If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll know that last Tuesday I fainted on Bondi Beach. Not my finest moment in recent times particularly when I was already having such a difficult week but made worse by the fact that it felt as though history was repeating itself in the cruelest of ways.
You see, 13 months previously, the same thing had happened.
In February last year, when I was very sick with, at the time, my (unknown) liver condition, I had a friend visiting me for the weekend and I told her we’d walk from Coogee to Bondi. After arriving at Bondi and spending a couple of hours of eating ice-cream and laying on the beach, we decided to head home but the walk had clearly exhausted me more than I thought because as we were heading away from the beach, I fainted outside the pavilion.
That was bad enough but it was also the height of Summer which meant that the cameras were on the beach filming for Bondi Rescue and according to my friend, the camera crew got to me before the lifeguards. And so, that is how I ended up on the international TV show; unconscious.
One minute I was in the toilet feeling sick (nothing unusual given the previous weeks I had been unwell) and the next I was in the lifeguard tower with an oxygen mask on my face. Despite having conversations with people around me, I don’t remember much of it to be honest and that is upsetting in of itself. I apparently fell face down, needed an oxygen mask and had entire conversations with the paramedic and lifeguards including the producers in which I had seemingly agreed to be filmed, that I know nothing about. It’s upsetting.
What I do remember is pieced together from what my friend told me and what I saw on the show. I can’t put into words how it feels to be part of something you have no memory of and to see it play out on camera knowing you could have said or done anything.
I told no one about it. I was embarrassed, upset and it felt like the final straw proving how sick I truly was. But I was also in denial. I didn’t tell my family because I didn’t want them to worry anymore than they were and I didn’t tell my friends because I reasoned that a ‘simple’ faint would never make it to TV, even when the lifeguard told me he had been interviewed about me, so there was no point announcing it.
Just days after fainting on the beach, I was told I was very ill and made the extremely painful decision to fly home as an emergency. I had lost everything. All the months I had spent working towards my dream and in a matter of days, it was over and I was flying home just five months after arriving.
It was a few weeks later when the show aired in Australia and I woke up to a bunch of messages from friends saying that they’d seen me and said how ‘cool’ or ‘funny’ it was but I couldn’t laugh because it was such an incredibly sad part of my journey. I don’t see it as a warped ‘badge of honour’ that I was on Bondi Rescue. I was sick and unconscious and the blood tests I had done that morning ultimately lead to my heartbreaking need to leave Bondi just a few days later; the place my heart had found its home.
People attempted to make light of the situation and yes, I suppose, it could be seen as funny but joking that I fancied the lifeguards was the last thing I wanted or needed to listen to when I’d just been diagnosed with an incurable illness believing I would never get back to Australia. Those 3 minutes of the show represent one of the most difficult times in my life; the decree nisi that my ‘marriage’ to Sydney had ended so abruptly and painfully.
It took me days to work up the courage to watch the episode and when I did, tears poured down my face. There I was watching physical proof of my body failing me. But I still told no one about it; not even my family. I wanted to forget all about it. Though I knew I had nothing to be ashamed of – I wasn’t drunk, high or ignoring signs about dangerous currents – I was genuinely ill but it is one thing to write my vulnerability on here and a different thing entirely to visually witness it for myself. I looked so pale, fragile and broken; I still find it so difficult to watch.
When I returned to Bondi two hours after landing in Sydney last October, I was overcome with emotion. Tears poured down my face at the realisation of everything I had been through in the last few months and the disbelief I felt at being given a second chance to live my dreams. But as I walked past the pavilion, I had some flashbacks of the day I had fainted – remembered how sick I felt and how upset I had been. But I was ‘home’ in Sydney and it felt so very good to be back.
A few weeks later and I was able to call Bondi Beach home. My dreams were becoming real. But as I went for my first run along the parade, as I got closer to the lifeguard tower, I felt my body tense up; got stressed at the reminder of the last time I had been there. But every day I ran a little further, a little harder and a little stronger. A few weeks in and I was comfortably running 6.5km to Bronte beach and back. A world away from how I left Bondi last February 25th.
But it’s 13 months later and last week, I found myself back in the tower. After being sick for the last 7 weeks with similar symptoms I experienced last year, I have continued to run. Continued to listen to my body and push myself when I knew I was able to because I both wanted and needed to make the most of my time here in Bondi given that I couldn’t last year. But last Tuesday I ignored my body. Knew something didn’t feel right from the moment my feet hit the sand but continued on regardless and I paid for it. Because on running the shoreline back home in the cold and wet of an Autumnal evening, I fainted again. Went from vertical to horizontal within a second.
And it hurt. Not physically but because it brought back so many painful emotional memories. Reminded me of all that I have been through. As my friend put it, the lifeguards ‘aren’t your favourite people’ because of the association I now have with them. And though I am a world away from the heartbreak I had to deal with last year (which is why I now feel strong enough to talk about my ‘TV debut’), I can’t deny that having moved forward so far in life and being able to say I achieved my dreams, to be brought back down to reality with a bump hurt, particularly when one of the lifeguards suggested I was weak.
He didn’t mean it to come across that way of course but when he told me that sand running was really hard on the body, there was a technique to it and that perhaps I should run the shoreline a bit more, feeling as sensitive and vulnerable as I did, it felt like he was telling me I couldn’t do it. That I was too weak to run the soft sand despite building up my training gradually just as you should. It felt like all the progress I had made had been wiped away in an instant and I lost confidence in my ability to listen to my body or even run.
It’s been a turbulent year since being on Bondi Rescue. I flew home to receive my shocking diagnosis, flew back to Australia and almost ended my life on Bondi but now, apart from the odd day here and there, am the most content and happy I ever remember being.
So you can imagine the pain I felt that, 13 months later I was back in the same position. Sick for weeks not knowing what was wrong, trying desperately to keep myself going mentally and physically but having my body, yet again, fail on me.
But after a day’s rest, I did what I realise I do best – I carry on. Because on the Thursday, not feeling confident enough to try the sand, I ran 5k to Bronte beach and back whilst watching a beautiful sunset after work. On Friday I did the same. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I ran to Bronte and took in the views. Wanting to push myself further I woke up before sunrise on Saturday and again ran to Bronte beach and back running a grand total of 17.2km in just 36 hours.
As final proof, late Sunday afternoon, I put my work out gear on and headed back for the sand for my 6th and final run of the week. I was nervous. Not only to see how I would feel but attempting to deal with the disappointment I would feel if I couldn’t run as far as I could the day before I had fainted. Thankfully my fears were allayed and I ran the same distance. I struggled but I did it. I needed to prove to myself (and the lifeguard) that I could do it. That an awful week of depression and my physical symptoms weren’t going to stop me. And they didn’t.
They set me back and that frustrated me but they didn’t stop me and they won’t.
History may have repeated itself but that doesn’t mean the future has to.