Failure, Fear and Forced Meditation - An interview with Slackline Guru Shawn Mclaren


As a curious newbie slack liner with an obsession for learning how to high line, I contacted Australian High Line record holder Shawn Mclaren from Feet Off Ground and rocked up on his doorstep one weekend to interview him in his garden. Needless to say, he wasn't weirded out by my camping hair and scattered interview style and we had a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy!


Alethea: How did you start slacklining?

Shawn: How did I start…I started in Tonsai.

Alethea: Where’s that?

Shawn: Tonsai is in Thailand. It’s like a climbing….

Alethea: Hub?

Shawn: Yeah exactly…on this island…all these climbers go there and they have a whole bunch of slacklines set up at the various guesthouses and bars. So I tried it there for the first time, not realizing how…I mean it just looked like nothing. My friend just showed me and I was like that looks easy and I could not even stand on it.

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

Alethea: It’s so hard at first!

Shawn: Totally. I was wobbling all over the place. I actually just wrote it off you know ‘cause I just assumed that’s like a skill that you either have it or you don’t.

Alethea : It can be one of those things that you think people are naturally gifted at but it really takes work and you have to train those stabilizing muscles and activate certain parts of your glutes and legs and core and areas that you don’t think about in everyday life really.

Shawn: Yeah! I teach it now and we have gymnasts and dancers and people with lots of movement training and no one has ever just got on it and been able to walk it. We just don’t use those muscles at all in anything else. You may use some of them for stability (in another activities) but nothing like what you need for this. It’s not something you just acquire.

Alethea: Totally. Where does slacklining originate from?

Shawn: It started in Yosemite. That was like a rest day activity that people used to do when they weren’t climbing. They would just hook up their slings between the trees or they walked on the chains.

Alethea: So it just kind of morphed from there in a way?

Shawn: Slowly but surely they set up the first high lines there – some epic, crazy stuff. But  that was in the ‘70’s and it took ages for anything to get momentum. It probably took til like the mid 2000’s or maybe the start of 2000 where people were doing it a bit more and trick lining started to emerge. From say like 2010, that’s when high lining got really big…I wouldn’t call it mainstream but a lot more people were doing it. I tried it for the first time in about 2010 and then wrote it off and was like no way, can’t do it. I went home after that trip and I think it was a few months later and the seed had been planted and I just has this idea, ‘I’m gonna to buy a slackline. I’m gonna figure that thing out’.

Alethea:  "I can’t let it conquer me."

Shawn: Ha ha yeah exactly. I set it up in the backyard and it was horrible again but I just did it every day. Then after a week I remember I was able to walk this tiny thing which was about 7 metres and it was just felt so satisfying to get from something that felt so impossible.

Alethea: How long have you been slacklining for?

Shawn: About 5 years and I was dabbling with it for about 3 years and then I found out about the high lining community in Sydney and as soon as I saw that, I was like that’s what I want to do for sure, and that was a whole other learning curve. It took ages to overcome… there was like FEAR involved in that.                                                                                           

Alethea: I have one of those wider, beginner slacklines and I ratchet it pretty tight but I see people on thinner ones a bit looser and like surfing almost (makes motion side to side) and I see people who trickline…roughly how many types of lining are there?

Shawn: Tricklining is one that’s popular that is on two inch webbing which is what most people start on.

Alethea : For tricklining do they ratchet things differently?

Shawn: The tricklines will have two mega ratchets, bigger than the standard ratchets..they’ll tension it from both ends so you get a lot more power in that. So those lines are super high tension. Then you have a one inch line which is what we call the primitive set up. It’s what they started with in Yosemite. They went out of favour when Gibbon came in and Gibbon introduced all the ratchets. Then people started bringing it back in and were like no we want to walk on this stuff and now all of the long lining which is the progression of that is where you are walking longer lines in the park and the high lining are all done on 1 inch webbing.

When we do our workshops, we usually teach on one inch webbing so people are already ready for that. It doesn’t matter what you start on ‘cause it’s going to be difficult either way. It’s just what you get used to. Get used to this ‘cause if you want to progress to this you want to be used to this anyway. That’s why we just teach on that most of the time. That's basically the divisions. You’ve got trick lining, high lining and then people kind of combine other things into it like yoga lining.

Alethea: That’s hectic. I’ve seen where people are doing the splits on a line and I’m like oh man I can barely just stand on it! It’s really impressive. And did you learn from anybody or did you learn within the community of slackliners?

