An (overseas) trip down memory lane

I never thought I would be on the verge of suicide during my lifetime. A stable teenager despite my late development into a man compared to some of my schoolmates, I wasn’t too fussed about the direction of my life. I’ve always thought that things will just work out for me eventually. I achieved quite a bit at school. House President, Drama Vice Captain, English Class Prize, reasonably well liked by my peers. Up to that point I had had a very consistent home life with loving parents and supportive siblings (most of the time). Post school I got into Melbourne University, then left to study law at Deakin. Prior to my trip to Thailand, this presented me with my greatest conundrum. What do I want to become? A writer, a lawyer, an actor? It seemed like there was just a five year university course between you becoming the next Jon Hamm or the next Atticus Finch. I never thought my life would change so quickly during one of those trips overseas where all you want to do is drink beer, soak up the sun and seduce beautiful women.

I was a 20 year old young man when my life changed. It was January 2011 and I was about to travel to South East Asia, the trip that has become the rite of passage for the young adults of Melbourne. What we planned was a cheap, accommodating and exciting trip for a month with ten mates. We arrived into Bangkok, shoved our stuff into our filthy hotel rooms and headed to a street bar for some lukewarm Tiger beers and a holler or two from the local ‘massage parlours’. For me, this was immediately a young man’s paradise. The greatest thing about travel is that you gain a perspective on how other people live in completely different circumstances to your own. However, there’s no doubting that it can be pretty confronting particularly for a kid who has had a pretty privileged upbringing. The way the Thais are led by a domineering king, the massage parlours that draw the attention of Western men through the guise of a barely seventeen Thai Goddess using her beautiful eyes to direct you into their hands, the market places with shop owners who squawk at you, demanding that you purchase their t-shirts instead of from the stall across the walkway. That Bangkok smell that has been stagnating for decades… a mixture of urine, gasoline, garbage, street food and that rich stench of dirty, full throttle sex. Not clean love, but an angry, poisonous sexual energy that drives a city like Bangkok. Middle aged Western men with the hands all over young and beautiful Thai women, serenading them with exuberant gifts, dinners on the sidewalk and whispering sweet nothings into their ears. The women were half listening, half eyeing off hungry young men like us who sent off signals of innocence and Daddy’s credit card. I was struck by how absolutely ridiculous this place was. Young mothers living on the street were being ignored by most, their children taught to beg from a young age. Despite this, the public energy of Bangkok made me feel happy. It was crazy, poisonous and morally forsaken but it just gave me this wild and unruly energy.

Simple Jack times.
Simple Jack times.

On the first night, we drank and we were merrily drunk by the time we went back for a long, long sleep. The second night we were well and truly passed merry, jolly and eyes half-closed. After countless drinks, I had wandered about 30 steps to the back of a building and puked my guts up. This definitely wasn’t the home of responsible drinking. I slowly lost track of the number of scotches my bartender filled up for me. He loved our Australian stories and our money full of wallets, or wallet full of money… It didn’t really matter at the time. When we finally got up to leave, he reluctantly bid us farewell and gave us another beer for the road. My friend Sam and I wandered into McDonalds and ordered a meal. As we both hazily made conversation with a couple of women it slowly became apparent to me that the hair on this woman’s knuckles and the Adam’s apple sticking out of her throat was not simply a coincidence. Within ten seconds I had scooted out of the premise and motioned for Sam to join me. Five minutes later he had stumbled out wandering what the commotion was. I just looked at him, smiled, and murmured through my whisky breath that this was Thailand. I enjoyed my first few days immensely; so much so that I didn’t really want to leave to head to Vang Vieng in Laos. I almost wish I had never made it there.

The grand bartender.
The grand bartender.

A 12 hour train ride with suspect Thai men watching our female companions throughout and holes to the train tracks for toilets as we screamed along at 150kilometres an hour was followed by a 7 hour bus ride. The whole experience left most of us feeling terribly lethargic. It was not a good day to be hung-over. With Visa frauds going on left, right and centre and desperate attempts to sell us all kinds of materials, I simply wished to be back in my living room eating peanut butter crumpets. I was told to respect the locals by my parents but being a ballsy kid, I couldn’t help but tell the kids hassling me for money that they better fuck off and leave me alone. I immediately felt appallingly guilty. My little Italian friend Fach’s eyes were bigger than golfballs. He was gobsmacked by the sheer enormity of the process. Soldiers with huge guns, people yelling and screaming and it was only 5AM in the morning! ‘We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto,’ I thought to myself.

