I haven’t spoken up when the world called me to.
I didn’t speak up when people were suicidal and terribly depressed. I didn’t speak up when people were in crippling physical pain. I didn’t speak up about mental health, or difficulties at home, or difficulties at work, sexuality, body image, body issues, painful experiences with family members. I didn’t speak up when women needed my voice, when I needed to share my experiences, when the #metoo movement demanded my voice.
When was there going to be someone to speak up for me?
I’ve experienced all of the above and more than you can ever imagine. This is me breaking the silence.
Now someone is speaking up for me. And someone has come to speak up for you.
Part one: setting the foundations
The last 28 years have been a rollercoaster of a life. In the time I’ve been alive, I have experienced all manner of things. When I was young I lived in a very tumultuous household. I’ll protect the identities of those involved as that’s not my story to tell, but I grew up scared. I craved certainty and control. I grew up conflicted. I was under strict household where I thought I always failed those I loved.
But without this, I would have never been able to send energy, know what to say at the right times, be a peacemaker and learn to console, be a diplomat, attack and defend at all costs. We travelled, but I was scared of the uncertainty. I became a worrier (not a warrior), but I became great at predicting issues with accuracy for myself and family.
My mum ended up the single mum, where we struggled. She valiantly worked part-time and studied part-time to become a teacher to give us a better life. After my parents split – I remember answering the door to debt collectors. And only really being able to afford cheap rice, lentils, and mince. I often cooked it myself while mum was working and my sister was studying for the HSC. My mum often went without for so many things. It was tough, but it made me grateful for every goddamn meal I have. I was always scared we would run out.
I discovered alcohol when I was in year 11 to help me get over my high school boyfriend. I was already depressed, but it sank me even further leading me to do some crazy stuff. One night I took painkillers with alcohol – thinking it would literally take the pain away. I’d do anything to try to cope.
I have a huge scar on my knee from where I fell over at my 17th birthday party. I fell over a gutter and ripped my whole skin off my knee over a jagged exposed pipe. I vomited all over myself. I got into a lot of trouble that night. I was ashamed. But because of the injury to my knee, I was able to convince someone I love more than words could ever say to come to the hospital for their treatment the next day when they were in trouble. They thought going to the emergency was for my knee. Because of this, the scar is worth it.
Around the same time, I fell into the wrong crowd and started dating a girl. Vicious, untrue rumours were spread about me throughout my school. For a little while, no one spoke to me. My last remaining friends even literally went away with her, without me. I had no one. The last thing I had was academics, and even then some people even successfully contested some of my school marks. My family was constantly fighting with me – my mum even said to get out at one point. I felt truly alone. Truly invisible. Truly worthless.
I wanted to do law at UNSW. When that got around, the Principal got me into his office and said I wouldn’t make the mark necessary, and to consider a University with over 10 UAI/ATAR points below what I needed. The career advisor likewise I said I had no chance. Both times, I walked out of the office crying. Alone. With no one. But, being the underdog ain’t such a bad place to be, and with nothing else to do, I fought back. Got dux. And spot at UNSW. With an entrance scholarship, thank you very much. I was unsurprisingly the first dux of the school I knew about not asked to give a speech at the end of year celebration the next year.
Part two: the crash of ‘08
Unsurprising, I trusted no one at university – but I loved how friendly and open-minded they were. Early on in my university career, I experienced,
was a victim of, survivor, thriver, was an EMPOWERER after a sexual assault experience. The perpetrator was a woman, and I spiraled out of control. I couldn’t keep up with university. I couldn’t stop trashing my body with food and booze. I treated those people who actually cared about me like crap. University was another failure and I only legitimately got through because one best friend and another very special person helped me (they know who they are and I pray they know and receive my eternal thanks and gratitude). But from this, I learned what I will never ever tolerate again. I learned the standards I will accept in a relationship and I know to trust my gut. I will only accept to be in a relationship of pure love. No means no! This experience set the foundations for a strength within myself that I would need later on.
I slid further down and wound up seeing a bunch of mental health professionals because I couldn’t cope. I was prescribed drugs to function, but couldn’t function because I was on drugs. I got chronic fatigue and I couldn’t function for months. I was a full on vegetable. My mum described me as a ‘zombie’ – walking dead. But from this, I learned that drugs aren’t always the best course of action and the best medical practitioners know that (although, I recognise that it’s necessary in some circumstances). I also was put in contact with the best doctor in Sydney, who through kindness and compassion and charity saw what I could be, and took me off what I didn’t need to be on (eternal gratitude to you).
