On Holiday in Lockdown

Given the current situation, we obviously can’t go on any holidays right now. Like many people, my travel plans for the year were cancelled due to the pandemic and so, in an attempt to get my holiday/travelling ‘fix’, I’ve been revisiting some of my past holidays, both to remember some of the wonderful experiences I’ve had and to remind myself that one day I will have experiences like that again. It’s obviously not the same as travelling itself but it’s the best we’ve got at the moment so I’ve been reminiscing about previous trips, reading the diaries I kept at the time and looking through the souvenirs and photos I took.

I’ve been very lucky to have travelled fairly widely for my age; I’ve been to some amazing places, including Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland. These were all truly incredible holidays, the memories of which I will carry with me for the rest of my life, but for this post I thought I’d write about my holiday to Australia and New Zealand in the summer of 2010 when I was fifteen years old.


It was the last day of the school year and I was practically bouncing off the walls. The bell rang, I said my goodbyes, and raced home. I had an hour before leaving for the airport and I wasn’t packed. The fact that I managed to take everything I needed for five weeks abroad given that small block of time is probably a miracle.

(This trip was actually my first experience of blogging as me and my brother posted regularly to a blog to keep our friends and family updated on what we were doing – it’s a funny little full circle to now be writing about that trip on this blog. That blog is long gone now but I do remember how much I loved it as a platform and as a way of sharing the story.)

We flew to Brisbane via Singapore. I’d never been on a really long flight before so that was a new and unsettling experience – I’m not a hugely happy flyer. But we got there safe and sound and caught a ferry out to Morten Island. We were all extremely jet lagged and feeling pretty unwell but we were out exploring straight away. It was absolutely stunning. We spent most of our time on the beach: the sand was almost white and the ocean was honest-to-god turquoise, like something out of National Geographic. Just walking through the shallows that first day, we saw a dolphin, something I’d always wanted to see. Plus there were pelicans and kookaburras and all kinds of birds everywhere. It was amazing.

In the evenings, we went back down to the beach after dinner because that’s when the dolphins came to the shore to be fed. On a couple of occasions, me and my brother actually got to feed them, which was a surreal and amazing experience. At first, there was just one and suddenly there were seven. There were some really little ones too, one of them playfully chasing these tiny fish darting around in the shallows. ‘Our’ dolphin was an older female called Tinkerbell and they told us that it seemed she’d adopted one of the young calves after his mother had stopped coming to feedings. She was really gentle and sweet and I just fell in love with her.

My other favourite memory of the island was a walk through the bush. And then, all of a sudden, we were standing on the edge of this huge desert. It was absolutely empty and standing in the middle of it – just you and sand and sky – it felt almost sacred, like we were witnessing something private. I remember thinking that it just felt easier to breathe. I wanted to stay there forever.

After a few days there, we caught the ferry back to Brisbane where we picked up the caravan we’d be driving and living in for the next two weeks. I’d done a fair bit of camping in a camper van during my childhood but this van was a serious upgrade: there was enough space for six people to sit and sleep (the chairs converting into three double beds!) with a toilet, shower, and kitchen area. It was a pretty smooth ride, thank god, because we spent A LOT of time driving: from Brisbane up to Cairns.

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One of the first places we stopped was Hervey Bay where we spent the day whale watching. Me and my brother sat right at the front of the boat and it was freezing cold and very wet but totally worth it. We saw so many whales and dolphins. The dolphins almost seemed to be showing off, leaping in and out of the water and playing together. You couldn’t help but smile watching them.

And the humpback whales were truly spectacular. Seeing them felt absolutely magical and I remember wondering if the team running the tour got that same feeling every time they saw them or if the wonder wore off – I couldn’t imagine how it could. We watched in awe as they swam around the boat, rolling, and fluking. They were just stunning.

They disappeared for a while and it started to rain so we went under cover to eat some lunch. Just as we were finishing, we saw this huge whale breech out of the water for a few long seconds before crashing back under the surface. It was breathtaking. Of course, no one had a camera to hand because we were all eating but regardless of that, it was amazing to see. I can still see it as clearly as if it had just happened.

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And then, out for dinner that evening, we saw this sign in a restaurant window. Nope, still don’t know what it’s supposed to mean.

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Most days involved at least some driving and a couple of days were spent entirely in the van. One such day saw us in the van for fifteen hours (this was actually the day I had my first big autistic meltdown but that’s a story for another time) and then, just before arriving at our campsite in Cape Hillsborough, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a very narrow road with deep ditches on each side. How my parents navigated us out of that, I have no idea. To this day we still joke about the 333 point turn that got us back on track.

Because we’d arrived in the middle of the night and fried from the stress and anxiety of the journey, we went straight to bed. I’m not sure we even got out of the van. But the next morning, we woke up to this beautiful campsite, right on this beach, beautiful in its vast emptiness. The tide was super far out and we walked and walked, taking in the rainforest-like foliage and the rocky shoreline. It was stunning.

We didn’t stay long but long enough to see our first kangeroos and wallabies. Practically living on a campsite, they were very tame and allowed us to get really close. They were so cute.

We continued up the East Coast, making various stops along the way. Another of my favourites was Airlie Beach where me and my brother swam in cool swimming pool just up from the beach and I had the best milkshake I’ve ever had (I’m still looking for one that rivals it). We stayed over night there and then, the next day, we got a boat out to Whitsunday Island.

On the way there, we stopped over a reef – part of The Great Barrier Reef – and jumped out of the boat to snorkel. I find the mechanics of breathing through a snorkel pretty tricky but the reef was so beautiful that I forgot all about that. There were all these different species of fish swimming around and someone on the boat threw food into the water so they swarmed around us. It was very weird to have them get right up in your face, completely unperturbed, but you got an amazing view of them. We stayed in the water so long that my lips went blue.

