Roar

I woke up at 0345 this morning - half an hour before the alarm was due to sound. I rolled out of bed & dragged myself to the shower, counting the seconds until the coffee percolator finished doing it's thing.

Got dressed, into the car for an hours drive to the nearest airport, detouring around streets closed by floodwater. The plane was 15 minutes late leaving but the flight was blissfully uneventful. Catch two trains and a twenty minute walk to reach my destination.

Into the lift and I start to shake. I'm about to walk into a room I've never seen before and meet a bunch of people I've never met for the first time - including my CEO. You know him - the bloke I called unladylike names when he pushed me outside my comfort zone.

I don't "do" cities as a rule. I'm not a great lover of crowds of people - I kind of walk too slow for the flow if you know what I mean. When I come to the city it's usually for the Art Galleries or the shopping. I'm not that comfortable moving around in places when I don't know the lay of the land.

I pause outside the lift to acclimatise a little and I hear the murmur of voices through the dividing wall. I'm expected today - but only by a few people. I make myself walk in the door (can't chicken out now) and stop to get a look at the room.

Alex calls my name and Alice and Ee greet me with wonderful smiles before they get straight back to work. Josh Vogel looks up from across the room, walks over and gives me a great big bear hug. We chat for a while. Uri smiles a shy "hello" as he walks past. From Javiera - a great big hug and "what took you so long to get here Mel?" Bek and Kait are both on the phone but Kristin walks over and we chat for a while as I finish my Egg & Bacon Roll and unearth my second coffee of the day.

11.30 rolls around and I join the regular content team stand up online with Jimmy, Anindo, Adam, Eric, Thomas, Andy, Daniel, Coopper and Stretch. Eric liked some content I produced yesterday and "dobbed me in" to the rest of the team - making sure I got my share of the credit for the idea.

I told Tom Moore he just may take the record for being the only Boss I ever had who I wanted to hug instead of fight with.

Around this time in March last year, my car died and I was made redundant from my nine year job in the same week. I had a history of being the "difficult" employee in the team - the one that everyone was afraid to talk to because they never knew how she was going to react. The perpetual outsider - vital to the efficiency of the team but hard to get along with.

I thanked that manager for that redundancy when he rang me a few weeks ago to explore a potential opportunity. Can't wait to see where that takes me.

The song "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits is playing in my headphones as I write - I promise you by pure coincidence.

What do you do when you find yourself working with people who are all about helping people, who support each other to truly make a difference in the lives of others.

You stand on solid ground for the first time in years. You throw your arms in the air,

And you roar!

Late Night Visitors

If the bloke knew what was going on in my head at the time he wouldn't have knocked on the door. Certainly wouldn't have brought his kid with him.

0130 in the morning is not the time to knock on a Veteran's door and make demands of them. Usually when I have trouble sleeping I wake up between 1 and 3 am. For the past twelve months or so I have been re-training my body to sleep. Basically that involves getting out of bed and reading something boring in low light until I feel sleepy again.

I live in a place where it is not usual to hear men talking outside our house at 1.30 in the morning. Usually when we are expecting late visitors they drive in the gate with all lights blazing and clearly announce their presence before coming in the house. Last night I was quietly reading when I heard angry voices talking outside the house. I looked up to see hazard lights blinking on the road.

My heart started pounding and my hands started to sweat. I'm a peace loving softie, but I was immediately wide awake and planning.  I identified the voices of two men and heard steps walking toward the house.

Yep - I'm ex Army - I have two very powerful Maglite torches racked up by the door for easy & fast access (mostly for things like late night trips to the stables treating injured & sick animals). My mistake was in turning on the outside floodlights to see if I could see how many people were walking up the road. I turned off the lights in the hope that they would get the hint that they were not invited.

They didn't.

My working dogs started barking loudly and growling at the intruders - this is completely socially acceptable where I live and encouraged. They kept walking in. By that time I was wide awake and had my Maglite in one hand. The other hand was holding the screen door locked. My Jack Russell Terrier held them at bay on the edge of the verandah growling and barking.

