TW: Mentions of depression and suicidal thoughts.

This has been a fucking hard year and there were multiple moments when I wasn’t sure I’d make it to this point; I’m not convinced I’m glad that I have. My anxiety and depression and chronic suicidal thoughts have been doing their best to swallow me whole; several people have suggested that I’m in autistic burnout and I wouldn’t be surprised but I don’t know how to be sure of that with the depression and CPTSD in play. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, even when I’m not really sure why.

It’s somewhat confusing to still recognise the good things and be grateful for them in amongst all of that. While I never thought depression and suicidal ideation were simple, I never would’ve imagined that they could be this confusing and conflicted. But that’s a train of thought and discussion for another time. For now, these are some of the things I’ve felt grateful for this year…

Mum – I don’t know what else I can say about my Mum that I haven’t already said in my previous Grateful posts (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022) but, holy shit, am I grateful for her. Something I’ve thought a lot about over the course of the year is how she always seems to take things in stride. I know it’s not that simple: she’s human and so, of course, she has feelings about everything that happens but the way she handles things with such openness and grace blows me away.

Family and friends – Despite how hard this year has been and how desperately I’ve wanted to just hide away, I’ve managed to spend a surprising amount of time with my family and friends: over Zoom, at music events, at each others homes, even abroad. I honestly don’t know how I got so lucky to find and keep the friends I have but I am so deeply, deeply grateful. I look back at all of the bad things that have happened to me and I find that can’t hate them completely because, if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met and become friends with the people I have.

The cats – My gorgeous pride of cats. I love them all so dearly. We’ve had some health scares this year, which have been very scary but, fortunately, everyone has recovered and we’re celebrating Christmas as a healthy family. Izzy has thrown a spanner in the works to a certain degree and the peace of the house has been disturbed dramatically; we’re still finding a new normal and all of these new relationships are still evolving. On the whole, the cats are still avoiding Izzy because she gets so overexcited; she just wants to play but often, that either scares them or they don’t understand and so they take a swipe at her. It’s slow going and although progress is being made, I miss the cats being around and struggle with the frustration of just wanting everything to be okay and peaceful right now. I love them and I don’t like not seeing them as much.

My time and friends in Nashville – My trip to Nashville this year was a serious emotional rollercoaster. There was a school shooting in the city on the first full day we were there; I saw some of the most amazing Tin Pan South shows I’ve ever seen; I became a Madeline Edwards fan; I saw some of my lovely friends; I hung out with new friends; we weathered the edge of a tornado (and had a little party in the motel room we were sheltering in; I got to go to Song Suffragettes’ 9th anniversary show and catch up with the lovely Natalie Hemby; I struggled with some serious chronic pain… It was a lot to take in, a lot to process. It was a really tough trip but the good moments were really good and I am grateful for those.

My therapist (and the dogs that joined our sessions) – It’s been just over a year since I started seeing my new therapist and, if I’m honest, I’m still getting used to her and all the little differences. I saw my previous therapist for eight years and the loss of her from my life was a trauma so it’s not surprising to me that it’s been a really difficult adjustment; I still miss her and our sessions. My new therapist is good and I really like her and we’ve had some really productive sessions but it’s been a very different scenario: my mental health has never been so bad, the worst stuff so close to the surface. That makes therapy really fucking hard. It makes me feel triggered; it makes me feel like a frayed nerve; it makes me feel like I can’t breathe. It’s exhausting. But I know that nothing will change if I don’t go. Part of my experience of depression means that I don’t always want things to change but, as I said earlier, it’s such a confusing, messy, complicated well of feelings that it’s hard to articulate and this certainly isn’t the post to get into it, but it does provide some context as to why therapy is so hard. I can’t seem to clearly explain why I’m grateful for therapy and for my therapist, not with my headspace being the way it is right now, bit I know that I am. Sometimes I think that has to be enough.

The puppies – Over the summer, I got to spend a solid amount of time with a litter of four Pomchi puppies and it was glorious. One of them in particular, the only girl who was nicknamed ‘Skye,’ took to me straight away: it was like she saw me and went, “You. You’re my person.” It was adorable and I loved every second that I got to spend with her. I hadn’t thought I was ready to bond with another dog but Skye showed me that I was (and honestly, the name ‘Skye’ just felt like a sign – one of my biggest special interest characters, Daisy Johnson, having chosen that name for herself before she discovered who she was, who she was supposed to be) and it was such a joy. And then my heart was broken when I wasn’t able to keep her. I was devastated and the pain of it really shook me. I worried about her endlessly and although that has faded over time, it still hits me now and then; I hope she’s safe and happy and loved. And even though it ended in utter heartbreak and a lot of bad feeling, I wouldn’t take it back; it was a really special experience and showed me that I was ready to have a dog in my life again and ultimately lead to Izzy.

Writing songs again – Songwriting has been a difficult for a while now, as it usually is when my depression gets bad (and it’s been the worst it’s ever been). It feels like my creative brain goes into hibernation. Since I started taking Phenelzine again in March, things have gotten better in that regard. I’ve been writing again but it doesn’t feel as fast or as easy as it used to; like it takes actual physical effort to make my brain work when it used to come really easily. So it’s definitely not perfect but I’ve written some songs I’m really proud of and I’m grateful for that.

