Story Time: Twelve Months Ago Today

There are much deeper questions woven into what I am about to write. Much deeper questions that involve our origin and greater forces at play. And yet, what I have chosen to guide my focus delves not into such fantastical philosophy but rather the fortuitous memory of rather a challenging time.

— — —

One beer, two beers, now three. I look across at her and feel the energy and enthusiasm cast upon me. My dreams no longer dreams instead burgeoning realities. The fjord that had long since divided the two no longer impassable. Not that it ever was, really.

There are those conversations we have in life; those conversations in which the many dots in our life that once carved their own solitary pursuits become one. Tonight was one of those moments.

We talked and talked and the food kept coming. We spoke about life and about love. And businesses that could change the world. We spoke about ‘The Secret’ and the law of attraction. Synchronicity in thought and in desire. We spoke about the tough times and the many struggles we have both faced. And then it dawned on me…

On this day, 365 days ago, I was discharged from hospital. Three days earlier I had admitted myself. I was scared for my life. I could no longer trust myself in my own company.

Those three days were a strange three days. Of course I will say that I did not belong. I did not want to be there. In fact, I wanted to leave before even being admitted. One night in the emergency ward seemed enough of an aid.

There was however the doctor that convinced me to stay. And the nurse who slid some tablets my way. The decision was somehow made. And eight hours later I woke up in my room. It was grey and empty; the door resembling something more from a prison cell than a hospital ward.

There were four others with whom I shared this ward. It took me a day and a half to talk to any of them. I wasn’t there to talk. Not to them. I was scared. It was all so weird. And yet still part of me wanted to understand their stories and how they too came to be staying here. Of course this was not possible. And my journal to record such stories I had left at home.

The jigsaw puzzle, the literal one, left unfinished on the dining table would become my legacy. Between attempts at its completion I would nap on the couch and watch a movie or three. The world around me seemed a monochromatic and dull affair. The food was bland. Though I don’t think I was able to taste much at the time anyway.

I would endure the daily psychology sessions. No great revelations here. I could only think about the day I was free from these suffocating confines. Time was tight too, I was meant to fly to Perth for my sister’s wedding later that week. And my parents were yet to know of my whereabouts.

I negotiated my release and finally set foot back into the outside world once more. I arrived at my car and noticed two parking fines. Not a great start. But nothing a medical certificate and a heartfelt story couldn’t get me out of.

I returned home and fell to my bedroom floor. How had all of this happened? I packed my bags for my trip west that night and drifted off into a comfortable sleep. The morning dawned, my Uber arrived and to the airport I set off.

As VA551 spread its wings and took flight, I reclined my seat and pulled out the journal that had been a much needed though missing companion these past days. For three hours I wrote and wrote, filling more than seventy pages.

We landed at last and I navigated my way to the pick up point. Dad arrived and I sat down in his rental with a feeling of relief. I felt safe. At home. He asked, ‘How are you?’.

Now I had to spill the beans.

It was a strange journey to meet the rest of my family in which we shared the most open and honest conversation we have ever had. It began a re-birth of sorts. A reminder that things were okay. That family was the important thing. And that despite the relationship heartache I was transiting in Sydney at the time, I was loved. Unconditionally.

— — —

This was precisely a year ago now. It seems to have passed far quicker than the six months that preceded that horrible week.

I am proud of myself for what I did. To realise that my health and safety were far more important than my pride and ego. And now I understand that what I feared the most was not so bad after all; that if things were ever to get to that point again, I do not need to be scared, because I know of all the beautiful people who are there to help.

Still there are days in which my anxiety feels crippling. And silly thoughts tempt my focus. But I have vowed never to return to such a place of despair. I have committed myself instead to focused pursuits of the positives and towards my potential.

What I have found in making this commitment is that when times become tough my focus no longer drifts to that place of toxic thought but rather to a place that seeks only to find a way. It’s harder some days than others. But that’s okay.

I’ve proven a lot to myself these past twelve months. And moments like last night provide valuable reminders that I am, in fact, a fucking champion. But only with the help and support of my team.

Much love to all.

PJ.

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Throwback: Passion and Persistence Pays Off!