Shawn:  I just taught myself. Just doing it everyday. It wasn’t that big at that point or if it was I certainly didn’t know about it. There was no one to really learn from and I didn’t even know that there was a community at that point. I was mucking around on my own for a couple of years. I learned to walk it and wasn’t sure what to do with it. After that I had been travelling and using it on my travels and that was really fun ‘cause people come up and want to have a go. It’s a great way to interact. Anyways so I came back to Sydney and I found the Slackline Sydney community and that’s when I saw about long lining which I hadn’t seen and I hadn’t realized it was a thing so that was another progression which piqued my interest.

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

Alethea: Would rock climbing experience help to know how to rig things in slacklining or am I assuming that?

Shawn: No the climbing definitely helps with the rigging and slack lining helps improve your climbing in the way of balance. I felt that I was much more efficient when I was climbing thanks to my slacklining. I could trust my feet a lot more and my balance a lot more. That was a cool side benefit of it. Once I met the Slackline Sydney crew I just joined in on one of the high lining missions.

Alethea: What was your first time high lining like?

Shawn: I was just petrified. My hands were sweating and I needed to chalk up just to get rid of the sweat on my hands. I really couldn’t do anything. I managed to stand up ‘cause you start from sitting so I managed to stand up which was just a total fluke. I mean I just stood up and my mind went completely blank and I totally whipped off about 5 seconds later. That was kind of it 'cause there were so many people there and I only got one go. Then that started this kind of obsession with it. With high lining the conditions have to be a certain way so I couldn’t do it everyday. I could only do it on the odd weekend when other people were going ‘cause I didn’t have my own high lining gear so it was super slow progress. In fact there was pretty much no progress for about a year. I was just trying this one objective – I just want to walk one high line. I was trying all sorts of different lines, whatever was there. I just couldn’t do it. I got to the point that I thought this was impossible, That only other people can turn off their fear and do it. By that stage I wasn’t actually scared but something was holding me back. I don’t know what that was but then by this stage I had bought my whole rig as well. I thought if I’m going to learn this thing I need to have it all myself, be able to set it up myself and do it when I want not just when other people are going. I went 6 months of just doing it here and there and trying it a little I wasn’t feeling any progression so I got my own. I was gonna go every weekend and set it up and try it out and nothing was working. I could stand up and take a few steps and fall. Nothing felt in control and I was trying all these different simulation exercises in the park. I was trying to simulate what it was going to be like.

Alethea: Do people have to train for ages on a normal slackline for ages in order to build up to high lining?

Shawn: You definitely have to train for it. Your body has got to be ready. You have to know that your body is going to be ready to walk that length, that you can walk that tension in the line. That was something that I hadn’t figured out yet… that it was the difference in tension between high lining from slacklining in a park. There’s much lower tensions on a high line. That’s why you see in a park people now just rigging them up super slack. It’s just something you get used to over time and that was one way that I actually started to figure something out. And I remember taking a friend out and he had never done any high lining, he’d only done a little bit of slacklining and he was like getting up there and giving it a real good go and he was just trying it and he wasn’t afraid at all and I could kind of see THAT.

Alethea: Did that spark a bit of a healthy competition in you, were you like "wait, I've got to break through this 'cause he can do it?"

Shawn: It wasn’t like a competition thing but more like how is he doing that? I just needed to tap into that so I went straight after him and was emulating his confidence. I knew I just had to try and at the end of the day it’s just a slackline…something I have set up in the park and have done like 20 times already. So I just went with that mindset and was like I’m not afraid anymore and wouldn’t be controlled by that. I remember standing up and walking it. And it was a bit wobbly and knew I could handle that.

Alethea: So you had to just reframe it in your head a little bit?

Shawn: Yeah I went all the way. That was the most satisfying feeling for sure. I’ve never had a feeling like that where you’ve had to overcome so many obstacles and doubts and fears. So that was really satisfying.

Alethea: Do the fears come back sometimes and if they do, do you have a way of talking yourself out of it?

Shawn: Fear doesn’t come back. It was sort of …it didn’t go away instantly, it was reduced enough so that I could get into the zone and walk it. I would have the fear before getting on and I’d still have a bit of a fear walking it for a bit while I was getting used to it. You know I have a friend actually who was in my boat, really struggling. He was a really good slackliner – like walking 100 metre long lines in the park and he couldn’t stand on any high lines. He was totally controlled by fear. It was a year it went on like that for him but when he broke through and walked his first high line it was like the fear was instantly shattered. Every high line he has gone on since then he just stands up and walks it. For me it was a little bit of a slower progression. The fear was there but I could control it and get through it and then I think about after year of that I am now at a place where I don’t get scared.

Alethea: It’s almost like a rite of passage - everybodys got to bust through it.

Shawn: Yeah everyone has it in certain doses – I have another friend who managed to walk his first high line on his second day. That’s like super rare although it’s happening more and more nowadays which is frustrating (laughs).