A large man and his teenaged son (both unknown to me) walked up on to the verandah, politely and gently told me they had broken down and asked if I could give them a tow. I knew the phone reception was good where they were broken down and that they and their vehicle would be safe while waiting for pickup. Sadly I do not have suitable gear to help them and politely told them so. He clearly wanted another answer from me but they left peacefully. He did let loose with quite a bit of swearing as they returned to the car. I didn't like the tone of his voice.

At that point I started to shake. I'm actually glad I was already awake because I hate to think what kind of reaction a surprise knock on the door at that time of night may have triggered. After watching the breakdown for another hour or so I went back to bed and spent the rest of the night half awake. The dogs barked again once more during the night and I was half out of bed before I knew where I was.

I eventually woke up with a full blown anxiety attack well in progress which took me half the day and a full yoga session to get back under control. I saw a footprint in the dirt on my back verandah which set me off again until I sheepishly recognised it as one of my own. I've been jumping at shadows all morning and lost a days work.

My husband slept peacefully through the whole thing.

Heartless

Military personnel are trained to make decisions in a logical, structured, objective and timely fashion - removing emotion wherever possible from the process. On average we identify and assess risk, balance the relative merits of alternatives and reach conclusions much faster than our civilian counterparts. We are also unlikely to second guess, or revisit an issue after a course of action has been decided. We will change direction when a plan proves unfeasible and act on weak points and failures but our focus is on fixing problems - not holding hands and making people feel good about what has to be done.

Often, that tendency completely fails to translate in situations where consideration of the emotions and feelings of other people needs to come first. Particularly in highly emotionally charged family situations. I'm no expert, but I think that tendency is the root cause of accusations of lack of emotional intelligence. We are aware of the emotions - but we do not make sentimental decisions based on them.

My transition wasn't voluntary and it wasn't easy. Single at the time, most of the burden of my emotional support fell on my family - particularly my mother. My Mum is a deeply caring person and a fixer - like any good mother she wants to protect her children from all the bad things in life (even when her youngest child is 40 mumble something years of age). She just wants to kiss everything better and make it right.

I can understand why many families simply run out of energy to deal with the amount of conflict and emotional hardship that comes with living with a family member who is by turns depressed, anxious, manic, aggressive and (thankfully not me) violent. I can understand why many veterans (mistakenly) make the decision that their families would be better off without them. Even experienced, long term carers who take good care of their own wellbeing eventually reach the point of exhaustion. Tempers fray and people snap. In those kinds of situations (like it or not) my tendency is to act first and deal with the emotions later (just as I was trained to do).

My family usually solves problems by consensus over a cup of tea at the kitchen table. We always have. My parents have reached a time in their lives where they are facing some very large and mostly unwanted life changes. The family farm they have invested their whole hearts into for the last 40 years is now proving challenging to run. It is the place where they raised all of their children, faced and overcame challenges of their own. Every pathway, place and object holds a treasured memory. The decisions they are facing are charged with emotion, and change is not easy at their age. In many ways their farm is who they are - its is as much their identity as it is their location and their business.

A lot like transition from the military I guess.

For a person a person trained to assess, decide and act, the process of dealing with the emotions of my parents in this situation is somewhat frustrating. When my parents ask for my viewpoint on the situation my military trained habit of assessing the situation objectively and laying out their options for them in a straight and clear cut path is not helpful. My tendency towards frustration when the same issue gets brought up around 25 times and talked around endlessly is not helpful either. To me the path ahead for them is clearly one of two options - they simply need to decide what they want to do and make it happen in an organised and military fashion. For them - they are being faced with giving up everything they have invested themselves into for the last fifty plus years.

It is a culture clash on a very fundamental emotional level.

It cuts to the bone to be told I am being heartless - but I these days I let it slide.

It's OK to Break Things

Anyone who has ever worn a uniform doesn't need to be told that when the Commanding Officer (CO) says "My door is always open" they really mean "after you have gone through the chain of command and at least five other suitably qualified people have assessed your request and deemed it important enough to bring to my attention". All things considered it's a system that generally works reasonably well to get problems solved at the appropriate level. After all, when a single person is held accountable for the lives and careers of several hundred people, it's impossible for them to personally deal with every single broken shoelace or lost drink bottle and still focus on winning the war.

