Friday, December 28, 2018

Scars - A Schwannoma Diary (#8).

They're a curious thing. Scars. 

Some are easy to see. They're in your face, confronting. They challenge you to consider them. 

Others are deeper. Hidden from view. Covered up to protect others from having to deal with them. 

To those who bear them - they mess with your head, your heart. 

They are uncomfortable. They are painful.

They are functional. They are protective. 

Scars are a curious thing. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

We're Through The Looking Glass Now - A Schwannoma Diary (#7).

It's day 2 post op now. My lines and drains are out and I am existing in a pleasant fog, supplied graciously to me by an assortment of Schedule 8 analgesics and miscellaneous medications. The bulk of the pain I'm experiencing comes courtesy of the 6 inch surgical wound they cut to access my spine as well as a headache that occasionally pounds in the background if I try to do too much. Because the lesion was intradural, I lost the bulk of my cerebro-spinal fluid during the operation. This takes time to replenish - hence the headache.

My legs can move, and I can walk - albeit gingerly - and without much confidence. But I can walk, so that is great relief number one. Since I had my urinary catheter taken out yesterday, I have managed to go to the toilet several times. It takes me a long time to finish but I can empty my bladder. I have control, so that is relief number two. I've yet to test my bowel so I can't report on that one just now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The other stuff - the *man* stuff? That will have to wait for the time being. But I would be lying if I said that it wasn't playing on my mind. 

How am I feeling psychologically?

At the moment, I feel drained - completely washed out in fact. I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, even as I write this - and it's mid morning! After, seeing the physio, having a shower, brushing my teeth and submitting to nursing tasks of observations, medications, wound care, I'm pretty much trashed. 

Mostly though, I'm relieved to be on the other side. This "thing" has consumed so much of my mental capacity and well being for so long, there has been no room for just living. I've neglected my kids - all their end of year school achievements and especially their anticipation for Christmas. I didn't go to get the tree like I usually do and a lot of things have happened around me. 

I mean, I've been there - but I haven't been there

I've neglected my wife. Emily has been holding fort, running around and trying to keep our household together, whilst tidying up all her loose ends at work, preparing for Christmas and worrying about me. She is a very pragmatic woman, not often given to overt displays of affection. She expresses her love though in her devotion to the household, the family. She often moves in a quiet way and it's easy to miss the things she does. Everything she does is done with love. 

I need to be more aware of that. 

There have been so many wonderful people who have reached out to me these past few days, from all across the world, sending messages of encouragement, love and best wishes. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for them. 

I hope to be home for Christmas. I have to make it up to my family for all the chaos I have caused them.

I have to stop now. I'm dribbling saliva over my keyboard.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Alabaster Elephant - A Schwannoma Diary (#5).

My wife bought me an elephant yesterday. We stopped by an Oxfam shop in town during a last minute excursion to finish up our Christmas shopping.  

It's a small carved elephant, one with an even smaller elephant inside it's body, which you can see through the intricately carved lattice work on its flanks. It has its trunk turned upwards, a sign for good luck, according to Hindu culture. It's hand carved, courtesy of some sort of co-operative in India that provides these and other trinkets to the Western market, with proceeds from each sale going back to the individual artisans who make them. 

I've long been fascinated by elephants. Their intelligence, their gentleness, their strength. I've even had the privilege of riding an elephant. It was a few years ago now, during  a trip in Thailand. It was one of those experiences that seemed a lot more special than it probably was. I had a moment with this animal. It wrapped its trunk around me and wasn't going to let me go in a hurry. I had thought we'd bonded. It was probably trying to squeeze the shit out of me.

Where am I going with this...

I've packed that elephant into my suitcase for tomorrow. I don't even know if I'm superstitious but, I figure, it's worth a shot...the whole good luck thing and all.

I've packed my pyjamas. A couple of pairs in fact, along with some loose clothing that won't be too hard to get into. I've put in my tablet and my Bluetooth keyboard. I might get some writing done while I'm recovering...I probably won't. I've put in my copy of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago - another gift from my wife. My sponge bag. Some L'Occitane products. I have standards.

I'm scared. More than I've ever been. This is real. This is real? Surely there's been a mistake. The scans are wrong. They got the wrong patient. The tumour belongs to somebody else.


There's no mistake. 

This is real.

My kids are fighting over some Christmas paper. They're screaming at each other. Meanwhile, the dog is whimpering and whining, wanting to be fed. The TV is too loud. Builders working on the house next door are using an electric saw, a nail gun. My son is trying to follow the cricket, demanding quiet.

Inside my head...silent chaos. A thunder storm of fear that seems more suited to a 15 year old boy than a forty...something...year old man. I'm standing on the edge of a volcano, looking down into the maelstrom. 

I've take the alabaster elephant out my suitcase. I'm holding it in my hand.

The elephant seems calming. They are a calming animal. 

Aren't they?


Friday, December 14, 2018

String Theory Nineteen Eighty Nine - A Schwannoma Diary (#4).

