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A rollercoaster 2020, mental health struggles, and new year optimism

It's no profound statement or new knowledge that 2020 presented many excruciating challenges to not just the creative sector, but the entirety of society in an infinite number of ways. As a significant moment in our orbit has just passed and we enter another national lockdown in the UK, I'd like to take this moment to share with you all how the past year or so played out for me, because, well, it's been severe - one that will change my life forever, and I'm just one in 7.8 billion. As most of you reading this will probably know, I run an event series called KINETIC in Manchester, and 2020 started so well with news that Arts Council England has agreed to fund our first ever festival, [ I N T I M A T E ]. As the title suggests, we were exploring intimacy, from all sorts of angles - proximity, touch, affection, relationships, sharing, togetherness, personal space, privacy, familiarity, sensuality, voyeurism, surveillance and more (to quote our press release :P). It happened in late February and was great - we felt that the quality and interest of the work featured was ace, the efforts and deliveries of participants were inspiring, and the sense of community warmed my little heart. It was also very challenging - we were really understaffed, worked ourselves into the ground and unfortunately some things lacked the attention they could really have done with. We learned a lot, formed new creative relationships and nurtured existing ones, and all in all had an awesome time. Then COVID hit and we went into national lockdown on March 23rd. Amidst all the horror and uncertainty, I immediately felt so fortunate that we squeezed in that festival JUST in time. As the weeks went by and society adapted to the pandemic, the content of that festival just became so much more powerful in a situation whereby we had to suppress those desires for intimacy and/or seek other ways of fulfilling them. I followed the news for the first two weeks or so and then I just had to stop - I felt - how can we immerse ourselves in not only something that involves so many negative triggers, but also feels uncontrollable and hopeless? I feared for my wellbeing and future - my go-to sources of pleasure and purpose (the two main components of happiness according to Dr. Paul Dolan, author of 'Happiness by Design') were under serious threat with the devastation to the creative community. For a while I managed to keep positive through training my mindset to do so. Although I knew I'd be living very much on the breadline with severe social limitations for the foreseeable future, all this new information and opportunity to reflect and explore was so exciting. I participated in some online stuff here and there, but it just wasn't for me - I found what little I did to be frustrating and awkward. The ways in which the artistic community responded were remarkable and I found it all very inspiring. Like many, I turned to the solace of nature and sourced much inspiration there. I became immersed in how different familiar environments sounded, and was loving how much the public were embracing the healing power of green spaces as a positive impact of the pandemic. I co-curated a series of online events exploring pandemic-related themes that we still haven't managed to secure funding for. I had grand plans to create a creative community space with studios and such, and was buzzing at the prospect. I was dedicating myself to the research and implementing of wellbeing practices - exercise, spiritual, psychological stuff. It helped - I felt more in control of my own mental health than I ever had before - and this was all despite all the shit happening in the world.

Gradually my mindset turned negative and I lost almost all motivation to be creative - I started to abandon my projects, feeling like there was just no point. I neglected my connections and friendships. I work in a pub part-time and was seeking full-time work in the craft beer industry - I'd lost sight of my artistry so much that I wasn't even doing it part-time any more. The things that used to excite me just didn't anymore. I felt nothingness far too often. I started to question whether or not music was actually my calling in life, and was seriously considering building a completely different life and career, because I felt forced to do so. I was crippled with self-doubt, loss of social confidence, lack of belief in my abilities, lack of sense of purpose - all of this on top of coping with chronic physical pain on a daily basis. Life has fluctuated between these two contrasting states for the past 10 months, and each time I fell into the negative state it was harder than before but it taught me something new of value - a coping mechanism or a reflection that I hadn't quite realised before. I didn't create a single piece of work in 2020 - that's how badly I was conflicted. I dabbled in some revisions of existing pieces which are going well, but overall I just struggled to get my mind into a healthy enough state to apply it effectively to any endeavour. I am happy to report that right now, I am a good place. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions at all, but with the festive period over and the vaccine on the horizon, I feel motivated to get back to work and make things happen again. I feel armed with a more resilient, positive mindset that I had more control of. I underestimated what music is to me - therapy. Turns out it always has been. It keeps me stable. It's always been there - from my teens and early 20s craving mosh pits to becoming a composer, curator and performer of experimental art music. It's my catnip and I'm thoroughly addicted. When I lost it, I felt like my whole world collapsed. And for that reason, it must be my calling.


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