Chew Like Hell – An Exercise in Control

Over the past 9 months I have been a little manic, and  I have bitten off more than I can chew. Now it is time to chew like hell.

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Right now I can feel that period of mania ending, and the downswing is on the way, but I have a lot of things I need to achieve this year, and so with meditation, exercise and commitments like that which I am making to you now, I WILL get it done. I will not allow depression to sap my vitality, I will work harder to achieve my goals knowing the illness which I am fighting, and I am asking you for your help.

All my illusions of control were pretty rapidly smashed apart when I embarked upon a series of events a few years back, beginning with a ten metre fall from a balcony and mushrooming into the derailing of my career, the loss of my wife and the end of my marriage. You see up until that point in time, I assumed I exercised a fair amount of control over my life. I had a successful career, and was just embarking on an exciting new phase of it. I was happily married with an eight month old son, was about to move back to Sydney with a new job and a family that I loved. Life was good.

Then I fell off that damned balcony.

Having broken seventeen bones and sustained a frontal lobe brain injury in the fall, the wheels fell off. I went through an eighteen month period of mania, unlike anything I had experienced before. This brain injury was the trauma that my genetic predisposition to bipolar needed to really kick my particular brand of crazy (a.k.a. Bipolar II Disorder) into gear.

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(N.B. about a year ago I was diagnosed as Bipolar II, a label I don’t like using, but for the purposes of this line of thought and subsequent article, I’m Bipolar II. I’d rather choose to think of myself as someone who is more energetic than most people most of the time, and needs to be mindful of his state of mind to maintain his good health.)

So I was manic, spending money like it is going out of style, sleeping very little, exercising no impulse control and saying anything that popped into my mind without thought for the consequences. The symptoms of a bipolar manic episode combined with those of a frontal lobe brain injury do not make for a human being you would say is operating at ‘maximum efficiency’.

I was sacked three times in as many months, became a stonemason, quit it, and was training the house down to reach a slightly unrealistic goal to win the Death Race in Vermont. An incredibly difficult ultra endurance event. Before I could get to the Death Race, I did The Longest Day, another incredibly difficult ultra endurance event over 25 hours of hell. I suffered adrenal fatigue and went into a period of 9 months of depression, which ended with me checking myself into hospital, as I was so down on life that I was contemplating suicide.

I’ve been better since February this year, as my medication pulled me out of a funk, but looking back I think I can now say I was in a manic episode these past ten months. During this time I have become separated from my wife, and allowed myself a fair amount of self indulgence. Since September I’ve spent money freely, amassed debt, not worked much, drank too much alcohol and not been very focused. Now I have a pile of debt to wade through, a bunch of money that needs raising to get me to Cambodia for a cause I am passionate about, and a life that needs some control exercised around if I am to pull it all off.

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Add to these challenges the fact that I feel I am swinging from a manic episode to a depressed one, and there’s work to be done. Medication helps, but if it is going to be, it is up to me. I need to take action.

So as of January 1st I’m off the booze for six months. I’ve already quit smoking and I have big plans for 2015. It is time to get my shit together.

I will raise $50,000 for my ‘Ride to Happiness” with the Black Dog Institute from Cambodia to Vietnam.

  1. I will pay off my debts
  2. I will train hard, run two ultra marathons in respectable times, get a podium finish in a Spartan Race and gain entry to the OCR World Championships
  3. I will complete the second year of my stonemasonry apprenticeship
  4. I will meditate and exercise regularly.
  5. I will work harder on my relationship with my ex-wife
  6. I will  be an even better Dad than I already am.
  7. I will also reconnect with my friends, as I have been slack since leaving Sydney.

And this is the first step. I’m sitting at my computer at 4:00am writing this post, making these commitments, and asking you for your help. For in sharing my goals I make myself accountable for them, and would like to ask you all to hold me accountable too. Will you do that for me?