In his 2002 memoir, "Lucky Man", actor Michael J. Fox recounted an moment, the night before he underwent delicate brain surgery in 1998. Lying on his hospital bed, he recalled listening to the Pearl Jam song, "Given To Fly" over and over, drawing comfort and strength from the music and the lyrics as he prepared for the surgery that would alleviate the symptoms of his Parkinson's Disease.

In 1989, the night before I was to undergo my original operation to remove a spinal cord tumor, I remember sitting on my own hospital bed at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. I remember looking out through a big window, across the park lands - the city's twinkling lights beyond. I had Vince Jones', "But Beautiful" playing on my Walkman. It was kind of accidental that it became a poetic moment. Jones' soothing, smoky jazz vocals, accompanied by Paul Gabrowsky's languid piano. I (thought I) was a deep kid.

As a callow 15 year old from the country, I had little comprehension of what was about to happen to me. I was scared - but I was scared of the unknown. I didn't appreciate the task facing the surgical team, nor could I foresee what would come after the surgeon removed the tumor. For a brief moment, I just thought it was cool to be listening to jazz while looking out across the Melbourne skyline.

All these years later, reflecting on that 15 year old version of myself - it's like looking at a stranger.

That earnest youth has been subsumed by a terminal, world weary cynic. I'm no longer given to moments of musical romanticism, which might seem hard to believe, given that I've pursued a career outside of nursing as a romance novelist.

Personally, I don't think I draw inspiration from music the way I once did. I don't connect with it on an emotional level. Like, I still love music and I enjoy my favorite genres whenever I hear them. But they're not all consuming the way they used to be. They don't get me in the zone. I'd just as soon listen to a podcast conversation between two people tackling a philosophical conundrum.

Maybe I've lost something that I should try to recover - a sense of the power of music to calm and encourage reflection.

(image credit: Noah Sillman).

I know too much - both as a man who has the burden of lived experience of this kind of thing and as a Nurse, with over twenty years of accumulated knowledge of medicine and clinical experiences. I know what to expect surgically. The stakes are high. I know the recovery will likely follow a similar path as it did back in 1989. I'm aware of the psychology of trauma. The slow grind to get my muscles and limbs working again. The *joys* of incontinence. There are questions too. Fears.

What comes after?

Can I overcome this?

Will I be whole once more?

Will I make love again...?

I'm scared. I'm scared of the known this time.

Maybe I'll listen to Vince Jones once more. On cassette - the way I did before. Do they even make Walkmans anymore?


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Parasitic Relationship - A Schwannoma Diary (#3).

I think I'm entering a phase of being angry now. 

I met with my neurosurgeon this afternoon to review the MRI scans that were captured over the weekend. 

They established the geography of the space occupying lesion at the base of my spinal cord. Even on the scans, it is a parasitic looking little shit. In fact, it's not so little. It's something in the order of an inch to an inch and a half in size - a dark, lobulated mass that is being fed by a rudimentary blood supply and, most likely, my cerebrospinal fluid - the fluid that bathes my spinal cord.

My little parasite - not the circle, the thing in the circle.

The theory goes that this tumour is one that has degraded over time. It started out as a healthy (???) schwannoma but some where along the way it degenerated into this cystic lesion. There's still a lot that is unknown about it. An MRI will give you good images and you can make certain assumptions about the make up of the structure and tissues featured in them. But they're assumptions. Guess work. Estimations.

We won't really know the composition of this thing until it's removed from me and it can be examined. 

I want to anthropomorphize it - to give it an evil agency so I can justify being angry and hateful towards it. 

But it's not evil. 

It has no agenda. I mean, it couldn't even grow properly, like a normal tumour would. It's a pathetic reject - a retarded tumour. It's just there. A stupid genetic abberation of my own making.

I can't sustain my anger. I end up feeling empty, perhaps a little bit guilty.

My retarded tumour.

The surgery has been set for next Tuesday, the 18th of December. I will undergo a laminectomy whereby the surgeon will re-enter my spine through the incision that was made 29 years ago. There's a lot of old scar tissue from that original operation that may or may not cause some problems. Scar tissue is not forgiving. I'll be under an anaesthetic for 3 - 4 hours. It could be less if my surgeon can get in there without too much trouble. Then, I'll stay in the hospital for 5 - 7 days.

That's where my stomach drops. Having to tell my children was crushing this evening. Christmas Day won't be the same. I won't even be home for it. We won't be able to observe our little traditions. Worse still, our planned interstate vacation looks unlikely to proceed. This is particularly upsetting. I haven't seen my parents or my brother for 8 months. There are old friends I haven't seen who I was looking forward to seeing. I haven't reconnected with home in all that time and it hurts. Some people don't understand how much it hurts.

I've noticed something about hospital forms - they never allow enough space to write your email address. I always end up squashing up my writing to make it fit. I'll have to bring that up with someone I reckon. 


Monday, December 10, 2018

Billy Idol In A Tube - A Schwannoma Diary (#2).

