You are standing in the cool and the strangely unfamiliar dark of a supermarket, listening to the muted buzz of machines and children and wondering how you got like this.
You’ve been on edge all day – it’s 2.30 in the afternoon and you’ve been awake since 5, up since 6, keeping the routine you obsessively began a couple months after you received a traumatic brain injury.
You could probably go at a more reasonable time, but the waiting makes you anxious, and with each passing gym-less hour you’re aware that the exercise window for that day is closing, and then what will you do? So you’ve been up for, uh – 8 hours? 7.5? With each passing minute a vice closes tighter and tighter around your chest and makes it harder to breathe or think or do anything, really, but panic.
You thought you were over this – you told yourself you were but, shockingly, your brain rarely listens to itself, especially nowadays.
Something is happening. It’s as if your brain has finally come around, in its panic and its anxiety, to accepting an idea. The idea is this:
I DIDN’T DESERVE THIS.
It’s been nearly two years and you’re still talking about it with yourself, and having panic attacks in supermarkets, and maybe, you realise, maybe this isn’t what normal people do. Maybe this means you’ve still got a while to go. And maybe this is a realisation you should’ve come to sooner.
When it happened – when you woke up, bleary-eyed and in pain and drugged up, bobbing in the miasma of post-trauma amnesia, you immediately accepted your situation. You may have had to be told your situation, repeatedly, but you accepted it at face value. You didn’t really have any choice. In fact, for the months following everything, that was your mantra, held close to your heart with desperation and determination: Let’s Get On With It, and get on with it you did – whatever “it” was.
Relearn how to walk? Let’s get to it. Figure out how to talk properly and actually annunciate words? Someone try and stop you. Re-discovering how to write in something that doesn’t look like bizarrely prophetic chicken-scratch? I mean, you’ve always had pretty terrible handwriting, but sure, you’ll give it a shot.
So you kept moving on, with the idea that the more you moved, the more you moved – the further you’d be away from the accident and the broken bones and the dark Berlin road and the sick brain that too quickly turned to the bottle and the emotional support of those around it, even if those around it didn’t quite know what they were supporting or why.
And this is the first moment you really think it so that the words penetrate your skull and wrap around you.
You’d been fairly determined not to play the victim. You’d been put here by your own hand – or foot, or penchant for alcohol – and you’d fucking get yourself out if you had to. You had to move back in with your parents, where you’d be berated and threatened by your father and micromanaged by your mother (out of caring, at least). You had to postpone your Master of Writing for Performance at NIDA and stare down the barrel of two years of full-time rehabilitation at the same time. You cut those two years down to six months. You healed in a quarter of the time they told you it’d take, you were just that determined to get your life back on track.
Your boyfriend flew to Germany to look after you, and found out that apparently you’d cheated on him at some point during your Euro-Trip (can two countries even be classed as a Euro-Trip?). This is news to you, too. You don’t remember this, but you do remember that you love him. Or, you thought you did. It’s as if someone has come and fucked up your life while you’ve been sleeping soundly, chilling out in Vivantes, Berlin.
You get back to Melbourne, and you break up. You write a play in a week, and then you somehow get back together. He forgives you, for some reason. It seems like everything’s slowly getting better, but it isn’t. You then can’t leave the house for two months straight bar rehab – you’ve moved in with this boyfriend after your father repeatedly physically threatens you, on the suggestion of your mother, and she doesn’t have to suggest twice.
Everything seems to continually be recontextualising itself as new information surfaces through your injured brain – like, say, the knowledge you have that you’ll actually always be brain injured, or being told of things you’ve apparently done or taken part in that you don’t, don’t remember – and you’re not sure how to keep up with it, but you try.
But you’re tired of keeping up.
You’re tired, and you realise that, no matter how many shitty things you may have done, no matter how many nice things you may have done, you didn’t deserve this.
It fucked you up, and you didn’t deserve it.
I didn’t deserve it.
I’m standing in aisle three of Carnegie Woolworths listening to Radiohead like a fucking indie dream cliché, and I’m realising that I didn’t fucking deserve it. And I’m not angry that it happened – it’s too late to be angry, really – or happy, or anything beyond slowly comprehending that, yeah. I didn’t deserve it.
I’ve come so far from the brain injured trauma patient marooned in Berlin and trying to do basic math problems and eat without spilling it all over himself, and I’ve come further still from the insecure and mentally ill borderline alcoholic, and… I don’t know.
I drink a least one Red Bull a day because brain injuries make you incredibly tired and I’ve got shit to do.
I have braces for the second time in my life because the only other option was to have my jaw broken in two places and a false tooth medically nailed into my gums, and I’d already been through enough violence to my person.
I cry at random times now and I don’t know why. In supermarkets or while washing the dishes or to music or if I’ve missed a train or there’s small animals on TV or whatever. I never used to. The last time I cried was listening to Kate Mulvany’s Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture, which was at least a good reason to cry, so.
I have a co-dependence on my Google Calendar, now, because I forget things all the fucking time and, when combined with anxiety, I’m nearly always afraid that I’m forgetting something important and that I’ll somehow just fuck my life up with my forgetfulness. Just magically, just like that.
Afraid, yeah. I’m afraid. Afraid of forgetting things, afraid of ending up in a boring and passionless job with 2.65 children and a white picket fence in the outer suburbs of Victoria and a job that I hate. Afraid of graduating NIDA in a few days, afraid of my fellowship ending in a few weeks. Afraid of my independence disappearing again, afraid of getting another brain injury, afraid of ever having an alcoholic drink ever again, afraid of losing my talent, afraid that I’ll never get out of this country, and afraid of people.
I say that I’m not, but fucking hell, I’m so afraid of people.
People that I don’t know, people that I do know, sometimes, and people that I kind of know but haven’t met in person especially. I don’t know what it is but something in me feels a genuine and deep terror at this last one. Like I’ll randomly bump into them in the street and just be incredibly unimpressive and boring.
And angry. I’m so unbelievably angry at this government and this country. I’m angry at people who’ve deliberately hurt me. And I’m angry at myself.
Fucking hell, I’m angry at myself.
But I’m learning to let that go.