Archive

Monthly Archives: May 2016

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.

Advertisements

I’ve started having dreams about the car accident again.

I’m in my office, or apartment, or work – somewhere mundane, when suddenly I’ll flash to the scene of the crime; that dark Berlin road and the hospital. Now obviously this is partly fictionalized; I remember nothing much of the road itself and not a terrible amount of the first hospital I was in – but still. I’ll be sitting or standing or doing whatever, and my brain will suture my present – or “present”, the mundanity of my dream – with my past – violence and pitch black, pain and screaming and heat and asphalt. This won’t be an occurrence, I won’t feel myself flying through the air or observe with any kind of rationality anything that’s happening. It’s more a wave of feeling; something that twists around my neck and my lungs with the every-day horror of my current anxiety.

I’ll wake up, then – not dramatically, shrieking and pulling at my covers, but quietly, rising out of the depths of sleep and slowly taking stock of my surroundings as the horror of the past hours of sleep fades from memory.

I’m fairly certain I’ve got PTSD, then: post traumatic stress dreams.

As a child I was fairly withdrawn, never demanding to be hugged or held or touched at all, in fact preferring it when the adults laid me by myself and let me be.

This is both true and false, now. In certain moods I’ll follow someone around like a lost puppy, not necessarily wanting any sort of affection, but craving the emotional warmth of another human being who I know – hey, look, it’s another human being: you’re not alone!

My mother told me yesterday that a friend of hers experienced some pretty drastic post-traumatic anxiety himself, and that when things were rough, he had always found it had helped if someone gave him a hug to help him calm down.

Perhaps a little too quickly and sharply, I’d answered: “No.”

I couldn’t really think of anything worse than to be hugged in these moments, and very quickly that’s become its own unique fear: that, as I’m having a panic attack, someone will hug me and not let go. Maybe more than one person. I’m a pretty tactile person with the right person and the right mood, but there’s nothing right about an anxiety attack.

I’ve become convinced that I’m running out of time.

There’s something that happens when you nearly lose your life – an insidious recontextualisation that creeps into every facet of your brain and stays there.

At first there was the realisation that I was still alive, and every medical professional I dealt with telling me just how lucky I was. That was alright. Now, that message of luck and life has been twisted.

My brain tells me: YOU’RE NOT DEAD, BUT YOU WILL BE SOON. BETTER MAKE SOMETHING OF YOURSELF.

I reply: “What does ‘something’ mean? What will make you calm down?”

My brain replies: I DON’T KNOW EITHER, BUT YOU BETTER DO IT QUICK. FUCKING. SMART.

I’m aware how ridiculous this all is. I’m only 27, and if I live a long life – or just life of average length – I’ve still got a large amount of time left. (It’s hard to join Winehouse et al when you’re sober and look both ways before you cross, is all I’m saying.) But I can’t deny that it’s hard, and that my anxiety feeds on the success of others: particularly those younger than me, winning things I want to win. Although part of my brain wallows in the regular artistic jealousy that every artist experiences, the rest, instead, turns it back in on itself: you’re nearly 30 and you haven’t done that. You’ve got no fucking chance.

Maybe it’s the way the world, in particular the arts industry, grossly overvalues youth.

Maybe it’s the unfair standards I set for myself – the ones that, a few years ago, inspired me to work harder, but are swiftly becoming more and more untenable the longer I try and keep them up. (I won’t bore you with the details, but essentially it comes down to me requiring of myself to write and produce a certain number of things in a year.)

Certainly it’s the narrative that won’t leave my head; the one of people being ‘discovered’ and becoming instantaneously über successful while I wallow away, attempting (and failing) to sort my shit out.

This utter panic doesn’t just centre around my career but my friendships, too, fuelled on by the realisation that occasionally strikes me: if I’d died that night in 2014, I wouldn’t be experiencing this moment right here. Or this one. Or this one, either.

There’s a friend I’ve made with whom I keep making plans to catch up – plans that for whatever reason haven’t happened yet. We’re busy people. But each time these plans fall through I’m struck with an intense pang of anxiety, which, when followed down to its core, basically comes down to:

You’re probably going to die before you ever get to properly meet this person.

That’s a particularly morbid conclusion to come to, but it’s something I still can’t shake.

This will sound stupid, but it’s only this year that I’ve properly and wholly accepted that I’ll probably never get the luxury of being just an artist. It’s a bitterly logical realisation, but one my brain has only wrapped itself around quite recently. Particularly the idea of making my income solely from writing – of all things, writing!

When I was a child – and probably still thought that, despite my chubby body and fey demeanour, I’d be a grade-A actor – I had dreams of the artist life. I’d live in a mansion, probably on a hill, with a host of taxidermied animals and a shockingly handsome husband. I’d have a whole lot of money from doing my Art, and I’d use it to spread more Art and Knowledge to the people, fostering a deep interest in Art worldwide. And then I’d be thanked for it. Like, not just thanked, but revered.

It’s telling that even as a child I didn’t know what my “Art” would be, only that I’d be doing it. Probably.

Moving on has made things easier. I no longer feel the immense pressure I once put on myself to become “successful” and enjoy financial security as soon as possible. There’s a strange freedom of, if not giving up on your dreams, than recalibrating them: every artistic thing I do no longer feels like a ‘do or die’ situation, but something I can appreciate for the act of what it is. By pulling my foot off the accelerator, I’m allowing myself the natural time to think, grow and change.

This self-acceptance has slowly made its way towards my body, too. For many years I believed that if I tried hard enough: if I ran enough, lifted enough weights, skipped enough meals and hated myself enough, my body would eventually change into something acceptable to me. Regardless of my endomorph status (the “fat” body type), my learned self-loathing (thank you, school and family) and my genuine belief I’d never be good enough. Now I’m realising that it’s my brain that needs to change into something acceptable.

I’m still shooting for the gold, but I’m not demanding it. That makes all the difference.