When Results Day Isn’t What You Hoped It Would Be

Trigger warning: This post contains details of an emotional breakdown and mentions of self harm.

So results day is coming up. The timeframe is much as it ever was: school grades will be released as planned: A Level results will be released on the 13th August and GCSE results will be released on the 20th August. Degree results tend to depend on the specific university. Despite all of the upheaval over the last several months and the changes made to the expected academic year, many people still took exams of some kind, worked hard on projects or coursework, and pushed themselves to attain the highest marks they could so, regardless of the unusual circumstances, the anxiety around these days is no doubt mounting.

As I’m in the middle of my course, I’m not currently awaiting any grades. I completed my second module back in April and received my marks not long after. But every August (and to an extent, January, when some modules are assessed), I think of all those anxiously anticipating those numbers or letters that they’ve been working towards for months, that their lives have revolved around for so long (not a healthy mindset, mind you, but one that society has entrenched in us and one that I’d like to talk about further at a later date). I think of those young people and hope that, whatever grades they have received, they are coping in a positive and healthy way.

What with my GCSEs, some in Year 9 and some in Year 11, my AS Levels, my A Levels, all the results during my degree, and now my Masters, I’ve had many, many a results day. And the majority of them have been absolutely fine, if not better than fine. Some of them have been downright amazing. But I do have one very negative experience that I think is important to share because chance are, at some point or another, we will all have a bad results day that comes as a shock. So I want to tell this story and then share some advice for dealing with a similar situation…

It was a chilly morning in January 2013 and I was anxiously awaiting the release of the Autumn module results with my friends. The only course I’d had an exam in was Physics and although I’d found it difficult, I finished it feeling like I’d done okay. Having been absent for a lot of secondary school due to ongoing illness, I’d missed out on a lot of foundation material so I’d found the course difficult but during the most recent parent-teacher evening, my teacher told us (me and my Mum) that she had absolute confidence in my abilities and that I was on track for a high grade. So when I opened my results and saw the little printed ‘u,’ I was initially confused. Surely it was a mistake. I’d always gotten good grades and my teacher had said such positive things. I waited restlessly for the mark to be confirmed and when it was, it felt simultaneously like everything went still and like everything was crashing down around me. I made my escape and headed for the more secluded of the two toilet blocks – I felt like every emotion I was feeling was visible on my face and I had no idea how to talk about it or how to pretend that I was fine. I needed to be alone.

I was crying before I even made it into the toilet stall and I sat on the lid, sobbing so hard that my chest hurt. I was gasping for air but it was like my lungs had pinprick holes in them, the air rushing straight out again. Even to this day, I’m not sure I can explain exactly what I was feeling. It’s not especially subtle and sounds very dramatic but it felt like the world was ending. I felt like a failure and I felt like the only thing people would see when they looked at me was a failure. All I was was this ‘u.’ All I was was ‘unsatisfactory.’ I couldn’t move past that thought. Everything else disappeared.

I don’t know how long I sat in that cubicle, crying and self harming, before my friends tracked me down. I wanted to stay there and hide forever but somehow, I dragged myself up and walked out to face them. I still remember the shock on their faces; I still remember looking at myself in the mirror, my face a mess of thick, mascara stained tear tracks and my arms covered in scratches. I looked as bad as I felt.

One of my best friends – someone I still consider a good friend despite the fact that we don’t see each other as often as we used to – took control of the situation, taking me off campus to a coffee shop where she gently coaxed the story out of me over hot chocolate. We both had to go back for classes but she arranged for us to talk to a mutually beloved and admired teacher at the end of the day. I wasn’t convinced but I was operating on autopilot, drained of the will to protest. So after my lesson (a lesson in which I didn’t say a word), we went to see this teacher and in her typical fashion, kind but direct, she told me about some of her experiences and talked me through my options. Then I went home and didn’t return for over a week.