If you've never had Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) performed before, it's a difficult experience to distill into a basic description. Having thought about this over the past few days, I think the best way to sum it up is in two words - a peaceful panic. 

I consider myself a veteran of the MRI machine, having undergone more of them than I care to count over the past twenty or so years. So, I no longer experience the crippling claustrophobia I felt when I first entered one of these machines back in the 90's. That's not to say the feeling is totally absent. I mean, I still lose my shit if I get tangled up in a sleeping bag, so I retain a certain, unhealthy fear of tight spaces. The MRI and I have, somehow, come to a mutual understanding. We don't fuck with each other.

Entering the two foot wide tube on Sunday was kind of a mundane exercise - if you could call it that. I went into this scan with a clear sense of the objective. We were to map the tumor sitting in my spinal cord in preparation for surgical intervention. Knowing this, and having the clinical knowledge that comes from over 20 years as an Intensive Care Nurse, I didn't feel a great deal of anxiety. 

Once my entire body was delivered into the entirety of the machine - then, it was a case of, "Oh Shit! I'm in this confined space for at least half an hour and I have to lay completely still."

 Of course, they do give you a panic button and headphones - mainly to block out the frightening sound of the magnets circling at insane speeds around your body - but also to pipe music or radio talk back of your choice into your ears as a measure of comfort. I chose the broadcast of the Test Cricket between Australian and India at the Adelaide Oval but the radiographer had a difficult time actually finding the station. For several minutes, I had FM radio blaring Billy Idol's "Hot In The City" in my ears. As I was feeling an uncomfortable warmth in my pelvis (real or imagined), I thought the song was appropriate.

Somehow, the radiographer fiddled with the dial and, like that first bit of radio static you hear on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", the Cricket broadcast was eventually found. 

Recently, I have been using a meditation app called "Calm". Like the many guided meditation apps that are available at the moment, this app focuses on the breathing as your centering strategy, while voice guidance - provided by the wonderful Tamara Levitt - lulls you into a state of relaxation and...well...Calm! throughout each, roughly 15 minute session.

This method of breathing and focus came in handy while I was in the machine. I found I was able to push away the chaos of the magnets spinning around my body, assaulting my tissues with their insane fields of energy, and find a state of being that helped. The claustrophobia - the panic of feeling claustrophobia - peeled away from me and, funnily enough, even the sound of the magnets became a tool with which to enhance my state of calm. Of course, the cricket helped as well. 

Not Billy Idol though. He's a tool. 

The set of pre and post contrast images, focusing on the lesion in my spinal cord, were good images. At first there was a little confusion because the tumor didn't take up the contrast as readily as was expected (tumors are inherently vascular). It has become cystic, space occupying, which accounts for the leg weakness and pain, the urogenital dysfunction and my lazy bowel, so it has to be dealt with sooner rather than later. 

I meet with my Neurosurgeon tomorrow to discuss the results and go to the next stage.

(image credit - Getty images.)

Emotionally, I'm ragged. I'm at war with my thoughts - my anxieties. Knowing I have this parasitic "thing" within me does not encourage good tidings. I can't plan anything - certainly around Christmas or beyond. At a time of year where everything is insane and people have to think 12 steps ahead, I'm forced to live day to day. Plans I've made with the family have to be held in stasis until we know more and I feel a pressure cooker of expectation. Most of this of course, is in my own head. I don't want to let people down - most of all my kids who, at this time of year are filled with Christmas butterflies. And time always moves slowest when you don't know the answers to their questions.

I'm also asking the question, why did this thing come back? That has been playing on my mind more and more and, of course, that can't readily be answered. I know I shouldn't ruminate over that too much because there's no use in it. It came back and that's all there is to it.

I listened to Joe Rogan talking with Jordan Peterson over the weekend and they were talking about the nature of struggle. Peterson was saying that struggle is an inherent part of human nature - of being - and it's how we approach the struggle that determines our character. I'm trying to approach all of this with strength and focus. It's elementary really. This thing has got to come out. I've got to accept the struggle and navigate the path through it. 

I've got too much living to do. 


Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Twenty Ninth Year - A Schwannoma Diary.

Where to begin with this...

So...I've had to digest a lot of news in a short space of time this past week, so my thoughts are a jumble. I'm probably going to struggle to express myself coherently here. But, bare with me. Okay?

There's a background to this story that I'll relate to you in a potted form. It's a story that began back in 1989 when I was 14 years old. 

I was a reasonably active kid. Good at swimming, average at football. Decent at cricket - though nothing to write home about. I was always a little clumsy, uncoordinated. I had a terrible drop punt and I used to trip and fall over myself a bit. It was embarrassing sure, but I didn't get too worried about it. My Star Wars game was always better than my Australian Rules game. One morning in late May, during a junior football match, I suddenly collapsed and was rendered unable to walk. After a flurry of medical examinations and a series of scans, I was diagnosed with a tumour in my spinal cord - a schwannoma. It was growing out of the spinal cord itself, it's parastic tissue intimately emeshed with the cord. It was to turn my teenaged life upside down for the next two years. 

