Interviews With People came from my 2013 New Years Resolution to ‘get to know everyone well’. I have enjoyed this series immensely.

I try to be as open and honest as possible on this blog and I have been overwhelmed by how generous people have been in sharing their own thoughts and lives in this series. Learning and growing by sharing stories. That’s what it is to be human!

Part 1

If you’d like to be an RD Interviewee 2013 read the original Interviews With People post and follow the directions.

This week I got to know Chris G. I learnt about his struggles with childhood illness, the conflict he encountered during his studies in Africa and his strong views on the nature of love. What stood out to me in this very moving and heartfelt response was a genuine sense of gratitude. Because there is so much to digest in this interview I have decided to break it into two posts. Here’s part one ~ RD.

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Getting To Know Chris G

Back Story

ChrisG-parents 517x604My name is Chris. The picture to the left is my mum and dad dancing at our wedding. After 40yrs of marriage they still do it right. For me, it was moving and totally inspirational to see this moment. And I felt right then, when I looked at my bride standing next to me, an overwhelming sense of certainty that I would know that feeling forever.

By now I thought I would have been doing a job I really love, every day.

I am most upset by the growing privatisation of health. “Profit” and “health” are words that rarely sit comfortably together in my mind. I also think that there has been a gradual shift towards the right wing after the global economy tanked, with the paradox of the poor being victimised for the profit making gamblers of the rich. The shirkers vs workers rhetoric being used to justify cuts to the welfare state is pretty alarming.

Why do I love THAT person so much? I used to think about this a lot. It is not something that is easy to put into short, or even long prose for that matter as I’m not sure I can do my feelings for her justice in words. I will say that I think the more we have become an “us” the less this question has had any importance. You don’t cease to be an individual when you truly love someone– and that is crucial- but you do become a part of something that is bigger than either of you. When that happens, imagining life without the other person becomes very hard to do, mostly because I don’t want to. I think that is quite wonderful.

The highest point on my life graph so far was in 2007. I married THAT person, and was hugely proud to be awarded my PhD. I think the lowest point was around 2003. I was a bit of a lost soul. I was struggling as a postgraduate and very messed up after a pretty tortuous, unhealthy relationship. I cheated on people who deserved loyalty and generally smoked, drank and felt quite a lot of self loathing… I remain regretful of many things I did during that year. Christ. What a downer to end this list on! I wish I could have just said that turning down Swedish twin sisters was a real low point and left it at that. Bugger.

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Getting To Know Chris G Well

In Conversation With RD

RDHow did you become a lost soul in 2003? I can’t imagine you can just fall randomly into the ‘self-loathing’ you described in your back story. There has to be a constant, repetitive thought process and ‘sense of self’ behind it. Can you trace that negativity back through your early life? Where did it come from? Why do you think it was there?

Chris G: Well, for me it was a coming together of several things. I fell very deeply and very quickly for a charismatic older girl who was much more worldly wise and carrying quite a bit more baggage than me. The mistake I made was making this person the centre of my universe when they were not ready to accept me for who I was….but then I’m not entirely sure that either of us were sure who we really were. University is a really odd time to have relationships. You go through so many changes as a person in quite short periods of time. You are learning as you go, not just in your studies but also in terms of what kind of person you are going to be, what you are going to be passionate about and what kind of things you want to be defined by. Of course, you have some core values and beliefs from when you were a kid, but you are still left “Working on mysteries without any clues” like Bob Seger sang. When that relationship ended, I felt gutted. I was also appalled at my own naivety about it. Unfortunately, having tried to move on and start other relationships, our paths would sporadically cross and we would end up spending the night together. We would part company afterward, there would be late night phone calls, tears, and we just ended up feeling more hurt than before. It was a vicious cycle, like an addiction, and like all co-dependent people we neglected those who were outside our little bubble. In the end I decided that I didn’t like the person I saw in the mirror anymore, and decided to break all contact with her for a while and rebuild my life.

ChrisG-africaI was by then in my second year of my PhD, which involved fieldwork in Africa (my research was about elephants) and I was loving it. But then an organisation I was working with out there ended up taking the government’s side in a legal case involving the Bushmen. I was furious, because as I saw it the government was basically committing genocide. I kept no secret of my feelings on this matter, and after that it was very difficult to continue my research. People stopped collaborating with me, datasets I needed access to dried up. I began to question the utility of what I was doing in academia. For me, it was a massive change in direction. When I started the research I saw myself working as an academic for the rest of my life. After that, I wanted to just get it written up and be done.

The really hard thing was that I had completely fallen in love with Africa. It is a truly amazing, beautiful, harsh, brutal, colourful, vivid place. It will always be a big part of who I am and I am so lucky to have spent time with some great people out there.

RD: Your focus on the strength of your parents’ relationship is very moving and it’s clear to see it’s been a very positive influence on you. What about your upbringing wasn’t so positive? What do you wish had been done better or had not been there at all?

