I wake with a start in the depths of Spandau rehabilitation centre, disoriented and agitated. My mother, halfway through a crossword perched merrily in her lap, peers over the crossword book to observe me, face brimming with curiosity as to my emotional fate – will I be aggressive and, as her, my father and my boyfriend have termed it, “slappy”, or will I be blissful and unable to say a handful of words without getting the giggles? It is roughly lunch-time. I turn to her, and smile, voice low and conspiratorial. “Good afternoon,” Mum smiles back. “You’ll know this. What’s another word for ‘panache’?”. I brush the suggestion away before it can infiltrate and cloud my mind. I’m getting better at it. “Don’t know,” I reply. “Is anyone else around?” Mum puts the book down. “You do so know,” she shoots back. “And no, they’ve gone out to get lunch from the cafeteria. Yours’ll be arriving soon.” “It’s Jeremy’s birthday soon,” I say, “and I’m gonna make him a cake and get him a present. I know what cake I’ll make.” “For next years’?” Jeremy asks, walking in with my father as if by magic. “Er, no,” I say. “This years’.” I watch, uncomprehending, as my mother and Jeremy shift their body weight awkwardly and share a pitying look. I think to myself that I’ve ruined the surprise. It’s September, and Jeremy’s birthday is in January. Nobody dares correct my error. Little do I realise that a few days time will begin a weeks-long cycle of horror and realisation and sharp, all-encompassing guilt and self-hatred on my behalf as I attempt to recall a host of deeply distressing memories from deep within the hodge-podge of my brain; the cloudy, muted memories, it seems, of someone else possessing my body and having their way with it.
Some four weeks later, we’re back in Melbourne, in my childhood home. It is roughly lunch-time again. My parents are sitting in the lounge-room, reading the newspaper. I’m sitting in my room, flipping through a magazine carelessly. “Jeremy,” I start, murmuring in what I hope is a carefree way. “Would you mind making me a cup of tea?” “Of course,” he smiles, and departs for the kitchen, near where my parents are. Excellent, I think. The game is on. The nearest JB Hi-Fi is a kilometre away – about twelve minutes by regular foot, and certainly far longer than it takes to boil a kettle of water for a cup of tea – but still I decide in that instant that this is the moment I should depart – in secret, of course – to retrieve Jeremy’s birthday present for his October/January birthday (in actual fact, it being mid October, it is only a week and a half from my birthday – “What do you want for your birthday?” Mum’d asked me, “Nothing,” I’d replied morosely. “I don’t feel like celebrating anyway. Doesn’t feel like there’s much to celebrate.” “You’re alive,” she’d offered, cutting my moroseness down like a dead Christmas tree falling at the close of the holiday period, “I guess,” I’d replied. “That’s present enough. Maybe if you could magically get back my leather jacket.”) I stand on uncertain gelatinous legs, holding myself up on the walls of the hallway, my legs doing a fair impression of the “mashed potato” dance as I go. I reach the front door and my hand shoots out – half to open the door, half to steady myself – and the door key cuts hard into my palm, leaving a tiny indent in my flesh. Perhaps Dr von Helden was right, I think, conjuring images of the stern head doctor at Spandau in her lily-white jacket who had violently resisted our repatriation back to Australia, not wanting to prove her right. I open the door and imagine the road to the JB – one I’d walked hundreds of times before – and imagine myself attempting to hold onto nearby fences, falling onto the road, cracking my skull on the asphalt and being run over by a car. “I’m very sorry,” the shadowy doctor in my mind – who bears a striking resemblance to Dr von Helden – sighs, “but there’s nothing we can do.” “Please,” my imaginary mother wails, beating her chest. “I’m so sorry,” shadow-doctor replies, “It’s just, we’ve never seen someone with two traumatic brain injuries before. One on top of the other. The placement is really impeccable. I’m afraid he won’t ever recover.” “What’re you doing?”, Mum asks sharply, standing in the hallway behind me. I start. I hadn’t heard her approach. “N-nothing,” I stutter, shutting the front door and making my way back to my bedroom. The present will have to wait. “You’re weak”, a voice in my head hisses at me as I crawl back onto my bed, body shaking. “You disgust me.”
“FOMO,” or Fear Of Missing Out, is defined by Google as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” Back in the day – some five or six years ago, before FOMO actually properly existed – this was often defined as the sinking feeling you’d get when you couldn’t attend an (imagined) great party. How was everyone going? Would that one friend you hadn’t seen for months be there? What music was being played? What food was being served? What drinks were being drunk? It was probably all amazing. Here’s a tip: it wasn’t.
The perhaps more immature part of my brain escaped that Berlin road relatively intact. It calls to me when I least expect it to, wailing at the top of its lungs: “I DON’T DESERVE THIS!”, it screams, rattling round my skull back and forth, “I worked so hard to be there and out of everyone I didn’t deserve this!”. “No,” retorts another part; a part that has seemingly accepted its situation, “But then, if not you, then who? The other people in your course are all extremely talented and hard working. Would you rather one of them take your place?” I think of myself, and the dreams I’ve held since I was 5 of going to NIDA; the dreams I’d coax myself to sleep with in the dark of the night when nothing else would do – back when I still had blissfully misguided dreams of being an actor – and how in 2013 they were, in a sense fulfilled. I think of my self worth, and the worth of the other seven people in my course; of what those seven each mean to me. “No,” I reply begrudgingly, attempting once and for all to silence the voices in my head.
It seems, strangely, not unkindly, that my life has done an extremely rapid 180. Emotionally and mentally, perhaps, I’d said “goodbye” to everyone in Melbourne, at least ‘till the course would end – and accepted that I wouldn’t see them particularly often for quite a while. Now, here I am – back in Melbourne and, yes, surrounded by a selection of beautiful people, all whom I love rather fiercely, but now, cruelly, missing Sydney and all of its beautiful people whom I love rather fiercely, who for the better part of this year populated my life with talent and humour and made it bright and full and exciting, as much as the people I love in Melbourne did (and do) for me. My situation has, without warning, once more entirely moved cities, except that in this instance my life’d been set up in Sydney, and now, as I didn’t expect to, I miss it an insane amount. I had said my goodbyes to Melbourne, but never got the chance to say a proper goodbye to Sydney, and by God, that stings.
One of the things I remember clearly are the halcyon days – some eight or nine years back – when FOMO legitimately did mean simply missing out on a party or forgetting to hit “record” on the VCR when your favourite television show was playing. Now it stands for something more adult and, in some senses more insidious. I worry that those I knew and loved in Sydney, particular the others in my cohort, won’t forget me but will instead continue along their predestined paths (as they have every right to do) as I attempt to right the violent swerve my life has taken, and that instead of forgetting they’ll simply grow up, leaving me behind, becoming accomplished and successful in ways I could never possibly hope to, and that I’ll be left alone. It’s been a long time coming, but one positive that’s come from this incident in Berlin is that I fear very little anymore. Spiders, dentistry, chainsaws and mass murderers with them, sure, but no longer do I fear missing out. When you’ve been plastered across a curving road at 5am in the morning, some things begin to seem a little infantile. Fear no longer rules me – I don’t give it the chance to. I have learnt, face pressed into hot asphalt and my brain shaken all throughout my skull like a rancid bag of “Shake N Bake”, the squeal of hot tires and numerous screams ringing in my ears – that there are better, more exciting things in life, and that I, and indeed most people I know, deserve more and better. The world is blessedly open, wide open, and fear is no longer my friend. I’m beginning to realise that I already have enough of them.