Giving my brain a rest

I took the day off yesterday because I couldn’t face up to work. There’s been plenty of times I didn’t fancy work, but yesterday was purely physical.

As has been a common occurrence I got up in the morning, began my regular ablutions, then went back to bed to lay down. Every other time I’ve got up again 20 minutes later and, marginally less weary, have got myself ready and headed off to work – albeit later than usual. Yesterday I went back to bed and didn’t get up until nearly 10 am.

I think I’m pretty close to being run-down, but I’m getting old, too. I’ve worked pretty solidly for the last two years, with only a couple of breaks in that – I have about seven weeks of leave accrued. Lately, even when I have taken days off, I’ve still been doing work in my own time, including after work and on weekends.
I need a really good holiday but I’ve been reluctant to commit to anything because I’ve got no money, because I’ve had no-one to look after Rigby even if I did manage to go away somewhere, and because I wanted to keep the leave up my sleeve just in case I needed to cash it out.

Realistically, even though I feel refreshed after doing nothing yesterday, this is only going to continue and get worse until I get away from it all. I need to freshen up properly.

Part of the problem is that I’m always on. Work is demanding, and then comes the weekend. Fine, except I never have a lazy weekend. I do whatever I need to do and then I sit down and write, Saturday and Sunday, and creative writing – let me tell you – uses a lot of brain wattage.
I’m very disciplined. Sometimes I don’t want to do it but I always do. The only time I don’t do it is when I’m away for some reason, which is fuck-all. And that’s the thing, if I’m tired I reckon most of it is mental tiredness because I so rarely let my mind simply idle.

Shit happens and it’s easily fixed. At the back of my mind, I plan to take a week off maybe at the end of March and go up to a mates place in Mullumbimby. He’s been at me for a while to get up there and has a granny flat in his backyard I can stay in. It’s right next door to Byron Bay and there’s no more chilled place in Oz (and potentially on the globe) than there. I’ll still do my writing, but a change of scene makes a world of difference in my experience, and spending a few hours each day by the pool or cruising around Byron won’t hurt either.

I’m hoping to get a few things sorted before then, but will update on that later.


Yes, minister

So I went to the docs yesterday for the small collection of ailments I have and got relevant referrals to get moving on them, in line with my resolution to get them sorted this year.

For my knee, he gave me a referral to have an x-ray and MRI. I rang to make an appointment later that morning and was told that because I was over 50 the MRI wasn’t covered by Medicare and I would have to pay full whack – $318. If I was under 50 or had been referred by a specialist and not a GP, it would be zero.

I vaguely recalled a discussion about this last year. The issue is that the government believes that GP’s have been making unnecessary referrals for expensive procedures, therefore costing Medicare millions of dollars more. Their solution is to set an arbitrary limit based on age.

I’m guessing the thinking around this is that by the time you’re over 50 wear and tear will have created a lot of extra issues – not that changes anything. If there’s a legitimate issue then age or cause should be irrelevant. And – correct me if I’m wrong – but isn’t this basically discriminatory?

I’m guessing this limit has been imposed because the over-50s have been ‘over’ represented in the referral stats. Well, guess what, maybe that’s because they are sicker more often, which makes complete sense. They’ve created a solution to save money by effectively saying we won’t treat you if you’re crook.

Not surprisingly the Australian Medical Association opposed this change and still does. I have little doubt that some GPs have prescribed unnecessary treatments, but this seems to me a very crude and unscientific way around it. Surely there’s someone in the government who can think of a smarter way to address this?

In my case, I need that MRI to check if I need to see a specialist and, more specifically, what sort of specialist. I can’t afford this expense so now I’m getting an x-ray only and hoping it does the trick. My other option is to get a referral to a specialist of some kind and get him to refer me. But now we’re going in circles – I’ll have to pay the specialist, even if of the wrong ilk, a fee of some dimension, in order to get a free MRI.

In other words, my options are to soldier on without the MRI hoping the x-ray can diagnose the issue. If it doesn’t then I can choose to let it go and hope it doesn’t further degenerate. Or I can go back to the doctor, get another referral to a specialist, visit the specialist, then get the MRI I might have got right at the start of the process – where it belongs.

It’s nonsense the whole thing. Bureaucracy creating more work rather than less, inconveniencing the public, and applying arbitrary, non-medical standards which basically contravene all equal opportunity tenets.