After we crossed the border and jumped into our minivan, a huge gushing relief came over us. The worst of our trip into Laos was over. Unfortunately the bus ride was never ending, the roads extremely rough. As we approached Vang Vieng, we noticed kids on the side of the road collecting ferns. We looked back to see if they were collecting anything else. Nope. It appeared that they were just collecting fern after fern. And they were smiling with their sun-glazed skin sizzling and white as the snow chompers. The adults on the other hand were clasping at their sore backs, their bodies breaking down as they reached down to collect yet another fern from the dusty bitumen. For the kids, these were the glory days, for the parents it was just another day of survival in South East Asia’s poorest country. There were few, if any silver haired citizens and it looked like a hard, unrewarding slog. But we were just a bunch of young kids looking to get absolutely smashed and kiss a few strangers.

As we entered Vang Vieng, more and more shirtless Australians bobbed up. The mood was jovial; I hadn’t pictured a town that was constantly filled with tourists when I had looked at the brochures but apparently this was just another big party for the party generation. It all struck me as quite odd. As our bus arrived to the hotel, we noticed the telephone booths with ATMs inside. The beautiful villas we were staying on immediately brightened our mood. It was picturesque, the Nam Song River flowing past the verendah of our villa. A couple of beers were had as the sun illuminating all that was pleasant in our respective worlds at that exact moment. We wandered down into town. It felt eerily quiet, as if all the tourists had left or evidently, hadn’t arrived either.

In fact they were tubing, 10 minutes down the road, revelling in cheap Laotian whisky and Beer Lao, the national beer of one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries. A few ladies and half the group I was travelling with stepped into the Green Monkey, a little bar with hammocks, the Flinstones on television and the offer of a few select beverages that were referred to as ‘shakes’, filled to the brim with opium or psychedelic mushrooms. I’d felt enticed by the idea of these mushrooms since my brother had spoken about the epic high he had experienced during his time at Koh Phangan. I decided to enter a new phase of my life; one that I thought would open up a few creative doors and take me to a pleasant high. When asked what strength I wanted, I asked what the options were. Not knowing enough about the drug I was ordering, I went with the strong mushy shake… In hindsight not the wisest move I have made. A couple of my friends ordered opium shakes. The woman gleefully took her business to the kitchen. Not knowing anything about the drug, I was blissfully unaware of what she was concocting in her little kitchen out back. But I thought if that kid was watching the Flinstones, it couldn’t be that bad, could it? No one was nervous; we were just all kind of giddy, awaiting a sip of a beverage that we heard would lead you into a new dimension. She arrived with the beers and the shakes. It didn’t taste great, but I felt relaxed and so did the rest of the group. I was sure the effects would start to kick in as we walked back to our villas. Step by step I anticipated that I’d be transported to the moon landing, or the jungle, or some sort of pokemon battle. But I just kept walking and telling the lads I was feeling perfectly normal.

I didn’t feel any effect for the next six hours. I was almost disappointed in the whole experience, like the lady had thrown a few garden mushrooms into my cup and was having a laugh at the naive white boy. I cannot explain how grateful I would have been if I didn’t feel anything from the shake, if she did actually play a little prank on me. The boys continued to question me and how I was feeling. ‘Great, not much is happening though’ I replied. One of my friends who had dabbled in the opium mentioned he was starting to feel a bit low however his face opened into a massive grin when one of the salesman jumped out of his store as he desperately sought to sell some of his unusual merchandise.

