Monday, 23 July 2012

Honestly, I just have thanatophobia & OCD

I am an honest person by nature. I mean that in the sense that I am not deceitful or deceptive. But I also mean I am forthcoming and open.

Sometimes I worry that I am judged negatively for my honesty and that, in the eyes of an extremely negative or jaded person, I could be viewed as attention seeking. I like attention, yes. I am human. But that is not my motivation behind my honesty - especially in regards to my mental health.

People view the mentally ill in a negative fashion. They just do. They're seen as a little bit scary, unstable and weak. Depending on the type of mental illness, this attitude can vary but it's never exactly positive, is it? I don't want to have people feel that way about me. I don't want them to be on eggshells, wondering what is happening inside my head. And aside from that, I don't want to hide. I am not ashamed of my mental illnesses. I didn't choose them and I refuse to be ashamed of something that is outside of my control.

There is another reason for my honesty too. I want to help people. When I told my psychologist about my attitude towards my mental illnesses and that I refused to be ashamed or hide them, he told me he wished he could bottle my attitude and give it to his other patients. I want people to see that it's OK to be honest. It's not OK to be mentally ill in that you don't need to seek treatment or try to get better, but it is OK in that you shouldn't need to hide or pretend. I think this helps with recovery. I know it helps me with mine!

I also know that my thanatophobia is rare. And if it is not rare, it is rarely spoken of. And one is as bad as the other for a sufferer. So I talk. I share my experiences and my thoughts. I tell my story in real time. And I am honest.

And sometimes, something happens that makes me realise I am doing the right thing. Don't get me wrong, I have detractors. I've heard myself referred to as a narcissist, an attention-seeker, a liar and just a good ol' fashioned nut job. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I am very slowly developing the thick skin needed to carve myself out a corner of the internet for projecting my voice from. And I don't feed the trolls.

Yesterday, an article was written about me in the Sunday Mail. I was interviewed about my job running the 100+ Club and the book that I have written (which you can purchase here) when the conversation turned to my thanatophobia. I believe the journalist had checked out my social media presence. Anyway, she was so fascinated by our brief conversation that the next day she asked if she could do a whole story just on me and my mental health. This would never have happened without my trademark honesty.

Well a flurry of people sought my Facebook page and in turn, joined my little support group, The Safe Space. They told me they thought they were alone - the only sufferer in the world - crazy. But reading my story helped them. Some, profoundly. And none of this, none, would have happened without my honesty! And my favourite comment is this one, from a lady named Narelle: "I was in tears when I was reading the write up in the Sunday paper this morning. When I started to read other people's messages and their own experience I couldn't believe there were other people going through the exact same fears as myself. It was almost a relief knowing I wasn't alone in this."

So judge away, world. Whisper behind my back, call me crazy and call me a narcissist. But I am making a difference in this world. I am helping people and I am damn proud of who I am and what I am achieving. Honestly.

Miss SAMawdsley xx


  • Do you ever hide who you are?
  • Under what circumstances should someone hide their true self?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Happy birthday, BFF

This is a love story. Plain, simple, pure. A story of the person in my life who out of pure choice, I love more than any other.

Her name is Jessica. I know that now but when I first met her, I kept forgetting her name. My forgetfulness was so persistent that Jess wore a black jumper with her name written in glitter puff paint and fireworks. I still remember that. But there's a lot I don't remember. You see, we were very young when we first met. In fact, I was five and she was four. It was early 1991.

Both our dads played football and were on the same team. At the first game of the season, Jess' dad said to her "why don't you go play with that little girl in the park?" So she did. And other than the fact it took me a while to learn her name, we soon became inseparable. Our families became friends and we soon spent all the time we could together. I wish I could remember what we talked about. We went to different schools but I came to learn all about her life outside of the time spent with me. I knew all her school friends' names. She would talk about Jason and I would talk about Thomas - our "boyfriends".

