Ballina adventurer breaks 38 years of silence
AFTER 38 years of silence, Ballina adventurer Ken McIlwain - or Kenny Mac - has shared his experience with sexual abuse and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in his emotional new biography No Defence.
The book, written by Lauren Wilkinson-Barnes, dives deep into the dark past that has fuelled Ken's seemingly superhuman feats, including ultra-marathons, hiking to Everest Base Camp, and a mammoth 1900km cycle across the top of Australia.
"It took three years and a lot of tears," he said.
"It's basically to assist other people who aren't going to say anything and haven't come out about abuse.
"I'm just showing that it can be done."
Ken was abused after he signed up to serve his country as an apprentice in the Royal Australian Navy.
From the age of 16, he endured abuse from senior staff of the training establishment where has was initially posted.
He reported the abuse, but couldn't get anyone to believe him, before eventually being discharged from the navy.
"I hid it for 38 years and the reason why I hid it was because no one believed me," he said.
"That is one of the biggest issues with sexual abuse.
"I had to hide all my trauma and hide all the things that happened to me.
"The triggers that set you off, I had to hide all those.
"The only way I could deal with it was to work 24/7, and when I wasn't working, I'd exercise."
In the book, Ken discusses how the psychological trauma manifested itself later in his life, such as the obsessive collecting of a specific brand of soap used in the defence force, as well as printing and hoarding emails.
"I used to go to Woolies and buy the whole shelf (of this brand of soap)," he said.
"And then, after a couple of years, they didn't have it, so I went to the chemist for them.
"And then they stopped getting it.
"Eventually it wasn't sold to the public anymore, so I had to go through that with the psychologist.
"Washing myself in that soap was a thing that saved me, and I had to live with that.
"And because no one ever believed me with the sexual abuse, I printed every email I ever got and stored them chronologically.
"So, if anybody said to me 'Ken you didn't do this', I could go to the right box pull it out and say 'here'.
"When I went to my psychologist about it, she said you have to get rid of them - 'you don't need this anymore; people believe you now'.."
Ken talks about his PTSD as a separate entity - like an "extra housemate" that has come to live with the real Ken.
"PTSD takes over your brain. When you do something and create a memory, it has a time stamp. With trauma, the memory has no time stamp."
"That's where trauma victims have issues," he said.
"When a trigger comes up - one of mine is wind blowing on the back of my neck - in my mind I'm taken back to when I was 17.
"I have this saying 'a different time, a different place, I'm safe now'."
Ken has since had this phrase tattooed on his arm as a constant reminder that the source of his trauma is behind him.
"So now, if I'm anywhere and a trigger happens, I'll just put my arm on my lap, look down and read those words," he said.
"It reminds my brain that it is just a trigger - it was a different time and that I'm safe now."
While this book is emotional and confronting at times, Ken says "it's not all bad, bad, bad news in the book. "
"There are some funny parts, too.
"The main message that I want to get across is just never give up - don't let them grind you down.
"I try and add a positive side among all the negative, because that's the only way you can beat it."
For every copy of No Defence sold on Ken's website, $1 will go to Bravehearts - Australia's leading child protection organisation.
The book can be found on Amazon or https://kennymacadventures.com.au/my-book/