This moment pictured above was almost three years ago now. It’s hard to believe just how quickly that time has passed! It was a moment that at times I thought was never going to be possible. Doubt is natural of course; our inclination to avoid painful situations, potential failure, intrinsically human.

And yet we can challenge this. We can change this. We can decide not to doubt but instead to focus on the goal and only that which draws us closer.

After seven years of dreaming and seven months of intense focus and hard work immediately preceding, it finally happened.

— — — —

In January 2014, having not raced for four years (previously in go karts), I decided that it was time this dream came to fruition. I decided that I could no longer continue to dream this dream and not take the action needed to make it a reality. I decided that this was the year in which I was going to make my car racing debut AND that I was going to do it in the UK!

I can’t quite describe just how certain I felt on this. And yet to enable this certainty I somehow needed to raise $25,000 in investment…

After two months of hard work and focus, attending networking events, speaking at events myself and connecting with potential investors, I was fired from my ‘day job’. I bet you didn’t see that coming – nor did I! I guess it was clear to my employer where my real motivation and focus was…

This began a difficult week. And though I’d been in similar positions before, something felt different. Whilst the financial practicalities of the situation remained, I didn’t plummet to the depressive lows like I had done in the past. I remained focused and within a week had found another job.

Win.

For the next six months, working a job that meant absolutely nothing to me other than a means to pay the bills, my schedule looked like this:

Wake Up – 7am
‘Day Job’ – 8am to 5pm
Gym – 530pm to 7pm
‘Night Job’ – 8pm to 2am+

Night job? I began operating on UK time when I made it home from the gym. I Skyped UK companies, sent emails, made phone calls, wrote proposals and prepared presentations. It was during this period in which my addiction to strong [and shitty] black coffee came to the fore. (One that continues to this day!)

I would sit in my bedroom, at my desk, beneath my vision board; on it were images of the car that I would race, screenshots from on-board footage and ideas and strategies pinned around it on how I would get there – how I would sit in that seat and enjoy that same view!

I was totally consumed.

In those six months there were setbacks, of course. A sponsor that I thought was a sure thing pulled out. A week or two later another sure thing fell through. Time was running out. And yet still I remained certain of my impending success.

Then the breakthroughs, two of which particularly stand out, not just for their financial impact but for the enormous confidence boost they gave me.

The first:

I attended a local business networking event to deliver a short speech. I was given the opportunity by a business connection in the hope that I could share my dream and garner investment from those in attendance. A young bank manager came up to me afterwards and handed me his business card saying simply, ‘Give me a call, would love to chat’.

A week later I had my first sponsor.

WIN!

The second:

I had set up a crowdfunding campaign to complement my sponsorship push. Anyone who has run a crowdfunding campaign will appreciate just how hard it can be to attract donations! Things were just as slow for me and I wasn’t expecting much to come as the campaign began to wind down to a close. Then…

I attended another speaking event and struck up a fortuitous conversation with a man there after my presentation. We exchanged business cards and he invited me to a conference a couple of months down the line. THEN…

That night, I was having dinner with a friend, relaxing after a busy, and relatively successful day, when an email notification came through to my phone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A donation to my campaign that more than doubled what I had raised up until that point.

WIN!

And yet still, despite all of this, now with only two weeks to go, I had not raised enough money to make this dream come true. So what did I do? The only logical thing of course…

I bought my plane ticket!

I was convinced that a door would open up. Even if it took knocking on the door of every company in London, somehow, this was going to happen. I just knew it.

In the end my conviction not only persuaded business but the man who enabled my passion from the very beginning – my Dad. One final conversation, whilst pacing the hallway of my South East London apartment, with a $1 Tesco’s pizza in the oven, the final deal was done.

My dream was about to become a reality!

WIN!!!

I’m very grateful to have been afforded this amazing opportunity. And while it has not yet lead to my ultimate goal, one that has proven to require a rather different and longer term strategy, I am taught, and now reminded, of this:

Passion, persistence; they really do pay off!

PJ.

Introducing My Family

An accident?

No, a gift!

I don’t much like the thought of being labelled an accident. Yes, seven years do separate my older brother and I. A further two separate me from my sister.

