G’day from, uh… lockdown.
As I type this, Melbourne’s currently dealing with an unexpected COVID outbreak and we’ve been placed into lockdown until it’s under control.
Dave’s been vaccinated! I have shingles! My birthday’s been cancelled!
It’s been a rollercoaster of a month.
When I left you last, I was choosing to ignore the two major signs that were telling me I needed to stop.
For weeks, I had been wrestling with a deep, unrelenting fatigue. I mentioned it in several monthly summaries, recalling how I had been sleeping for over 12 hours a day, falling asleep at the dinner table; passing out at 3 p.m.
The other sign? Getting sick. I shared last month that I caught a bad cold from spending time with my nephew and back then, I was like, ah, it’s all good. I’m just run-down. Power through. I’ll get over it.
But there was no getting over it, because it turned out I had shingles and two of the very first signs of this virus are relentless exhaustion and flu-like symptoms. I had been so tired that I hadn’t even noticed the bumpy rash that was starting to make its way across my body.
At the start of the month, Dave and I moved out of his sister’s place in the outer suburbs and ventured into the inner city, to Richmond. Known for its Vietnamese community, this part of the city — and particularly Victoria Street — is non-stop Vietnamese food and I dived stomach-first into its food scene. There were the daily banh mis for lunch, and then there were the steaming bowls of pho and bun bo hue for dinner.
But while this area once was thriving, it’s become more run-down in recent years. We were staying in an apartment close to an injection room, so it wasn’t uncommon to see people strung out in the streets. Drug deals took place outside busy restaurants on a daily basis, right in front of my face. A woman screamed like a banshee as she sprinted down the pavement towards me and I wondered if I was going to be attacked.
And the restaurants are closing down. Friends told me the area had been in decline for many years now, but COVID has sadly accelerated things. There are only a couple of bakeries left and around a quarter of shopfronts were boarded up and abandoned.
All that to say that I had a wonderful two weeks stuffing my face with the cuisine I love most in the world, but also, by the end of our stay, I wasn’t all that sad to be moving on.
It was just as we arrived in our next apartment, in the neighbourhood of Footscray, that I began to pay attention to the searing pain in my side.
“It’s just… sort of tingling? But like burning at the same time?” I said to Dave, prodding at the proliferation of red marks on my skin.
I’d been ignoring the rash for days, assuming that it was an allergic reaction to a different washing powder or something, but now that it was painful and getting larger by the day, I was wondering if I needed to see somebody.
It took a doctor all of three seconds to diagnose me with shingles.
Have you been very stressed? she asked me. It’s rare to see this in someone so young.
I nodded hard, and told her I’d almost brought my laptop with me to my appointment because I had so much writing I wanted to do.
And when she told me to stop, I started to fret, because when you’re at the point of complete burnout from projects that you haven’t shared publicly, giving the impression to your readers that you’ve been doing nothing at all… how could I possibly take six weeks off?
I asked her if I could still go to the gym, and she was like… no?
Instead, she encouraged me to listen to my body and do what I could to help it heal. She warned me that continued high stress levels could result in postherpetic neuralgia, a common complication of shingles, whereby sufferers continue to experience extreme levels of nerve pain for years past their recovery.
That was enough to convince me to take a break.
I’ve travelled the world for 10 years and over that time, I’ve been fortunate to have felt safe in every country I’ve visited.
But I have to tell you something.
In Footscray, I didn’t feel safe at all. In fact, I told Dave I feel less safe here than I did in the D.R.C. Being in this neighbourhood is the only time in my life where I’ve ever been seriously concerned for my physical safety.
On our first day in town, a guy appeared out of nowhere, screaming angrily down the street.
Yikes, I thought. Somebody made him mad.
Well, it turned out it was me and Dave! It was absolutely baffling and totally frightening to have a guy start charging down the street at us, threatening to hurt us, when we hadn’t done anything at all. We hadn’t even looked at him!
“I’m going to beat the shit out of you,” he yelled at Dave. “And your bitch, too. Get the fuck back here now. I’m going to beat the shit out of both of you. I’M GONNA PUNCH YOU BOTH IN THE FACE.”
I was shaking as I ran into a nearby store in a panic, hoping he wouldn’t follow us inside.
The following morning, I was walking to my doctor’s appointment when the exact same thing happened, but with a totally different guy.
