This important life lesson was imparted to me by my very dear friend Briony Price.
It’s 2012, we are intrepid explorers. We’ve packed up our bum-bags, booked a month off work and flown off in to the sunset to broaden our horizons: ‘one month, two girls, three continents.’ Our only mission was to stay alive.
We’re on a boat, in Thailand, travelling between islands for a new adventure. We’ve left the port and are about five minutes out in the ocean when suddenly the boat begins to rock furiously. I’m talking sea to sky to sea again, all in the space of a few seconds. It feels as though we’re going to capsize at any moment. We’re below deck, sitting on the floor. The boat’s incredibly ropey and creaking with each swoop towards the ocean. I am preparing for the worst. In the next ten minutes, my panic builds and tears begin to roll. The boat’s mostly silent, everyone handling their anxiety in their own way. It’s horrible, I don’t want to be there, I don’t want to be in my skin anymore. I grab Briony, ‘Bri, I’m scared.’ She’s sitting on her suitcase, eyes closed, calm, together. Unlike me, the panicking wreck. ‘It’s fine, be calm.’ She says without opening her eyes. How can she be so still and serene? We could die at any second. Again I grab her arm. ‘Bri, I think we’re going to capsize.’ She doesn’t say anything. I continue to cling to her arm, wriggling and hyperventilating. I don’t care if I look stupid. These are the most terrifying moments of my life so far.
Half an hour later, we dock safely in the harbour at Koh Phangan. I can not believe our luck. We’ve survived. I momentarily bless my lucky stars, and vow that as receipt for withstanding this ordeal, I will make the absolute most of every moment of every day of my life from now on.
We sit on a bench by the dock to find our land legs again, after 45 minutes of ferocious rocking we’re a little wobbly. We sit in silence for a few minutes and I’m utterly fascinated by Bri’s bravery and calmness throughout, why couldn’t I be more like her?
“Were you not worried?”
“Of course.” She replies.
“But, why didn’t you say so? I literally didn’t want to be in my skin anymore, I couldn’t bear it.”
“Well,” She thinks for a second. “You choose your response, don’t you? We couldn’t change being on the boat, we couldn’t change anything, but we can always choose our response to situations like that.”
My whole world opened up in the space of a nanosecond – I discovered a way of looking at things that had previously been intangible to me. She was right. Either we would both survive the boat trip from hell. Or we wouldn’t. How we responded would make no difference to the outcome, but could affect the way we felt inside. Whereas I responded with panic, tears and a whole load of “We’re gonna die!” Bri had chosen to almost meditate her way through the experience, staying calm, focused and without applying extra trauma to herself. We both experienced the same situation, but emerged from it feeling quite differently-Bri was okay and ready to carry on. I was drained from expending massive amounts of adrenaline and headachey from the tears.
Something huge changed for me that day. The way I handle my life and situations changed. I realised we are always in control of our response to situations, and now, whatever the situation I always take a few moments to weigh up my options and actively CHOOSE my response, before my instincts choose it for me.