Part three: the death of Veronica, and the creation of Veronica 2.0
I was still a shell, a resemblance of a human, when I took a fateful journey to Vanuatu for a university excursion. On the weekend off, a couple of classmates and myself went to an island called Tanna. On the Saturday, we walked up a mountain to see a live volcano erupt. I was with fit and healthy people and I couldn’t keep up. I was overweight, unfit and unhealthy. The volcano was awesome and I prayed. I prayed harder than I had ever had in my entire life the following words: “Please God, make me healthy, well and adventurous. I will do anything”. The next day, our tour guide took us to the world’s largest baobab tree. I was loving how adventurous I felt. He explained the traditional custom of swinging on vines and he showed us how to do it. I was third in line. When I was in the air, my hands slipped. I fell around 4 meters, propelling at full force. I fell onto a hill, where I slide all the way down.
“I prayed harder than I had ever had in my entire life the following words: “Please God, make me healthy, well and adventurous. I will do anything”.”
My existence went dark, and something within me asked me whether I wanted to live or die. In my head, I heard ‘you can’t go yet – you have 2 people to apologise to. 1. Your mum and 2. (another person who will remain nameless in respect to them)’. I knew within myself I had been a bad person and had not truly lived. I had been selfish. I knew I was so far away from who I was meant to be. I chose to live.
“My existence went dark, and something within me asked me whether I wanted to live or die… I chose to live.”
I woke up to guttural, visceral, body breaking sounds coming from me. I was fortunate enough to have a nurse’s daughter with me who had the idea to carry me out of the jungle where I was. She held my hand while I screamed noises that still make me sick remembering them even now in the car to the ‘hospital’. In a developing country, they had no facilities – the doctor couldn’t only see I had a badly broken hand. My screams attracted the villagers, and I remember seeing people looking at me with pity and curiosity. They injected me with morphine and within 2 hours I was on a small, tiny, aircraft slumped over a friend to the main island where I was rushed to the hospital. Again, they could only see a broken wrist. I knew I needed surgery on my wrist, so I got on the first flight home. Within 12 hours. They drugged me with morphine. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
My mum picked me up from the airport. I remember her looking at me and her angrily saying: “what did you do!”. We drove 40 minutes to our local hospital to get my wrist looked at. When they looked at me they said “can you feel your feet? Can you walk?”. I said no.
That’s when my life changed forever – I was instantly put in a full body and neck brace and rushed to the massive hospital with severe trauma. After a scan, the doctor came up to my mum and I and said the following words that I will never, ever forget. “You have broken your back”. My life was over. There and then. I knew I chose wrong. I wished to go back merely 24 hours. I wish I chose no! I watched my mums face break when he told us. All her hopes and dreams for me shattered. The golden girl ruined forever. I would be nothing. I would have nothing.
“The doctor came up to my mum and I and said the following words that I will never, ever forget. “You have broken your back”.”
One of my best friends told me just recently my mum called her screaming saying I would never walk and that I’d never be the same again.
The first night in hospital, I thought I spent my first night as a paraplegic. My whole backside stung from sliding down the hill. I pleaded with the nurse to make it better and she sat with me cleaning the dirt off my backside. I was humiliated. The next day they laid me naked on my plastic mattress and poured water over me to clean me. A couple of days later a doctor walked in – I felt disgusted.
The day I was under the knife to fix my smashed wrist I couldn’t get enough oxygen. I woke up in post-op with someone over me saying “DON’T PANIC!!!”. I couldn’t breathe because they had just discovered one of my lungs had collapsed in the fall.
12 hours later in the middle of the night, with no family, with no one around me – I was awoken by a bunch of doctors taking blood from both hands and tightening the oxygen mask around my face. I was rushed to the ICU. I couldn’t get the oxygen I needed. I was mainly worried that my mum wouldn’t be able to find me in the morning. I was scared. Petrified. ‘This again!?’, I thought. Choose again!!
I was later told I crushed 5 vertebrae in my thoracic spine and was centimeters away from snapping my spinal cord.
In the time I was in hospital I had to learn how to walk again. I had to master steps. My sister put a hospital gown around my back to cover me and we used to call it the ‘superhero cape’. I didn’t feel very brave. What 23 year old can’t walk? What 23 year old woman has to lay almost nude whilst doctors inspect and sigh.
“What 23 year old woman has to lay almost nude whilst doctors inspect and sigh.”
Learning humility, gratitude, grace and patience.
