The Family Home: it is time to say goodbye

I have spent this morning with my parents at our family home helping them to pack it up as they move to what has been described by them as their “retirement” house.

As I drove home, I reflected on the house my parents have called home for the last 38 years, indeed it is the only house they have ever owned, and the house that I grew up in. Bizarrely, for an object such as a house, I think I am going to miss the brick house in Bundamba that John and Irene built.

It was a warm and happy house to grow up in with parents who were loving but strict and who worked hard to make life easier for my sister and I. As my brain works through my memories of the house I am struck by random images and moments such as:

* a skinny kid with a bad flat top spending hours with a tennis ball and a cricket bat playing test matches against the back brick wall in summer and kicking goals between the two big trees in the back yard in winter;
* that same kid lurching over the laundry tubs blood streaming from mouth after being hit in the head with a baseball bat by his sister;
* my sister’s wedding day and the military precision with which my mother organised the female contingent who were all staying at the house;
* hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night and overhearing my dad by informed that my hero (my grandad Alan) had died and seeing my dad cry in my presence for the first time in my life to that point (at the age of 19); and
* the day a little black dog dog we called Benson arrived and the day my Dad found him in the last throws of life in the back yard over a decade later.

It was a happy place as I said but it was also a place where I felt most comfortable. Twice, in the depths of depression and bereft of hope, it was the place I returned to to heal, to reflect, to cry and to talk.

It is funny but on reflection this house, that my parents have loved and, in recent times, pampered, has almost been as much a part of our lives as another family member. And, now that the sale of the house is in the shadows of completion, we are in mourning, in a sense because part of our history is no more.

I am sure that I will love my parents new place when it is all set up and we are invited to it. The same rules about sitting on the “upstairs” / “good” lounge (strictly verboten) and touching Dad’s mower (also strictly verboten) will apply. That said, when I walk into it for the first time I am sure I will be struck by its differences. That will happen, in part, because when I walk in I will not see the one lasting part of me that was in the old house: the mark on the hard wood floor from the day I dropped a bottle of green cordial in the lounge room and it smashed. Needless to say mother earned her nickname of the “Red Dragon” that day.

So with the self indulgent trip down memory lane above consigned to print, there is nothing else to say but goodbye to the home of my childhood (I will not be going back there before the sale settles) and look forward to making more memories in my parents new house. With that in mind: can someone hand me a bottle of green cordial?

Things that I know now that I wish I knew when I was eighteen

Off the back of a particularly positive meeting earlier this week and much reflection on life and dealing with mental illness over recent weeks, I have been pondering those things that I could have done differently over the last couple of decades. Let be clear: I am very happy with my life at the moment, almost content, but I have come to the conclusion that my life would have been much easier if had have known during my teens, 20s and early 30s what I know now.

I make no criticism here of my parents, other relatives, partners and friends during those years: all of my failings are down to me and me alone.

In no particular order, here are the things I wish I had have known in the past that I know now:

There is no shame in asking for help

This is an easy and obvious one: I spent so many years being afraid to ask for help that the hole that I had gotten myself into mentally just continued to deepen and deepen until there was no metaphorical way out. I thought there was a stigma that would attach to sticking my hand up and asking for help and the attachment of that stigma to me scared me.

It is who you are that defines you, not what you do

I only ever wanted to be a lawyer, right from the first year of University, and I spent many years so focused on being a lawyer that I began to believe that being a lawyer was what defined me. I could not see a future without me being a lawyer which was just stupid. It sounds obvious but obviously it is who you are, and your values, that define you. It does not matter what you do for a crust.

Showing emotion is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength

I always said to people that I was not the most emotional of people. I did not think that showing emotion was the done thing and that I would be considered weak if I did. That had the flow on effect of me having quite deep emotional lows that also could manifest themselves in violent (emotionally) anger. I have cried more in the last 3 years than I had in the previous twenty and frankly I couldn’t be prouder about that. The “red mist” that once engulfed me from time to time has not returned in a long time and I am sure that, in part is because I now have learned to express my emotions.

The answer does not lie in the bottom of a bottle

I have been honest and direct in this blog and in person with people about my struggles with alcohol. This one is simple: I wish I did not spend so much time drinking to make myself feel good about myself. For a start I have learned that I do not need to drink to have a good time and I do not need to get drunk in response to a bad week at work or a bad mood.

Be patient with yourself, you are going to be wrong more than you are right

I am my own harshest critic and spent a long time during my career and my life beating myself up over my failings however small. I never really appreciated what I appreciate now which is that sometimes mistakes happen and it is how you react to those mistakes and attempt to remediate them that is most important rather than replaying the mistake over and over in your mind.

Life is too short is the commonly trotted out maxim when one looks back at the life they have lead and the mistakes they have made. I have an amendments to that maxim: life is only as short as you make it by your own actions. I am not perfect and I am never going to be perfect but I do intend to live every day I have left hopefully as free as I can be of the depression and self doubt that have plagued me for so long knowing what I now know. And that is all anyone can ask of themselves isn’t it?