We went to dinner, expecting to have a few more beers and soak up the atmosphere in this delicate little town. The locals were all spruiking their cuisine and flash hospitality. We weren’t really fussed with our choice; everything kind of looked pretty run down with pretty wicked smells coming from the makeshift kitchens. A few photos were taken and orders were made. I looked across at my best mate Sam and smiled. He looked back at me and giggled, we were like two kids in a candy store. Then I started to laugh a little more, not with the same control I usually had. As our dinner arrived at the table, I started to become more and more lightheaded and giggly. Everything they were saying was funny. ‘Will, you dropped some food on your shirt,’ Lachy would say and I cracked up. ‘Will, does that shirt come in men’s?’ came from another followed by a prolonged cackle from me. I couldn’t swallow my food anymore I was that hysterical. After a few minutes of harmless jokes with huge reactions, I started to become wary of their antics and I just gathered they had started taking the piss. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. In my mind I wasn’t too worried but I did realise that the mushrooms were starting to take effect. I hurriedly finished dinner, I felt obliged to head back to my room as I wasn’t quite feeling right.

‘Are you okay mate?’ Alastair quizzed me. I told him I was fine, just felt a bit odd. However these things that I thought were pretty innocent at the time started to happen in my mind. Slowly a magnet began pulling me, it felt like my head was leading my body and I couldn’t change it. It was extremely unusual, like nothing I have ever felt before. We walked back and I was still being drawn to the North. I don’t precisely recall the dominating feeling in my head but I do know that I wasn’t quite as amused as I was at dinner. I had grown increasingly anxious but felt calmed by the notion that we were heading back to our villas. The two friends who had taken opium were also struggling with the potion. They were getting lower and lower with every step. Everyone was pretty tired so fortunately we all said that we would grab a couple of beers and chill in our rooms.

This choice probably saved my life.

We sat down and begun speaking about a variety of topics. There were five or six of us in the room at that stage and a nervous calm had come over me as we conversed. Outwardly I managed but inwardly my mood was getting worse and I was my anxiety was reaching fever pitch. Tom, Sam and Lachy seemed to pick up on it and asked me if ‘I was okay’ repeatedly over the next couple of minutes. I wasn’t. I was completely transfixed by this magnet in my mind. I was getting lower and lower and had to urge them to speak about more exciting and humorous things. My body which I thought before tonight was well-tuned and beyond a drug mishap was not reacting well to the chemicals. My body felt like it was slowly breaking down and I couldn’t control my movements.

‘Talk about something fun…’ I murmured. The group immediately started taking the piss out of some of the absent members of our group. I managed a couple of forced laughs but for me, it was all too late to jump out of the inevitable dip into some sort of oblivion.

I looked into Sam’s eyes and saw a flash of worry come across his usually affable face. The pull of the magnet became stronger.

And stronger.

And stronger.

I started to grab onto the bed and can only imagine that I was screaming. The magnet was pulling me toward the river that our villas overlooked. There was a garden below it but we were still a couple of stories up. I am unsure how far it would have pulled me but the wild swing of my head was not relenting. The force of this magnet felt like a jet engine, a force that would not stop until I had jumped out of the window. I don’t know if it was a force that wanted me dead or seriously injured. In fact, scrap that, this thing was so strong that it wanted me to jump in the river and flap around until I was at the bottom of it. In hindsight, this terrifying force had made for one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. Not in a ‘wow, this beach is unbelievable’ kind of way, but in a ‘Fuck me, this is just not real’ kind of way. The only thing stopping me from jumping through the window was Sam holding onto me and that part of my mind that was combating such a force, a little part of me that was yelling ‘you know how stupid this is, keep fighting’. Sam grabbed hold of me, the terror of the situation dawned on everyone in that room. The zooming pressure of the magnet grabbed hold of me for what felt like ten minutes. More accurately I would estimate that it was a 45 second grip on my entire existence. If I was alone I would have died that night. If my friends hadn’t anticipated that my night could go so horribly wrong, I would have died.

