With typical wry humour, Jenni Atkinson, 54, describes herself as “a ridiculously proud, out and sassy queer gender f****** transwoman.”
And indeed, many Canberrans would know her as someone who works tirelessly on LGBTIQ human rights. As part of this activism, Jenni started the ACT-based information and support group TranzAustralia in 2011.
This story is not about that. It’s about the moment Jenni’s 24-hour partying lifestyle nearly killed her. Listen to her compelling story below, or read on for more.
At the time of ‘the moment’, Jenni was just 35 and was working for “a large telecommunications company” and “living life to the full.”
Reflecting back to the year 1997, she says: “I am drinking. I’m smoking. I’m going out and I’m going to parties, and working hard, and playing very hard as well.
“During that time of my life I was a very minute 54 kilogram person. I maybe ate every two or three days or something like that.
“I was existing on alcohol and it wasn’t a very healthy lifestyle at all.”
The party didn’t last. One day, Jenni got a terrible migraine. She took some medication, prescribed by her doctor, and went to bed.
“The next morning I woke up and I wasn’t better.
“I had a terrible headache and my right arm and my right leg were just not responding,” Jenni recalls, “I could feel the blood sort of pulsing at the back of my head.”
As it turned out, Jenni had experienced an adverse reaction to the medication. This led to a stroke.
“Whilst I was asleep, the migraine medication had caused my left interior carotid artery to spasm, which would cut off the blood supply to the left side of my brain, knocking out my right side.
“I describe it as a near death experience. I could have died [and] had there been a blood clot, it could have killed me,” Jenni says.
Her recovery was long and slow and it gave Jenni time to reflect on how she wanted to live the rest of her life.
“I had to learn to pick up a child’s brick and stack it on top of another one. I had to learn to walk again.
“That was very difficult and a lot of what got me through was anger. I was very, very angry with myself for having got to this point,” she says.
Jenny now sees simply being alive as “a blessing.”
“My credo, why I’m here on life, I believe, is to help other people be themselves, be authentic. Live their lives to the full,” she says.
“I used to think that I was scared of death…I have now realised, I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of not being here and being able to help people,” she says.
Apart from her LGBTI activism, Jenni’s other passions are good food, good company and her two-year-old cats – Pebbles and Bam Bam.
“They are gorgeous rescue feline fur baby people. They keep me grounded.”
It’s easy to misjudge Jenni. People tend to see her as “a friendly optimist who chats to everyone.”
However she says others perhaps aren’t aware of “how much change and struggle I have had in my life.”
“If you knew the whole backstory, you’d weep,” she adds.
On a more upbeat note Jenni makes fun of herself, freely admitting she is “crap at relationships [with people].”
“Like Boy George said, cup of tea or sex? I’ll take the cuppa everytime,” Jenni says with a laugh.
Do you know a Canberra woman with a powerful, life-changing moment?
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Photograph of Ginger: Richard Tuffin – AtRT Photos