Posted on July 4, 2020
It’s been a while since I did a ‘week in my life’ post and I haven’t done one about lockdown, mainly because I feel like most of my days are incredibly similar, which wouldn’t exactly make for a scintillating post. But I saw the idea in my ‘blog ideas’ list and realised that over the last few weeks, I have managed to be a bit more productive (with my mental health fluctuating so wildly, it’s hard to really get into anything) and so each day is looking more like its own entity.
The week in this post started on Monday 22nd June and ended on Sunday 28th June.
Even though I don’t have anywhere to be, I’m still getting up relatively early, partly because I’m at my best mentally in the mornings (generally) and partly because we have five cats who are always very eager for breakfast. They’re actually really helpful when it comes to maintaining some kind of routine; sometimes I think it’s easier when there’s something external to build from, rather than trying to build it from nothing.
Cats fed, I settled on the sofa and replied to all the messages on my phone that were waiting for me. In times of mental distress (which there is a lot of lately), I tend to abandon my phone and withdraw from communications because it’s all just more than I can handle. However, it can then be a rather daunting task when I feel able to engage again. But I managed to reply to everyone and messaged some of my friends that I hadn’t checked in with for a while.
I spent the morning sorting through my tech box of electronics, my store of everything electronic, from spare pairs of headphones to camera equipment to cables I know longer own the devices for – I’m sorting through all of my possessions and this was next on my list. I went through it, throwing out the stuff that was damaged or so old that it was no longer useable, piling up some stuff to give away, and organising the remaining items by function. I certainly don’t need the big box anymore.
I didn’t stop there though. I went through all eight of the USB sticks I’d found, deleting the files I didn’t want and storing those I did. I now have multiple memory sticks empty and ready to go whenever I need them. And then I started on the hard drives, most of them assorted back ups of my laptop. That’s a job that’s going to take considerable time. But I’ve assigned each of them a function and started moving the relevant files. I can’t have done more than a quarter of the work and even that took most of the day.
Eventually I gave up, having spent so much time on it that I kept getting confused about which hard drive I was in. So I disconnected them, packed them away, and did a couple of hours work on my blog post for the kittens’ birthday post (here). Me and Mum had dinner together, continuing our rewatch of Nikita, and then I spent about forty five minutes at the piano, during which I recorded this:
Then we fed and settled the cats before going to bed.
It was a quiet day. I spent most of it working at my laptop, finishing the blog post for the kittens’ birthday the next day and writing the one about coming off Pregabalin (here). I also planned out the next few as well, with sketches of the rough post structures. So it felt like a pretty productive day, which I was pleased with.
My Mum and I usually work pretty companionably since her desk is in the living room and I tend to work from the sofa (it’s better for the physical pain that I usually deal with to some degree or another – I need to get a specifically supportive desk chair but I’d have to go and try them out, something I can’t – and wouldn’t choose to – do until it’s safe). But recently she’s been working at the kitchen table, paper spread out around her as she transfers her accounts to a new system. It’s weird, going from being basically on top of each other to almost feeling like I’m alone in the house.
We reconvened in the evening, having dinner with several more episodes of Nikita, and then I sat at the piano, playing for almost an hour, methodically practicing each of the songs I’ve been learning recently. Thank god my neighbours are so easygoing and even supportive of my music because I usually ending up playing fairly late at night and even though I try to keep it as quiet as possible, some noise does drift through the walls.
I was just going to bed when I got a Twitter notification that Ingrid Andress is doing a virtual show on Tuesday 30th June. I love her and was supposed to see her live when I went to the US (before the trip was scuttled by the pandemic) so that was really exciting. I went straight to my computer to get a ticket and thank god I did because it was already difficult to get a ticket. I also managed to get a meet and greet, which should be fun; I have no idea how it will work online (plus it will be about 3am my time…) but it will be really nice to see her again. I’ve been going to her shows and chatting with her afterwards for the last several years so I’m glad that lockdown won’t prevent that.
(Note from present me to past me: it was an awesome show and I really enjoyed my chat with Ingrid.)
It was the kittens’ first birthday so we didn’t delay in heading downstairs and presenting them with their present. They both had a go at it but it was Sweep that eventually managed to open it, revealing the birthday cake shaped toy. Despite not having had breakfast yet, they were both very excited and played with it enthusiastically. It remained in tact for about twenty minutes before Sooty managed to tear the felt flame of the candle off it… Sigh. Ah well. They don’t seem to mind.