Alethea: Those people are doing some sort of NLP training of hypnosis before it haha.

Shawn: Ha! I think people are just training in the right way that’s all – on the right tensions…which was something I wasn’t used to and so if you train in the right way I think it’s definitely easier to transfer the skill over as long as you can control the fear. Otherwise you are trying to do too many things at the same time. I was like scared, I didn’t have the skill, I wasn’t used to the set up-

Alethea: You’re over a big canyon.

Shawn: Yeah there’s too many variables there.

Alethea: You just have to break it down and manage each area until you are comfortable…

Shawn: Yeah.

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

Alethea: Is there a minimum length for high lining? What’s the average length somebody would do for their first time?

Shawn: 20 metres of 30 metres is pretty common. It’s hard to get less than 20 metres just ‘cause the gaps in the cliff – you aren’t going to bother with something that’s like 2 metres. I think in Sydney the shortest is like 20 metres. There might be a 15 as well.

Alethea:  Where do people do it in Sydney?

Shawn: Places around North Head. You’ve got places in the Eastern suburbs along the seacliffs.

Alethea: This is exciting to me now. I’ve been waiting to see it start getting more popular...’cause you know I’m not part of this kind of community (meaning Blue Mountains outdoorsy/climbing community) and didn't know it existed.

Shawn: It’s still a bit of an underground scene to an extent. If you go Facebook you can find us and get involved pretty easily.

Alethea: How long ago did you start the company?

Shawn: I think two years ago now. We conceived of it two years ago and then it took 6 months to get all the ideas in place and speaking to webbing manufacturers and all of that. So it was May of last year that we launched and we launched it at Climb Fit and its been going pretty cool since then. It’s been cool to watch it grow organically. We get all these really interesting calls from people.

Alethea: Do you see a certain demographic mainly coming through?

Shawn: It seems to be a lot of climbers and funnily enough a lot of mums! Mums love it!

Alethea: I think it’s because it’s like a forced meditation and to get rid of the noise in your head for a even few seconds is priceless. It really is. I talk to other mums and it’s even been written about. As mums and wives you’re not just doing your day to day, you are projecting forward all the time, prepping and making sure that things are lined up...literally you are projecting so far ahead and you have to get out of your head or you’ll  go a bit crazy and you drain yourself mentally. So you can have that point where you can have no noise, it’s just you and your breath and your focus point and it’s physically challenging. My first time I went slacklining (this is embarrassing to say) but due to my pelvis being a bit too mobile and my glutes needing a bit more work, I was able to walk the line within the first two hours due to having a great teacher but I couldn’t walk properly for about an entire week after that one session. It nearly killed me for a week – I was so sore. I just cranked magnesium each night. And although it caused me so much soreness it was exactly what I needed and I think strengthening the core and all those stabilising muscles is really great for mums. So it’s really cool to hear that demographic is getting into it.

Shawn: It’s been super surprising and it’s really nice teaching them – they’re always psyched.

Alethea: Do you do anything else to sort of cross train for slacklining?

Shawn: I wouldn’t call it cross training but I do yoga. I’m a yoga teacher as well. I teach Hatha and a little bit of Power Yoga.

Alethea: And do you do meditation or do you find this is your meditation?

Shawn: I actually started with meditation. It was the first thing that I found. Then I found yoga.

Alethea: Most people go the opposite way.

Shawn: Yeah I don’t know how I found it the other way. That was how it worked out and yoga was a really good extension of my meditation practice. Combining those two together and then I found slack lining and then I was like this is even better meditation. Like I got really forced into it and now I try and do all of them.

Alethea: Is there a particular style of meditation that you practice?

Shawn: I started with Vipassana. 

Alethea: Whoa go big or go home! (laughing)

Shawn: Haha yeah just threw myself in the deep end.

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

Alethea: Did you say that you teach at one of the climbing gyms in Cammeray?

Shawn: No, we just do events there. We do our workshops scattered around – we do them in Milsons Point and in Surry Hills…

Alethea: (whispering urgently) Come to the beaches.

Shawn: Haha yeah well we actually have – you live in Manly?

Alethea: Actually Mona Vale – a few beaches up.

Shawn: Ah Mona Vale. We have a friend in Manly who just did her instructor training.

Alethea: You can do instructor training?! With you guys?

Shawn: Not with us. With Slackline Australia. Kind of in conjunction with us. We help organize the whole thing. It’s really fun. Actually we have an annual general meeting in December and we are just going to talk about where we are going to move forward to with slacklining in Australia and what’s going on with our instructors. And we might shift things up a bit there.

