Archive

Monthly Archives: April 2015

1.

We are standing in the Greyhound hotel – me and Jeremy and Trelawney and Amit and some other people who’s names I don’t remember and a thousand other gay people or Drag Race fans, sweaty bodies pumping to the music (some house Kylie remix with the bass pumped up to full) – as we wait (hour one of two approaching completion) for the drag queens to take to the stage. My skin crawls with bugs, bugs with pincers and flaming skin wreaking havoc over the topography of my body, as one, two, three, five, ten drunk people stagger past me, cruelly elbowing me and grabbing onto my shoulders as they attempt in vain not to spill their hot pink “special” cocktails on the other party-goers around them. To my left, a fat, black machine pumps out wave after wave of smoke. To my right, an incessant rainbow strobe of coloured laser cutting through the smoke and highlighting the waxed hair of the gays surrounding me. With a shudder, one of the lasers – green, as green as the grass of my childhood home, or perhaps as green as sick I feel – shoots me in the iris of my one good eye. I step back involuntarily, my body lurching despite myself and stomach twisting in gleeful, terrible knots as I attempt to find my balance.

“Hey,” a man behind me says. “Watch it.”

So, I think. When my neurologist said not to put myself into situations where my brain was likely to get over stimulated, this was probably what he was talking about.

2.

It is mid-February, perhaps, some time in the veritable thick of my rehabilitation towards a normal life. I am on a tram, off to meet a friend at the State Library, when the tram stops, sudden and shrill as its wheels squeal to a stop.

A beat, and the doors slam ominously open. I pause, for a second, looking despite myself out of the doors. Before me I see like a zombie horde of a good sixty plus commuters, dressed to the nines in suits and ties and general formal attire not particularly appropriate for the act they’re currently engaged in: shoving their fellow commuters out of the way as they relentlessly pound the pavement, all in an attempt to be the first one on the tram. My heart is paused in the dull half-light of the evening, on the verge of something big, it’d seem, shuddering in a manner slightly reminiscent of that famous glass of water in the first Jurassic Park film, right before the T-Rex enters and tears them all to pieces.

The commuters enter the tram, hustling, bustling and all engrossed in inane conversation so that I only catch snippets here and there – “so then, like, I didn’t even make it, l mean, I couldn’t”, “well that’s what she said to me”, “I just don’t want him to die but it’d be great if he’d find employment elsewhere, y’know? – and my arms and shoulders are slammed as each business-goer hustles past, apparently capable of a high-powered CBD job but incapable of respecting boundaries or personal space. As each one enters, they seem to take away a little more of my air, so that all I can see is a forest of suited legs and belts and shirts and body odours, and I think to myself – you’re only two stops away, only two stops away, you can do this, you can DO this – and I stare out of the window into the dying light of the afternoon and imagine that I’m out there, that I’m in the world and not caught on this tram where my throat, it’d seem, is closing over and my face is sweating and I’m incapable of regular respiration. Fuck it.

The tram doors slam shut after the driver screams a healthy “PLEASE GET OUT OF THE WAY OF THE DOORS, PLEASE”, but I stand up and shove, push, pull and elbow the offending bodies in between me and the outside world where things are calm, not claustrophobic and completely and hopefully unthreatening. I can feel someone’s stinking hot breath and body heat on the nape of my neck. We’re still at the stop; we haven’t moved.

“Excuse me!” I yell, my voice coming out far higher and more childish than I’d intended. “Could you let me out please?!”

3.

And we’re in Abbotsford now, after a reading of a play I’ve written and directed, and the world around me is raw and bright and white.

“What’d you think?” a friend asks me. “Did it go how you wanted it to?”

A beat, and it feels as though my skull’s about to crack open and unleash a buzzing swarm of worrying wasps upon my surroundings.

“Huh?” I ask.

“The play,” my friend says. “The one we just saw the reading of. The one you’ve been rehearsing all day. The one you wrote. Was it what you wanted?”

I pause and try hard to think, think, how it went – how my friends who’d agreed to read for this play had gone, how my direction had gone, how it’d been received. My mind is blank.

“Oh,” I say.

“Yeah,” I say.

All around me is white mist and a scream, it’d seem, building relentlessly up – not inside me, specifically, but like the mist, around me.

“It was… good?” I say. Truth told, I don’t remember. I haven’t enjoyed one second of the night, not for lack of trying.

It’s later, now, and I’m home and sitting at the kitchen table and my heart rate is finally slowing and the mist around me is clearing and I can see and feel the truth of my surroundings.