I can’t believe something so poorly considered has become law. Then again, maybe not. This is a totally inept government.

Memories of the occasion

This time last year I was on the wane. I had been buoyant up to this point. There was someone I liked and I was bright with her and flirtatious and there was the sense in both of us of much more to come. Then it changed because I changed. With Christmas encroaching I thought of mum, who always took an infectious delight in this time of year. I felt her absence and mixed with the sorrow at her passing I think there was a sense of self-pity at what I had lost. Twelve months on I think there was also another element – fear.

It’s hard to describe the darkness that descends upon you when you’re in that state of mind. My depression at the occasion is explainable, though I hadn’t experienced anything quite as keen in the years preceding. I don’t know if it was a trigger, but contributing to my despair was fear at what was happening with the girl – when you have something to gain you also have something to lose. I became self-conscious as the critical moment came closer, and it just so happened to coincide with the arrival of Christmas.

It was an awful time that had widespread ramifications – some not so good, but some positive.

It virtually kyboshed my opportunity with the girl. That’s not dead altogether but it’s on life support. I felt regret at that for a long time and took responsibility for stuffing it up for her as well as me. I’ve let that go now.

The positive to come out of it may well be a life changer. I emerged from that dark period thinking that everything must change. I realised there was something fundamentally unhealthy in my behaviour. On the surface of things I had escaped the worst of it – I was no longer homeless and unemployed, I had a modest job, a roof over my head, some income. Yet the effects of that bad time when on just beneath the surface. I carried it still, was restless and sometimes angry, I was ashamed, embarrassed and secretive. It was a toxic mix that impacted directly on my behaviour and general state of mind.

I don’t know if I’d have woken up but for that bout of depression. Probably I would have eventually, but better late than never. Coming out of it I understood I had to be more open and honest. I had to let go of the things that were weighing me down. I had to embrace my vulnerability and show it to the world.

It hasn’t been easy and it’s far from complete, but I know it’s been the right decision. I feel freer generally, and having taken the excruciating step of revealing my shameful secrets have discovered it’s not nearly as hard as I feared it would be. I backslide sometimes, sometimes I revert to old habits, and it seems despite this talk of being open and vulnerable I appear to be as formidable as ever. But I have made progress.

This Christmas I don’t know if I will feel the same brooding sorrow as before. I don’t think so. Christmas day for me will be at home with Rigby with a bottle of bubbles and a feast worthy of the occasion – a butterflied chicken, and all the trimmings. I look forward to it. I’ve had other invitations but on this I’m firm. I can have an authentic celebration just the two of us, and when people ask I tell them. I could never have done that before.

For the rest of it, let’s just see how things pan out into next year. As I say every year, next year will be big.

Seeing in the dark

Had an unexpected wobble earlier this week. I’ve been sailing along quite well after the storms a couple of months ago, then I hit turbulence again. In hindsight, it’s perfectly clear why, but at the time, in the middle of it and trying to stay afloat, it’s not so clear.

I wrote about how a friend here had likened me to a character on TV whose life was all fucked up. Normally I would have shrugged it off. I’ve got skin as thick as a crocodile. Normally I would have seen it for what it was, a light-hearted but ultimately complimentary analogue. This time all I could see were the negative aspects of it, and it hurt.

What made it abnormal was the conjunction of events that had left me more sensitive than usual. Having re-visited some of my bleak past over the weekend I was left a little frail. I was in a condition where it wouldn’t take much to tip me over the edge – and so it proved. What it really triggered in me was my absolute rejection of sympathy.

I did contact my friend that night. I pointed out to her that while there have been tough times my life as a whole has been interesting and rewarding and replete with fantastic moments. It sounds like an exercise in justification, but it’s true. I’ve copped some shit, some hard times, but I’ve had a full and interesting life too. I’ve been a participant, not a spectator. I wish some things were different, but on balance I’ll cop it.

Of course, this missed the point entirely, as our conversation over the next hour or so made clear.

I didn’t blame her or anything like that, but she picked up that she had offended me. After some initial confusion, she discerned the cause of it. She was apologetic but pointed out she was always teasing and jesting and this was in the nature of that. She was right. She made it clear that far from pitying me she had the utmost respect for me. The point she had tried to make was though I’ve suffered hardship I’m always smiling, always positive, always helping others. I had her admiration for that. I was a winner in her books. Plus I was cute.

