I was slowly beginning to regain consciousness. The blackness around the edges of my vision was slowly receding like a waning moon. I was shuffling forward and unsteady on my feet, but even in my unconscious state, I had continued to stumble around twisting streets and roads. As my senses were gradually beginning to turn on and process the information of my surroundings, I instinctively performed a sort of environment and body diagnostics. I looked around and caught a glimpse of a street sign as I found myself in the middle of the road walking up a dead end street that was kilometres from where my last memory took place.
I looked down, and this was when I first noticed that something horrendous had happened. My pale blue shirt I had left the house wearing that night was now a sickly dark crimson red. It clung to my chest with a dampness and chill so unique that I could immediately sense that this was my blood that was covering me from head to toe. At the time I was too groggy to notice the severity of my injuries, so I did an about face and started to retrace my steps and stumble back home. As I walked through the door and dragged myself to my room a briefly looked at myself in the mirror and saw an unrecognisable face covered in a red mask staring back at me. I then lay down in my bedroom with the very dangerous and erroneous idea that I would go to sleep and wake up and everything would be okay. The next morning I awoke to the shrill screams of my mother who was distraught at finding the bathroom covered in blood. I looked down to find my pillow case and sheets a dark shade of red. In the light of day and with my mother distressed I began to comprehend the severity of my injuries.
The attack occurred in 2001 when I was finishing year 11 in high school; I had been the victim of a random attack while walking home one evening after a party and the perpetrators never faced justice. As I was rushed to the local hospital and then to Royal North Shore intensive care unit, I learned that while walking home the night before I had been attacked, robbed and left for dead. X-rays revealed I had sustained multiple fractures to my skull, and this damage compounded further by a Subdural Hematoma, which is a blood clot on the Brain. The blood clot on the brain was an increasing risk by placing continued pressure on my brain. The medical staff would closely monitor me with the concern that if the hematoma didn’t subside, they would have to perform a craniotomy. This procedure involves removing a section of my skull to reduce the pressure on the brain and remove the hematoma. After spending a week in intensive care, I eventually recovered in hospital. Although the physical damage may have healed quickly, the mental and emotional damage of this attack were much deeper.
I found myself being more cautious and reserved in my everyday interactions with people whereas I had once been confident and outgoing. My once stable reality tunnel that accurately predicted that the sun would rise and set, day in day out, without befalling any great calamity had now shattered and proven an unreliable way to interpret the world. “If this had happened to me once it can happen again.” and “If this could happen to me then what else could be next”, were now thoughts cursing through my head chipping away at my confidence with a high rate of attrition. I went to see Counsellors and Psychologists, however, was in a catch 22 situation with my lack of confidence stifling me from opening up about my new fears that were causing my lack of trust. Instead, I sat across the room from these newfound strangers with good intentions and only told them everything was fine and not knowing me they had to take my words at face value.
I returned to school to a welcoming, relieved and supportive group of friends who after having visited me in the hospital were happy to see me back on the playground. My football coach and maths teacher had also come to visit me in the hospital. While my friends and educators had been oblivious to the internal trauma that I was still carrying around in my psyche, life experience combined with his knowledge of me and my background on a personal level made it obvious for my coach’s eyes to notice. One day at school he pulled me aside to have a chat and just asked me “Are you O.K. ….. After everything that happened?” It was the kind of opened ended question that an old friend who might know you better than you know yourself would ask. It was effective because it presumed nothing yet already knew the answer. I was able to unload some of my new fears and insecurities, and it was relieving to have someone who I respected and knew who I could talk openly. He provided reassuring advice and an open ear that came together to form a significant interaction and while I would like to be able to say that this was a watershed moment, the kind of uplifting scene found in movies, where my fears were relieved, and my confidence instantly returned. Unfortunately, reality did not play out like the silver screen. The truth is, however, meaningful it was, it provided only a temporary respite from the incoming tides of anxiety and trepidation that was encroaching on my existence. I finished my year 11 studies and moved into year 12 to complete my HSC unsure of what I would do for a career or if I even wanted to pursue tertiary education.
I wanted to retreat from the world and not go through the scrutiny of being seen or heard. Instead of socialising I would spend days retreating into the fantasy world of video games on the computer. I would put in long hours getting lost in these games while at the same time fostering an understanding of the computer hardware and software that was required to run them. I began to build and fix my computers, then friends and family’s computers, I would start to network computers together out of interest alone. I would finish my year 12 and HSC with little fanfare and the easiest choice for what career to follow on and pursue was this burgeoning technological hobby. I decided to get I.T. qualifications and look for work, not because it was what I wanted to achieve in life but rather because it is what I was least likely to fail. But I could only live life shackled to this ever present fear and anxiety for so long before eventually, I knew I had to take action against it. I had exhausted all avenues of avoiding, hiding and trying to disappear. As I would look to check if the anxiety had gone it would always be there staring straight back at me like an owl at midnight.
In a search for inspiration, I thought back to the time from 1997-1999 when my school had been put in touch with the Japanese national broadcaster NHK who were looking for an Australian schoolboy who surfed to be a part of their documentary “13-Year-olds around the world”. They had contacted my high school as it was based near the beaches and asked to be put in someone around my age that surfed and by luck, they were put onto me. The show also featured children from Ghana, Bangladesh, Croatia and Japan and compared lifestyles between all cultures. The first season of the show featured the NHK cameras travelling to the home countries of the children and filming them at home and school to paint a picture of the daily lives of children of the same age in vastly different places in the world. The economic differences between the school facilities in Bangladesh and Ghana were stark while in Croatia the threat of war was ever present.
The second season had a child from Japan fly out to Australia and the other host countries to stay with the kids there and experience the native cultures firsthand. Then in the third season, I was flown over to Japan to meet all the other participants in the show and get a taste of Japanese culture in Tokyo and Osaka. In Tokyo, I was taken to a local school during the days and got to participate in the Japanese schooling system. The differences were vast as I was amazed at the amount of self-regulation the students had as they would be tasked with setting up and packing away the entire classroom, cleaning the entire school and serving up the school lunches to each other. They were equally amazed at the footage of my Australian school and the laidback, friendly and joking relationships we had with our teachers as they only ever spoke to their teacher with the utmost respect and would never joke. One day during an assembly the school’s sumo champions gave a demonstration and when they finished the coaxed me on to have a match. They had me fit on a Mawashi (Loin Cloth) and challenge the champion and although I lost I enjoyed the experience and treasured it. When this memory came to mind while I was brainstorming ways I could overcome my fears and anxieties, the answer appeared to be the martial arts.
Feeling energised I immediately began looking into martial arts schools in my area, and I discovered a new style of martial arts that seemed to be the most effective. It was called “Mixed Martial Arts”, combined elements Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing and Wrestling and competition took place in a caged area (Popularly called Cage fighting). I began training this discipline with a fervour for 2 hours a day on six days a week. What had started has a way to gain confidence quickly grew into a love for the art and discipline. After about six months I had to try my hand in competition, and I emerged victoriously. I continued to compete a few more times and was victorious again eventually working my way up to the top of the fight cards, and along the way, I became the 3 x Australian MMA Lightweight champion. At this stage, I had now gained my confidence back with the furnace of real competition having forged a more resilient core after melting away my fear and anxiety.