This is the story of my awakening –
It would be safe to say I had a fairly sheltered life as an adolescent. Having grown up in a stable and supportive home with two loving parents and an older sister. I grew up on the south coast of NSW where I did most of my schooling from preschool right up to year 11. As a child I was pretty placid, very rarely got into any trouble, and was never really social.
I always felt uncomfortable in social settings as I was extremely shy and had little to no self-confidence. I was also of a broad build even as a child and really tall, so I often had remarks of looking like a boy, giant or one of my nicknames was BFG. I found it difficult to fit in with most kids, and found I preferred to be on my own from an early age or around adults.
As a kid, I found it challenging connecting with kids as I never felt I could really fit in and often found myself preferring to spend time with my friends parents at sleep overs as I felt like the parents were more on the same page. They would often open up to me and share stressors (adult problems) and I would sit and listen and hold space. Many people have said I was always an old soul, trapped in a kids body. I hated kids cartoons and songs except for ones that had mystical elements or alluded to the universe (loved sailor moon) and was deeply annoyed having to engage in kids activities and apparently on occasion would hide in a cupboard while kids were playing near me. Mum even shared with me that there were several times I would come home from preschool pissed off at the amount of times I had to engage in kids activities. She shared that once that I come home royally pissed off stating "If I have to sing I'm a little tea pot once more....." not sure what I was going to do, but I obviously wasn't too impressed with being a kid.
My favorite movies & shows were complex psychological dramas and my favorite movie of all time as a kid was "legends of the fall." It may have had something to do with the fact I had a crush on Brad Pitt, but i remember resonating with the story line of how he become a wanderer, unable to be tamed, deep down I think I knew too that I wasn't going to be easily tamed.
My parents made the decision to move to a small country town when I was in my senior years which was challenging but a great lesson to learn at a young age, how to be adaptable to change and I decided to complete my final senior year in a new town.
It was a tough transition but still a good one because I came out of my shell a bit when I started going to parties and drinking, just as most teenagers do. I soon discovered that in order to fit in I needed to be social and party like everyone else, and after that I felt a sense of belonging. After graduation I began the process of joining the Royal Australian Navy. I had mixed feelings about joining as I wanted to join the Air force but recruitment assured me I could join the Navy and commence training sooner and then transfer over. I had my whole life ahead of me and I felt immense pressure to get out and do something worthwhile with my life. I had to train myself prior to joining as I struggled with the fitness testing. It took a lot of dedication but after a short time I finally passed my physical testing and aptitude testing and enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy, July 2007.
Prior to leaving I had a massive farewell party which was a huge success until the end of the night when fights broke out. I was extremely intoxicated and attempted to break up a fight between two friends, and as a result, which was an accident, was hit in the face. My sister came in to help break things up then also got a knock to the face accidentally. Details of this night are a blur now, but at the time there were a lot of emotions and I blamed one of my friends for fighting with my sister. I do not remember what happened but I know after I still held a grudge against two of them, more particularly my friend who I’ll call ‘John’ who lived across the road and had been a drinking buddy since I moved. John was the nice guy across the road, young, vibrant and a bit goofy, but a down to earth nice guy. He loved to have a drink and party and was always there for his friends as someone to talk to. I had several D &M’s with him usually on our drunken walks home which seemed to always take forever but we didn’t care as we always had good company. After the party, I completely pushed "john' away and broke ties with him. He tried to apologize to me after the event on numerous occasions but my stubbornness took over and on a night before I was to leave I verbally attacked him saying I “hated him.”
I have never regretted anything more in my life, and if I could take anything back it would be that, as a few years later he passed away from a car accident. My dad also explained to me that he had spoken to his dad and that his dad told him just how much he did like me, not just as a friend. His dad said he was “smitten” with me and devastated when I broke contact with him. I truly felt gutted and strongly regret what I had said, and I honestly didn’t mean it. I was stubborn and intoxicated, and for a long time held the guilt of that broken bond. I didn't realize it at the time but i did have feelings for him to, and due to wanting to fit into the new school and new life, I had my eyes set on who I viewed as a popular kid, someone who I was obviously attracted to because they had what I lacked, confidence. I dismissed how I felt, not only as i didn't understand it back then and understand what I was doing to be friend zoning, but as many people do, i was blindsided by the illusion of the ideal person not seeing the genuine kind soul before my very eyes.
JOINING THE NAVY
I joined the Navy at an early age straight after school in hopes of fulfilling that dream. Seeing the images of what appeared to be like a big family where naturally you’d be accepted after initiation and it appeared that everyone was confident, skill full and happy. In reality, like many in ‘the same boat’ the experience was far from what I expected and to this day I still have moments where I experience a trigger and need to release the emotions stored from that time in my life as I continue on this journey of healing the mind, body and soul.
The day finally came to get on the bus to head to HMAS CERBERUS and I was so overwhelmed. As anyone would expect, recruit school was tough. For some it was apparently a ‘breeze’ but for a select few in my intake including me we were singled out and targeted more obviously than others. I was lucky enough to have an ‘old school’ instructor who I’ll call for privacy reasons Leading Seaman Hitler as my class leader. He worked with the belief that you should ‘break them down and build them up’ and weed out the bad seeds, people he didn’t want to see in the fleet. Today I can understand where he was coming from, and do appreciate the general idea, however at the time his techniques were more damaging than good.
Put simply, I was shit scared of the him. He was a fairly tall and scrawny man, and to most people he was hilarious. He used to get great joy from public humiliation and torture and just like a high school bully; he always had an audience to cheer him on. I wasn’t the only one to be targeted by this man there were a few others, people who may have appeared weak were normally the target. It is extremely difficult to recount all the memories I have of this period of my life as I have managed to suppress most of them as a coping mechanism.
The recruit training went for roughly 3 months, and I do not remember a single day where I wasn’t singled out. One memory I have of public humiliation was when I accidentally flushed my named badge down the toilet. As I didn’t secure the name badge properly to begin with whilst I was leaning over to flush behind me, it went straight down. I remember getting extremely anxious knowing I needed to let my leader know to arrange another one and was just knew he would be nasty about it, which he did. In front of others he gave me toilet training lessons, speaking to me like a child and making me feel extremely small.
From that moment on, I kept saying to myself ‘don’t do anything stupid, to attract his attention’. Anyone that knows me well, will be well aware of my personality and how most day’s I have a silly moment or do something stupid. I can find amusement in the things I do now but back then, it really stressed me out. I could pretend I was ok by putting up the ‘Dory’ front which I will explain a bit later, which was very much a coping mechanism, but for the duration of my Navy career, any mistakes used to make me extremely anxious knowing it would result in either a lot of trouble or public humiliation.
Apart from the public humiliation, even when no one was around, he would constantly taunt, saying things along the lines of implying I was an ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’, 'fat,'‘didn’t belong here’, “should go home” all things that over time it does get to you. It was a constant struggle to just keep myself together emotionally whilst I was at recruit school as every single day I would put up with mental abuse, physical exhaustion and constant health issues. I only found I could befriend girls in other classes which was difficult as we would only see them at the end of the day. It was in recruit school I met my close friends Jo and Bec, girls who today I still have a great relationship with. I found a bit of peace in knowing at the end of the day I would be able to talk to these girls and a few select others.
We all had a hard time in recruit training for different reasons and we formed a strong bond and supported each other through this hard time. Obviously recruit training is expected to be hard so we all just shared the belief that it would all be over soon and that this is normal for everyone.
I messed up a lot in recruit school making silly mistakes because I was always on edge, suffering from anxiety. With this man constantly breathing down my back and singling me out on almost every day, it soon got to me and my health and mental health started to deteriorate rapidly. I suffered from severe shin splints for majority of my training and had to put up with blood blisters on my feet daily. I felt sick most of the time and would cry when I finally had a moment to be alone. I lost a lot of weight during my training, which was a good thing due to the fact I was very much overweight beforehand, but due to the rapid weight loss and stressful environment, I got really sick and on several occasions was taken to seek medical help. In all those bad times and experiences I do however remember one very good one, apart from the friends I was beginning to make.
Hitler was in fact humane enough to notice my mental health deteriorating and I don’t know if it was out of guilt or was an order from his superiors but he did once escort me to the base Councillor. Once I got signed in and he left, I sat down with the Councillor who began to talk. I remember not even saying a word and all it took was a nice face asking me how I am that caused me to breakdown. In all my time in training I can honestly say that moment and that appointment was the only genuine good moment I had. The Councillor spoke to me in such a caring and nurturing way that for a brief moment I felt safe and supported like I was at home. After my breakdown I finally opened up to the Councillor and they helped to bring me back down to earth and started talking about some soothing techniques I can use some as simple as deep breathing. If I were to be completely honest I must say that even writing this has almost brought me to tears just remembering that special moment when I was able to see some light for the first time and it meant the world to me.
I never wanted to leave that office. When he came back to pick me up however it all changed and I automatically became anxious and sad again knowing it won’t be long till something else happens. Like the analogy of a storm, I had just passed through the calming eye and just coming out on the other side back into the storm.
The abuse continued for the duration of the course and the only coping mechanism I had was our weekend leave when I was allowed to leave the base and be free. I think it was the same for everyone; weekend leave was everyone’s escape which is why so many would go out and run a muck and I just found myself drinking more excessively. I soon developed a reputation as a ‘piss head’ and it was around this time, where Dory came out of the shell a bit. For those who have no idea what I mean by Dory, the name is in relation to the Disney movie ‘Finding Nemo’. As soon as the movie came out, I was nicknamed Dory as I had similar characteristics to the fictional character. Several people used to find entertainment in silly things I would say and do, and even though I was experiencing personal inner trauma, I found I could use this persona to escape. I wouldn’t say it was a case of split personality, but I would say, I used to play the ‘Dory’ card as a coping mechanism, when deep down I was hurting or embarrassed. I used to go out at every chance and get drunk and used to return to base in a terrible state.