Yes, I’m very much the youngest. Apparently I’m spoiled. But, naturally, I  would disagree…

I’ve been flying solo these past five years or so. Doing my own thing. Carving my own niche into the world. Meanwhile, my brother and sister have been doing theirs. Out of sight.

We’ll speak every few months. Nothing too in depth. And so it is true that their friends probably know them both better than I do.

Late last year I traveled from Sydney to Perth and back up to Brisbane, attending each of their weddings.

At both I listened to some amazing stories. Stories outlining their character, their resilience and their drive. Both have overcome their own individual struggles, as have I, and yet I could not contain my wonder when listening to the inspiring nature of their lives; the powerful impact they have made in the lives around them.

I once had a friend who described my family as a family of ‘superheros’.

My Dad was a police officer for forty odd years; my Mum a nurse for just as long. My brother is a school teacher/chaplain and my sister works in the space of mental health and drug rehabilitation whilst studying to complete her Bachelor in Social Work.

We are a family of helpers.

A family just doing our bit.

I think it is fair to say that none of us know to do any different. We know no better than to use the hardship we face to make things better. Not just for ourselves, but more importantly for others.

I never quite realised the influence my family has had on my life and my drive to make a positive impact in the world. I thought this intrinsic motivation developed independently. But the connection surely cannot be ignored.

As a writer with unrelenting dreams of exploration and travel, the apparent contrast between my path and theirs I’m sure will only continue to grow more so. And yet our drive to do good, to make good, to make better, will remain interconnected.

Why?

Because we are family. This is who we are.

I am as proud as I am grateful to be a part of our tribe.

Much love.

PJ.

 

 

 

Anxiety is a part of me, but not all of me.

I have been terribly ill, bed ridden for the most part of the last week. Illness brought on by the sudden change of seasons here in Sydney. And a night out drinking in the cold and rainy weather… Not terribly smart!

Things slowly settled and I became somewhat functional at least, able to get out of bed and move around – and to be heard! Yes, my voice returned finally as well. Things were looking up.

After four days off I decided it was time to return to work. I was still tired but I was surviving. And whilst people could tell I was ill, I soldiered on.

But then something strange happened…

Whilst I was stood, waiting for our next flight to arrive (I work in passenger services at the airport), something inside changed. In an instant.

As the plane pulled up, I felt a tremendous sense of panic overwhelm me. I felt adrenaline surge through my veins and a cold chill come over my body. My heart rate began to pick up. I became unable to stand still. Simple interactions with others, let alone conversations, now seemed impossibly hard. I wondered if they could sense my panic? But soon concluded this was invisible to everyone accept me.

It became harder to breathe. The bottom of every exhale seemed to begin the process of what felt like my first ever breath. It was like I hadn’t taken a breath in years! This process repeated over and over.

My heart rate and the cold flushes continued. I held my hand up to eye level and noticed the tremor. I threw it down and pretended I didn’t notice. I suddenly felt like I was no longer present in my body. I felt like all of the world’s sounds had been dulled down and the colours drained away from my surrounds. Things seemed to be moving in slow motion, except for my heart. Things were no longer moving in crisp motion. Instead they became blurred and lagged behind the present moment.

It was all very weird. It almost felt dream-like. But this was no dream. If only. Life suddenly felt like a rather pointless endeavour. I felt flooded with regret and a feeling of worthlessness. My aspirational endeavours suddenly felt like they were all in vain. My talent and ability to execute them? What talents and abilities! I began to question everything about myself.

I paused, realising what was happening. I continued in my attempts to fill my lungs with oxygen. I continued to speak and act normally, as normally as I could, with those around me. This was all I could do. I knew what was happening. This was an anxiety attack. I have had many before. There was no trigger. Not this time. Sometimes there isn’t anything specific that sets it off. It just happens.

I finished up work an hour later, still feeling an overwhelming sense of uneasiness. I got in my car and drove home. All I desired at this point was to curl up in bed and fall asleep. I just needed some me time. Some time to recharge. Some time to refocus. I knew this feeling would pass soon enough.