I had two operations back then to remove the tumour and clean up some scarring that caused some issues afterwards. I had to re-learn how to walk. I had to manage a few functional issues involving my bladder and bowels and I somehow had to navigate the psychological comprehension of a traumatic experience that upended my adolescence.

I was told at the time that this tumour was a fluke - a once off. Owing to its slow growing nature, there was zero likelihood of this thing ever returning in my lifetime. Aside from a few functional issues, I should be able to lead a normal life.

Twenty Nine Years later...

I've documented my recent *exploits* here with my throat - how a dysfunctional branch of nerves in my neck caused havoc with my ability to swallow, speak and breath effectively. Having largely conquered that episode, I was referred to a Neurologist to investigate the underlying aetiology of this nerve dysfunction 

I was concerned there was an inflammatory causative factor for the whole throat thing. Some additional symptoms I'd been experiencing - including visual deterioration in my left eye, a sudden inability to taste or smell, some incontinence and *other* dysfunction - led my neurologist to want to rule out that very inflammatory pathology. We discussed Multiple Sclerosis, even Parkinson's Disease.

I agreed to undergo a battery of tests in order to build a case against these. A series of blood tests, urine, a lumbar puncture, neurological exam, an MRI. I underwent these tests, determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, because I didn't want it weighing on me any longer. This had been two years out of my life, in which - you know - I would've rathered been focusing on something else. 

I'm at a stage in my life where there's not a lot that shocks me anymore. As an Intensive Care Nurse, I've seen a fair bit - maladies, trauma, disease, the expected and the unexpected. 

I received a phone call from my GP last week, requesting that I make and appointment to see her. I sat down with her after a long night duty shift on Wednesday morning.

The MRI scan found a tumour, located in my lower spinal cord - very close to where the original schwannoma had been found in 1989. 

A tumour - that was never supposed to recurr.

I was shocked, stunned, numb.

Remember? This was never supposed to happen. 

Things have moved fairly quickly. I have met with a Neurosurgeon, and we have discussed my options, which I might say, are pretty straightforward. I will have to undergo surgery to remove the tumour. Plans are afoot in that direction and I'll be undergoing a second series of scans later this week to *map* out the exact geography and extent of the lesion. It is growing out of the spinal cord itself, so the surgical team need to know - to the millimetre - how emeshed this mass is.

At the moment, I'm approaching all this with a clinician's mind as much as I am a patient's. It's a confusing state. I've expressed little outward emotion about the diagnosis so far. Rather, I've been digesting the reports and the MRI films. I've mulled over the technical aspects of the prospective surgery. I've weighed up the chances of this thing being a malignancy. By erecting a veneer of distance between the diagnosis, I can keep my emotions in check.

This is not to say that I am completely divorced from them. This recurrence has implications beyond the mere presence of the tumour - implications that I can't bring myself to process just yet. There is, deep down, a maelstrom of emotions.

There is fear. There is disbelief. There is anger.

My mind teeters on the edge of this chaos so I'm doing everything I can to focus on the process dispassionately.

This may seem strange, but I'm more worried about more fundamental things - like, how I'm going to get through the next little while - I mean, it's bloody Christmas. I have to pay the bills, support my family, give my kids a Christmas to treasure - this Christmas is certainly going to be interesting. 

I want to get back on my feet as soon as I can. I can't stay idle. It'll drive me nuts. I can't allow this thing to upend my life again. 

The stakes are too high.

Is this a diary? I think this is a diary. Let's call it a diary.

I can't breathe now. I need to stop writing. I'll talk a little more soon.


Monday, October 1, 2018

For The Love of Writing. Obsession, Balance, and Time - A Conversation With Gabriel Blake.

This guest post has been a long time coming so, at the outset, I have to begin by apologizing to the author Gabriel Blake for my tardiness. 

Now that's been said, I am really pleased to introduce you to an outstanding British writer and genuine human being. I met Gabriel recently and was introduced to his gripping psychological thriller "The Mother Of All Things", which has quickly gone to the top of my best reads so far this year. 

Author Gabriel Blake (image credit Gabriel Blake).

Gabriel has been wonderfully supportive, both of me and a community of independent authors all around the web, sharing advice, hints and tips and generally helping others out with the minutiae of author marketing. He's actually one of the key reasons that social media remains something worth engaging with.

Before we get to the man himself, let me give you a quick look at the book that sprang forth from this brilliant mind.

(image credit: Gabriel Blake).

It was supposed to be a new beginning for Elaine Davis. Returning to her childhood home in North Yorkshire, she hopes to move on from a devastating past and rebuild her life with the help of her mother and children. Sometimes though, new beginnings in familiar surroundings can come with the stirrings of memories long forgotten. As Elaine’s mind begins to unravel, discoveries of deceit and betrayal reveal themselves and circumstances spiral beyond her control. Elaine must fight to hold on to her sanity; unless of course, she has already lost it?