At some point in this, it dawned on me. You see, I’m getting closer to things. I’m learning all the time.

What I really struggle with is being vulnerable. When someone points out the obvious I feel exposed. The very fact of being frail and struggling is to some extent unmanly in my books – I should be above it. This is why I reject so vociferously any hint of it. I can’t believe that anyone can like or respect that me – frankly, I feel pathetic, and part of that is because I have no control. There’s H in control, which includes my emotions – and there’s H, allegedly, out of control, embarrassed, and subject to prevailing winds. I don’t like myself then and don’t believe anyone else can either.

I think I’ve always known this about me but never wanted to own up to it. It goes to the nub of this issue too, and it’s resolution.

This is the path I’ve set myself on – to be vulnerable, to expose myself, to learn from it and come to accept it as valid and reasonable. It’s bloody hard though and goes against my nature.

I understood that as I spoke to her and apologised. I explained the problem and said I had a tendency to push people away when I suffer from this. This is the very thing I have to stick out though.

In the past I would’ve rebounded from this in my belligerent way, refusing to be frail, refusing to be intimidated. That was my hard shell. That’s what made me survive the tough times, a native combativeness that refused to submit. I’m like a boxer taking a beating but getting up from the canvas each time refusing to accept the other man is a better fighter than me. Somehow I managed to survive the big fight, but after it now I realise there are other ways, better ways, to deal with it.

This is what I’m trying to learn. The easy thing is to get belligerent again, but that solves nothing. The very hard thing is to remain vulnerable, but that’s how I heal and, ultimately, become a better, stronger man.

I have to remember that. I’m standing out in the dark alone. I could turn and return to shelter and to light, but then I’ll never accustom myself to the darkness. This time I must refuse to be tough. I have to submit myself to the darkness until I can see.


Unfortunately, I have to report that yesterday was a real struggle, and I’ve woken up today feeling no better. It’s a surprise to me. I felt as if I had things under control. There were dips, but manageable, and in fact, I caught up with a friend for lunch on Friday and discussed my current situation. It was a healthy conversation. I was pretty candid, but unembarrassed, and it felt as if I was progressing through something that would come to an end at some point.

Why I should wake yesterday and feel much less hopeful I don’t know. Though, to be fair, the sense of hope, or lack of it, is symptom more than cause. I felt sluggish all day, and my few interactions with other people were clumsy and awkward. I think it’s fair to say that you feel despairing.

It’s hard work. I fight it as best I can, but there’s not much left to fight it with. At one stage I went and lay on my bed without energy to read or even listen to music. I was incapable of absorbing it anyway. You just want to get through it and if someone said go to sleep now and you’ll wake all better you’d take it without a second thought.

In the end, I forced myself up. There’s nothing healthy about any of this, and yet I feel as if the worse thing I can do is just give in to it. Everything is dull, stagnant. There is no light or music. Time stretches. And you feel full of fog. It’s a bad way to be and if you let it go you feel as if you might just slide away, so you must make it different. The only way is by doing something.

You do things then and there’s a sense of play-acting but you keep going. Keep going long enough and it begins to feel more normal, though you never lose that sense of hopelessness.

I knew this was going to take a while to get through. I hoped it wouldn’t plumb such depths. I’ve just got to hang in there long enough to get to the other side.

I suspect one of the reasons it’s worse this weekend is that the sense of isolation is heightened. I’m hoping that means being among people back at work it will become easier from tomorrow. Certainly, it highlights one of the things that magnify my issues – the lack of a support network. Basically, I’m alone. No family and even my friends have other priorities.

I can’t leave it on that bleak note. I need to figure out what I must do to get to the place I need to be. I think I’m doing some of those things already, but it needs time. That’s the message though. In time it will be better. I just need to endure until then.

Resetting the fracture

I did something last night I should have done long ago, but was too proud, too stubborn, too damn complex to do until now. I had many qualms heading up to it, I doubted it was the right thing to do and feared the response, but once I did it I knew I was right, and the consequences seemed secondary to having done something true and authentic. Funny how often that happens.
I find myself feeling released. I’m one of those people that reckon you’re better off doing something rather than nothing, being ballsy and bold, and no regrets, but the theory is a lot easier than the practice. But here I am having pulled the trigger and I’ve rid myself of that obligation. I don’t know what will come of it. If I were a betting man I’d suggest that very little will happen and my arrow will miss its mark, but I’m cool with that (right now). It resolves something at the very least.