I arrived home and bumped into my housemate. A conversation ensued. We spoke for thirty minutes or more. I can’t remember what we spoke about. But before I knew it, my feeling of anxiety had passed. My heart rate had settled. The adrenaline release had ceased and I began to see value in life and in my dreams once more. Things were back to normal.

As it quickly as it had all begun, it had wound down to a close. The world was a richly colourful and beautiful affair once more.

Anxiety is scary sometimes. It is irrational. It is overwhelming. And it can come and go at any point. It is something with which I have learned to live. And yet it does not define me. And I do not need to be lured into the belief that the thoughts and feelings I have in these attacks are true and accurate. They are not. They are what they are. And as meditation has taught me, I do not need to attach myself to any one of them.

Instead, I am defined by the beliefs and attitudes I decide to be true for myself. These can be anything. And anything that comes and contradicts these deeply woven beliefs is politely – sometimes forcibly – shown the door.

In this I find my power.

Anxiety will likely always play its part in my life. But that’s okay. It has taught me a lot over the years and has equipped me with many skills and perspectives for which I am very grateful.

We all have our struggles. And this is just one of mine.

PJ.

What motivates me to keep going?

Around this time two years ago I stood up in 41 degree heat and delivered my story of anxiety and depression to an audience of ~100 at a Lions Club District Convention. It was a special event and I could see the impact I was having in the eyes of the audience. Or rather the little wells beneath them.

Every event that I’ve spoken at over the last two and a bit years holds a special significance. I remember talking to the principal of one school before a presentation on the Gold Coast last year and learning of girls as young as eleven already self-harming. Or another occasion at a Men’s Shed event where I listened to stories of elderly retired men so lost and lonely that they were now just ‘waiting until the day they died’.

Sometimes I stop and wonder what my uncles might have taught me had I known them for longer; had the thought of suicide not been so poisonous to their will to live. When I sat through Uncle Michael’s funeral I must only have been three or four. I don’t know why I could not stop crying that day because, as my older sister reminded me at the time, I barely knew him. Perhaps I somehow foreknew at the time what I would later endure myself and grow to become so passionate about?

Sometimes I also stop to reflect on the days my Dad was battling severe depression and PTSD; the days he no longer lived at home; the days in which we’d wonder where he was sleeping that night – if he was safe. Knowing what we did about his two brothers, sometimes it was far too easy to fear the worst. Thankfully he was able to find the tools to fuel his recovery and is now the man I always hoped he could be. I cannot bear to imagine how things would have been if the opposite were fate’s choosing.

To me, suicide is humanity’s greatest tragedy and indeed our greatest failing.

I guess bullets and bombs and the horror they inflict are easier to understand than the terrorising thoughts that plague those suffering with mental illness. And yet almost one million people kill themselves every year.

It is easy for the actions of a coward strapped with bombs to bring the world together in ‘love’ but let me add this:

What good is our love for the oppressed in countries afar if we continue to ignore our neighbour next door? What good is our professed ‘unity’ in times of global hardship if we still won’t sit next to someone in Starbucks because they dress a little differently?

We are enraged by the atrocities we see abroad and yet the man we avoided eye contact with in the supermarket checkout line today later went home to his house just two blocks from ours to kill himself with the items he picked up from isle nine.

Every day we have opportunities to create the world in which we tell our Facebook feed we so desperately desire. Every day.

Love is not a feeling, it is an action.

In all that we do we must set the example that we want the world to follow. We must resist the urge to condemn the actions of those who stray from the ‘good’ path. For of course, ‘the way of a fool seems right to him’. Only the persistent presentation of a better alternative from we the majority will, slowly but surely, rid the world of the evil we see and despise.

I passionately believe that if we are able to create a culture in which we are so connected, accepting and supportive of one another, so much so that no one ever feels so hopeless and alone that they would even contemplate the mere thought of taking their own life, then all of the other problems we face today will have naturally faded away as a result.

In the coming chapters of Life of PJ I hope that you will share my journey in which we create this culture of which I speak. Of course, I cannot do this alone. I can do nothing alone. Only together will we succeed.

Agape.

PJ.

[Originally published as ‘Is Suicide Humanity’s Greatest Failing‘ on GreatnessViaPassion.wordpress.com.]