When I reviewed "The Mother Of All Things" back in July this year, I praised it as an absorbing, disturbing and kinetic thriller that balances a tight rope between a conventional whodunnit and a Gothic horror. Blake commands this tome with a skillful hand wherein you're never quite sure what state of existence the real world lies. 

Elaine Bennett, Blake's tortured protagonist, is a fascinating character as the events in the story unfold and the deepening psychological disturbances she endures hint at a whole other subplot keep the reader engaged. Blake executes his mystery competently, and there's a satisfying interactivity to it that had me going back to check and double check a couple of plot points to see if I was putting things together. That, to me, was fun and it kept me invested. The action is taut, confronting to be sure but it kept me on the edge of my seat and had me looking over my shoulder once or twice in the darkness of my own living room. 

The Mother Of All Things is a worthy thriller off which Gabriel Blake should be justly proud.

So let me now hand you over to Gabriel as he explores the things that are common to us writers. 

First of all, I’d like to thank Dean Mayes for being so kind as to invite me to write a guest post on his website. I’d also like to wish him every success with his new novel The Artisan Heart, which I am looking forward to reading.

Obsession, Balance, and Time play a huge part in our lives. It has had a detrimental effect on my life. I didn't realise this until fairly recently when it was rightly brought to my attention. 
Looking back through my life, I have had this terrible habit of being all or nothing with no in-between. It’s not an easy habit to break and it can also become unhealthy. In the latter years of my job in property maintenance, I would leave the house before 5am and sometimes not return home until 10pm or later. All because I wanted to get an empty flat repaired, cleaned, and redecorated in one day. I’d go the entire day without a break and food was out of the question. Eating would take up too much precious time, time when more work could be done. Time was my enemy!

(image credit: Gabriel Blake).

I don’t know why I forced and pushed myself to do this. It would later be pointed out to me that this was a form of self-harm. I was punishing myself and they were right. It is something I have always done.

We don’t know the exact moment when our lives develop particular behavioural patterns. Unwanted traits that sneak up on us and become part of who we are. Among many imperfections is obsession, which can co-exist with addiction. Mingled together, the pair can be challenging to rectify. Obsessions can be either productive, unproductive, or destructive.

Unproductive obsessions stem from our anxieties, putting a block on the productive side of our lives. We let our worries, fears and doubts hold us back from the obsessions we would prefer to have. Wouldn't it be better to have obsessions about our interests and passions, those that fuel our creative side? 

(image credit: Ian Emes.)

I finally found the time in my life to write my first novel and do something that had always interested me. In writing, I found passion, fire, and a helping hand to fight off depression and anxiety. I’d like nothing more than to write all day and night if it helps me escape what I like to call the quiet noise inside my head.

This is where balance comes into play. We can’t simply switch off every other aspect of life. We may have a family, partners to consider, or household matters that have to be dealt with. As much as we wish they could, everyday issues, problems, interruptions can’t be ignored. Finding the balance and control of your productive obsession is the only way to prevent it from becoming a destructive obsession, which in turn will take you back down the unproductive road to where you began.

Time! I have always had a problem with time in general. How long something will take and setting myself unrealistic targets. Then my anxiety kicks in and I become a complete mess. I’m sure I’m not the only one who obsesses over time; at least I hope I’m not. This is one of my obsessive compulsions I’m trying hard to control. While writing my debut novel, I put myself under so much pressure, and for what! I had no agent or publisher to keep happy. 

There was no deadline. I lost count of how many release dates I announced. This is something I’m aiming not to repeat. 

My message here is simple:

For the love of writing or whatever your creative interest may be, never underestimate the power of obsession, balance, and time.

Purchase "The Mother Of All Things" here.

Visit Gabriel Blake here.

Tweet with Gabriel Blake here.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dean Reads from The Artisan Heart Live via Facebook.

So, I thought I'd attempt something a little different this week and do a live reading from my brand new novel "The Artisan Heart" over at Facebook Live and follow it up by answering reader questions. I think it went pretty well and I'm pleased to be able to make the video available here. 

I've read just the first two chapters for this one but I'm keen to read more - if you are. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

"The Artisan Heart" by Dean Mayes is available now where ever good books are sold. Click through here to browse purchasing options, including signed copies from the author himself.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Delayed Devastation & The Abandonment Of #MeToo.

21 years ago, when I was a junior RN at the beginning of my career, I was sexually assaulted by in my workplace. 

The assault involved two individuals, who were senior to me. They herded me into a confined space, and proceeded to taunt me, touch me inappropriately, I was penetrated  digitally. I did not invite their advances, nor did I give permission. I was manipulated, forced into enduring their attack. 

The incident occured out of hours. There were no witnesses to the incident other than myself and the two individuals involved. I was given no ability to escape the the situation. I was shocked and devastated. 

When I attempted to report the incident, I could not have anticipated the reaction I received. A meeting was arranged with with senior people. I was given no opportunity to arrange a support person to attend with me. Once in the room, I detailed the incident. 

