Is there a defining incident to your life?

Looking over the posts in this thread, it occurs to me that I my assumption of people’s priorities (or, rather, my judgment of what people’s priorities SHOULD BE) is colored–no, dominated–by one incident in my personal history: the death of my son. And that’s not unusual. I tend to see everything that way. When I consider how I want to treat someone, especially a child, it’s generally in light of how would i want another person to treat Corbin in the same situation. When I thought about getting married, I most regretted his absence, not my mother’s. And so on. In other words, losing my son is the defining incident of my life.

Anybody else have a similar moment, for good or ill?

I’ve had a number of life-redefining moments, but I don’t feel comfortable in pointing to something as being the defining incident of my life, as every time I think my life is well-defined, something occurs to show me I’m wrong. And, frankly, I like how life;s going right now, so I’m hoping to not tempt fate. :slight_smile:

But, I can say that the last 5 or 6 years of my life were heavily affected by being selected for a jury for a (locally) high-profile murder case. I ended up serving for nearly three months straight, in a quasi-sequestered way.

The time away from life and work allowed me to change my life drastically without criticism from well-meaning friends and coworkers; cut off my hair for the first time in a decade, changed my wardrobe, enrolled in school, came to grips with my lingering depression from having been divorced a few years earlier. The exposure to the judicial system finally killed the last of my teen/young-adult distrust in police, government, etc. The jury pay on top of my salary (my job paid me my full salary while I was gone) gave me the money I needed to kill off all of the debt I’d carried since being the divorce. Seeing the pain the victims’ families had gone through really humbled me-- whatever problems I’d ever had paled in comparison. I ended up letting go of a lot of stupid angst and self-loathing.

Once the trial was over and the media interviews stopped… I felt like I’d gotten a reset on my life. I was clear of everything from my past, and got to start again. How many times does someone get a chance like that?

I cannot imagine the kind of loss you have suffered, Skald, but what you’re saying makes a lot of sense.

It seems like there are two huge defining incidents in my life.

  1. Legal emancipation at the age of 17.

  2. Experiencing the love of my husband at the age of 19.

Second experience flew right in the face of the first one, battling for rank in my dominant worldview. From the first one I learned that you are fundamentally alone in the world and 99% of the people who claim to love you will, in fact betray you the first moment they get if it serves their own self-interest. From the second I learned that compassionate love is real and infinite and sacred and not only all that, but mine. Go figure–that’s life for you. I’m not complaining.

Two – when my first husband died, I understood on a very basic level that nothing in life is guaranteed. If he can die, so can I. It made losing my mom and brother easier, if that makes any sense.

The second was when I broke my hip. It’s affected me more than I thought, the near constant worry that it could happen again, and next time I might be alone, or outside in bad weather, or on the stairs.

The day my medication kicked in and I was able to wake up and say, “I don’t feel bad.”

Probably the thing that changed my life the most was choosing not to go back to college and instead join the army 19 years ago. Everything for good or ill changed after that simply because it was such a drastic change. Mostly for good.

Being hit by a car and spending 7 weeks in a from-the-waist-down body cast and more weeks in physical therapy with a wheelchair, then a knee-brace and crutches, and then just the crutches until I could walk with out them, when I was 15. It happened just a few days into the school year, and I didn’t go back to school until January. (I had tutors at home while I was recovering.)

I’ve always believed I would have grown up to be a very different woman if I’d made it across the street safely that day.

First, there was that brush with death and completely unexpected disaster at an age when most kids believe they’re immortal and nothing bad can ever happen to them. It was my first hard lesson in life.

Then there was learning to deal with pain and learning to look far ahead, since I knew things were going to be awful for the immediate future, but I would get past it… and I did. It’s been nearly 30 years, and all I have now is a bad knee with a scar to remind me.

On the plus side (yes, there was a plus side to this):

The person driving the car that hit me–or to be more accurate, her insurance–not only covered my hospital bills, but left enough for me to pay my own way through most of my undergraduate degree. I started life after college unburdened by the large loan debts that made starting out for themselves just that little bit more difficult for my siblings and friends who were still paying off their college loans for years afterwards.

