Mum, apart from necessary trips out (food shopping and business related stuff that had to be done in person). I had two weeks of online classes plus my assessment essay, which I was already working on. It’s strange: at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the outside world because I was a hundred percent focussed on my essay (and it was probably the most difficult, research heavy essay I’ve ever had to write). Maybe I was channeling all of my anxiety into that so that I didn’t have to engage with my paralysing anxiety about the pandemic. But then the essay was done and submitted and it all came flooding in.

Between the inevitable post semester and assessment period crash and the pandemic anxiety hitting me full force, I just went to pieces. I was either having meltdowns or staring blankly at old tv shows, too overwhelmed by fear to function. That went on for weeks and to be honest, it’s kind of a blur. I think I was in some sort of checked out, survival mode haze. I just could not cope. In hindsight (and in the few moments of coherent thought I had at the time) I was and am so grateful that I had that summer semester off. Many of my friends on the Masters were having to work on their final projects during one of the toughest periods of our lives (and created incredible work in spite of it) and I just could not have done it. My mental health was in tatters. Even now that I’m in a better, more stable place, I still feel deeply traumatised by the events of the last nine months: by the constant fear and paralysing anxiety, by the sheer overwhelming grief that so many people have experienced and are experiencing, by the confusion and frustration and outright horror at how the government – the people we depend on to lead us and take charge during extreme situations – have behaved. I mean, how do you cope with completely losing faith in your country’s leaders? Who are you supposed to turn to? Anyway. That could easily turn into a rant and that’s not what this post is about.

I’m not really sure when I started to come out of that because it was such a gradual process. But slowly, with LOTS of ups and downs, I started to feel more able to engage – if only with the people directly around me and the things that I enjoyed doing. Thank god for the cats (and Mum – I’ve talked about how grateful I am for her in my Grateful post – but we both agree that the cats were a lifesaver during the lockdown). They’ve been so good for my mental health this year. It’s so mindful to watch them; you can’t help but feel calmer, watching them play or snuggle and so on. Especially without Lucky, their cuteness and cuddles have been vital and the ridiculous playful moments have made me laugh even when it felt impossible. I’m so, so glad to have had them around during this time and they certainly seem to enjoy our constant presence at home; a day rarely goes by without one cat or another draping themselves over me. As I said, they’ve been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without them.

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I had online therapy sessions but I struggled with them and often ended up cancelling at the last minute because they just felt too overwhelming. All I could think about was the pandemic and my fears around it; I didn’t want to dig into that even more and it felt impossible to talk about anything else. So my sessions were fairly sporadic throughout the lockdown and most of the year really. I think, in hindsight, therapy just felt too big, too overwhelming to be helpful while all of my emotions felt so incredibly heightened and raw. I was just focussing on getting from one day to the next. The cats were a big help; I started escaping into the worlds of new films and TV shows, like Absentia and Away; and I lived for the livestreams that a handful of people were doing in place of live shows. My favourites were Kalie Shorr’s, both because I love her and because she did so many of them. She did interviews with both interesting and entertaining questions, played covers, and played her own songs, released and unreleased. I’m so grateful to Kalie for doing all of that; they really helped me keep going, helped me get through the darkest of my pandemic-induced depression.

As I said, towards the end of the first UK lockdown, I became a bit more functional, although it was like balancing on a tightrope: one little knock and I was plunging back into overwhelming anxiety and depression. And it happened a lot. But I also had better, more productive moments. I managed to write a couple of songs (which is pretty monumental what with my mental health being so bad); I had writing and production sessions with Richard; I started gentle music theory lessons in preparation for the upcoming semester with one of my parents (she’s a music teacher); I spent a lot of time playing piano (I started experiencing awful nerve pain in my left hand – as well as in my back and leg – during the first lockdown so playing guitar was basically impossible); and I stayed up until almost six am to watch Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show and chat with her in a meet and greet session afterwards. So I was doing just about okay. Probably the biggest help was that all of my family (and most of my friends) were being exceedingly careful around going out: fortunately able to work at home, they only went out for essential trips, like food shopping and picking up medication, etc. I’m so grateful to them for that. So beyond grateful.

The lockdown began to loosen and more and more people were out, which I found terrifying. The silence outside had been weird at first but suddenly every little sound turned me into an anxious mess. Hearing people converse outside the shop we live above, for example, caused so many panic attacks (for fear that those people were spreading the virus). It was awful. For most of the summer, I kept the windows and curtains closed, enclosing myself in my own protective little bubble. It was the only way I could find to protect my mental health. With the gyms opening, I was desperate to swim again (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s the only exercise I can do) – both for my physical and mental health – but I just didn’t feel safe at my usual pool. Their precautions just didn’t feel tight enough. On the plus side, after various COVID tests, I finally got to see my brother for the first time in months – longer than I think we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. We were still careful but it was so, so wonderful to see him.