The Whitsunday beaches were breathtakingly beautiful. They told us that they were voted most beautiful beach of the year by National Geographic and CNN. The sand was almost blindingly white in the sun and squeaked as we walked on it because it’s so fine. It was stunning. I felt like my eyes weren’t big enough to take it all in.

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We continued driving, continuing to stop here and there, sometimes at a pre-determined stop and sometimes just for a walk in a National Park. During one of the walks, we saw a load of beautiful Ulysses butterflies. I’ve always loved butterflies.

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Eventually we made it to Cairns and met up with long time family friends. We stayed there for about a week. One day, we went up to Kuranda but the best bit was visiting Koala Gardens. We got to feed kangaroos, see and stroke real koalas, and my brother actually held one. Half of my family is Australian so I was raised on stories with Australian animals as characters and suddenly I was seeing all of them in real life. It was very surreal but a real dream come true.

Another day, we went out to the Daintree Rainforest. Due to a family contact, we got a tour through the rainforest and up to where we could see the mountains. It was beautiful but the best part was the vehicle we rode in. It was called an Argo and it was like riding in a rollercoaster cart: up and down and spinning from side to side in response to the ground we drove over. I loved it. It was so fun: I laughed – almost hysterically – the whole time.

We also went for a walk through Mossman Gorge, which was, again, beautiful. Both me and my brother grew up loving animals and nature and walking through the enormous trees and scrambling over the rocks was very reminiscent of our childhood.

On our last day in Cairns, we got a boat out to this massive pontoon where we all squeezed into wetsuits and snorkelled over this gorgeous bit of reef and sunken ship. There was this huge tame fish – a Maori Wrasse – called Wally that you could swim with and stroke and have your picture taken with. He was very gentle and sweet and seemed to love all the attention.

We swam around the pontoon for hours but also went out on a tour where everyone held onto a flotation device and a guide would point out and teach us about what we were seeing. My favourite were the Angelfish. We also saw a Reef Shark deep down on the ocean floor and while we were told they weren’t dangerous, I couldn’t get over my anxiety at looking at a shark of any kind. It was a cool tour but I did struggle: it took a lot of stamina and about halfway through, I got really cold and my feet started cramping.

That evening we flew to Darwin for a couple of days. My favourite moment was a boat ride out into the bay where we watched the sun go down. The adults had champagne and it was super peaceful. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen – the picture doesn’t begin to capture it.

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We also went on a river boat ride where they hung meat over the side, baiting these huge crocodiles into leaping out of the water. I knew that crocodiles were big but they feel like freaking-dinosaur-big when they’re a couple of feet from you. They were amazing to see so close though. And they also threw small chunks of meet into the air for various different birds to catch. There were some smaller ones but most of them were really big, eagle-like birds. They were stunning and so graceful. Again, the lifelong animal fanatic in me was just in awe.

From Darwin, we drove out to Kakadu National Park for a few days and my favourite adventure there was a sunrise boat ride. It was really cold and we were swarmed by mosquitoes but it was so worth it. We saw so many animals. There was a herd of wild brumbies (this was super special – my inner horse girl was experiencing a dream come true), a dingo, and loads of different types of birds, including an adult Jacana and her chicks (you can just spot them in the second photo – they were so cute and fluffy). It was an awesome trip.

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Back in Darwin, we flew to Alice Springs. On the first morning, we got up painfully early and went on a hot air balloon ride. The ride was incredible but the whole experience was really, really special. We were picked up by these two (self-described ‘terminally cheerful’) guys who drove us out to the start point, keeping up a joyfully ridiculous monologue while we all yawned our way to full consciousness and pointing out the stars and constellations to us. Then we all stood together and waited as the balloon filled up, before climbing into the basket while it was still resting sideways on the ground.

Up in the air, we watched the sun come up, looked out at the beautiful landscape, and watched groups of kangaroos hopping through the scrubs. I’d never been in a hot air balloon before and although I’m not super comfortable with heights, it was a truly amazing experience, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I loved every second.

When we landed, they provided the adults with champagne, the kids with juice, and laid out biscuits, brownies, and fruit for us to snack on while the balloon began to deflate. They actually let us walk around inside it as the air escaped, which was bizarre but very cool. Then, when it was finally flat on the ground, we got to help roll it up and pack it into the sack, which really was a group effort. They even got my brother (who was fourteen at the time) to stand on top of it, pushing it down so that the whole thing fitted and they could close the bag completely. It was such a strange experience but so unique and special.

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We picked up our stuff from the hotel and drove down to Kings Canyon, stopping at a campsite not far from the canyon itself. We stayed there for a couple of days during which we did one of the walks around the canyon – which was physically pretty hard but rewarded us with some breathtaking views – and a camel ride, which was so much fun. I’ve ridden a camel once before but the novelty hadn’t worn off.

From there, we drove to a hotel near Uluru. We actually went to see it three times: once at sunset, once at sunrise, and then later that day to walk around the base. It’s incredible from every angle, in every light. There really was something spiritual about it, not that I know what I believe; there was just this overwhelming feeling of sacredness. I’d seen hundreds of pictures of it in books and online but it was nothing like really being there.

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After a handful of days there, we flew to Sydney where we met up with family, which was really nice. Some of them I hadn’t seen since I was really, really little and some of them I’d never actually met in person.

Sydney’s huge and we spent as much time exploring as we could. We went to see the Opera House, again, something I’d seen in books but never in real life. That was cool. It was very beautiful although I’d expected it to be bigger.