One of my best friends came every day. When my mum couldn’t, I begged her to cut the fingernails of my broken hand. They had dirt in them from my accident where I had tried to stop sliding down. It made me almost sick to look at it. She sat carefully cutting the fingernails of this broken hand of a broken girl for what seemed like hours until no nail, and no dirt, was left. I begged every day for my hair to be washed – dirt and twigs were still in it. I could feel it and I couldn’t bare it. Finally, a nurse agreed and my sister patiently helped, carefully shampooing and conditioning my hair whilst tears streamed down my face. Me thinking, ‘I can never do this again myself’.
I received so many gifts in moments like these that they’re imprinted into my memory forever.
I returned home and watched my mum suffer as I suffered. Fully dependent. Her having a fully grown baby back. I was told I needed to stay as still as possible and I didn’t move. I needed a brace put on if I was going to move and needed help walking for months and months. I was petrified of slipping and didn’t leave the house for ages.
I fought with my mum daily. She’d constantly argue with me saying I needed to shower daily. I’d get frustrated and yell that I didn’t go out, I wanted to avoid the humiliation of being showered by someone else and how much effort it took to sit me in a shower chair whilst I sat there lifelessly. She would look at me and say ‘you need just one consistent thing’. She meant I needed one thing normal. I had no strength in the end to argue. I would sit on the shower chair while she showered me, patted dry and put my brace back on so I could get back into bed.
“She would look at me and say ‘you need just one consistent thing’. She meant I needed one thing normal. I had no strength in the end to argue.”
Days turned into weeks, which turned into months and finally I was able to leave the house and do a daily walk on the esplanade. Mum would entice me because there was a cat I liked to see. I was humiliated to go out. I had a full back brace on. People would stare and ask me what happened. I was too ashamed to say what – I’d look down and mumble ‘I had an accident’ and cry. I cried every time I went out.
I gained weight rapidly and had to go shopping for clothes. I jumped 6-8 dress sizes.
I began hydrotherapy. I called myself ‘the whale’, because of my size and the fact that I would literally sink when I got in the pool. I had to be lowered in by a mechanical chair. I couldn’t swim at all. My muscles ended up atrophying from non-use – so I couldn’t really hold myself up in water or on land.
When I went back to uni, it was hell. I took one subject. I needed a special chair that my friends would take around for me. On the first day, one of my best friends met me after class to get my chair. I bawled my eyes out to her. I told her I couldn’t do it. She walked me to my disabled car parking spot while I cried and cried. I really couldn’t do it. Even months after I had been back I was in searing pain all the time. I couldn’t concentrate or work for long periods. The local doctor I saw one day told me that this was as good as I was going to get and that this was the way it would be for the rest of my life. And to get used to it. I cried. I was distraught thinking that this was the life I would have.
“The local doctor I saw one day told me that this was as good as I was going to get and that this was the way it would be for the rest of my life. And to get used to it. I cried. I was distraught thinking that this was the life I would have.”
These were dark times indeed. I wished I could end the suffering, but I couldn’t move. So I had no choice but to live it.
Some of the first steps I took without my brace
Getting back to life one step at a time
I struggled for years, holding on to the faint possibility it might be better one day. I tried all different treatments including PRP, where the doctor would take blood, spin it in a centrifuge and re-inject it into my ligaments to rebuild strength. The doctor would inject this into and near the facets of my spine while I tried not to cry and squirm. My mum would touch my foot for support. The doctor even had to manipulate my coccyx, as it had been smashed in the fall as well. I’d crave the moment I could run and put my clothes back on. The 1 – 1.5 hour car trip home was torture and I’d scream every time we went over a bump or pothole.
But somewhere, subconsciously, I developed a great strength I never knew I had. At the time I struggled to survive on a daily basis, but in reality, I was displaying more grit, more fortitude, more determination, than I ever had before. Even though I struggled every moment, of every day, of every week, of every month of every year since February 2013.
“I was displaying more grit, more fortitude, more determination, than I ever had before.”
I lost 20 kilos, 15 in the first 3 months of really trying. And mostly due to food choices as I couldn’t move. I begrudgingly started to exercise and followed a regime. I could walk and I could swim. I’d still go when no one was there because I was sooo slow and I was so ashamed of my beaten up, broken, big body.
I got majorly diligent with uni. I worked my arse off. My first semester back, you’ll recall the class I said I couldn’t do? I got a distinction – a mark that would have been unimaginable beforehand. My weighted average mark jumped 15 points. I ended up graduating with honours – a pure miracle given my previous academic performance.
