After two years filled with physical and emotional pain, Alex Brennan shares what he’s learned, much of it by accident.
In February of 2012 I had a bad accident, falling ten metres from a balcony and breaking 17 bones, puncturing my lung and kidney, and sustaining a frontal lobe brain injury.
Bones mend, pain subsides and injuries heal, but I wasn’t told I had a brain injury, merely a bruised brain. So I went back to work 5 weeks after the accident. I was sacked after three months at the end of my probation. I went back to my previous employer, and was sacked two months later. At this stage I had discovered that I had a brain injury, and my employer agreed to meet with the specialist I was seeing. After that meeting, they also agreed to take me back on. I was sacked for the third time a month later.
I became a stonemason, and expended huge amounts of energy training every morning and working hard lifting and shaping stone for 8 hours a day. I quit that job when I realised that my boss, an alcoholic and a marijuana addict, was not a great person to be around while I was abstaining, on specialist advice, from all drugs – both legal and illegal.
I returned to a role in recruitment with an organisation that specialised in the For Purpose sector, however, by this time my post brain injury mania had switched to full blown clinical depression. Getting out of bed was a challenge. Getting out of bed and pushing my sons to two separate day care centres in a double pram, then catching a bus to work, then a bus home and picking up the boys to push them home again was a bigger challenge, but I got it done. Despite the anxiety, desperate unhappiness and general malcontent I felt with my life and the situation I was in.
In January of 2014 I confessed to the Directors at the for purpose recruitment firm that I was severely depressed. I was surprised by the compassion, support and genuine care they showed me. They told me to take as much time as I needed to get better.
A few weeks later I had a breakdown, and checked myself into Northside Clinic, a mental health and drug & alcohol rehabilitation hospital in Sydney. They prescribed Lithium, in addition to the Zoloft anti-depressant medication I was taking already, and I got out two weeks later.
Since February 2014 I have been well. I am exercising regularly, eating well, taking my medication and meditating every day.
Then in August my wife told me she no longer loves me and wanted a separation. I agreed, shocked that the woman who had been by my side through the worst two years of my life could feel this way, when things were finally getting better. We had just moved into a new house we bought in Newcastle, I had put in a beautiful vegetable patch, the kids were happy with all the space we now had and life was good.
I’ve been living alone in a bachelor pad in the city, about 15 minutes drive from my wife and children, for three months now. We have been to two marriage counselling sessions and have one more booked today. I assumed we were going to a marriage counsellor to try to get our marriage back together. Imagine my surprise when my wife said her intention was to work out how we could best raise our two boys to be happy and well adjusted while living in separate houses for the rest of our lives.
She must have reiterated at least a dozen times that she doesn’t love me anymore, and never will again. It was like a knife to the heart after two years of savage beatings from life following the accident.
My friends and family were understandably worried. After all, I have been through so much, and when I am now finally getting back on my feet, my wife, the woman I love more than anyone else in the world, has pulled the rug out from under me.
My compelling argument is that we had been in love for seven wonderful years before the accident. We already had one child, and we had a second after the balcony incident. They are gorgeous little boys, who bring us both so much joy, and we are a strong family unit. Obviously not as strong as I thought, nor was my argument compelling enough.
She attests that it is unfair for her to give me any hope that we will get back together, when I could be out finding someone else who is interested in the same things that I am, and who will support me better than she can on my life’s journey in the future.
So what have I learned from all this? What measure of wisdom have I attained from the worst few years of my life? There are several things I now know to be true:
- Even if you have been in love and living with someone for seven years, you still don’t really know their true colours. Not until you have to go through a significant trauma together.
- Of all the people you call your friends, if you are lucky, 10% of them will be there for you when you are really in need. That’s not in any way derogatory to the other 90%, I mean we all have our challenges in life and are busy trying to get by the best we can. There isn’t always time to check in and offer to help a friend in need.
- No matter how many times you have been knocked down, there is strength in you enough to get up again, and again, and again, and again…”our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.”
- Even once your heart is broken, it is still possible to find love again. I’m not at that stage yet, but with every passing day I feel like I will, one day, be able to find someone new to love and spend my life with.
- Never give up on yourself, or anyone else. Life is too short to live in fear, with bitterness and resentment in your heart. Never fear that your health won’t improve, for it may well do. Even if you are dying, live in the hope of a better life after death, reincarnation, or peaceful oblivion once the end comes. Don’t fear that your friends have abandoned you when you need them most. Don’t hold onto the bitterness and resentment that you may feel when you are lonely and in need of support that just isn’t there. Time heals all wounds, and maybe one day those friends you missed will be even more important than they once were to you. Life is full of surprises.
- Family is the most important thing in life. When all around you are losing their heads, turning their backs, judging and pointing the finger at you, you can (usually) rely on your immediate family for support. My wife and I have two beautiful boys, and we will always be their parents. My mum and dad, brothers and sister have been invaluable in helping through the most difficult period of my life. Cherish them. Thank them. Value them. Support them when they need you. They are your rock, your strength, your port in a storm. You can be theirs too.
- Money means nothing unless you have people you care about around you. You can’t spend it when you’re dead, and being a millionaire counts for nothing if you have no love in your life.
- If you have a family history of mental illness, you need to work extra hard to keep the Black Dog at bay. Exercise daily, meditate, take your prescription medications, avoid alcohol and drugs, live clean and stay vital.
- Never give up on becoming a better person. No matter what you have done, been or said in the past, redemption is possible. You can become a better person than you were yesterday, last year or last decade. You need to work at it, but it is always possible.
- Without a higher purpose, life’s accomplishments can seem shallow. Find something you are passionate about. Get involved with a community of positive people who wish to make positive changes to the world. Start raising money for charity. Establish a charity. Do a fun run. GET INVOLVED.
- Always be true to your values. If you know that family is the most important thing in your life, and you need to forgo an overseas trip (which will make you a million dollars) to spend quality time with them, forgo the trip. If your physical and mental health is important, have the discipline to abstain from alcohol or unhealthy foods for a month or two. If you value your friends, make time for them.
I guess these are all things that people might think, “Well I know that, and I didn’t have to fall off a balcony to work it out,” which is fair enough. However, I feel that I have learned more in the past 3 years than I would have if I hadn’t experienced the initial trauma of the accident and the ongoing trauma of losing jobs, mania, depression, separation and life as a single Dad.
While I’m not about to say I am happy all this happened, I am certain that the positive outcomes – that have resulted from the traumatic life conditions of the past few years – far outweigh the negative ones.
On the blessings front, I have two beautiful sons, an ex-wife whom I still love and have a fantastic, amicable relationship with, my health, a successful business, a great circle of supportive friends and a roof over my head. Plus a 1972 original Fender Stratocaster.
So if you’re struggling with a seemingly insurmountable problem, you have relationship or health issues, you are broke, or you just don’t care any more, think of all the positive reasons you have to go on living. And not just living but never settling for anything less than the life of your dreams.
I’m on my way to achieving a better life than I ever dreamed possible.
If not for the accidental wisdom I have acquired through all this trauma, I may never have seen the light.
Originally published at abconsulting.me.
Photo courtesy of the author.
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