The Day I Found The Courage To Change My Life
Yesterday I went to bed staring at the ceiling because I was afraid if I closed my eyes I'd have the spins. In my younger years, it was spurred on by one too many rum and cokes. Now, it's from taking on too many projects or setting ridiculous expectations for when I'll get it all done. I'm all for audacious goals, but it's almost like your ego forgets to check in with your life. Is it so much to ask for a little common courtesy to see if you and your ego are on the same page?
The ego is a typical self-centred nut driven by a need to prove themselves to the world. I'm sure a politician or two pops to mind that embodies this wholeheartedly. The ego is a well-crafted smoke and mirrors show. New York Times bestseller Michael Pollan likens an overactive ego to a tyrant over your life. It blinds us to the reality of the pain we often find ourselves battling with.
I have a reminder set in my phone that pings every year on April 16. I don't know why I even set it because I'll never forget that day. Every night I pass my dresser I see his face sitting on a hockey-sized card with the words, "In Loving Memory of Danny Wilson, March 1, 1994 - April 16, 2011." It's impossible to capture in words the void someone leaves in your life when they're ripped from your world unexpectedly. One moment they're here, living, breathing and being. The next moment, a phone call, "Are you sitting down?", your head collapsing into your hands as you try in a desperate attempt to steady whatever semblance of a reality still exists.
I was not at a good place in my life when that moment shattered into a million little kaleidoscopic pieces. I hated my job. I hated the city I lived in. I hated who I was as a person. These realizations popped out like a ping pong ball unable to withstand the pressure of life any longer. I drifted back into the conversation with my Dad as he choked back tears. He was attempting to keep it together, but the pain was far stronger than any idiotic desire for men not to look weak.
I didn't have some glorious miracle-worthy transformation that followed the death of my cousin. What I had was the deepest pain that I have ever felt. As a kid, you're told that if you dig deep enough you'll end up in China. I felt like I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the earth. No way forward and no way backwards. But what that moment did give me, was a starting point. I knew where the hell I was for the first time in my life. Simple truth = we're not on this planet that long. I decided I would never again settle for less than who I thought I was capable of becoming. If not for me, for Danny. I didn't have the right to piss away my life because I was too afraid to confront my demons.
Helen Keller, a woman who triumphed in the face of great adversity chose her words wisely when she spoke. Stricken with illness, she was robbed of her hearing and sight at two years old. She not only learned how to communicate, but became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her wisdom is part of what helped me see life for what it is. She reminded me that, "What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us."
Pain becomes a pivot point. When it's deep enough, strong enough, emotional enough, it has the power to change the entire course of your life. Pain launches a SWAT-team battering ram through the basement door you've kept under lock and key because you're too afraid to open it and confront the monsters.
When you're confronted with your own mortality, you see that life only exists here in the present. Everything you thought mattered only holds power if you relinquish your ability to make decisions. It's like as a kid watching a puppet show, you're so focused on the puppet that you're blind to the person controlling its movement and voice. The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life, you claim the power to change anything in your life.
I moved back in with my parents, found a counsellor and started to think about what I wanted from life. It led to a realization that much of my life up until my late twenties had been living in a fog of chronic depression, anxiety and bipolar unbeknownst to me. And sadly, one more reminder that school is the worst possible place to prepare you for life. I had learned zero coping skills and had an empty toolbox.
Pain turned the entire world into a mirror that reflected a person that feels like a shell of who I am today. I didn't have to spend years stripping the rotting layers of an onion to get to the core. It forced me to focus on the decisions that needed to be made. This is what pushed me to take control of my life in the only way I knew how, one day at a time. The decisions that you're making right now, every day, will shape how you feel today, as well as who you're going to become.
Nothing else matters without a healthy mind. Ideas, creativity, a fulfilling life come from a beautiful state. The decision to live in a beautiful state is yours alone to make. You can go on living a skeleton version of yourself, or you can sink into the flesh and bones of who you are. A life well lived has the scars to prove it. You are alive. Take care of yourself and those you love (and even those you don't). Helen Keller reminds us that "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
When you begin to think long term and look at what you want to accomplish in life, the concerns of a shitty day are often laughable. I'm blessed to be alive. My staring at the ceiling with a mind racing is a pain I'm choosing to put myself through. No one else can put me through that but me.
Much of the pain you face in the day to day is created from the choices you make when you're focused on the short term. In Tony Robbins’ book Awaken The Giant Within, he explains that "It's not actual pain that drives us, but our fear that something will lead to pain... We're not driven by the reality but our perception of reality."
There are times in life that pain will crash over you as a rag doll tossed in the undertow of life. But there are far more times when we project pain onto ourselves needlessly. The cure is a simple one. Lead with empathy and practice compassion. It helps to recognize that pain is inevitable in life. Suffering is often because we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.