“Oi,” he shouted at me. “Get back here. GET BACK HERE NOW. DON’T YOU DARE WALK AWAY FROM ME.”
And I was like what is happening?!?!?!?!?!
It’s so peculiar, because I hadn’t even made eye contact with these men when they suddenly appeared behind me, shouting at me for no reason at all. And I really, really don’t feel safe. I’m aware it was most likely just bad luck and bad timing on my part, and I’m sure this random anger was meth-related, but man. It was pretty scary!
Fortunately, those have been the only two incidents I’ve run into here in Footscray, but let’s just say, I don’t venture into town regularly anymore! Instead, I’ve been heading into nearby Seddon and Yarraville, which are both lovely.
There was a moment in Melbourne when everything felt so right.
I had recovered from my fatigue and I was back in the swing of things. I was publishing on Never Ending Footsteps, exploring Melbourne’s food scene, and meeting up with friends and family every couple of days. I was hitting the gym on a daily basis and overjoyed to be back in a healthy routine, getting strong and fit, running 5 km a day. The sun was out and the sky was blue; even in these winter months, I was outside in a t-shirt. I felt loved, my heart felt full, and life was good.
That was several days before my rash appeared.
There’s really not that much to share about my shingles. Mine has been a mild case, so far, presumably due to my age, so as I write this now, three weeks in, I’m starting to recover. I’ve finished my course of antivirals, my rash is fading, and the nerve pain is dissipating. I’m grateful for that and taking heed of this valuable warning sign to make some serious changes.
When I started to feel as though I was over the worst of the shingles, I hit the gym once more, groaning as I had to push through all that new-workout muscle soreness again, but feeling a pep in my step. I was back and ready to dominate life.
A news flash.
Masks outside the house, stock-piling food, endless monotony, and a life shrunk back to the bare minimum.
Cancelled plans, rescheduled trips, calls made to hotels with non-refundable policies. It’s my birthday tomorrow, and the first casualty of the lockdown was our planned adventure for the event. A week spent offline in nature, exploring a new part of Australia, and I had been so excited to get out of the city to explore.
A second outbreak.
The Delta variant spreading.
Eighty-four cases detected over 10 days.
Three hundred and fifty exposure sites.
My nephew had been to one of them and had to isolate and get tested. Dave and I visited a store an hour before an infectious case did. Visited a market two hours after another infectious person did. We’d likely passed them on the street at some point.
And it’s funny because I know my risk of contracting COVID was far higher when I was in Bristol, but the contact tracing that takes place in Melbourne has a way of making you feel uneasy. Knowing where every case has been and realising how many close calls you’ve had — at a time when nobody, myself included, was wearing masks in the city — it had me shuddering at certain points.
But then, joy.
At the start of the month, I was wringing my hands over the vaccine hesitancy across Australia. Quite simply, with no COVID in the community, nobody was feeling particularly motivated to get jabbed.
I shared an article about how a nurse in Melbourne administered just a single vaccine in eight hours; there were 1.5 million extra vaccines in Australia that were just sitting around, not being snapped up. It’s no wonder I was fretting I wouldn’t be able to get vaccinated for another year or so.
Unsurprisingly, when the outbreak was discovered, vaccination lines were suddenly stretching around the block. Forty thousand people vaccinated in a single day.
And they opened up vaccinations up to over 40s, which meant that Dave was now eligible.
Six hours on the phone[!] was all it took to secure his appointment, and 24 hours later, he was the proud recipient of a Pfizer shot. With no side effects aside from a sore arm, we had plenty of reason to start celebrating.
I expect it’ll still be a long time for me to wait, as Australia only offers up Pfizer to under 50s and supply is going to be limited for a few months, but it certainly feels like hope is on the horizon.
Now all we need to do is get these outbreaks back under control.
And that was the month!
On the Blog
I’m always talking about how I’ve been working hard behind the scenes, but I rarely share any of it with you guys. I want to start doing so, as I know some of you are curious about what I’ve been up to.
This month, I published one of my favourite ever posts: a guide to hiking Lake Waikaremoana! Part-massively-detailed-resource and part-fun-narrative, I tried to mix together all of the things that you guys enjoy about my posts: beautiful photos, a handful of mishaps, and everything you need to know about hitting up a lesser-visited part of the world.
