I have been crazy busy recently setting up my new online program, so I haven’t had enough hours in the day to blog. It sucks because I absolutely love blogging, as I think it forms a sort of journal for me, where I think about things how I might not think of them otherwise.
When I think about the last 10 years, and the people I have met, which definitely run will into the thousands, I can’t help but think about one person: my cousin Nick.
Nick had a great sense of humour. The first thing I think of, when I think of him, is always his gigantic smile. He made everyone around him feel at such ease. It never mattered what you were going through yourself, or what had brought you into the room, the minute you got there, he made you laugh.
I remember going through the worst time of my life. I was with my abusive ex (which I had hidden from everyone around me) and I was becoming more and more suicidal each day. I was working at a pub (as well as personal training) and I was waiting for two days off in a row, so that when I killed myself, I wouldn’t inconvenience anyone by having to do a last-minute shift. My head was an absolute mess, and I was exhausted from trying to survive.
It was my birthday weekend and Nick messaged me wishing me a happy birthday, and asking after me. I finally broke down after putting on a brave face for so long. I told him I wanted to die. I felt like there was no way things would get better, and even if there was, I was so exhausted from living that I didn’t want to carry on anyway.
He invited me to his house in Sheffield to have a weekend away, and I told him that if I left then I would never go back. He said, “OK then, I’ve got a spare room. Come and rent it off me.”
Almost immediately, I packed up my belongings and headed up to Sheffield. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive (which, when alone with my thoughts is a very bad idea) However I made it, and know everything was going to be OK.
Nick was like the brother I never had. He would shout at me for being lazy, or messy, but always make sure I was eating. He would tell me my stories were way too long and complicated, and usually cut me off before the punch line. He encouraged me to find a job when I got there, and congratulated me when I did, after three weeks.
He pushed me out of my comfort zone, and had my back when I inevitably fucked up. I started MMA when I moved to Sheffield, but he didn’t understand it at all. He used to make fun of me when I hung my gi on the washing line and make silly karate noises – like any half decent brother would.
I had been vegetarian for 18 years before I had moved to Sheffield, but the abusing ex had told me he would break up with me if I didn’t start eating meat. I had just about got the hang of eating chicken and bacon. However, Nick had other ideas. He said to me, “You either eat meat or you don’t. I am not having you being fussy. It’s all or none.” (He was cool if I tried something and didn’t like it, but he didn’t want me to not try it at all). I reluctantly agreed to try anything he put in front of me. That evening, he served up steak and kidney pie, which I believe I ate two servings of, so that was a game changer for me!
I regularly refer to Nick as the man that saved my life. Honestly, if I hadn’t moved to Sheffield, I don’t think I would have got as far as the end of the year. It was just a matter of time. The crazy thing was, before I lived with him, Nick and I hadn’t been overly close. We had met a few times at family gatherings but never been in regular contact.
He always used to say, ‘Harper’s are bad at communicating, but when shit hits the fan, they are always there for you.’ He was certainly right about that.
Nick persuaded me to go to therapy, and helped me get my life back on track. However, after a few months I think he must have thought I was getting stagnant. It was coming up to the end of the year, and he said, “OK, you have conquered the relationship side of things. You are starting to come to terms with everything that’s happened in the past. What are you going to achieve next year?” I joked and said, “Go and train in Thailand.” Straight away, he responded with, “OK, cool.”
Obviously panic set in then, and I realised I had just set myself up for a very real challenge that I had no intent on going through with. He told me that if I couldn’t think of 3 reasons not to go, then I had to book a ticket the following day. Talk about pressure!
Obviously, I could only think of one, which was money. “Oh, no problem” he says, “I looked at ticket prices last night, and coincidentally a return ticket is the same amount of money as what your car is worth.” Funny how that turned out isn’t it!
