Change For The Better
We meet two people who have managed to create something positive out of the chaos of a Covid-19 world…
ELISA KENNEDY, 44, LEFT LONDON LAST OCTOBER TO TRAVEL AROUND THE UK IN A CAMPERVAN WITH HER HUSBAND SHANE, AND HER SON HUNTER, TWO
“The last two years of my life have changed dramatically, and it’s been one hell of a ride. After years of trying to conceive, Hunter was born in Jan 2019. Shane and I had been married 20 years by then and, like so many others, I’d put off having kids earlier in our relationship thinking I still had plenty of time. But, as the years went by, it felt like our time was running out. It took three rounds of IVF before Hunter arrived – we were ecstatic!
“So 2019 started out as the perfect year for us. We were finally parents, Shane’s restaurant business was looking up and we’d moved to a lovely home with a garden for Hunter and our bulldog Edna. What could go wrong?
“Sadly, what began as a happy year ended in the most tragic way. My dad died suddenly that December. It totally shook up our whole family. Only a couple of months previously we had celebrated his 70th birthday with a surprise boat trip on the Shannon River in Ireland – he was so very happy.
“Weeks after he died we had to make the awful decision to rehome our beloved bulldog, Edna, who we’d rescued six years previously. She had become jealous of the new baby and it wasn’t fair on her. Dad loved her, too, and it broke our hearts to say goodbye.”
GOOD TIMES TURN BAD
“More bad luck continued when we took the difficult decision to close the restaurant just as Covid-19 hit the UK. We’d had a tough first two years; the third year was much better but there’d been a sudden downturn in the fourth, due to Brexit and various other factors. Going into a fifth year while there was a global pandemic made us realise we couldn’t continue. This was a very hard decision for us both.
“At that point, I felt like I was just floating around, confused, numb and without any direction. All I knew was that we had to try and get away. Shane and I had talked about leaving London for years but we put our dreams on hold because of the business and my solid job at the BBC – which became something to hold on to when we went into lockdown. Like the rest of the nation, we were hoping it would all end soon so we could get on with our travel plans.”
“THE KEY IS NOT TO MISS THAT GAP IN THE DOOR, AND NOT TO BE PUT OFF BY OTHER PEOPLE’S CONCERNS”
“Suddenly, I received an email from a friend that would change everything for us. I was working from home one afternoon and was having a particularly frustrating day when the email arrived. It was a link to a YouTube channel with a message from my friend saying, ‘I always thought you and Shane should do this’. The video was about a couple travelling Australia with their toddler in a van. I watched five minutes of it and got goose bumps. All the indecision about leaving and all the worry about taking a risk disappeared. I just knew this was what we should do. “Thankfully, Shane didn’t need convincing – he was ready for something new. Plus, it wasn’t a completely random idea, we had travelled New Zealand in a VW Kombi when we first met and loved life on the road. It was a no brainer – we would leave London, live fairly inexpensively in a van and both have time with Hunter. Most of our close friends knew we’d wanted to do this for a long time and were really supportive, but there were also many who thought we were mad!
“After receiving that email in the summer, we gave notice on our rented house and aimed to leave mid-October. I also took redundancy from the BBC and we spent £15,000 on a van suitable for a long-term trip and for winter. We watched some van life vlogs, but apart from that, we didn’t have much time to research our journey. We needed to wrap up our life up in London and to worry that we hadn’t packed properly – we were constantly finding we were ill prepared for our dramatically different lifestyle. But, when we finally reached Scotland, our first sell our possessions.”
LIFE ON THE ROAD
“We decided to make Scotland our first destination and, as we set off, we tried not few nights were amazing. We found some great spots to camp and thought, ‘how easy!’
“Then the practicalities arose. Where would we get water, where do we empty our waste? We had taken it for granted that campsites, where you can do all this, would be open. But Covid-19 had closed down so many sites so we had to adapt – in fact, I even had to create my own portable urinal!
