Mind and body


I’ve been quiet for the last few days because I’ve been crook. At one point, I was heard to say that it was the sickest I’d felt for years. Maybe, but statements like that are easy to make when you’re miserable with it. True or not, it wasn’t much fun.

I felt it coming on during the grand final on Saturday, around the time most GWS supporters would have been feeling sick. It was in my head and throat, my nose and chest were congested, and I just knew it was going to be a bad one.

I slept poorly because of it, which made it worse. I kept a low profile Sunday, and on Monday too – which was just about the worst of it – which I’d taken off as an annual leave day.

Sleep was a big problem. I was all blocked up and found it hard to breathe, and through the day would bark a hacking cough out every minute or two. And I was running hot. I knew I wasn’t going to work on Tuesday, but ended up going anyway.

Don’t know what it is, but I don’t like giving into these things, and staying home when I should feels, in a perverse way, like giving in. So I went in yesterday morning feeling pretty wretched, and looking (and sounding) it too, by all accounts. The excuse was an important meeting I had to attend. I left afterwards at the urging of my colleagues.

Today I feel better, though not completely. I dosed up before I went to bed last night and had the best sleep for a few nights, and that makes a big difference. I’m still sneezing. I still have a deep bass voice. I’m still coughing, though not as much, and not as painfully – I coughed myself raw previous days. There’s the odd coughing fit, and I’m not in a state where I can share an office with others, but I feel much better in myself than before, when all I wanted to do was curl up and forget about everything.

I actually went out for breakfast this morning. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I sat outdoors eating a couple of poached eggs on toast. I watched things go by. Notwithstanding my health, I felt fine.

I’m in a funny place. For the moment I feel more together than in recent times, though I’m still aware of something untethered within me. It seems to me that before I was inside of life and I flowed with it without thought. It was easy, and I was easy, and sometimes I felt commanding as if nothing was beyond me. The world spread out before me.

Then things happened, and I was thrown out of that world and was very aware suddenly that I was now outside of life. It makes sense in a way, and it’s one of the things that people who have a comfortable life don’t understand about those whose life has become disarrayed. There’s a lot of obvious difficulties when you become homeless and/or unemployed, but it’s the sense of disconnection that goes unseen.

I think I believed that would pass once I got my life back on track. By most measures now I’m officially ‘back’. I don’t feel it though, not even when I get back to doing the things I would when I was inside of life. I was out last Thursday for pre-grand final drinks. It was a big night starting at Union Electric drinking cocktails and ended at Punch Lane drinking wine. I was in my element, and in good form, it was a fine night – but it feels like an outlier. Not part of my life, but a diversion from it.

I wonder if all it is is a state of mind. Maybe I just need to decide that I’m back inside life and the world is my oyster again? What makes that difficult are the little crimps that remind me it’s not as it was – the limitations of my authority at work that run counter to instinct, the financial inhibitions that exist still despite increased salary, and so on. I realise in saying that I was spoilt before, and had it better than most – I should just accept abbreviated circumstances. It seems churlish not to. But actually, my public utterances are that I don’t need to do what I did before. I don’t know if I have the appetite for it, let alone the attention span. I say that, but I sometimes think it’s my insides that are geared to something more. My reflexes. Like I said, my instincts. I get into a situation, and it’s natural for me to take the next step, to propose or do something, to assume leadership, to speak up.

It’s an interesting one, almost as if I’m out of sync with myself. And maybe that’s what I need to resolve, though I don’t know how. For me, it comes down to a question that has been present throughout my life: what is true? What is right?

Advertisements

I’m ok


It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here listening to the latest Tool album. Pretty good. I’ve had my coffee out with Cheeseboy. More Saturday’s than not we catch up for a coffee and a pastry at the French cafe up the road, sitting outdoors rain, hail or shine and sharing our tales of the week just past. Afterwards, I walk down the street a bit, towards the station, and do my weekly grocery shopping. Sometimes after I’ll stop again for a flat white at the little cafe nearby where I watch people come and go collecting their takeaway coffee in yoga pants and gym clothes while the old ladies at the next table cackle happily over what a good life they have. I didn’t do that today, though.

I’m a little off today, and it could be as simple as an unexpectedly bad night for Australian sport that’s done it. It doesn’t take much these days.

It was RUOK day the other day, and no-one asked me, or ever has. I think I give off the vibe of being very self-sufficient so no-one ever bothers. Had someone asked I’d have told them, could be better – now there’s a typical Aussie understatement – but also that there’s nothing to be worried about. I bend a fair bit these days, but I’ve no doubt there’s a lot of tensile strength in that flexibility. I’m not as brittle as many are, and what I feel is mainly subject to circumstances.