I also updated all of my posts about the Cook Islands! I mentioned above that New Zealand and the Cook Islands have opened up a two-way travel bubble, which is particularly exciting news for when I head south later this year. I really want to take Dave there! I took the news as motivation to fact-check and rewrite all of my Cook Islands posts that hadn’t been updated since 2014: What’s it Like to Travel the Cook Islands?, How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Cook Islands?, and You Must Take a Lagoon Cruise of Aitutaki.
Speaking of the South Pacific, I was featured on Magnificent World this month, talking about all things Tonga. This is one of my favourite countries in the world, so I had so much fun putting together a helpful guide on how to make the most of your time there.
Most excitingly of all, I had a profile in Thrive Global, chatting all about the realities of digital nomad life!
Highlights of the Month
The greatest show of all time: Have you guys watched Bo Burnham’s Inside yet? Because if you haven’t, I am going to urge you to drop everything you have going on in your life right now and watch it. It is quite possibly the greatest thing I have ever watched. An artistic masterpiece. My everything. Simply brilliant. I watched it with my jaw on the floor and when it ended, I decided my only purpose in life was to get everybody I know to watch it, too.
And that includes you.
It’s dark, it’s devastating, it’s hilarious, it’s raw, soothing, silly, and strange. It’s about the bleakness and ugliness of the year that wrecked our lives, and the messed-upedness of modern life as a whole. It’s about our Very Online Lives and the loss of our collective sanities.
It’s truly incredible and I think you’ll love it. Go watch it, go watch it, go watch it. It’s on Netflix.
A vaccinated boyfriend: I was absolutely over-the-moon when Dave was able to get his Pfizer vaccine this month — and my sister in the U.K. got hers, too! At this point, it feels as though every single person in my life has been vaccinated and I’m so desperate to get mine!
Dave didn’t get chicken pox: Dave is one of the few humans in the world who has never had chicken pox, but you can catch chicken pox from shingles and chicken pox as an adult is really bad. It can cause meningitis! It can kill you! We were super-concerned all month, as Dave had been prodding my rash before we’d known what it was. Fortunately, he didn’t catch it from me, which was a huge relief!
Lowlights of the Month
The bleakness of lockdown: I’ve got this. I had nine months of lockdown in the U.K., during which I only left the house a handful of times. I know how to handle a life lived indoors. I’ve got all the tools to make the most of this.
Or so I thought.
In reality, the mental health of Melburnians is worse than ever before, with psychologists commenting on how disturbing they’ve found the degree of depression people are rapidly falling into during this lockdown. I’m one of them.
It’s been alarming, how within a week of lockdown, I felt as though I’d travelled nine months backwards in time. I feel so helpless and hopeless and apathetic and empty. And I don’t understand why, because I expect this lockdown to be short and sweet and I know a great life waits for me on the other side.
It is what it is.
A discombobulated life: In regular times, I would set off to travel for three to six months, delight in the world, then return to my home to recover.
In Bristol, I’d appreciate being surrounded by all of my travel souvenirs and having a wardrobe that consists of more than five worn-out t-shirts, a pair of shorts, and some flip-flops. I’d have my books and my houseplants, and my comfortable bed and garden. My regular exercise classes, daily co-working sessions in cafes with fellow online workers, and the wonderful dog I’d take care of once a week. I’d watch cricket matches on the TV and head to my favourite pubs for Sunday roasts. I’d have the headspace to write. And as much as Bristol didn’t work for me as a forever home, I absolutely adored my house there.
And it feels like being in Melbourne right now is half-assedly attempting to do all of the above.
I miss being able to own a fancy winter jacket rather than a puffy coat that has to function as a warm layer that goes with every outfit and can also be used to hike in. I don’t like feeling like I’m heading out to climb Everest Base Camp whenever I enter a high-end restaurant surrounded by well-dressed women. Or I miss owning a nice pair of boots, but I can’t justify carrying those around — they won’t fit in my backpack and I need everything to be multipurpose. I miss having a yoga mat in my house. Being able to write at a desk instead of lying in bed with my laptop on my stomach for a month straight with an internet connection that keeps cutting out. I miss having spices to cook meals with and my instant pot and recipe books. I miss rollerskating, but I can’t buy a new freaking pair of rollerskates right now.
We’re going to be in Melbourne for the next six months, we think, because we want to be around family for a while. But the thought of moving from one apartment to the next on a monthly basis, never fully feeling as though we’re settled… it’s something I’m currently struggling with. And I’m not really sure what the solution is.