Hey, I think to myself with sudden clarity. It doesn’t really matter whether they liked it or not, does it? So long as you’re happy with it, who gives a fuck? You put in more than a year’s worth of work, so if someone doesn’t like it, that’s not your problem. 

Yeah? I think, mildly aware that I’m responding to myself like a legitimate crazy person. Yeah. Who, indeed, gives a fuck?

4.

THINGS I’VE SAID THAT HAVE COME BACK WITH CRUEL IRONY TO BITE ME ON THE ARSE #137:

“Oh, just shut the fuck up,” I say. It is a few years ago, and I am in my undergraduate course, and probably inebriated, given the pugnacity with which I speak. “Just shut UP. Like, ‘oh noooooooo, I’m anxious, oh my godddd, I’m triggered, please help!’ Try actually living life. Life won’t give you a free pass no matter how much you think you’ll be triggered without it. Just get your shit done and fucking deal with it.”

5.

A friend of my mother’s had open-heart surgery some ten or fifteen years back. Little did he know, as we do now, that that length of time spent under anesthetic – some three to six hours in total, Google informs me – can cause a violent and sudden increase in the body’s “fight or flight” responses, producing, in turn, an intense amount of cerebral overstimulation, and causing the body to, for lack of a better term, freak the fuck out.

The friend figured this out on a trip to Rome, when a passing parade (for some festival or other; I’m clearly fantastic and Very Good at listening) came blasting down the street they were standing on.

FUCK. HELP, his brain had screamed, and with his wife had quickly retreated to a tiny nearby alleyway as the parade vociferously passed and tourists and locals alike scurried by like terrified and dirty rats crawling over each other.Help, his brain had bleated again, weakly.

It took, apparently, a good two years for his brain to learn to not overstimulate and just take in the world surrounding him like a normal human’d do. If we take that as an indicator for my situation, hopefully by the time I’m 28 I’ll be able to crowd-surf with reckless abandon.

He had fallen to his knees, heart racing, temperature rising, and prayed, in that moment. Prayed to a god he did not believe in to let him know what the fuck was going on. Prayed for a clear heart, a clear head, and a pulse that paid attention to the rest of his body. Prayed for freedom. For mental clarity.

I haven’t prayed yet, but I’m getting closer with every passing day.

6.

Fuck, I think, the bile in my throat and head rising hot and hard up high, higher, towards my temples as I begin that all-familiar process of sweating from the face and feeling on the verge of big, fat, dumb tears. I get off the bus, now fairly certain I’ve gotten on the wrong one (or the right one going the wrong way) and as I get off I open up Google Maps.

In the depths of the computerized map, sitting plain and clear in Arial Bold or somesuch, is: ANNANDALE. And some nine or ten inches below it, off the scale of my iPhone map and good ten kilometres away in actuality, is a small red pin dot, and next to it: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF DRAMATIC ART.

I have lived in this city for the better part of a year, certainly for enough time to get my damn bearings and not be making stupid mistakes like the one I’ve just made.

But there we go, I think. I’ve just made it. And I don’t know what the fuck to do.

 Hands shaking, I extricate my phone from my pocket and open a text-message window. I type:

Help. A few seconds, a reply:

What’s up?

My hands and fingers spasm with fear and shame and idiocy as I wrestle out a reply. I got on the wrong bus or the one in the wrong direction and only just realised and I have no idea what to do and oh my god I feel so fucking stupid. Hit send. Then:  I’m an idiot. I think I’ll have to get a cab ‘cos I have no fucking clue how to get back. 

Just get the bus in the opposite direction?

My brain spasms and starts to melt. Hyperventilation is imminent. I wipe my eyes as they continue to leak tears across my face.

I can’t do that. I’ll just fuck it up again.

I call the cab. Half an hour later, it’s all okay – minus my bank account – and I’m on my way back to safe ground.

I feel like such a dickhead.

The reply: You’re safe and okay and where you need to be. I mean, sure it cost a bit of extra money, but you’re fine. Stop beating yourself up.

7.

“It’s not amenable,” my psychiatrist says after I’ve told her of the above incidents, my heart speeding up with the reality of the terrible memories. “You can’t control it.”

“Is there anything I can do?” I ask.

“There’s something called Sensoral and Social Desensitisation,” she says. I imagine brain-injured me in a dark room with a hostage-victim black hood over my face, and shudder involuntarily.

“It’s par for the course for people with brain injuries to just not go out at all. I mean, yes, you’ve been going well, but if you’re going to go somewhere and hyperventilate and stress because you can’t handle it, maybe it’s time to stop going to things.”

