Written by Dylan Conway
I love Amy’s blog and I saw her article on Trauma Responses and decided to shoot her an Email.
I am the owner and manager of BrothersNBooks, an Infantry Captain in the Australian Army (although my thoughts expressed here are not reminiscent of the organisation and are mine alone) and most recently a long-term successful patient for a disease called reoccurring Pilonidal Sinus.
What I like most about Amy’s blog is her frank and honest expression of her experiences and her inner mind. Very few people have the ability to express themselves in such a way and this evening I will try my best to express mine.
In September 2019 I was scheduled for a routine operation to remove an ingrown hair from my lower back. Having been extremely fit and healthy in my younger and professional life the surgeon’s opinion was that I should recover in due course. Within a week I was having an emergency surgery to save my life because of a complication. From there I was told that I would recover fine. Three weeks later again I had to have surgery on the same disease.
At this point in time like a cornered dog I was desperate to escape this physical trauma of recovery so my very serious approach was to remain completely still and focus on my diet and reading books.
After 4 weeks I was again wheeled into an operating theatre this time on Christmas eve. 4 more weeks passed at home in bed and again I had an operation.
It is important to note here that this is where the physical battle ended and the mental battle began. I had forgotten about my strict gym and cardiovascular regime and now focused solely on getting through the day without suffering severe anxiety as to what my future may hold, namely my career and with my physical health. Barely being able to walk and hardly being able to sit down, shower or go to the toilet (things I am now incredibly grateful to do)!
As time went on the feedback from my doctors was positive but 3 months later, I required my 6th and largest surgery yet.
Throughout this time Isolation had crippled me. I was reading close to a book a day for over 6 months and my reading habits became my escape. I searched through military history to gain perception from prisoners of war who suffered years alone. Every time I stepped into these stories I stepped out of my own and felt less alone. I have friends who have gone to prison but none that have been alone for a year within their confinement. As Amy says all trauma is trauma and I agree, what would have helped mine is finding someone who could relate.
I am very proud to admit that I am a man with many great friends and I am grateful also for a loving family. What isolation did to me however is test the very fabric of all those years of relationships. When you are alone for considerable amounts of time there is nothing to think about but yourself. In a world that makes us think about everyone else through social media I am not proud to admit that I was never as mindful as I should have been.
Despite years of resilience, physical and mental toughness training in the military I was not prepared for this. In the military, especially in my role, I had always had a team of colleagues and friends to push one another through the toughest of times.
My discovery was that I was not the strong man that I thought I once was when I found myself alone.
There is something to be said about the Tibetan monks who spends years in isolation. When the body and mind are alone the subconscious wakes. When the subconscious wakes your best defence is yourself. But when you are asleep the subconscious wins.
This is when I began reading about the Holocaust searching for minds that were tormented beyond my belief.
I read about the Gulags and of those lost at sea.
While connecting to minds wandering alone my mind felt less lonely in a sea of its own.
Through reading I found strength, men just like me.
All alone in the world with no one to see.
At every step of the way reading allowed my mind to harden. Knowing of people that were hurting as bad has now formed a new team in my life one that I can call on not just at work.
I had two more surgeries after this or maybe it was three. I stopped caring about myself and found refuge in others and when I was faced with isolation again, I was alone no more.
(Disclaimer: I read over 200 books this year and there is a chance that the escapism of reading allowed time to speed up. P.s. I was also on pain medication for 14 months so it could be that as well p.s.s. I laugh and joke because otherwise I’d cry)
I included a rhyme within the last paragraph because that’s how I see Amy’s blog. It’s like poetry from the soul. Being able to write in a way that makes people feel is just that and is why I wish this paragraph title to be my last.
There is a strange feeling when reading mountains of books that each one is better than the last. My friend Shaun, a soon to be neuroscientist, explained that it is due to your neural pathways expanding between previously held ideas and new ones coming through that allow us to create. When books speak to you more clearly after the last this is what we experience.
I made BrothersNBooks to connect people with trauma and to provide perspective on others’ shared hardships. So hopefully someone going through a hard time doesn’t have to read for 14 months to avoid the sub-conscious winning. So, if you are alone read some of the amazing triumphs over adversity on my page below and my advice is this. Spend time in isolation and revel in it. Do it before you have to because as we say in the military you need to train how you fight.