And, while it wasn’t the best way to manage it, I was at a point where I hated school–being one of those shy, geeky kids that always gets picked on–and I despaired at the thought of going through another year of it. Having those months off, especially once I was out of the hospital and out of the cast, were welcome. When I did go back, I was in a different frame of mind. You can’t care as much about what other people think of you after you’ve been something like that.

For me the defining “moment” was when I was 19-20 and dropped out of college after a lifetime of stunning scholastic achievement. I was depressed. I was confused. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt like a social misfit. I know, I know, nothing new there, but new to me!

This was about five minutes before Prozac arrived and I wonder if my life would’ve been different if my mom (a therapist) or some other professional had it to offer to me.

Pathetically drama queen as it sounds to my 38 yr. old self, I felt I literally chose between life and death. I spent about nine months waiting tables, crying every night on my mattress on the floor. And then I decided…I would go back to college. I didn’t decide what I would do with my life. I didn’t decide what I would major in. I decided I would go back to college and try and cheer the fuck up.

I sort of condense and leave out of lot of very helpful self-help books, but that’s the high concept. The bottom line is I got rid of the idea that my feelings were out of my control and chose to go with happy instead of sad. A lot of people who meet me today probably think I’m a lightweight, but really I’m just lighthearted :slight_smile:

Whatever I learned at that defining moment has stood me in good stead. I think most people that know me would assume that the life and death of my daughter, my first child, who died at 4 months old, was my crucible, but I always felt like I wouldn’t have survived it if it hadn’t been for my adolescent identity crisis. I felt like I was putting to use lessons I had already learned “the only thing that matters is love”, “get up and take a shower” “put one foot in front of the other” “listen to happy music” “make your bed”, “don’t whine” and so on.

Two things definitely stick out:

Going to Germany as an exchange student when I was 17. It got me away from my super-toxic family, away from my coke-head, soon to be heroin-junkie friends, and out of my boring-me-to-death high school. It wasn’t a great year, it was hard and painful and I felt very stupid much of the time, but it definitely changed my life, and probably was the deciding factor that got me into UC Berkeley. Without that, I might have run away, started shooting heroin, dropped out of high school, or who knows what.

The second is starting therapy several years ago. I realize I had anger issues and needed help. I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. I went on medication for these and began regular therapy. I uncovered huge reservoirs of pain from my childhood. I am now healthier and happier than I’ve ever been, recently married and with a baby on the way. I also mentor exchange students and love it. I don’t think I’d be here if I hadn’t made that decision to get help.

The defining occurrence of my life was when I was saved by Jesus Christ. It led to immediate changes, namely dropping out of school, moving across the country, and taking a new job that I’ve kept to this day. It also changed my outlook on everything, ranging from the big questions to everyday events.

I was a psych major in undergrad, and I planned to get a PhD in clinical psych. I had a minor in philosophy. One of my philosophy profs told us about a project that the local Legal Aid office was doing to try to get a death penalty sentence reversed, and said that they needed volunteers. I thought it sounded interesting, and I have always been anti- DP, so I volunteered.

 I was so impressed by the dedication of the lawyers and everyone else involved with that project.  They eventually got the sentence commuted to life, based largely on the work that we did.  It was then that I decided I wanted to be a public defender.  I have been a PD for almost 21 years (I read somewhere that the national burnout rate for PDs is 3 years).  

 Also, my decision to marry my husband.  I have no children, and that is the great regret of my life.  However, he has a son who was 16 when we started dating and 17 when we got married.  He's had sole custody of him since he was 6.  Becoming a stepmom to a kid who was almost an adult in so many ways, but still at a crossroad in so many ways, was quite an experience.

Like you, I lost a child. I think that single event turned my life 90 degrees away from where it should have gone. All for the best, or so I was told at the time, but I do wonder what it might have been like if things had gone differently.

I have two defining moments, and they are intertwined.

First, when I was 33 I realized (finally) that what had my father had done to me as a small toddler, and his subsequent treatment of me the rest of his life was in no way my fault nor could I have changed anything that happened. I didn’t ask for it, encourage it, want it or in any way indicate what he did was acceptable. I was powerless and as much as I detest the word, I was a victim.