Unfortunately, I ended up getting caught in a panic spiral about the loosening of lockdown (I know I’m not the only one who feels that the government cares more about the economy and their reputation than the lives of the British public) and the scientists declaring that they feel we’ll still be dealing with the pandemic next year, that a second wave is extremely likely. The idea of feeling so terrified and so unsafe and so worried for my loved ones (plus the uncertainty around my education and my career) for all that time is exhausting and makes me feel almost overwhelmingly sick.
In hindsight, it probably turned into a meltdown but I didn’t really process that thought at the time. The intensity of my emotions are so extreme at the moment that it can be hard to clearly identify them within the mess I’m feeling. In the end, I was so worn out that I fell asleep on the sofa and didn’t wake up for three hours, a common reaction to a meltdown, for me at least.
When I woke up, I didn’t feel better – that’s not how it works, at least for me – but my head was a little clearer. WordPress had been playing up on my laptop so I hadn’t been able to post the kitten birthday post but eventually I got it up, complete with a video of the kittens: one second a day everyday for the first year of their lives…
In the evening, I spent about an hour on FaceTime with one of my friends. We had a good moan about missing each other and the things we can’t do, drooled over the guitars we wish we could afford, made plans for the first time we can hang out properly again. It was fun and nice and as normal as you can get in a time like this. Mum had wandered in and out of the room during the conversation and commented that we sounded like we always do, hanging out as if we were on opposite ends of the sofa. That made me laugh.
We had dinner together and continued our rewatch of Nikita, staying up far too late.
I’d struggled to sleep with the heat so I woke up, still tired and with a throbbing headache. Not exactly the greatest start to a day.
I sorted the cats and then spent some time tidying the living room and sorting out my space: it had gotten pretty chaotic with the various stationary and electronics that I always have within reach due to my frequent need for them. It’s definitely better and I’m always calmer and more productive in a tidy space.
I’d intended to do some more organising of my hard drives but the rising heat (over 30 degrees) was only making my headache worse. I ended up lying on the sofa with my eyes covered, waiting for the painkillers to kick in, except I accidentally fell asleep and didn’t wake up until about three hours later. Thankfully I slept through the hottest part of the day: I don’t cope very well in the heat. The cats were struggling too, poor babies, stretched out on the cool of the kitchen floor. I’ve never seen them look so flat.
I didn’t manage a huge amount because the headache never really abated but I did get a few bits and pieces done: some research for the blog, some blog writing, watching a bit of TV. But most of my energy was focussed on managing the headache; I spent a lot of time with my eyes covered, blocking out the light.
Mum and I kept to our evening routine of dinner and Nikita rewatch (we’ve just finished season two, which has such a great finale) and then, to finish off the evening, I listened to the two tracks that Richard (my writing partner) had sent me and gave him my feedback. I loved them: they’re both really cool but I had a handful of comments that can hopefully be of use. I also sent him a song of mine to listen to before we start work on the production.
That done, I went to bed but it was so hot and humid that I felt like I could barely breathe.
It was so hot that I just couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t until about five am that I finally drifted off. It was uncomfortable and frustrating but as least I got to witness the incredible thunderstorm that started at about two. There was a lot of lightning and heavy rain, although not much thunder. I sat up and watched it for ages. I absolutely love thunderstorms; they’re my favourite kind of weather. The air just feels different and I feel lighter. Apparently thunderstorms create negative ions in the atmosphere and that’s where that feeling comes from (x).
I struggled up at eight thirty and managed to have breakfast and a shower in time to relax for a moment and collect my thoughts before my therapy session. It’s taken me a while to get used to therapy via Zoom and while I still think face to face is better (and I really miss it), I am really grateful for it. I know that going without therapy during this time would be incredibly damaging for my mental health. I think it’s probably fair to say that we’re not necessarily focussed on making progress right now, rather we’re focussing on managing my emotions and the things I’m struggling with in the present moment, like my overwhelming fear of going outside and my sudden inability to sleep properly to name a few. I mean, technically it all comes under distress tolerance, one of the fundamental areas of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy so I guess we are making progress in a sense. Anyway, we had a pretty intense session because of several tough things going on at the moment, not helped by my lack of sleep. By the time we were done, I was exhausted.
