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BOOK EXTRACT: Dinesh Palipana’s STRONGER
Film & TV|Jul 28, 2022

BOOK EXTRACT: Dinesh Palipana’s STRONGER

Dinesh Palipana Is, Without Question, One Of The Most Inspiring People Living And Working In Australia Today.
Corrine Barraclough

Dinesh Palpana is, without question, one of the most impressive and inspiring people living and working in Australia today. After losing the use of his hands and everything below the chest in a car accident, he went on to complete medical school, becoming a doctor and medical researcher.
His new memoir is filled with inspiration and offers a no-holds-barred look inside our often ego driven hospital system.
In fact, it’s more than a memoir, Stronger really is a mental health philosophy – well worth reading!

 

EXTRACT

You should think of the word ‘depressed’ as ‘deep rest.’ Your body needs to be depressed. It needs deep rest from the character that you’ve been trying to play - Jim Carrey

 

Although I find it interesting now, reading law at univer­sity wasn’t always exciting. The thick tax and constitutional law books made for dry reading. Often, those books of mine were still in mint condition at the end of the semester. Untouched, still shrink-wrapped.

I wasn’t growing a love for the law. Instead, I spent a lot of time amusing myself with things like a pretty girlfriend, my fast car – a black Nissan 300ZX finally – and nightlife. I quickly got caught up in a superficial world, drawn in by the trappings of society.

I remember sitting in a lecture once with a guy and a girl. The guy had a Louis Vuitton bag. The girl was teasing him about it being fake. I didn’t even know what a Louis Vuitton bag was at that point. In Sri Lanka, one of these bags would be worth well over the annual average national salary, maybe even a few times over. I never saw one in 8 Mile either. They proceeded to talk about Louis Vuitton bags, which then deteriorated into an argument about whether Mercedes was better than BMW. The conversation wasn’t in friendly jest, but in poisonous barbs designed to put each other down. In their eyes, the deepest insult was to imply that the other had a lower level of wealth or that their taste in luxury goods was ridiculous.

One of my girlfriends enjoyed the material side of life as well. She loved anything that the latest gossip magazine socialite was into. Her dream was simply to be famous. I think that when you don’t have a well-developed sense of self, it’s natural to follow the flow of the people around you. You become shaped by them. That was me. My goals became superficial too. I started thinking about earning lots of money. I wanted nice things. I wanted to become a partner in a big law firm so I could buy those things.

I think that when you don’t have a well-developed sense of self, it’s natural to follow the flow of the people around you. You become shaped by them. That was me

Eckhart Tolle said, ‘The most common ego identifica­tions have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifi­cations. None of these is you.’ I didn’t know the real me but was misguidedly trying to find an identity in some of those things. I didn’t realise that I was sinking deeper and deeper into unhappiness as a result. There was a slow-growing dark cloud above me that I didn’t see until it was too late.

I did make a couple of friends in law school. I met James Mourdhuj in one of the introductory law classes. In contrast to the thick lush follicles commanded by Truss, I’ve never known Jimmy to have hair. He had a similar skin colour to mine and was nearly the same height. Jimmy became a partner in crime who I often studied with. We bonded over our commonalities – we both liked hip-hop and skipped class to eat at our favourite Indian restaurant. Twelve dollars bought two curries, some naan bread, rice and a drink, although the heavy Indian meal usually put us to sleep rather than fuel us for study. We were profound procrastinators whose assignments were routinely finished during last-minute all-nighters.

Once, Jimmy and I were so sleepy after being in the library all night that on the drive home, being responsible budding lawyers, we decided to pull over at a park to sleep. My 300ZX only had two seats. Jimmy took off his shirt in the summer heat and slept in the front. I opened the shallow boot and laid down, settling into as comfortable a position as I could manage. One of my legs was hanging out of the boot. We both fell into a deep sleep.

Some time later, I opened my eyes to see a police officer standing over me.

‘Uhhh . . . hello.’

‘Someone reported two dead bodies in a car,’ she said.

‘Oh. Well, we’re both alive.’

‘That’s good. It’s less paperwork for us,’ she said.

After a breath alcohol test, we were set free.

When I was at university, I had a job at McDonald’s. I worked there with Jesse and Daniel. We cooked burgers in the back while playing hip-hop on a boombox, checking out the cute girl customers through the gap in the burger warmer. At the start, I was paid $6 per hour or thereabouts. After an entire week’s work, the paycheque was around $300. For a while, I worked in a 24-hour McDonald’s as well. Sometimes, I did night shifts, then went to class in the morning smelling like grease.

The reality is, I didn’t have to do any of that because my parents looked after me well. But, I wanted to learn some life skills. And I did. There was no better place to learn the importance of things like systems than McDonald’s. Their systems were set up so I could make 12 cheeseburgers in two and a half minutes. It was a well-oiled machine.

After McDonald’s, I worked in the video game section at Harvey Norman. I was a terrible salesman. I gave most people a discount, even when they didn’t ask for one. That was the job that took me through to the latter part of law school.

Law school was a competitive place, at times ruthlessly so. I once did a small tax law assignment but didn’t go to the class to hand it in. I entrusted it to a colleague. When I got a zero for the assignment, I queried this with the tutor. He told me that I never handed the assignment in. It turned out my colleague had copied the assignment verbatim, handed it in as his own and thrown mine out. The amazing thing is, when I asked him about it, he told me exactly what he had done with a perfectly straight, unsurprised face. It was as if I had asked a silly question. Many years later, the same colleague fell under scrutiny by the authorities for questionable practices. I guess old habits die hard for some.

A more important point is the reason why I didn’t go to that tax tutorial. By then, that dark cloud had mushroomed to envelope my entire sky. I was struggling with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia – the fear of leaving a safe environment because of a potential panic attack. It was something that I had never experienced before. Things were so bad sometimes that I was afraid to go outside the house. That’s what happened that day. That’s why I gave my friend the assignment to hand in. I was too afraid to go to the class.

 

* Stronger is out now, published by Pan Macmillan.