That probably contributes to my state of mind today. I’m pretty breezy and frank. I went out for coffee this morning, exchanged the usual quips with the barista, then went searching for the sausage roll I craved. I went far and wide, inside Melbourne Central and out in the street, the sun shining, the trams rattling by, students and workers lining up for coffee or heading off to class or office.

I wended my way between them on my futile quest. My mind was bright, active. Briefly I reflected on some of the things I’ve been contemplating the last few weeks, the stuff I wrote of yesterday. I recalled something I’d read that Prince Harry had said. He was last week to much fuss and bother, a good bloke I’d happily share a beer with, and an authentic soul. In the interview he’d mentioned how he had sought help for his state of mind. He explained how in the years since his mother died when he was twelve he had held the grief in and never processed it. Much like me he took the decision that ‘right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything’. He describes how it led to a fight or flight response in him, which I can relate to also.

All that resonated with me as I read it, but I took comfort knowing that – of course – I wasn’t unique, and what I had experienced was not unreasonable.

As I walked down Little Lonsdale street today I thought that I just healed crooked, for those reasons. When that happens there’s only one thing you can do if you want to get right – you have to reset the fracture. I figure that’s the process I’m in. The good news is that I diagnosed it before it became permanent. All going well in time I’ll heal straight.

Ups and downs and mysteries thereof

Ups and downs, better days and days not so good, I guess that’s the way it goes. Today is a good day. Yesterday wasn’t.
As a general observer it’s interesting how the perspective shifts. When it’s good there’s no dramas. What’s the big deal, you wonder? If you’re me you just plough ahead and do it. The way seems clear, an unfettered horizon beckons.

The bad days are much less often. I probably had them before, but I just powered through them more or less. That’s changed recently because I’ve decided not to do that anymore, and probably because I’ve had many more days like that in the last few months.

When it’s not so good there is a range and variety of experience. It’s rare for me, but in fact there have been days lately when I wanted nothing to do with anyone – and most particularly, didn’t want to be burdened by responsibility or expectation. Mostly I remain functional, but there have been moments when even that was a challenge.

Will, I find, is the big issue. Strength of will has always been one of my leading qualities, sometimes consciously so. I hated the idea of being beaten or giving up, hated the notion of not trying or failing to respond to a challenge. It was that attitude that powered me on when things got tough, but it’s an artifice when it’s employed like that. Now I find it hardest it’s my will that gives way – the will to act, to be proactive, to really try. I overcome that – every time so far – and it gets easier as things fall into place and you find the effort is not as strenuous as you feared.

When it’s bad I struggle through. There remains some conscious intervention to get through the day, but it’s necessary. What I find when it’s tough is that I happen across a sub-conscious insight I’m oblivious to when I’m sailing along.

Yesterday, unbidden, came the thought: I don’t want to be the man I am. That’s no huge secret, I guess, given all the things I’ve written about lately and the changes identified – except I didn’t mean it, or feel it, in that way. I was walking along and there it was suddenly and what it meant – I think – was that I don’t want to be corporate anymore, and all that it represents. If I was to drill down the real issue is that I don’t want to be a part of the mediocrity and politics and backsliding and compromise and lack of courage and so on. I could survive, I think, in a truly competent organisation, or else doing something in which I didn’t have to engage with any of that.

The other notable thing yesterday was that I felt incredibly tender. I wondered if I was falling in love and I was ready to go with it. I thought about it on the way home and figured that I keep such close guard on myself, and have ruled myself out of relationships for so long, that any relaxation of that leads to a flood of (repressed?) feeling. I’m much more vulnerable now than I’ve been for maybe forever and so I’m ripe for it.

Is it a bad thing? Is it a false thing? I don’t know – I certainly don’t know on a day like today when I’m on the upswing. Yet an insight I gained from that is that if it means I’m open and raw then it can’t be too bad. I become glib and smooth when I’m cruising along, and that’s a problem.

There’s a middle way, I’m sure. Am I falling in love? I doubt it. I’d like to though, and even with all my ups and downs, I’m open to it too.