It was also due to the fact that I had lost a bit of weight and was coming out of my shell a bit that I started getting some male attention, which leads to the next biggest obstacle or experience of my life, my first time. I was 18 at the time, which these days is a mature age to experience your first time. What should’ve been a special time, which admittedly for most people they do rush it and are subject to losing their virginity under the influence of alcohol, it was definitely not just a drunken regret but a stressful experience which took years of revisiting and healing.
Just like many people, I was pretty intoxicated when I decided to lose my virginity. It was not just some random but someone I knew who appeared to me as someone extremely charming and kind, and a lot of fun. He said all the right things and made me feel really special. Everything was fine, I was treated respectfully, and it was fully consented, I later found out, not long after it happened however, the guy was found with very disturbing footage and images of himself with young children and I couldn’t help but feel disgusted with myself knowing that I had been intimate with someone who was so sick minded. I didn’t cope very well at all and it was from this moment I developed severe trust issues with people, worried that they are never quite what they appear to be. At the time I was already suffering so much that I just had to put it to the back of my mind and get on with it best it could.
It was coming to the end of training and my drinking had increased at every available opportunity, and my mental health deteriorating; however, there was still that bit of excitement and happiness knowing it would all be over soon. A huge turning point for me in the training period was when we undertook sea survival training. There were several training sessions including fire-fighting and flood management, weapons and history but the phase which I took a lot out of was the sea survival training. The training was done in two parts, first part the theory, and demonstrations of sea survival techniques, and the second one was to actually get in a life raft and actually experience it. The theory stuff was pretty good and found it to be a very interesting sessions but it wasn’t till we actually had to get in the raft and take charge which became an issue. LS Hitler the smartass he was thought it was a great idea to have me as a second in charge of the class, knowing full well I’d have an anxiety attack being put in a leadership role.
All was going great to begin with, at first the team found it quite fun being out there, as we had naval divers swim around us, and we got to play with the life raft tools. It was only after some more time past, when the morale started to drop and people became anxious. We were hungry, cold, tired, some feeling unwell, and there was a bit of power play arising between the alpha personalities. I knew we needed to stick together or we would not pass so I began talking to everyone and commenced doing some team building exercises without them even knowing it.
We played games and went around the group talking about ourselves and the morale amazingly started to go up and they were all starting to work as a team and help each other out. As we were all suffering from mild hypothermia, when we eventually got back in, we were directed to go in the cold showers to warm up but I was pulled aside by a naval diver. He approached me with a smile on his face and told me I did a great job. I was a little surprised and told him I hadn’t actually done much and the alpha personalities held the fort. He quickly explained that yes they did good also, but “it isn’t just about physical survival, it’s about mental survival, and you held that group together, you’ll make a fine leader one day.”
That was the first compliment I had received in months, and I remember actually taking a deep breath and thinking maybe he is right and I actually am stronger and better than I think. I was a great feeling and it was then it all started to make sense and I was beginning to change how I felt about myself for once.
About a week or so prior to graduation my class were all sitting down discussing options for career paths and category training. I can’t really remember how it all came about but LS Hitler began talking about people who shouldn’t even be in the fleet, and he looked directly at me and said “you should’ve gone” and from memory I believe I walked out of the classroom, fed up, feeling so incredibly angry that I wanted to explode. I honestly felt like I had been through absolute hell, and all I wanted to do was punch this ass-hole in the face for making my life hell. I don’t remember how long it took but he came for me, and without much restraint I went off with tears in my eyes and my stomach rising up my throat as if I was about to explode.
I started going off telling him he can do whatever he likes to me but he has no right to tell me how to live my life. It was the first time in my life I had ever stuck up for myself, and I could tell he knew it too because it was a very awkward moment for both of us, but amazingly to my disbelief, he looked at me with such happiness and said “finally McAuliffe, you’ve grown some balls” and walked away.
I just sat there stunned as the realization came to me that it was all an act; he was in fact trying to help me. Although it was like the table had been completely turned, I still hated him, and still thought he was a wanker for many years later. It took a lot of revisiting the relationship with him to work through the anger from the experience to shift it to gratitude for the lesson and opportunity for growth.
Graduation came very quickly and everyone was scattering around getting their ceremonial uniforms dry cleaned and boots etc. polished for the big event. For me, I was just happy to be getting out of the shit hole, but at the same time wanted to look nice for my family who I knew were extremely proud and so I put some genuine effort into it.
We had an evening ceremony as we were the last intake of the year and the event was due to be huge. LS Hitler was unwell for our graduation and we had a fill in instructor for the parade. As we were marching around in front of our loved ones, I along with my peers felt such a strong sense of pride in ourselves and our achievements and I felt a bit teary during the parade as I caught a glance of my family members in the audience.
I won two awards at graduation, which shocked me at the time. As I was someone who felt extremely isolated and stressed for majority of the training I really felt as though no one had even noticed my struggles but that evening it was like the spot light was on me in some ways. It was amazing to hear my name called out as recruit of the intake and most improved fitness award. The ‘recruit of the intake’ award was an award you can receive in training and it was from nominations of the school staff on who they felt stood out and worked hard and deserved the award the most and I must say I felt a huge sense of pride receiving that award.
Graduation night started off as a blast as it was an opportunity to spend time with family, have drinks, but it ended in blood and death as an unknown man was stabbed in the neck with a bottle in front of us. Despite all efforts to help him we later heard he died on the way to hospital.
After graduation we had a Christmas break and all got to go home to our families. I then returned to Melbourne to commence category training. It was an exciting time for everyone, and for me it felt like it could just be a fresh start. I felt a little bit stronger after my experiences in the recruit training and was nervous but excited to go back. Even though I was still very nervous and hated naval life, I did enjoy category training. I continued to maintain some friendships from recruit school and started making new friends. There was a lot more freedom with category training and there was a base pub which you could go to outside of work hours. Just like recruit training we were often yelled at and treated like children, but this time I wasn’t singled out. I did find myself drinking a lot more and getting into a lot of trouble, but it was a different kind. I definitely was known as one of category schools biggest ‘piss heads’ and just like high school, found it was a great way to make friends and gain some status, and I guess it came down to the fact I’d prefer to be seen as a trouble maker then not seen at all. I had a great group of friends; all people who I can honestly say were genuine friends, some I still stay in contact with including Jo and Bec. I honestly believe that without the support of these guy’s category training could have been very different. We spent a lot of time drinking and getting up to mischief, and when in class we all helped each other out.
I had my second sexual encounter in category school, with another trainee a few classes above me. This encounter was slightly traumatic for me as I still had not gotten over my first experience as I was treated quite badly. This guy who I’ll call Joe Blow, did a lot of sweet talking one night, telling me sweet nothings and for a moment he restored my faith that maybe some could be trusted. I went back to his block with a group of people to have a few drinks, and after they all left he asked me to stay. I felt comfortable at the time and actually felt like he liked me which was a nice feeling as well as feeling like he might have the right intentions. I slept with him that night and was promptly kicked out after and I felt humiliated.
I remember crying on the way back to my room feeling so dirty and disgusted as well as used and abused. Another incident which occurred during this period was the death of my hometown friend “john”, the one who I had a major falling out with and told him I “hated him.” When I heard the news I felt an overwhelming huge sense of sadness and loss but also a guilt and regret. I was extremely disappointed that I couldn’t return home to attend his funeral due to training.
I had a mini downhill spiral towards the end of category training, and found myself really disliking the course and hating the Navy even more. I questioned my ability to be able to do the job, because at the time not a lot of the technical stuff made much sense, and I had a terrible memory and had trouble retaining information. I rebelled slightly and found myself, less anxious towards superiors and more rebellious. I think just like everyone else I was beginning to ‘get over it’ and was ready to get out of there and get on with my life. I always seemed to be in the spotlight for doing stupid things and I was always a topic of conversation. I didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight.
I remember I once opened up to one of the girls at school. She was a bit older than everyone else and at times was difficult to get along with as she was strong-willed and determined lady and would stop at nothing to succeed. I did however have a lot of respect for her and wanted to be like she was. I mentioned to her one day that I was really not coping with the taunts and attention, and that the stupid stuff I was doing was due to always feeling anxious and worried and they were mistakes for not being focused. She sat down with me for a while and explained that I reminded her of herself when she was a bit younger, and that I needed to stop worrying about being in the spot light because I have the type of personality type where I was born to shine. She explained that I’m in the spotlight because people notice me because of my inner charm and strength and told me that instead of trying to fight I need to “let your light shine.” After she said that to me I thought about it and it took a long time but I eventually started to believe her and now I have a tattoo with those words.
After category training I was posted to Western Australia, with my two close friends, Jo and Bec. We were all initially posted to the base Communications centre. The communications centre soon became a stressful environment with me as I soon discovered my boss was similar to LS Hitler, in the sense he also liked to intimidate and single people out. The PO was at times meaner than Hitler with some of the things he would say, and he tended to yell a bit more and wait for opportune moments to pass snide remarks and make me feel like I was 2 years old. I didn’t like my positing very much but had the hopes of going to sea and finally getting out in the fleet. My friends all got postings fairly early, and I was soon left alone ashore for a long time. It was quite frustrating at times, hearing stories from my mates of their sea trips and life at sea in general, but I stayed positive knowing that it would be my turn to go soon. Shortly after moving to Western Australia I met my first real boyfriend.
It didn’t take me long to take to him and when I did he seemed like a dream come true. I was a bit of a party animal, as was he, and we seemed like a great fit, and he really did seem to care. In the early days it was good, and we did have good times, but I was also very oblivious to the fact he was very selfish and I was very much put second to a lot of things. I didn’t really realize though and I guess you could say I was quite love blind, and really did think the world of him. We moved in together after a short time, mostly as we both desperately wanted to get off base, and for both of us we were each other’s first proper relationship. There were several times where we would have fights just like most couples, but as time went by I became more oblivious to the situation and dug deeper and deeper into a black hole of an unhappy relationship. He was not a bad person and to this day I do not blame him for our relationship breakdown, I just think back and look at it as we were not suited and I was not strong enough to fight for what I deserved.