After the force had subsided, a metronome started pulling me into a dizzy spell. I was stricken by the chemicals that I had devoured seven hours ago. A metronome of my life that was pulling me into the ground. My mind was moving up and down, back and forth. It was absolutely terrifying and the tears were streaming down my face. Slowly I felt my heart slow, then quicken, then slow again. Lachy, Sam and Tom looked at each other, they were trying to elevate the mood but I could see the tears and the shock. Sam would later tell me that he thought I was gone. As the metronome started to slow, I passed out. Then awoke, then passed out again. I vividly remember Lachy grabbing me and telling the others, ‘his heart is palpitating… and he’s white as a ghost.’ The first time that I awoke I looked around and had re-entered a silent room. Everyone of our group was in there, looking at this pathetic individual. This pathetic individual who had been jumping around the streets earlier in the day, yelling to the clouds how beautiful it was to be alive. Now, no one really knew how to react. I told everyone that I thought these would be my last words and that I really loved them all. Looking back, I am particularly embarrassed by the line of my conversation but it seemed so relevant at the time. ‘I love you mate, you were going to be the best man at my wedding, my best friend.’ I told Sam. I turned to Tom and told him ‘You and I were going to become stars, the best. You’re something special mate.’ These lamentations felt like a Hollywood movie, like I was passing on my infinite wisdom whilst heavily doped up by mushrooms. The tears were rolling and my breathing had become shallower. I just thought my time was up. And it kind of relaxed me. I passed out again. Subconsciously a lot happened from here on but I can only remember bits of the reality of the situation. The reality was that my friends had carried me, stiff as a bone, into the Vang Vieng hospital. One of the most basic hospitals in the world but with enough patients smashed on alcohol and drugs to call for a far greater allowance of money. Jamie whistled loudly for attention from a nurse and I was rushed into a room. Everyone sounded confused. That’s about it until I finally regathered consciousness.

The internal monologue that was playing out was a far more complicated, psychedelic spin-off show. I had fallen into a deep slumber, one where I ended at my own funeral, seeing the tears of my friends and family but what they didn’t know was that I was still alive in the coffin. I couldn’t respond to them externally but I tried to scream and tell them I was still fine. They couldn’t hear me. A wasted life was the common theme of the whole day. What could have been… A nice boy. Not front page news though but enough to garner some sympathy, maybe a little admonishment from general society about recreational drug use and reckless partying. Dying after drinking a dodgy mushroom shake, how utterly pathetic. A sidenote to this is that as a kid I had always wanted to die saving someone else’s life, sacrificing my own life for the sake of a child or something along those lines. My own fate had become a paradox of this though. Dying all because of my own stupidity and naivety. Now, this might all sound quite melodramatic but realistically this was just my train of thought with a mind that was racing through something of that clichéd walk of life before death whilst the body was unresponsive. The tremendous terror of my racing mind was sinking into the ground, the pavement soaking up my soul, descending into death. No one could hear my screams anymore; even I had lost my own internal voice. It was a graphic hallucination where I felt my entire body slip away from my control until I was surrounded by darkness.

The reality of the situation had still escaped me. I was in a hospital where they were attempting to make me throw up. It can hardly be called the most glamorous moment of my life. That t-shirt, be it made for a male or a female, still stinks from that night. My hallucination had led me to believe that the voices around me were attempting to euthanize me. So not only had I envisaged and experienced my own faux death but I had also explored a deeply complicated ethical debate. It was an incredible night of self discovery. Realistically my friends were watching me being induced to vomit and the voices were the high pitched shrills of the nurses who I was fighting with every ounce of strength. My eyes opened. The first person I saw was Fach, who had remained by my bedside from the moment I had entered the hospital. True loyalty is not an easy thing to find, some would consider it harder to find than true love. I’m not really sure. Anyway, Michael had elevated himself to that position rapidly and reaffirmed my (albeit previously unshaken) faith in him. I think the overwhelming emotion was anger at how disgracefully naive I had been when I administered those chemicals into my system. As I regained focus, I knew I had re-entered my own reality. I was conscious, but extremely fragile. I waddled to the bathroom and looked deep into the mirror. I had not become a mushroom or a bag of bones or a corpse. I was still William Balme.

With the hospital staff barking at me to fork out about 50 AUD for their services, they could have hardly been less impressed with my teary desire to embrace each and every one of them. Alex grabbed me and said we better get out of their sight in case they grew more agitated. With tubing endlessly causing injuries, both major and minor, and the occasional horrific death, their threshold for the stupidity of tourists would have been rather low. Alex and Alastair guided me home by my arms as we slowly recounted the night. I kind of wish someone had taken a photo of me at that point in my life. Being slowly whisked out of a hospital, eyes drooping over, legs barely functioning and yet this massive grin on my face that simply screamed ‘how the fuck am I still alive?’ I somehow ended up in my bed and immediately collapsed in a more secure sleep than I had lurched into about 8 hours prior.

