Who am I? written by Cam @ b1oke

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

I’ve lost sight of who I am...often. I have lived my whole life trying to fit in and meet the expectations of parents, extended family, wife, kids, friends, co-workers, bosses...and society in general. And every time I’ve lost sight, it’s then created a journey to regain it. Every time I have been impacted by other peoples decisions, I learn, adapt and keep moving forward.

Throughout my life I have been told what to do and who I should be. Work hard. Play hard. Be nice. Be fair. Be strong. Don’t cry. Leave your family problems at home...when you’re at work you’re at work. I have been told to speak up more, you’re too quiet. Smile more. Be happy. In one work environment recently I have been told that I don’t fit...whatever that means.

I am a 43 year old white, Australian, married, heterosexual male, and father of three...and I have only recently become confident that all of those are simply titles and categories and underneath all of those I am a human being who is a product of my life experiences. I am full of positive and negative imprints of where I was compressed and moulded into a box based on what was expected of me by others, ever since I was born.

I grew up in Australia, spending much of my time on the beaches. I played rugby union. I worked hard at school. I was always striving to be at the top because that’s what was expected of me. I craved a sense of belonging (I still do) which is why I played many different team sports and when I left school I joined the Army. I could now be part of something so powerful and purposeful and protect those that can’t protect themselves. This was a purpose that I connected with and felt was meant for me.

I was striving and achieving. I was enjoying my career and was privileged to have been presented with some incredible opportunities. I led teams on combat operations. I had achieved everything I had dreamed of in a very short space of time. I had protected those that could not protect themselves. I helped overthrow dictators and freed families from dictatorial and violent regimes. I was a man, a soldier and a protector of nations.

And then it all came crashing down. At the same time I was advancing, I was also now losing. I lost my career through injury which exacerbated and accelerated underlying mental health issues. In 2005 I was diagnosed with service and combat related PTSD and severe depression. I was also a brand new father.

I could no longer do what I had always dreamed of doing and I couldn’t even lift up and hold my first born son. In my mind I was a failure. I now had to reinvent myself from a career perspective, but instead, relied heavily on the prescription medication and alcohol to numb the physical and mental pain and I became the victim...and a very angry one.

Roughly a year later I was officially discharged from the Army on medical grounds. On the same day we moved into our first home with an enormous mortgage and 3 weeks later my second son

was born. I had also managed to secure a new job. The reinvention had begun. But the downward spiral into the depths of darkness had also accelerated. But no one knew.

Now I was part of the corporate world, I was very quickly exposed to greed, selfishness, capitalism, bullying, and the expectation that unless you were being promoted and held a title of manager, director, CEO etc...you were not succeeding. More than ever I was craving a sense of belonging.

So, everyday I put on the suit and tie and the psychological facade and made everyone think I was succeeding. I told my mates that life was good. My family saw the greatness. I wore the fancy clothes and nice watches. I never hurried home. I always had a few more beers at the pub on Friday at the end of week afterwork drinks.

This was not an environment that I wanted to be a part of, but I was being told that I could only be successful if I was deeply immersed into it. And worst of all, if I wanted to protect my family, I had to be successful in a world that I did not want to be a part of. I was being forced into a way of life and belief systems that I could not deeply connect with. So...I relied even more on the prescription medication and alcohol to block out my spiralling conflicting and negative thoughts. All I wanted was to escape from all the pressure.

With two young children at home, a mortgage and a wife to look after, working long hours and spending multiple days away from home doing something that I didn’t really enjoy doing...I was not living a fulfilling life. Although I had now changed jobs and was in my second career change since leaving the Army, I still was not enjoying what I was doing. The pressure of meeting expectations was at such a level that one morning I erupted. It started as a very normal morning, my wife took the kids to day care on her way to work. After they left the house, I took myself back into my bedroom and didn’t emerge for 2 weeks.

I am supposed to be a man. I am not supposed to cry. I am supposed to be tough. I am supposed to lead others. I am supposed to protect those that cannot protect themselves. I couldn’t do any of it. I didn’t speak with anyone. I refused to get out of bed. I would not play with my sons. I hardly spoke with my wife. I cried, and cried, and cried. Not once did I show my wife. I was ashamed.

After 2 weeks I regained some energy and finally spoke to someone who I thought could help. A psychologist who was a Veterans counsellor, and in that very first conversation I felt a sense of freedom and release of the pressure. Over the coming months and subsequent years I’ve learned to release little by little to avoid another eruption. There are good days and there are some pretty rough days. But something I’ve found that helps me most of all...knowing that I am not alone.

Many of my friends and former colleagues are unaware of the struggles I have. I have never told them. However, a few of my closest mates, the blokes I trust deeply are fully aware and allow me to talk when I need to.

15 years after I was first diagnosed and 12 years after my self imposed isolation, I am still learning to live with who I am. There are moments, almost daily, where I question who I am mainly because of the external pressures imposed upon us by society. Whenever I get knocked down, which seems to have happened often over the past 18 months, I now take a moment each time to bring myself down from the elevated anger levels and feeling of being the victim, reflect, and then start moving forward again. I cook. I clean. I drop the kids to school and pick them up. I don’t need a title. I don’t need to sit at the head of the table. I am comfortable being barefoot and in board shorts. I am me. I am enough.

I’ve learned to accept that each experience in life presents an an opportunity for me to chose how I respond. I’ve had several career changes since that 2 week self isolation period and have since relocated to, worked in and lived in numerous countries around the world with my family. Some incredible experiences and some deeply painful ones. Each experience allows me to learn and be a better dad, husband, son, mate and bloke.

I look at the global crisis we are facing with COVID-19 and how here in the UK we have now moved into a third lockdown. We are being impacted by decisions being made by other people and have lost our individual freedom and autonomy...again. My life experiences allow me to reflect upon this situation and help me see that I can be stronger from the setback because I am always learning to be me, and have the deep support from mates and family to keep moving forward.

I’ve also learned that while things could be way worse, they could also be way better. And that’s ok. What’s important to me is that I keep moving forward, for others. And it’s those that matter most to me that support me, comfort me and see me for who I truly am.

Knowing that I have a purpose to protect and provide for my family keeps me moving forward. Knowing that I am not alone helps me to keep moving forward. Knowing that I can help make a difference for others is my reason for being.


Cam



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