The why of me.

Recently I’ve been speaking with a number of clients who are battling silently behind the scenes. The pressures of working in Real Estate are infinitely underrated by everyone bar those working in Real Estate and as a result, they are battling alone.

I know what it is to battle an enemy no one else can see, to fight demons that live purely inside your own head and fight a disease that manifests no physical symptoms.

In my personal life, for my friends, I’ve always been that guy you could turn to when you were battling depression and anxiety. I’m the guy that fought it for 21 years and survived and I freely offer any advice or thoughts I can to those battling – but most importantly, I stand as proof that you are not alone.

Depression and anxiety are insidious diseases that have the ability to make you feel guilty and ashamed for having them. They make you feel as though you’re somehow weak or less than because you suffer. They’re helped of course in this endeavor by the stigma of weakness and less than, that society has attached to them. Thankfully, we’re breaking that down slowly.

I’ve never linked my battle with depression and anxiety to my professional life before now – honestly, for fear of judgement, that people would think that my battles somehow made me a less suitable or warranting less merit in my profession, regardless of my results.

That changes today for a couple of reasons; firstly, I no longer care about anyone else’s judgement, I only want to work with people who, aside from being decent human beings, will judge me on merit, not any highly inaccurate and damaging social stigma.

After battling PTSD induced depression and anxiety for 21 years…..AND SURVIVING (just)…..I have earned the right to talk about it in every forum. But more importantly, I have a responsibility to talk about it. I am living proof that no matter how deep and how dark the pit gets, YOU CAN SURVIVE, YOU CAN BEAT IT and the power of that example outweighs any damage that any misinformed prejudice anyone may have, creates.

 

Today is almost 15 months on from the end of my war.

 

It started before I was born if I’m to tell it truthfully. Dad was an investigative journalist and he was good, hell he was incredible (I still have a cupboard full of his awards awaiting the day I get a pool room to hang them up in).

He was like a dog with a bone when it came to criminal activity and corruption that was being somehow allowed to go on – whether through deliberate action of authorities or incompetence of the same.

He was investigating Mr Asia and Kiwi Terry (from the second series of Underbelly) in New Zealand, before anyone in Australia even knew these guys existed. He was chasing down Croation crime syndicates, white collar criminals and politicians – his investigations sent supposedly respectable businessmen to jail, or saw them struck off their professional bodies – he was always, a man on a mission. (Seriously read this tribute by Dad’s long time colleague Fred Tullett, written six weeks after he passed)

My earliest memory (aside from a horse jumping the fence and kicking around in our front yard when I was about 2), is being dropped off at school at about the age of 6, going into class only to 10 mins later be pulled out of class by Mum, raced to the car and whisked half way across the country and into hiding.

As we’d gone into school that day, two men, with telephoto lenses were photographing us in a very overt and obvious manner. It was a threat: “We can get to you and your family at any time, anywhere.”

I was too young to know what Dad was working on at the time, it may have been the Croation stuff mentioned in his tribute above, it may have been the Gang of Twenty white collar crime investigation – both were the 80s I’m pretty sure. But either way, the threat was clear – “Back off, or else.”

Now something that is important to note. My father was stubborn. He was so stubborn that as we came to learn about the traits of Asperger’s and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), we genuinely wondered if he had perhaps been on the spectrum. He would stand toe to toe with a rampaging semi trailer baring down on him and if he believed he had right of way, he would not move. That was who he was. He had ethics and not the kind of ethics we see today but good solid old style journalism ethics!  Dad’s ethics meant he had to print the facts, nothing but the facts and regardless of any threat, if they were the facts, they had to be printed.

These ethics would later see him refuse to reveal his source for an article, despite a judge ordering him to – as a result he would be found in contempt of court and fined.

No doubt, as I tell this story, there will be people who want to blame Dad, who want to say he should have stopped or backed off or quit for the good of his family. Your argument is not without merit. But that is not the man he was, he fought injustice. Had he not, then it would have been more than just us who suffered. The people he went after were the worst kind of criminals, they had done everything from fleecing tax payers out of their hard earned dollars, to murdering innocents. Had he given up, how many others would have suffered?

So why tell you about Dad, aside from being incredibly proud of him, well because it sets the scene for Adelaide.

After Dad had finished his last investigation in New Zealand we went to Australia to ‘Go Fish’ the Aussie coastline. Six months into our adventure, Dad was employed by the Adelaide Advertiser to investigate the collapse of the State Bank of SA. In a few short weeks after starting with the paper he warned that approximately $3.2bn in funds were unaccounted for. He then set out to find where those funds have gone,

Dad investigated as he did, like a dog with a bone and wrote numerous articles on the Bank’s collapse – one such article seemed to enrage the State Bank of SA  more than the others and they took him to court, demanding he reveal his source.

Dad refused.

What came next has never been able to be linked to the State Bank of SA or the State Government with any evidence that would stand up in court. The only explanation I ever received was “It was likely perpetrated by rogue elements of the state government or State Bank, in order to scare your father into revealing his source.”

Over the next 2 years, while the court case dragged on – through appeal after appeal, all the way to the High Court – numerous events occurred that I find incredibly hard to write off as “coincidence.”

For starters, as a ten year old, just after everything kicked off, I woke to hear the noises of someone trying to break into my bed room window. I ran out of my room, got my parents and they came in to open the curtains in time to see someone hightailing it through our front garden away from my window.