Our relationship continued for about two years, with several ups and down as per most relationships, however by the end of it I was completely run down and mentally drained. I felt very neglected whilst I was with him and can honestly say if it wasn’t for a few close friends I had at the time I would have felt completely alone.
There were many occasions where I would always appear more excited to see him than he did me and I always felt like it was a one-sided relationship, with me trying everything to make him happy and he just not noticing or caring. It’s only now that my eyes are open to what was really happening with my mental health that I understand. How could he know because I never really let him in? How can you help someone who isn’t even showing signs that they are struggling?
At the same time all of this was happening in my life, my work life was also extremely difficult. After quite some time working on base, a posting finally came up on a ship. It wasn’t anything but a temporary posting, but at the time I didn’t care, I was just happy I was finally getting to experience sea life. I joined the ship after promotion to an Able Seaman for a trip to Sydney. At first I was excited about the new posting but it soon turned very dark when I discovered that my colleagues were all people who could not be trusted, and found it very hard to get along with them. The Petty Officer was also someone whom I had met and got off on the wrong foot with so my posting was made extremely difficult. I was already feeling isolated, but never felt more isolated when we pulled ashore and there was a communications crew dinner planned to which I wasn’t invited. I couldn’t help but start to think if there was something wrong with me and if I was actually a likable person. Once I settled in and I say that term loosely I started to discover how bad the crew and ship actually was. Several of the people made comments about it being impossible to get posted off unless you got pregnant or went AWOL (Absent Without Leave).
The crew which I was supposedly apart of always made snide remarks me not knowing much mostly due to not having the opportunities to go to sea in the early days of my career. I understand it would have been frustrating for them to work alongside someone under qualified but strongly disagree with how I was treated. Instead of training me like they would a new Seaman, I was instructed to read and teach myself. I did this to the best of my ability, however any naval person would agree that you just can’t learn the navy from a book, so there were several things I didn’t understand until I was in the middle of doing them. I was often called incompetent and useless and they always saw me as a burden. I was treated fairly bad in the girls’ mess as well because I was different. The girls who were on that ship were very clicky, and I guess you could say reminded me of a high school popular mean girl group and the boys weren’t much better. After a few weeks however I did make a friend on the ship who I clicked with very well and found out after several discussions that he too felt a bit like an outcast and that it wasn’t me, but the crew are very clicky. This made me feel a bit better and I really did begin to feel comfortable and open up to this guy. For privacy reasons I won’t say his name, and I will never forget him because even though he really was just an acquaintance and a situational friend, it was because of him I made it through the day while I was posted to that ship. When he was around I didn’t feel so alone, but as soon as he wasn’t I was outcast again. I later found out that he completed suicide a few years after I discharged due to his own battles with mental health issues. To this day he is one of reasons and driving forces behind my mental health advocacy work. His death came as a shock and a reminder to me that my life's work is to now pay it forward and help those in need. I felt a lot of guilt around his death as I often thought back to what could have happened If I did speak up when asked to take action against the Navy and their mistreatment of personnel. I was asked during my final year of discharge to shine a light on the things that occur on ships and be a voice for personnel, but due to my mental state at the time, I didn't feel strong enough to fight that battle especially as I didn't know who would fight with me. I don't often go back wanting to change anything as I understand everything happens for a reason and aligns at certain times, but I do wonder If my speaking up would have prevented that suicide and others.
I don’t remember the duration of my posting; however, I was extremely glad to get posted off the ship. During the last few weeks of my posting I received news that my Nan had a heart attack, and I requested leave which was not approved. There was concern that if I went home that I would not return. I guess I could say that it would have been the case because I was so homesick, but I was really hurt that I couldn’t be there for my Nan. When the ship pulled into Melbourne for the weekend, I rebelled and went out and got extremely intoxicated. I caused a massive scene at Melbourne casino, acting in an aggressive manner toward casino staff, being extremely destructive and I vomited in the beer garden. I was kicked out on two occasions and on the second time I received a ban due to my violent destructive behaviour. I regret the way I acted and am disappointed in myself that I acted in an aggressive way which is very unnatural for me. After I was kicked out of Melbourne casino, I made my way back to the ship with a few of the guys from the ship.
Instead of returning to the ship, I ran away and tried to sneak onto the Spirit of Tasmania which was docked near the ship. I do not remember what happened but reports say that I acted aggressively towards the staff on the Spirit as well and it took a few of the guys to get me back on the Navy ship, where the gangway staff reported my behavior to the officer of the watch, the person in charge of the ship in the captain’s absence, and was then escorted to my bed, where I was regularly checked by duty staff to ensure I was not leaving the cabin. I was charged for the incident of being drunk and disorderly and as a punishment placed on pup’s (personnel under punishment) meaning my weekend leave was revoked, and I had to do several jobs around the ship as a form of punishment.
By this stage I hated the Navy and seriously considering discharging. I found my health deteriorating rapidly as well as my drinking began to increase and I was continuing down a dark path of serious depression. My relationship was still very one way and I always felt alone. I would often go out and party for extended hours as an escape and it would be safe to say that very few people actually knew I was depressed. I would always try to appear happy and bubbly and found that as soon as I was extremely drunk and alone, I would become extremely upset and drink to the point of passing out. Due to this behavior I found myself always being in trouble in the Navy for being late, drunk and disorderly, and just rebellious. Most people found this amusing and this was where I started developing a name for myself.
I was then posted to another ship, which again I won’t name due to legal reasons after several months, and this posting caused me to reach breaking point. I found the posting to be worse than the first and was bullied by superiors as well as peers. I strongly disliked my superiors as they treated me differently to the rest of the team whom they clearly favored. Their words and actions were always belittling and they were intimidating at times. During this posting I suffered from chronic sea sickness, and found it difficult to even do my job. I lost a lot of weight and became very ill and on one occasion was hospitalized on the ship and put on a drip for several days. My work colleagues did not show any support and on one occasion I got a mouthful for not being present for a cleaning duty. I tried to explain that I was actually physically vomiting and could not stop, hence why I was late, but that was apparently no excuse and let the team down. It didn’t take long for me to detest the ship and the people and my desire to get out got stronger and stronger.
During this posting I was in a very bad mental state and began having suicidal thoughts for the first time. I mentioned to a fellow sailor that I wanted to jump over board and instead of receiving any support he replied, he would tie a rope to my feet daily so that if I ever did it would be like a fish and he could reel me back up "it would be like catching a Dory."
The days became a blur and I became very zombie like, not coping with my daily life and whenever I was finally back on land, used to drink excessive amounts as a coping mechanism. For quite some period I couldn’t go a day without a drink and especially the nights before I sailed, I would write myself off partying the night before. This behavior and mental state continued for the entire posting right up to the point where I went AWOL.
Prior to going AWOL however there were a series of events that led up to my major breakdown. The ship was doing weekly short trips in preparation for an upcoming exercise and I was struggling to just get through the day. I got to the point where I would breakdown at the drop of a hat, and lose all self-control. There were a few people who noticed I was under extreme stress, but no one really seemed to care. If I had to describe how I felt at the time I would have to say that I felt like I was drowning and felt trapped. I was physically ill as I suffered from sea sickness, but also had stress related medical issues. I felt like I was screaming on the inside but no one could hear me. Apart from the thoughts of wanting to jump overboard whilst at sea, I contemplated several suicidal ideals, but one thing stopped me, the thought of my family having to bear the burden. Whilst at sea I wrote an email to my partner, spilling out my heart. I explained the best I could how I felt and that it’s not a want anymore but that I need to go home and the need for family and medical support as I was extremely depressed. He took that as a break up email which I soon copped a lot of mouth afterwards from his friends saying that my actions were extremely slack and I could’ve at least had the decency to tell him face to face. Truth is, there is no way I could have said it, and I needed to write it down. The email was then the official break up even though it was not intended to be on my end, it was meant as a way of reaching out for help and his response was mainly about organizing the house and assets, not so much about offering help and that gutted me.
At the time I was doing training exercises in Sydney and he was in New Zealand on another ship. When we pulled into Sydney, I tried to contact him numerous times but had no answer. I went to the pub as soon as I could with the intention of getting extremely drunk. Whilst at the pub one of the guys who was on my ship was there and sat down to have a chat. As he lived in Sydney, he invited me back to his place for a few drinks and a chat, which at the time felt like it would be nice to have someone to talk to. I explained what had happened and that I was under a lot of stress, and he sat and talked with me for hours saying many compliments to make me feel better, saying I was a catch and any man would be lucky to have me. He also explained that he thought I was pretty and he would definitely be keen on me. For a brief moment I felt wanted and believed him. I “hooked up” with him that night and just like the trainee in category school, was basically chewed up and spat out like a piece of meat. I remember leaving that house the following morning feeling like I was the worst person on earth. I cried hysterically at a bus shelter in the early hours of the morning saying over and over in my head that I was a cheater and I truly felt terrible and hated myself. I called Dad after a few moments as I desperately needed to talk to someone and knew dad would be supportive and listen, which did help slightly.
After the Sydney trip when we finally arrived ashore at the W.A naval base and it was an extremely stressful time. I remember going back to the house and taking one look at a photo of my partner and I, grabbing numerous bottles of alcohol from the collection and sat outside and smoked and drank for a long time. After some time and after I was extremely intoxicated I decided I was going to take a handful of painkillers and going to go lay in the bath as it was that moment I decided enough is enough and I wanted to end it all. All I could think at the time was if I drink enough, I will go to sleep in the bath and hopefully not wake up. At the time it seemed like my only way out where my parents wouldn’t suspect it was intentional and just assume I had a few drinks and accidentally fell asleep in the bath. It sounds stupid to me now, but at the time, it was the only idea I had. I woke up in the bathtub the following morning with only a small amount of water around me as the plug had dislodged and I was covered in my own vomit. I have never felt so sick in my entire life as I did when I woke up from that night, but also never felt as disappointed as I had failed and I had to continue on. My head was extremely messed up and I couldn’t think clearly, and all my thoughts were completely irrational.