For a while, every year we would go to the Lord Mayor's Christmas Carols. I would bring my school best friend and she would bring hers. The four of us would dress up like idiots and sing all the carols. We made up "Daddy-Daughter Ekka Day". That's how we pitched it to our dads and they totally fell for it - taking us to the Ekka, handing over money and rolling their eyes as together we yelled "Thanks, Dad!" and took off, leaving our fathers to wander the Ekka together. In 2001 we made going to Leyburn an annual tradition! We actually spent a lot of time at motoring events with my dad.

We made up our own secret language. We wore matching clothes - but with Jess in purple and me in blue (Glitter fairies?). We learned how to put on make up together. When Dad taught me to drive, I taught Jess to drive.
"Sam, you're going to hit that tree."
"No, I'm not."
*hits the tree*
"I told you so."
"Uh oh..."
We started a band called M & M (we can't explain it to this day, but it was before Eminem) and wrote our own song...
"I work on a milk run for $12.10It don't but much but it pays the rent.I work all day and I work all night.Trying to make a living, it's an endless fight. 
It's liiiiiiiiiiife! It's liiiiiiiiiiiife! It's liiiiiiiiiiiiiiife. It's life! 
I work as a babysitter, minding someone's kidby the end of the night, I've flipped my lid.I work all day and I work all night.Trying to make a living, it's an endless fight. 
It's liiiiiiiiiiife! It's liiiiiiiiiiiife! It's liiiiiiiiiiiiiiife. It's life!"
Lyrical genius, right? Yeah, we were like 12. We knew nothing about life.

In 2001 Jess' family decided they were moving to Townsville. To say I was devastated was an understatement. I cried. I told Dad I was moving to Townsville with them. Jess cried. She told her family she was staying in Brisbane and living with me. Neither plan eventuated and they moved anyway. She came down to visit me in the school holidays - her flight was booked with Ansett (remember them? But they collapsed just before she left!) Then we caught the Sunlander to Townsville. It ended up being over 24 hours on a train. Super fun! But for us, it really was. We rocked Townsville.

Her family moved back to Brisbane before school went back in 2002 and her family said she could go to any school she wanted. She chose mine! I could not have been more excited but Jess is almost a year younger than me so while I was in grade 12, she was in grade 11. Naturally we sat together at lunch time and my friends all became her friends. Sadly, that meant the grade 11s assumed she was snobby and did what bitchy teenagers do.

We'd always planned to live together in an awesome unit in the city and have awesome city jobs. That... never quite happened... But we worked together at two jobs. Jess got me a job as a waitress at 'The Tavern'. I got her a job as a waitress at 'The Hotel'. 

In the ultimate demonstration of our love for each other, we got matching tattoos. We have four leaf clovers. Jess has it on her left hip (as she is left handed) and I have the mirror image on my right hip (as I am right handed). How do I know Jess is my BFF? She volunteered to go first. a) She was 100% on board with the idea and b) she trusted that I would do it after her.

We've been on holidays together. She came to stay with me in Bundaberg when I moved there for uni while she finished grade 12. We've shared almost every birthday with each other. I threw her a surprise sweet 16 birthday party. We've even spent Christmas day together.

Today is Jess' 26th birthday - the 21st birthday I have shared with her. I have a million stories I could share - the time we went to Rainbow Beach and watched the sunset from the dunes. And the dolphin jumped over the sun. Oh, wait. That was a dream - the time I had a grooming and deportment photo shoot at school and I convinced the teacher to let Jess come even though she went to a different school - the time we went to a movie marathon to watch three movies we had no interest in just to watch the fourth movie, Harry Potter, because we got into Harry Potter just after the first movie finished screening - "Hey there good looking!" "What?!" "...Want some chicken?" - the time we nearly lost my puppy down a storm drain and Jess, quick as a flash and with no regard her her own life (and the fact it was a gross storm drain) leapt in after him and saved Cujo - the time we were part of an actual world record breaking game of 'cram people into a mini' - the time we went to Goomburra for two nights and got completely lost and then when we finally found it we had no food and the lady who ran the place had to give us her own frozen steak and the next day we stole a sunflower to thank her and then proceeded to melt her tupperware while trying to cook microwave popcorn - but instead, on this auspicious occasion, I'll tell you about the time we went to Toowoomba.

