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autism Balkans decision making holiday hyperfocus loneliness masking social skills university

Balkans Roadtrip

I’ve just got home from a roadtrip across the Balkans with my two high school friends. We booked our flight to Budapest back in December so for a long time the trip was simply referred to as Budapest 2022. Then we went on a trip to Dublin at Easter and gained a trip mascot – Kevin the carrot. We created a Kevin the carrot Instagram page called Kevin’s crazy carrot adventures so spent a lot of the trip getting content for it. A group trip is something I never really thought I’d do but I really really enjoyed it.

This picture was taken in Bosnia at the Tara Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world and we had a 6 hour rafting trip down it.

Countries visited: 7

Number of days: 18

  1. Budapest, Hungary
  2. Ljubljana, Slovenia
  3. Lake Bled, Slovenia
  4. Hochstuhl, Austria
  5. Belgrade, Serbia
  6. Sarajevo, Bosnia
  7. Tara canyon, Montenegro
  8. Split, Croatia
  9. Trogir, Croatia
  10. Zagreb, Croatia

This trip isn’t really something I ever thought I would do for a number of reasons:
It was very poorly planned
I get stressed when I have to spend to much time with people
We were constantly changing location

This is a view of Lake Bled in Slovenia.

A lot of these points are relating to my autism and I will explain further below. 

It was very poorly planned
For autistic people, lack of planning is a big issue. We like to know all the big W’s – who, what, when and where. We all had exams until 1 week before the trip though which is where the planning problem came from. It helped massively that I had exams to focus on first. I’m a very all or nothing/ black and white style thinker so whereas I used to need to know exactly what I was doing, I am now a very in the moment person and struggle to think ahead to the future – which provides a planning problem on the other end of the scale. Luckily, as we were travelling before school holidays, it didn’t matter that we were last minute. We did it all very systematically:

  1. Decided how long we wanted to go away
  2. Which countries we wanted to visit
  3. How long we wanted to spend in each country
  4. Which places we wanted to go to in each country
  5. How we would get between cities

We left the daily itinerary to when we got there but had a good basic plan. I really didn’t mind this because my main issue with lack of planning is wasting time and not having anything to fill a time slot however, I took my laptop meaning that in the time that the others spent faffing, I could work yet still be available to contribute to any decision making. In the past I think I’d have just got very anxious at the empty time spent unsure of what the plan was. 

I get stressed when I have to spend to much time with people
The main reason I don’t like spending too much time with people is because I get exhausted from socialising. Despite this, I found I was fine. I think this is because I went away with a group of friends who I have known for a very long time so can be myself around them and don’t have to mask. This relieves most of the strain of being with a group of people for a prolonged period of time. Additionally, a lot of the time we spent together was walking which is far less intense. 

We were constantly changing location
This is something that in the past I would have found very stressful because I like knowing that I have a ‘safe place’. Despite this, I find now that as long as I have my phone and laptop with me on a trip I’m fine. This is mainly due to the fact that it means I have a sense of normality in that I can work. It probably doesn’t make sense but it just provides a constant and something that I’m in control of. I am someone who likes to exercise as a way to relieve any stress so it really helped that most of the days were spent walking around. Our trip total miles were 255! I do think my friends got slightly frustrated that my solution to everything was walking. Lost? Don’t bother with Google maps, just walk and you’ll get to an important landmark eventually. Too hot? Just walk. Too tired? Walking will energise you. 

So overall, it was a great trip and I had an amazing time.

This was taken on the way up a mountain, at the border with Austria.

Top tips:
1. Don’t get night buses to save money, they are really busy, you won’t get any sleep and it’s much better to get an early morning bus. The bus from Sarajevo to Split was one of the most scenic rides I’ve been on and I had a whole row of seats to myself. 
2. If you are in a group of three or more, it’s often cheaper (and more pleasant) to rent an apartment. 
3. Splitwise is a great app for logging shared expenses. 
4. Most of the touristy attractions are quietist early morning and late afternoon. 
5. As long as you have access to a washing machine, you can manage with a small rucksack for 3 weeks. 
6. Using a monzo travel bank card means you won’t get charged for using a card abroad. 
7. Most cities have apps for buying tickets both for the airport shuffle bus and in the centre. 
8. Make sure you always have a snack supply. 


Categories
running Uncategorized

5 Things Running Has Taught Me

1. You are more capable than you know. 

When I first started running, I couldn’t go more than half a mile without getting a stitch, never mind a parkrun. When I started racing, I didn’t think I’d be winning races just a year later. I am someone who likes to be in control, and I think I used to focus too much on trying to control the outcome of a race. I’d focus on coming first more than anything else. But there are so many outside factors to winning – that aren’t in your control. I’ve learnt that it is better to control what you can. Things like training, sleep, and nutrition. With hard work, training, consistency and dedication you might surprise yourself. During the first lockdown, I really focused on my training and I really surprised myself with how fast I actually got.

Photo by Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga, THE UNTOLD on Pexels.com

2. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others. 

