The Happy Walk - Sydney Coast Happy Walk Pt1

Saturday, Apr 14, 2012 at 19:25


Sometimes the biggest risks reap the sweetest rewards

As some of you know, I'm an Aspie (someone who has aspergers) and am recovering from mental illness and attempted suicides. My psychologists over the last two years have helped me identify and manage the main triggers for panic attacks, depression and meltdowns. Many of the triggers are connected to my inability to filter sensory input, that is, hypersensitivity to sound, smell, taste, touch and visual stimuli. So can you imagine what a city feels like? Overwhelming!

It wasn't until a month before leaving for Sydney that I realised the impact this walk would have. I was hoping it would have some impact on people's awareness of suicide prevention but the media wasn't interested and I didn't have the funding to promote it. I'm kind of grateful that I didn't have any presentations or interviews because I had started panicking. The very thought of going into a place I feared was crippling but I was going in alone. Only one cousin responded to my request for help before I had to book all my accommodation but they were going out of the country so it was impacted by confusion and disappointment. I had experienced this once before when a previous campaign walk took me through Sydney and nobody offered to help me, back then I ended up catching the train from Central to Gosford to meet a friend, skip the other half of the city and take a few days off to recover. But this time I was determined not to run away from my fears but face them on my own. The last few weeks of preparation became more about psychological training rather than physical.

The process started with listing all the things in Sydney that scared me and caused stress. It was very long. I then went through each item on the list and thought about how it made me feel reassuring myself that these things were very unlikely to kill me, acknowledging my fears and reminding myself that I was wasting a lot of energy worrying about them and hundreds of thousands of people function in this environment every day. From the entire list there was only one I could reasonably accept as learned fear which triggered episodes of post traumatic stress and needed a bit more recovery work.

Then I listed the things in Sydney that I liked. It was short. All I came up with were the Botanical Gardens, galleries, book shops, parks and water.

Each day I revisited my lists, working through the bad stuff, slowly lowering my stress reactions and expanding on the good stuff by thinking about what I might experience if I walk with an open mind and heart. I started adding things like meeting good people, having pleasant and interesting conversations, beautiful beaches, learning more about aboriginal and white history, breathing in the delicious salt air, getting fitter and losing weight.

This method of stress reduction, although perhaps a little unconventional, was working. I knew because I would otherwise have been a complete nervous wreck on the train down to Sydney and that's relative, for me not to pass out from panic attacks on a train at night is good. It helps that Country Link Rail understands my predicament and look after me when I travel by train in NSW.

To make things easier an amazing thing happened leading up to the Sydney trip. Last November I read about the Happiness and It's Causes conference in Sydney, loads of great speakers all coming together over 2 days to talk about happiness and decided I must go. There was no way I could afford a ticket but I kept hoping and willing it to happen. Then one day, just a few weeks before the walk, as I was looking through my facebook newsfeed I noticed Lifeline had just announced a competition for 10 two day passes to the conference. The competition only required entrants to say what made them happy in 25 words or less and be available to go to the conference. My entry was "I'm happy when I walk and connect to the beauty and vibrancy of the living world around me" and I won! I was very happy! I had planned the Sydney Coast Happy Walk to start 2 days after the conference in case I had a chance to go and kept postponing buying my train ticket for the same reason. But it all came together. The conference was fun, informative and inspiring. I could not think of a better way to start my Sydney adventure.

And so the challenges and victories began.
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