Alethea: I was going to ask you on a more personal level, where you want to see your slacklining progress to. Are you pretty stoked with where you are at? What are you working on for you? Or are you mainly focusing on the business?

Shawn: At the start of the year, my objective was to be the Australian high line record holder. That was my goal. Actually the goal was something I wanted to do last year but for various reasons I wasn’t really ready and I was trying to walk longer and longer lines but was missing some skills and so started to put that together last year. At the start of this year I was really wanting to get this record which was 90 metres at the time and I wanted to do over 100 metres.  There was a 130 metre high line just up the road from here just at Mount Vic.  First we had the Blue Mountains High Lining Festival which is a big gathering with a bunch of professional slackliners in March. Check it out – it’s really fun and so many people get involved and we have so many lines set up. Such a spectacle. Anyways so I used that as an opportunity to try everything out – we had all kinds of lengths of lines and different sizes. But like went hard at it for three days and was completely thrashed. Took a bit of a break and then in May I set up this 130 metre high line and the objective was I’m just going to leave this there until I walked it. So it was pretty much every day but I took certain rest days. I remember walking it and that was kind of like how I was telling you about the first long line I ever walked like really satisfying. That feeling again. Maybe it was even bigger cause I had built it up in my head a little bit. It was also that I was on the line for so long. It took me like half an hour to walk the line so that I consider that real meditation. You cannot waiver. If you waiver you’re going to fall off. You have to be in the zone the whole time. It was such a nice feeling to feel super controlled that whole time and I remember getting to the last 20 metres and…

Alethea: Do you get a bit too excited when you were almost at the end?

Shawn: That’s what had happened to me previously. I’d get three quarters of the way and then I’d just think I’m almost there and then I’d fall. I took that last 20 metres and knew I wasn’t going to fall. I was so confident. I don’t know how. I just knew I wasn’t going to fall and walked all the way to the end. No problem. At that stage you are just so used to the frequency of the line. it was such a nice feeling.

Alethea: So to make a record or break a record , if you fall, you have to start again?

Shawn: Yep.

Alethea: It has to be continuous.

Shawn: Yep from the start to the end it has to be continuous without falling.

Alethea: Wow.

Shawn: Yep that’s the rule.

Alethea: What are you progressing to now?

Shawn: Some people always wanna go bigger and bigger and I feel like it' super nice to be satisfied with an achievement you have made otherwise I dunno, well what're we doing it for? So I was totally satisfied with that. Content but not complacent. Now I'm definitely interested in pushing it further. We have some cool projects that I wanna do around the Blue Mountains. We have tried to set a few up in the meantime but we've had bad weather and wind and variables to contend with. And at the moment we are designing a new webbing that we want to use to break the record again. Now it's just a really nice feeling being on these really long lines 'cause you're in a meditative state for so long. I guess now I'm less interested in length, I'm most interested in finding these really beautiful gaps and beautiful natural features.

Alethea: Well you're in the right place for it. This is absolutely stunning up here. Can I ask, how do you get the far end of the line over to where you need to rig it?

Shawn: if it's a really long line, we'll use a drone and fly it across.

Alethea: I thought I heard someone say that the other day and I was like "WHAH? They use A DRONE?!" This is fascinating to me.

Shawn: Drones have made things way more accessible. Other times, you can have just bare canyons where you can walk the lines down and across and make the connections that way. But in the Blue Mountains there are so many trees you can't even think about doing that. So yeah flying to straight over with a drone, that's the easiest way. Then this summer coming up we're going to Patagonia.

Alethea: (gasps) Are you going to Torres del Paine? Everytime I see a photo of that place, it's just mind boggling. 

Shawn: Yes Torres del Paine in January and we have all these objective so we are keen to see how that goes. We've trying to get the North Face grant as well which will be cool if they can get behind us.

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

Alethea: What would be a piece of advice that you would give to someone starting slack lining?

Shawn: Develop a relationship with failure. Don't be scared of failure. That's probably the number one. And learn from someone who has already done it 'cause that will speed up your process a lot. You don't have to learn from your own mistakes, you can learn from other peoples mistakes and get there a lot faster. 

Alethea: What would you say personally that slack lining has done for you?

Shawn: It's given me a lot of confidence. In kind of a cliche kind of way, it's made me realise there's a lot more that I can do than I thought.  It's given me a good relationship  towards failure and using that as a tool of progressing. It seems to translate to a lot of other things...cause how often when you do something and you stuff it up. I now have a completely different outlook on that and I feel much more resilient in the sense that I see things in a much more positive light. Whatever the event is, I can kinda of draw the positive out and see it in a different light and know that I can try it differently the next time. It's an amazing journey. And I think it's opened up my eyes to the world out there...the beauty in nature. Its given me a really nice rapport with nature.