I had a gentle afternoon, watching Nikita with Mum, and then napped on the sofa for a couple of hours. Three hours of sleep really isn’t enough. Throw in a tough therapy session and I was completely useless. I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the day without a nap.
In the evening, we had a socially distanced dinner and movie with one of my parents (she doesn’t live with us). Despite keeping up to date with the briefings and doing my own research, I’m still really confused about what the official safety guidelines are so we’re just sure to be really careful: apart from seeing each other now and then, none of us go out for anything other than the essentials, we social distance when we’re together, and we keep the space (and ourselves) as clean/hygienic as possible. It’s hard not being able to behave naturally together – having to be so conscious of the risks all of the time – but it’s so, so good to see her and hang out and have just a touch of normality, even if it is only a touch. I’ll take what I can get. Getting to see her in person is better than not getting to see her in person.
Despite my nap, I was tired and so me and Mum had a quiet evening together. Exhaustion always makes my anxiety worse so I just needed some time with her. Sometimes we joke that, rather than an emotional support animal, I have her: my emotional support person.
Always far too late (I swear I’m trying to maintain a regular sleep pattern), we fed and settled the cats before going to bed.
I slept better but still not well and I woke up feeling very anxious and unsettled, usually how I feel when I’ve had nightmares but can’t quite remember them – I definitely want to write a post about how the pandemic has affected sleep and the increased number of nightmares. It was still quite early so I stayed in bed, trying to shed the feeling. The cool, grey weather helped.
Eventually I got up, fed the cats, and managed to get a few good cuddles in, which also helped. Although nothing helped as much as the Diazepam I took.
I had a quiet morning, doing some admin, some blog post writing, and a couple of video calls to family and then I spent the afternoon catching up with my diary. The one mental health problem that hasn’t been too badly affected by the pandemic and lockdown is my OCD. It’s much easier – and quicker – to write down everything that happens when so much less is happening; before lockdown, busy days could take hours and hours to write up. My ability to concentrate has been seriously compromised by my anxiety so it still takes longer than it should but at least, with emptier days, it balances out a bit.
Mum and I had dinner, continuing our rewatch of Nikita, and then I spent some time at the piano. One of the things I really wanted to use my empty semester – and I guess, now the lockdown – for was improving my musical skills and at the moment, I’m just really in love with playing the piano. I’ve definitely improved already, which is really satisfying. I practiced my current repertoire and then tried to work out a new song. But it was tricky and I was tired so I didn’t get far before giving up – for the night, not on the song in general.
It was late but before going to bed, Mum (who used to be a full-time massage therapist, although it’s no longer her primary job) massaged my neck and right shoulder. My Trichotillomania urges have gone into overdrive since Covid-19 emerged and they’ve only gotten worse as time has passed. How I haven’t ended up with any bald spots, I have no idea. But because of my excessive pulling, my arm and shoulder have seized up and become really quite painful. The muscles actually hurt to touch but she was very gentle and I do think it helped.
We went to bed and I actually managed to get to sleep fairly quickly, which is a bit of a miracle at the moment.
I managed to sleep in a bit, which was nice, although I’d still had busy dreams. It took me a while to make sense of what was the dream and what was real and when I dragged myself out of bed, I felt slow and sluggish. Fortunately the cats had been very patient about breakfast. Having said that, they were very pleased to see us (and vocal about it).
I had breakfast and a shower, leaving me with fifteen minutes or so to clear my head before my music lesson. One of my parents is a professional musician and music teacher and as another of my goals for this period of time is to improve my understanding of musical theory, I’d asked a while ago if we could spend some time on it together (well, via Zoom). So, every Sunday, we dedicate a couple of hours (sometimes more if we’re on a roll) to working out the chords to a song, figuring out the rhythms to play, etc and then discussing the theory that underpins those things in that particular song. Then I practice it in the week before our next session. It’s hard work – I’ve always found theory quite difficult to really understand – but I do think I’m getting better, if slowly. I think learning it in a practical, applied way is helping and it’s much more fun than just trying to memorise it from a book. To my amusement, it’s basically turned into an attempt to learn every Kalie Shorr song because I love her writing so much but it’s also given me a new appreciation for the songs because I’m seeing how much more to them there is. As I said, it’s difficult and I’m exhausted afterwards (probably from the effort of keeping my concentration on it – a serious job at the moment) but it feels good to be learning and trying to improve my skills.
