IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Filmed Unconscious For Reality Television

I apparently fell face down and had entire conversations with he producers in which I agreed to be filmed that I know nothing about.
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Toni White
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I apparently fell face down and had entire conversations with he producers in which I agreed to be filmed that I know nothing about.

In October 2013, my life changed dramatically. After spending almost two years going through, and attempting to recover from a breakdown, I booked a one-way ticket to Sydney in the hopes of beginning a new life for myself; one filled with happiness, hope and dream-chasing.

But it wasn't meant to be, because within 6 weeks of arriving, I became sick with symptoms that would be misdiagnosed for months. I was jaundiced, couldn't stomach food, and was therefore extremely lethargic. However, I pushed through as much as possible and attempted to explore my new surroundings. Until February happened.

I was extremely sick with this undiagnosed condition, when I had a friend visiting me for the weekend. We decided to complete the famous walk from Coogee to Bondi. After arriving at Bondi a few hours later and spending a couple of hours of laying on the beach, we decided to head home but the walk had clearly exhausted me more than I thought because as we were heading away from the beach, I fainted outside the pavilion.

That was humiliating enough but it was also the height of summer, which meant that the cameras were on the beach filming for the TV show Bondi Rescue (an Australian reality program that follows the daily lives of lifeguards). According to my friend, the camera crew got to me before the lifeguards. And so, that is how I ended up on an international TV show; unconscious.

One minute I was in the toilet feeling sick (nothing unusual given the previous months I had been unwell) and the next I was in the lifeguard tower with an oxygen mask on my face. Despite having conversations with people around me, I don’t remember much of it and that is upsetting in and of itself. 

 I apparently fell face down and had entire conversations with the paramedic and lifeguards including the producers in which I had seemingly agreed to be filmed, that I know nothing about.

What I do remember is pieced together from what my friend told me and what I saw on the show. I can’t put into words how it feels to be part of something you have no memory of and to see it play out on camera knowing you could have said or done anything.

I told no one about it. I was embarrassed, upset and it felt like the final straw proving how sick I truly was. But I was also in denial. I didn’t tell my family because I didn’t want them to worry anymore than they were and I didn’t tell my friends because I reasoned that a "simple" faint would never make it to TV, even when the producer had got in touch with me, so there was no point announcing it.

Just days after fainting on the beach, I was told I was very ill with what turned out to be an incorrect diagnosis, and made the extremely painful decision to fly home to the UK as an emergency. I had lost everything. All the months I had spent working, attempting to live my dream and in a matter of days, it was over and I was flying home just five months after arriving.

It was a few weeks later when the show aired in Australia and I woke up to a bunch of messages from friends saying that they’d seen me and said how "cool" or "funny" it was but I couldn’t laugh because it was such an incredibly sad part of my journey. 

I don’t see it as a warped "badge of honour" that I was on Bondi Rescue. I was sick and unconscious and the blood tests I had done taken that morning before the walk ultimately led to my heartbreaking need to leave Bondi just a few days later; the place my heart had found its home.

People attempted to make light of the situation and yes, I suppose, it could be seen as funny but joking was the last thing I wanted or needed to listen to when I’d just been diagnosed with an incurable illness of the liver (autoimmune hepatitis -- my liver is constantly trying to fight off an imaginative infection) believing I would never get back to Australia. Those 3 minutes of the show represent one of the most difficult times in my life; the decree that my "marriage" to Sydney had ended so abruptly and painfully.

It took me days to work up the courage to watch the episode and when I did, tears poured down my face. There I was watching physical proof of my body failing me. But I still told no one about it; not even my family. I wanted to forget all about it. 

Though I knew I had nothing to be ashamed of -- I wasn’t drunk, high or ignoring signs about dangerous currents -- I was ill and genuinely needed their help but it is one thing to write my vulnerability on my website and a different thing entirely to visually witness it for myself. I looked so pale, fragile and broken; I still find it so difficult to watch.

It's human nature to be curious about each other and to watch voyeuristic reality shows; I used to watch Bondi Rescue myself but until I was on it, I never gave any thought to how the person being filmed felt. Stupid? Proud? Vulnerable? Embarrassed? 

As I discovered; heartbreaking. The show represents my dreams dying through no fault of my own and though I am now beginning to feel comfortable talking about it, that episode will still remind me of all that I have been through.

It’s been a rollercoaster year since being on Bondi Rescue last February. After spending months at home between doctors appointments and filling steroid prescriptions, I made it back to Australia and I now call Bondi home; the beach is at the end of my road. I run the sand or coastal path on an almost daily basis, have great friends and find inspiration to write on an almost daily basis.

I am a world away from the girl you see in that video. Except I'm not.

Thirteen months after my TV debut, after being ill for weeks once more I discovered that my liver was failing again. To know that I have come so far since last year but to be brought back down to Earth with a bump, hurt.

But this time I have carried on and attempted to live regardless.

I will not go home this time and I will continue to run when able. Though my heartbreak is immortalised in a few short minutes of reality TV, I no longer have to let it define who I am.