Being more than your career and illness

Over the last 3 years I’ve struggled with my colitis. In that same time I definitively became an adult. My first flare coincided with me committing to a stupid amount of debt to build my own place. Since both of these events I’ve lived my life pretty narrowly, I worked, studied for uni, went between doctors and hospitals, kept a basic level of fitness and dabbled in a few hobbies momentarily. That’s what I assumed the normal adult life was if you replaced having a family with being sick all the fucking time. It’s really bummed me out in the past year while I’ve not been able to kick this disease and get into remission that I feel like my whole life revolves around my colon. It’s easy to just let it weigh me down, struggle with my mental health and almost concede defeat that I’m just going to have to ride this out as long as it takes. That approach has worked for me before because this has never lasted this long but now it’s been a year and I’ve got nothing left so to speak. Im exhausted by the whole thing.

Im not a huge basketball fan but I admit it’s like the male version of the Kardashians and I love the drama, so I get around the NBA quite a bit. I could never pick a team thanks to free agency and the bandwagon effect so I just gravitate towards players I enjoy watching. For years I’ve liked LeBron James, the undeniable biggest star of my generation as he’s so great at the game but an even better person outside basketball. His latest Nike campaign about being more than an athlete really got me contemplating my own condition and how important that statement is not just for NBA athletes but for everyone. It’s easy to pigeon-hole people and create an identity around a couple of things, usually their career, and I think most people are guilty of doing it to themselves. For the past 3 years when people have asked me what I’ve been up to my go to answer is usually “fuck all – work and being sick”. That’s been my identity for those 2 years, I work and I’m sick. I had hobbies but never anything to really talk about, I went out and did things but never enough to really define who I am. And I think this problem is a trap that’s so easy to fall into, and is a serious mental health issue that more people need to realise.

Since thinking about LeBron’s campaign it’s made me realise I am #morethanawharfie. And while that is terribly unglamorous I guess I’m also #morethanadisease. I wrote about graduating from uni a little while back and since then I’ve had so much free time on my hands, which has worked perfectly with my realisation and subsequent efforts to try and turn things around. Being an adult isn’t being defined by your job and tasks that you’re forced to do, it’s everything else around that. I have pride in my job and I’m proud of my career, my education and my abilities – but I’ve had to learn that there’s more to be proud of in my life. I started looking back and writing down things I’ve enjoyed over the years before I was constrained by work and being sick, and have since tried to get back into experiencing those things again.

I recently started playing squash again after a 7 year hiatus and I fell in love with the game all over again, so much that I’m going to write about why it’s so great.

I bought a road bike a couple of months ago and have been riding every week just for the enjoyment of being on two wheels, the fresh air and abundant coast line by my doorstep. I was right into BMX my entire adolescence and even got that back out to have a burn around my local skatepark. I enjoyed these things and as my identity slowly narrowed into ‘adult life’ they slowly got left behind.

I started looking at architecture again. I wanted to drop out of my degree every month to do architecture but I have a good thing going and it wasn’t feasible, but I loved looking at designs and drawing my own. I even recently made my first foam core model of my dream house.

So now when people ask what I’ve been up to I actually have things to talk about. I’ve been doing heaps actually – trekking Nepal soon, working on my car to get it ready for the Gibb river road next year, playing squash again, cycling around the place, planning a bunch of other trips, living out my architecture fantasies through foam core and The Sims. And then after all that comes yeh work’ been good, and I’m not going great with my colitis but I’m staying positive.

For 3 years of my life I’ve had nothing to say to people outside of work and colitis. Work and colitis aren’t my identity. I am more than this.

That thought has really helped my mental health the past couple of months and I think it’s super important. When people say that hobbies, getting out of the house and social interactions help depression it can be easy to say yeh right that’s a bit simple – and I’m guilty of this. Just getting up and outside isn’t a cure for depression, but I actually think the reflection of doing those things and the positive self thoughts that come with it do help. The feeling of doing what you really enjoy in the moment, getting out of your own self doubt and destructive thoughts. This is what helps when you’re struggling with the weight of the world, when things are shit and you aren’t coping.

For the first time in 3 years I honestly can say I’m really happy with what I get to do day to day. I’m doing things I enjoy and the crossover effect on my mental health has been massive. If you’ve been stuck in a rut of work, illness, study or anything else try taking the time to think about what you really enjoy. What things were you doing during times you were in a more positive headspace? And when you find those things, make an effort to participate and experience them again. Life is hectic and everyone has more shit on their plate than they know what to do with, but doing your best to find time do things you want to do rather than have to do? For me at least, it’s been a miracle.

As usual feel free to contact me through the website contact link or on Instagram @bradmcauliffe.

The fundraiser for Nepal is going well and we’re 7 weeks away, please have a read and consider donating to Crohn’s and Colitis Australia here.