Waking in the morning felt like a miracle. My roommate Ben turned his head toward me and let out a semi-surprised yelp. He knew all had ended well but he kind of expected me to stay overnight in the hospital. I smiled at him and told him I was fine. Pretty shaky, yet fine. A few hugs with my friends downstairs followed and everything seemed to return to normal. By the time the clock had struck 1 we were at the other end of the Nam Song River doing Tubing. It was almost like the previous night had already become a distant memory. And over the next two days, after a slow start on the first day, I had accelerated from three beers and a gentle dip in the river to a bunch of beers, six buckets and a few swings on the treacherous flying fox. No one seemed to really care when I mentioned that I had slipped into a coma a couple of nights ago. In fact, it kind of seemed like it was a completely natural thing. After I had kissed a couple of girls on the podium at the end of a long night of drinking, I drunkenly raised my arms to the clouds. I was still invincible. Nothing could possibly stop me!

Tubing.
Tubing.

And I almost believed it too… Almost. A couple of nights later and another long bus trip up to North Laos, we arrived into Luang Prabang. Hung-over and feeling pretty rundown, we decided to get a coffee from a beautiful local café that sat on the edge of a large pond. Luang Prabang, a Buddhist stronghold, was one of the most peaceful towns I had ever been to. Why they would ever allow a bunch of immature young Australian men in I will never know. Yet, as we sat with a coffee in hand and the light pitter-patter of water trickling gently beside us, we couldn’t have been more civilised. Unfortunately for me, the feeling in my hands was starting to disappear and the sweat was rolling down my skin. Again my breathing grew shallower and uncertainty reigned. I grabbed Sam’s hand and told him not to let go as I was falling into a sea of panic. In hindsight, this was most certainly just a pretty epic panic attack but at the time I thought my blood pressure had fallen dramatically. Within twenty minutes we were slowly walking back to the hotel, hand in hand with a couple of mates who were consoling me and telling me it was all going to be okay. An hour later I was sitting in a hospital having blood tests realising that my worst fears were coming true.

By this stage my mind was racing, I was completely vulnerable.
By this stage my mind was racing, I was completely vulnerable.

‘Just don’t end up in their hospitals,’ my mother had warned me before I entered the Melbourne airport. ‘Oh come on Mum, I’m not a little kid anymore!’ I shot back at her with a wink and a kiss on the cheek. If I wasn’t in such a dire position at that stage I would have laughed at my plight. Unfortunately I was being prescribed sleeping tablets and forking out more money for some very ineffective treatment. I was a kid who should have done his research. Instead of having clarity of mind, I took to reading Internet forums when my friends weren’t looking for every slight numb feeling in my face, every painful shockwave through my thigh or calf and every bead of sweat that rolled down my face. I had self-diagnosed myself with heart failure, a stroke, schizophrenia and psychosis and worried myself into a position where I could no longer enjoy myself in this country. As my friends frolicked amongst the markets and the locals, I isolated myself in my own bubble, scared to make a false move in case I lost control of my body or moved closer toward another hospital trip. I was losing weight and only sleeping through the aid of these questionable sleeping pills. I could tell that Sam was fearing for my sanity and yet I tried to maintain that it would all be okay in a few days and I would be back to enjoying a few beers in Vietnam.

I endured one last terrible plight in Laos before we left. But it had nothing to do with my health. Tom and I approached the Visa desk at the most ridiculously under serviced airport in the world and I was told that the date of entry into Vietnam was wrong and that I either had to stay in the country overnight and wait for the next flight or hope they could rush into town to change the date of my entry. The sense of hopelessness swept over me as the tears welled in my eyes. The guys who were with me were highly amused by this chain of events and I completely empathise with this, yet I was so distraught at the time that all I really wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die. Unbelievably I was saved by the bell and free to fly to Vietnam. A sudden wave of relief had washed away all my anxiety. As I reached Hanoi airport I reassured myself that the worst had passed. A few more sober days and I’d be ready resume painting the town red.

