The waves don’t stop, neither can we.
Two words that changed my life, normally reserved for moments of commitment, moments to show courage, to make the hard decision. Different this time. My mum on a ventilator, my older brother and close family around the hospital bed in tears. The nurse had told me there was nothing more to do. We could wait, have life support for as long as we wanted, the outcome would be the same. Reflexively, I uttered those two words. I’m used to making decisions, seeing the pieces on the chessboard. Already my mind is racing, looking into the tidal wave of emotions, admin, trauma to come. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this. She slipped away. My brother and I say things I can’t remember, we hug. Already my mind is prioritising, making lists. Tasks, objectives, considerations. I can work the problem and think my way out of this.
Then the days turn to weeks. A low level buzzing numbness creeps into my life. My relationship breaks down just after popping the question. Six years worth of memories finished. I obsess, overtraining, fitness will fix everything, I can control that. I drink more, a night out that lasts six months. My chain of command sees this. I’m top third of my peer group, the guy that’s always squared and good to go, now I’m flailing. They plead with me, then they tell me. Use us. Lean on us, we can help. I have fallen victim to the idea that I’m that guy, I don’t need any help, I can think my way out of this. I’m an alpine mountaineer and have been for a decade, a soldier, I’ve run ultramarathons and survived more near-death experiences and unpleasant situations than most. This is a normal person problem, I’m not a normal person, I can cope with this.
Another month or so goes by, my niece has been born, my brother and I no longer speak. I can’t see his pain, only his reaction to mine. Why is he not there for me? Why is he leaving me on my own? I’ll later see through the selfishness of this bubble. I’ll later recognise that I’ve let him down. I’ve lost my house, but it's ok, I’ll find somewhere else. I can cope with this.
Another grey month. Feeling nothing. I’m halfway up a mountain route, poor choices bring me to a sketchy place, another close call. I don’t even feel scared, I don’t even feel focused. I’m just here. I go on exercise. My normal contagious level of calm and ability to roll with the punches is gone. I’m on a short fuse, snapping, losing my mind at the tiniest of mistakes or inconveniences. I used to love this part. Now I can’t wait for End-ex and to go home, speak to no one and be on my own. I take this as sign and distance myself. The blokes try to look after me, I “lose touch”.
More time passes, it’s a nice summers night. I go for a walk up to my local hill, it's quite scenic. I sit on the edge, even for a decent climber when your legs dangle over the edge, the alarm bells should ring. I still feel nothing. I’m sobbing now, looking out over the trees and rivers. The sun is low in the sky. My overriding thought ‘how did I end up like this?’. I could just quit, make it all stop. Every fibre of my being wants to. I don’t. I still can’t tell you why.
It’s been two long years since that evening. It feels like another life. I’m often melancholic. Missing the person I used to be. But that’s not true, is it? Are we ever a different person, or just ourselves in a different place, time and circumstance? I miss the military, I miss my friends back home, I miss having a family. But I’m still here. I’ve carved out a new reason for being. A job I’m doing well at. I’m back in touch with those who tried to help. A new city. Helping people, especially in these uncertain times.
Piecing yourself back together takes time. The confidence in my own decision making was gone. I’m nervous about things now. More cautious. Am I doing the right thing? Do I try something new or go back to the comfort of what I know? Do I fly to another country and just teach people to climb on a beach somewhere?
Through everything clinging to who you are will help. Some people look to Instagram quotes, YouTube guru’s, any guiding light in the world to tell them what to do and who to be. It's all fake. You have to be who you are in this world. As Marcus said ‘ you have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength’.
I remember someone saying to me, years ago in a course briefing. ‘Nothing is permanent, whatever you’re feeling or however much it hurts, it will not go on forever’. I never paid it much thought at the time but it's maybe the truest thing anyone has ever said. The Devsoc community likes to say ‘the journey is long’ and it is. Life is a constant sequence of events. All you have right now you could lose, and if you have nothing, you might wake up one day with everything you could have ever wanted. All we can do is be ourselves, use our minds, ask for help, work for what we want and most importantly, ride those waves. They won’t stop coming.
Guest Article written by Shaun M.