I was meant to be on the absolutely compulsory senior camp. So naturally I didn't go. Instead, Jess' parents let her have the week off school too and we went to stay with my mum in Warwick. Mum had an appointment in Toowoomba so she dropped us off at the local shopping centre. We watched Dracula 2000 and wandered around the shops. When we finally got bored, we decided to explore Toowoomba - a pretty small little town. We ended up at a school.

Now remember, we were meant to be at school so students were there and we were dressed for shopping. At 15, 'dressing for shopping' meant tight jeans and tiny, sparkly tops. So there we were ambling around this school when we saw what looked like the office so we brazenly decided to go in. With much flourish, we pushed open the double doors and took a step in. Only it wasn't the office. It was a classroom. Full of students. Many startled, staring students.

We hightailed it out of there. We were giggling and breathless when we saw a very determined and official looking person. And he was clearly looking for us. We decided to face him. I mean, we weren't students, what could he do? We hurriedly chose our cover story.
"Can I help you girls?"
"Yeah, hi! Um, we're new to the town and Mum told us to go have a look at schools we like the look of. So maybe we would like to enrol here?"
The man, who we figure was the principal, looked us up and down.
"Well this is a grammar school. And it is an all boys school. I suggest you leave and enrol elsewhere."

I've known you for 21 years and you have been there through
absolutely everything. When I say you're my best friend,
I'm not just stating a fact, I'm not just shamelessly bragging, I'm
making sure everybody knows that they better not encroach on
my territory - that you are my best friend and I am so proud
and so thankful that I can say that.
Happy birthday, Jess! Love always & forever, Samantha xx

Miss SAMawdsley xx

  • Do you have a best friend?
  • How did you meet and how long have you known each other?
  • What is your favourite story you've shared with your best friend?
<3 Happy birthday, my Adam. Eight years old. Gone but never forgotten. <3


It's back. With a vengeance.

I haven't blogged about my thanatophobia for a while because it has been at a manageable level. For me, that means only occasionally being unable to sleep, slight yet persistent anxiety and sometimes waking up screaming.

But a lot is going on in my life right now. My childhood home has sold and we are looking for a new place to buy. Dad and I have to be out of this house by September 1. I leave for England on September 2. So no pressure but it's kind of all happening at once. On top of that, I am terrified of flying. Absolutely terrified. There is a story there. There are other things. You know, those little things that add up to huge things?

Well lately I have been absolutely exhausted. Sleep is becoming more and more difficult. When I do finally sleep, it is fractured. I am waking up screaming. It is less intense, but it is more frequent. I am finding myself on the verge of a panic attack more frequently and while sitting in a well lit room. Normally this only happens when I am in the dark (such as in a cinema) or when I am trying to sleep.

It happened again tonight. There was an identifiable trigger. I was talking about Halley's Comet. I thought it came around once every 34 years, so I googled it to fact check. I was way wrong and it's actually every 74 - 75 years. It was last here in 1986 when I was not yet one. I will see it once in my lifetime - in 2061. I will be 76. If I am alive. If I am still alive, I will not be far from death. If I am not, then I will be dead. Just typing this out is making me physically ill.

My mouth feels like cotton wool and I can't swallow.

My breathing is laboured and my chest tight.

My extremities have a numb, tingly sensation.

There is a very low ringing in my ears as if I am about to faint.

My Halley's Coment episode happened in the lounge room. Dad was there too. But I didn't say anything. I stopped talking. I focused intently on my breathing and I tweeted about it. But I didn't say anything to Dad. Why not? Because I've had thanatophobia since I was 11. Dad has been listening to me scream, cry, question, lament and rant for 15 years. I have nothing new to add. I know he doesn't mind listening to me but I feel exhausted. I have sobbed until my eyes burn and my chest is heaving in great, racking sobs. I have screamed until I can't talk for four days. I have talked until the sun comes up and left Dad shattered.

I promised to blog honestly so here is some honesty. From when I was 11 until I was 15 I slept on a mattress on the floor beside Dad. Every.Single.Night I ran into Dad's room, hysterical, terrified and shaking. It would take hours, many hours, to calm me enough so that I could return to my own room. Eventually, this complete lack of sleep began to affect both Dad and me. So I just dragged my mattress into his room. I would try desperately to fall asleep before he went to bed, so I could look at the crack of light from the lounge room under the bedroom door. Like I said, I lived like this until I was about 15. That's grade 10. Nobody at school ever knew.

