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"I was a mess." 18 years after being hit by a bus, Madeleine West returned to the scene.

In 2002, Madeleine West went out to grab snacks.

Twenty minutes later, she was loaded with everything you could need for a late night meal, from cereal to chocolate to corn chips.

Satisfied, she ventured back out onto Sydney’s Oxford St to head back to her hotel.

Madeleine West on her split from Shannon Bennett. Post continues below video.


Video via Channel 10

Stopping near a bus stop – yes, on the footpath – she turned her head to get her bearings. Then she was hit by a bus.

The actress, now 39, sustained a number of serious injuries, some of which are visible in a graphic photo she shared to Instagram in May, to commemorate 18 years since her near-death experience.

"Today I’m celebrating 18 years since being hit by a bus in the head," she wrote alongside the image. "Always wanted to be the kind of girl who stopped traffic. Just preferably not with my face."

The photo was taken on West’s road to recovery, "but doesn’t reveal the three skull fractures, leaking brain fluid, the cerebral hemorrhage and hematoma, the busted teeth, broken capillaries, the wounds that wouldn’t knit, the endless nights of excruciating pain, the months of therapy to regain gross motor skills".

The image did, however, show the impact the accident had on her appearance.

 




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Today I’m celebrating 18 years since being hit by a bus in the head…always wanted to be the kind of girl who stopped traffic. Just preferably not with my face. This pic was snapped on the road to healing, but doesn’t reveal the three skull fractures leaking brain fluid, the cerebral hemorrhage and hematoma, the busted teeth, broken capillaries, the wounds that wouldn’t knit, the endless nights of excruciating pain, the months of therapy to regain gross motor skills, but it demonstrates what I thought was the greatest tragedy: the effect it had on my #appearance. However: that would be the greatest #gift. You see, The way we look, as definitive as we think it is, actually makes up the tiniest portion of who we are. Yet if we take all we are, all we have to offer, our gifts, our personality, our ambitions, our #dreams, and try to cram it into that tiny percentage, then how much will we miss out on? How much will the world miss out on? And what kind of world do we live in if everyone slices and dices the essence of who they are to allow their most definitive character trait to be their appearance? I learned that no-one should ever be forced to give up their dreams. No matter who we are, where we come from or how we look, our dreams are what sustain us. Our ambitions get us out of bed in the morning, and if you have the #courage, the #determination, the drive, and the willingness to work hard to transform the dream into reality, then nothing can stop you … not even a #bus. To all the girls and boys out there, desperately primping, pimping and punishing themselves, labouring to make themselves Insta-ready, editing those selfies, all for a world that tells them their nose doesn’t seem to fit their face, that their butt is too big, those boobs are too small, where is your waist? Your perfect hair? Your perfect teeth? Your perfect mani-pedi? I call BS, and encourage you to as well. The glass ceiling is yours for the breaking, and at the end of the day, the most attractive quality you can possess is belief in yourself.

A post shared by  Madeleine West Actor (@madmadswest) on

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Speaking to host Mia Freedman on No Filter, West said she had been discouraged for a long time from sharing the long, complicated journey she faced due to her brain injury.

“I was still working on Neighbours so my representatives at the time and management in the company at the time, who are no longer there [discouraged her].

“It would require me to open up and discuss things that I didn’t really have the language for at that time but I guess there is always that sensibility of longevity. When you’re young, I was all of 21, you tend to embrace that and carry that forward and go ‘okay, well this is how I have to perform’. So I was encouraged to keep that side of me closeted for a long time.”

Instead, she focussed on how it changed how she looked at herself.

At the time of the accident, West's career was just beginning; she had been playing Dee Bliss on Neighbours since 2000, but when she saw herself in the mirror the first time in hospital, she thought her acting dreams had vanished.

"I had made the mistake of equating my appearance to my ability, and thinking the way I looked was the most important thing about me and for me that was reinforced every day of my life: I’d go to work and be made pretty, I’d stand on set and pretty lights would be put on me and pretty clothes would be put on my body. That seemed to be the sum total of my value," West explained.

"Being hit by a bus and having my face messed up and rendered almost unrecognisable, I really had to ask myself an important question and that was: 'did I become an actor so I could be on the cover of magazines in a bikini and look sexy, or was it so I could be a storyteller?' and it was the latter. With that came the understanding a storyteller could come in any way, shape or form."

LISTEN: Madeleine West on No Filter. Post continues below audio.

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After an arduous month, including rehabilitation and reconstructive surgery, she returned to the Neighbours set.

After leaving the soap in 2004, West dabbled in improv, comedy and song-writing alongside her acting career.