It’s worth noting that my mental health had been deteriorating exponentially over the previous year, so this happened at a time when I was completely unequipped to handle it and it was a catalyst for a lot of big decisions. I dropped out of the physics course, partly because I wasn’t mentally healthy enough to manage the number of courses I was taking and partly because I was so distressed by the experience that I felt completely incapable of going back into that classroom and continuing with the course. Just thinking about sitting in that room triggered anxiety too extreme to function. And I can admit now that there was some shame involved too: I couldn’t bear the thought of my teacher and my class looking at me and seeing a failure. So I dropped Physics, completed the rest of my courses, and started seeking professional help for what were now obvious mental health problems.

To this day, I still struggle to open exam results. I work extremely hard and then, when the results are released, I’m very careful to open them at a time when I feel emotionally equipped to handle whatever they’ll say and when I have the time to process the emotions that I’ll potentially experience. I’ve talked about this a lot with my therapist, in general terms, but then we talk about it every time new results loom. Not long ago, she referred to the experience as ‘a trauma’ and the relief of having it validated for the distress it caused and continues to cause was so overwhelming that I swear my heart stuttered in my chest. After having so many of my experiences (and the ongoing problems they caused) invalidated, it was a really emotional moment. That day had a massive effect on my mental health and my relationship with education and still triggers debilitating anxiety.

Not all results days are like this. In fact, most of them aren’t and I hope that you – you, reading this – never have to go through an experience like this one, but just in case you do, here are some of the things that I’ve learned about coping with difficult results…


IN THE MOMENT

  • Get yourself to a safe place – Dealing with difficult emotions is hard enough in itself but factors like crowds of people, lots of noise, and so on can make it even more difficult. Whether you need to be alone or with a friend, somewhere quiet or somewhere too noisy to let yourself dwell (momentarily is fine, indefinitely obviously isn’t healthy), being in a place where you feel free to express your emotions can only make it easier to cope with the torrent of emotion.
  • Give yourself time to process your emotions – I always find that, when something huge and unexpected happens in my life, my emotions completely overwhelm me and while I know what I’m feeling right then and there, it often changes as the intensity recedes. I try not to make any decisions until everything feels more stable; if I do, I usually end up regretting them. So let your emotions flow and evolve and eventually simplify. Once that happens, everything will be clearer.
  • Talk it through with someone – Talking to someone (someone you feel safe and un-judged with) about what you’re going through can you help you process the emotions and make sense of what’s causing them, whether it’s a fear of disappointing people, a fear of damaging your future, or a fear of failure in general. Or something completely different and personal to you. And then, when you’re ready, they can help you put it in perspective and decide what to do next.
  • If it feels helpful, compare with your peers – Whether this is a good idea can only be judged by you. Sometimes sharing can be a bonding experience; for example, if the exam or module was marked universally harshly, the shared emotions can help you deal with the situation. However, if you decide to compare your grades with your classmates, be careful about who you choose to talk to: some people may approach the problem with potentially invalidating positivity, some may have done worse and be sensitive about it, and so on. It’s not a straightforward choice and one that only you can make.

ONCE YOUR EMOTIONS HAVE SETTLED

  • Talk to your teacher(s) – Not only do your teachers know the system, they will also have seen and helped multiple people through experiences similar to yours. They will have useful advice and experience that they can share with you that will hopefully make it easier to decide on your next steps.
  • If you get feedback, assess areas to improve on – If your results come with feedback, read through it carefully and think carefully about how you can perform consistently in the areas you excel at and how you can improve in the areas you lost marks in. Having clear goals for your future work can improve not only your future performance but also help with negative feelings around your recent grades.
  • Think about whether you want to resit – Retaking exams can be a smart route to take because resits can give you extra time to learn the material and they can help you boost your overall grade. And if that overall grade affects your next steps, it may be possible to continue with that original plan, just a year later. However, resits eat up time, can distract you from whatever comes next – whether that’s working on new modules, new experiences in a gap year, etc – and challenge your mental health with added anxiety and pressure. Again, only you can make this choice but I recommend talking to multiple people with various viewpoints before making a final decision.
  • Consider getting extra help – Whether you’re starting a new module or resitting previous exams, support from a tutor or mentor might be helpful, both in your approach to learning and your overall grades. You might also find that you need some support with your mental health after upsetting results or in the face of moving forward in education so you may want to talk to your school’s counsellor or the pastoral care team or even your GP. It may also help to talk to a teacher, not specifically for mental health advice but for advice on who to talk to concerning this matter.

