A good friend of mine recently contracted the West Nile virus and it almost killed him. He’s a lot better now, which means he can get out of bed, get dressed, and go to the bathroom all by himself. After which he collapses back into the bed because his core strength is completely shot.
He can’t work, he can’t drive, he can’t hold his kids.
His health crisis has parlayed into a financial crisis. And none of it is his fault.
He didn’t overeat himself into Type 2 diabetes. He didn’t smoke his way into lung cancer. He didn’t self-medicate his way into a coma.
He was simply minding his own business and got bitten by the wrong mosquito.
What’s more, there’s nothing he could have done to have avoided it since there’s no prevention or antidote for the disease. When it comes to the West Nile virus, the best any of us can manage is to go about our lives with the hope that we don’t get infected then fight to survive if we do.
Is life really that much different?
Can’t bad stuff can “happen” to us at any point in time?
Unannounced. Unapologetic. Unfair.
It did to me a few years ago and I almost let it cost me my family.
A Good Day Gone Bad
Four years ago my son and I were watching Little Einsteins on a snow day. His head was in my lap, the fire was blazing, my wife was frying bacon.
Best morning ever.
Until foam started coming out of his mouth and he became unresponsive.
I’m thankful that he lived through the ordeal and is in good health other than the 6–9 grand mal seizures each month that slip past his heavy meds and VNS pump.
But epilepsy is not a skirmish. It’s a long, drawn-out war in which the caregiver can never let his or her guard down. And after a while, it gets exhausting.
Helplessly watching this disease hijack his body and leave him on the bathroom floor with his pants around his ankles, or face down in the dirt under the swing set, or perilously close to the fire hydrant that almost split his head open on the way down became quite traumatizing.
The tide of medical bills didn’t make things easier either. As the late notices rolled in, my second job eventually was not enough to keep us above water. Only, now I was sleep deprived and fatigued.
As the collective pressure of dealing with my son’s disease stretched into weeks, then months, then years, I finally gave up the good fight, raised the white flag, and ordered a fresh batch of my very own victim cards.
And by golly, I deserved them.
After all, the unmanageable condition of my life was in no way my fault.
I didn’t spend frivolously or get myself fired from a good job because I was phoning it in. I didn’t expose my son to health hazards that made him vulnerable to this disease. And I’m fairly certain I didn’t have a hand in taking a wrecking ball to the healthcare system of our fine country.
Not my fault.
Here’s my card.
Let’s catch up.
Victim Card Fallout
In some subconscious way, leaning into the victim mentality was a survival mechanism for me. I somehow reasoned that if enough people felt sorry for me and validated that, yes, life had dealt me a bad hand, my unhappiness would abate and I would feel better.
It’s almost as if I was seeking that cathartic feeling that those wrongly convicted of crimes experience when the court hears their appeal and overturns their case.
But seeking this kind of justice is doomed from the onset because life just doesn’t work that way. There is no clearly defined set of laws with built-in consequences and protections. And no amount of protests you stage, petitions you circulate, or appeals you file will ever change that.
Life just isn’t fair. You have no case.
This doesn’t make you a victim. It makes you a human.
Failure to come to peace with this will eventually hurl you in a downward spiral of disillusionment. Trust me. I know.
A few years into juggling two emotionally demanding jobs, caring for my son, haggling with bill collectors, and passing out victim cards found me battling depression. A new experience for me.
Depression was not just harmful to me. It took an immediate toll on my family as well.
My wife’s hair began to fall out as she worried that I might hurt myself.
My kids suffered too.
I’m ashamed to say that when I did get time off I tried to escape the pain by taking sanctuary on the golf course. I suppose that a golf habit is a less destructive coping habit than a crystal meth one, but it still wounded my family as I left my wife and three small children at the breakfast table Saturday after Saturday after Saturday without the father and husband they’d barely seen all week.
But self-absorbed selfish behavior is what we victims are all about. We become obsessed with collecting reparations for what has wrongfully been taken from us. We even go so far as to loot the happiness and well-being of our own flesh and blood if it means getting what’s rightfully ours.
I had a king’s ransom coming my way that I fully intended to collect.
In hindsight, I’m eternally grateful that I never saw a dime.
The Cost of Moving On
Two years removed finds me in a much better place. A place of peace. A place I don’t deserve. I’ve relocated my Saturday sanctuary to where it should have been all along — around that breakfast table with my wife and what is now four children.
Seeing how much each of them loves us being together, continues to be one of the greatest joys of my life.
Furthermore, I have only one job now and I’m much healthier for it. Of course, things are far from perfect. My son still fights epilepsy. The financial pressure remains. I still make plenty of mistakes.
But no matter, most days I feel like the richest of men.
But this mental makeover was not free.
It cost me something. My beloved victim card.
Oh, how I hated giving it up.
Because if I couldn’t blame others — the universe, God, Donald Trump, my childhood, Hurricane Harvey — whom could I blame?
No. Not that guy.
Yes, that guy.
That was the deal.
If I wanted my family, my sanity, my marriage, and my future, I had to replace my victim card with personal responsibility.
Easier said than done.
Because I was terrified of what I might see if I ever met the gaze of the man in the mirror.
And as it turned out, my fear was well founded.
For when we locked eyes, I found my shadow self to be even uglier, more repulsive, and more menacing than I’d first imagined.
But what chilled me the most was the revelation that he’d been the mastermind behind this whole twisted plot all along.
A shapeshifter hiding in plain sight. Not right under my nose, closer than that.
Right under my skin.
But his jig is up now.
It ended the moment I came to grips with some difficult truths about the part I had played in my own demise.
While it was true that I didn’t give my son epilepsy, it was also true that I’d always had a problem with extreme mood swings when things don’t line up perfectly for me. Scotty’s seizures relentlessly triggered this unhealthy behavior that I’d never learned to manage.
That was my fault.
While it was true that reckless spending didn’t land me in a financial crisis, my pride, fierce independence, and spiteful pettiness kept me from asking for help. I could have reached out to a number of close friends and family members who would have moved heaven and earth to get me out of my tight spot.
Instead, I secretly blamed them for not reaching out to me first.
I told myself things like: No one cares about me. You know what, I don’t need them anyway. In fact, I don’t need anybody. What’s the use in depending on other people if they’re not there for you in tough times? I’ll show them.
Finally, while it’s true that I didn’t give myself depression…well…come to think of it…I kinda did.
What Might Not Have Been
A few days ago the six of us went on a Saturday afternoon bike ride, which is something we do quite a bit these days. I got a little emotional as I watched my wife’s long hair blowing in the breeze and listened to the gleeful chatter of my kids in a state of euphoria. (After all, what’s better to a kid than riding a bike unless it’s riding said bike with the whole family?
It was one of those moments in life when something in this fallen world is so beautiful that you just want to take a mental snapshot and save it in your soul forever. As I snapped this picture I reflected on how many of these moments I’ve had in the last few years.
I also realized how the unfairness of life can sometimes work in your favor.
After all, these are moments I don’t deserve. These are moments that almost never were. These are moments that almost became the tragic victim of my victim mentality.
I don’t know how precious your victim card is to you, but if holding on to it is aborting even one soul-snapshot with your family, maybe it’s time turn it in.
Get unstuck by believing the TRUTH about yourself.