While exploring the harbour, we went on a speed boat ride around the harbour. It went super fast and the adrenaline rush was awesome. That, along with watching my brother struggle with his waterproof jacket (it looked like it was trying to eat him), I laughed almost hysterically throughout the whole ride. I just wished it had been longer; it was so much fun.

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While my brother and his Mum stayed in Australia to visit more family, me, my Mum, and my Granny flew over to New Zealand, to see some of South Island. We landed in Christchurch and stayed there several days, exploring the city. I really liked it and I felt really comfortable there, something that I don’t usually find. I can like a place, of course, but it usually takes a while to feel relaxed there. In Christchurch, I felt at home right away.

My favourite part was visiting the Christchurch Art Gallery. Coming from a family that has always been involved in the arts, I’ve been to a lot of galleries but there have only been a handful of exhibitions that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with and I found one of those there. It was called Andrew Drummond’s Observation / Action / Reflection: “This spectacular exhibition explores Andrew Drummond’s rich and diverse practice, which spans performance, sculpture, installation, drawing, photography and technology.”

I just fell in love with the sculptures: the different elements drawn together for each piece, the details that made them so beautifully intricate, the way they moved, almost like they were breathing… I just loved it. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve got the book from that exhibition and when I look at the pictures, I can still remember looking at the sculptures and feeling like I really understood art in a way I hadn’t before, in the way that everyone else had always seemed to.

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On the second day, we went on a package tour that began with whale watching off the coast of Kaikoura. These were Sperm Whales rather than Humpback Whales, which we’d been out to see in Hervey Bay. They were similarly breathtaking and just so graceful as they moved through the water. Seeing whales in real life only made me love them more. We also saw several albatrosses; they’re some of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen.

Our tour had a specific schedule but since we were the only people on it, our guide suggested changing the plan. Instead of the wine-tasting, he took us to a particular beach where a colony of seals were known to hang out. But even better than that, a short walk into the trees, was a pool with a waterfall where the baby seals played, presumably having wriggled up from the beach and their parents. It was absolutely magical. They splashed around and chewed each other and even stuck their flippers up in the air like they were doing handstands. They were utterly gorgeous. I wanted to stay there forever.

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From Christchurch, we caught the TranzAlpine train across the island to Hokitika. The views were stunning: I’ve always loved mountains but seeing real snowcapped mountains was incredible. Even though the air rushing by was freezing cold, I spent a lot of time on the viewing platform, trying to look at everything.

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We picked up a hire car and drove down to the Franz Josef Glacier. We spent a couple of days there and during a patch of clear weather, we got to go up onto the Fox Glacier in a helicopter. I’d never been in a helicopter or been on a glacier and the whole experience was completely surreal but absolutely incredible. Me and my Mum even had a snowball fight and I couldn’t help but laugh at the strangeness of having a snowball fight in August, coming from the UK.

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We also spent an afternoon in the Glacier Hot Pools, with the Glacier on one side and the rainforest on the other. It was beautiful and felt very luxurious, although  the heat constantly steamed up my glasses, making it difficult to see with and without them.

All too soon, we were heading back to Australia (not that I was sad to go back to Australia, just sad to leave New Zealand) and then we only had a few days before flying home to the UK. I got to spend some more time in Sydney, which I really enjoyed. One of the best parts was climbing one of the towers bookending the Harbour Bridge and looking over the city. I loved Sydney. I’d love to go back again one day.

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And suddenly we were heading home. Saying goodbye to my family, particularly my Australian grandmother, was really hard. It always is. It’s hard living so far away from her. But as sad as it was to leave, it was also exciting to be on my way home. I was really looking forward to seeing my family, my friends, my pets. I’d missed them all and had so much to tell them.


It was an amazing holiday. Truly, truly amazing. It wasn’t without its difficulties: plans going awry, the claustrophobia of living on top of each other for several weeks, and the homesickness. I had multiple panic attacks and my first serious meltdown. Looking back, it’s hardly surprising: that kind of travel – constantly moving around, sudden changes, and so many new experiences – isn’t exactly conducive with Autism, not that we knew I was autistic back then. So, yeah, it wasn’t always smooth sailing but it was still one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.

My travel over the last few years has had a different focus. While this – and the trips I mentioned at the beginning of this post – were holidays, my recent travels abroad have all been to Nashville and as much fun as I have there, they are ultimately working holidays. I go to write songs, write with as many people as possible, play shows where I can, and learn from the incredible writers there. In a perfect world, I’d move there and dedicate every day to those goals but realistically – with my Autism and my mental health problems – that’s just not possible. It hurts but that’s life. Having said that, I refuse to give up my little piece of it just because I can’t have all of it. So, for the time being at least, that’s where I’m always headed.

“It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age…” (2010 – 2020)

This blog post is probably more for me than for you but since this is my blog, and a place I record my thoughts about my life, it felt important to write and post. A lot has happened in the last decade and I wanted to write about some of it, especially the bits that I know I will carry forward and even the bits I’ll leave behind, because I don’t need them anymore or because they’re damaging to the person I’m growing into.

There are a handful of things that I think are important to include – for context – before I write about this decade because otherwise important things won’t make sense. I moved from London to Brighton when I was six, eventually made friends and then lost all of them when I was 12, made some much better (amazing) friends, struggled with Glandular Fever and then Chronic Fatigue, which has continued to affect my life. And in 2008, my Dad died fairly suddenly. So I brought a lot into the 2010s.

So I’ve collected up some of the big things that happened in this last decade. I thought I’d write a little bit about them from a perspective ten years on.