Among her most well-known roles are as an escort in Satisfaction, underworld girlfriend Danielle McGuire in Underbelly, and Kath Rickards in Channel 10’s juicy Playing for Keeps.

Oh, and in 2017 she returned to Neighbours as both Dee and her twin sister Andrea.

Recently, she realised she hadn't dealt with the PTSD that came after being hit by a bus.

"It really came to the fore about two months ago; it was just an innocuous situation, I was going across the road to get some milk," she said on No Filter.

"I came out of the convenience store and a bus pulled close to the curb and I panicked. I went into complete fight or flight. I was standing frozen and aware that I looked like a fool, my kids were in the car across the road and they could see me standing there [hyperventilating] and I remember thinking 'this is so embarrassing but I can't stop it, I need to do something about it'." 






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I DID IT! 1 busy #Sydney #bus stop 4 hours 62 #buses 7 straight hours of terror, trembling, wailing, weeping, reckoning and hysterical laughter... Any residual #rage left on Sydney’s streets by the weekends #protest has been well and truly washed clean by my #tears....scrubbing away the last memories of my blood spilled by the bus accident 18 years ago... Now I’m headed #home, utterly wrecked yet somehow renewed. I’m #sharing because in this moment I feel like complete crap...but I know without a shadow of a doubt that facing your fears sets you free (even if right now I’m #selfisolating in an airport toilet pulling myself together...I’m slipping on my big girls pants to see if they finally fit!). I will share the whole sordid, celebratory saga...once I find the words to express it! Now we, the #people, as a #collective, are ushering in a new world, and I feel like I’m beginning a new life, holding on to just enough of the old one to appreciate all I have, all I’ve achieved, and all that’s yet to come. For isn’t that the point of a #life-changing experience? It has the #power to change your #life...if you are #brave enough to let it...

A post shared by  Madeleine West Actor (@madmadswest) on

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That's why, in June, she flew to Sydney to visit the very bus stop where the accident took place on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst.

"I stood there and I'll be honest, I was a mess. I felt like a child having a tantrum, I was hyperventilating, I started crying, I was trying to hide the fact I was crying.

"I was huddled on the park bench and the saving grace for me was a woman put her hand on my shoulder and said 'are you okay?' and instead of going 'yeah, I'm fine!' I just said 'I'm not, I got hit by a bus at this bus stop 18 years ago and it's really terrifying'.

"She said 'it's okay, it's okay, can I sit here with you?' and she stayed with me for four and a half hours. We just stayed there, and she watched me go through the whole process."

West said the woman's name was Karen, but besides that they didn't exchange any personal details, and it really made her realise the kindness of strangers.

West is also kept busy by her six children Phoenix, 14, Hendrix, 12, Xascha, nine, Xanthe, seven, and twins Xalia and Marguax, five, with ex-partner Shannon Bennett.

She has worked hard to keep her family out of the public eye and even turned down offers for the family to feature in its own reality show.

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West and Bennett met in 2005 and split in 2018. Despite the breakup, both relocated their family from Melbourne to Byron Bay in 2019.

Speaking on No Filter, West said co-parenting required a consistent 'triangle of communication' with Bennett, their children and their school.

While homeschooling during school shutdowns in 2020, West said she adapted online learning into outdoor lessons for her younger children and encouraged 'round table' conversations with her elder kids.

She also said she didn't expect to have six children.

"It wasn't necessarily on the agenda, and it's reinforced for me that there isn't no right time or wrong time to become a parent. You become a parent when you do, and you make the most of it."

West told The Kyle and Jackie O Show in October 2019, her and Bennett’s needs no longer aligned after 13 years together.

“I’m a big believer that everything in life has a season. We change. We evolve,” she said.

“At some point we go, ‘Well, I have certain needs I want to have met and you’ve got certain needs and if the two don’t combine and cross in the middle, why fight it and be miserable?'”

“I don’t think that’s fair to the children either to see two parents that are constantly at cross purposes.”

West’s other passion is activism, especially for the environment. She uses her social media platforms to share how her followers can fight climate change, and raise awareness to the plights of asylum seekers and those in detention centres.

She told No Filter she'd realised she could tell real-life stories as well as scripted ones.

"Yes, I'm an actor and an author and now an activist, but they're all just strands of being a storyteller," she explained.

"The wonderful thing about that is everyone has a story, everyone has a story that deserves to be told and as a storyteller you're allowing the entire world to step into someone else's shoes for a moment and that requires empathy and compassion."

Feature Images: Instagram.

This post was originally published on May 27, 2020, and updated on September 16, 2020.


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