It was ten years ago that the breakthrough happened. I had woken up not looking forward to my day, as usual. After lunch I found myself having a face-to-face discussion with my psychologist, which was never much fun. I was about to finish the session when she issued me with a straightforward, plain instruction: ‘Write down how you feel, Baz.’
Sue, the psychologist, was having trouble getting me to talk. At that time I rarely wrote anything down, and certainly nothing private or personal. However, for some reason I took her advice. I returned to my room in the psychiatric ward and, for the first time, wrote about how I saw myself … it was something we were continually being asked to do in group therapy.
‘How do you see yourself? How do you feel?’
To my surprise, my timid initial jottings quickly became a habit. Mind you, I didn’t share this little secret with anyone. A bloke writing — what a cop-out!
After several weeks, I found myself starting to write about painful scenes and incidents that I had witnessed as a young man, but I laboured to describe or explain the events: my shoulders would tense up, my forehead would jam with a rigid frown, and I would hold the pen so tightly that it would almost snap. Then, one day, as I was writing my journal, something remarkable happened. Putting down the pen, I closed my eyes and pictured what I had been writing about. I saw a skinny young man in the jungle in Vietnam. He was very stressed, tired, concentrating, and looking quickly this way and that. Suddenly, a message squawked into his handset. He squeezed the receiver button and acknowledged the pilot.
‘One, green smoke, Roger, out.’
The dust-off chopper came in.
His mate Kards was choppered out.
The young man now had the battalion radio in his hands … and he was almost shaking with stress.
The scene was very clear in my head. Suddenly, like someone turning on a light, my own feeling of being stressed changed to something quite unfamiliar to me. I felt sadness. I wanted to enter that scene and comfort that young man, to offer him support and compassion. I wanted to explain to him that this bloody mess of a war was simply crazy. I wanted to tell him that he was okay, and that he was doing okay.
I was talking to myself … some 30 years earlier.