Unless you’re getting world records or winning world championship races, there will always be people faster than you. If you base your expectations on others, you’ll be disappointed. Most of us want to be successful in running. But I think a lot of us don’t actually have a definition of what success would mean for us. We just strive for what society tells us too – to win and be the best. In my opinion, success is living the life you want to live now, and doing the things you want to do – now. We should be choosing our goals based on how much we’ll enjoy pursuing them. I could probably be an alright track runner, but I don’t enjoy track so I’m not going to pursue it. It’s like the saying ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey that matters’. The process is what takes up most of your time. The actual goal takes up a very small proportion. Think about an olympic sprinter. They spend years working towards a 10ish second race! I don’t think that you have to enjoy every part of the journey, but neither do I think it is good to do things for the sake of conforming. Your motivation should come from within yourself. I try to just focus on myself and my training. I focus on training where I’m at and don’t try to train at the times I think that I should be reaching. I was to be privileged enough to train with a talented group of runners but found that it just wasn’t for me so went back to training on my own.

Photo by Visually Us on Pexels.com

3. Celebrate success – no matter how small. 

The same way you might break up the sections of a race as you go along, you can break up any challenge into smaller steps. Celebrating these small steps will motivate you to keep going and achieve your goals. It’s not always about the end goal but more the smaller steps you take to reach those goals, and how you learn and grow along the way. At one time, a small goal for me would be managing half a day without having a panic attack. One of my goals now is to no go over my weekly budget at Uni! The biggest thing I’ve learnt about training is that consistency is key. Small steps taken consistently over a long period lead to the biggest result.  

Photo by Chiara Caldarola on Pexels.com

4. Embrace obstacles.  

Things rarely go to plan. Obstacles are part of life, and it is important to learn how to overcome them and be resilient. Whether it is adjusting your training to ensure you don’t get injured or having to reevaluate your goals after missing out on a selection race – obstacles teach us lessons. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

5. Look after yourself 

In order to be our best selves, we have to look after our mind and body. It isn’t about striving for perfection but striving to be a better person whilst looking after ourselves. 

Now, I don’t usually watch tennis but a few weeks ago, I heard about Emma Radu-canu winning the US open. It was all over the news because not only was she the first woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in 44 years but just two months ago, she withdrew from Wimbledon after suffering breathing difficulties and dizziness. In an honest statement she spoke of being overwhelmed and the whole experience catching up with her – which is to be expected because she is only 18. She said that it was a great learning experience and that she hoped next time she’d be more prepared. This commitment to looking after herself in order to build resilience makes her part of the growing movement of athletes, raising the profile of looking after mental health in sport. Other athletes such as Marcus Rashford, and Simone Biles are also showing that you don’t need to sacrifice your mental health for sport. In fact, Biles said that she would treasure her bronze more than her golds after taking a break for her mental health. You define your own success. Having aspirations is great but they can also be an issue because we end up focusing too much on failure when we should just be focusing on the present. You can see how much fun Raducanu has when she plays from her smile, and it just shows that you can still enjoy something and be the top of your game. 

Personally, I will always respect someone who knows their limits and is able to stop when they need to. Being strong isn’t carrying on until you can’t no more, it isn’t pushing through no matter what. It is deciding to do what is best for you despite your inner ego. I love running and I do it because I enjoy it. I probably don’t train as seriously as I should, but I’m happy. That’s what matters to me. It has taken me a long time to reach a balance with my running and I want to keep it that way. Any winning is a bonus to me. I firmly believe it is healthy to have things to do outside of running. I am not my sport. It doesn’t define me because there is much more to me than running. I think sometimes we push ourselves too far because we want to prove something. Prove that we are good enough because we fear what people will think if we don’t perform. But this sport isn’t all about winning. It’s about making friends, having good experiences, and becoming better people. 

There is so much research that shows the amazing benefits of running on mental health. I think the movement of just putting one foot in front of the other allows the mind to heal and get rid of any anxieties. I find the rhythm of my strides and breathing silences any negative thought patterns in my head. I use the same internal thoughts I use during a hard run such as “you can do this”, “push through” and “keep going”, to help me when I’m struggling with something. Running reminds me that I can have a positive internal dialogue.  Exercise is the thing that reduces my anxiety the most. I feel like running is a way of directing the “flight” response into something within my control and something that I enjoy. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Categories
running Uncategorized

Why I love mountains

The harder the climb and the taller the mountain, the more I take from the experience because quite simply, I realise how insignificant my problems are compared to the grandeur of the mountain.

I love going up hills. I think mountains actually teach us a lot about getting through hard things. When I’m at the start of a climb, it is quite overwhelming to look up and see this massive mass of land in front of me. In order to overcome this, it is important for me to stay in the present moment and just focus on taking one step at a time because so long as you keep moving, no matter how slow, you’ll get to the top eventually. It is the same with other things in life. It can be overwhelming to look at the end goal but small steps and changes over time lead to big results. You can break up any challenge into smaller steps. Celebrating these small steps will motivate you to keep going and achieve your goals. It’s not always about the end goal but more the smaller steps you take to reach those goals, and how you learn and grow along the way.

There is something very special about being so high up and seeing everything in the valley gradually turn minuscule as you work your way upwards. You can look at things from a different perspective. A tree at the bottom of the mountain looks massive in comparison to me but when I’m at the top, that same tree will look really small. Just like the small issues in my life, all those little stresses, which in the big scheme of things are quite small. You look back and realise that they weren’t so big after all. The harder the climb and the taller the mountain, the more I take from the experience because quite simply, I realise how insignificant my problems are compared to the grandeur of the mountain.

Letting your muscles work whilst your brain has a rest brings a calm that is hard to find in the day-to-day demands of our society. In an ever-changing civilisation, the mountains will always be there. For me, climbing mountains is a time to rejuvenate my mind, let go of worries and leave them on the hill.