I got a job with a charity as a legal executive, which led me to an interest in technology, which led me to a clerkship at the largest law firm in the world! That led me to spend 6 months working at Google!!
Part 4: love affair with life begins
I, at some point, in the last 5 years started to live. Exercise and healthy living slowly became my way of life. Health became my highest priority. I gave back to those that gave to me and I became someone who wanted to selflessly give and love. I became a person of character, who cared for and loved from my own soul. Now I was capable of understanding so many forms of suffering and pain.
“I, at some point, in the last 5 years started to live.”
This was not without serious hiccups along the way. Even though I valued health more than anything, I still ate shitty food, my last avenue for relief, secretly punishing my body for what it was doing to my life.
When I clerked, I drank excessively, in so much physical discomfort still. Not telling any of my peers or boss’ or colleagues what was going on (only that I had a bad back). It was only on my last week that I had the courage to tell my boss and two close friends after my mentor encouraged me to.
I was unable to make any major decisions by myself, I even had trouble picking food to eat at the beginning. I thought I chose my accident, that it was my choice, that this disaster that I put myself and family through was my fault. I literally could never choose, I always felt like I was wrong.
I lived every day of my life in significant physical, mental and spiritual pain. It took all my effort to remain mildly optimistic and my back was worse, I went dark. Mid 2017 I couldn’t breathe because my ribs at twisted into my spine and my lungs wouldn’t expand and it was just so bad – I said to myself I never want to feel this way again.
“Mid 2017 I couldn’t breathe because my ribs at twisted into my spine and my lungs wouldn’t expand and it was just so bad – I said to myself I never want to feel this way again.”
I got more into health and fitness, biohacking my own health and rewiring my belief systems through motivational speakers. My sister and I had registered to see Tony Robbins live in Sydney and I was now ready to go. Unleash the Power Within was the first time in 5 years I experienced comfort within my body. I felt on top of the world!!! (please note that this is not an advertisement, for Tony or his programs, just my experience of his impact on my life).
In the following months, I lost track of what and who I was when I was at Unleash the Power Within with brutal work demands (think 1 – 4:30 a.m. finishes) and trying to navigate disability and gender as a junior in a large corporation to prove I was diligent, dedicated and bright. I sunk back down… Deep.
In March 2018, one month exactly after the 5 year anniversary of my accident I was offered another mountain to climb. I had just gone on a yoga weekend, and because I worked so hard at work to try to be conscientious when I came home from the retreat, coupled with a very long commute, my back suffered and took a turn for the worse. One morning I couldn’t get out of bed without difficulty, I kept lying on my kitchen floor crying – I felt so bad. I cried on my drive to work, my mum spontaneously in the car next to me and we wound down the windows at the same time. She saw the sullen face of a broken girl with tears down her face, eyes half closed, glazed over in realisation that this WAS what my life would be like. She mouthed that it will be ok. I cried the whole way to work. My back has seized up so badly, my muscles in my legs with seized up too so I couldn’t walk properly. The muscle in my back pulled everything into a scoliosis so that I could barely shuffle and barely move my back. when I had made it to work I cried to my friend. I was on the first aid floor, unable to move, unable to breathe, shaking. I shuffled to the physio who released my back and my mum had to come and get me from work and drive me home, like I was a child. The doctor said my body went into shock because I was in too much pain for it to handle. I told my mum I didn’t want to be here anymore. And I meant it.
“She saw the sullen face of a broken girl with tears down her face, eyes half closed, glazed over in realisation that this WAS what my life would be like… my body went into shock because I was in too much pain for it to handle. I told my mum I didn’t want to be here anymore. And I meant it.”
I moved closer to work after that and I still struggled.
The real voice inside of me said don’t give up. I enrolled in Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny event and I have just attended the event. And my life will never be the same again.
I learned that I felt like a failure every time I felt like I was in physical pain. I felt like a failure every day. Because of my accident and past, I wanted to have control and certainty over every circumstance – I could never get that – especially with the body I have. I had learned helplessness about my past and back. I was a victim. I carried my story everywhere I went with a cushion in a bag so I would be able to sit on chairs, yet get defensive when people would ask me what the cushion was for. I was worried I’d be considered stupid if they knew I ‘ruined’ my back and my whole life by swinging on a vine in a tree. I was angry at a parent. I was angry at myself. I was angry and selfish.
You learn so many things from people like Tony, but for me, things stuck like ‘I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past’ and that is so true. You meet anyone doing anything of value in this world and every one of those people has had challenges to meet, overcome and have understood what it means to be connected with their purpose, their soul, with love to empower themselves to set themselves, and others, free.