Chris G: Family is massively important to me and my folks raised all three of us right. We all turned out well (I am the youngest, I have a sister who is 6yrs older and a brother 8yrs older). As kids we were happy and loved and secure, and they have given us all so much. Whatever we wanted to explore in life, we were able to do with their encouragement and support. My parents had to work hard for their kids, and had to fight hard to have us. My mum suffered multiple miscarriages before we came along, and they had a little girl, Claire, who only lived a few hours. My brother was born a year later, which must have been huge for them.

I was a bit of a sickly kid. I was born with a genetic mutation, which means I have a very high level of IgE (a component of the immune system). This manifests itself as severe allergies to lots of different foods. I have anaphylactic reactions to eggs, dairy, fish, seafood and poultry. Eating wheat or potatoes produces pretty diabolical gastric symptoms. My brother remembers some of the nappies I produced as a kid after eating something I shouldn’t have as having the same properties as the acid blood of the xenomorphs in Aliens – they kind of steamed and would burn through just about anything.

When I was a toddler, I was stung by a bee. It didn’t mean to try and kill me, but what else was it supposed to do when crushed by the immense weight of my arse? By the time my folks got me to hospital I was blue and had a face like Joan Rivers fresh from surgery crossed with a sunburned catfish. The doctor gave me adrenaline and saved my life.

There were other thiings too, like when I was given my immunisations I ended up in hospital because they cultured the serum on an egg. Whoops!

None of these were unhappy times. But I do remember very vividly being about 4 or 5 years old and being in hospital for an extended stay. I remember my mum would stay with me during the day and my dad would do the nights, sleeping on the playroom floor at the far end of ward 6 in the Sheffield Children’s hospital. At some point during my stay, a little girl about my age…Sophie I think her name was…was brought onto the ward. I remember that she had a tube in her nose and little plastic squares on the back of her hands that had numbing cream under them so she wouldn’t feel the IV’s. When she first came on the ward she seemed pretty happy but looked really ill. Her parents came and visited her and we watched TV together sometimes. She liked Postman Pat, which was my favourite too. After a couple of days she took a turn for the worse. They took her feeding tube away. She had a bad night, and I remember her parents being at her bedside crying and her whimpering in pain. She died the next day after 3 days of agony. I think she had some kind of cancer. The day before she died, I asked my mum to give her my Gollywog to cuddle to make her feel better, but the nurses wouldn’t allow it.

I didn’t really understand any of this at the time. My folks tried to explain as best they could without scaring me. But I remember as clear as if it were yesterday the night after that I climbed out of my cot, walked down the length of the ward (I can still feel the coldness of the floor and the smell of the antiseptic, the sound of my small bare feet patting in the gloom), opened the big heavy door to the playroom and saw my dad lying there on a camping mattress. He took one look at me stood there, thumb in my mouth and Golly under my arm and just lifted up the covers and in I ran as fast as my little legs would let me. He put one giant arm around me and I drifted off to sleep. This was not supposed to be allowed. The night duty sister came in shortly after, and was about to protest, but dad gave her a look that politely but firmly said “piss off”.

I was a frequent visitor to Sheffield Children’s Hospital up until my early teens. The allergies also manifested pretty bad asthma, which required a daily regimen of nebulized steroids. Food was less of an issue as we had learned what I could and couldn’t eat by then of course. But it was also around this time that I started to push myself physically. I swam for my school at the age of 10 and we won the regional championships. I started to play football twice a week and gradually I felt less and less like I needed the meds for my asthma. One day I decided that I didn’t want to take them anymore and told the docs as much. They were reluctant but all of the tests showed that I was getting measurably better. I haven’t taken an inhaler since. 

But even if I had the chance to have been healthier as a kid, I don’t think I would take it. I have taken a lot of strength from it, and I realise that one of the reasons I have become quite obsessive with weight training is that it gives me an immense feeling of control over my body. I’m proud of my strength and physicality.

RD: I can relate very strongly to the way you describe your relationship with your wife. I feel the same way about Reservoir Mum and do not even entertain the thought of being with anyone else, ever. But whenever I come up against certainty I always find myself playing devil’s advocate, searching for the caveat that I know must be there. (PS You shouldn’t have said I don’t want to think about it) It’s been demonstrated many times that a person can fall in love again when a partner passes away, or leaves unexpectedly, which brings in to question the whole idea of a ‘soul mate’. How do you encounter love? Is it a connection more spiritual than physical? Is it only biological – starting with lust and then being sustained by the common, familiarity of being physically present to another for so long? And here’s the pow – could you have chanced upon another woman, before you met your current wife, and fallen as deeply in love?

Come back tomorrow to read the rest of Chris G’s interview.

ChrisG-profile

To follow Chris G on Twitter – @DrChrisGibbons

Visit Chris G’s powerlifting blog – Don’t Eat The Chalk

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If you’d like to be an RD Interviewee for 2013 read this post and follow the directions.