Vietnam was memorable in many ways. Through chilly Hanoi with the busiest intersection in the world and the cheapest beers legal tender could buy, to Hoi-An, one of the most stunning towns you will ever visit, I was slowly improving. Alex told me how happy he was to see me getting better. In his country drawl he told me, ‘I was real worried about you mate! It’s bloody great to see you doing better.’ Fach told me that I wouldn’t be able to drink until Ho Chi Minh City but the long days slogging through the war tunnels and firing automatic machine guns were causing me to sweat bullets… Enough to deserve a couple of longnecks while I played pool. Before I knew it I was dancing with ladyboys and beautiful Scandinavians in Ho Chi Minh City at cheesy nightclubs. I hadn’t felt a symptom of the laughable heart failure I had diagnosed myself with for days.

10 days later I sat in a Phuket hospital, waiting for my Dad to arrive from Melbourne. I had spent two of the past few nights in hospital in Thailand.

The first one after I got lost on my way back to my hotel in Phuket as I became so panicked that the hospital staff placed a bag over my mouth so I could breathe again. That night I met these Australians who broke me out of a public hospital as the nurses laughed at another silly white boy who thought he was clinging onto life. They couldn’t believe my friends were not with me, but I told them that they all thought I had just gone to bed. I couldn’t blame my friends for anything that night. I had returned to vintage form during my first night in Phuket, kissing a too cool for school Adelaide girl and smoking a cigarette out of a Go-Go dancer’s vagina as I stormed through a dozen beers before falling in the heap the next night and told the boys who were gearing up for another huge evening that I was too tired to venture out. I stumbled home before I realised I was dreadfully lost and then started to panic. I ended up jumping in the ambulance nearby and woke up the next day with my friends beside themselves with worry that I had ended up in hospital once more. I still have a Facebook message to Sam that reads ‘Urgent, in Phuket Hospital, call this number’. Good morning fellas.

It wasn’t until Phi Phi Island as I ate lunch and listened to Extreme’s ‘More than Words’ that I realised I had to return home. I had no idea what I was turning into. I was so frightened by another long, lonely night alone and yet I was surrounded by friends. Something was just not fine with me. I couldn’t sleep, I was locked up in my head, I was miserable and I felt like a complete burden to my friends. The straw that broke the horse’s back was my second last night in Phi Phi Island. The heat of the room had led me back to bed where I was alone. I tried unsuccessfully to get to sleep for a couple of hours, trapped in my own thoughts, still thinking my heart was on the verge of exploding. I called out to Ben and Jamie for some assistance. It was here when I finally told them that I thought I was going to die that night. Honestly, I really did. I told them that I thought I was about to slip into death if I let myself sleep. I can only imagine how terrifying it was for them. I even sung Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ and detailed what song to play for my funeral. Thinking back on it, it was probably a pretty fucking beautiful moment. Listening to the water slap on the shore, singing to my friends who thought I was about to cark it. Truly one of the most remarkably inane moments I will share with any of my friends. After they had left the room, I wrote out a final letter before I would ‘die’ in my sleep detailing my annoyance at not confessing my love to a certain woman. It doesn’t really matter now that I’m no longer in love with the woman but it’s a bit embarrassing that I wasn’t thinking about my family or something else at the time seeing I was 20 years old and barely knew the girl. Anyway, funnily enough I survived the night, woke up and heard ‘More Than Words’ and cried again. This was really a crazily emotional time of my life but every time I type the words ‘tear’ or ‘cry’, I kind of shudder. I was a mess. Mentally I just couldn’t break out of the lull. No amount of waterslides into the beautiful springs in Luang Prabang where I had convinced myself that there was a voice telling me to give up in my head or trips to the beach in Phi Phi or erotic massages in Phuket could have broken me out of the lull at the stage. The only thing I needed at this stage was to get the fuck back to Melbourne.

Finally I worked up the courage to call my parents. It was a funny chain of events that led to getting onto them. I think I was avoiding the inevitable phone call about being smashed around by the mushies. As soon as they heard my voice crack, they knew that something was pretty wrong with me. The next day I was sitting in the airport, drinking my fourth coffee waiting for the plane to take me back to Melbourne. I had tearfully shaken hands with the fellas I had agreed to take a crazy trip with and ended up being that awkward friend who got a little too cooked for his own good.