At the same time I realized I had a very clear choice to make. I could live the rest of my life defining myself by the things he’d done and labeling myself as a victim of his predatory ways OR I could acknowledge those things had happened and realize that while my childhood coping techniques allowed me to survive, they were harming me now.

Those two parts meshed together to form my decision that from that day forward, I was accountable for all that I did, all that I felt, everything about me, and that I would no longer say I was the way I was because of what had happened.

Mine is very similar. I spent fifteen years in a deep depression. Then at age 27 I hit bottom and finally reached out for help when I realized that I was about to kill myself. After being on Zoloft for a few months I woke up one morning and realized that no matter how bad things are I will wake up every morning and I’ll be okay. It’s trite, I know, but it gets me through the day. I stopped taking Zoloft after about nine months because all I needed was the realization that all the stuff I had spent my life worrying about was bullshit. Life is good and I choose to enjoy it. I don’t let the bullshit bother me anymore.

Wow I’m impressed when he actually saved you did he show you some sort of I.D.?
A driving licence maybe?
Because it might well have been the Devil trying to seduce you from the ways of rightiousness by playing the the Anti Christ.

Or who knows it could even have been a problem with your Serotonin transmitters being adjusted by your natural Bio chemical balance.

It wouldn’t go amiss if you put in a good word about me with JC next time you see him
I can totally assure you that the incident where I was seemingly involved a little bit TOO close with a young sheep BUT old enough legally was not what it seemed when the police and the photographers burst into the room.

So if you can just mention that in passing next time you see him…?

Is there a reason you need to be snotty about someone else’s defining moment? Ya wanna maybe take a swing at mine too?

IANAChristian, but I appreciate your sharing - that is what this thread on this board is about. Please don’t take negative comments from one poster as representative - which I am sure you don’t.

I have a few defining incidents - one I am inclined to share has to do with believing in myself as a musician. I have always felt I was mediocre at best for a variety of valid reasons. But over the past few years, I have gotten to play with some top professionals - and held my own. I remember the first time I heard a recording of a live performance that my then-3-piece did - it had been recorded and mixed down by my record producer friend (who is now my drummer), so it was really presented in its best light - and we sound f**kin’ great; clearly, objectively great. I had one of those Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do” moments when the band first hears their song on the radio and completely freak out together, dancing around that early 60’s appliance store.

[Moderator Admonition]I suggest you shut the snark off now. This is neither the time, place or forum for it.[Moderator Admonition]

For me it wasn’t so much one particular incident as two particular years: '83-'85, when my parents (who worked for the government) were temporarily assigned to North Yorkshire, England. I turned 12 the year we moved there, and those years were the equivalent of junior high for me (though we came back in time for me to graduate from my U.S. grade school).

So much happened during those two years, including my first kiss, but I think the travel was defining: we went to Italy, France (twice: once to Paris, once to Normandy), Tenerife, and Ireland. Added to the experience of simply living in a different country for so long, I started high school with a much different world view from that of most of my classmates – along with having the knowledge that “different” and “weird” are not synonyms.

I cannot imagine the person I would be now if it weren’t for those two years.

Age 22, gov’t job physical requires chest x-ray which turns up “densities”, doctors suspect lymphoma… bronchoscopy could not get to the area, so I had one week waiting for a thorachotomy (open up chest and take a biopsy).

Was never religious, but figured that this would be the time to find a higher power. Was amazed at how clear things seemed - the randomness of things, the lack of meaning, reason, or what others call “fate”. Everyone had something to say: “you’ll be fine”, “I’ll pray for you”, “everything will be all right”, but no one really knew anything. I might have had lymphoma, I might not, and that was it. I was 22 and might have metastatic lymphoma, which likely meant prolonged sickness and treatment, and perhaps death. (It turned out to be a pulmonary infiltrate - sarcoid, which was asymptomatic, and has never been seen again in my lungs on x-ray).

This week re-defined my life. Instead of bringing me down, it opened me up. It began my happy existential crisis, allowed me to live in the moment, and motivated me to study our wonderful world through books, music, movies, etc. This new lease on life leapfrogged me over my job and into grad school, which landed me in the field of brain injury rehabilitation. I ultimately earned an advanced degree and settled in a great job as an educator and researcher which allows me to continue my happy existential crisis embracing the scientific method.