So, I sold my car, and booked a ticket. I want to put this into perspective: I had been training less than 6 months at this point. I had seen Tiger Muay Thai in a magazine, and thought it looked like a cool place to go. I mention it to my cousin as a sort of joke, and within a week I have no car and a plane ticket to Thailand. When I say he influenced my life – this is what I mean!
Not long after I returned from Phuket (just one month initially) I decided that I would like to move to Thailand full time. He told me it was about time I did something adventurous, and I had to hold the fort for him now that he was looking to settle down with his girlfriend. When he was younger, he had been travelling all around the world. He stayed with friends, family and whoever would have him. I think he felt proud to pass the baton over to me.
After I moved to Thailand, we stayed in contact but our messages gradually became more and more sporadic. We lost touch after a few years, and I only saw him a handful of times after I returned to the UK.
Last year I was in Israel, on a jiu jitsu trip with some other competitors. I had a text from several family members asking if I was OK with ‘everything that’s been going on’. I had no idea what was going on, because I hadn’t spoken to anyone since I had got there. I finally got a message back from my cousin Ben, telling me that Nick had gone missing. My heart sank.
My first thought was that he had gone off travelling because he felt trapped with a normal lifestyle. By this point he had married his girlfriend, and had two young children with her. Knowing Nick as well as I did, I wondered how he would cope with relative normality. It had seemed that he was coping very well with it, but you never know what is going on inside someone’s head, especially when they are such a pro at putting on a front.
I waited for news, but nothing more came. He had been on the news; they had a search team out looking for him. His car had been dumped and he hadn’t turned up for work. In my naivety, I thought, I bet he just needs a quick break. He will be back in a few days with his tail between his legs.
The days turned in to weeks, and then in to months. There was no news.
I kept dreaming about him, that I had seen him. I had one reoccurring dream, where I had gone to pick something up from the house my dad had lived in. Everything was still as it had been when he had moved out in 2002. I got there and went up the stairs. It was eerie and silent. As I walked down the stairs, a face popped up between the banister. It was Nick. He had been hiding out there, terrified to go back to his previous life. He told me that I couldn’t tell anyone where he was, but I promised to come back and visit him. Every time I had this dream, the details had stayed the same. I used to wake up wishing that it had been true.
Then late last year, my dad broke the news to me. Nicks body had been found. I was devastated. I cried for hours. I tried to think about all the ways he helped me, but I just kept thinking about how I should have been better at keeping in touch with him. Maybe I could have helped him, like he had helped me?
I thought about him constantly. My boyfriend at the time was amazing, and looked after me like a saint. He even came up to the funeral with me a few weeks after. At the funeral, the screen showed photos of Nick in his element. He had been a fell runner, and after they had children, he used to take the kids, and dog, on runs with him. There was one particular photo that I remember, which was him running, with the dog on the lead, one child strapped to his back, and the other one in the pushchair. He had the biggest goofy smile on his face, and just looked like the happiest man alive.
Nobody knows what was going on in his head. Nobody knows how he went from the happiest man alive to taking his own life only a few months later.
The post mortem revealed that he had hung himself. It was something we hadn’t known at the time of the funeral, which was probably for the best. For the longest time we had tried to believe that it had been an accident. Maybe he had fell down the mine shaft. They are all over the place in North Yorkshire, so it was entirely possible. Maybe he hadn’t meant to leave us. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to leave us.
When the results had been issued, my heart sank. We knew the truth. He had planned it out. He had taken rope with him. He had done it deliberately.
I felt another huge pang of guilt for not having been in more regular contact with him again. What if I could have got through to him? We had a bond. What if I could have saved him? I could have helped him, and he would be safe and well at home with his wife, and his gorgeous children.
Now, I know that I can’t bring him back. I know it’s not healthy to overthink the situation. My subconscious does a fairly decent job of it while I am sleeping though!
I wanted to write Nick’s story because I mention him in every interview that I have ever done, which has asked me about my pre-MMA days. I don’t usually go into much detail, just that he is my cousin and he saved me. To be honest, telling his story is the least I can do. He deserved the world.