Unfortunately the trip from hell didn’t quite end with my first stop at the airport. I fell into a gigantic panic attack from the huge influx of caffeine in my system and had to be wheeled out of the terminal (literally wheeled out on a wheelchair) to the nearest hospital wing and eventually the nearest hospital. I even got to hold the hand of a PYT from Sydney as I struggled to get a breath out knowing full well that her fiancé was a few feet away, probably scowling at my obscene attempt to pick up in an airport. I bet he didn’t expect some knucklehead from Melbourne to steal his babe away albeit whilst the kid thought he was having a heart attack. I wonder if those two are still together today…

The hospital, which was a huge step up from the two shitholes I spent time in whilst in Laos, cleared me of any structural damage to my heart and told me I was having panic attacks, most likely from the doxycycline that I had been taking to stop me from contracting malaria. This would come to be seen as a complete falsity in the office of my Melbourne GP, it was most certainly the shroom overdose that triggered the generalised anxiety disorder but hey, the guy gave it a crack. At least my heart wasn’t going to explode. Dad flew all the way to Phuket to take me home. I don’t know what it was about him, but I burst into laughter when his fat head entered my room. By that stage I was still fragile but I was almost completely relaxed. I had watched ‘The Graduate’, been tended to by this stunning Thai nurse and drunk my weight in Milo drinks. Sure, I’d lost four kilos off my already slim frame, but I wasn’t going to die in a South East Asian hospital. Dad and I left the next day and arrived into Melbourne to little fanfare. Funnily enough, just a couple of months ago we arrived back into Melbourne together from New York but under completely different circumstances. This time I had just returned home after three months of complete and utter debauchery and the greatest trip of my life, absconding my fear of traveling alone and contracting the greatest bug of all… The travel bug. (Classic cliche). After Thailand I returned following less than three weeks of complete and utter uncertainty. I was a changed man.

A changed man... apparently.
A changed man… apparently.

In the aftermath of such an unusual and terrifying group of incidents, I don’t think I returned to my old self for over a month. I visited a psychiatrist, my GP and my Aunty (a kinesiology enthusiast) in Adelaide. I was asked by many of my friends how I was doing, what happened and what I had done to trigger my early return home. I was pretty honest, but it was a long time before I worked up the courage to completely detail my trip into what seemed like personal oblivion.

To this day I am suspect of illicit substances. This is not to say that I am against them. No, I am simply extremely wary of the response my body may have when affected by them. I fear being in a situation where I am not in control but I haven’t had a panic attack for a pretty long time. I barely consume caffeine and I don’t attend massage parlours anymore. Alright, that last one I made up. Occasionally I will feel anxious and vulnerable but I know how to handle my symptoms if they ever arise now. Do I regret taking those shrooms? Well, yeah, I should have been smarter in what I decided to ingest. But I learnt one hell of a lesson. I was reckless, naïve and completely immature. I still fall into each of those three categories when considering the context and yet I have made decisions in how I go about life that I wouldn’t have chosen had I not suffered such a slipup.

I have occasionally considered what my life would have been like had I not devoured that shake. In fact, I’ve actually wondered whether there was something more potent in the drink from time to time. To answer the former question, yes I do. I think I would have made a mistake with substances at some point in my life. I would have snorted a little too much cocaine, or greened out, or jumped out of another window because my body just can’t handle substances like these to the extent that others can. In Nashville, Tennessee this year I had my first toke of marijuana since that fateful day in Laos. I felt a tinge of the positives of the psychedelic haze and also a tinge of the negatives that also nearly caused my death. But hey, I know my limits and I know my body a lot better than I did. And that to me is an extremely important thing to come to realise.

I haven’t really reflected on the incident for quite some time now, and yet it is the most important moment of my life thus far. I’ve had so many memorable things happen to me over my lifetime and yet the most formative will always be the night I was so close to jumping out of that window in Laos. I couldn’t be happier that I wasn’t alone that night. It took me a while to return to myself. Returning to singing, acting, even placing myself in social settings was not the simplest step. I almost had to reteach myself that I could handle it mentally. Anxiety affects so many people as the world can be so very overwhelming. But just confronting your fears can start repairing your life. Get help, talk to someone, don’t be scared of people’s perceptions. If you’re a kid looking to experiment and you’re reading this, just remember that you’re accountable for all your body’s little nooks and crannies and little quirks so always be mindful of the stuff you put into the body and how much of it you are using. It just might save your life.

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2 comments

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