So I am returning to that level of anxiety. I still sleep in my own room, and I am proud of myself that I am still sleeping with the light off. That's a huge deal to me and something my friend Chris helped me start doing in 2010. He did this from Sydney with lots of talking, messages, cajoling and by establishing my own personal radio station so I never felt alone in my bedroom.

But a consequence of my heightened thanatophobia is I am also tweeting about it more. My friends insist they don't mind and think it's healthy for me to vent my feelings and not bottle them. But I don't know what to say. Like the conversations I've had with Dad a million times, I don't know what to say anymore. I've said it all before. And really, there's nothing they can say to help. They care, I know they do, but there are no words to help me. Dad, friends, therapists, psychologists and a psychiatrist have all tried. I haven't killed myself (yes, it's a very real risk, even with thanatophobia and I will have to blog about it soon) but I don't feel any better. And while I do feel the release of verbalising my thoughts or feelings, I am so conscious of emotionally exhausting my friends. I know I did it to someone I valued as a friend and now they no longer care for me. I guess I just sucked every last bit of sympathy out. I am so scared of repeating this.

(This is where I have trouble verbalising everything I am thinking. This is my blog and this is my safe space. But I am still scared of judgement. I am not saying this for attention, it is just a fact of my thoughts. I also hate that I feel I have to reinforce this disclaimer.) This careful consideration of other people's attitude towards me is a double edged sword though. Because if I don't feel I can express my terror and my pain, the suicidal feelings start to creep up. I don't want to hurt the ones I love and I don't want to lose them in any capacity so my logical mind rationalises that it is easier for me to just die. I feel alone. This terror consumes me. Why would I live with this constant dread only to one-by-one go through the emotional torture of losing my loved ones until eventually it is my turn to die? I am so exhausted. Why wouldn't I just kill myself now?

No, seriously. Why wouldn't I?

Miss SAMawdsley xx

I don't have any questions. I think I just need to sleep. I didn't mean for this blog post to turn out like this. I just verbalised. I am sorry if I have upset anybody.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Thanatophobia - Homophobia - Racism

This part is a bit medically but please read it anyway.

"A phobia (from the Greek: φόβος, Phóbos, meaning "fear" or "morbid fear") is, when used in the context of clinical psychology, a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities."

I have something called thanatophobia.

Thanatos = Death
Phobia = Fear

Death Fear! Yes, I am terrified beyond all comprehension of dying. I have panic attacks, I take anti-anxiety medication and I have seen a psychologist and a psychiatrist in an attempt to control my phobia. You keeping up with me so far? 

Now, there are people in the world who have something called homophobia.

Homo = Same
Phobia = Fear

Same Fear! This is the fear of homosexuals (LGBTs) - people who are sexually attracted to people of the same sex. These homophobes have panic attacks, take anti-anxety medication and see psychologists and psychiatrists in an attempt to control their phobia.

Oh, wait. No they don't. Because homophobia has never been listed as part of a clinical taxonomy of phobias. Homophobia has never been listed in any Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). Why not? It's not because it's a medical oversight. It's because homophobes don't have a legitimate fear.

Homophobes have a hatred of LGBTs. They harbour contempt for LGBTs. They are prejudiced towards LGBTs. They avoid LGBTs. But it is not a phobia. It's an -ism.

An -ism indicates a belief or principle. You know, like racism.

Racists follow practices that discriminate against members of particular racial groups, for example by perpetuating unequal access to resources between groups.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like the way 'homophobes' treat members of the LGBT community?

Homphobes believe that LGBTs are lesser people, broken people, evil people - whatever it is they have decided about every LGBT on the planet - but they do not fear them. Not like I fear death. One is an anxiety-based phobia. One is a prejudiced opinion.