It’s a timely conversation, for, during the week, there was the death of a high profile ex-sportsman who had suffered from his mental health demons. How often do you hear it, they had everything to live for? I’ve come to realise that it’s an irrelevant sentiment, for those who genuinely suffer chronic depression, the state of their life has little to do with it. It’s a disease that eats from the inside out, undermining self-belief and corroding the sense of self. No amount of riches or fame or even acclamation can prevent it.

In this case, the man who died was much loved by those who knew him well, and by many who knew him only by his persona – self-deprecating, fun, generous, loyal, the life of the party. He had a good career – it seemed – and a loving family. And still…

I sometimes wonder if we live in an era when depression has reached epidemic proportions, or if it only seems that way because we are much more open about it? Thankfully, much of the stigma of poor mental health has been eroded by education and by high profile role models admitting they have suffered, or suffer, from it. It hasn’t been normalised entirely, but it’s not nearly as hush-hush as it used to be, and generally accepted as another ailment.

I suspect, all the same, that it is a particularly modern ailment. We know more about it, but I think more people suffer from it now also. I could come up with a million theories as to why now it is such a thing, but I don’t have the patience for it – and I think I’ve probably gone over it many times before.

I’m different because while I can be intense and introspective, as I have been my whole life, I’m also bold and willing. The person I am is that I’ve experienced great moments and done things I’ll never forget, but when it hasn’t worked out suffered setbacks that impact directly on my life. The rugged part of me means that I come through, and surprisingly well sometimes – but so many battles have left me weary, and probably damaged in ways I don’t understand. I think the damage can be mended and will be with time, but for now – as I thought walking back from the shops – I’m getting my life in order, but something in me is unshipped.

I haven’t written much about the new job. I will in time, suffice to say, it’s going well. That’s been a net gain, and I’m better than I was a couple of months ago. One of my ex-workmates commented the other day about how much happier I seem now. That’s because I have purpose and permission to be myself. I work for a man who is decent and respectful and modest – a good man. He knows what he’s good at and what he’s not so good at. He recognises in me things I can do that he can’t and rather than being threatened by it, is excited. He encourages me to do my thing, and he’ll help clear the way. He gets the best out of me and at the same time, he benefits. For me, this is proper management, and just about the opposite of what I had to put up with before.

Being yourself makes for a much healthier mind, and the extra dollars will provide some peace of mind to go with it. I’m thankful and optimistic, but I’m still subject to overcast conditions. It’s a bit like Melbourne weather, unpredictable and capricious. The sun never blazes bright these days, but it’s out most days, and the stormy moments are held within. No-one knows. All they see then is a steely demeanour they mistake for something else. I’m happy about that.

One last thing. I’m innately competitive, and this helps me a little, for it means I always fight back and, most importantly, see this as a challenge to overcome, a battle one day I’ll strain to win. It becomes personal, but I’m sure it’s a battle I’ll win.

Still spry


On the train this morning a guy got on the stop after mine and sat next to me. He circled stiffly before he sat, easing himself down before collapsing into the seat. It got my attention because it seemed such a protracted and uncomfortable process, and undoubtedly, it was the same every time.

I looked him over from the corner of my eye. He was plump and red-cheeked. It was cold out, about 3 degrees, but the ruddy complexion seemed more a symptom of uncertain health. He had wispy fair hair that had gone grey. By my reckoning, he was about five years older than me, though he probably looked 15-20 years more. Imagine, I thought, feeling so constrained by your body, and with years to come – years in which further decline was inevitable.

I couldn’t help but compare him to myself. There was a warning in that, but also reassurance. That could be anyone if you let yourself go if you have bad luck, but it doesn’t have to be the case.

I’ve complained of health issues over the last six months, and it has hit my general fitness. But then I’m a million miles ahead of the guy who sat next to me. I can still run and jump. I may not be able to slam dunk anymore – I haven’t tried for a while – but I’m still limber, and I’ve got years of muscle on me. I’m as strong as an ox still, and regardless of recent inconveniences, still have a strong constitution. It’s probably overdue that I put it into perspective – I’ve experienced a dip, but there are no serious ailments diagnosed.

I guess this perspective reflects an improved sense of wellbeing over the last week. I’m sleeping better, almost back to normal. And I feel I have some control over my physical self, though a night out tasting wines might test that.

I did some reading during the week that made me realise how much the aging process has been slowed in me. I haven’t looked my age since I was about 24. At different stages, people guess my age at up to twenty years younger than I am. (Personally, I think 8-10 years is more accurate.) But also, after reading, I realised that so many alleged signs of aging haven’t hit me yet. I’ve got some grey hairs but haven’t lost any, and my skin is soft and wrinkle-free. I still carry a fair whack of muscle mass. I have my senior moments, but I’ve just as sharp as I’ve ever been. More than anything, I still have that go ahead attitude – and I reckon attitude is a big factor in keeping you youthful, as well as relevant.