My concentration is always pretty poor afterwards but I did manage to get some blog writing done. I’m really enjoying this style of writing at the moment; it just flows really easily. I’m also trying to get ahead of myself by a couple of posts, creating a buffer of sorts, just in case I hit a period of writers’ block. That happened a while back and suddenly writing became really difficult and stressful, not exactly something I need more of right now. So I’m taking advantage of (and enjoying) how good and effortless it feels.
Early evening, Mum and I FaceTimed with my Granny. Mum speaks with her everyday while I join in every few days (sometimes in the frame and sometimes just in the room, adding to the conversation). We do the crossword together – something we’ve always done when we’re actually together – which is really fun and catch up on each other’s days. I worry about her, her age making her more vulnerable and her being alone during lockdown. We (especially my Mum and my aunt and uncle) try and talk as much as possible and suggest new things to do and new forms of entertainment (especially when her television died and no one would go out to fix it) but I still worry.
After we hung up, I tried to set up the laptop that had finally arrived from DSA, only to find out that they’d sent me the wrong one. Fortunately, I discovered that (sadly, I’m experienced enough with the problems of getting support as a disabled person to check) before I loaded all my files onto it. So we got in contact with them (and after a lot of back and forth) and they’re sending another one to swap it with. When this process is officially over – as in I’ve got the laptop and everything is signed off on – I will write a blog post about this whole process because it has been long and complicated and stressful and I think these experiences need to be out there.
Me and Mum had dinner with more Nikita and I did some more diary writing.
Somewhere closer to a sensible bedtime, we fed and settled the cats and went to bed.
I hope this was somewhat interesting. When I started writing it, I hadn’t counted on a heatwave that made me just this side non-functional for two days; I’d been hoping to be more productive. I know that we don’t have to be productive everyday but achieving something, even something small does help me to manage my mental health and keep my depression and anxiety from getting into a cycle that’s difficult to break out of.
Anyway, that was a week in lockdown: some routine and some different activities to mix things up. This seems to be the best approach for me. The routine is comforting but the variation keeps me from feeling like I’m in a time loop, living the same day over and over again.
I hope you’re all keeping safe and healthy in these times. I hope lockdown isn’t too traumatic for you and I’m sure you’re managing the best that you can.
Category: animals, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, meltdowns, mental health, music, ocd, sleep, therapy, trichotillomania, video, writing Tagged: 365 days of kittens, a week in my life, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic adult, birthday, blog writing, blogger, blogging, cat, cat owner, cats, collaboration, concentration, coronavirus, covid-19, cowriting, dbt, decluttering, depression, dialectical behaviour therapy, diary, digital decluttering, disabled student allowance, dreams, dsa, facetime, family, feedback, focus, friends, hair pulling, headache, heatwave, ingrid andress, insomnia, journal, journaling, kalie shorr, kitten, kittens, laptop, little voice, lockdown, massage, medication, meltdown, mental health, messages, mum, music, music lesson, music lessons, music theory, musical theory, new laptop, newborn kittens, nightmare, nightmares, nikita, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd, online therapy, pandemic, piano, pregabalin, quarantine, sara bareilles, singersongwriter, sleep, social distancing, social media, songwriting, therapy, therapy session, thunderstorm, trich, trichotillomania, video calling, video calls, week in my life, writers block, writing, year of kittens
Posted on June 27, 2020
Months and months ago, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist and we reviewed the medications I was taking and how I was faring mentally. There was a lot to discuss but we spent a significant amount of time talking about how affected my life is by the sleepiness I experience, as well as the high levels of anxiety I’d been experiencing despite taking the Pregabalin. The result of this conversation was the decision to reduce and eventually stop taking the Pregabalin as it didn’t seem to be helping.
The reduction ended up being pretty uneven, without any particular structure. That was mainly due to the decision to take my time and take less as I felt able to; I didn’t make any alterations during my assessment period at university, for example, as I figured I had enough to cope with. But there were also periods when I was so preoccupied that I simply forgot that I was in the process of reducing it and only lowered the dose when I remembered. Fortunately it wasn’t as traumatic a transition as some of them have been.
150mg —> 100mg
Dropping from 150mg to 100mg, I noticed fairly quickly that my levels of anxiety were going down. At the very least, I had fewer periods of the paralysing, suffocating anxiety that short-circuit my brain, killing my ability to do anything at all. I also started to have more periods of general okay-ness. I wouldn’t quite describe my mood as good, but it definitely moving in a more positive direction than it had for a long time.