EDUCATION

  • GCSEs – Wow, GCSEs seem easy now. Some of them were even multiple choice. Now my assessments involve weeks of research and planning and essay writing. But that’s not the point of this section. I look back at my GCSEs and remember feeling fairly confident – anxious in the way that we all feel when asked to prove ourselves or our knowledge but I felt like I knew what I needed to know. Mostly. I remember even being excited by some of the questions that came up because they were the particular sub-subjects (if that makes sense) that I knew well. My only frustration (other than my brother then doing better than me) was that I got an A not an A* in Maths after having always worked so hard and performed so well. And I really wanted to make my teacher proud although I think he was (of how hard I’d worked – he was like that). But I wanted to get the A* for him, to reflect how well he’d taught me and taken care of me.
  • A Levels – My A Levels were very stressful, which we – me and my family and my mental health team – think was partly to do with my depression and anxiety  starting to get really bad. Some classes were great and I loved them but others were actively traumatic. My Maths teacher for example was a real bully. By the time I got to the final exams, I was in such bad shape that, after doing relatively well for two years, I had to drop out of one of my classes and didn’t do nearly as well as I’d hoped and was expected to. It was very upsetting. But there were good times. I made some really good friends that I’m still friends with and we had a lot of fun together. The games of Irish Snap will never be forgotten. (Fun fact: I re-sat a couple of the exams but didn’t open the grades until after I’d gotten my degree.)
  • Got a Degree with First Class Honours – My degree probably deserves it’s own post (although I wrote one about graduating). There’s just so much I could say. I studied songwriting and although there were classes that I didn’t like or caused me extreme anxiety, I loved it and I learned so much. It’s the place that made me a real songwriter. The tutors were fantastic and I made some really amazing friends there, that I hope will stay my friends forever. I think my favourite part was the monthly Songwriter’s Circles where people were selected and would talk about and play a few of their songs. I got to play twice and my favourite experience was in my third year (even though I’d cracked a rib a week earlier). The circle involved Sweet Billy Pilgrim who I love (Tim Elsenburg is a tutor at ICMP and he was one of my favourites) and Lauren Aquilina (who was probably my favourite artist for most of my teenage years) and I played my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ live for the first time. It was a pretty big deal of a night.
  • Started an MA – So, as of last September, I started a Masters Degree in songwriting, at the same university where I did my BA. I’ve only done one semester and I was seriously struggling with my mental health for a significant part of it but it was amazing. I mean, I’ve written a whole blog post about it so that gives a more detailed look at the experience but despite the hard stuff, I loved it. I loved the classes, I loved what we studied, I loved writing the songs, I loved my tutor, and I loved the people in my group. There were a lot of positives, despite the severe anxiety I suffered from (and my OCD came back with a vengeance). It was mixed but I regard it ultimately in a positive light. I haven’t got my grades back yet for the module’s exams yet (which I’m very anxious about) so I’m just not thinking about that yet.

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PETS

  • Snubby was put to sleep – My gorgeous (if incredibly grumpy) cat developed cancer and had to be put down, which was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. I held her while they put her to sleep and I felt the moment she left – or however you want to describe it. It was so upsetting and I still miss her, even though we didn’t have a lot of cuddling or stroking time.
  • Got Lucy – It took me a good while before I was ready to have another cat because I felt like I was replacing Snubby, something I’m sure many people feel after a pet dies. But I missed having a cat in my life so we started looking for a kitten and we found Lucy. I feel so, so lucky to have her. She’s the most gorgeous cat ever. We call her Queen Lucy because she gets whatever she wants (within reason for a cat/pet) and because she’s the Queen of the feline clan we having living in our house.
  • Three sets of kittens – I’d always wanted to raise kittens so we decided to let Lucy get pregnant. She had three kittens and they were all just so adorable (there are many pictures on my Instagram). We found new homes for them all (somehow all in the same family and friends network) and life went on. Normal returned weirdly quickly. Then we decided to do it one more time and she had two kittens. We moved house before we could rehome them and through that process, we ended up deciding to keep them. And that’s how Mouse and Tiger came to be part of the family. And then six months ago, we were getting them spayed and Mouse needed to gain some weight before they’d do it. Turns out she was pregnant and had two kittens. We named them Sooty and Sweep and they’ve been a godsend in the last few incredibly stressful months.
  • Hydro-ed Lucky – I can’t believe that ten years ago, Lucky was five years old. That seems so young. He’s obviously now fifteen (his birthday is in February) so he’s pretty old and wobbly now. But he’s still full of enthusiasm and affection. It reminds me that, even if you struggle with something that does diminish your quality of life some (he’s very arthritic and had Geriatric Vestibular Disease, which had left him even more wobbly), there’s still joy to be found in life. Because he does. I love him to pieces. Anyway, my point was that I got to guide him in one of his Hydrotherapy sessions and it was such hard work. It took SO MUCH CONCENTRATION, guiding him and trying to keep an eye on all of his limbs and how much they’re working and stretching and extending. But it was a really cool experience and I felt very lucky to do it. No pun intended.