I was told that these were very serious allegations. I was asked if I recalled the incident accurately (the meeting occured within a few days of it having occurred.) I was informed that my abusers denied any involvement in what had occurred. Further, I was advised there were very serious consequences of making allegations of this gravity. 

I was then told that the incident never happened and that if I pursued my claims that I would not work as a Nurse anywhere in the future. I was then put on a "probation period" in which my performance would be observed at monitored.

How does a 23 year old, junior male nurse, deal with this? 

In the aftermath, I was devastated. I felt isolated, marginalised and I suffered under the weight of intense scrutiny for which I had no support, no counselling and no recourse.

I suffered bouts of depression, anxiety, guilt and shame that was so intense, I was pushed to the edge.

Yes, I was suicidal and yes, there were three occasions where I attempted to take my own life.  

I know what happened was real. I was, essentially, raped in my workplace. 

Seeing that I had no power to do anything about the experience, I closed down and compartmentalized the experience and the ordeal, burying them so deep in my psyche so that I could (somehow) function. I developed a way of coping - but I never dealt with the damage wraught on me.

With the emergence of the #metoo movement last year, my exposure to the countless stories of abuse and survival being shared, I unlocked the chest that held my own experience of abuse and I  looked at it anew for the first time in 20 years.

Revisiting the experience, my reaction to it and the subsequent emotional devastation I experienced as a result of being ignored and threatened, I was confronted by 20 long years of unresolved emotional baggage that had affected me. 

It took me a long time to acknowledge the reality of what had occurred. Seeing similar experiences being shared, I was encouraged by what I thought was a positive movement that would treat my ordeal with empathy and compassion. 

I shared my experience. 

The reaction? 

The reaction was a swift and as devastating as the intial reaction I received to my account of sexual abuse.

Suspicion. Disbelief. Minimisation - all coming from within this movement that was supposed to empower voices and embrace survivors. I felt as though I had been raped all over again. 

See - I don't fit the narrative. I fall outside of the accepted identity of a sexual abuse survivor. 

I was a male victim of sexual violence, perpetrated by women. Like the administrators who interrogated me in the aftermath of my abuse, many within the #metoo movement doubted that such violence could happen to a male by a female. I'd remembered it wrong. My recollections must be doubtful. This couldn't have happened to you - a man. It was made clear to me that, at this time, this fight is not about you. You can't be a part of our narrative because - as one particularly militant tweeter articulated it - "You have a dick."

In the course of the fight, there will be victims. Males are collateral damage in this - Male victims and Male accused (whether they are innocent or guilty). 

I'm considering all this, at a time when there is incredible scrutiny being brought to bear on the nominee for the Supreme Court in the United States, Brett Cavanaugh.

You might be surprised, given all I have detailed here, that I have questions about the claims and counter claims swirling around Christine Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh. In no way do these questions  discount the possibility that Blasey-Ford is telling the truth. It is simply a dispassionate observation that Blasey-Ford has not presented compelling evidence that establishes fact. Like me, she may never be able to.

At this time, Brett Kavanaugh is an *alleged* perpetrator or sexual assault - *alleged*. A formal FBI investigation would, in my view, be the most appropriate way of establishing fact. That should happen and, until such time as that investigation is completed, Kavanaugh's nomination should be withdrawn.

Further, this whole spectacle should be completely removed from the public gaze - for the sake of Christine Blasey-Ford as much as anyone.

There is a further concern I have, which relates to the conduct of the various actors behind both Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh. I believe there are competing agendas at play that have less to do with the truth of Blasey-Ford's ordeal or the guilt or innocence of Kavanaugh or the truth of the claims against him. Part of this is being driven by nefarious elements within the #metoo movement and its blind ambition to bring down an entire gender, regardless of the truth. They will chew up Christine Blasey-Ford and spit her out as much as they will Kavanaugh. 

Can the truth ever be established now? 

I have come to accept that I will never gain absolution for my own ordeal. I can only recount my experience, to the best of my recollection (and my recollection is acute) and move forward...if one can ever hope to move forward from something like this.

Truth is a victim. 

In the case of Christine Blasey-Ford and Brett Kavanagh, there are her allegations - grave and serious and warranting forensic investigation, his defense, which - in our system of justice - he is entitled to, and the Truth that lies somewhere in between. The way these hearings are being concucted are troubling, because none of this matters to those driving Christine Blasey-Ford into the pressure cooker of the public gaze. Nor does it matter to those who seek to secure Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Both agendas will divide and conquer in the pursuit of something other than the truth - and they will leave victims in their wake - both accused and accusers.

If you don't fit the proscribed narrative of either, the accepted identity, you are problematic, expendable.

And that is the truth.


Monday, September 24, 2018

The Myth Of Cultural Appropriation.

This week, a piece by Australian journalist David Marr appeared on The Guardian Australia website "Why I refused to judge the Horne Prize."

In it, Marr announced that he was stepping down as a judge on the panel for the Horne Prize for Literature, an annual prize here in Australia. 

The panel of the Horne Prize had introduced a clause into their application process, in which the following entities would not be considered.

