A Life Less Ordinary

I wrote this exactly a year ago. Today’s passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the COVID-19 world we live in and my recent redundancy make this as relevant today as it was then – and it’s certainly given me some pause for re-thinking about how I’m going to move forward from here. (edited for typos and removing some names/Facebook links):

Apologies in advance for the length but September 19th, NZ time, is a day of significance – and even more so this morning with the news of former Rangers captain Fernando Ricksen’s death from Motor Neuron Disease.

I beg your indulgence…

I don’t need Facebook to pop up with ‘On This Day’ notifications to know exactly what I was doing exactly five years ago today, September 19th 2014, New Zealand time.

I was seriously depressed and had been for the most part of 15 years, working in a job I detested for a woman who had – at the very least – sociopathic tendencies and I was struggling to cope with life. I had just turned 40 and Scotland had just finished voting in a referendum on independence, something I’d supported for as long as I could remember.

I felt distance from what was happening in my home country – I’d been in Aotearoa for nearly a decade by this time and I wasn’t legally allowed to vote in the referendum. But I wanted it so badly – and as I worked away in that god-awful job, listening to the results on Radio Scotland via the internet it became clear quite quickly that any hope of Scotland seizing the opportunity offered was dying a horrible death.

I returned home that evening a gutted shell of the man I always wanted and aspired to be and with an another dream now shattered.

The day couldn’t get any worse. Or so I thought.

Moments after walking through the door, sitting around the dining table in our comfortable, suburban, middle-class, new, four-bedroomed house I was told my marriage was over. Done and dusted. Kaput. A bit like me, to be honest. Things hadn’t been great for a wee while but facing up to the reality of it ending wasn’t something I’d expected to face like this.

I’ve found in big moments of life my mind behaves inappropriately. When I met my hero Jimmy Buffett, for example, my first thought was ‘god, he’s a bit smaller than I thought’. It’s hardly a Newtonian stroke of genius, right? And so faced with a major breaking point my brain didn’t immediately go where I’d surely have expected.

I was annoyed, of course. But more so because I’d already had shitty news that day. And there was an election in NZ the following day that was likely to return a right-wing government again. How fucking inconsiderate was it to pile on the result of the referendum and the Tories winning again? Yeah, I’m not proud of that reaction – but hey, if I can’t be brutally honest in my own story when can I be?

“Bad things come in threes” is an old adage I heard so many times growing up and so when John Key and the National Party were duly re-elected the next day it seemed inescapable proof it was true. Only it wasn’t. I just had to wait a wee while to fully grasp that.

But first, some context. I make no claim of innocence here. I know I’m not the easiest person to live with. I know there are things I’m not good at. And it’s hard to put across just how much I fucking hate anything to do with gardening. I had a vastly different approach to parenting than my ex-wife and I thought I was more right than she was, as I’m sure she thought the same of her views. I couldn’t be the best dad because I wasn’t the best person – I struggled some days to move, so how could I possibly be the dad my kids deserved?

But I’d never done anything inappropriate, never kissed another woman. Nothing. And, despite being a stubborn – and at times useless – idiot I didn’t deserve what happened to me.

At 40, in a country that couldn’t be further away from home, with no local family support and just a tiny group of friends I had to start my life again. My hope for joint custody was shot down and then made virtually impossible by circumstances. I left the house and left seeing my kids every day because… well, I’m still not quite sure why. Because it was expected of me? Because I was so shocked that I just accepted it? Regardless, I left with boxes of belongings that, at some point, meant something to me but in the big scheme of things were absolutely useless.

Sure, I had a load of Kevin Smith-signed DVDs and a set of golf clubs that I’d won (that’s another story!) but what good does that do you when you don’t have even have a bed and have barely enough money to live on, never mind pay your share for a house you’re not living in any more and support your children?

In adversity, however, came shining lights. Some paths in the darkness. Gordon opened up his house to me. Alastair and Jo invited me to spend Christmas with their family so I wouldn’t be alone. Holly fought for me to get a job at ARPHS. Mam, dad and Chris did everything they could from the other side of the world. And, of course, I met Sam, who is the best partner I could ever conceive of.

Five years ago today was one of the worst days of my life. It was also one of the best. From rock bottom to a life less ordinary.

Some of you have known me for a lot longer that those five years, but quite a few of you haven’t. If you met me on that day for the first time I don’t think you would recognise me now, and not just because of the weight loss.

I’m a changed man, working in a job I enjoy and in a company I’m proud to work for. I actually smile these days. Barring a few bad days here and there I haven’t been depressed in a long time and no longer need to take medication. I love life and despite not seeing my kids every day I’m a better father than I ever was and I couldn’t be more proud of the awesome people my children have become. I’ve been back to Scotland and spent time with friends like Jamie, Caroline and Stuart more than I thought possible in the last few years – including that fucking amazing weekend trip home to Scotland, something that was simply not possible in my old life. (Again, that’s another story!)

I found something within myself to follow my dream of wrestling – and had the presence of mind to call it quits when it became clear my body and mind weren’t quite up to it despite losing half my body-weight. Five years ago I couldn’t walk a kilometre without my back and calf hurting so much I had to stop. I just ran a sub two-hour half marathon. I barely believe it myself. Of course I still fucking hate anything to do with the garden, but some things will never change. Sorry Sam!

There’s so much more of this story to tell – but that’s for another day and another medium. Suffice to say I’m grateful to every single one of you who have played a part in turning my life around – from those who literally gave me a roof over my head, to those who encouraged me to follow a dream, to those who listened instead of talking and to every single one of you who has shown me love over the last five years.

And I tell you all of this for a positive reason – not because I want, or feel I deserve, any sympathy. I don’t. What happened, happened. On the contrary, I want you to grab this opportunity and to live the life you really want. Don’t accept, as I did, being a minor character in your own story – because none of us know what is around the corner.

It was brought home earlier this year when a dear family friend died suddenly at a relatively young age, just a few days after I’d spent some time with them in Fochabers. I still can’t get my head around the senseless loss of Liz. Then today, aged just 43, a hero of mine died after living with Motor Neuron Disease for six years.

Forty-fucking-three. With a young family. Now that’s tragic. Sure, I faced some minor inconveniences, but nothing like the inescapable fate of such a horrible disease. And he did it with more grace in those few years than should be expected of anyone who has their future torn away. When I go, if I can muster an ounce of the dignity that Fernando Ricksen has shown then I’ll leave with a smile on my face knowing I lived a good life. My thoughts and love go to his family, his friends, his fans and all those who’ve lost a loved one recently.

Me? I’m a 45-year-old man who’s incredibly lucky, fortunate and privileged to be where I am today. And I’m not fucking going to rest on my laurels because a good old fashioned boot in the balls could be mere moments away.

Here’s to life, here’s to the people we love and here’s to the future! Let’s not fuck it up, eh?

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