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MENTAL HEALTH/AUTISM

  • Major Depression and Anxiety – These developed when I was doing my A Levels and I’ve been battling with them ever since, even when on medication. My depression can get really bad, leaving me wishing I was someone else or wanting to die. But I find that easier to deal with than the anxiety, that winds me so tight that I feel like my spine might snap. I feel like I’m being strangled. It’s awful and right now, it’s as bad, if not worse, than it’s ever been.
  • Self Harm – I’ve struggled with self harm on and off since I was twelve but it was really bad between the ages of eighteen and twenty three. I don’t want to talk about it too much because I don’t want to trigger anyone and I haven’t used it as a strategy in a while. I did write a post about it a while ago, as well as one with tips for talking about it.
  • Trichotillomania – I took a year out between A Levels and university to do resits and at some point during that year, I started pulling my hair out (I wrote about that a couple of years ago). It was like this weird manifestation of my perfectionism: any hair that didn’t feel perfectly smooth had to go and so I would pull it out. I’ve made multiple attempts to stop but so far, I’ve always ended up starting again, especially when I’m under stress. I don’t know what to do about it really. I did see a specialist hypnotherapist once but I haven’t really had time to do much more than that because life is just so busy.
  • OCD – I wrote early on about my struggles with OCD, with my compulsive writing and for a while, it was manageable. But then, after a particularly vicious meltdown, it was retriggered and it got really, really bad. My psychiatrist had taken it off my list of diagnoses but he’s now rediagnosed me because I have to write everything down. Everything. Which is very hard to do while doing a Masters and has caused me significant stress. It’s a constant battle between working and writing. And now, at the beginning of the semester, the work is okay but I’m so behind on the writing.
  • BPD – I had to work very hard to get my psychiatrist to consider Borderline Personality Disorder as a diagnosis. I basically wrote a dissertation to convince him, just to consider it, not even to diagnose me with it: I have serious problems with abandonment, intense relationships, an unstable sense of self, self harming behaviour, unstable moods, feelings of emptiness and so on. I felt like it was at least worth pursuing and eventually he did diagnose me with it. That’s what got me to my therapist. We’re working on elements of it, as they pop up and become problematic, but it’s really, really hard to live with.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder – Being diagnosed with Autism wasn’t a shock by the time it finally happened. The presentation is different in women and as it turns out, I fit the criteria perfectly. The diagnostic process was very long and complicated so I’m gonna link to the post about it rather than repeat myself here.
  • Tried many medications – I’ve tried many medications in the time since my diagnoses, as you guys know since I’ve documented many of those experiences on this blog. I’ve lost count at this point, but it’s probably between fifteen and twenty. The side effects have been awful and most of them have made me feel worse rather than better but I’ll never give up trying to find the one (or the combination) that makes life joyful again.
  • Hours of therapy – I’ve been doing DBT for five years this February and it’s helped me so much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell because I can’t always say ‘it’s helped me do this’ or ‘it’s helped me overcome this’ because it’s day by day. But it’s helping. It’s been complicated the last year (that’s a story for another time) but it’s helped me so much. My therapist is absolutely incredible and I’m so, so grateful for her.
  • Autism research studies – I’ve done quite a few Autism research studies for multiple reasons. I want to know more about Autism and about the life that I’m gonna live. I want to know more about the differences in my brain and body and how to manage them. I also want it to be easier for the next person, for the next generation, for scientists, for doctors, for teachers. I don’t want to be an obstacle to be manoeuvred around and I don’t want that for anyone else and the only way to do that is to make it more understandable for everyone.
  • Blog – And of course, there’s this blog. It’s been really helpful for me to have a place to put all of my thoughts about mental health and so on. And I’ve heard from others that some of these posts have helped them and that’s amazing.

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MUSIC

  • Concerts: I have been to so many concerts and shows over the years; it’s the only thing I really spend my money on. They just feed my soul. I’m not gonna talk about all of them but I wanted to list some and tell a couple of stories: Tim Minchin, Taylor Swift (RED Tour, 1989 Tour, and Reputation Tour – I can’t pick a favourite), Emeli Sande, Kacey Musgraves, OneRepublic, Sara Bareilles (she dedicated ‘Uncharted’ to me after I left a letter for her and it was one of the best moments of my life), Against Me!, James Bay, John & Jacob, The Shires (I’ve seen them more times than I can count – we met before their album came out so we’re kind of friends, maybe?), Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons, Rachel Platten, Halsey (every show is amazing: she puts everything into it from the graphics to the outfits to the stage), Adele, Kelsea Ballerini, Kalie Shorr (only in Song Suffragettes so far but I would love to see her new solo show but I won’t be in the US yet), Natalie Hemby (at Tin Pan South – I adore her), Liz Rose (she invited a load of us up to sing ‘You Belong With Me’ by Taylor Swift with her and it was this completely magical experience), Frank Turner, Jordan Gray, Lauren Aquilina (I saw her a couple of times when she was an artist and then we played a Songwriter’s Circle together at my uni and then we wrote a song together – what is life?!), Sugarland (after years of loving them), Jennifer Nettles (solo), Cassadee Pope, Maren Morris (from a tiny show at Omeara to the front row at the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve seen Maren multiple times and she never fails to blow me away), East of Eli, Lady Antebellum, Paramore, Ingrid Andress (I first saw Ingrid in Nashville and then again in London and she remembered me, which made me so happy), Kina Grannis (who I’ve been following on YouTube for YEARS and was desperate to see live), Kelly Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood.
  • People I’ve Met: I’ve met some of these incredible people after shows or at special events and some of those experiences are the most special of my life: Rachel Platten (I won a meet and greet totally by chance and it was a really special experience – she gives amazing hugs), Halsey (I went until about two am in the freezing cold and then, when I tried to talk to her, I suddenly couldn’t say what I wanted to say – hopefully I’ll get another chance one day), Kelsea Ballerini (it was really early in her career so I’d love another chance now that she’s written so much more because those songs mean so much to me and I wish I could talk to her and tell her why), Kalie Shorr (I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s so lovely and as much as I wish we could be friends, she’s way too cool for me), Liz Rose, Emily Shackelton, Natalie Hemby (she’s so lovely and has been so kind to me – I can’t wait to see her again when I’m back in Nashville), Frank Turner, The Shires (As I said, we actually kind of know each other, although not well, but I’ve met them so many times and they’ve been lovely every single time), Emeli Sande, Jordan Gray (we had this amazing chat before the show and she gave me some really important advice for which I’ll always be grateful), Lauren Aquilina (I was so nervous the first time I met her that my legs were shaking so badly that I thought they’d buckle; after that we met a few times, and then wrote a song together), Maren Morris (I’ve met Maren twice and as hard as I’ve tried, my anxiety has prevented me from saying what I’ve wanted to say but hopefully one day I’ll be able to), and Ingrid Andress (it was really, really nice to see her when she played in London and although we’ve been trying to write together for years now – being in different countries does make it hard – hopefully we’ll manage it at some point).
  • Musicals – I’ve also seen a couple of musicals: Wicked (which I love and Willemijn Verkaik will always be my Elphaba), Hadestown (the cast were amazing but the show didn’t really move me), and Waitress (which is one of my favourite things ever and I’m about to see it with Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music, playing the main character, Jenna – I’m so, so excited).