 "Essays by non-Indigenous writers about the experiences of First Nations Australians. Essays about the LGBTQI community written by people without direct experience of this community. Any other writing that purports to represent the experiences of those in any minority community of which the writer is not a member."

(image credit: Christopher Ireland).

Marr rightly argued that this was an alarming development - one that would have dangerous repercussions.

“I’ve been a big critic of such restrictions. Men can write about women, gays about straights, blacks about whites. You judge, as always, by quality. That’s likely to be higher when there’s direct experience. But you can’t disqualify for lack of it. And if we’re not going to accept whites writing about Indigenous experience, how can we have whites judging Indigenous writing?” ~ David Marr, The Guardian, 24th September 2018.

As you can imagine, the reaction to Marr's article was swift, particularly on Twitter where  many, including myself, pointed out the danger of excluding entrants on the basis of whether they belong to a particular group or not. It amounts to a restriction of creative expression and of free speech.

In the reaction to Marr's resignation, arguments on various social networks clustered around cultural appropriation. When I cited my own example of having observed and written about a culture different to my own - in my 2012 novel "Gifts of the Peramangk" accusations of cultural appropriation and stealing were leveled at me along with a couple of threats, which I chose to ignore. These came, without any attempt to consider the work or appraise its content. 

How can one be accused of cultural appropriation, if they have embarked on a creative project with a commitment to ethical cultural representation?

I would argue they can't. 

Cultural appropriation has become a term used by certain sections of the community to stifle free speech and creative expression and attack anyone who would dare step outside of their acceptable group identity to learn about or consider another culture.

When I began writing "Gifts Of The Peramangk", I was aware of the significance of the task I was taking on.

I knew from the outset that I would likely be criticized for being a non-indigenous Australian writer writing an indigenous Australian story. I would be accused of cultural appropriation, of misrepresenting the people I was seeking to portray. 

I began the project with a desire to seek knowledge. I put aside the bare bones story idea I had and instead committed myself to pure research. I had a basic knowledge of the fraught history of Australia's Aboriginal people, through the White Australia Policy and the resultant Stolen Generations. I had a basic understanding of the three Aboriginal nations that populated the Adelaide region. But I wanted to learn - not only to write a better story, but to write an ethical story, one that represented the people I was portraying *without appropriating* their culture. 

This journey of learning took a year. I researched, talked with experts, partnered with Peramangk people who guided me. When I sat down to write the story, I continued to seek guidance and critique. 

It was a long, methodical process. I experienced long periods of self doubt and worry over whether I could finish the story. Ironically, at no stage was I discouraged by those who I'd worked with. Their encouragement of me and belief in the story compelled me to continue the project to its conclusion. 

Any accusations of cultural appropriation, ironically, came from my own side.

As a writer, I have committed myself to the observation and documentation of the world around me. And while I predominantly write fiction - even then - the writing process requires a considerable amount of research. 

In writing "Gifts of the Peramangk" I set out to learn as much as I could about a culture, so that I could acknowledge and respect that culture in a story with themes that are universal. Adversity, Hope, Endurance, Triumph. The story, admired by readers all around the world, was my effort at bridging a cultural divide. 

This is not cultural appropriation. It is cultural representation. 

Any efforts to stifle that, makes us all the poorer. 


Post Script - Following David Marr's reisgnation, the panel of the Horne Prize walked back their changes to the rules around submission.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

My 'Unbelievable?' Journey.

How's this for a dichotomy? 

The older I get, the less I feel I know about the world.

Though I might say that I have accumulated considerable knowledge over the course of my life, simply as a function of *being alive*, I know I haven't even scratched the surface of all that there is to know in this life.

In the past couple of years, I have experienced profound challenges -  aligned to the medical difficulties I have faced with my throat.

The threat to my to health - my life - has compelled me to confront some harsh truths about myself. Chiefly among them is that I don't have it all worked out. In fact, I know very little. I've moved through my life superficially in many ways. I don't  feel that I have lived a deep life. There is so much I feel has passed me by. There are questions I have never considered. My recent experience has prodded me to re-evaluate just who I am and what this life of mine is all about. In the midst of facing my own mortality, I arrived at this realisation and it scared me.

(image credit: Mikko Lagerstedt).

Where am I heading here?

With a sense of urgency (perhaps driven by the confrontation with my mortality),  I began to seek out voices, points of view and arguments that I previously would have felt inadequate in trying to understand. I would have probably dismissed or derided them because they would have seemed so clearly in opposition to everything I previously thought I believed in my atrophied world view. 

Through interlocutors like Alice Fraser, Claire Lehmann, Sam Harris, Dr. Deborah Soh, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson and the Weinstein brothers I began to crave longer form discussions that weren't afraid to tackle subjects like philosophy, discourse, progress, the state of polity, science and religion.


Though I was christened Anglican, I've given little regard to Christianity or faith. At various times throughout my life I've been antagonistic towards it - finding its various dogmas distasteful and restrictive. I've (probably) aligned myself with atheism, with all its inherent focus on that which can be evidenced and qauntified. 