I continued to drink heavily for the rest of the weekend and at every available chance for several weeks. For an almost an entire week I locked myself in my house and drank. It wasn’t till one day when I got a call from my mum sounding very serious asking if I was ok and I broke down. I could not say a word and all I could focus on was the sound of my distraught mother, saying “we’re going to get you help.” She hung up on me and got in contact with the Naval base chaplain who was on my front door step in no time. I was very reluctant to open the door but knew I needed too. He sat down and spoke with me asking how I was and it took me a long time but I opened up. It was the chaplain who fought for me to have some stress leave and go home which was what was needed most.
While I was home for a brief period I organized to move out of the house I was in with my partner and move in with Jo. She was more than happy to live with me again, and our friendship rekindled, and got stronger. Without Jo I would have had no choice but to go but back to base and I will forever be grateful for her. Going back to Perth however meant that I was going back to the ship, which was extremely distressing. Even though I had moved house and felt a bit happier being with my best friend, I couldn’t bear the thought of going back on the ship. I was still drinking heavily and partying all night, and it was during this time I received a random call from my sister. She explained to me that this call is long overdue, but necessary and told me some home truths. The phone call went for hours and she went on and on about how my actions were destroying my family, and that I was not thinking about anyone but myself and most importantly how she never thought she would see the day but that I was “turning into her” as she had a rebellious period when we were younger. I remember getting really defensive and attacking her saying things like she had no right to say anything because she has never been there for me so she can’t decide to be a sister now. When I got off the phone I was so angry and came extremely close to shutting off from my entire family until I suddenly had the realization that she was right. (this contributing to the first stages of me waking up)
It was a not long after I moved in with Jo when the ship was due to sail and I did not get on it. I knew this would result in a charge and at the time I did not care. I called mum the night before to warn her that I would be getting in a lot of trouble but it was needed in order to help myself, she understood, but was very concerned. It didn’t take long for the authorities to know I was missing and conducted a search. They contacted my ex-partner, to see if he knew where I was, and Jo was questioned by base staff. Jo couldn’t help but open up knowing it was the right thing to do as the staff were concerned with my well-being and knew I needed help, so Jo told them I was with her. To soften the blow of the charge, I turned myself into the cop station and gave my report. It took a long time for the charge to go through as the ship came back for me and I refused to go again, resulting in a second AWOL charge. At this time the base authorities ordered me to see a psychologist and Councillor and posted me to the base HR department under the care of a CPO (Chief Petty Officer) who I wont name for privacy reasons.
Put simply, this man restored my faith in people, and I will always be grateful for what he did for me. The CPO took me under his wing and is the person who helped me discharge. When I was first posted to his department, I was required to have a meeting with him to talk about my charge and my responsibilities in his department. He spoke with such kindness and asked me what exactly has happened that has made me want to get off the ship so bad. After some time, I finally opened up to Marcus and told him how down I was and that I couldn’t bear another day on the ship and needed to get out of the Navy. He was extremely compassionate, and in a fatherly manner, promised me he would help me the best he could, and he did.
For the first few weeks of my relocation to the HR department, there was a lot of paperwork going around about me in the form of signals. The ship was in the process of returning to the base to pick me up, and the base authorities, who CPO was working with was fighting on my side to keep me ashore, claiming I was unfit for sea. As my name was being thrown around the navy in memos, signals, and emails etc., word soon got out about my situation, and for some people they found it quite humorous that the authorities were basically fighting over me, and where I should be placed. The CPO luckily won the honcho battle and I was able to remain in his care while the ship returned to sea. I felt a massive sense of relief, like a kid who just won a custody battle to stay with the non-abusive parent. Marcus continued to fight for me, accompanying me and representing me in my trial for AWOL, speaking on my behalf.
He handled all the legal procedures in such a professional manner but on a personal level was always ensuring is was looked after, by ensuring I was receiving the professional help I needed as well as daily visits to him for a chat. Another wonderful thing he did was get in contact with my parents who were worried sick about my wellbeing, and continued to keep them informed through the whole time.
Like a father would fight for their kid, he fought for me and I will never forget that and if it wasn’t for him I would be in a much different place.
Whilst under his command he ensured I was not put back in the base communication centre and placed me in the Physiotherapy receptionist position with hopes my disconnection from naval departments might help with my mental health and keep me occupied. He also organized my appointments with the psych’s and doctors. I was immediately prescribed antidepressants and was ordered to have regular meetings. I really enjoyed my receptionist position for the role, but I strongly disliked my civilian physiotherapist supervisor. He was an easily agitated man who liked to abuse his authority, which for his civilian staff, he was their manager, and with me, a military member he had none.
My anti-depressants masked a lot for me and I developed an ‘over it’ attitude and made it easier for me to not tolerate his attitude.
After my discharge approval finally went through, I found my care factor with everything being little or none, and every attempt he made to over-power me and use authority, I would remind him, I was a military member not civilian and I was there to assist him not be treated like a slave. After a while, I found amusement in making his life more difficult by purposely messing up his appointments. I also got myself a second job as a barmaid for two reasons because I knew my discharge was coming up and I wanted to be as prepared as possible for civilian life by having some money behind me but also a way to limit my drinking. I enjoyed working at the pub, and my boss really appreciated the help I gave and the staff all seemed to be quite nice. I still was struggling with my alcohol dependence and partied most nights but I was limiting the amount of nights by working instead. Although this behaviour was destructive I can’t fully regret this period of my life as I met so many wonderful people. I was also living with Jo again as well so things were definitely looking up a bit for me, and our friendship rekindled in no time. Jo and I helped each other through a lot and our friendship will always be special.
Just prior to discharging, we met our English backpacker friends who lived above our flat. They were a breath of fresh air, so full of life and fun, and just wanted to live their lives, by experiencing everything. I think it was meeting those guys that helped stop the suicidal thoughts which I was having regularly. For the first time in a long time I was feeling a bit hopeful as I knew my discharge was coming up, I was standing up to a bully, I was back with my best friend, and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.
My discharge was approved for November 2010 and I had the Navy pay the travel costs directly to me and I arranged for dad to fly over to Perth and drive back with me. It was a long trip but a good one. We bonded so well, and I finally felt less homesick and happy for the first time in a long time. I will never forget the feeling of a massive weight being lifted off my chest as we saw the sign to Junee. Even though I hated Junee during high school, there is no better feeling then going home. I fought long and hard, and I guess you could even say I survived the storm, and got to go home safely.
Returning to Junee was good at first because I was finally with family; especially a heavily pregnant sister was also under the same roof. It was stressful at times as I struggled to find work, and my savings slowly started to fade away just with living costs. I’ll admit I did start to get down, which was mostly frustration and boredom, but deep down I felt a lot better. A job opportunity came up in Canberra after a few months after in which I took and organised to live with a family friend to get on my feet.
The job was for a telecommunications company. The job involved maintaining a maritime rescue departments communications systems and operating the maritime radios in emergencies. I found the job to be very interesting at first, but the long shifts and complete lack of senior support made it very tiring. As I had a good salary, I decided a good option was to look at getting a place of my own. There was an ad on the work intranet for a wanted roommate which I looked into. One of the senior staff in another department owned a flat in the city and was only there when he worked in Canberra few days per fortnight. Because he also had a house in Sydney it was a good idea financially to have someone rent their unit, and just stays there when he needed too. The opportunity seemed like a good idea at the time but I soon realized he was not the best person to live with.
Our relationship was fairly awkward at the best of times, but more so when his wife would come to visit. I felt very unwelcome when she was around and at times when it was just him. I was under a bit of stress with work as well so I found the arrangement to add to the stress. I attempted to take on a project for the department to create some proper training material and systems. I decided it would be a good idea to commence studying certificate 3 in Project Management, and use the work project as my assignment for TAFE. I mentioned this to my boss at the time that seemed to agree and I asked if the company would assist with finances, due to the fact it would benefit them greatly, which they agreed. The project was pretty much shut down by the rest of the team and I had no support to finish the project, as the staff saw it as extra work for them, and put simply they were extremely lazy.
Most of the staff spent their shifts playing video games, and chatting on Facebook for 12 hrs. Due to the lack of support, what should have been a great project, became hell, and became too big for one person to do. I soon found it very stressful and gave it up. I worked almost two years for the company, finding it very difficult to maintain a work/life balance.
I then met and dated a guy briefly who used and abused me on a whole other level. When I met This guy I’ll name ‘Tosser’ it was at a pub in south Canberra, where we had a few drinks and played pool. I found conversations seemed to flow with him as we had a lot in common, as he was ex-navy as well. As he was not enjoying his current job which I think was carpentry I thought it would be a nice gesture to try and help him get work, and as I already knew my work had an opening, I put in the good word.
Tosser got the job and eased into the male dominated role rather well. Word soon got out that we were an item, which management didn’t mind, however ‘boy talk’ became common amongst some of the men. Throughout the short relationship there were several things he said which didn’t add up and at times alarm bells did ring. He managed to turn it around however and make me feel like I was a nutcase. It wasn’t until he showed his true colours one night when we were out partying and an old navy colleague came over to give me a hug, which sent him crazy. Due to his embarrassing behaviour, I suggested we go back to my house, as I was then tired and cranky. That night, in his drunken state, he got extremely violent, yelling abuse and breaking things in my house. The biggest thing he broke was my cupboard door by punching it. I was furious but also scared and luckily my neighbours heard the commotion and phoned the policed who took him away. I contacted a friend in tears who came over to stay with me the night, and it didn’t take too long till Tosser was back knocking on my front door. The police had to remove him twice from my door and I spent the rest of the night in fear he would come back. As he was in lockup that night, I phoned work and didn’t go into detail but told them he wouldn’t be going into work as there was an incident. I did not once, say anything about that night to anyone except some staff whom I trusted, however when I got back to work, it all seemed like I was the bad guy.