It's either a very brave, very desperate (or very stupid) person who decides that they can stick their head in to the CO's office unexpectedly and ask them to help with the changing of a truck tyre.

For many veterans complying with accepted procedure (in Military Speak - following orders) is not a conscious choice. Conditioning is designed to initiate an instinctual response to a given situation - bypassing a conscious, deliberate decision process. When you are conditioned to instinctively obey orders and follow procedures it takes a considerable act of will and quite a bit of practice to first identify, and then interrupt an instinctual response. In extreme cases being required to break behavioural conditioning can trigger physical fear responses and anxiety attacks - or in some cases -  unreasonable aggression.

So the CEO of a very large international conglomerate sitting on the stage at the front of a large room full of veterans must have got some fairly uncomfortable or "Parade Ground Face" looks when she offered "If you'd like to ask me anything, just give me a call".

She might have been surprised to find out several weeks later that almost nobody would have taken her up on her offer. Directly contacting the CEO of a huge business is simply not natural to many veterans - it's just not going to happen that we will stick our heads in a CEO's door and ask if they want to go for a coffee.

Unless we decide to break something.

A few weeks ago a man I'll call Data Jesus facilitated a discussion on student learning preferences during a WYWM Data Analytics Bootcamp. We were discussing the general veteran preference for a "like this - do that" instructional format. To follow the procedure and not break the software - to not break the rules.

The reality in a civilian context is that more often than not employees learn through trial and error "On The Job" rather than experiencing the luxury of dedicated training time set aside from the normal work day. It's not only acceptable to make a mess of things (to break things) and then spend time reworking - it's quite often "just the way things are done around here". When it comes to learning new software, skills or habits Data Jesus nailed it:

"Our veterans have to be enabled to learn that it's OK to break things".

He wasn't just talking about software.

"Civilian" is my Second Language

The reason given for my Performance Warning was "poor communication skills". It was my second strike and a Performance Management Programme was instigated.

Like Jerry Maguire, it all started with an email. The fact is that my written communication skills in this case were far too good. Too clear, too concise, and laser targeted at the responsible parties. The incident had its roots in ethics, poor leadership and mismatched expectations of accountability. Management and I simply were not "speaking the same language". Even my best friends will admit that I am not known for my diplomacy (although treatment for anxiety has enabled me to make significant strides ahead in this area). I refused to back down and I found out later that the only thing that saved my job was my exemplary performance record. Management did not like what I was telling them - they particularly did not like the language I was using to communicate my concerns.

Skip forward a little and I found myself on the balcony of a convention centre at Luna Park in Sydney talking to an ex Combat Engineer. Both of us were taking a little time out from the noise and bustle of the WithYouWithMe Networking event. It was a beautiful, clear blue water, sunny day and the view towards Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House was breathtaking. Sydney going about it's business and being Sydney in all the best ways.

He had a week old beard, hadn't had a haircut in quite some time and although he was wearing a suit, he had not ironed the shirt. He looked and behaved like a really nervous, kind of beaten down, man. He had walked into the conference and sat himself in the corner as far away as possible from everyone else in the room. Like many Combat Engineers he had discharged with knee and ankle problems. As we got to talking I found out that finances were not his problem. He didn't need to work to survive - he admitted to being bored out of his brain. A single man, all his friends were still in the Army and he had not managed to make any new ones post discharge. He couldn't find anything in common with anyone he talked to, had no hobbies and no volunteer interests. He had very little reason to leave the house and engage with people in any meaningful fashion. He was overqualified for the landscaping roles he felt he was suited to and, like me, was looking for a clearer, more meaningful purpose.

I found myself telling him about the day I found myself sitting at a table in the main street of my country home town feeling like a complete foreigner, with nothing in common with any of the people walking past.

I saw a switch flip on his face when I made the comment:

"Your home town feels like a foreign country. You no longer speak the native language. You need to relearn how to communicate, move and survive in this foreign place you call home".

Skip forward a little more to guest speaker Matt Prasad on "The Tech'd Veteran Podcast", dropping a little comment:

"Civilians do your head in."