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Ingrid Andress at The Courtyard Theatre in London (2019)

MY MUSIC

  • Learned to play guitar – I started playing guitar just before my sixteenth birthday and got my own for that birthday. I’ve been playing ever since. I wish I was better but my mental has really interfered with my ability to play/practice. But I’m working on it.
  • Rock Choir – I spent a handful of really amazing years singing with Rock Choir. I was the Rock Choir Baby because I was the youngest by quite a bit (I was fifteen when I started). I loved it. It’s just a shame that that time ended so negatively.
  • Starting performing – Playing in front of people was scary but it felt right. I felt this stillness, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
  • Wrote many, many songs – I started writing songs in 2011 so who knows how many songs I’ve written since then, especially writing three songs a week at university. Probably hundreds, which is pretty cool.
  • Written with some amazing people – I went to uni with so many amazing writers and I’m now studying with some amazing writers again so
  • Made amazing friends, met one really important co-writer – I’m still friends with many of my course mates but there’s one, Richard Sanderson (or Richard Marc on social media), who has been my partner in crime for years now. We have so much fun together and I love writing with him. He’s been incredible – instrumental even, pun intended – in the whole Honest EP project. A legend if ever there is one.
  • Performed a lot – I tend to do it in phases due to university and so on but I’ve definitely performed a lot in the last few years.
  • Went to Nashville multiple times – Nashville is a magical place, I think, for anyone who loves music. I’ve been there several times now and it’s just so awesome and if I didn’t have the difficulties I do, I’d seriously consider moving there. But alas, that’s not possible. We always go for Tin Pan South, the songwriting festival in March, which is a week of two songwriter’s rounds a night and it’s just an amazing, amazing experience, especially if you’re a songwriter I think. My favourite Nashville memory is in the next point…
  • Saw and Played Song Suffragettes – Song Suffragettes is an all female weekly songwriter’s round for up and coming songwriters. I’ve been to quite a few now and they’re always so cool. The songwriting is incredible and I’m always amazed that these girls aren’t signed and releasing music, supported by record labels. And then the second year I visited, I got to play, which was one of the best moments of my life. I loved every second.
  • Played The Bluebird in Nashville twice – I also got to play at the very famous Bluebird Cafe during my first trip. It was the open mic rather than an actual show but I’ll most gratefully take what I can get. Everyone plays and then, if there’s time at the end, they pull names from a hat to see who gets to play again and I did! That was very cool and very special.
  • Played a label showcase –  Playing a label showcase is a very surreal experience. For me, it was just a normal show but you’re very aware of the high stakes. It ended up being a really fun show, even though I was incredibly nervous about screwing up. But it went really well. And all my people showed up for me, which meant so, so much. Afterwards, I was offered a management deal but it turned out not to be the right thing for either of us. It was a big compliment to be sought after though.
  • Performed for charity events including Oxfam, TWLOHA, Young Minds, Ambitious For Autism, Disability Pride, Autism’s Got Talent, Brighton Soup, SummerFest, Sussex Mental Health Forum, and more – Playing for charities is always really rewarding, even though you rarely get paid. I’m always trying to help and make things better and it feels so good to be part of something that helps people, that’s creating change, and hopefully the songs I’m playing resonate with the people listening. I’ve actually been invited to play at a couple of these things, which is another big compliment.
  • Made an EP – Despite one of the worst periods of depression I’ve ever experienced, me and Richard managed to put together an EP with the help of a handful of very talented musicians, finished off by an awesome mixer and masterer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long and I will always remember this first project; it will always be special. There was a period where I was too depressed and anxious to even talk about it but thanks to Richard, the work continued and I’m endlessly, endlessly grateful. I’m really proud of it, even as a self proclaimed perfectionist so that must be saying something.
  • Released music – I’ve released a single and two songs from my current EP, Honest, something I’ve been dreaming of for years. So it’s amazing and exciting and wonderful, even if it is the most freaking stressful experience of my life.
  • Made and released music videos – I get very stressed out by watching myself, especially watching myself lip-sync but of the two videos that are already out, it hasn’t been too bad. I worked with two very thoughtful and generous people, which made the process actually enjoyable and I’m really grateful to them (Rosie Powell and Richard Sanderson) for making something so stressful so collaborative and fun.  I actually can’t wait to keep releasing them.
  • Got some radio play, including BBC Introducing – Radio play?! What?! BBC Introducing?! What?! It sounds so surreal to me, that people are choosing to play my songs on the radio for people to hear. It’s amazing and I’m so grateful. Plus the songs have been added to some really cool Spotify playlists, which I don’t know a whole lot about (I don’t often use Spotify) but watching the streams go up is very exciting.