Now please be aware this idea was not borne as a reaction from someone who has a legitimate clinical phobia and is trying to 'claim' the word phobia. I use my fear merely as a personal base comparison point. No, this idea comes from the opinion that the word phobia negates some of the responsibility for homophobic attitudes and beliefs.

I don't want to be thanatophobic anymore. I'm trying really hard to not be. Nobody who has a phobia wants to be so irrationally afraid of their particular trigger. But people who are 'homophobic' do have a choice. They can stop discriminating against people who are different in one minor way. They can realise that the minor way in which they do differ from the LGBT community is insignificant. It doesn't matter to them or their life if there is a man somewhere who is perfectly happy being in love with another man.

And if these people refuse to change their bigoted ways, than we should call them what they are. 

And I have freckles so STFU!
Miss SAMawdsley xx

  • Do you believe 'homophobia' is an outdated word?
  • Do you think changing the word would make any difference?

Monday, 2 July 2012

When I was...

I'm going to play a game. If you have a blog, you can play too! You start at birth and go through each year - relating the first fact about yourself or telling the first story that comes to mind about something that happened to you when you were each age. So watch me grow up in 1,668 words.

When I was born, my family consisted of my mum, my dad and my 2 and a half year old brother Seamus. We lived in Bundaberg. I rarely admit I was born there but when I do, I preface it with "Two good things came out of Bundaberg. Bundy Rum in 1888 and me in 1985."

When I was one, my family had just moved to Brisbane. My mother bought a milk run and my father was a tiler. My favourite toy was a carrot that squeaked.

When I was two I got bored of sitting in a car seat on the passenger seat of a milk truck all day so my mother let me kind of muck around in the cab. She also wound the window down to allow air to circulate while she drove. My mother maintains I jumped out the window. I maintain I was pushed. At least she drove back to get me.

When I was three my parents forgot my birthday. My grandmother remembered and called my mother in the afternoon.
"Aren't you going to even invite me around tonight?" snapped my grandmother.
"Why would I do that?" asked my perplexed mother who had only just found solace having sent me to my room for being naughty.
"Because it's my only granddaughter's birthday?"
"Oh... can you pick up a birthday cake on your way?"
Mum came into my room with the biggest smile on her face. "Guess what, Sammy? It's your birthday! Yay!"
I was three. What did I care. They had presents for me so it's not like they forgot I existed, but I still claim I am owed half a birthday, to be called in at my convenience.

When I was four I got stitches for the first time. I was at preschool and somehow fell over a chair and ending up splitting my lip pretty badly. It only needed one stitch so the doctor said to my parents, "we can pin her down and give her an anaesthetic or we can pin her down and give her a stitch. I bravely accepted the stitch without any anaesthetic. And by that I mean I fought, bit, kicked and screamed while my parents and two nurses held me down. I remember this. A few weeks later I fell over air while carrying glass milk bottles. That needed more stitches in my right knee. All I remember about that is a lot of blood.

When I was five I started school. I was so far ahead of the other kids that I was bored. I was not the sort of child to act out or cause trouble but I was still restless. The Education Department decided to skip me ahead a grade. My parents argued that I was too much of a free-spirited and anxious child to cope with moving. They also worried about the impact on my older brother at having his little sister suddenly in the grade below. The Education Department tried again the following year but my parents still said no.

When I was six I read anything with words on it. We would be handed the weekly reader books at the teacher's desk. I would have finished it before reaching my own desk and turn around to ask for another. They quickly decided that I would go to the library by myself to pick out small novels while they handed out the little books to the other children.

When I was seven I was obsessed with two things. My "boyfriend" Thomas Rookwood and dinosaurs. Imagine my sheer and unadulterated joy when he had a Jurassic Park birthday party and of course invited me, his "girlfriend". When the day finally came, my family went to my dad's football game. I asked Mum when the party was and if we could go home soon because I didn't want to miss the party. She told me it wasn't today, Saturday, and was instead on Sunday. I didn't believe her. I turned myself inside out with worry. She was adamant that it was Sunday and that I should stop fussing. Sadly, the seven year old was right. It was Saturday and I had missed the party. Deep down, I've never really forgiven her.