“You meet anyone doing anything of value in this world and every one of those people has had challenges to meet, overcome and have understood what it means to be connected with their purpose, their soul, with love to empower themselves to set themselves, and others, free.”
Tony asks people to stand if they are, or have been recently suicidal. I stood. I mean, a couple of months ago I was lying in sickbay unable to walk or breathe, having to borrow money from family members to come to a conference, unable to make a decision and burdening those that love me – far out, no wonder I didn’t do it sooner!
Loving the gifts of life
But there’s something I learned in Date With Destiny. You’re often asked what your greatest breakthrough is and mine caught me totally unaware. It was that my body is whole and beautiful. It is not a medical specimen and it is not a device of torture to bring me to my knees. I deserve happiness, no matter what has happened in the past and it is my body and I no longer have to be touched without my consent. I’m ready to let go of what I cannot control and embrace what I really am. I get to love myself and decide what happens to my body. I am woman. I am beautiful and nothing is broken.
I realised all my experiences were leading me to a life of service. I asked the Universe, God (whatever you call it) for health, and I got it. My whole value set has changed completely since going to Date With Destiny. My main values are health and vitality. My worst days now are better than the best days before the accident. I had a second chance at life and now it’s time to give back. So you don’t have to almost die to realise what I know to be true. That your ‘worst nightmare’ could be your greatest gift (albeit, packaged in a way you may not like!). Life, and our experience of life, comes from the meaning we give circumstances. That’s the only thing we can control.
“I had a second chance at life and now it’s time to give back. So you don’t have to almost die to realise what I know to be true. That your ‘worst nightmare’ could be your greatest gift …. Life, and our experience of life, comes from the meaning we give circumstances. That’s the only thing we can control.”
It’s not hard to choose to say ‘yes’ to life’ when your whole life’s purpose is geared towards serving people.
At the very last moment of the conference, I asked myself if there was anything holding me back? And in the last two minutes, I said yes, my pillow. I chose to throw it, and that disempowering story, away and embrace who I am meant to be. They ask you to give yourself a name for the ‘new you’ and I chose Spencer to embrace and embody the strength I know I have within me. That’s what I am. I know that I’m a healer and someone is dedicated to a life of service. The last thing I did before I left that conference room was throw out that cushion. I cried, happily embracing Spencer and my destiny to serve and heal.
My top virtue is courage. It has taken courage and bravery I never knew I had to tell you the story of my life, and as you can tell, I haven’t held back. It would have been much much much easier and far more comfortable to hide behind my cushion and watch the world from the sidelines, but I believe my experiences are my greatest blessings. I don’t tell you my story for attention or significance – merely an example of what can happen.
More importantly to let you know you are not alone in your struggles and in your nightmare days. I’ve been broke, broken, abused, misused, hungry and in crippling pain. I walk this walk with you as a friend even if I don’t know you. I walked with you with love and compassion. You are never alone. You doing the best you can. You’re a miracle. Even to be alive, to have a heart that beats for you 115,200 times a day without you having to think of it is a miracle. You’re special and unique. Worthy of love. I love you and I walk with you.
“I walk this walk with you as a friend even if I don’t know you. I walked with you with love and compassion. You are never alone. You doing the best you can. You’re a miracle … You’re special and unique. Worthy of love. I love you and I walk with you.”
I couldn’t walk yet now I can flip. I didn’t love selflessly, now that’s my modus operandi. I was overweight, but now I’m strong and healthy within my body, not because I’m a freak – but because I put one foot in front of the other and I did what I could with what I had. You feel pain – I promise you I can understand. I still experience days of physical discomfort (I just had 3 injuries in the past fortnight alone). But now I look to what can I appreciate, value or love in this beautiful moment. I remember to wriggle my toes and think about how hard that was to do a couple of years before. Definitely beats trashing myself.
I’m not here to tell you any quick fixes, nor am I stupid enough to think my story solves anything for you, just know my greatest challenge became my greatest blessing. I hope it can for you, if only you let the light shine in.
This is what the 28 Project was for me. Not some slice of paradise, but the heaven that comes when the truth sets you free. Now I am free.
Eternal love, gratitude, grace and service,
Veronica (aka Spencer!)
I dedicate this post to my beautiful mother. Thank you.
Please share this message to get it out there to people who need it, or deserve it. I live to serve you. Comment or subscribe below or feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to follow the next chapter of my life, where I will share with you some of the simple learnings I’ve discovered in my health and wellness journey.