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.

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Symptomatic


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.

Unvibrant


Had a vendor I’m working with take me out to lunch yesterday, a rare treat in recent years. A couple of hours later and a couple of bottles of tempranillo I was back in the office a tad more expansive than I left it.
I got to talking with one of the guys I’ve been friendly with from day one. Soon after we started chatting he asked me if everything was alright. I was taken aback, and asked him what prompted the question. You just seem a bit different lately, he said. Quieter. Less vibrant.

Of course as soon as he said that it made sense, but it made me think. It’s no surprise that I’ve been different – I know I’ve been different – but I didn’t know how much people had noticed that. I think you tend to underplay what people observe of you – unless you’re neurotic of course, in which case you overplay it. I’m not neurotic though and generally think I get away with it, more or less. But maybe not, it seems.

It’s probably more pronounced with him because I’ve known him longest and we have a particular relationship. With him I tend to fall into the persona I might describe as the sardonic raconteur. He’s always got an answer, always a comeback, always confidently provocative. I guess he could be seen as being a vibrant and distinct personality, so it makes sense when I’m not him – and I haven’t been – that it gets noticed.

Not sure what to think about it. Not too worried, actually. Working through it and things will be up sometimes and sometimes down, but I think I’m on the right track.

Reconciliation


I’ve just returned from buying my morning coffee. Most people have their regular spots and I’m no different. There’s a place almost directly downstairs I go to around 9am every morning. Staff come and go there, but there’s a few who have been there all the way through. By now we’ve come friendly. They know me by name and we chat about the footy or what we’re doing on the weekend or movies we’ve seen while they go about making my latte. I’m almost hesitant to admit that they get the full outer H. I’m friendly and light-hearted, confident and glib. The words spill by my lips and I exude an attitude.

I think most people have inner and outer versions of themselves, and sometimes more than that simple duality. I know myself I become a slightly different person according to who I’m with. It’s one of my tells when I like someone – in my eyes at least I feel as if my best self emerges, which is a lot of different things that are hard to list, but safe to say he combines the best aspects of both the inner and outer H.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having alternate versions of yourself. Or at least, let me suggest that it is so normal that perhaps it is necessary. It might be different if our society was different but, even so, I think it’s good to keep some aspects confidential, and shared only with those closest to you. And so in this respect let me make the point that I’m not looking to transform myself (and also, make clear that the outer H is a very decent man). Rather my aim is to reconcile the two parts.

It’s an apt reminder today when I feel it a little more than I have the previous couple of days. It seems to me that I have an abiding sadness in me that goes deeper than I can clearly discern. It’s like there are huge, dark caverns within me that I can only see a little a time by the light of a torch. I can accept this by and large, and it doesn’t impact upon my ability to function or do my job. Previously though, I would tough it out. I would almost beat it into submission, all the while putting on a brave face for the world.

Today I want to accept what I feel. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I won’t go around mopey and miserable, but I’m not going to try and gild the lily either.

It seems to me this is some way towards reconciling myself. I can be sad and still confident. I can joke and also be serious. And I can be both engaging and authentic. Of course I have to manage this in reality. Today is a test of that.

Letting it go


Back at work and as energetic and curious as ever. I sit at my desk tired of the view and feeling stale in general, but muscle memory is such that I remain proactive and enterprising.

One thing I’ve done is a bit of a clean-out. Generally, my desk is a bit of a mess, indicative of the variety of things I’m working on over a period. Today I sorted it all out, either filing the bits and pieces away, disposing of them, or handing them off to someone else. The handing off is the most significant gesture.

Some of the things I gave away I’d put a lot of intellectual energy into. I’m someone who will research widely and get disparate perspectives on whatever is at hand. I’ll make notes, I’ll highlight things, I’ll ponder, analyse and discuss, and ultimately I’ll resolve an approach and solution. Through that period I’ll collect a lot of collateral material. What that means is that by the time I come to deploy I have a lot of supporting material, evidence and basic IP to back it up.

I can be protective of these things. This is my smarts. This is the product of my very thorough endeavours. I’m probably more protective of these things than I ever was before because so many times now I’ve seen my proposals re-branded and re-issued under the auspices of some other person or function. I’m not precious about these things, but it’s frustrating when I can’t get these things up and disappointing when they get up only when they figure they’re worthwhile – which is a lag of about 10-12 months by my reckoning.

This morning I gave away a lot of that stuff. I know it’s not going to get done in my name because I’m no longer involved in those areas, but I don’t want to see it wasted. There’s some good stuff there, and a lot of logical conclusions that are hard to refute when they get presented finally. The guy I gave it to was grateful and did the right thing by asking if I need to be involved in the socialisation of it all. I’ve basically given him a free hit but told him no, it’s all yours, use it.

I’m happy to get involved in the deployment if and when, because that’s my skillset, not his, because end of day no-one knows it better than me, and because I want to see these things done. This is part of the process of letting things go, nonetheless.

Otherwise, it appears that most people have guessed that my break last week was for mental health reasons. I find myself curiously indifferent to that. I’d have preferred to control that message myself, and I’m a little miffed that they were so careless with what is personal information, but, meh. When people ask I just shrug my shoulders and tell them I spat the dummy at work and took the rest of the week off. They laugh or nod their head in understanding and it becomes a bit of a shared joke.