I'd like a dollar for every time a Manager has said to me "Mel, you're doing my head in! Why are you asking me all these questions? You are too direct and rude in your communications! You need to remember to say "please" and "thank you"".

I'd like a dollar for every time I have been "lost in the translation", for every time I have been a heartbeat behind the conversation while I translated the context into "military". A dollar for every time I have added the courtesies as an afterthought or forgotten them all together.

I've always admired people who speak more than one language. I've always considered myself a bit ignorant because I have only ever spoken English. Last week I realised I am smarter than I thought.

"Civilian" is my second language - that is why I still get lost in the translation.

The Fake Veteran

I met a Vietnam Tunnel Rat once not too many years ago. I didn't need to be told he was a veteran who'd had a tough time- I could see it in his pale blue eyes. He had the skin tone of a long term, hard, heavy drinker and he couldn't look anyone in the eye. National Service conscript.

Always stood facing the door.

He lived in the small western NSW country town he grew up in. I liked him - he was a quietly spoken man and the small country community forgave him the occasional social wobble if you know what I mean. I met him one ANZAC Day in the tiny local country RSL. I didn't tell him I had been in the Army and I wasn't wearing my East Timor medals.

Almost every time you tell a really little kid you were in the Army they almost invariably ask two questions (usually in front of mortified parents).

  1. Have you ever shot anybody? And
  2. Have you ever been shot at?

I thank every god and whatever else you believe in that I am able to truthfully answer "no" to each question. I always take the time to explain to the little 'un that while I don't mind answering their questions, they should check with Mum or Dad if they want to ask the same question of anyone else.

Although there was that time when my husband unexpectedly walked around the corner of the house (presenting a silhouette of an unidentified man carrying a rifle) and nearly found himself on the business end of a cast iron frying pan.

My Tunnel Rat, with his long line of mounted medals, was not the kind of man you asked about his military service. We just had a couple of quiet ones.

I went home before he discovered what kind of fake I was.

My First Hackathon

The National Missing Persons Hackathon held Thursday 29 October 2020 was a clear first for me. As such I wanted to record some impressions on how my military and subsequent civilian experience applied to the exercise. Could I work effectively in that space if I wanted to?

I entered the event with a few objectives in mind:

First - find out if my relatively ordinary entry level OSINT skill sets would still allow me to make a contribution.

Second - find out if my "off the shelf, non tech head" home office gear would be up to the task

Third - How do the teams work together and how forgiving would the other operators be with a beginner?

Here are some of my impressions.

First: The Skill Sets.

My experience lies more in Database Operations and Data Analytics than in Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) investigation or Cyber Security. On completing the entry level OSINT training provided by OSINT Combine I knew that my instincts regarding possible lines of investigation were sound. The old military investigation training and experience remained relevant and applicable. My "gut feelings" on what information was useful were fairly sound. I can see why military veterans with their understanding of people can excel in this space. Think of the crafty old Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) who "knows where all the skeletons are" and the Private soldier who dedicates his life to trying to hide things from the RSM - both skill sets would have value in OSINT.  Lack of practice in using the hard search skills definitely slowed me down - but higher level competency would really only take time and practice.

Second: The gear. My "off the shelf non tech head home office" gear was definitely up to the job at a beginner level. Communications are a lot easier with appropriately enabled voice and video capabilities. You'll find things easier and faster with up to date gear, but you can get by without. A non gamer -  I had some site specific software hiccups at the start which the more experienced members of my team were able to help me resolve. It is worth putting in the time to ensure the security of your setup with appropriate software and configurations well beforehand. There are plenty of relevant free or low cost public access applications and software available. Of course if you wish to be seriously competitive you need appropriate gear to support that.

Third: The Team.

The National Missing Persons Hackathon is a very forgiving environment for beginners. Although prizes for places are given, it becomes very clear very quickly that all of the volunteers are there to help where they can to assist the Australian Federal Police to gather a body of evidence to find missing persons. My team consisted of two experienced operators and two relative beginners. Thanks to our more experienced operators our end of day placing wasn't too dismal.

