450km and Brain Injury Awareness Week

 

This week it’s Brain Injury Awareness Week. Yay for my brain, yay for yours and yay for the collective brain. Insert fist bump or maybe brain bump here.

If you saw me you’d never think I had a disability. That’s what it’s like to live with what is known as the Invisible Disability: the prosopagnosia, the dyschronometria, which still impact me and the aphasia and dysphasia of the early days are buried behind the “normality” of my appearance. So is the severe spatial reasoning deficit, the compromised working memory, emotional hyperactivity and the grand old executive functioning deficit. I’m not providing any definitions for these things because I was given none when I was discharged from hospital and I had to work out from scratch what the hell was wrong with me.

See, no one told me I had a brain injury. They just packed me off home with instructions to sort out my things and prepare for imminent death. They literally said that to me. One doctor patted me on the back of the hand, nodding and smiling as she said, “now, you just go home and sort out your things. I won’t need to see you anymore.” Then she turned on her heel and walked off into the waiting room full of people, all of them looking up to her with hope in their faces as she floated by. I looked at the big window in front of me and wondered if anyone would notice or care if I just smashed my way through and fell four stories to the concrete below.

I did smash my way through, not the window, but life instead. I refused to believe that I would die and I nearly lost the fight several times, but I’m still here, stronger and better than I ever was before. What happened to me changed me, my life and the lives of those who chose to stick around when things got really hard. There’s no going back to the way things were before and that was so difficult to accept. I lost a lot and sometimes I still lose, but that’s ok because that’s what life is, not just because I’m brain injured, but because that’s what happens when you’re a member of the human race.

I never really understood disability before I became brain injured. I certainly had no idea what being brain injured meant for a person’s life and the wide-reaching impact that it could have on their families, friends and communities in general. There are over 700 000 Australians living with brain injury and I’m one of them. So are my friends in my local STEPS support group. I see what my friends struggle with and that’s why I’m reaching out to everyone I know and everyone I don’t know to help me raise $40 000 to support what The PA Research Foundation does through STEPS:

https://www.teamparf.org.au/users/jennifer-parry

I’m walking 450km on my own from my home in Woodgate to the Brisbane CBD to kick off my fundraising. This map involved physical cutting and pasting (like we all did in primary school), photography and drawing. This is what happens when you’re not a cartographer and don’t want to spend a week trying to get Google Maps to do what you want it to do. As a result, this map sucks, but for the itinerary click here.

An adventure I will make

 

Hervey Bay Section

I’m hiking from my home in Woodgate to the Brisbane CBD soon (map coming soon). I wanted to do it anyway, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to raise awareness and hopefully some funds for something that’s really close to my heart (or head, if you will): brain injury.

Around 700 000 Australians are living with brain injury (Brain Injury Australia, 2018) and I’m one of them. It’s likely that many people would look at me and think, there’s nothing even wrong with her, which I guess could be right because the impact of being brain injured is pretty difficult to measure, especially in the eyes of those who have no idea what it’s like to claw your way back after losing almost everything. Some people have even sought to use this against me to serve their own purposes. Sounds awful, right? Yeah, it is, but it’s caused me to come at this whole brain injury thing anew and that’s really why I’m doing this hike. I wanted to show these particular people that you can’t keep me down and that what they did was wrong in the worst kind of way because , what they did demonstrates a broader attitude to disability; an attitude that is just not on.

This is the route I will take on the hike, which begins on the 20th of September 2019. There are four basic legs:

1st leg Walkers Point (Woodgate) to Hook Point (Fraser Island) = 138km

2nd leg Inskip Point (Rainbow Beach) to Brahminy (Cooloola) = 98km

3rd leg Tewantin – Caloundra = 60km

4th leg Landsborough – Brisbane CBD = 150km

(distances are approximates taken from Google Earth Google Maps, therefore, not particularly accurate)

The whole thing will take 33 total days and I will be walking for 27 of those days.

Anyway, the whole point of this post was really to write about Old Mate.

I called into a local establishment in Hervey Bay to ask if they had rooms at their venue. The answer was no, which is fine, so I explained what I was up to. A blank look was the response I got, followed by more blank looks when I asked about a road at the bottom of the property. “It doesn’t got all the way through,” he re-iterated several times. I wasn’t sure that he totally got what I was asking and that he even knew what hiking was, so I said, “it doesn’t really matter about vehicle access because I’ll be hiking. What that means is  [insert simplistic description here],” met with yet another blank look, after which I decided that talking to this guy was a total waste of oxygen.

He went on to say that I’d need to contact the owner to ask his permission if I wanted to camp on the property. I wanted to leave, but I was conscious of not seeming rude. I also started to get curious as to if he might actually come ’round. Would something inside him click? Would he think to ask some questions? Would he eventually show some interest? No. It was obvious he thought I was a complete idiot.

me: what’s the owner’s name?

him: John

me: what’s his last name

him: Johnson

me; what’s his phone number?

him: I can’t give that out

me: but if I have to ask his permission, I’m going to need a way to contact him, so maybe you could give me the number of the establishment or the office and I could call him during work hours.

him: gives me number

me: thankyou (smiling on the outside, wanting to strangle him on the inside)

him: Ha, yeah, good luck (said with much derision while glaring at me because obviously I’m the biggest dickhead of all time)

I’d done another long distance charity hike in 2016 and couldn’t recall coming across anyone like this, so I started to worry that I’d imagined the wonderful and encouraging way I’d been received by pretty much everyone I approached for assistance back then. Maybe this hike won’t be like that one, I thought and I got a bit worried because I didn’t know how I’d face someone like this guy at every turn.

I needn’t have worried. The very next person I came across was a breath of fresh air, even if initially I thought she was going to get up me. I guess my meter was set on defensive-disappointment after old mate. Her name was Kim and she was working on road construction. I asked her about a patch of bushland near the site she was working on and if she thought I could camp there. She was so friendly and enthusiastic. She shook my hand  and offered me a campsite on her own property after I told her what I was doing. “That’s a great cause,” she said while shaking my hand again and smiling broadly. “And yes, I reckon you can camp here,” she said as she pointed at the vacant land while I looked at the colourful tattoos behind her right ear.

I hope most people I come across will be like Kim. This is what pretty much everyone was like on my last long distance hike.  Even in non-hiking life the world could use more people like Kim.

I’ll be mapping the Landsborough to Brisbane leg of the hike next week. I hope it’s not too hard to pin it down. I’m not familiar with that area, so I have no idea what to expect, plus I’ll be on my way to the Byron Bay Writers Festival, so I won’t have too long to spend faffing around trying to work things out. Fingers crossed it goes ok!

Wake Adventure Sleep Repeat