Year in Review
The strain of transitioning
I spent a month from mid-March to mid-April in a mental health rehab facility in Sydney. I’ve been homeless since the middle of 2017 as well. Over the last few months I’ve lived in Canberra, Wodonga and Port Augusta, mostly, although there has also been a large chunk of time spent in Melbourne as well. And Sydney’s featured occasionally, too.
In reality, none of sport, mental illness or homelessness are a good place to start, but they’re all a big part of the past 12 months. I joked before the draft that I may be the first ever homeless person to be drafted to an AFL club, but obviously that never eventuated.
Truth be told, all through 2016 I suffered from massive mental health issues, which had always been there to a degree but went from zero-to-100 pretty quickly over those 12 months.
It’s hard to say what one thing triggered it, but the stress of transitioning, beginning hormone treatment and then not being able to play sport, albeit temporarily, all played a part – if not equal.
I’m well aware of how lucky I am.
Ninety nine percent of babies didn’t survive back in 1982. Luckily, I did and it has shaped my entire outlook on life.
Life was a second-by-second proposition in the period immediately after I was born. I was flown from Wollongong Hospital in a helicopter to the Children’s Hospital in Sydney. It was a race against the clock.
I was rushed in for emergency surgery to repair the hernia. I was cut in half, all the way around my stomach, leaving just the skin on my back connected.
It’s incredible that a human can survive that. The work of the doctors was incredible. Lifesaving.
Dawn’s hair started falling out, and of course she hated that, but Shae told her, ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, Mum. You’re beautiful on the inside.’
When she shaved her hair off both the kids were there, one helping her with the clippers and the other holding her hand.
Now Dawn walks them into school with no hair and the kids are as proud as punch.
I offered to shave my head in solidarity, but Dawn said, ‘It’s bad enough I have to look in the mirror, I don’t want to have to look at your ugly face with a bald head, too!’
Fair enough. I couldn’t argue with that.
My cardiologist has made it very clear to me that although I’ve had to retire, most athletes with my condition never actually find out.
He’s usually talking to the grieving parents of an athlete who has passed away.
It’s scary stuff. I’m sure if you research Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy you will find many sportspeople who have been affected by the condition.
HCM is a thickening of one of the internal walls in the heart. Unfortunately, it’s a leading cause of death in athletes because often there are no symptoms associated with the condition.
If I’m pushed to my limits, there’s a risk of me having a heart attack and, without playing the blame game, I have to be honest: this should have been found earlier.
Dad was a strong and stubborn person. He woke up every morning before the crack of dawn. He worked all day and you didn’t see him again until he got home when it was dark. He repeated that every day until he couldn’t get out of bed.
Dad passed away. He didn’t think it would happen so quickly. None of us did. We had to make decisions a lot faster than we had planned to.
Until that point, there hadn’t been much time to get lost in your emotions. It was natural that the eldest son would take on Dad’s responsibilities and pass on the things he had taught me to my brothers and sisters.
No matter how I was feeling, I would still have to do farm work that day and the next day. Dad was lying in our Marae, our meeting house, but life had to go on. Someone had to run the farm.