A dull moment, and the reality – and all it means for my social life, which has never been particularly burgeoning in any case – of what she’s saying sinks in.

“Or, if you know you’re going somewhere where there’s a large group of people – particularly people you don’t know, or an important situation that you’re going into –  shut your eyes and breathe deep and try to release all those thoughts,” she says. “It’s kinda wanky but it helps. Not as much as removing yourself from the situation, but more than doing nothing.”

Yep, I think.

“I suppose it’s about being present in the moment; not letting these thoughts control you.”

Easier said than done.

8.

I’ve always felt social anxiety on some level – afraid of people I don’t know, of connecting, properly, human to human, in person, even actively pursuing friendships or people I want to be friends with, for fear of looking like an idiot, or desperate, or lonely, or like a desperate, lonely, idiot – but it has unequivocally gotten worse since the events of last year. If before I felt a slight pang of fear, confusion or concern, now I feel a definite knife stabbing at the heart of me and twisting, blood pumping, heart racing. If someone doesn’t choose to spend time with me, the combination of my overactive imagination and overactive anxiety makes it into a personal slight, fuelled by hatred and disdain for my person.

“Hi,” someone might say to me.

“Hi,” I might reply. Well done, my brain’ll spit. Good job, dumbfuck. And that old familiar heartbeat racing, with it, grabbing my pulse and twisting, turning me every which way it pleases.

I’m not sure where to go from here, but I feel like this is a start.

“Naming the monster,” my friend Kristina and I have talked about in rehearsals for a play I’ve written, lately, of a character deep in denial; a character also with a brain injury (because apparently when I write plays, I’m psychic, or at least cruelly ironic). I guess that this is my attempt to do so. To those whom I was sarcastic towards in the earlier iteration of my brain – if you actually had anxiety, I’m very sorry. If you didn’t, now, doubly fuck you, because some people DO have anxiety and it’s not fun. Like, seriously. To those who’ve bandied about the phrase “I’m so glad you’re okay now!”, thank you for the vote of confidence, and I’m better than I was, but I’m also not okay. And to those – friends and family and so on – who’ve kept it in the forefront of their minds and attempted as best they could to cushion my apparent insanity as best they can? Thank you.

Advertisements

1.

I am 18 years of age, out of school and somehow back at school – on my first day of two weeks full-time call centre training at Salesforce with eleven other young hopeful moneymakers, learning the ins and outs of “hard” and “soft” selling, sociability and generally how to get through the job without wanting to kill yourself.

Similar to high school, I quickly find myself in small, vaguely sociable group of the young and young at heart. In the interest of continuing our burgeoning friendships, we rapidly find ourselves at a nearby pub drinking pints of cheap, acidic beer and quietly taking in the atmosphere with the moroseness of a death row prisoner.

“Well”, a booming voice says. I look up to discover it belongs to a fellow trainee, Josh – mid thirties, dressed all in black with a leather jacket, a calm command of himself and those around him, effortlessly cool tattoos (gasp) and an addiction to the strongest cigarettes I’ve ever smelt.

“Well,” he says again, quieter this time. My workmates and I look around, slight expectation crossing our faces as we hope for some words of encouragement from the tattooed biker-sage. Then:

“So this is life, now? Well, that’s fucked.”

2.

There was a definite drinking culture at the Salesforce Telstra SME division, as well as a definite (and bizarre) boating culture. Both of these activities were intended to motivate us worker-bees to work harder, to go for the money, and so (apparently) was the SME’s favourite activity of all time bar none: drinking on a boat.

We’re on the boat, and music is pumping, loud and oppressive and strangely in time with the vessel’s rocking against the waves, and my friends Matty and Christine (from this incident) are sipping away at UDLs with me like the semi-cultured people we’re attempting to be. Suddenly, the music seems to pause, lost in the cold night air and the drinks and the haze up from the Yarra River. Across from us stands a tall, gangly, redheaded boy, and he’s locking eyes with me. I have never seen him before. In fact, a stone’s throw from a particularly white and particularly privileged high school, I’ve never really met anyone who’s gay before, and as a semi-ex fat person (at this point it’s a downward sprint to thinness; I’m not there yet but I can see the finish line and am gaining speed with every passing day) I have never been kissed. Or fucked. A moment, then I wave, emboldened by the saccharine can of alcohol in my hand. The boy smiles back at me, shyly.

3.