But here's a thing. In the course of my own Enlightenment project - of listening to these diverse voices and considering new ways of thinking - I've found myself becoming what I recently described on Twitter as a 'curious theologian'.

That resonated with another prominent voice I'd recently discovered, (via Jordan Peterson), the Christian broadcaster and journalist Justin Brierley.

Evidently, it was enough of an observation, for him to actually reach out to me and ask if I might discuss that further, which we did over the course of a few emails. The exchange was a brief but lovely one, which led Justin to generously offer me a copy of a book he has written called 'Unbelievable? Why After Ten Years Of Talking With Atheists, I'm Still A Christian.'

Justin is the host of a weekly show on the Premier Christian Radio Network in the UK. Titled 'Unbelievable?' the show provides a forum for debate and discussion between a Christian guest and an Atheist guest, with Justin moderating. The topics are varied and routinely fascinating but it is the spirit of congenial, good faith discussion about deep philosophical and theological questions that appeals to me so much. The community of guests Justin welcomes to the studio each week are an appealing collection of deep thinkers, formidable intellectuals and engaging humans who offer so much to learn and consider. Their debates are spirited too, which makes each episode thought provoking. 

'Unbelievable?' - the book is a compelling companion piece, in which Brierley explores the origins of his radio show and the underlying ethos behind it. More than that, 'Unbelievable?' is Brierley's dissertation on why, after 10 years of interviewing Atheists and Christians, he remains firmly committed to his own Christian beliefs.

However, unlike the fire and brimstone defence of Christianity that one might expect, Unbelievable is instead an engaging series of essays in which Brierley methodically sets out his arguments for Christian faith, his own belief in God and the Resurrected Christ. He challenges the commonly held views against Christianity by Atheists - briute facts - and draws upon science, cosmology, art, literature and history to make his case that Christianity has been a pre-eminent force in the human project. 

In reading 'Unbelievable?' I continued my engagement with Brierley via Twitter to clarify and seek further insights on the arguments he has set out. I've been impressed with his willingness to respond and it's spurred me on to treat his book with an open mind.

One chapter in the book, in particular, stood out to me. Brierley explores the atheist objection against God: suffering. I went into this, thinking that I would come down on the side of the atheist argument - that no God could exist that would allow suffering. But in his opening statement, Brierley recounts an experience of having one of his own newborn children admitted to an NICU. 

This struck me as I have spent much of my Nursing career working in ICU's - including NICU. Brierley tells of having to watch his child suffer as the medical and nursing team worked to treat his child and in the process, having to inflict more suffering on the child in order to care and treat him. Happily for Justin and his wife, their child was fine. 

His account had a significant impact on me. It altered the way I appraised the notion of suffering. It would seem that it is not as one sided or a product of a indifferent God as many would argue. 

Much of what I do as an Intensive Care Nurse involves suffering - whether I am  witness to it in the disease process or surgical condition. As a Nurse, I have to accept - and even impart - a certain amount of suffering in order to alleviate that suffering in the longer term. Brierley has even encouraged me to re-evaluate suffering and what it might mean in the context of Christianity and the notion of a God. I've also given a deeper consideration the question of what is caring? 

Where does the want to care for others - to alleviate suffering? Is it merely a human trait - the product of evolution? Or could it have some sort of theistic origin?

Caring & suffering... 

I'm still trying to work this out even as I write this so I may return to it in the future. The fact that *I am* trying to work this out is something of a revelation for me.

I find it difficult to argue that Christianity has not been a significant influence in our understanding of the moral landscape. Everything we know about morality and ethics - at least in the Western context - has arisen out of Christianity. Sure, Atheists will argue that morality and ethics are their own entities, observable and practiced by Christian and non-Christians alike. But it seems reasonable to credit their foundation in Christianity. 

But where does this all leave me - an individual unsure, (arguably) unknowledgable, with a long history of doubt of that which I can't readily observe.

I can only appreciate the existence of the radio show 'Unbelievable?' and its mission to bring people together to debate significant topics in the spirit of good faith. 'Unbelievable?' is one of the richest learnimg experiences I have ever encountered and it is encouraging me to see the world and my place in it more deeply and considerately than I ever have before. 

Justin Brierley's 'Unbelievable?' is quite possibly one of the most valuable books I have ever owned. It has kick started a quest to learn and grow in my thinking and it offers a road map to take. 

Will it lead me to a wholesale embrace of Christianity? It may and it may not. I'm not sure if that is the goal for me at this point. I find myself at the beginning of something new with 'Unbelievable?' in hand as a touchstone.  

What I am sure of is that I want to undertake the journey it offers. The learning potential. Deeper and more considerate thinking. The joy of discourse and the voices of fascinating minds. These are the jewels a work like 'Unbelievable?' can gift.

Thank you Justin. 

I believe in you.

Visit 'Unbelievable?' podcast/radio show here.

Purchase 'Unbelievable?' here

Tweet with Justin Brierley here