Despite the trauma of that day and the vivid images that come to mind whenever I recall it, there are three things that I actively choose to focus on:

  1. The absolute kindness of my friend – I don’t know how that day would’ve gone if my friend hadn’t come to find me, taken care of me, and taken me to talk to a teacher I trusted. While I wasn’t capable of properly acknowledging her help at the time, I am so grateful that she was there and that she looked after me in my most fragile state, nonjudgmental of my emotions, accepting of my self harming, and thinking only of how to help me. Whether we’re friends forever or our paths diverge, I will always remember and appreciate it.
  2. The words of my teacher – I so appreciate my teacher sharing her story with me and what she’d learned from it, even if I wasn’t really taking it all in at the time. I didn’t know it at the time but she helped. She really helped. I can’t remember her exact words (much of that day is a blur) but in essence, she said: there is always more than one path to get to where you want to be. I didn’t truly understand it at the time. I had a plan and I was going to follow it but looking back, she was right. I may not be literally where I wanted to be but I’m metaphorically where I wanted (and want) to be and more importantly, I think I’m where I’m supposed to be, if a little battle-scarred.
  3. It was the beginning of a very important journey – It was a horrible day with far reaching consequences but it was that day that really made us realise that something was very wrong and we needed to do something about it. Of course, if you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that my mental health journey has been and continues to be full of twists and turns but if not for that day, who knows how much longer I would’ve struggled before something pushed us into action. I thought it was the end of everything but in fact, it was the start.

This post turned out to be a lot longer than I’d intended but I hope it has been somewhat helpful. I hope you remember that whether your results are good or bad, whatever you feel is valid. You have spent years working towards this moment and it’s natural and totally okay to have strong feelings about them. It would be odd if you didn’t. You’ve worked hard for this. So feel what you feel and do what you need to do to make sense of this big, messy experience that you’ve gone through. It will be okay – maybe not in the way you expect but it will be okay. I can promise you that.

I Finally Left My House

On Monday, for the first time in over a hundred days, I left my house.

I was already self isolating when the UK lockdown went into effect. My university classes had moved online, I have friends and family that I could put at risk if I caught the virus, and it generally seemed like the safest, most socially responsible thing to do. Then the lockdown was officially put in place and it was me and my Mum in the house together. Struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I don’t go out a whole lot because I physically can’t manage it but I had previously had university classes, seeing friends and family, and swimming at the gym (the only exercise that doesn’t cause me physical pain – probably because it’s non weight-bearing), all of which were suddenly gone. My Mum went out only to food shop and pick up medication prescriptions as necessary.

I’ve only been out once since then and that was to rescue my kitten who got stuck up a tree in a neighbour’s garden – we think she’d been up there for more than twelve hours. And when we did go to get her, all involved socially distanced and wore masks. It was stressful in the face of the virus but my kitten would not come down  by herself and we were all getting really worried about her.

Ever since then, I’ve stayed in the house. My mental health has been a monumental struggle during this time, especially my anxiety – to the point that something as simple as laughing from outside or looking through the window at the street can cause severe anxiety and autistic meltdowns. And the longer this goes on, the worse it’s getting. I’m in contact with my psychiatrist, taking my medication, and having online sessions with my therapist but I don’t feel like it’s making much difference to my anxiety.

