“Couldn’t you just man up?”
In 2012 this sentence was uttered to a severely mentally ill me by my line manager, a Flight Lieutenant. At the time, it didn’t have much impact on me; I politely said to him “That’s not how this works, Sir” and explained to him about the chemical imbalances and brain activity associated with depression. We finished our ‘meeting’ with me simply thinking he was a bit ignorant.
Approximately a year later the same Flight Lieutenant asked two of my line managers to have a chat with me. “We have reason to believe you’re using your ‘symptoms’ in order to get out of taskings and get time off work, we need to ask you to stop this or we will need to start disciplinary action”. Now, this situation was different, this felt like an instant punch to the gut. What followed was a full-blown breakdown in myself which includes a panic attack and a situation in which I very nearly hurt myself. I was furious, I was hurt, I felt betrayed by the very people who oversaw my well-being at work.
The following years I grew angry, very angry, not just at these management figures but everyone. My motto became ‘Everyone is an arsehole until they prove me wrong’, I would happily start an argument with anyone, shout and scream at them, take pleasure in making them small because they had wronged me in some way, I constantly had imaginary arguments with people in my head, had thoughts about hurting people, in short I was a complete bastard, all because of this one 10 minute meeting back in 2013.
‘That’s great Pete but what’s your point?’ I hear you asking.
Well, I wasn’t only living in the past because of what had happened, I had let this one event define me as a person, not only that but I had given these 2 managers so much control over my life that I had forgotten that I’m in control of my own thoughts, words and actions. It took a lot of medication and therapy for me to finally realise that although what they had done was a really shitty thing to do, what they thought about me and my illness was irrelevant, their actions didn’t define me, and I was in control of my own thoughts, words and actions.
Life will throw things at us, sometimes awful things. In the moment it’s completely normal to react however we react. But once this has passed we have a choice to how we react. For example, This is why someone who has suffered from a robbery (for example) may develop a fear of leaving the house, or someone else may become a champion of community security and lowering crime rates (There’s no judgement either way here, just different ways of reacting to an event).
For many (including myself) this was a bitter pill to swallow but an incredibly powerful one. I realised that we’re not the result of what happens to us, we’re the result of what we do about it, or another way of putting it, your past doesn’t define you, your choices do.