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?

Sport and Star Wars: a search for meaning

I posted this morning a quote from Star Wars having spent my night last night watching the Star Wars trilogy (sidebar here: I do not believe there are any Star Wars movies other than the original trilogy worth my watching and thus I have never watched the other movies in the franchise BUT I digress). That quote is from The Empire Strikes Back and Yoda and was:

“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are … a different game you should play.”

I have reflected on that quote a bit this morning since posting and, indeed, have reflected on the rest of my long weekend, aside from the Star Wars festival. It has been a weekend, for me, of sport and social media with a bit of yard work and writing thrown in for good measure.

My reflections have lead me to the view that there is much to be said for the application of Yoda’s quote across more than the Star Wars universe and the life of Luke Skywalker. Well much to be said, with an amendment.

This weekend we have seen: the Wallabies remove the shackles of doubt with a barnstorming performance in Rosario against Argentina, the International loose for the fifth successive time to the United States in the Presidents, the Pittsburgh Pirates leading in the NCLS against the St Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs move to a 5-0 record after a season worst 2-14 season in 2013 (among other sporting results).

Now in each context it is impossible to say that none of these teams and their respective staffs have been free of mistakes. However, what it is possible to say, is that, in each context, the particular team in question has either thrived upon making a change or have continued to flounder because of the failure to do so.

The story of the Kansas City Chiefs this season is particularly instructive. Before the season started the team changed its head coach, its general manager and its quarterback. That aside it made limited changes to its line up. A change in attitude and a change in style of play has been made by the coach and quarterback and, with essentially everything else the same as last year, the team has thrived. Indeed, they are now playing the game at a different level.

The story of the Pittsburgh Pirates from the MLB is the similarly as instructive (an nothing short of inspiring). After 21 seasons out of the post season (the worst record in all of the sports combined in the US) and a similar span of losing seasons until last season, behind a new manager in Clint Hurdle and off the back of some great roster moves they are the story of Major League Baseball this season. Their fans have returned to their games and they are now one game around to the second phase of the MLB finals. Again: they have made some changes in management and staff but a largely the same team that 3 years ago had, almost, the worst record in the National League.

All of this leads me to a surprising point: I think Yoda is wrong. Sorry: scratch that … I think the message that Yoda has in the quote above is spot on so long as the ideology of not making mistakes is removed. To me, to play a game and, for that matter, to live life without mistake is not possible. Indeed the biggest mistake I would think one could make would be to consider oneself to be wholly without error.

That being the case, I think the quote is better phrased thusly:

“If losing you are … a different game you should play”

The Chiefs and the Pirates were losing, indeed they were losing badly, so they took steps to play the game differently by making staff changes and the results are there for all to see.

So where does that lead us? It is all well and good for me to spruik sporting examples to back a theory but is said theory equally as applicable in life? That has been a large part of my ponderance today. I know in my own life I have been crippled at time by the fear of failure and change where change presented itself. It is trite to say (but also a truism) that my life would be different now if I had have made changes earlier in my life when I was living a life riddled with mistakes.

Life is fundamentally about learning from ones mistakes. It strikes me that the biggest mistake one can make is not making changes when one is, metaphorically, losing. That failure to act though comes mostly from fear of change doesn’t it? Therein lies the conundrum of making changes.

I wish I had have made changes in my life earlier but did not out of fear. I hope I have learned from that mistake so that the next time I am, metaphorically, losing in the game of life I can recognise that I need to play a different game to succeed. The question I have is: will you?

Life Lessons from Denis Wright

Many of you will be wondering: Who is Denis Wright? I was forwarded an article writen about him on news.com.au (http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/life-lessons-from-terminal-cancer-patient-denis-wright/story-fnet09p2-1226671303372) earlier today and have spent a lot of my time since reading his blog (http://deniswright.blogspot.com.au/). What an inspirational bloke: I am not goint to say much about his story save that I implore you to have a read of the blog.

What really resonated with me, as I have been struck in recent days by a darker than usual shade of my black dog, were the life lessons he provided for the article published earlier today. I reproduce them (without any agreement or approval from anyone) here:

1. Don’t spend your life in a job you hate. Life is too short to live it only in the evening and at weekends.

2. If there’s something bad happening in your life you genuinely have no control over, learn all you can about it and how to live with it. Beating your head against a brick wall is unproductive.

3. If you think you can change it, then go all out to do so. Try to understand its nature and work with it where you can.

4. There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ decisions. If you made what you think might have been a poor choice in life, learn from it, and you might make a better one next time. You don’t know what’s going to turn out good or bad in the long run, so regrets are a waste of time.

5. Don’t agonise about the past, in the sense that you can’t change it. Live in the slice of time that’s the now. You can’t live in the moment; it’s too short. The slice is richer. It contains a little of past, present and future.

6. Apologise as soon as you can when you think you’ve hurt someone. Don’t try to pretend you’re perfect. Accept responsibility where it’s due.

7. Keep your options open for as long as possible. Don’t close them unnecessarily.

8. Try to keep your sense of humour if you can, though it’s not always possible.

9.Carpe Diem … Or, for a change, seize the day!

10. Do not be afraid of death. “If you’re not more afraid of your own death than you need to be, then you need have little fear for anything life can hand out.”

Some of these are pretty obvious but the one that reasonated with me most was number 2. It is time to stop bashing my head against the brick wall!