As a young adult John would often get together with his old schoolmates to reminisce about their time at a Victorian Christian Brothers college in the 1970s. John and his mates would crack jokes and laugh at the bizarre behaviour of the Brothers back then.
There was Brother Phillips, who liked to watch the boys as they showered, and Brother Dawson, who liked to do more than just watch.
‘As we were coming out of the shower’ John recalled, ‘he would check that we were dry with his hands by inserting them between our legs and touching our penis and that sort of thing’.
While chatting with his friends John tended to minimise these incidents, thinking of them as ‘trivial’ compared to what other children went through. Then when John was 30 his son was born and suddenly the incidents didn’t seem trivial at all.
‘Not long after he was born,’ John said, ‘I started to have sort of panic attacks about what might happen to him and how I might protect him from similar experience’.
John contacted the Catholic Church and reported his experience to a nun. Sometime later the Church issued a vague, general apology for the Brothers’ behaviour. They took no other action and offered John no support, leaving him alone to cope with a new baby, a wife with post-natal depression and a long hidden wound that had suddenly split open.
‘I have been treated for depression since then. I’m on medication. I’ve tried yoga, I’ve tried exercise for a couple of years. I’ve tried to cope pretty well and manage things.’
Despite his efforts to self-manage, John still finds that some events will trigger his anxiety. It happened when his son joined the Scouts and the organisers asked him to volunteer as a scout leader.
‘I didn’t think I could cope being around children who were probably 10 or so. Not because of any urges I had but I just didn’t think that I had the right mindset or skillset to help them. So I guess I kept away.’
For a while he was bullied at work and didn’t know how to deal with it in a healthy way so he ended up lashing out.
‘I lost my temper and told him to – I think the words would be described, something along the lines of “fuck off” but it was a tirade of language. I just lost my calm. I’d never been like that before. That did send me into a six-week period where I was basically unable to function.’
Since then a new and more understanding manager has helped John to settle back into work. These days John still struggles with low confidence and feelings of shame and embarrassment but he tries to step back and see himself as others do.
‘I have a lot of trouble with extra responsibility. I guess maybe it’s a defensive mechanism. People are suggesting that I can take on more, or people say that they think I’ve got more capacity to do things. But I guess I feel like at times I’ve reached my limit and I can’t do any more. So people see perhaps more in me than I see in myself.’