Alethea: You have an amazing job and lifestyle. I mean so many people just work inside under fluorescent lights.

Shawn: Well that was me - I started working in IT...for 5 or 6 years that was my job. I was just in the corporate world and then I found yoga and that was an escape and I started teaching. And I found slack lining and formed this business with my business partner, Max, and so that's worlds apart from everything that I've done before. I've kind of been figuring it out as I go. It's good for me to be doing something I'm passionate about. For so long when I was working in IT, I didn't like it but it enabled me to do things that I liked so I was fine with it in that sense 'cause I could just work for 6 months and then go travelling for 6 months. But then a point came where I actually want to do something that I enjoy and don't have to run away or escape and now I've been teaching for 3 years and running this business for a couple of years and I'm so psyched to teach every day. I mean it's not hard to just have to find what you are passionate about. I know when I got into slack lining I had no skill for it at all and now, not to sound arrogant at all but I'm the Australian record holder...from someone who couldn't even stand on their first slack line. That's a sign that anyone can do it. I'm not a skilled athlete. I was a hermit in school and didn't do ANY sports. In school I was super determined to get high grades and do well and I transferred that motivation into slack lining. I knew that if I did it enough, I would get better. So if are you are willing to try you will get better. You have to be willing to try and deal with failure.


photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

photo courtesy of Shawn McLaren

Find out about Feet Off Grounds slack line workshops and events here.





The Bus Stops Here - A Family of Five Living It Up On A Bus

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 I've been dreaming of tiny living/ simple living/ minimalist living/ bus life lately, so much so that instead of movies, my daughter and I watch Youtube videos of people who are actually living these lifestyles. We dream of how we would design our own bus to live on and compile  our favourite hacks for tiny living.

Two winters ago, I took my daughter to Canada where we met another mum, Kylie, and her little boy, Beau, in a park. As I got chatting with her, it came up in our conversation that she and her family of five were living in a renovated bus in Whistler and also had a bus in a small beach town in northern NSW back in Australia.

I decided that interviewing her about their life on a bus could be a fun and revealing look at someone who actually took the plunge and is making this lifestyle work for them.....

Alethea: In a nutshell, can you describe who you and your family are and the unique living situation you have?

Kylie: We're an Aussie family of 5. 3 boys aged 11, 8 & almost 5 years old. Currently living in a small beach town in NSW in our converted school bus. We've spent the past 6 years living year on/off between here and Whistler, Canada. We didn't set out to do this, but we went there once (Whistler), fell in love with it and have spent all our time since daydreaming/plotting and planning how and when we can get back!

Alethea: When you initially told me about the buses I think my brain exploded 'cause I had heard of people doing the bus conversions but never had actually met someone who had done it. Who’s concept was it? Yours or your hubbies or was it a joint decision??

Kylie: It was actually one of those "imagine if we did that" type ideas, where neither of us had really thought about it seriously, but then it sort of took on a life of its own! Kind of like "why not?" The day we got the bus and it was parked out the front of our house we were both just like "ummm okay, now we have a bus.." Our Whistler version actually was more strategic and came about because we had no accommodation and wanted to stay longer.

Alethea: Which version came first - the Aus one or the Whistler one?

Kylie: Our Aussie one.

Alethea: And your hubby is a builder so he must've had some ideas on where to start with the conversions?

Kylie: Yeah he/we did everything ourselves. We started from scratch with pulling the seats out. Both were retired school buses. Both were designed differently, as we were living in our Whistler one over the winter. Our Aussie one is much more comfortable.

The beginning renos on the Aussie bus....

The beginning renos on the Aussie bus....



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Alethea: Other than not dying from hypothermia during the Whistler winters, did you have any concerns with how you would all go living in the buses?

Kylie: So far it's been very easy. The boys love it and see it as a real adventure.It was definitely much harder in the snow. Our bus was smaller and we had more hiccups having to factor the extreme weather into everything (cue frozen pipes 🙄) It's very cruisey in our Aussie one!

Alethea: I love that the boys were so into it! What did your family and friends think when you guys told them of what you were planning to do with the bus living?

Kylie: I'd say it's about 95% of people in general think it's awesome and are really excited about it. Definitely more people thought be were CRAZY for doing in Whistler. But then they all knew how much we wanted to stay and we are definitely doers! We definitely have moments where we are all in each other's face a little too much. But again, being where we are, we are outside as much as in. The boys also go to school (no homeschool here) So we're not all here ALL the time. They were excited too!

Alethea: How has the bus living affected your parenting style?

