Much of this will sound like I've had some sort of religious experience, but I can assure you, I haven't, writes Lee Suckling.
"Nothing happens to you. It happens for you."
In December 2016 I saw Oprah live at her Auckland show, and that quotation has been seared in my brain for exactly three years now. Nothing happens to me. If I scratch my car on a curb, it's not something that happened TO me. If I lose out on a job, it didn't happen TO me either. An illness? What about a missed flight? Nope, not happening to me. They're here to teach me something. They're happening for me – if I choose to let them.
Everybody goes through lots of disappointments each year, and I often find myself ruminating over them throughout December. With just a few weeks left of this decade, taking stock of the negative life events seems easier than focusing on all your successes since 2010, doesn't it?
Let us try and look back to see how the bad things that have happened in the last 10 years eventually taught us lessons.
I, for example, went through a tough time with anxiety a few years back. It culminated in panic attacks over a period of months. During and in the immediate aftermath of treatment, I struggled with feeling sorry for myself a lot. I had many "why me?" moments and often asked myself, "What did I do to deserve this? Can't I just be normal?"
It took a full year for me to realise why all of this had happened. I needed to go on an emotional voyage and sort out my past trauma. I needed to learn mindfulness and how to accept – rather than fight – mental strain. I needed to find a long-term medication that worked for me.
I look back now and 2015, which was my self-described "bad year", was working for me and not against me. I'd been unable to learn some very necessary life lessons in other ways and my "nervous breakdown" (as the uninitiated might call it) was my wake-up call.
This grappling with mental health was obviously one large, influential occurrence for me. However, the strengths learned from it have continued to more trivial points of my life.
When I don't get a job I thought I want, I'm able to think, "That's okay. It wasn't for me". If I miss a travel connection whilst overseas and arrive somewhere late I'm able to say to myself, "That's okay. I wasn't supposed to get there then." I know there's a butterfly effect (which I choose not to delve into deeply because it only leads to more questions), but I acknowledge that there's merit in the "when one door closes, another door opens" cliché.
Much of this sounds like I've had some sort of religious experience, but I can assure you, I haven't. My atheist feet are firmly on the ground. I don't believe some higher power is at work here. As Oprah taught me, though, nothing in life is just happening around me by coincidence.
Humans are here to evolve; to progress, and we do that first as individuals and then as societies. There's no Magical Sky Wizard controlling all of this, but at the same time, I really do think there's a scientifically-inexplicable cause-and-effect game at work with all of us. Each and every day. We are presented with opportunities, problems, and situations bad and good. Sometimes they're extreme and they are wonderful or terrible. That, my friends, is what we call being alive.
Don't go blaming – or crediting – these as luck, nor something you deserve or don't deserve. Understand that one's fate or destiny is not set in stone. You just have to watch, listen, learn, and write your own silver linings playbook for the best version of your unique life. And if you can't figure it out yet? It's because the seminal part of your journey isn't over yet.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.