Time constraints prevented our team from meeting or conducting any rehearsals before the event. Of course prior preparation and planning would have improved our results but we still managed to provide some good leads as a team. I kind of cheered a little when our judge approved my first lead.

The overall feel of the event was inclusive, positive and community focussed - people getting together to combine their skills and time for all of the right reasons. I found that my life experience was as much use to me as my professional experience.  I was surprised to find my local knowledge of some of the physical locations became relevant as well. If I can put the time in to better develop the hard skills I could definitely see myself making a contribution in the OSINT space. I had a good intuitive grasp of the basic concepts - the who, what, when, where and why questions every basic investigation needs to answer. I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot.

I am an amateur musician and often encounter people who try and tell me that they could never learn the new skills involved to play an instrument. I have a standard response which I now know also applies to learning OSINT skills.  Natural aptitude is only part of what it takes to be successful.

Anyone can learn the basics of playing music (or OSINT)  - it takes time, commitment, practice and dedication to do at a high level. Even Eric Clapton was a beginner once.

Give a hackathon a try if you get the chance - you'll be pleasantly surprised at what your military training has taught you and how much you already know.

Networking Noob

Part 1 of 3

Location: The best Hotel Conference Centre in my country town.

The guest speaker handled it really well when I put my hand up and asked "What do you do when you are in a meeting and feel like punching a bloke because he won't take you seriously?"

An Ex Army Logistics Officer, I was underemployed in my role as an office lady working for a local manufacturing plant and had reached the point where I'd had enough. Manager number six (or was it seven?) and I were nose to nose over some management practices which (while not illegal) did not exactly fit with my military expectation of accountability. He was gaslighting me at every turn and undermining every gain I had made towards business efficiency in the seven years I had been with the company. After all - to him I was just the office lady - what would I know about managing anything?  I've always been too blunt and direct to manage up very well. And remember, my anxiety (undiagnosed at the time) makes me fight. Time proved me correct on the issue but that's another story.

I had completed my COMPAS course at WithYouWithMe, and as result had joined a local businesswomen's networking group to try and meet some other women in local business.

The first event I attended was held at the best hotel in town and was attended by around a hundred business women. Being a country town, pretty much everyone knew everyone else. There was lots of cheek kissing and asking how the baby was going - all that girlie small talk I have always been useless at. Four women guest speakers/mentors from Sydney spoke on various topics such as managing up, dealing with harassment in the workplace, dealing with men who don't take them seriously, experience on various boards and establishing a startup business.

I attended the event straight after work and walked in the door dressed in my Hi vis gear, jeans and bright pink steel capped boots. Everybody else was in heels, skirts, corporate wear. I know how to be a lady when needed but I'm not a particularly "girlie" woman. Small talk is a social skill I've never really picked up. For me to walk into a room full of strangers and make small talk is the definition of hell - especially if I don't know anyone. I basically grabbed a glass of water and did my best to disappear in a corner until the Q&A started. I spent the entire event in a nervous sweat. Until I asked the question that made the whole room stop in stunned disbelief.

Her response?

"I just make sure I am better than they are".

Part 2 of 3

Location: WithYouWithMe Networking Event, Luna Park Sydney

A 0400 start, forty minute drive, late plane, two trains and a ten minute walk (getting lost at the entrance to the park) and I was only five minutes late to the WithYouWithMe Networking event held at Luna Park in Sydney.

An even bigger noisy room, full of more strangers, and facing my extreme uneasiness about interacting again with ex military people. I'll admit to being in a cold sweat and almost hyperventilating as I faced the door when a message pinged on my phone:

"You're late. You haven't chickened out have you? I'm third row back eight from the right and I saved you a seat." So no escape with a quiet retreat to the Art Gallery.

I walked in the door and the noise stopped me. Bek Nugent looked up from the registry table with a wide smile and "Mel - you made it - it's so good to see you, come in, here's your tag and there's the coffee."