“We’ve been on the road for a few months now and it hasn’t all been plain sailing! But we’re just at the start of our road journey and learning each day. Covid-19 affects our movements and decisions so ‘van and a pram with no plan’ suits us at the moment.
“Although we’d love to meet up with other van lifers, understandably, there are not many people travelling right now. The big con is that Hunter doesn’t meet many children. And those he does meet, he has to keep socially distanced. On the plus side, we’ve been to Dumfries & Galloway, Loch Lomond, The Highlands and Isle of Skye. We went to Ireland for Christmas. Next, we’ll either head back to Scotland or even Spain, depending on Covid-19 restrictions.
“Then, who knows? We’re living simply, spending our days exploring forests, beaches, rivers and little villages. We’ve created a vlog of our adventure, to chronicle our journey and inspire others to do the same.
“While many people have spent lockdown indoors, we’ve been lucky enough to wake up each day with a different, spectacular view. Seeing Hunter enjoy his new surroundings is an amazing experience.
“It’s easy to say follow your dreams, but life can make that difficult to do. Sometimes the circumstances or timing aren’t right, but it doesn’t mean there won’t come a time. The key is not to miss that gap in the door, and not to be put off by other people’s concerns.”
GRAHAM CULLIS, 38, LIVES IN EAST SUSSEX. LOCKDOWN FORCED HIM TO REASSESS HIS NOMADIC LIFE IN BALI TO HELP HIS MENTAL HEALTH.
“I’d always dreamed of living in Bali and after getting a sales job that meant I could work remotely, I flew out on my birthday last year – 2 January 2020 – to begin my new life.
“My daily routine consisted of surfing, breakfast with friends, a three-hour siesta, followed by work from 4pm till midnight. Repeat Monday to Friday with weekends off – in Bali. Yes, I had a perfect life – until Covid-19 came along.
The pandemic had a devastating affect on the Island. Locals were struggling and expats were leaving in droves. Fear, panic and uncertainty weighed heavy in the air. At work, we were losing clients left, right and centre and things became more demanding.I had to step up the gas, toiling away into the early hours of the morning. The night shifts made me feel very disconnected – I was isolated from my peers in the UK and I became anxious about losing my job.
“Within a few weeks, I was exhausted and stressed and I knew my mental health was plummeting. I struggled on, hiding my anxieties from friends.
“In May, when I was feeling particularly low, a friend suggested trying out an art class. I went along thinking it can’t really hurt. Completely unexpectedly, I found I loved it – and, more surprisingly, I was rather good at it! I’ve always had a creative side, but I’d never channelled it into art before. I didn’t realise then how significant that class was.
“Despite finding something that I enjoyed, being away from my family during a global pandemic just exacerbated feelings of uncertainty and isolation. Mentally, I was nosediving. I stopped surfing and made excuses not to socialise, too. I had pretty much become a total recluse. Before long, I’d become incapable of working at all and admitted to myself I was depressed. It was at this point I decided I had to return home.
“I took a sabbatical from work – but the travel restrictions made organising the trip home very difficult, which added to my stress. My last month in Bali was when I really used art as a weapon in my recovery. I did nothing but paint. I created my platform, Graham Cullis Art (@grahamcullis), and began vlogging my artworks. I would paint all day then go to a quiet café by myself and edit for hours into the night; this was my routine every day. Creating vlogs and video journals allowed me to admit to the world how I was feeling and how art was saving my mental health.”
“I flew home in October 2020 and moved in with my parents. I was even more obsessed with art by now, so I immediately bought all the gear, and continued to paint daily. I can’t begin to explain what this focus did to release me from my worries. “It may have taken me until the age of 38 to discover this passion, but I’m so glad I did. I truly believe art is an extremely powerful therapy that can be used to manage mental illness. A charity that I collaborate with, artsonprescription.org, based in Hastings, is doing wonderful work to make art accessible to all and embedding it into local GP surgeries. “I’m now looking forward to a bright future with my new hobby and can’t wait to give back, connect and help others.”