Are you throwing the punches or absorbing them?

It’s very easy to pass on a bad mood without even realising it. Like when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, already frustrated because you are running late, and some idiot in an SUV cuts in front of you. You’re still fuming when you get to the office and so you snap at your colleague when she tries to tell you about her crazy weekend.

She is already not having the best morning, because her excitable dog peed on the carpet – again – just before she was supposed to leave the house. Your harsh tone pushes her precarious positivity over the edge, so when her husband phones from the supermarket to find out what type of bread to buy, she yells at him for not knowing – after five years together – about her gluten-intolerance.

But of course he does know, which is the whole reason he phoned to double check in the first place. He grits his teeth at her unjustified attack, but she hangs up before he gets a chance to defend himself, which is even more infuriating. Then he takes it out on the cashier, who has just started a nine-hour shift.


On her way to work, the cashier had stood for an hour in a crowded, overheated bus, musty and fogged up by everyone’s breath, and then walked through the rain from the bus stop to the shop. This man’s rudeness so early in the morning is the last straw and her tone is abrupt and resentful with all of the customers coming after him.

So the disease spreads, but it just takes one person to break chain. One person who absorbs the negativity instead of passing it on. One person who, after their initial angry reaction, shrugs it off and thinks, “Whatever. It’s actually not such a big deal.”

I don’t believe there is ever an excuse for rudeness. Nonetheless, a sympathetic case can be made at any time for any one of us to lose control of our emotions. Everyone is dealing with something. Many of the times we yell or snap at someone, the things we are yelling about are actually not the things we are truly upset about – there’s something else going on in another area of our lives.

It takes strength to absorb the impact without releasing it. To always be the calm, emotionally responsible, considerate, non-reactive person when everyone around you is just letting their feelings carry them from one situation to the next. I don’t think it’s possible to be that person all the time. At least, I don’t think I could be that guy every time. But I will try to be him sometimes.

When you have the capacity to absorb the blow, do the next person a favour by not passing it on. You don’t always have to be the zen person, but it can’t always be someone else either.


Having a physical disability vs having depression

At a media summit last year, a journalist asked me a question that, on the surface, I anticipated would be difficult to answer. After a few moments’ thought, however, I realised the answer was shockingly simple (and rather troubling). The question was, “Which do you find more difficult to deal with – your double amputations and life in a wheelchair, or your depression?” This is what I told her:

Disability on Muscle Beach

And how could I complain about my disability when it allows me to hang out with studs like this?

Every day I am forced to confront and overcome the physical limitations that my disability places on me. I have to figure out how to get in and out of the car, or up and down the stairs, or how to reach a mug on a high shelf. They say time waits for no man and I am no exception to that rule. Unless I allow life to leave me behind and go on without me, I must face these everyday obstacles, and so I do. I hardly have a choice.

Confronting my depression, however, is far more difficult. For years I tried to push it to the back of my mind, but ignoring it only made it worse. Like a wound that goes untreated, it became a festering toxin that tainted all my thoughts and attitudes. That habit of masking my depression and distracting myself with external interests and activities is now a barrier to overcoming it. I must make a concerted effort to acknowledge my incorrect assumptions about the world, evaluate my motives, and construct new patterns for my thoughts and behaviours. It is very easy to neglect these mental processes and “just get on with life”.

Someone who has always placed more emphasis on physical activities, like sport and exercise, may find coming to terms with a new disability more difficult than I have, as my focus has always been on intellectual and creative pursuits. I nevertheless believe that we should all take special care with the way we treat our minds and psyches, because it is much more difficult to fix the unseen than the physical, once it has been damaged.