As I walked into the conference room my very loud and confident friend (who I hadn't laid eyes on in twenty years) was almost standing and waving to me as Tom Larter was trying to do the introduction. So much for the quiet sneak in. I remember thinking "I bet I'm the only person in the room wearing bright red cowboy boots under my tailored slacks". When the briefs finished and hugs, tears and hellos were complete my friend still wasn't going to let me escape - he stayed with me, and was a tower of support the whole day. I doubt I could have stayed without him. My interview was not a complete disaster and the interviewers were very supportive. I even actually managed to introduce myself to some complete strangers and have a normal sounding conversation. I might have even smiled a couple of times. Hey, the photographer cheeky and kind of cute. I had to leave half way through the brief on RPA to catch my plane home but I definitely wanted to know more about it.

Will Lewis couldn't believe I had flown to Sydney that morning specifically for the event. No big deal - that kind of travel is part and parcel of living in the country. I decided to go - so I went.

I got home emotionally exhausted, but I knew that the day was the best thing I had done in my own interest in a very long time. I started to see a path ahead out of my boring job. I had shown myself that I could do the networking if I tried, and that it wasn't as scary as I had feared.

Part 3 of 3

Location: A paddock not quite in the middle of nowhere, but not far from it.

I had been looking forward to the UNE Smart Region Incubator Ag Tech Field Day for weeks. I donned my best cowboy hat and signature silk scarf, unearthed my lipstick, and reminded myself to smile and breathe.

Field Days are the country version of networking events. They work much the same way except you sometimes have to look down to dodge the cow poo.

I had already met a few of the vendors or had connected with them on Linked In. I had researched the businesses I wanted to talk to and had my business cards ready. I had prepared my questions and I had my little pitch rehearsed. I wanted to see where the opportunities might be for a Veteran Data Analyst in the Agtech sector - both for myself and on behalf of the WYWM student body. I found myself smiling every time I met someone new and quite naturally asking them about who they were and what they did. I couldn't believe I found myself joking around with real honest to goodness complete strangers. Networking easily and comfortably, showcasing veteran skills and value like I had been doing it all my life. I even fielded a slightly condescending explanation with a smile when I didn't recognize the terminology explaining "I understand the concept thanks - I just didn't recognize the acronym."

I had a very interesting conversation with a man who holds a Doctorate in Ag Data Analytics - and followed up the conversation the next day with an email. His view? No reason why a veteran shouldn't find a place in Ag Data Analytics - just keep talking to people and be patient.

So why the huge difference? Where did this confident, relaxed, happy, smiling woman appear from?

Practice, determination, and the encouraging support of the right people.

The Long Road Running

I loaded up the dog, the motorbike, the mandolin, spare fuel & water and just drove. I headed south from Darwin, turned right at Katherine, left at Broome, left at Albany and headed east until I arrived at Mum & Dad's. 8710km of blessed solitude. Just me and the dog.

I just didn't want to talk to anyone. Not family, not friends, not strangers - not even myself. Most of all myself.

It all began when I went to bed because I was tired. I should have been on duty for a field redeployment and I was just too tired. The bucket was empty, no fuel in the tank, no adrenaline pumping incident anyone would want to make a movie about - just done.

 Notice to Show Cause Action (administrative disciplinary action) was initiated and I simply did not have the energy, will or knowledge to fight it. I was too ashamed to even try and find out who could, or would, help anyway. Of course it's not that simple - the cracks had been showing for quite some time. I put it down to the  long term impact of loneliness and an inability to allow myself to make meaningful personal connections. That's another story.

East Timor was the first large-scale overseas deployment of Australian troops since Vietnam. My previous unit deployed in support of INTERFET but my new unit had not. I was posted to 10 FSB when it deployed to East Timor but remained in Townsville as part of 10 FSB (Rear) mostly handling welfare liaison with families in addition to normal Assistant Adjutant duties. The unit I deployed with (Force Logistic Squadron) was a composite unit as part of UNTAET which was disbanded on return to Australia. There weren't many people in my new unit who had deployed, and I don't remember receiving any repatriation information or consideration because I had recently returned. Leadership must have known but may not have seen any necessity for special treatment, or just weren't sure what would be best,  not that I would have accepted it - being Superwoman and all.