Meanwhile, music stuff (mostly to do with the Honest EP) was still happening. Again, I want to keep most of this together (I’ll probably put it all in one paragraph towards the end) but I think this particular day is important beyond the musical context. I’d spent a lot of time worrying about the music video for ‘Back To Life,’ the next single due to be released at the time because my original idea wasn’t going to be possible during the pandemic, even with the lockdown restrictions having been loosened. Richard and I spent a long time discussing it and eventually came up with a plan…

The filming of the video was a big deal for me. I found it very difficult and very stressful being out for so long (even though our planning meant that, of the videos we shot for the EP, this one took the least time) and just being near people caused me a lot of anxiety, even down on the beach at the water’s edge. We were incredibly careful and I did manage to enjoy it to a certain extent but I’m grateful not to have to do another music video under such conditions. It took everything out of me; I spent the next three days on the sofa, barely able to move from the exhaustion. I have no idea how I managed to look so relaxed and even happy in the video. But, as I said, I’ll talk more about it when I talk about the whole EP process this year.

The rest of the summer was pretty gentle. I was trying really hard to improve and manage my mental health. It still wasn’t great but I was coping better than I had been earlier in the pandemic. So I spent a lot of time doing things that have proven to be good for my mental health: I listened to the Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, on repeat; I played a lot of piano; I wrote songs when I could; I had video calls and online movie nights with my friends; I kept writing for the blog. I took part in research projects involving Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, and Anxiety; helping out with these always gives me a mental and emotional boost because it feels like some good is coming out of my difficulties, even if they don’t improve my experience directly. I also watched the final season of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show ever. That was a very emotional experience because the show, and the character of Daisy Johnson, have been a really important part of my life over the last few years and the emotional processing of stuff from my childhood.

And I continued to work on my music theory as the module was based on these concepts and I wanted to be as prepared as possible but I found the idea of going back to university very stressful. I really didn’t want to defer so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the new semester, what I felt safe doing. I’d originally thought that I’d much rather defer than do online or blended classes but now that the semester was almost upon me, I felt a lot less sure. After a lot of thought and discussion with my family and course mates, I decided to go back as an online student. It wasn’t ideal because of the lack of social interaction and how much harder it made cowriting sessions but I didn’t feel safe commuting to London to be in a building full of people from all over for just two hours a week. It just felt like too much anxiety for not enough reward. Online seemed like the most productive way forward. But even with that choice made, the process of going back to university, getting clear information, the correct timetable, etc, was incredibly stressful, causing meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. I really wasn’t at all sure whether I was going to be able manage university classes during a pandemic.

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The beginning of the semester was a bit rocky as the university tried to make blended classes (the online and onsite groups combined as one using Microsoft Teams) but in the end, it was simply easier and a more productive use of the time to split the onsite and online groups. My groups were great and everyone was really supportive and encouraging, tutors and students alike. Plus it was fun to work regularly with Richard again. The work was hard and the songwriting briefs difficult since musical language isn’t my strong point but after really positive meetings with both of my tutors, I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or miss a brief if I needed to. As long as we was experimenting with our music – with the use of melody, harmony, arrangement, etc – and turned in the assessment work, everyone was pretty relaxed about what we were working on.

Despite a pretty heavy workload, I managed to get up to quite a lot during the semester. I celebrated my 26th birthday with the family I could and had a couple of socially distanced meet ups with friends; it was simple and quiet but I’m not really into big celebrations anyway. It would’ve been nice to see more of my family though.

I saw a lot of really awesome live-streamed shows, including Ingrid Andress at The Bluebird Cafe, various shows throughout the virtual Country Music Week and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Festival (I’m so grateful that we didn’t lose out on them entirely because of the pandemic), Halsey’s poetry book release day livestream, Maren Morris’ livestream concert, and Kalie Shorr’s charity StageIt show. But my personal highlights were Sugarland’s livestream show, Kalie’s ‘Unabridged For The First Time’ show (even though technical difficulties meant I missed bits of it), several of the Tin Pan South shows, and Tim Minchin’s ‘Apart Together’ livestream show.

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I also attended several webinars and conferences about ASD and mental health, as well as actually speaking at one. That was a really special experience, being invited to speak on a panel and share my experience about being autistic. I felt like I was really able to use my experience to help other people and several of the attendees confirmed how useful my contributions had been. So that felt like a really significant moment.