I don’t know what was ever said but I have no doubt in my mind that lies were said that was incriminating to me, cause the office was never quite the same after. I found it extremely difficult to work with an ex who was violent in nature, however managed to keep a professional manner and not bring personal life to work. Apart from the guy’s attitudes changing towards me, my already awkward relationship with my roommate got worse, and after the damage done to his house I felt like I couldn’t stay there anymore and a friend and I decided to move in together. Prior to the move though, I had a few days break from work and decided to go down to the coast for a mini holiday getaway. I got in the car and drove down to Narooma where I planned to stay for a week, but unfortunately it was cut short.
I turned my phone off for the majority of my trip, and found it to be very peaceful and enjoyed time by the pool and the beach completely alone. I received a message from Tosser a few days after I got there however saying that he could not afford to pay for the damage to the door which was going to be a few hundred dollars. I was extremely angry knowing that in order to have the handyman fix it at the earliest time I needed to pay for it, hence my holiday fund was used and my holiday was cut short to 3 days instead of 7.
I returned to Canberra, to have the door fixed, but later found out that Tosser had just got back from a holiday to Sydney where he went to a party. I rang and abused him, angry that he could have a decent holiday but I couldn’t because I had to pay for his damages. I demanded that he pay me back next pay or I would report him which he did end up paying eventually. I still remained professional at work and never once spoke a bad word about him to anyone except one of the senior operators who I was friends with. When I came back to Canberra I rekindled my friendship with my high school friend Ollie. As he was my friend and new to be roommates’ ex-boyfriend and we caught up briefly when they were going through a hard time, Oliver and I had an instant connection and our friendship developed into a strong one over the time I was in Canberra.
I came to breaking point in Canberra after I went into work one night and had to go home as I was not well. One of the senior operators was called in and was extremely hostile towards me after that as were a few others. I found shifts with him to be quite horrible as he was a complete bully and if he wasn’t being completely ignorant he would reply to questions with snide remarks. I found him difficult to work with on a night where we had a medical incident reported which I took and managed the communications. The incident required immediate medical assistance which I passed on to the right authorities, and got them the assistance they needed, as well as liaised with an on call doctor to help provide first aid. The Senior operator was no help and even belittled me whilst on the phone to the Doctor and the ship. The doctor even made a remark that I should not listen, as I was doing a “wonderful job.” I was hoping the doctor would report the incident but nothing was ever mentioned and even my formal complaint to management, was pretty much swept under the carpet.
He soon went on leave, and when he returned, I insisted that I be put on with another senior operator as I refused to work with someone, especially if we couldn’t maintain a professional relationship in the case of an incident. I was worried about him affecting my ability to help people, and after some consideration, the management changed my shifts.
After several months I began seeing another guy which I would class as my second proper relationship. Even though my work life was extremely stressful I found a bit of relief with him around. At first things were great, he said all the right things, did all the right things. I was at the time having issues with my house mate and decided it would be a good financial decision to let him move in after a very short time. My house mate was fine with the idea, as it would work out cheaper for us to have him there. My friends and my relationship became very rocky and she eventually moved out and it was just hi and I left for a few months. Things were going fairly good, apart from his alcohol abuse, but I still put it down to, I’d prefer that than having someone violent. It was in the last few months of living there that we had two of my ex’s friends come and stay with us while they were working in Canberra. The two guys would only be there Monday to Friday then go home on the weekends, and were happy to pay some board money which worked out well. It wasn’t until a night came where I needed to borrow his phone as an alarm as my phone was broken that I discovered he wasn’t being faithful.
That night whilst on night shift I did some more investigating to discover he had been cheating on me several times. I was really shattered and really angry. My first reaction was to print off all messages which I threw at him the following morning. When confronted, he acted in a way I have never seen before, an obviously non genuine cry which made me even angrier as he didn’t even seem genuinely sorry. When the two guys came back from work and I explained to them the situation, they both offered to pay a bit more, in order for somewhere to stay and in order to help me out financially. He began showing his true colours not long after he was kicked out, by trying to contact me constantly and later contacting me with threats. As a result of being cheated on I went to the doctor to get a sexual health check to ensure I didn’t have any STI’s etc. During my doctor’s appointment, I mentioned I had been unwell and believed it was due to stress and the doctor gave me a general examination. The doctor found a lump in my neck and wrote me a referral to have an ultrasound and run some tests. The worst thought came into my head and I started to think that there’s a possibility I could have cancer.
I found it very difficult to cope with the stress of work and my ex and the new medical issues that I had a minor breakdown on the phone to my parents. I organized to have my tests in Junee, so that I could have support. Before I went back to Junee however I had to go home to gather some things and speak with the two guys who were boarding with me. I had a house inspection scheduled for the following day as well so when I returned home, I explained to the guys that I had to return home for personal reasons, and that I asked that they keep the house tidy and to ensure they were not present there for the inspection.
I emphasized that I did not want my ex in or near the house as he could not be trusted. Both guys explained that they agreed with everything as they were extremely grateful for the hospitality and that they no longer have connections with him and they did not agree with it.
I trusted the guys and left to go to Junee, feeling confident my Canberra affairs were taken care of. When I returned to Junee it didn’t take long, to receive a message from my ex with threats. He spoke with me and said, he was in the house, there was a brawl in my front yard, and a party that night. I messaged and tried to call both of the guys to ask for confirmation but heard nothing. He continued to harass me that night and then the following morning, I went to my doctor appointment. I felt such relief to find out the lumps were not cancerous and were instead cysts. The doctor explained that there was no need to worry at this stage but to just ensure I keep an eye on them in case they get bigger, in which case I might require minor surgery to remove them. It wasn’t that long till I had to return back to Canberra and go back to work. My ex continued harassing me with threats, and constant contact, but my major concern returning to Canberra was an email and missed call from my real estate, stating they were absolutely disgusted at the sight of the house for my inspection. I tried to explain to them that I was not responsible however due to being on the lease with my ex housemate, it was essentially our responsibility. I received photo evidence of the state of the house and I was horrified. Most of the rooms had empty beers bottles and takeaway rubbish everywhere. Not a single room was presentable and my lease was compromised. After no consideration, I kicked both of the guys out after I returned, and later received a message from my ex saying that my new ‘friends’ “are real trust worthy aren’t they, they’ve been in contact with me ever since”. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the whole thing was staged and that the guys too were working against me, possibly trying to get me kicked out of my rental.
I had a really hard time dealing with my ex’s taunts as well as putting up with the constant bullying from my workplace, but it all became too much when I returned one day to find a picture of his daughter on my fridge, which was proof he had been in there whilst I was at work. After that point, I knew it was not going to end easily or well and even feared what he might be capable of as he was showing characteristics of a crazy person with his words and actions. I organized to move back in with our family friend who I originally lived with, to get back on my feet, because I knew I couldn’t leave a good paying job with debt and no money. It wasn’t until I put an AVO on my ex and it was activated that I finally got some peace from him. He did breach the AVO a few times, contacting me through others to abuse and threaten, but eventually it stopped. It was after having several conversations with my family friend about goals that I decided I needed a change.
I had been working hard on my fitness and wanted to change my career completely and help people by being a PT.
I enrolled in the master trainer course with the Australian Institute of Fitness, and left my job to go work in a gym. I felt like I was having a fresh start and was feeling positive again. It was a good feeling leaving my job as I was extremely unhappy there. I was completely over having to see a violent ex daily, and put up with workplace bullying, and thought working at a gym would be so much more fun, and I could feel young again. It may sound ridiculous, but even at age 24, with the amount of stress I had been through, I honestly felt like I was 80 at times, and knew if I continued down that path, I would regret my life.
I honestly felt like I was on the right track for a change and even though I was about to take a massive pay cut of approx. $50,000 p.a. I was feeling very excited towards my new role. I also began my course in the initial days in my new job and every day at class was so positive, so motivational and it was just the best place I’ve ever been. I made several friends during my course, all different ages and abilities, but with the same goal, to help people reach their fitness goals and I finally felt like I truly belonged somewhere.
My new job at the gym was at times great, just like with any job, however the sales aspect was extremely tiring.
I soon realized that the management for the gym, were sales orientated and did not have much human resources management experience. Work soon became a very miserable place to be when the sales percentage dropped. My role was basically cold calling people to try and sell them a gym membership. At times the phone calls were very successful especially when I developed rapport with people. As the company was experiencing some major issues, with personal trainer retention, staff morale, and gym memberships cancelling due to unhappy with service, the job became more and more difficult. The staff were treated fairly bad at the gym and were personally attacked for the low sales percentage, even though it was most certainly not their fault. Like me, the other guys struggled to sell something they didn’t believe in, and felt personally responsible for people’s failure, because they couldn’t get a PT which we sold them as a package originally because no PT’s wanted to work there. It became clear to me that I could not promise a service to these people but was expected to still sell it to them. I really disliked management for their actions during this time as they were not open to any suggestions for improving service before improving sales.
There were several occasions I offered to work extra hours to assist in the day management or come up with fun gym marketing idea i.e. biggest loser comps, staff Olympics etc. Even though I have no management qualifications, I could see that there was poor management and it could have been done differently. As the staff were on such low incomes, the other staff found it difficult to stay motivated and the gyms reputation dropped severely. I was embarrassed to be seen as a staff member after time, and really disliked going to work. The only thing that kept me from throwing the towel in was that there were occasions I could actually get to do gym floor supervision, and the fact that I was studying at the AIF.
The AIF was the best thing I have ever done career wise. I enjoyed every class and it soon became my out for when other aspects of my life was going downhill. I really struggled to live in Canberra on minimum wage, working fulltime and studying, that on numerous occasions I would run out of money and have to eat baked beans for dinner. My money ran out fairly quick with rent and living expenses that I was pretty much left with $50 a fortnight to live on and sometimes not even that. I parked 20 mins away from work daily to avoid having to pay car parking fees as I could not afford them. Although I found it extremely difficult, my goal of becoming a Personal trainer was more important to me and I knew it would be better when I can get another job and eventually work for myself.