If I could also ask for your help in a few other ways too that would be great. Please stay in touch. Drop me a line occasionally to see how I am going towards my goals, and get in touch if there’s anything I can do to help you reach yours. If you feel so inclined, you could sponsor me for my Cycle to Happiness by clicking this link. (Personally I think it should be called The Cycle to Vitality. If you haven’t seen Andrew Soloman’s TED talk already, check it out here. In it he asserts that the opposite of depression is not happiness, it is vitality, and I couldn’t agree more.)

I’ll be working as a brickies labourer in the New Year, combining an income and physical training in one foul swoop. I’ll also train six days a week in order to achieve my athletic goals and ensure the endorphins keep flowing. I’ll be writing regular blog posts to keep you  posted on my progress, so please drop by my site anytime you like for a read.

I know I am putting myself out here with this post, but you only get back what you put out right? I am sending this post out into the world with positive thoughts, a dream of making a difference to those who need it most, and immense faith in the wonder of humankind and community, which will help me achieve some lofty goals in a difficult period in life.

I’ve one last favour to ask you. If ever you’re struggling at all. If you’re lacking motivation. If you’re feeling flat and need someone to talk to. Please call me. We’re all in this together, and while I will endeavour to keep in touch with you all as regularly as possible, I’m only ever a phone call away if you need someone to chew the fat with. I’ll be your friend in need.

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Get Busy living or Get Busy Dying

Morgan Freeman quotes this line in the classic movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” and it has always resonated with me, though never more than in the past few years.

You see, I had a bad accident a few years ago, resulting in a frontal lobe brain injury. I lost a little bit of my sanity for a couple of years, and went through 18 months of mania followed by 9 months of severe clinical depression. I also lost three jobs, my wife, my vitality and my will to live. Things got so bad that I was seriously contemplating suicide, but the thought of leaving my two sons without a father and a big question mark over how and why he died was too much, so I checked myself into hospital, started taking medication and have been better ever since.

My experience with depression extends beyond my own life. I have lost one of my best high school friends to suicide, our next door neighbour took his own life when his farming debt became too much to handle, and a family friends son shot himself for reasons no one can understand. My father is bipolar, and while the shrinks tried to label me the same, I choose to believe I am a bloke who has more energy and enthusiasm than most people most of the time, and needs to be careful not to burn out and become depressed.

So my current approach to maintaining good mental health is geared towards having an active, healthy lifestyle. I am heavily involved with my children, my ex-wife and my local community. I exercise daily, meditate and do yoga at least every other day, and steer clear of booze and drugs most if not all of the time.

I’m running in ten obstacle races in 2015, two ultra marathons, and I am cycling over 500 kilometres from Vietnam to Cambodia to raise money for the Black Dog Institute. I’m getting busy living, for if I don’t I’ll pretty quickly start to get busy dying.

If you or anyone you know suffers from mental health issues, rather than trying to counsel them on how to change their thinking or mental processing of the issues they face in life, help them to get busy living. Exercise, involvement in their local community, charity work, focusing on the beauty and truth in the world around them rather than the ugliness and lies they create in their own mind is the key to vitality.

For the opposite to depression is not happiness, it is vitality. In order to combat depression, you need to seek out vitality. You need to get busy living.

If you care to support me in raising $50,000 for The Black Dog Institute in my Cycle to Happiness in March 2015, please click on the link below and make whatever donation you feel comfortable with.

http://cycle.gofundraise.com.au/page/BrennanA

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Trauma Based Growth – How Wading Through a Pile of Shit Can Make You Better Man

Trauma comes in many different guises. There is the physical trauma of al car accident; broken bones, whiplash, cuts and bruises.

There is the emotional trauma of losing a loved one, or of a relationship breakdown; anguish, pain, regret, despair, loneliness and self chastisement for not saying “I love you,” enough.

There is the existential trauma that may arrive when all you believe in is shown to be a lie.

And then there is the trauma of living with a mental illness every day for the rest of your life, dealing with the stigma attached to it, and assuring your friends and family that you are not, in fact, manic, you’re just energetic and enthusiastic in general, with a bipolar tag from a shrink giving them cause for concern when there is none.