The universe wants me to remain unfit: You know what’s the absolute worst about going to the gym for the first time after a break? The DOMS! I always end up being unable to walk or move my arms after my first session with the weights.
And so, it was more than a little frustrating when, a week after joining the gym, I got shingles and my doctor told me to stop going. A couple of weeks after my diagnosis, I deemed myself well enough to return, and of course, the DOMS were back! That sucked.
And a week later, lockdown came in and my gym had to close. I can’t believe I could end up dealing with those horribly sore muscles three times in just over a month! It feels like I’m doomed to never be able to pick up a consistent workout routine.
A cancelled trip: It’s funny how Dave and I were concerned that my shingles diagnosis would be the thing to cause us to cancel my birthday trip, but it ended up being an unexpected lockdown! We’re hopeful we’ll be able to recreate our adventure at some point over the next month instead.
Incidents of the Month
Antics with my nephew: When my adorable nephew came over to our place in Footscray this month, he tentatively walked up to me and asked, “Uncle Lauren, do you still have the jingles?” I love him so much! And now my nickname is Uncle Jingles.
He’s six now, which is just the best age for Kids Saying Odd Sentences, and my favourite thing is how he has zero concept of accents. He keeps urging me to “Speak normal!!!!” Or he’ll say, “Why do you sound weird? Why is your voice so stupid?” Not at all giving me a complex, lmao.
What Happened Over on Patreon
I have a Patreon! In recent years, I’ve learned that my storytelling posts no longer do well in the world of travel blogging; I had to stop writing them. And so, I started a Patreon as a way for you guys to help support my creative work while receiving untold narratives and updates from my travels in return. I keep my personal updates off the blog these days, so if you miss the old days of Never Ending Footsteps, my Patreon is the time machine you’re looking for.
Here’s what I shared on Patreon this month:
A ridiculous amount of news and updates: My patrons are the only people I share personal news and updates with and I had tons to spill this month.
Hot Shingles in Your Area: My experience with shingles, where I’m all like, I’m fine! I have a mild case! But also like, It’s too painful to wear clothes!
I’m Cooler in Turangi: An incident from New Zealand, in which I book a stay in a motel with quite the water feature.
My Next Steps
Pride, pride, pride! Happy Pride to my fellow queers <3.
Well, I had been excited to spill all the details on my upcoming birthday adventure across Australia, but as I mentioned above, the unexpected lockdown sadly resulted in Dave having to cancel all of our travel plans. I’m super-bummed out about it, while also accepting that this is just the time we live in right now. None of my plans are going to be very secure this year, travel-related or otherwise.
At the moment, I’m back in that unnerving situation of not being able to legally go anywhere. Melbourne is in lockdown and I subsequently can’t travel more than 10 kilometres from my apartment — I can’t leave the city, I can’t enter another Australian state, and I certainly can’t flee back to New Zealand.
So this month, I’m not really sure what’s going to end up happening.
I’m hopeful that cases will peter out to zero over the next week or so and we’ll be able to live our lives again, in which case I’ll be jumping headfirst into social interaction once more. I’m so desperate to go back to the gym! And I long to catch up with friends in bustling restaurants. My daily banh mi! I’ll never take it for granted again.
In the middle of the month, we’ll be leaving Footscray and heading to Abbotsford, which is one of my favourite areas in Melbourne. Dave used to live here and we’ve long said that if we moved to Melbourne, it would be right at the top of our potential places to live. I’m excited to try it on for size.
Having a second pandemic birthday will be weird again, I’m sure. Remember last year’s? Where I sat alone at my kitchen table, downing a bottle of red wine, blowing up balloons for my party of one, surrounded by my houseplants like the depressed human being I was? If you’d told me then that a year later, I’d be celebrating in lockdown again, I’d have been like, no shit. If you’d told me I’d be doing so in Melbourne, I’d have been like… how the hell did I end up there?
Still, Dave and I will be attempting to make the most of it, ordering in fancy cured meats and goat cheeses, rustling up a bucket’s-worth of mezcal margaritas, and hoping the weather will be sunny so we can head out for our permitted exercise for the day. I’m sure we’ll have a lovely time, either way.
And that’s about all that I can predict for the month ahead! And hopefully when you hear from me next, I’ll be galloping around Melbourne with wild abandon.