We started to receive death threats by phone, regularly, at times almost daily. In fact it became such a regular occurrence that we tried to make a joke of it, it eased the tension a little but not enough.

As things escalated we ended up with 24/7 round the clock armed security guards sitting outside our house. We’d be escorted by these same guards into school each morning and be picked up before the bell in the afternoon – all as the standard security procedures, that now dominated our lives, demanded.

Then, someone tried to abduct me from school.

It wasn’t successful of course, nor was it designed to be. It was a scare tactic, a message “We can get to your family whenever we want, so how about you start playing ball.”

But at 12 years old, you don’t know a scare tactic from a genuine kidnapping attempt. All you know is that, you’re a target because some bad people did some bad things and now that those bad things have come to light, they’re pissed that they have to face the music.

It’s a very sobering moment to be 12 years old and be standing on the cliffs at Moana south of Adelaide, being finger printed and photographed by a private security team, (some ex-military, some ex-SAS), knowing that the reason they’re doing it is so that they can identify your body if it turns up in a ditch somewhere.

The team had been sent by Rupert Murdoch and were his top security team at Ansett and their brief was to keep us safe, by any means necessary.

Shortly after, we were spirited out of Adelaide, it was seriously like something out of a Hollywood straight to DVD special.

We weren’t allowed to talk about where we were going, instead we had to say we were going “shopping” in case the house was bugged. We then left in our own car with Mum driving, our usual security guard sitting in the front. We drove to Colonnades shopping centre at Noarlunga. As we entered through what is now the Myer entrance, two of Murdoch’s security guys stepped on behind us, removing our own guard out of the scene, two more appeared in front of us. We moved through the shopping mall with guards disappearing and others taking their place. We were escorted out the other side of the mall, into a waiting Toyota Tarago and driven to Adelaide airport in convoy. We had a lead car, checking for any potential threats on the route ahead and a trail car checking for any possible tails.

Going up Brighton Road, our tail car advised they had been cut off and separated from the convoy. We were told to get down on the floor and our driver, drove up Brighton road between two lanes of traffic, oblivious to road rules, the private security team only concerned with completing their escort mission successfully. They were all armed to the teeth.

In later years, Dad would tell us that there were also unmarked police cars manning the route.

For 3 years we lived in a world where everybody we came across posed a genuine threat. We had to analyze every situation, every event, every person and hedge our bets. I developed “hyper threat awareness” and would analyze every single person who’d pass me on the street, trying to work out if they were a threat to me, my sisters and my parents.

It made me the odd duck at school as you can probably imagine. A mind that was working overtime, analyzing, reading body language, constantly questioning and looking for any potential threat, real or imagined. I was bullied mercilessly, being an odd duck and a smart kid, was not a good mix in the 90s. Add to that what we would later find out was a pretty good chance that I was high functioning Asperger’s and I had a target on my back at every school I went to. But more on that in later posts.

In Adelaide, I got stuck in fight, flight or freeze mode. Our base human instinct: survival. The thing about survival mode though is that it has one job and one job only – to keep us alive. It does not take into account quality of life and I was stuck in survival mode.

Every time something bad would happen, survival mode would kick it up a notch until eventually, I would be anxious leaving the house and most days wouldn’t do it at all. The internet is a wonderful thing, it really was the only reason I had genuine social interaction with the outside world for large tracts of time during the worst periods. It is no coincidence that I now run a successful business that is based heavily on a core online component.

I still went out, I went to parties etc mainly as I craved that sense of belonging and social contact, but I never felt at ease socially, I never was at ease. I have always been that odd duck. But I learned to camouflage, I learned to cultivate a personality that was social, it was like a magic trick though, a set of armor “Look over here at this shiny object in my right hand……look look look at my right hand!” while secretly I’d be praying “please don’t look at my left hand, please don’t see what’s really going on.”

The fear of being found out for the terrified, anxious, depressed mess I was, fueled the charade and the social persona I’d created.

For 21 years, I fought this daily battle and honestly, it nearly beat me on 3 separate occasions. I know what it is to be knocked to the canvas, to hear a “nine count” and somehow, find a way to stand back up again.

Doctors would tell me that “It’s genetic” or that I’d just have to “manage it for the rest of your life.”

Meds worked for a time, at the expense of weight gain (which didn’t help the self-esteem or the hyper critical self-analysis), but eventually they just left me feeling apathetic. It wasn’t until I was 33 years old that someone finally clued in and diagnosed me correctly.

My psych eval read like a war vets.

The Pysch leaned back in his chair after the evaluation and was surveying his notes, he couldn’t help himself, he let an involuntary “fuuuck!” slip out and I smiled. For the first time in my life, my war had been validated. It wasn’t just something I was imagining, it wasn’t that I was soft or weak, it was real. That was the moment I knew I was going to beat it, because for the first time, someone else actually saw it and confirmed it’s existence.

He’d later go on to say that the fact I was still standing, still alive, was nothing short of amazing – most don’t make it to 33 years old, battling for as long as I had.

But we now had a correct diagnosis and we had treatment options. Spoiler alert: the treatment worked 🙂

So last week, I was back in Adelaide for the first time in 23 years – I had to go back for work and ever since I can’t get the song “When the River Runs Dry” by Hunters and Collectors out of my head.

One line in particular is stuck on repeat “You will return to the scene of the crime….”

 

 

The point to this story? To let you know that if you’re battling, you’re not alone, you’re not weak, you’re not soft. To let you know that you can survive and that if you need someone to talk to who understands, my door is always open.

 

 

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