It was during this time I proved to myself just how much drive I had, working 6 days per week and studying 3 days per week, with literally no days off, no money and no social life for roughly 4 months. It all came to an end however when I was injured during a class at the AIF, which I was hospitalized. I was in the middle of doing a practical session where we were doing squat jumps and I suddenly landed wrong and hurt my back. I felt some discomfort through the rest of the class and couldn’t push myself as much but managed to get through and went home. I wasn’t till I sat down on the lounge when I struggled to get back up. I don’t know how I did it but I managed to get myself up the stairs into my bedroom where I became a vegetable on my bed. I had no choice but to be taken to the hospital where dad came over to Canberra to provide assistance. In the hospital I was provided with several medications which did help ease the pain but I went home with Dad so that I could have support as I could barely walk and I could go and see a very popular chiropractor. Not long before I was due to graduate certificate 3 in fitness, I had a mental breakdown.
With my relationship with my housemate worsening and causing me to feel uncomfortable in my own home and my work life was so stressful and miserable that I hated going to work, and then not being able to participate in much practical stuff at school, the one thing I genuinely enjoyed, I started feeling very down again.
After several conversations with my family, we all came to the conclusion, my only option was to move back home.
I was broke, injured and mentally unwell and we all felt like it was time I accepted some support from loved ones and get back on my feet. It was a costly move with the rest of my lease money needing to be paid out to cover till my housemate could get another housemate, so my parents paid him out to cut ties to the house. I then quit my job and organized with the AIF to continue my certificate at a later date when I was more financially stable and my injury has fully healed. It was such a sigh of relief packing up the car with my families help and leaving Canberra for good, and the only thing that I was genuinely sad to see go was my course, but I knew I had no choice.
FLY AWAY HOME
Returning to Junee was very tough at first, however I felt more positive knowing I had a goal. I explained my desire to finish my studies and start my own business as a personal trainer. I was happy to be home and felt safe and supported, but couldn’t help but feel like I had failed, again. I found it extremely difficult to find any kind of work and tried really hard to stay positive. My sister began her studies in Counselling and was sharing some of her thoughts and techniques with me but it wasn’t until she made the point that I had not failed at anything, in fact I should see what I have done as an accomplishment. As usual I found it difficult at first to communicate with locals about my experiences as I couldn’t help but feel judged. I used to hate going down the street in fear of someone asking me why I was back. There are a few people who only know of me as “the navy girl” the one that went off and sailed the seas, lived in Canberra working a high class job, and someone who has had a successful career, and the last thing I wanted anyone to know is that I had a breakdown and my parents had to bail me out. Now I’ve settled back in town, those fears are fading but at the time, it used to make me feel really down.
After I started receiving Centrelink benefits I decided a good way to budget my money was to include a gym membership. I did find it quite difficult at first to return to a gym, as I was still experiencing leg pain for one. At the same time, I was starting to run a few casual ‘boot camps’ with locals and was looking into creating my business plan to start military style boot camps in town. I still wasn’t seeing any improvements with my leg and figured it would be a good idea to have a scan just to make sure there weren’t any muscle tears, as I didn’t want to overdo it.
I had an ultrasound on my leg first, which indicated there was no muscle tears, or major damage, so as a result they needed to investigate further and I had a cat scan done. The doctor confirmed the reason for my pain was due to the osteoarthritis in my lumbar spine. He then showed me the x-ray of my spine and pointed out the deterioration and explained that the damage has most likely been caused by poor posture, but also if I were to continue heavy weight bearing, it would put too much pressure on my spine and over time cause more deterioration, which could result in my spine fusing together. I was pretty shattered to hear this and asked if there was anything I can do to make it better. He explained that the best thing is to remain active and keep moving, but avoid weight lifting or anything that puts pressure on my spine.
My goal of becoming a personal trainer was ruined that day and I’ll admit I was extremely shattered. I did some research into business requirements, hoping I could find a glitch, but it was explained to me that to legally run my own business I needed to have a certificate 4 in fitness as a minimum. At that moment, I’ll admit I became very selfish and saw this as completely unfair as I had worked so hard towards this goal. I sacrificed so much, sent myself broke changing jobs and paying for the course, worked and studied full time, with no days off for 4 months, I felt absolutely gipped. I took me a while to look at it in a positive light, and over a bit of time realized that I should be grateful it was discovered early and that I can still walk and do most things. My attitude changed and I started looking at other options where I could help people.
A job opportunity came up after a few months and I was offered a traineeship a security and telecommunications company in Wagga. The job was essentially to work as a security technician, installing and maintaining security systems, access control and cameras. I was really excited to get a start and had hopes of finally meeting some new people and having a normal job. I spent the first few months training in Griffith, travelling to Griffith every Monday and going home on Friday’s. At first it was good; I enjoyed the new environment, new people and new challenges. The boys seemed ok to work with too and on my first day I went out for a few beers with the boys after work, which was fantastic. The same night I met two lovely backpacker girls, who I befriended and planned to stay in contact with when I was working in Griffith. I really took to the girls as they were two of the nicest people I had ever met. It was partially because of them that I decided to start writing my story down as I told them a bit about my life over a few drinks and they were intrigued. One of the girls said “you should write a book” “you’ve had such an amazing journey.” I will admit there have been times when I think I have had a pretty hectic life so far, but I always tell myself there are people out there with much more interesting stories.
The job was going well until a new manager was hired, who I strongly disliked. He was a very difficult man to approach and I found him to be disrespectful and because he disliked me almost instantly, we had a difficult relationship from day one. I was the only female technician and as soon as the new manager took over, I was soon discriminated against. I was not given the same opportunities as the other guys, including course options, mobile phone use, and was not even provided a laptop which was in my contract. He emphasized at every opportunity that I was to do all the ‘shit kicker’ jobs as I was an apprentice. I would not have worried too much, however there was never any paperwork or an agreement that I was actually on an apprenticeship, but I was paid as one.
Even though my boss and I did not see eye to eye, I tried to keep him happy in order to keep a job, in fear of going back into unemployment which I dreaded so much. After he took over I also found the boys’ attitudes change dramatically and at times they too were quite disrespectful which I think was due to them being a bit unhappy with their job too. It was not just new boss who I had issues with but the new guy, who basically thought it was ok to tell me what to do and speak to me like I was inferior to him. I lost it one day on a job site and went off at him and he stopped straight away and ignored me for the remainder of the day. The only person I had any time for by the end was one of the senior technicians a man who I have great respect for and will always be grateful for his support. It was after approximately 3 months when I contacted new boss to enquire about my position when he told me we would have a meeting to discuss the matter. I was dismissed during the meeting, and knew without a doubt that it was based on the fact that I was a female and he didn’t like me as he even told me my position was no longer available due to budget cuts, but he was going to keep on the young new guy because he had experience because he worked at “IGA” and lived on a farm and “built fences.”
When I got home from the meeting I cried to mum, not for the fact I no longer was working with the company, because put simply I hated it, but for the fact I was back to square one, unemployed and a burden. I tried to fight my dismissal and report it as unfair however, due to the fact my employment was less than 6 months, I didn’t have a leg to stand on apart from paying for legal aid and making a case. It was around that time I also met my 3rd proper boyfriend who I really clicked with him, but due to my past experiences, was very cautious to get close emotionally. For a few weeks we talked and hung out, and feelings grew stronger every day for both of us.
I did have a little freak out at first, thinking I was too messed up to get involved with anyone and honestly believed that if I had anymore let downs I would just break. But we eventually came to the decision to actually start a relationship and give it a go. As I got closer and closer to him and let my walls down, I decided it was the right thing to do to open up to him fully and I let him read my half written account, this story. He sat in my room and read these words on my computer and cried. It was such a relief to finally explain to him why I was “weird” about alcohol, “weird” about men and relationships but most importantly, why I am the way I am, and in my eyes at the time I was a mess. Since fully letting my walls downs, we continued to form a strong bond. He promised early on he wouldn’t add to my stresses by drinking excessively in front of me and promised that if something was on my mind that I could open up and tell him.
Things started looking up and I was also given the opportunity to work as a support worker. I saw the ad on the internet and thought ‘what the hell’ and applied, thinking there was no chance they’d look at an ex-military communications sailor. I was wrong however and got the job and started shortly after. The first few weeks were spent training which for some people was mundane at times, however I loved it. Initially it was great and I really enjoyed it until I learned the training was the biggest load of shit and the people we supported were not being supported properly. I was abused daily, threatened daily and spoken to like a was simply beneath them and over some time it all took its toll.
I started getting quite sick with stomach issues which went on for months on top of the chronic pain. I thought it could be due to stress but out of concern I went to the doctors to get some advice and tests. During this time, I was barely eating as I felt sick most the time, dropped a lot of weight, started getting really anxious about leaving the house in fear of having a “shit attack.” My GP prescribed me Valium as I explained I have a terrible fear of flying and it could be an underlying cause why I was having attacks.
It all started taking its toll and I started to go downhill quick until I went for a trip to back to Western Australia to be my friend Jo’s maid of honour and for a brief period I started feeling a lot better. I was extremely excited to see all my friends but at the same time was very nervous to return to the place where the ghosts of my past were. For months prior I developed an irrational fear of flying and considered not going but I can honestly say I’m glad I did because I had the time of my life and got to see my best friend walk down the aisle. When I returned I found myself becoming very negative and very stressed due to issue at work (which can’t be detailed due to confidentiality) to the point my stomach was turning daily. I stopped eating again and my health deteriorated rapidly but all the time I couldn’t control it because the stress manifested itself in the form of physical sickness.