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Photographer: Andy Voakes Music Photography / bigbearphotographybrighton

TRAVEL

  • Australia and New Zealand – We spent five weeks travelling up the East Coast and into Central Australia when I was fifteen. It was an incredible trip and I’d love to go back, especially to Sydney (and the super-speed boat rides around the bay – one of the most fun experiences of my life). I particularly loved The Whitsunday Islands (the sand there is so fine that it squeaks when you walk on it). I think that was my favourite place. But travelling around in a caravan with my family was really fun, if stressful at times. I’m so glad it’s a trip we got to do together. And then me, my Mum, and her Mum flew over to South Island, New Zealand for five days and I just fell in love. I don’t know what it was but I just loved it from the moment we got there. Another place I think I could happily live if I didn’t have all of my problems. We explored Christchurch, flew up to the top of a Glacier, and watched baby seals play under a waterfall while the adults lounged on the beach. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible.
  • Berlin – Me and my family went there for a long weekend and it was incredible and beautiful. I mean, it’s a city, so it’s not all perfect and pretty but we saw some amazing things: art galleries and installations, memorials, cool restaurants, and so on. I felt very attached to it as a city.
  • Turkey – Some family and I went to a little village on the coast of Turkey between my AS and A Level year (I remember this vividly because I had to do my summer work in the bedroom, the only room with air conditioning). It was beautiful. We had a tiny balcony where we ate breakfast every morning and above (well, I guess, behind) the village were these spectacular) mountains and that was when I fell in love with mountains. I’m very grateful for the trip but it was very hot – hot enough to melt the tarmac off roads in certain areas – and I don’t handle the heat very well so it was a struggle. I wish it hadn’t have been so hot so that we could’ve done more. I did have a relaxing time though: reading books and eating good food in fabulous weather.
  • Netherlands – I have family in the Netherlands so I’ve been there several times, especially when I was younger (and we’ve often stopped briefly in Belgium). While I do like Amsterdam and Driehuis, Alkmaar has been my favourite place so far. It might be a city but it felt like a small town and I loved walked around and discovering the little shops and restaurants and churches. Plus we ate plenty of poffertjes (they’re like teeny, tiny pancakes but not quite and you can eat them with almost anything). SO GOOD.
  • Paris and Venice – For my Granny’s 80th birthday, she took us to Venice, via Paris. Unfortunately they’d just had the highest rainfall in twenty years so the water was almost knee high. They were providing Wellie Boots that looked a bit like they were made out of (sturdy) plastic bags. Apart from my Granny’s safety, the whole thing was pretty funny. Even with the inconvenience of the extra water, I loved the city and we travelled to some of the islands. I particularly loved watching them blow the glass on Murano.
  • Switzerland – I was lucky enough to go to Geneva for two days with my best friend from sixth form and although I was anxious as all hell for the whole trip (this was when my anxiety and depression were becoming a life altering problem), it was really cool and I’m really grateful to her and her Dad for having me along. We got to go to CERN (we’re Physics nerds) and although the underground tours weren’t running, we got to see the control room of the Large Hadron Collider and that was REALLY, REALLY COOL. Plus the science-centre-sort-of-thing attached to it was fun. The lake was beautiful and I loved looking at the mountains in the distance. I love mountains.
  • Ireland – Mum had to work in a couple of different places in Ireland and decided to make it a little trip, starting in Dublin, and it was a surprisingly wonderful place. Not that I thought it would be boring but I didn’t expect to enjoy the experience so much. There was music everywhere and all the people were so nice and there were so many interesting little shops. At least where we were situated. Then we went further south and it was just so green. It was so beautiful. I loved it.
  • Iceland – I went to Iceland at the end of 2018 and as you’ll know if you follow my blog, I wrote a whole blog post about it. It was very stressful because new experiences are stressful for me but it was absolutely incredible. I know I’ve used that word a lot. But the glaciers were beautiful and the diamond beach was the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen and the Northern Lights, as faint as they were, were one of the most magical things I’ve ever witnessed.
  • Norfolk – I’ve been going to a little seaside Norfolk town every year since I was two and it’s become really special. It’s my home away from home. I step onto the beach and I feel different, like I’ve found something I didn’t realise I’d lost. We used to stay in a cottage but now we stay in a caravan closer to the beach, which is so nice. I love it there. It will always own a piece of my heart.

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At the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany (2011)

HARD STUFF

  • Had my heart broken – Being in love is always kind of complicated for me because I can love someone without it being romantic. But I still love them with all my heart. Anyway. At nineteen, I had my heart broken for the first time and it was crushing. She was so cold and just cut me off without a word. It took me more than two years to get over it and feel like myself again. I did see her again, just once. But I didn’t get a decent explanation. In fact, it seems like she was rewriting history to make herself feel better. But I’m good now, in that regard at least.
  • Christina Grimmie was killed – The night Christina Grimmie died, I was out at a friend’s EP launch, spending time with lovely people. I went home on a high. And then I woke up to social media posts praying for her and using RIP hashtags, telling stories about what she meant to them. I was in total shock. She’d been such a big part of my teenage years and I’d always been so inspired by her videos, by her incredible voice and dynamic personality. I’m only glad I didn’t have to be in university that day because I don’t think I could’ve managed my emotions. I kept crying, bursting into tears at random moments. I spent most of the day on the floor with the young kittens we had at the time: they were exploring the world with excitement and wonder and that helped. A bit. It reminded me that there was still good in the world, that there was still innocence. I still think of her often, watch her videos and I wear a bracelet to remember her, so that she’s always with me.
  • Moved out of my childhood home – Last year, I moved out of my childhood home (or at least the one I’d lived in for about about fifteen years – so most of the life I’m aware of) and it was hugely traumatic for all of us, especially since we weren’t going to continue living as one unit. We all cried a lot and slept terribly and it took weeks to not hate it. I don’t hate it anymore. There’s a lot I like about the new situation but I think that the old house will always be home in my mind. But whether it is or not, we’re doing okay. We’re doing good here.
  • Ten years without Dad – I don’t really want to write about this; I’d rather write about it in it’s own post. But it was hard. It felt like the day should feel big and important but it just felt like a normal day. And that was really hard.
  • Claire Wineland died – I discovered Claire’s YouTube videos in early 2019 and I just fell in love with the way she talked and her perspective on life, her perspective on so many things. It made my day every time I saw that she’d posted a new video. I was so excited for her to get her new lungs and I spent every moment of that week when she was in a coma, thinking about her and her family, sending them all the love I could. And then she died and I was devastated. I still am. Writing this is making me cry. I miss her. I still really miss her and like my Dad and Christina Grimmie (and my Grandad), I wear a bracelet so that she’s always with me.
  • Autism and Mental Illness – As you’ve probably just read in that specific section, there’s been a lot of struggle and pain. It’s been really, really difficult and sometimes I don’t even know what to do with all that pain.

