It took me a long time to understand how the way I behaved and reacted to the things that happened in my life directly affected those who were around me.
In my twenties and thirties, I suffered from mood swings, and after Sepsis completely remodelled my life, I became entirely preoccupied with my own issues for a number of years. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t at all helpful for my wife, or for my children.
I changed because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing them. There came a point a year or two into my rehabilitation when I realised I just had to behave more even-handedly, become more accepting, and start to look outwards.
At first, putting on my braveface was just an act, it was superficial.
It required a conscious effort. I had to suppress the fact that I was in physical, mental and spiritual pain and more or less pretend that I wasn’t suffering. I started forcing myself to smile, even when my face was being reconstructed, and it hurt. I wanted family and friends to feel that I was more or less OK, so they too could start to get on with the rest of their lives.
It’s funny how doing this became a permanent and natural reflex. I don’t know if it was my acting background, or because behaving like this simply worked, but soon I started to believe in my braveface performance. It gained traction. Positive things started happening to me and around me.
What is it we say…? What you dwell upon grows.
Now, being brave is just the way I am, every day, in every situation. I go on the front foot, I put myself forward, I volunteer, I walk through the open doors, I stand up and speak out. Why shouldn’t I?
It’s not always easy. Occasionally, I overreach myself, I’m too ambitious and I find myself making mistakes. But that’s how we learn, that’s how we move forward.
On the subject of my face, I learned early on after waking from my coma, just not to look at it. Now, 18 years on, I hardly ever do. It’s a reminder of extremely difficult times when they cut off my nose, lips and chin – so why go there?
Braveface that I just don’t look at.
Things I’ve discarded, left behind. I can’t look smart or well-presented anymore, so I’ve developed a reflex of just laughing at myself. I can’t follow complex stories or intricate dramas on the TV, so I don’t try – I just focus on characters and their background motivations instead. Right now, after Nic and I did a speaking trip to the north-east, I’m obsessed with Brenda Blethyn in Vera.
She puts on a brave face. We all have to, because life can be so challenging, so hard. But we’re grown-ups now, we’re OK, we’re brave about what’s happened, what’s going on, and what’s down the road ahead of us.
We can face up to it, with a smile. We can spread confidence in the people all around us. All of us can.