At some time during this phase I had my first very severe panic attack at the shopping mall. I was casually having lunch with my mum, sister and partner, when I started getting really uncomfortable being in public, and had this overwhelming feeling of worry and fear. My heart began racing and felt sick to the stomach. I didn’t know it was a panic attack at the time as it was the first one that was this severe, but I rushed to the public toilets and sat on the toilet and tried to calm myself but i felt i was having a heart attack. As I had my phone I messaged my sister to tell her I needed some help. They all came and took me outside where I tried to calm down. My partner then took me to the doctor where I was cleared of any illnesses and told just to rest. I have had several panic attacks since, and I guess the best way to describe them is by saying you feel like you’re having a heart attack, you feel a pain in your chest, and you start to make yourself worse by worrying that something is really wrong, and you feel like you have no control.
I tried to ignore the situation and my stress load but Mum and Marni (my sister) saw straight through it and sensed something was very wrong and questioned me until I opened up one day. Mum suggested I see a doctor as they suspected I was suffering from depression again which I agreed to and was soon put on anti-depressants from my local GP. Once again I felt helpless and embarrassed like I couldn’t keep myself together and never really have been able to. There were some days I didn’t get out of bed and even though I continued to work as I couldn’t afford not to, every time I saw my client my heart would race and I would be anxious all the time. My back was also giving me a lot of trouble and I was on a cocktail of painkillers, anti-depressants and various vitamins.
I decided to get a scan done on my back during this time as I was beginning to sense the condition was getting worse and I discovered that it was in fact deteriorating more and I had further damage in two more vertebrae’s. I came to breaking point before I made the decision to call my senior manager and refuse to work with a difficult client. During this time, I was seeing two psychologists one through the GP and one through work and was receiving help and counselling. I was undergoing CBT (Cognitive behaviour therapy) and was due to start EMDR (hypnotism) as I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was finding that the smallest thing would be a trigger and cause me to lose it and I was starting to become an emotional mess yet again.
One particular trigger was a news report I watched on the young boy Daniel Morecombe who was the victim of a child molester. I watched the television report where his girlfriend at the time talked about how she felt having been in a relationship with a convicted child molester and I’ll be honest I sobbed for hours and felt the same disgust and pain that I felt several years ago and like a switch got flipped, I kinda went into autopilot zombie mode, felt numb.
During this time I started doing random things which didn’t make sense, as I was exhausted and not “with it,” I put items in odd spots, forgot something within 10 seconds, and couldn’t function. One day I drove out to a nearby town and couldn’t drive any further cause I started sobbing in the car. I wanted to run away, I wanted someone to side swipe me, I just wanted to be normal and to stop experiencing all these physical and mental issues. My dad called whilst I was on the side of the road, to see what I was up to and I remember just saying “I’m on the side of the road, I don’t know why, and I can’t move, can you come and get me.”
As usual mum and dad rushed to me, dad drove my car home and mum took me home, to their house where I just broke down. During the next couple of weeks I continued to undergo therapy and have my medications tampered with to find something that worked as all these emotional outbursts I was having seemed to be a reaction to the medication so the GP changed brands and milligram’s for several weeks. During this time, I also opened up to my parents about my past telling them more details as to why I was “so messed up.” It was hard at first but such a relief to get things off my chest which have haunted me for years.
I told both mum and dad about my first time, about my drug use and my suicidal past. Mum and dad always knew something happened but never knew the whole story.
During this time I was experiencing some other mental health issues which were worsening every day. I was suffering from a sleep disorder where I was lucid dreaming and having severe night terrors and hearing voices and seeing figures and being woken up in a state of sheer terror. I was very up and down with my moods, one minute being fine and then the next minute suicidal. I noticed my health deteriorating again and I was eating everything in sight. There wasn’t a day go by where I didn’t just break down and sob for no apparent reason. My doctor was very concerned and changed my medication again and referred me to see the Psych in town, especially as I was hallucinating/ lucid dreaming. I can honestly say for a good several months I was barely functioning, I was only showering on occasion, not brushing my teeth regularly and was simply not looking after myself. I didn’t clean and let myself become a slob as I didn’t want to live anymore. I felt as though everything was just too much and I seriously considered ending it with the only thing stopping me was the fear of hurting loved ones.
I know some people will probably have the opinion that you should just “get over it” and there’s a lot of stigma with regards to mental health issues. All I can say is trust me when I say if it was as simple as just turning off a button, everyone would. It’s a brutal thing to have your mind slowly deteriorate and you have no control over it. I’m sure it would be the same as someone with dementia or similar. There are small things you can do to help get through your day, but when stress and mental illness is affecting your physical health and causing you to see things and feel overwhelming pain and sadness, that’s not something you have control over, or at least think you do.
I did see a mental health worker at the local hospital and had a few sessions and on one of my sessions, I completely broke down and lost it. She asked me the usual mental health questions to determine my levels and after being questioned about suicidal ideals, I was honest and opened up saying I think about it more than I want to admit. I told her, I have considered taking all my medications in my house. Out of deep concern she admitted me to Wagga Base hospital to be mentally examined and admitted to the mental health high care department.
Nothing quite says “I’ve lost my shit” then having to see the triage nurse at the emergency department and say your reason for being there is because you are suicidal and mentally unwell. It was embarrassing and heartbreaking watching my distraught parents who drove me there slowly lose it too. I was taken into the emergency department and screened and admitted to the Mental health department overnight, underwent tests and was under constant supervision. I started keeping a journal the week prior to being admitted as it was advised I keep a thought log to help work out my triggers and get things off my chest.
The following day I was scheduled to see the hospital psychiatrist to determine if I had to stay longer and to be diagnosed properly so I could commence treatment. It turned out being like a panel interview with head doctors and psychiatrists who assessed my mental state in a very brutal interrogation session. Although it was very daunting it was a great outcome with all head honchos cleared me of any major mental health issues apart from depression and anxiety. They concluded that the cause for my major meltdown was due to a reaction to the cocktail of medications and lack of vitamin B12 and allowed me to go home that day on the condition I detox completely and continued to see my mental health worker. They also requested I be reviewed again in 3 months’ time to see if any intervention is needed. It was such a relief to hear I wasn’t crazy. They explained all my symptoms of hallucinations, sickness, low moods, hair loss etc. could all be put down to medications and extreme stress. That day I returned home and began the process of detoxing and started making plans to get my life in order.
I was lucky enough to only spend one night in the mental health high care unit but I can honestly say it was an eye opener. It really was like something out of the movies, there were people sitting in a common room playing children’s games, people rocking back and forth in a corner and at night there were people screaming and freaking out. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t terrified. At the same time though I was inspired and felt a weird sense of peace. It’s hard to explain but somehow being surrounded by people with similar stresses and mental health problems helped me a lot by knowing that I was not alone. I talked to several of the more level headed people and a lot of them said that they too had a breakdown and lost the plot. There was one particular lady who also stated it was nice to know that she wasn’t alone and we both took comfort in knowing that sometimes we do lose control and it’s ok.
At first when I first arrived I cried in my room for hours, terrified to go out into the common room, but when I did eventually venture out it was the best thing I did as it opened my eyes to the other people in much worse conditions and I can now say that those people were some of the nicest people I have ever met. They were so friendly and caring all showing concern for your reason in there and it was common talk about which mental disorder you have. I received random compliments the whole time and people stopped to talk to me to ask me how I was feeling the whole time I was there. The next day I did wake up feeling a bit more positive and felt like I could see a light again, a very faint one but a light.
Even though I was discharged from the Wagga Base High care unit, I was not discharged from the Junee mental health department and had to have regular meetings with my mental health worker. I was feeling very positive for the first few weeks, taking baby steps and trying desperately to get some sort of normality back into my life. Like a baby needs to learn to crawl before they can walk I needed to start from scratch and take baby steps just to be able to get through the day. For someone who is obsessive when it comes to planning and organizing I did make several plans and steps with the help of my mental health worker giving me homework tasks which was a basic as getting out of bed or one walk around the block. What would appear to be an easy task like getting out of bed for some people who are struggling with mental health issues it could be like asking them to run a marathon. I had daily checklists and reminders just to do basic things like, brush my teeth and shower all for the purpose of making life a bit easier by having it planned so it was one less thing to worry about.
The days got a bit easier as the days went on and I started feeling like I was on the right track. After a few more weeks I got a reply to a job application I put in to be a Correctional Officer. I was extremely excited that the opportunity came up but very anxious and uncertain about whether it was a good move to take this opportunity for it could cause me to go downhill again or be the change I desired. I went with my gut instinct and went through the process and passed all levels and commenced training on the 4th August 2014. The course was like a breath of fresh air at first, I was so proud of myself for getting through the physical and for the first time in a while felt like I wasn’t being held back by anything such as my back or mental health and was excited to think I was going to be part of a team. Didn’t go so well though as during the first two weeks I suffered from a gall attack, tummy bug and fractured rib which limited me in participating in a lot of things. Mentally I was struggling as well because I was just over it. Over being sick, over being limited, over having to battle every day with something new.
One major challenge I had to face during the course was the physical training and squad training. One of the component of the role is to dress up in riot gear when the shit hits the fan. I would have loved this part of the training however I found the gas mask triggered anxiety attacks. I had a few minor attacks during the training, and during those days when I knew I would have to wear the mask I took Valium the morning of. The experience took me back to military days and firefighting and the trauma associated with that time.
I find it hard to admit my secret dependence on medications but in order to tell my true story and to explain what lengths I sometimes had to go through to function and overcome my mental health issues, I need to be honest. I was prescribed Valium by numerous doctors as a muscle relaxant when my back got hurt in Canberra as well as a tool to overcome flying when I had to go to Jo’s wedding. I discovered it took the edge off so I found it to be a better coping mechanism than other things I’ve tried, however as they say it’s addictive, I can definitely vouch for that. I eventually quit my support worker job so I could focus all my energy on my new career as a correctional officer.
