If you are here today to join me in the baring of the scars - I thank you. You can read about why I am doing this here for a bit of background if you are interested.
I have to tell you that I am so nervous about doing this. This is not a very pretty story in some parts. My heart is pounding and I feel that old familiar lump in my throat that for the life of me I cannot swallow.
I hope that by telling my story my old scars will begin to heal and that I will encourage others to do the same and start their own healing. By baring our scars whether they be emotional or physical, we are taking back the power and releasing the hold those scars have over us. Even scars that are as deep as a lifetime.
So let's do this.
How does a perfectly normal woman with a loving family and friends, one day lose her shit and then not find it again for years later?
To understand how everything came to a head, we need to work our way back through the many layers to the beginning. The very beginning or as close to the beginning as I can remember.
In 1973 in the Sydney suburb of Paddington, a young couple welcomed a little girl into the world, a little sister for their 3 year old son. That little girl would be me.
I was born with a talipy on my right leg, a dislocated hip and a clubbed foot. My first surgery at 3 days old saw them twist my foot and put my legs into traction for 6 weeks in an attempt to reengage the hip.
I don’t know the full details of all the surgeries in that first year, but I do know that I spent the first 12 months in and out of traction and in and out of operating theatres and my parents were told it was unlikely their little girl would ever walk.
It completely breaks my heart when I think about how hard that must have been for my parents to hear. I mean I know that not walking is nothing in comparison to what other parents in the hospital were possibly being told about their kid's future, but to a parent anything at all that threatens the future you have imagined for your child in any way shape or form is a big deal.
We proved the experts wrong though. I did walk and I ran and I did everything I wasn't supposed to do including roller skating and bike riding and gymnastics.
It wasn't an easy feat for any of us though. Not for my parents nor for my brother who was constantly left with relatives or sitting in a hospital waiting room whilst I had surgery after surgery and spent months on months in hospital. We think it was about 23 operations from birth to age 17 including major reconstructions, skin grafts and reconstructions after my foot once went gangrenous in a cast.
I was always in plaster or in hospital, but it was a weird kind of normal for me. I knew no different. The surgeries that I can remember were awful, I won’t deny that. The pain was excruciating and I remember feeling ripped off as I got older. Why do I have to have this going on and my friends don’t? Hospital was generally a fun place though. I went to school there and I always made friends with the kids that would come and go.
I never really thought of myself as any different to anyone else. I could do all the things that they could do, when I wasn't in plaster that is. I wore a special built up boot with bars to strengthen my leg but my parents didn't treat me any differently to my brother. It was a decision they made together to give me as much sense of normality as they could in the crazy life we were living.
I often think about how hard that must have been for them, to not smother me in cotton wool that is. I have so much respect and gratitude for them for doing that for me as it has made me the determined person I am today.
It wasn't until Primary school that I noticed the difference between me and other kids. It was constantly pointed out to me by some of the resident school assholes. Every school has them, the kids who get joy out of making fun of others and truth be told, looking back, the teasing was tougher to deal with than any of the surgeries. Eventually I stopped wearing the boots as I was so self conscious about them and I just wanted to be like everyone else.
When I started high school, the teasing seemed to ease off for a while, until one day when a boy and a girl in the year above me decided they were going to make my life hell. I remember one day struggling off the bus after school. I was on crutches with my big back pack awkwardly slung across my back and as I made my way down the aisle, the girl stuck her leg out and I fell over. With my eyes full of humiliated tears I got up and climbed off the bus only to have the guy lean out the window and spit on me. Yep he spat on me in front of everyone on the bus and called me a retarded mong.
I wanted nothing more than the ground to open up and swallow me whole. Anything to get the teasing to stop.
It did stop, courtesy of a protective older brother. To this day I don't know exactly what he did or said to those kids, but whatever it was - they stopped making my life a living hell.
There was always going to be some smart ass who got a kick out of making fun of me, but over the next few years of high school I developed a thick skin.
At age 15 I became the stereotypical tough girl. You know the type? The one that dyes her hair in an attempt to create a new personality, starts running with the wrong crowd and snarls at you if you glance sideways at her.