OTHER

  • Made some amazing friends – I have friends I’ve known for ten years, friends I hope will still be my friends in ten years, friends who also have Autism and understand me in a way that others don’t, and I have new uni friends who I’ve only met recently. They’re all freaking wonderful in their own unique way and I’m grateful to know every single one of them.
  • Met Amanda Tapping – Amanda Tapping has been one of my heroes for so long so to meet her was amazing. I was so nervous but she was so kind and attentive and she held my hands the whole time we spoke. It was a really special experience that I’ll always be grateful for.
  • Voted in multiple elections – This is something that’s always been really important to me and although, in that time, we’ve never had the overall result I’ve hoped for, the person I’ve voted for in my constituency has always gotten in and she’s incredible.

So there you have it: a rough guide to my decade. I hope this wasn’t boring as all hell because it was very therapeutic for me. So, yeah, I hope you like it. Have you written something like this?

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Goals For 2020

So the 19 for 2019 was probably overambitious, especially considering the instability of my mental health. I just didn’t realise how fragile it really was until it crashed. A lot of this year is going to be about looking after and rebuilding my mental health. So this year, I’m going for something a little gentler: a handful of goals that aren’t super specific. They’re more about trying than achieving.

GET BACK TO SWIMMING – For a year, I swam almost everyday and I loved it. It made me feel really good in my body. But then the depression, the medication side effects, the fatigue, and the meltdowns all made that impossible. I was either too unwell or too physically weak. But I really miss it. It wasn’t possible during the first semester of my Masters (my anxiety was so high and I was having so many meltdowns that I just didn’t have the energy) and I’ve spent the holidays working on my assignments but I’m optimistic that this next semester will be a bit gentler and I’ll  have the time and energy to start building the swimming in again.

START WEARING MY INVISIBLE BRACES AGAIN – Again, I did really well at this for a while but the mental health crash derailed it and it was just one thing too much. I was going through so much during the day that pressure in my face during the night was just more than I could take. But my teeth haven’t completely regressed so at least I’m not starting from the beginning. I’m wearing them again and it’s uncomfortable and hard but I’m trying my best to focus on the end goal: straight teeth that make me feel confident when I smile.

COMPLETE YEAR 1 OF MY MASTERS DEGREE – Because of the way the part time course is set up, I only have one more semester this academic year and from what I understand of it, it shouldn’t cause me the same levels of anxiety as the last one, as much as I enjoyed it. I’m also kind of looking forward to the assessment because it’s an essay where you can write about anything music related. How cool is that?! All the possibilities! And that’s year one done so all things going well, that should be possible. I’m cautiously optimistic.

CONSUME NEW MEDIA RATHER THAN JUST FAMILIAR MEDIA – With all the mental health stuff, it’s been hard to engage with anything that isn’t safe and comforting. It’s been especially difficult in the last few months when my OCD has been so bad, because it’s hard to concentrate on something new when I’m trying to write everything down. I’m going to be working on that specifically but also my mental health in general this year so hopefully those needs won’t take up so much time, leaving some time for watching, reading, and listening to new things.

GET BACK TO THERAPY AND FOCUS ON MY MENTAL HEALTH – I only went to therapy sporadically in the second half of the year last year because my therapist and I couldn’t get our schedules to match up and because of certain things going on in our lives and although I don’t yet know my timetable for the new semester, we (me, my Mum, and my therapist) are all determined – furiously so – to make it work because I really need the support. Things have gotten really bad and I really, really need the support.

WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS IN MUSIC – This is probably the hardest one and a lot of the time, it feels unbearable to even think about. While I need to work on not comparing myself to others in general – in all situations – I figure that’s too big a task for such a difficult feeling so I just picked one area. Music has always been my happy place and I want it to stay (or go back to being or something) my happy place and it’s not, when I look at other artists and feel lost and sad and lonely and angry and bitter. So I want to work out – probably with therapy – how to focus on me and not worry about other artists beyond a practical, objective sense. This feels really, really hard so I don’t know if I’ll manage it in a year or whether I’ll even manage to start but I want to so I’m trying to think about it and figure out a place to start because I don’t want to feel all of these things. I want my happy place back.

So these are my goals for this year. It’s difficult to really even think about things like this at the moment because everything feels so, so hard that I just feel overwhelmed. I feel like everything chips off pieces of me and at twenty five, I shouldn’t feel so small. I shouldn’t feel like there’s so little left of me. I’m struggling and I don’t know how to keep going and I don’t know what to do and a big part of me wants to just give up but I don’t know how. How do you give up? Because life just keeps going on without you. I guess that’s why my main goal this year is my mental health because I don’t know what to do anymore.