Kylie: Hmm I wonder about it.. Somedays I think it's such a great thing. To live outside of the box and have this easy and a lot of the time unpredictable sort of lifestyle. Other days I wonder how they will look back on it..?

Sometimes I'm just like "everyone needs their own rooms, and space, and a trampoline and normality" I do wonder how my itchy feet and will affect them in the long run, whether they will crave stability or whether they will go on to have an adventurous spirit. I'm a restless person by nature. And I don't feel like this will be forever, but then I also don't know, and I like being open to ideas. And as mum I feel like I have mum guilt about pretty much everything anyway! So I can only hope it's a positive thing! I definitely have days where I feel stressed about it! But mostly I love it.

Alethea: Were there any difficult moments that you really felt helped you grow not only as a mother, but also as a family?

Kylie: I think the decision in the beginning to just do it! Despite wondering what other people think (my constant mantra is "it's okay to live a life other people don't understand) With our travelling back and forth to Canada and being in the bus, it's really proven to me (and many others) that things are possible, despite what we consider to be "hard". Like having kids, or little money, that usually holds people back. ...many days I do wonder what in the hell are we doing!

Alethea: Hahaha! I wonder what the hell I am doing most days! Do you have a great memory you could share that you is kind of burned in your mind about this journey so far?

Kylie: I think overall, spending the winter in our bus in Whistler. Mostly because the idea of it still seems surreal even to me! I know we will still be talking about that when we're old!

Whistler bus renos....

Whistler bus renos....

Hard at work....

Hard at work....

Cosy and comfortable....

Cosy and comfortable....

Alethea: Did you give names to the buses??

Kylie: Haha no! We could never think of anything cool enough!

Alethea: Are there any features in the buses that you love and/or are super proud of (that you created)?

Kylie: All of it actually haha! They really were both set up to feel more like a home than a camper. So everything is our own taste, like it would be in a house. Rugs, furniture etc.
in our Whistler one we sourced all of the furniture from op shops and garage sales.
In our Aussie one, we built everything in from scratch, like the bunks etc. so they're different but still very "us". The boys love they're bunks because they're their own private little nooks.

Little Beau enjoying the Whistler digs...   

Little Beau enjoying the Whistler digs...


Alethea: Do you have a great memory you could share that is kind of burned in your mind about the journey?

Kylie: The boys just got home from school so I've asked them...They say "building them" (probs my worst memories haha! So there you go) Also, in Whistler we would build fires in our snowy fire pit and cook dinner outside, like roast meat & potatoes in foil, in the coals.

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Alethea: Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of doing something similar??

Kylie: Go for it..?! Haha!

Alethea: Hahahaha!

Kylie: We have met "professional" camper types that always want to talk about amps & voltage and gas vs solar and and drop-down beds, and we just look at them with blank faces! We have no idea about most stuff, so I'm sure we could /should have done a few things differently, but we're kind of "wing it" people.

Alethea: You’re like the bus lifestyle Macguyvers!  I know the types that are all into their gadgets and gear...🙄.it's the same in the 4WD world...hey thanks so much for sharing your journey with me and Wellbeing Collective's readers.

Kylie: No problem at all!

My Journey with Mental Illness

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  People are often surprised when I tell them that I have struggled with mental illness - especially depression, for much of my adult life. I come across as an outgoing and happy person but the truth is that I have had to battle my mind for more years than I want to acknowledge. I have been much more open about my journey with mental illness in the past 5 years because I know how isolating and scary it can be and by sharing my journey, hopefully it gives others permission or the strength to be open about theirs. I also hope that by reading about my experience, if someone identifies with any of it, they will seek help. 

I was really lucky to grow up in Vancouver, Canada. Surrounded by mountains and ocean and lovely people and a wonderful family but the west coast of British Columbia is a temperate rainforest and to get "rainforest status"  you basically need a shit ton of rain. Like 9 months of constant grey drizzle. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I learned about Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder and Vitamin D deficiency. During my teens, I decided to become vegetarian and then vegan in my early twenties....these two factors created very low Vitamin D, iron and B12 stores in my finally at the age of 26 I was tired of feeling depressed and and visited holistic doctor Dr. Emmanuel Varipatis at Your Health Manly. With in-depth blood work, Dr. Varipatis concluded I had these severe vitamin deficiencies and with his recommendation for more sunshine on my skin, a jab of B12 in the ass and a higher intake of iron, I started on my journey towards a healthier existence. 

Before I go on, I want to also make a side note about one early episode of depression that was caused by a prescribed malaria tablet (known as Lariam or Mefloquine) that I had taken whilst travelling with friends in Thailand at the age of 20. It initially produced suicidal thoughts and disturbing dreams and led to a heavy depression which lasted for over 14 months. I lost many good friends during this time due to being aggressive and hopelessly negative. I am now super careful about taking any sort of drug like this. (You can read one of the latest articles on this drug causing psychosis in British and American soldiers here.) 