Sadly I was her.
I can remember the transformation. I had been staying with my aunt down on the Southern Highlands, something I used to do a lot in the school holidays. Down there I could ride horses and just be me. I loved it there.
One day I was introduced to a group of girls who went to the local boarding school. One was a relative of mine in some way - a second or third cousin or something like that. I was so nervous about this new group and how they would judge me so I put on a tough girl act and they swallowed it up. We hung out at the local inn and with them I smoked my first cigarette and drank my first beer. They were the cool girls and they had accepted me as one of them. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had some control over how people would see me and treat me.
When the holidays were over I came back to my normal life and brought with me a packet of Winfield red and a new ‘you can’t hurt me’ tough girl attitude.
Looking back I guess it was my way of protecting myself. I’ll become the tough girl because if you are scared of me then you are less likely to be mean to me… or something like that. Except deep down I wasn't a mean girl and acting like one made me completely miserable. But despite that I continued being this new tougher version of me.
I started hanging out with kids from another school on weekends and I would hide my scarred legs under flowing dresses and heavy Doc Martins, my hair went between being dyed platinum blonde or dark and I wore pale pink lipstick. Do you remember that look? That was my uniform. The funny thing was that those Doc Martins were just like the therapeutic boots I had to wear as a child, minus the bars. The difference was I was choosing to wear them, it wasn't out of necessity.
I don’t really have many photos of myself from that period of my life. I hated my legs, I hated myself and so I avoided ever being in front of the camera. Here are a couple of me my parents managed to snap when I dyed my hair dark.
When I was 15 I went to a party that was held by a friend from school. I was excited to be invited to this guy’s party and although I was seeing a boy who didn't go to my school (but was part of the local beach tough crowd), I purposely didn't tell him where I was going. Despite my efforts to keep this party from him and his friends, they found out and crashed it anyway. They started fights and just generally stirred up trouble and of course everyone thought I had invited them.
Come Monday when I turned up for school, no one was talking to me.
Eventually people forgot about it and life went on. The problem was that a few of my friend’s parents hadn't forgotten about it and didn't want their daughters hanging out with me any more. It was awful, they had to sneak around to see me outside of school. The irony was I was now doing everything I could to stay out of trouble, I had distanced myself from that other crowd, I started to let go of the chip on the shoulder attitude and was focused on getting back to being the real me and I had even gotten myself a job as a check out girl in Woolworths after school.
One day after one of the mums found out her daughter had lied to her about being somewhere with me she turned up to my work . She lined up at my checkout and began shouting at me from the queue and humiliating me in front of all the other customers. She screamed at me about how worthless I was and what a bad influence I was and yada yada yada. Completely mortifying and soul crushing is the only way I could describe how that felt and I left work in tears went home.
I just couldn't win as the tough girl and it seemed I couldn't win as the real me either.
I just couldn't win as the tough girl and it seemed I couldn't win as the real me either.
At home I wrote my parents a letter telling them I was so sorry for everything I had done and that I loved them. I put the letter somewhere that I knew they would find it and I went and got the bottle of pills from my Dad’s bedside drawer and took them.
It turns out I didn't take enough to do anything more than make me go to sleep, which was lucky as I didn't really want to die, not at all. I just wanted all the pain and anguish to stop.
I will never forget the pain in my parent's eyes at the hospital. I don't recall having ever seen my Dad cry before that, and it was something I never wanted to see again.
It's only now as an adult that I can look back at that teenage girl I was and see that even then my emotional health had the potential to wobble and that I would one day be the perfect prey for the old black dog.
It wasn't my parent’s fault in anyway at all. I just did not know how to open up to them about how I was feeling and therefore they didn't know how to help me.
That whole experience has had a profound effect on me as a parent and has made me determined to have the type of relationship with my boys where we talk to each other and they know how to open up to me. I hope with all my heart that by doing so we can avoid them ever doing anything to cause harm to themselves in this way.
To be continued next Sunday…
If you or anyone you know is considering self harm, please get help immediately.
Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 - you don't need to feel this way.