I was posted to my new Unit from East Timor and marched in as 2IC Transport Company after 15 days holiday - 7 days of which I spent driving to Darwin from North West New South Wales. I've always loved driving - I was always going to be a tyrebiter. It wasn't enough rest - I left Timor exhausted and marched into my new unit exhausted. Apart from a couple of exceptions, the social connections I established in Darwin were quite superficial. I found it even harder than usual to connect with people on a personal basis. Forget about finding a special partner - I struggled to even make new friends. Quite soon we deployed to Shoalwater Bay for several months.

When the unit redeployed home I just went to bed. For the first time in my life I failed to report for duty when required. As I recall I fulfilled my duties on the convoy back across the Barkly Highway, but my memory is fudgy. I was just so bloody tired - I stayed tired for about the next five years.

It was a long time ago now but as I remember it, I became even more socially and professionally isolated. I was directed to confine myself to my house - not even allowed to walk the dog. With criminals, they call it house arrest.  A pretty stupid directive when you are single and have no-one else to help you buy groceries. Even more stupid when part of the problem was eroded social support structures in the first place. I was ashamed and too proud to call anyone to ask for help - too proud to tell anyone it was even happening - especially the people who could, and would, have helped. I couldn't even tell my best mate. One friend stuck by me in probably the blackest night of my life. No one else would look me in the eye - nor could I have looked back at them. The last time I stepped into an Officers Mess only the Doctors and Nurses invited me to eat with them - everyone else ignored me. Or maybe they thought they were being considerate and giving me space. It's hard to know.

I don't remember being offered any psychological support or treatment - Only Psych Assessment for suitability of service which definitely caused more harm than good. I was offered a farewell function but I couldn't face the people. Two planes flew into the World Trade Centre and I barely noticed. Two old friends gave me a place to stay the night before I left Darwin, but I couldn't look them in the eye, and they were clearly uncomfortable having me around. I have never blamed them - I was a wreck and I looked like it.

So I drove - for two and a half months - just me and the dog. It took me almost twenty years and another near breakdown to stop running.

Invictus and The Silent Veteran

For a Silent Veteran who had mostly avoided facing anything to do with the military the telecast of the Invictus Games in Australia kind of shook things up.

I saw a face I hadn't seen since he graduated ADFA as one my senior classmen. He came up on one of the ads and I yelled out to my husband - "I used to know that bloke. He was one of the decent ones." I knew him through the rowing team, but we weren't close. Unlike me, he was a high achiever.  I don't remember anyone who didn't like him as a person. He was captain of the first eight rowing team and part of the senior cadet leadership team. He'll see this article before I publish but I'll admit that he was a bit of a star and someone the junior classes mostly looked up to. I'm sure his wife will agree that he was not terribly hard on the eye at that age either.

I never saw him again after he graduated until his face made it in to my loungeroom as part of the Invictus Games promotions. I'll admit that I tried to avoid watching any of the Invictus telecasts. It was just stirring up too much stuff.

Here he was, on national television, admitting that life had dealt him a few punches and scars - not quite "new out of the box" like he used to be. Admitting that he wasn't some kind of indestructible hero, that he and his wife and family face their daily challenges as best they can together. Admitting that some days are just shit and have to be endured. Posting it on Facebook. Telling people that if they just reach out their hand - someone will help.

Invictus had an impact in Australia that reached everywhere - even to my little fly speck on the map country town. The games did so much for the cause of the silent veteran in this country. For me, seeing the groundswell of support and positive national sentiment in my tiny local country community started to change my perception of myself and my problems. I eventually reached out to this wonderful man. His first words to me in over twenty years were "It's bloody good to hear your voice, how are you going?"

I was volunteering at a horse show and a friend I had known since I was sixteen asked me straight out if I was going to ride horses at the next Invictus games.  Strangers and friends everywhere showing that they were proud of "their" veterans.

My family, who have mostly borne the main load of supporting me were understandably concerned as to how I would react to being confronted with all this "Veteran Stuff" after all this time.

Prince Harry gave the closing address to the games at the Sydney Opera house. I only remember one thing from his speech.

The morning after the closing speech I found myself standing in the sun on my front verandah. I was on the phone to my mother, crying so hard I could barely speak.

"Mum, I'm not a victim - I'm a survivor".