When I was eight my classroom desks were set out like a big U shape. I was at the very end of the U so I only had one classmate sitting beside me. His name was David Grice. He ate Clag glue. But every term the class had a sort of pop quiz elimination contest. The teacher would spin a wheel with all our names on it and the two people who came up battled to the death (in a game of wits). The loser would be knocked off the wheel. I won all four terms.

When I was nine I was in the same class as my brother. We had both come home from school at the end of the previous year, excited to be in Mr Waldron's 5/6/7 class because he was a family friend. Imagine our shock to discover we were both in the class. I was one of the six "independent learners" from grade five and my brother was one of the 10 year sevens chosen. It turned out to be really good for me. My brother looked out for me and stopped the guys from bullying me. He couldn't do much about the girls though. He couldn't make them include me and invite me to their parties. I also got to go on the year seven camp to Moreton Island because I had to go somewhere! As a timid child who was scared of the dark, having my brother with me was a great help. And he looked after me when I got seasick on the barge ride home. But I helped him too. We did the same exams and I would feel his eyes boring into me. I would peek at him & he would motion a question number. I would motion the answer back. Sometimes he needed help, sometimes he was double checking his own answer. Either way, it worked.

When I was ten my parents separated. I've repressed a lot of the time around this period. It's very hazy. To say I was traumatised was an understatement. It was also when I first developed my fear of death.

When I was eleven, I experienced my first crush. It was the new guy to our school. He had arrived from New Zealand the year before and joined the grade six class. I was still part of the 5/6/7 composite class so I'd only seen him briefly. But suddenly we were in the same class. There were too many grade sevens so a few of us had to join the grade six class again. He was one of the "smart kids" so suddenly I found myself sharing a desk with him. I thought he was so funny and nice to me. I liked that he was smart. I never made fun of his accent like the other kids because I imagined it hurt his feelings. But I wasn't the kind of girl that boys ever noticed. I had few friends at that school so one Monday afternoon I said to Dad, "I am never going back to that school. You can't make me!" And I didn't. I started at a new school the very next day. Everyone liked me and wanted to be my friend. Until the first weekend had passed when students from my new school spoke to students from my old school and learned that I was "the milk girl" and was not to be allowed to have many friends. I still struggle with feeling like that bitterly disappointed little girl...

When I was twelve I was walking across the oval with my friends and they were talking about periods. I had not the faintest idea what they were talking about so I tuned out and stared at Paul Newman's perfect sandy hair. (Pathetic, right?) They suddenly asked me if I had my period. I was unsure if "having a period" was a good thing or a bad thing but I decided lying would do me no favours. "No...?" I replied. "Sam, do you even know what periods are?" they asked, shocked by my ignorance. They proceeded to tell me tales of bleeding and cramps and medieval contraptions that somehow prevented you from bleeding to death or something. When all was said and done, it was all I could do to stammer, "but that might happen, right? I mean, it might not happen to me at all!" Turned out my friends were right. But by the time it finally did happen at very nearly sixteen, I had convinced myself that I was the Golden Child of periods, the Chosen One, destined to never suffer menstrual cramps. I was wrong.

When I was thirteen I had my first kiss. It was with Josh Barton. He'd asked me out at the swimming carnival. I think. I have a "love letter" where he proclaimed that I looked hot in a "bakinie". We dated for a few weeks and on the last day before Easter break, we met at the pre-appointed place, behind the science block. He then murmured those now immortal words "Should I have my plate in or out?" Afterwards, I ran screaming and shuddering to the bus to tell Bobby all about it! "It was like having living jelly covered in sand inside my mouth!" was the way I so eloquently described the passionate art of French kissing. It was foul. And he'd just eaten cheap Easter chocolate, which I despise. On the first day back from holidays, he gave me a dolphin necklace and a letter. I joked to Bobby that the letter was probably breaking up with me. It was. He was sick of being teased about dating the milk girl. Few guys ever dared to pay attention to me after that.

That's the first half of my life (years one through thirteen). I'll follow this up with the second half of my life  (years fourteen through twenty-six) soon.

Miss SAMawdsley xx

  • What are the big things you remember about your life?
  • Do you have your own blog? Why not play 'When I was...'