Since falling from a ten metre height in February, 2012, I’ve experienced most if not all, of these traumas. If I were to list them in chronological order it would read as such:

1) Fell off a 10 metre balcony in February 2012. Broke 11 ribs, 4 vertebrae, punctured my lung and kidney, sustained a frontal lobe brain injury.
2) Checked out of hospital 3 days later, unaware of the fact I had a brain injury and that I had undergone significant personality changes due to damaged neural pathways.
3) Knocked off my motorbike and spent the night in hospital under general anaesthetic to clean a serious cut on my knee and close the wound with 40 stitches in May 2012
4) Contract for new permanent role terminated at the end of my 3 month probation due to inappropriate communication and interaction with colleagues and management. June 2012.
5) Arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour in London during The Olympics. July 2012
6) Sacked from a new role with my previous employer twice in a month. They took me back the first time as I had just discovered I had a brain injury. The Director agreed to meet with my brain injury rehab specialist, who explained what the injury meant and convinced them I would recover quicker if I were employed. They agreed to take me back after the first sacking. And then sacked me again in November 2012.
7) Became a Stonemason for 6 months on advice from specialist that physical labour was ok. Resigned as my anxiety was becoming uncontrollable. January – June 2014
8) Went back to my previous career in recruitment for 6 months, until I became suicidal, resigned and checked myself into a hospital for two weeks. July 2013 – February 2014
9) Told by my wife that she isn’t in love with me and shall never be again, and she insisted on a seperation.
10) Despite repeated marriage counselling sessions, my wife does NOT want to get back together, but rather, work out how best to raise our children seperately for the rest of our lives.

Now it could be said that all of the above is enough to break a man, however, I genuinely believe that I am a much better man as a result of all this trauma.

I am far more compassionate to people with disabilities, I am cognisant of the relative ease with which one can sustain a life altering brain injury, I am more patient, kind and accepting of other people’s idiosyncrasies, and I know now that the true value of a man’s life is not measured by how much money he earns, rather, it is imeasured by how many friends count on him, and how often they call for his sage advice.  Finally, it can be measured byn the bonds you build with all those in your community, friend or foe.

So then, do I just need to go through some trauma to learn how to be a better man? I hear you ask. Fair question, and the answer is no. It is possible to learn all these lessons over several years by meditating, reading, paying attention to the challenges your friends face and how they overcome them, and by being 100% committed to change.

But of all the people I know who seem most wise despite their age, have suffered significant trauma. Think of Nick Vujicic, born without arms and legs, yet so.positive he has manifested a destiny most would have thought impossible. H is a globally sought after motivational speaker, successful beyond his wildest dreams, and married to an amazing, attractive, intelligent woman.

Think of Dr Gill Hicks. She lost both of her legs and very nearly her life in the London bombings. And yet now, she has founded M.A.D. For Peace, an amazing organisation which advocates for peace globally through cells based on the Al Quieda model. Check it our here:

http://www.madnests.com/

And think of Nelson Mandela, arrested and jailed for 27 years for his beliefs, and yet he was able to become South Africa’s first African president, and change the trajectory of its political system significantly.

What differentiates these people from others who have suffered similar trauma and achieves nothing of real note, is that they have several attributes which are essential to grow personally through trauma:

1) They believe everything happens for a reason.
2) They are committed to achieving the best possible outcomes in their life, despite having been through such trauma. It’s in the past, don’t dwell on it, learn from it.
3) They live in hope that, because of the trauma they have experienced, they can use what they have learned to make the world a better place.
4) They don’t make excuses or blame others for what has happened to them. They are accepting of the random nature of life, and accept what has happened as nothing more than part of their journey in life.
5) They are survivors. They choose to live no grow, rather than die with bitterness in their hearts.

So IF you were unlucky enough to be in a serious accident, and IF you were to live to tell the story, and IF you are in possession of all the attributes listed above, then yes, you WOULD grow through trauma. You would become a better man. You would go on to bigger and better things. You would be capable of still living the life of your dreams.

For, as stated in Marianne Williamson’s poem, “Our Greatest Fear” which has also been quoted in most motivational clips on YouTube and in several movies:

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

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