On Monday, I was supposed to travel down to London to meet up the next day with my dear friend, Mervyn. If you’ve read How To Be Autistic (and I’m guessing you probably have, given you’re on this blog), you know how much Mervyn means to me, and how he came to the Saatchi gallery opening and how important that was to me. He’s been… incredible, the last few years, and I owe him so much. So, I was really, really excited to be able to hang out with him. It’d also be the first time I’d been in London with a friend, and not a family member (the plan was my dad would get the train with me, but he’d go off and do his own thing). We were planning to go to the Natural History Museum (big whale!) and the Tate Modern to see the Olafur Eliasson exhibition.
Monday started off bad, I was so anxious, I hadn’t felt anxiety like that in a long time, and I hadn’t slept, and I was so upset because I felt like I was letting everybody down. I was sick, whether that was due to the Anadin I’d taken, or my migraine, or the anxiety itself, it’s hard to say, but I didn’t want to let Mervyn down, so I got on the train, even as reality warped around me and made me feel even more floaty and detached and awful than usual. I know this is dissociation, and it’s common with anxiety, but knowing that doesn’t make it any more fun to experience.
There are two trains you have to catch to get to London from Blundeston – Oulton Broad South to Ipswich, then Ipswich to London. I freaked out massively on the Oulton Broad South train, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t place myself in a space that felt real, I cried, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to let anybody down, but I couldn’t imagine making the trip to London just to feel this bad.
When we got to Ipswich, I wanted to go home, but I got on the train to London anyway. As the doors were beeping and about to close, I grabbed my stuff and ran and got off and back onto the platform. My dad followed.
I burst into tears as the train departed without me. My dad went to the ticket office and changed my tickets so that I could go home again. I went straight to bed, and then when I woke up five hours later, I was crying. I hated myself.
My mum talks a lot about not letting the anxiety win. It felt that it very definitely had that day. I went through to my dad’s lounge, and asked him if I could buy the (extortionate) train tickets for the next day, if we left early enough in the morning, I could still meet Mervyn, I could still Do The Thing.
I texted my mum, accidentally waking her, asking her what she thought I should do. She said I should do it. I booked the tickets. My stomach turned. But I was going to do it. I wanted to see Mervyn, I wanted to see the exhibition, I wanted to see the big whale.
I slept two hours Monday night, anxiety thrumming through me like a new heartbeat. I didn’t know why I was scared, I had nothing to be scared of. And yet.
I got up the Tuesday morning terrified but determined. I was going to have fun and enjoy myself, goddammit. Mervyn knew all about the day before and how much it’d sucked, and had been so kind I could have cried all over again. He was down to meet up still.
We drove to the Oulton Broad South station and I tried not to think about how sick I felt or how anxious I was. There was a new steel in me, a desire to do this to spite the anxiety that has wrapped itself around me my entire life.
I got on the train, and I put my headphones on. The train was modern and whilst the seats were still uncomfortable as all get out, it counted down the stops nicely. I used the free WiFi to spin Pokestops and gyms on Pokemon Go when we pulled into stations. We were slowly making our way to Ipswich, the countryside flying by, pigs, geese, swans, sheep.
We got to Ipswich and I got on the train, determined. I let the doors shut, and the train set off, that steady bump that lets you know you’re moving. I put my music back on and tried to look forwards, to hugging Mervyn at the station (he gives really good hugs, don’t @ me).
It could have taken a thousand years, but we finally reached London, pulling into the graffitied tunnels of Liverpool Street. I texted Mervyn to let him know we’d arrived, and after a little confusion, there he was. And there I was.
We didn’t have as much time as I thought, so I decided I’d rather see the Tate Modern first, just in case. The exhibition closes on the 5th of January, whereas the big whale isn’t going anywhere, so. I’d booked an open return ticket, which meant we could catch any train back up ’til 4pm, or after 7pm. That was reassuring to know.
The Tate Modern is only two stops away from Liverpool Street, so we got off at St. Paul’s and then we crossed the Millennium Bridge. London is sort of incredible, in its vastness and its buildings and its impossibility. I lost my breath as I walked, I don’t really… get out much, I guess it’s fair to say. (Side note: I got home and Adventure Sync’d my Pokemon Go app and I’d hatched all my eggs, so I walked a fair bit!)
When we got to the Tate Modern I felt really, really sick, the kind of sick that makes you start looking for bins or handy exits. We stood in the queue to buy tickets for the exhibition, and I wondered if I could do this. I tried to focus on the fact that I really wanted to be here, and I bought the tickets, and after a few wrong turns and communism, we found the exhibition.
The lift was tinted yellow, which was a bit of a sensory nightmare, imagine my weird hatred of yellow supermarket lights and amp it up by about a thousand. And then when we stepped out, the space outside was the same. I understand that the exhibition was about the senses and I respect that, but for me personally, nope.
We saw a strange glassed collection of handmade objects, all different in their own way, in a way it looked like nothing at all, but at the same time a huge amount of hours must have been put into making it. It was a strange mix of different textures and materials.
After the moss wall, I don’t remember what order we did things in, it was a bit of a maze, but I think we saw the mirrored ceiling room, which was very cool indeed. Everything was very cool indeed. It was just a really nice place to be, and I didn’t feel quite so sick by then.
We went into a room with lots of photos of glaciers melting, which Mervyn was really taken with. They were really beautiful, and I wish I’d taken more time to look at them. There was one that Mervyn pointed out to me that took my breath away a little when he explained it, a mix of ice and pigment that had melted.
We saw lots of other things, a single candle burning by itself, beside a window that was perpetually raining, which seemed a bit obsolete in London, but was beautiful nonetheless.
After that, we went into the rainbow fountain room, that was quite dark but okay (there was one room that was pitch dark, which I couldn’t go in. I’m sure whatever was in there was very cool, but I couldn’t do it.) and the rainbows danced in the fountain. The idea was that two people could stand in the room and see two completely different rainbows form.
After that (nearly done! Sorry!) we headed to the metal tunnel, which was a metallic mirrored tunnel on a platform. Walking inside was really cool, everything bounced off everything else and again, beautiful. I keep saying that, but it was.
After that, we headed back out, and I took a photo of the beautiful chandelier type piece that seemed to hold every single colour at once.
It was around 3pm by then, and I was still feeling pretty ill, so we sat and talked and decided that I’d catch the 4pm train back home, and we’d see the Natural History Museum another day. After a slightly confused walk back to the station, we were back on the tube and then at Liverpool Street, where I met up with my dad.
Saying goodbye to Mervyn was so hard, he hugged me and I wished I could just stay there forever.
But now I know I can do this, albeit it’s hard and I don’t know if my stomach’s going to forgive me for several days to come, but I did it. It was a really, really lovely day, and I’m so glad it happened. I’m so thankful to Mervyn for understanding completely, and for being so smart and funny and just a really great human being. If you’re reading this, I’m sorry if I’m embarrassing you, but it’s true.
And now here we are. The world didn’t end. I didn’t end. I got to see an art exhibition I really wanted to see, and what’s more, I got to see the best friend I’ve ever had. There’s more to this story, isn’t there always? But not everything needs to be documented (at least not ’til I need to write another book, right?).
Thank you for reading. I hope this gives you a little bit of confidence in yourself, or something, because this was really freaking hard and whilst it was imperfect and a little bit of a disaster, I Did The Thing.
And that’s kinda cool.