I was experiencing specific anxiety around the spread of Covid-19 but I figured that was normal for most people, especially those who already suffer from higher levels of anxiety or anxiety disorders. My as-needed prescription for Diazepam was helpful when it came to managing that, as well as taking precautionary measures.
100mg —> 50mg
I immediately suffered from side effects after this change. I had almost migraine level headaches that I could only manage by lying in bed in my darkened room. They remained at that intensity for several days before fading to a dull throbbing that painkillers took care of for the most part. I also had trouble keeping food in my system; I don’t think I need to go into any further detail on that.
I didn’t feel any different once the side effects passed but after a while, my Mum commented that I seemed less sleepy. I wasn’t convinced but kept an open mind and eventually I did think that I wasn’t feeling quite as drowsy. Part of that was down to the fact that I was drinking less Red Bull than I had been. That seemed to prove that I was needing less caffeine to function and was therefore feeling less sleepy.
50mg —> 0g
Again, I felt the side effects straight away. I had the same headaches although fewer of them and my digestive system also struggled. But with this reduction, I was also nauseous on and off for days and constantly shaky. It was very unpleasant and still hasn’t faded completely, even though I’ve been Pregabalin free for a couple of weeks. But maybe that’s been underneath the Pregabalin all along. I don’t know.
Aside from the side effects, my ability to sleep well disappeared overnight. I can’t be sure that it’s connected but it did start happening around the same time so I think it’s important to include here. I either wasn’t sleeping or having vivid nightmares that left me feeling disturbed and unsettled throughout the next day. I’ve read that this has been a common complaint during the pandemic so I’m thinking that it’s more to do with that than the Pregabalin however, it did start just as I finally stopped taking said medication. It seems unlikely that there’s no link at all.
Now, a few weeks later, I think it’s safe to assume that I’m no longer being affected by the Pregabalin or any withdrawal symptoms. Having said that I am still pretty sleepy and drinking at least one can of Red Bull a day, usually two. I still feel pretty weak and shaky, especially if I have to stand up or exert myself for more than about fifteen minutes. I’m also still sleeping badly with nightmares almost every night. It’s pretty gruelling.
I’m continuing to review the medication situation with my psychiatrist – although it is more difficult while we can’t have face to face appointments – and there are multiple options to think about. I haven’t decided what to do yet. We’re also continuing to investigate physical causes for my fatigue, although that has been put on hold by the lockdown. The restrictions are loosening but I’m not sure what that means for this situation. So, for now, all I can do is research and hope to make the right decisions when the time comes.
Category: anxiety, covid-19 pandemic, medication, mental health, sleep Tagged: anti anxiety, anti anxiety medication, anxiety, anxiety disorder, caffeine, coronavirus, covid-19, disturbed sleep, drowsiness, headaches, lyrica, medication, medication withdrawal, mental health, nausea, nightmares, pandemic, pregabalin, red bull, redbull, sleep, sleepiness, withdrawal, withdrawal symptoms
Posted on June 20, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Category: animals, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, depression, emotions, event, favourites, holidays, meltdowns, mental health Tagged: 2020, abroad, adventure, airlie beach, albatross, alice springs, andrew drummond, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, australia, autism, autistic meltdown, baby seals, beach, brisbane, brumbies, brumby, cairns, cape hillsborough, christchurch, coronavirus, covid-19, crocodile, daintree, daintree rainforest, darwin, dingo, dolphins, family, family holiday, fox glacier, franz josef glacier, glacier hot pools, great barrier reef, hervey bay, holiday, holiday memories, hot air balloon, humpback whale, jacana, kaikoura, kakadu, kakadu national park, kangaroo, kings canyon, koala, kuranda, lockdown, maori wrasse, meltdown, meltdowns, memories, mental health, mental illness, morten island, mossman gorge, mountains, nashville, new zealand, ocean, panic attack, panic attacks, photography, reminiscing, sea, seal, seals, snorkelling, snow, south island, sperm whale, sunrise, sunset, sydney, sydney harbour, tranzalpine, travel, travelling, uluru, wallaby, whale watching, whales, whitsunday island, whitsundays, wildlife, work holiday, working holiday
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as several mental health issues. I’m a singersongwriter so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My second single, ‘Bad Night,’ is also now available on all platforms and is the first track from my new EP, ‘Honest.’