A co-worker, some ninety minutes later, as I make out with this redheaded boy with all the gumption of a university-aged student whose dreams of intimacy haven’t yet been fulfilled:

“Look, it’s alright, I guess, I mean, I’ve nothing ‘gainst their kind; just so-long’s they don’t do it around me, ya know?”

4.

We’re in a bathroom now, on dry land, the redhead and I, in a coworker’s ramshackle Carlton share house. We’re both incredibly intoxicated and I’ve spent the previous twenty minutes wandering around the labyrinthine downstairs of the house as coworkers have partied on, passing around several joints (that I’ve been offered, and accepted, taking numerous puffs) and dancing together in a manner that serves only to bely their ages.

We’re on our knees, now, and my head is spinning so that I have to reach down and prop myself up on the cream-coloured tiling beneath me. My pants are off and so’re his, and I fall to the side, accidentally, now attempting to make sure my face doesn’t smash on the tiles.

“Oh,” redhead mutters coyly as he moves atop my form, pressing his hardness down into my lower half – somewhere between my waist and lower back. It isn’t sexy. Despite myself and not really knowing what I’m doing, working on instinct alone, I begin to buck and sway underneath him and press up into him.

“Oh,” he repeats and begins to press himself into my lower back, harder. I fear I’ve given him the impression that I actually enjoy having my lower back caressed by an erection. To be fair, I suppose, the erection in question is about as large as one of those fancy back massagers you see on TV – larger, if anything, a contender for the largest I’ve ever seen at that point, and let’s not forget that at that point, bar one, I’d only seen the comically gargantuan phalluses in (mainly straight) pornography.

We continue drunkenly on, the two of us writhing in an embarrassing semblance of actual passion, and he asks if he can fuck me. Thrown by his forwardness and the booze and the spliff and especially my inexperienced idiocy, I accept. He fucks me on the dirty bathroom floor of this dingy Carlton share house, but he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing (potentially suffering from the curse of most well-endowed gentlemen, the belief that simply shoving it blindly in will be enough) and I have to pretend that I like it.

He finishes, and I pretend to finish, and fifteen minutes later we’re downstairs, and I’ve sobered up enough to feel a heady amount of shame at my actions. He, apparently, does not, as he grabs my inner thigh and nestles into my neck like a cockatiel that’s just realised how sleepy it is. None of the workmates question where we’ve been, though nobody seems to remember us being downstairs at any point in the past hour. Funny, that.

“Where did you put the condom?” I ask out the corner of my mouth while he continues to hold me hostage with affection and my brain screams at me to leave, get out, get the fuck out.

He yawns, for a second, then returns to my shoulder.

“What condom?”

5.

I am sitting in the emergency room only a few hours later, now completely sober (or completely hung over) and well worn, after a sleepless night.

“Where’re you going?” one of my parents had asked.

“Work,” I’d lied. “Weekend shift. Hung over.”

“Good luck, then”, the reply had came. Good luck indeed.

I spend a good two hours in the emergency ward that Google had sent me to as others with more serious or apparent injuries are treated to, attempting to stay calm, stall cool, stay in control. Finally, it’s my turn.

I launch into the story of the past twenty-four hours, minus a few modest details, and get put on a treatment plan, get told the odds of HIV infection, get told it’s good that I’ve come in so quickly and get told that substances often “play a part” in these situations.

Fucking trust, I think, bitterly, as the nurse helps me take my first pill like I’ve never taken one before. Of course, the second time I ever have sex something like this happens.

A flash of shame as my brain rationalizes: you don’t know he has HIV; he just didn’t use protection.

Then: exactly. Better safe than sorry, dickhead.

“Are you okay?” the nurse pats my hand and smiles with at me, her face showing the appropriate modicum of doctorly concern.

“Yeah,” I murmur, not quite believing it myself. “Yeah. Do you happen to know where a good place for breakfast might be? I haven’t eaten anything and, given, uh, everything, I think I’m gonna treat myself to an eggs and bacon the size of my face.”

6.

The breakfast never eventuated. Fifteen minutes after I left, a phone call from work asked if I could indeed come in – they’re short on the weekend and I need the money.

I arrive, my brain throbbing like a swollen, hot sponge; shuddering thick and fast with the poisons of the previous night and my eyes feeling like they’re on the verge of falling out of my face.

“Heeeeeey,” Josh says as I arrive, wagging his eyebrows suggestively. “How’re you?”

“Fine,” I lie, stomach and head turning endlessly.

“And how’d it go with that guy?” he asks, offering my a piece of the muffin he’s hoeing into. “He’s coming to work here, you know.” Then, conspiratorially: “He’s gonna be our team leader’s second in command, you know.”