But, let’s see what I think tomorrow after my night out on the wine!

The tide over my head


I’ve booked myself a session on Saturday with a therapist specialising in an Asian healing method called Jung Shim. Among other things, they promise to re-energise you. That’s exactly what I need. Almost.

What I really need is a decent holiday that is restful for both body and mind. I was actually discussing it with a mate last week. I was saying I had to get away and mend myself. He recommended to me a health farm in Goa. I’m at the stage when I’m just getting by and can’t expect much more than that without making a change. Something has to happen.

Ringing the therapist was an act of near desperation. I woke up yesterday feeling pretty ordinary but went to work. I soldiered on till about 1pm, by which time I was running a fever and feeling very uncomfortable. This has become common to me. I don’t think I have a bug or anything. All the tests I’ve had recently came up negative. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me except that I’m dreadfully run down. I’m full of toxins.

I reckon for the last 3-4 months I’ve averaged around 70% of my usual health. Sometimes it peaks a bit higher than that, but often it drops well below, and I’m really struggling to manage. Compounding the issue is that I’m sleeping terribly. I had a patch recently when I was sleeping very well, then suddenly it dropped away drastically. My sleep tracker tells me I was averaging in the high nineties, but the last couple of weeks that’s dropped away to as low as forty-odd, and averaging about 60. Most nights I’ll fall into a deep sleep very quickly, but after forty-odd minutes I’ll begin to rouse, and for the rest of the night I’ll sleep lightly, beset with dreams, and frequently waking.

When I got home yesterday, I went to bed to rest. Last night I turned the light off an hour earlier, and though I slept poorly again, at least I had an extra hour of it. Today I am better than yesterday.

Whether a symptom of, or cause – or both – my mental health battles contribute to the general problem. I manage, and in a work environment am still highly functional, but it’s not a lot of fun at the moment body or mind. It seems to me there are two basic states of mind I exist in, but with different aspects. I’m either in a neutral state of mind, as I am now, neither happy or unhappy, but focussed on moving ahead. Or I’m suffering from a form of sadness, which presents in two forms. Often, particularly at work, I feel as if I’m skating on thin ice and may fall through at any moment. It’s a very precarious, uncertain feeling. The other type feels much like a tide rising in me, the sadness slowly encroaching. I can feel it filling me, but I can do nothing about it and feel a sort of resigned sorrow. Soon it will fill me, and there’s nothing I want to do, or can do, really.

All of this goes together, I’m sure. I need a break, both mental and physical, but that’s not possible. Maybe November I could, but no sooner. I have to survive until then. And so as a last resort, I seek out alternative medicines hoping they can do for me what conventional medicine hasn’t.

Touch wood


Okay, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t written – quit complaining. I started the new job on Monday and ever since it’s felt a bit like steering a spaceship through a meteor storm, hoping not to get pinged.

It’s not that the job promises to be that difficult. It’s more that it’s pretty busy and I’ve been introduced to about five new applications and a raft of ill-defined processes, with about five minutes instruction in each, and left to my devices. On top of that, I’m in a new team, which I’ve yet to be formally introduced to.

You know me. I hate not being in control, but I’m also reluctant to admit that a bit more help would be useful. I’ve asked for help here and there but, by and large, I’ve forged ahead figuring it out for myself. Around lunchtime yesterday, I began to feel more comfortable, as if I had a handle on things. There’s still much more I don’t know than I know, but the framework has become clearer. I’m not a big fan of what I’ve found, which coincides with the next phase: ownership. I’m not far from stepping in and saying okay, this is what we have to do from here on in.

I’ve got no complaints. It’s been an imperfect process, but it’s not been deliberate. They’ve been under the pump themselves. Besides, they’re IT people – smart at what they do, but some of the courtesies and things we think of as common sense elude them. It’s not purposeful, just the way they are. It’s up to me to fill in the gaps, which is what I’m doing. And in a way it’s not a bad thing – I can come to it fresh and form my own opinions on it (though it would have been handy to get some instruction on the apps I’m working with).

I finished up in the old role Friday. Would you believe the manager came to me, and everyone else, and asked us to work on the queues of work wildly out of control. It was my last day, and I hadn’t done any of that stuff for near on three years. It seemed a dubious proposition to me. I would be of doubtful productivity, and there was always the risk that I would fuck up.

I’m not precious, though. Reluctantly I started in on it – and took 40 minutes to complete something that would have taken about 15 minutes before. Once I had that done, I abandoned the exercise. I had other things to do on my last day, loose ends to tie up, and so I did that (and didn’t finish doing them until after 5pm, btw). What are they going to do? I wondered. Fire me?