 I gave birth to my daughter in 2011. To put it lightly, the birth was horrific. I believe now that the trauma of it brought on post natal anxiety. I dismissed any anxious thoughts as normal -  what mother doesn't worry about their baby? I wanted to seem like the cool, alternative mum who was super chill whilst bringing up her kid so I didn't share with anyone the thoughts I was having.  Thoughts that would creep into the forefront of my mind as I was falling asleep every night - when my mind couldn't distract itself with everyday tasks. Thoughts that turned into nightmares and caused me to wake in the middle of a panic attack at 3am each night.

Completely irrational thoughts. But they seemed so real to me. The scenario was always about saving my child or family from some outrageously dangerous situation. From gangs wielding machetes in a dark alleyway to tsunamis to the zombie apocalypse.  Sometimes the thoughts would stir my mind into such a heightened state that my adrenalin would go off and I would cry silently and eventually fall asleep exhausted. Other times I would be so hyper stimulated by them that I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep so I would check the news on my phone to see what was happening in the world. (Bad idea.) I would unconsciously seek out the headlines that inflamed the anxiety.

Tension on the South China sea!  How do I create a nuclear bunker when we are renting?  

Viruses spreading in the world and/or becoming antibiotic resistant!  I must start stockpiling antibiotics, herbal medicines, probiotics & First Aid supplies. 

World food supplies are being threatened by global warming! How much can I spend each week on tinned food when grocery shopping and not blow the budget?

What are the most nutrient dense foods that my kid will actually eat & will last for years in storage in the event of the apocalypse?

 Global warming causing rising seas!  Should we not bother investing in property in Sydney and just build an ark? Does the bank give you a loan for an ark?

You get the jist of it.  The anxiety was like a beast always wanting to be fed. I didn't know how to stop it.  I started doomsday prepping. I thought it would allay my fears. Help me feel in control. My husband thought I was really losing it.  I subscribed to prepper newsletters, ran myself in circles trying to prioritise what should be on my next list of things to stockpile. What skills did I need? Should I apply for a gun licence and learn to shoot? Do they make gas masks in childrens' sizes? Now I will admit that I still have some supplies from this period of time as it makes me feel a bit more prepared should a normal emergency happen but I look back now and realise how much it consumed me.

 In early 2015, I got pregnant unexpectedly and whilst I was happy, I could sense something was not right with the pregnancy. 9 weeks into the pregnancy, I miscarried.  The following 6 weeks of hormonal chaos was confronting and took my anxiety to new levels.  I finally admitted that I had been harbouring this intense anxiety for years and it was time to really start caring for myself and getting help.

My doctor set me up with the government mental health scheme and I started seeing a great psychologist. I joined a running group called Beauty of Exercise (see Running and Spirit under our crew tab on the main page! I can't recommend Debbie enough) and made running one of my favourite things to do 4 times a week. I got back onto western herbal medicines and took them religiously. I let go of coffee and made sure I was in bed by 9:30PM and kept my phone on airport mode through the night. I was taking a variety of baby steps that were manageable for me and felt great. I held myself accountable and was finally able to step away from the anxiety and view it separately to myself.  

It is still a constant journey and since having my son this year, I have been highly aware of my thoughts and have been more determined to seek out the things that keep me in balance and speak up if I feel that I am starting to head down the slippery slope.

Whilst I am sad I lost so much time being unwell, I also think of it as a gift so that I can understand and be there for others who are going through their own battle with mental illness. If you feel that your mental health is suffering, I urge you to reach out to everyone around you (please also feel free to contact me if you want to chat) and get the help you need in whatever forms suit you. 


Beyond Blue  1 300 224 636

Lifeline Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention 13 11 14

eheadspace  1800 650 890

Health Direct






The Low Down on the D- Word

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   I caught up with our superhero-zen-goddess-herbalist, Nina Taylor, just before Christmas to get the lowdown on detoxing. It's a bit of a buzz word/fad these days when super healthy eating seems to be all the rage ( don't get me wrong - I am all for healthy eating but let's not get too crazy when the quinoa-in-our-mung-bean-green-tea-infused-brekkie-pancakes haven't been soaked in holy water blessed by a celibate shaman in Bhutan. Like, really.)  

I wanted to know if the whole detox circus actually holds merit and is truly beneficial to people rather than just a quick shit-out-your-body-weight + pile-on-weight-as-soon-as- you-look-at-food kinda thing.I hope that our conversation informs you about detoxing before you decide to adventure on that journey!