The easing of lockdown only increased my anxiety. With the scientists and Public Health England still warning of the dangers of Covid, it seemed (and still seems) incredibly irresponsible of the government to be making such changes. When it was announced that hairdressers would be opening on the 4th July, my anxiety sky-rocketed. Ever since the pandemic began moving into Europe, my Trichotillomania has escalated dramatically. It’s been a problem for years but with the recent extreme levels of stress, I’m now pulling my hair out more than I ever have. It’s not only causing pain in my scalp and damage to my hair, it’s also causing terrible pain in the fingers, hand, arm, and shoulder on the side I pull from, as well as tingling and numbness that often doesn’t pass for most of the day. So while I did, of course, want a hair cut (as I think everyone did), I was also desperate for advice and help with this problem. Plus, I go to an independent hairdresser and wanted to support them.

But despite all of that, I just as desperately didn’t want to go. Even with the all the strict safety measures they’d informed their clients of, I still felt overwhelmingly unsafe going out, especially into town. To make it feel more possible, we spoke to them and they arranged my appointment to be as stress free as they could possibly make it: we cancelled the colour to reduce my time there (it felt unnecessary as it was something I could do at home – I’d booked it way back when when it had looked like it would be (or feel) safer, they scheduled my appointment first thing on a Monday morning so the environment would be as clean and safe as possible, and they were happy to have my Mum come with me in case my anxiety got too bad. When we made those arrangements, it felt as good as I thought it was ever going to  and we moved on, the appointment still a few weeks away.

But as it got closer, my anxiety grew and grew until I was having panic attacks over it. I didn’t want to go. I really, really didn’t want to go. It felt so unsafe to be going out, even with a mask, gloves, hand sanitiser, and safety measures in place. I didn’t want to go. The anxiety was unbearable and I had multiple awful panic attacks.

In the end, my anxiety just wiped me of all my energy and on the morning of the appointment, I just didn’t know what to do. I had nothing left. So Mum took over, got me up, and took me to the appointment. Even being outside felt terrifying: I felt so unsafe and exposed and vulnerable. We got there and the hairdressers was almost empty, as planned, and my hairdresser was as lovely as always. I’ve been camouflaging my Autism and my anxiety for so long – I’ve spent my life building a mask to help me manage in difficult situations, something that I want to write about more in the future – that most people see the ‘usual’ me but in reality, I was so anxious that I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly (and that had nothing to do with the facemask). I almost destroyed the fidget toy I’d brought with me and the whole experience was just exhausting. It felt like it only added to the trauma of the pandemic and lockdown.

(I do want to make it absolutely clear that that has nothing to do with them as people or a business. It was all about going out and feeling so unsafe outside my house.)

My hairdresser is awesome and so lovely and we had a good conversation about the condition of my hair and the textures that trigger my pulling. We talked about what might improve the condition of my hair and therefore lessen the textures that trigger me, which products might be helpful. So we’ll see how that goes. And simply cutting off the dry ends of my hair will hopefully help with the pulling too.

We were there less than an hour but I was completely exhausted. I was barely functional all day and ended up falling asleep on the sofa at about 10pm, hours earlier than I usually get to sleep at the moment. And it’s taken days to regain enough energy to concentrate and actually do things again. Even now I’m not sure whether I made the right choice or the safest choice but it’s done and I can’t go back and change it. Several people have said to me that going out would make going out again easier but if anything, it’s made it feel even scarier so, for the moment at least, I’m not going anywhere.

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The next challenge, I guess, is when gyms reopen. As swimming is the only non-painful exercise I can do, my exercise has been severely limited during lockdown and on a personal level, I’m desperate to get back to it. I love it, I miss it, and I miss how it makes me feel, physically and mentally. But I just can’t imagine how on earth it can be safe. So there’s a lot of investigating to do, a lot of thinking and weighing the pros and cons to do. I’ve never been so jealous of people having their own private pools.

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.