If I didn’t feel like I was falling apart at the seams, I’d laugh. Of course. Of course he is.

“I didn’t know that was a position you could have,” I say mildly.

“Neither,” Josh says. “And anyway, I –“ a pause, then: “Hello, this is Josh from Telstra SME calling, I just wanted to talk to you today about the range of benefits you may or may not be receiving. May I ask, am I talking to the account holder?”

7.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t contract HIV.

I did, however, learn caution, control, and (eventually) the benefit of not being an intoxicated idiot. 

8.

Across my year of call centre employment, there was a nagging feeling inside me, pulling, tugging politely at the corners of my heart and self image and growing more insistent with each passing day and each time I’d hear the people around me talking about their hobbies, their home lives, their likes and dislikes, what made them happy. This nagging feeling spoke commandingly and clear, though not often loud enough for me to hear, rising up from within with all the insistence and arrogance of an eighteen year old who thinks he’s figured the world out but – surprise, surprise – hasn’t. This feeling spoke:

You’re better than this. You’re better than this, and everyone here.

9.

“Chris!”, Con, SME’s supervisor, called me over to his desk. “Come and listen to this for me, will you?”

He’s sitting with my team leader and someone else in a suit and this all looks terribly official. All right then. I slide on the headphones he’s holding out.

Immediately a quiet voice pipes up, singing with gusto and insistent dedication.

“Gonna let you in on a little secret,” the voice sings. “You gotta learn this little trick. Get your hands and your fingers ready. Stop relying on your dick.”

I blanche. The voice is mine, singing along to a Peaches song, not that you can tell. Con must’ve thought I’d made this song up myself.

“I just didn’t know you felt that way,” Con says, seriously, then laughs. I stand up and drop the headphones, spitting a “sorry”, back in his direction before quickly returning to my desk, my face beet red.

Shit, I think. Was that really my voice? I mean, I know I haven’t done a singing lesson for six months, and I guess I took up smoking, but… really??

“It’s fucked,” I spit to Matty and Christine over lunch, enough time passed that I’ve forgotten the ungainliness in my voice and only remembered the hurt. “It’s embarrassing and… and just, fucked.” Then, dropping something I’ve heard my mother, an employee of SDA Trade Union, use in conversation before: “That shouldn’t stand. That’s workplace harassment.”

“Well…” Christine murmurs not unkindly. “You were supposed to be doing work, weren’t you?”

I’d hung on at the tail end of a call and been listening to music for ten minutes, flatly refusing to work as my irritation towards Salesforce grew. The fact that she’s right somehow infuriates me more.

“Well… yeah,” I say. “But that doesn’t give anyone the right to make me feel so uncomfortable!”

Then, Matty: “This all just sounds fucking great. D’you know if he deleted the recording? We should get it for the Christmas party this year.”

10.

With that I leave, quickly and quietly scampering away as I begin my undergraduate university degree and obtain employment elsewhere. I think sometimes about how sharply life can left turn out of my control, how for 14 long months Telstra SME had held my world of hopes, fears and paranoia, how my best friends in the whole wide world (as far as 18 year old full-time-worker me was concerned) were Matty and Christine (both of whom escaped, I hope) and how quickly and quietly my ambition was assimilated by the call-centre beast and became: Gotta climb the ranks. Gotta get promoted. Gotta get the sales.

I don’t see anyone from Telstra ever again, bar one incident:

It is V Music Festival, the year following. The music is pumping and I am with my non-call centre friends and we are looking at a map, confused by the people swarming like ants around us, wave upon wave of music-loving fiends getting in the way of our attempts to figure out what the fuck’s going on and where the fuck we are.

And in front of me, imperiously tall and clad head to toe in black stands Josh. We lock eyes, for a moment, and something impels me to approach him. I note with appreciation his new hand tattoos , continuing his “effortlessly cool” persona and making the strange and awkward fanatic inside of me raise its head in excitement.

“Hey,” he says, tipping an invisible hat to me. I turn around, quickly, but my friends are still fighting over the map and haven’t realised I’m gone.

“Hey,” I say, tipping my own invisible head. It occurs to me that he probably doesn’t remember who I am, but that’s fine, I can deal, I think. I wonder to myself, if he got out of the call-centre hell.

I’ll bet he did, I think beside myself. He’s probably running some super cool Northside bar and raking in the dollars. What a cool guy.

He smiles, grey eyes flashing for a second as he pushes up his sleeves.

“You got any weed?” he asks.