Even though I was still on the course, many of my friends did the Masters in one year rather than two. They had a virtual graduation ceremony, which I attended in support. They all created such incredible work and under such difficult circumstances; I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they go on to do. Some of them have already released really cool and interesting work and I know that many more are working on really cool projects. We had a celebratory drink via video call afterwards, which was good fun. I hadn’t seen a lot of them since March so I really enjoyed that.

I finally found somewhere to swim that actually felt safe, or as safe as possible: they had really strict safety measures. So I finally got to swim again and it was awesome. Each session gave me such a mental boost and it felt so good to exercise and really stretch my muscles again. I couldn’t get there as often as I would’ve liked (they spread the bookings out to keep the numbers low) but it was absolutely wonderful to be going again. It was erratic, especially with the second lockdown and most of the country now in Tier 4, but I enjoyed every second of it while I had it and I will again when the pool reopens.

The swimming was also good for the nerve pain in my back and leg. A few months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with hypermobility (very common with autistic individuals) and referred for hydrotherapy, which I’m unlikely to get for a while, but the swimming and basic exercises I’d been given did help. Or they seemed to anyway. I’ve also been referred to Rheumatology, Occupational Therapy, Pain Management, and had an MRI just to rule out anything unrelated to being hypermobile. It’s been a very slow process but I feel like we are starting to make progress, which feels really good.

The US Election was obviously a massive deal and not just in the US. I’m really glad that it fell during my reading week because there’s no way I would’ve been able to concentrate on classes. I’m honestly surprised by how much work I got done that week, given how much time I spent checking the news outlets for updates. In the end, it was Richard who texted me that the result was in. I shrieked, I laughed, and then I cried. I was so relieved.

Apart from swimming, the second lockdown didn’t change much for me. I was spending most of my time at my laptop, working on uni stuff. I had to turn in a portfolio of songs and an essay on the 4th January and, determined to get an actual break this year (unlike last year), I worked super hard: I wanted to have all of the work done before Christmas. So the end of the semester was intense and suddenly it was the last week, the session with Richard, and then the Christmas holidays. I worked every day from the end of the semester to Christmas Eve but I did manage to get all of the work done, which I was very proud of.

Christmas was weird. We obviously couldn’t see our larger family but then we couldn’t even see my brother because London went into Tier 4 (and then we went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day). I’d been prepared for a very different Christmas but it didn’t really emotionally hit me until a few days before and then I found it pretty difficult. We tried to embrace the difference: we decorated our tree with origami creations rather than our usual decorations; we structured our day differently… we kept it as different as we could so that the forced differences (like the lack of my brother) didn’t stick out so much. But we still managed to have a good day, I think. My brother and his partner had made a really great quiz, which we all had so much fun doing. That was definitely the high point for me. We were all together, laughing our heads off, and that felt really good.

I also just want to throw in here that there were some really great albums released in the fourth quarter of the year, which definitely boosted my spirits and inspired me a lot. There was Taylor Swift’s folklore: long pond studio sessions, which was both incredible and a fascinating look into the stories and emotions explored throughout the album; Kalie Shorr released the deluxe version of Open Book, Open Book: Unabridged, which included four new tracks, all of them as stunning as the original album tracks, if not even better – ugh, can you tell I love this album? And then, as if folklore wasn’t a big enough surprise, Taylor Swift released a second surprise album, evermore, which was another amazing album. The three of these, plus Manic by Halsey, were the musical highlights of my year. I love them all and I learned so much from them as a songwriter.

We’ve had a quiet few days up to new year, which is good. It’s been nice to have a bit more space to breathe, if that makes sense; there’s a bit less pressure in my life at the moment. Having said that, being in Tier 4 with a spike in COVID cases, has caused my anxiety to rise again.

And that’s the year…

So it’s time to talk about the music. With more content coming, I don’t want to go into too much detail; I kind of want to save the real round up for when everything is done, but I do want to do a quick review of my musical year because I think this is the first year where I’ve really felt like a professional singersongwriter. Of the five tracks on the Honest EP, all but one were released this year (the first single, ‘Bad Night,’ came out late last year). The second single, ‘Clarity,’ came out in early January with an accompanying music video; it did even better than ‘Bad Night’ and was even selected as BBC Sussex & BBC Surrey’s BBC Introducing Track of the Day. That was very cool!