Getting to reunite with my friends from university – In the Spring, I went to Germany for the wedding of two of my friends and although there lots of stressful aspects to the week away, there were some truly joyful moments too and one of them was seeing some of my wonderful friends. Because we’re scattered around the world, we don’t often get to see each other and we rarely get to see each other altogether and, with COVID of course, it’s been an even longer time than planned so that was really special. It was really emotional too, more so than I’d expected, but then it was a very emotional week.

There’s five of us buried in this huddle.

Acceptance into the Service Dog program – A few years ago, we applied for the Autism service dog program but they didn’t have space for me. This year we applied again and I’ve been accepted! The process from being accepted to actually getting a dog is a long one but that’s okay: it gives me time to get used to it and to learn everything I need to know, with the assurance that support is coming. I’ve met quite a few people who are part of the organisation and they’ve all been so lovely and supportive and warm so I feel like I’m in good hands. I have my anxieties about it – it’s a big responsibility to take on a dog, particularly a specially trained one, and I’m aware that, by having one, I’m representing the organisation and, to a certain degree, disability and neurodivergence – but I think it would naïve and irresponsible not to. So I’m doing my best to prepare and to get into a healthy, balanced headspace about it.

Breathing Room – After years of loving the work known as ‘Breathing Room’ by Anna Berry, I finally got to see it. First in London and then in Croydon. Finally seeing it in real life was magical; it was utterly breathtaking. During each visit, I spent ages just sitting inside it, watching the cones flutter and listening to the gentle creak of the machinery. It was so calming; I could’ve sat there forever. And it had my mind spinning with new ideas for songs, both specifically about the piece and for other songs. I loved that. Both times, I had to all but be dragged out.

The London experience was also incredibly special because I got to help construct it before it opened to the public. It was a viciously hot, airless day (which resulted in a very stupid-looking sunburn, which unfortunately didn’t fade for months) and even with the gloves, I got some pretty nasty splinters that had my fingers stinging for days but I loved every second of it. I loved the repetitive movement, the soothing count, the intense concentration that had the rest of the world fading to nothing. I’d been in excruciating pain and I did struggle with my back during the session but I would’ve happily kept going; I only left because I had a prior commitment. I loved it and it was a really special thing to get to do. I also, by some magical serendipity, got to meet Anna herself and talk with her briefly about my love for the project and the idea of writing a song about it. She was really lovely and it was a very cool cherry on top to the day.

Discovering Maisie Peters – I’ve listened to Maisie a little, on and off, over the years but I think I just felt like I never quite had the brain space to really get into her music. But then I heard ‘Lost The Breakup’ and I was completely hooked. I played it on repeat until The Good Witch came out and then I was just obsessed; I didn’t listen to anything else for weeks and even when I did start listening to other stuff, I still often returned to it. I can’t quite explain what was so magical about it or why it resonated with me so strongly but it really did and I’m still completely obsessed with Maisie’s songwriting; I could talk about it for hours. I’d love to write with her. I also got to see her twice on tour and they were both really special shows: I saw her in Bristol on Halloween at the smallest venue of the tour and I saw her headline at Wembley, the biggest venue of the tour and a real milestone, at the end of the UK leg. She’s a fantastic performer and I absolutely loved the shows. I was also lucky enough to go to the VIP pre-show acoustic sessions and those were really, really special. I have a Week In My Life post half done about that week that I hope to get up soon where I talk more about that so I’ll come back and link it here – it was an exhausting week that took a long time to recover from but it was absolutely, 100% worth it. I saw her perform at the Communion Xmas Party too and got to talk to her briefly afterwards too, which was really lovely (her keys player, Tina, too). It was definitely my Maisie Peters season and long may it continue; I’m so glad to have her music in my life.

Listening to The Good Witch, making bracelets for the tour, dressing Izzy up as the song, ‘BSC,’ Maisie’s acoustic set in Bristol, the Halloween stop of The Good Witch Tour, the acoustic set at Wembley Arena, Maisie’s sold out show at Wembley Arena, Maisie performing at the Communion Xmas Party in London, and meeting her after she performed. 

Getting a TENS machine – Given how bad my chronic pain has been this year, getting a TENS machine was a revelation. It has been so helpful and I’m so very grateful to have a way to reduce my pain when it’s really bad. I don’t know how I didn’t come across it sooner but I’m so thankful for the recommendation from my GP (who is an actual miracle worker).

Meeting Amanda Tapping at LFCC 2023 – Amanda Tapping is one of my favourite people in the world and has been since I was about fourteen. She’s played some incredible roles that have inspired me deeply and she is a truly wonderful human being. I met her several years ago and although I was almost paralysed by anxiety, she was so kind and open and it was a really special experience. This year she started doing livestreams with The Companion and it was so, so nice to see her again, regardless of the fact that she couldn’t see me. The livestream was great and I looked forward to the promised future ones. Then, in the summer, I went to my first Comic Con and got to meet her again in person. We had such a lovely conversation – as did she and my Mum, who was with me as my disability support person – and it’s a memory that I will always hold close and keep safe; it was a very special experience. And then, my third Amanda Tapping moment of the year was the second livestream, which was great on its own, but I also had a ‘backstage’ ticket and I was able to talk to her briefly afterwards. She’s so open to big, honest, vulnerable conversations and it feels like she really sees you and hears you when you talk and that’s such a powerful feeling; I remember thinking about that after I met her the first time and it was exactly the same this time. She, and the characters she’s played, have been a constant source of inspiration and strength for me and stumbling across her all those years ago was such a fluke but, my god, I’m so grateful I did.

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