WBC :  This seems to be the time that everyone takes score of their behaviour and decide to try a detox. Other than people wanting to make up for extremely naughty behaviour around Xmas and New Years, what are some other reasons for people to detox their body?


Nina: Well, congestion can manifest in different areas of the body depending on a person's constitution. Symptoms such as constipation, headaches, skin problems, unhealthy weight gain, tiredness, mental fatigue, morning nausea, menstrual problems can all indicate that some form of detoxification would be beneficial.


WBC: What are the common mistakes that you hear of when people try to detox?


Nina: Spending lots of money on expensive "detox" programs from the chemist that promise full body detox or weight loss in 2 weeks! Not eating enough of the right kind of calories can be a mistake too leading to hunger and binge eating. Juicing is good but just having lots of fruit messes with blood sugar levels and creates hunger. 


WBC: So there isn't a one size fits all detox program?


Nina: Definitely not. Different body types need to approach detoxing differently. Some people are not strong enough to cope with a full detox and others are. Toxins are stored in fat cells so when there is rapid weight loss involved toxins are released in greater quantities than normal and other health problems can result. The person would feel pretty ill too. A more balanced approach is the way to go.


WBC:  I didn't realise that with the toxins in the fat cells!


Nina: Yes I know, so all these drastic detox/weight loss programs might look good for the initial results but other problems come later.


WBCWhat would be a relatively easy habit for someone who doesn't necessarily want to do a huge detox overhaul but just wants to add a healthy addition into their routine?


Nina: If you eat meat, then reducing your meat intake or even having "Meat Free Mondays" is a good start to give the colon a break. Remember to substitute with a good quality vegetable protein though otherwise you won't feel full and satisfied after eating. Having a glass of warm water 20-30 minutes before breakfast. Always eating a low GI breakfast, with some protein too, will set you up for the day. Reducing saturated fats, alcohol, salt, refined sugar and caffeine will all help too.


WBC:  All the fun stuff! 


Nina: Yes, I know! So don't try a detox before or during Christmas just try to monitor your intake of that kind of stuff.


WBC: Any sorts of food that you could recommend that are low GI?


Nina: Low GI foods are good fats such as nuts and avocado. Also brown rice, oats and unrefined carbs.


WBCIf someone wanted to go the whole hog and do a full detox, what is your recommendations for the ideal individual detox?


Nina: Ideally it would be best to see a qualified practitioner to assess what systems of the body need detoxing and then receiving a tailor made treatment plan. But if that's not possible then I would aim for cleansing the liver and bowels. Eating "clean" which is unprocessed, unrefined whole foods will really help. Fibre and water will help to keep the bowels hydrated and moving. Green bitter foods will help to cleanse and stimulate the liver.


WBCSome people may feel a bit nervous, wondering what a treatment plan might entail - in a nutshell, what sorts of things would be involved?


Nina: Herbs and supplements are prescribed that aim at not only cleansing the system but also supporting it. This means that after the detox better future health can also be attained, giving lasting results. Appropriate diet advice for the person is also given taking into mind their situation and any dietary restrictions they might have. This usually provides a more realistic and attainable treatment plan for people and one they feel they can handle.


WBCThat's great - I'm guessing it's also good to have someone to be accountable to (a qualified practitioner) and who can monitor you and be of support if you need them.


Nina: Yes for sure. No one is perfect and hiccups can happen along the way. Lack of motivation too can slow things down, so having someone to support you through it is always great. Also other health issues can crop up as a result of the detoxing process, it's like "peeling away the layers". So having a qualified practitioner there to help address these issues is highly beneficial and important to the whole process.


WBCHow long should you follow a detox program for?


Nina: Depending on the state of a person's system would determine how long it would need to be for. If it's done slowly and relatively gently, so as not to make a person feel ill, I would say a minimum of 2 weeks but preferably a little longer. When it comes to the female repro system it takes 90 days for the body to produce an egg so treatment would need to be for a minimum of 3 months before significant changes would be seen. 


WBCWould that reference to women's systems be for someone who has hormonal/fertility issues happening or for women in general?


Nina: Any woman that has congestion in her repro system (and liver actually as that is responsible for clearing the used up hormones) such as PMS, heavy bleeding, lack of bleeding, PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids and of course fertility issues would need 3 months for successful treatment.


WBCThanks so much for taking the time and sharing your professional advice on this. I know you have helped me out so much in the past with your herbal knowledge and I hope others take away some sound info from this.


Nina: Thanks for having me!  You can find me at Herbs Health and Inner Harmony, 105/20 Dale Street, Brookvale, 2100. Tel: 0406-628240