I enjoyed the job, and found it at times to be challenging. I started getting more shifts and more experience in different areas and started making some friends. I still found that I was anxious and stressed almost all the time, but as usual I put on a brave face as the last thing I wanted people to know was that I suffered from mental health issues. I was afraid it would affect my job, and afraid I would be judged as being weak and unable to cope with the job. After some more time my partner started to notice my moods changing again, and another downhill spiral. I was finding it really hard to manage my anxiety and was coming close to turning to alcohol again. My partner at the time was very supportive during this phase and as requested he remained true to his word about drinking too much in my presence.
I realized how much my life had become a struggle, how much control my mind had over me in every way, I felt sick a lot, didn’t eat properly, extreme feelings of fear and lack of control and lack of motivation. I was starting to feel like nothing was enjoyable and everything was just really hard. Now I have a better understanding of mental health from researching and following treatments, I can now say I can understand myself and my symptoms well enough to know when I’m going back into a depressed state. Just prior to going to the GP, I had a visit to the hospital as I was getting really sick and one morning after a night shift I started experiencing chest and stomach pain. I tried to relieve the symptoms and thought the best course of action would be to have a warm shower and try and relax I also felt a bit sick. This wasn’t the best idea as soon as I got out of the shower I collapsed in my hallway and woke after I don’t know how long. I still had horrible pain in my chest and immediately called my parents to ask for help and explain that I collapsed.
As always it didn’t take long for dad to come and help and took me to their house where I tried to relax but the pain got worse. Mum then took me to the doctor who feared I was suffering from pancreatitis and advised we got straight to hospital to have scans. When we arrived I was taken into emergency and no longer sat down to have bloods taken and blood pressure which was extremely low and the doctor wanted me to get back up to walk to a nearby bed and I collapsed again hitting my head on the ground. I spent about 5 days in hospital as I was being monitored and was finally let go with no explanation as to why it happened apart from scans coming back showing I had fluid on the liver.
I was advised to see the GP for follow up and discharged from hospital. I was secretly starting to stress a lot about the hospital visit and come to the conclusion that it could be stress and anxiety and liver issues and it was a turning point for me to say my physical health is now deteriorating. I not only had a sore head from my little crash on the concrete floor but after the hospital visit I noticed my back and hips and basically everything started hurting a lot more. I felt fragile
Whilst at the doctor I did mention my concern for my back and hip pain as well as my mental health and I was put back on anti-depressants/ anxiety medication and told that we will see how the medications help and then add pain killers. As I don’t have a good history with medications I agreed and stated I will detox all pills minus the happy pills. At first that made things a lot worse and I was starting to take Valium to take the edge off but I then noticed after upping the dose I started to get a bit better. I was finally starting to feel like I could manage my anxiety levels and can function like a normal human being. I started back at the gym doing light weights and cardio which felt amazing and I found I was starting to finally get some passion for things again like music and organizing and spending time with people.
It all came to a crashing end however recently when I went to get out of the car and slipped and crashed onto the concrete driveway. I knew I’d hurt myself fairly bad when I tried to get back up and felt an awful sharp pain in my hip. I managed to come good and walked inside and continued to do some jobs before sitting down to watch telly. As I had to work the next day I prepped my uniform, showered and hopped into bed. I woke up at 4am in the worst pain I had ever felt as I tried to roll over to check the time on my mobile which was next to me. I screamed and cried in pain and knew something wasn’t right. I managed to stay still enough to get the pain to dull slightly and grabbed my phone, at the same time straining my shoulder and managed to call work to tell them I had hurt myself.
I then tried to move again and I honestly felt as though I had broken my hip or spine as the pain was horrible. I called mum and dad in agony and tears and they rushed to help me. With their help and a lot of slow movements we managed to get in the car and they took me to their house. As we were all extremely worried I had done damage mum took me to the doctor again, which I was starting to feel like was my second home, and saw the GP who referred me to Wagga for urgent scans. As I was on some great painkillers and was absolutely exhausted the next few days are a bit blurry and all I can remember is pain, unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Scans came back after a short time and GP explained that I had pre-existing arthritis in my pelvis and bone on bone in my hip joint. I was also told that I have spurs on my hip and a labrial tear, which would explain why I was in such agony. My first thought was ‘you’ve got to be shitting me” and “why do I keep deteriorating”. He explained that next course of action is to see a surgeon. Mum organized an old persons’ walker from her work to assist me so I could move around but in the two weeks I was under her care, I felt like I aged 50 years. I decided it was important to let work know what was going on, especially the severity of the situation and organized a meeting.
I won’t go into detail regarding the meeting and the eventual resignation from my job due to legal reasons, but once again I was unemployed, suffering from chronic pain, and just trying to figure out what to do next. During this time, I eventually got to see a back specialist who was able to give me a better understanding of my back issues. In a nutshell he explained that apart from the arthritis visible in L3, L4, L5, S1, I also have 2 herniated discs and he could see from my MRI that it was pinching my nerves. He used a lot of fancy words as they all do, but basically the end result is surgery, but as I’m so young and haven’t really given physio a long enough go, he instead authorized regular steroid injections to relieve the pain. I’ve had a few of those already and they did give temporary relief but that’s just it it’s temporary, and not to mention the injection itself is risky and painful. I’ll admit I was really upset that there was no real solution at that stage.
This was an extremely difficult time as my relationship worsened with constant fighting and we realized we just weren’t suited and I was forced to move back in with my parents as I couldn’t afford to live alone. The only way of getting by was to develop my hobby DJ/Karaoke business which was going really well.
For a while it was like a breath of fresh air, I felt like despite my health issues I was able to socialize and got to get involved and meet some great people. Unfortunately, however that goal too came to an end. My back and mental health was deteriorating again and with another fainting incident, hospitalization and most concerning reason was letting down a bride and groom who hired us for their wedding but due to my back ‘seizing up’ and being hospitalised, I had to cancel. I was a hard choice but a necessary one as I couldn’t maintain the goal physically and people were being let down. As it’s been a long constant struggle to deal with chronic pain, I like to think I have enough of an idea which will trigger what I call a back ‘seize up.’
So with another massive kick to the gut, I hate to admit it but I actually considered giving up again. As I want to be completely honest, again I felt hopeless and a burden and couldn’t help thinking how much easier it would be if I wasn’t around anymore. I just was ‘over it’ sick of trying, sick of being limited due to my back and sick of daily pain. Anyone who experiences pain over a period of time knows how it affects you, you can’t sleep properly, you take painkillers constantly that take the edge off but it’s always there. But worst of all you’re scared of what effect all these drugs in your system are really doing to you. Sometimes it’s an ache, then sometimes it’s a sharp stabbing pain which over time knocks you around. Then as usual, my self-talk reminds me that I have an ever supportive loving family who I couldn’t bear to hurt. I was left with only to choices, give up, or fight.
I had a choice to stop trying and just sit back and just let myself become a slob, someone who just does the basics day to day, never dreaming or aspiring to be something because one fact was, my back was deteriorating. All it took was one wrong move and I was back at square one and honestly that scared me. My last hospital visit was a terrifying one as the only thing that triggered it was trying to put jeans on. That gentle twist was enough to pinch the nerve and I was bed ridden shortly after. Paramedics were called and it took a dose of morphine just for the paramedics to be able to move me I was in such agony.
The best way to explain the ‘back attacks’ is I’m sure everyone’s experienced that leg cramp you get where you jump up and try to move as it stiffens and it really hurts until you can get the muscles to release. Well my whole body did that, forcing it in a position to stay super still as any slight movement sent my whole back into an agonising seizure.
I was taken to hospital and put on strong pain medications and like usual had to try and walk again. It’s incredibly hard to move after an attack as it's still really painful, but your body becomes stiff, and what made this particular hospitalization much worse was I had a reaction on one of the medications which caused me to suffer from extreme tremors, like someone with Parkinson’s.
Luckily that only lasted for about a week as we worked out what the cause was, Lyrica.
Once I was out of hospital I sat at the dining table and spoke with my sister and mum and opened up about my fears for my future, how scared I am that I will be in a wheelchair before I’m 40, which one of the nurses did say to me in hospital and the GP alluded to a lot. I had quite a lot of bad news and let downs as doctors advised me of the risks of daily tasks like lifting, running, sports, basically anything that can put pressure on your spine, including having children. As I already felt like I was sitting on the side line of life as my peers were out and having fun, I had to be careful with something as simple as getting dressed which made me anxious about having panic attacks limiting new experiences.
So my sister, mum and I sat and talked for hours and it was mum that explained that things aren’t the best but I have a choice, I can ‘give up’ or ‘fight.’
That brings me to the turning point where I woke up and discovered self healing.
That day I decided that no matter what I will fight, because I still have so much more to give. Also I didn’t recognize it then but something washed over me like a deep knowing that there’s more to this, there’s more I have to do like a whisper from the soul. I then committed to attending regular physio and hydro, and decided to give meditation a go as I heard it could help. After 7 days of meditation practice (after a beginners course) I began to feel slightly better and have a clear enough head to come up with the plan to begin to study Counselling. Even though I felt limited in what I could do, I realized I had a strong passion to help people and have some valuable life experiences which could help me understand some issues others may not be able to. I began my course and soon moved into a double diploma in counselling and coaching (coaching being the preference.)
Through that course I discovered and did more training in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), CBT, Narrative therapy and much more and I became hooked.
Around this time I made a new friend as well who introduced me to natural healing modalities and concepts beyond my understanding at the time, but as I delved deeper I discovered my innate abilities and power to self heal. From here the journey began which turned my life around.
I have trained in and explored multiple modalities and using techniques I share with my community and clients today, healed my body and mind naturally. My spine regenerated fully, and I now enjoy an active lifestyle with little to no pain or issues and every day I'm learning new healing techniques and implementing them to support not just my own journey but those who come to me for help.
This is only the first half of my story. I now tell this story a narrative into my past that has been the foundation for the person I am today and the lessons learned. I share this journey with you as inspirational and acknowledgement that you are not alone in your struggles and healing is possible, you just need to strip back the layers of conditioning and limiting self beliefs to heal your mind, body and soul.
Sending so much love to you all