I got to play a handful of gigs, all of which were so much fun. I headlined one of Indigo Eve’s nights, where people both waved their phone lights to a song and sang along to another. It was one of best gigs I’ve done and one of the best nights of the year. I played as part of my university’s songwriters’ circles, which is probably my favourite uni event; it was particularly special because it was the LGBTQ+ History Month special. That meant a lot to me and it was a great round. All of the performers were fantastic and the atmosphere was so positive. Looking back at my Instagram post about the show, I said, “I’m just on a joy train!” That was very accurate; it was a wonderful night. I was also invited to perform in the foyer of The Brighton Dome for their Access Open Day event; it was so much fun and I was giddy about the fact that I was performing there again when it was the first place I publicly performed. And before the lockdown started, I even managed a day in the studio, recording a fun project with some friends.

Everything slowed down when lockdown began but with a lot of help from Richard, we did eventually get the EP cycle moving again, starting with the release of ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘. A month or so later, the third single of the EP, ‘Sounds Like Hope,’ came out, followed by a music video beautifully animated by the lovely Lois de Silva. This one didn’t do as well as the previous two but it was a much slower, less radio friendly song so that wasn’t surprising. Having said that, it got some of the highest praise of the EP so although it didn’t reach as many people as the others, it seemed to really resonate with the people who did hear it.

The summer was a very exciting time, in terms of the EP. I got to ‘perform’ in the virtual Disability Pride Brighton Festival: they played the ‘Invisiblemusic video and it was streamed online and on TV! That was very cool: seeing myself on the television for the first time! Then, as I described earlier, Richard and I planned and filmed the music video for ‘Back To Life.’ I was very anxious about putting this one out, given its upbeat sound and title during the pandemic. But in the end, I decided that to leave it out would be to release an incomplete body of work, as the song is an important part of the EP. So I announced it with this message: “Given the difficult and often distressing times we’re currently experiencing, I seriously considered delaying the release of new music, especially as we reach the more upbeat songs on the EP. But I didn’t want to leave the story half told. This song represents the upward turn after a painful chapter of my mental health and it feels important to include because while there are brutal lows, there are also wondrous highs. They’re all important and all part of the journey.” (x) I released the song in August, hoping that people would understand that the title was metaphorical, rather than literal. It didn’t do quite as well as the others had but given everything, I wasn’t surprised. It may have done better in a world without the pandemic but then we’ll never know, will we? Richard edited the video – with my feedback at various stages – and despite it not being what I’d originally imagined, I absolutely loved it. I’m really proud of it, especially given the circumstances and stress under which it was made.

And then, in October, I released the fifth and final single of the Honest EP, the title track, ‘Honest.’ It’s my favourite song on the EP and putting the last of our budget into promoting it, it did really, really well – the best of the EP. I’m so proud of it: the song means so much to me. It felt fitting to have the music video show some of the weird and wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ of this EP process…

As I said, the project isn’t over yet so I don’t want to write anything that sounds like too much of a conclusion but I’ve learned so much from it, from this year. I’ve learned a lot, dealt with enough stress that it’s probably taken years off my life, and never been so proud of anything I’ve done. I can’t wait to share the rest in 2021…

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This blog post spiralled into something much bigger than I thought it would. But then, given that ‘normal life’ sort of evaporated around us and everything was constantly changing, maybe it’s not that surprising. I guess, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t leave to assumption so I included them just to be sure. Hopefully it’s made sense and got you thinking (or not thinking) about your experience of this year. It’s weird, isn’t it: we’ve all gone through this massive, world-encompassing event together and yet our years will look quite different. It reminds me of a quote I saw on social media (that I will have to paraphrase, unable as I am now to find it): “We’re all on the same sea but we’re all in different boats.” So, yes, we all experienced a global pandemic but our personal situations created a spectrum of experiences, with either end looking nothing alike. But I think we can all say that we’ll always remember this year. I know I will.

Although I spent a lot of the year feeling very negative, feeling depressed or anxious or frustrated or angry, I’m actually finishing the year feeling overwhelmed by gratitude. Yes, I’m anxious about being in Tier 4 and the rising COVID numbers – I think it would be ignorant not to be – but I’m just so grateful for all the positive moments and experiences that I’ve had this year. And, of course, the people in my life. I could not have gotten through this year without them.

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I don’t even know how to fully sum up this last year. If I thought 2019 was difficult, 2020 was on a whole new level of emotional chaos. I’ve been in survival mode for most of it, just trying to wade through waters that kept rising and rising, and every time I thought I’d found my balance, another strong wave appeared to knock me down. It’s easily been the hardest year of my life and one I know I won’t ever forget. But as painful and terrifying and exhausting as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments too: pre-pandemic gigs, releasing my EP, the contact with my friends and family, time with my cats, the awesome music, movies, and TV shows I’ve discovered this year, the chances to swim… So despite all the negative emotions I’ve experienced this year (and continue to experience), I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the good in my life. // There’s a blog post with all my ramblings via the link in my bio 💜” (x)