Some people believe bad things happen to teach us valuable lessons. That hard times lead to better ones. That misery has a purpose. Many of us believe this our whole lives, despite evidence to the contrary.
We don’t like to think things just happen. We don’t like the idea of random chance.
I used to think struggles made me better and brought me gifts but I’ve come now to a place where I disagree. Things happen because things happen. Things aren’t personal. We don’t go through this or that hard experience because we needed a lesson. My mental illnesses are not there to help me grow. They’re just there.
Things happen and “Why me?” is more rightly looked at as “Why not me?”
A friend recently had an infestation of bedbugs. She took it very personally. She was worried about what people would think, what it said about her as a human being. She couldn’t wrap her head around the why of it, either. “Why me? What did I do? Why do shitty things always happen to me?”
I forbore pointing out the large number of horrible things that were happening to people who were not her at that very moment. I suggested instead that nothing was happening to her, in particular. It wasn’t personal. It was just a thing that happened. And, why not her?
The same then, must be true about my struggles.
I used to think it was personal. I used to think that I was desperately unlucky and flawed in some way, which was why horrible things kept happening to me. I thought that the mental illnesses and the eating disorder and the history littered with abuse happened because there was something wrong with me. I thought I was supposed to learn and grow; that being a better person was my reward. As though the kind of person I am is not, in fact, a choice.
I didn’t realize until recently that the question I should be asking is when I’m faced with challenges is “why not me?” Why shouldn’t bad things happen to me? I mean, I’d prefer it if they happened to someone else but I don’t get to decide that. There’s no reason I should be exempt from bad luck and unfortunate circumstances. No reason anyone should.
Being a good person, being kind, being compassionate; none of these qualities guarantee a life that is easy and trouble free. Being that was doesn’t guarantee healing, either.
I used to think I had good qualities because I suffered. I thought about these positive qualities as things that were given to me as a kind of payment, as though the cosmos was saying, “sorry about pain and the struggles. How about I give you some empathy as compensation?”
It’s a nice idea, that the universe is a fair and equitable place, but I think we do ourselves a disservice by crediting things other than ourselves for our gifts.
It is okay to take credit where credit is due. It’s hard, it’s something I definitely struggle with, but we are the way we are because of choices we make. There are factors that influence those choices and our thinking, but mostly, we are in control. Most of the time, we decide our behaviours. We decide the kind of person we’ll be.
The experiences of being depressed, suffering from anxiety and eating disorders may have amplified certain qualities I possess but they are my qualities. I made the choice to embrace them.
Depression did not make me compassionate or sensitive. It did not make me empathetic. It did not make me patient or generous or sarcastic. It was not a gift that brought me needed lessons. It’s simply a thing that happened. It’s morally neutral. How I choose to react to things that aren’t in my control is the important bit. So is owning the reaction.