We heard from a friend that it happened.

On account of the trauma course I was about to start teaching the following week, I distinctly remember thinking, “there’s so much work to do in this area.”

One month later, while teaching week three of the course, it happened again.

What happened was suicide. Two guys we previously served with in the Navy. Both clearance divers. They were mirrors of each other. All divers are mirrors of each other.

These guys were not just good operators, they were exceptional operators. The very best company at sea. They were professional and trustworthy. They were successful.

I had the usual few days where this sort of news churns around in your head and puts a damper on everyday life but then things took a downhill dive. I found myself in a place I’d not yet been before.

I could no longer trust my definition of success. If this is what happens to people I defined as successful, then my definition had been thrown completely off tilt.

It felt like the day the definition of your parents as superhuman no longer fits. The day a few mistakes and crappy advice reveals their humanness.

The final piece of the puzzle showed up at a party I recently went to. I met this guy. He worked in law enforcement. The beer in his hand seemed to shorten the distance between him and I on account of the story that poured forth. The poor bugger was broken. ┬áHe listed his physical ailments, many from detaining criminals, chasing criminals, being hit by criminals. The list was long. He couldn’t trust anyone he worked with. His workplace was a cesspit of angry, deranged criminals. He couldn’t sleep. He also felt jaded and upset by the system he was supposed to rally for, that in reality it let down more people than it held up. The same people who although made his working days hell, needed mental health assistance not law enforcement. In so many ways this poor guy was broken.

Halfway through talking, his daughter walked up. She needed a quick word and a hug; reassurance about something. A few moments later, off she went, settled and content. In those few moments, he was the only person she wanted and he could only see her. That sort of relationship doesn’t happen overnight. He had clearly spent years showing up for her, soothing her, being the reassuring hug the world often didn’t give.

I realised something at that moment. The definition works both ways.

The divers, because they were so successful at work, never gave the world any reason to contemplate the possibility their success didn’t extend to every arena of their lives.

The law enforcement guy, the fact he was such a mess, physically, mentally and at work, made it illogical to think he could be successful in another aspect of his life.

The two-way definition is just as debilitating in both scenarios. It makes it really difficult for outwardly successful people to ask for and receive help. Help doesn’t intuitively find its way into their productive lives. This is evident in the number of suicides in the clearance diving branch alone, the most highly trained and specialised category in the Navy. The world sees them all as successful.

It also drives slightly broken, somewhat unsuccessful people down even further. They, along with the world stop looking for the pockets of success in their lives. They get written off as all broken.

We humans are so good at doing extremes. It’s all or nothing. Successful or sh*t. Nothing in between.

Week three of the trauma course I taught while all of this was unfolding ironically focussed on opposites. On recognising contrasting emotions and that our bodies are able to hold contrasting emotions simultaneously. We are not good or bad, right or wrong, happy or unhappy, angry or calm in absolutes but a constantly changing collection of these different emotions. This element of the course ended up being the most challenging but once familiar, the most soothing.

Challenging and soothing. Side by side.

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