At about 4pm a few people started gathering around my desk, and I knew something was on. I got a card and a bottle of gin as a parting gift, as well as a couple of speeches. I responded graciously. Later a couple of the lads, beer aficionados, brought me a 6-pack of boutique beer as their parting gift.

It’s fair to say that among the rank and file, I was always pretty popular. With a few (notable) exceptions, it was the more senior staff I clashed with, or relationships were strained. A lot of that was me, not that I was ever particularly rude unless you think being direct is rude (many do). It’s just that you make an assessment and it seemed to me that many were incompetent or unpleasant or self-serving. In those cases, I work around those people. I don’t pretend anything, but nor am I bothered to engage. Though nothing is said, they always know – but they know because they know the truth themselves inside, and it’s unpleasant.

I went out with JV that night and ended up having an unexpectedly great evening, as I described. I felt more myself. I wondered if that was the secret. These last 18 months, I’ve tried to be more authentic in what I felt. The tendency before was to always shrug my shoulders and plough through, like a ruck rover going through a pack. Now, I decided, I had to acknowledge what I felt and open myself up to it. It was necessary, and it was mostly positive. But though you let things go by doing it, some things you carry. I wondered if what I carried had become a burden.

I felt cocky Friday night. I remembered my old self. I had some of the old swagger back. This is me, I thought. And I thought it’s time to be that person again – to go for it, to be cocky and audacious, to shrug off the limitations I’d imposed myself, to once more take the risks that were a part of my essential nature. To be utterly free in my self.

I’ve lived a small life in recent years, and the argument has been I had no choice. Certainly, my opportunities were limited, but I also sought to be sensible. That meant denying myself things until the time was right – such as meaningful feminine company. In the crowd of women last Friday night, I felt roused in the old fashioned way.

I think there’s some sense to all that, but it’s not so easy. This week has been very hard. On Monday, I wondered how I would cope. I think a part of that is feeling out of control, but there is a fundamental issue underlying that. I sometimes wonder if I’m suffering from a form of PTSD.

Through the week I was up and down, but I managed. I reverted to habit and got away with it, but inside I felt frail. I think the truth of it these days is that I don’t have the buffer around me anymore. I feel things easily. I bruise easily. It’s a strange thing considering the man I was. But then, it seems, I can carry the bruise and function (much to my surprise sometimes).

I have no choice in this. I must function. I’m in a new job, and much is expected from me, and there’s no second chance. And there’s no reserve. I have to make it work because if it doesn’t, I don’t know what happens then.

That sounds bleak, but I reckon it will work out. I know this of myself. I’m as smart as I’ve ever been, and it comes through even when I’m not feeling it. And, to my surprise, many others seem naturally inclined to defer to me. I wish I could see myself to understand that, but I suspect it’s that veneer formed over many years of working. It’s not a true thing right now, but from the outside, it appears intact. I should be thankful for that as it opens a lot of doors for me.

I’d like to think the worst is over, but I know there will be other challenges. This ‘worst’ was just about the worst I’ve felt, but I’ve come from that a bit. That should reassure me. I think, ultimately, I’m a survivor.

Up and down


I was in such a good mood this morning. I got into the city around the usual time, just after 8am. Usually, I go straight to work but this time I stopped off at a hole in the wall café I’d read about where I got myself a coffee, and one of their signature, home-made crumpets with honey drizzled on it.

I walked into the office, and one of the girls brightly greeted me. We stopped to have a chat, and she offered me a donut she’d brought in. Nah, I told her, I’ve got my crumpet.

There was no real reason for my relative ebullience, except maybe because it was Friday, and yesterday was payday.

It didn’t last, and that’s what puzzles me.

My offsider is away today, and his offsider in Adelaide, and so the work that might usually come to them landed on my desk. It came out of nowhere. It’s been quiet, suddenly – with them absent – it became busy. Needless to say, it was all urgent.

I tried pushing back, knowing that was pointless. In the end I was entreated to help out. I cancelled my meetings and got down to it.

It’s not a remarkable story, but it left me feeling pretty sour, even despondent.

The work was unfamiliar to me. I’d done something like it over a year ago, but I had to make an effort to remember how to do it, feeling uncertain at every step of the way. The urgency of it all only added to the pressure.

There’s no doubt I felt some unaccustomed stress, but that was to be expected. The thing is I don’t typically suffer much from stress. Often, in situations like this, I feel invigorated instead. But not today.

Whatever I felt may have been exacerbated by the circumstances. That these were urgent requirements was because they either hadn’t bothered to advise us until the last minute, or they had fucked something up requiring a critical fix. There’s a lot of simple things that are managed poorly every day, and it gets me down.

I’m only speculating here. I can add the disappointment I felt at being so abruptly downhearted – and the confusion accompanying it – only made me feel worse.

It worries me, and it fascinates me, too. There’s no doubt I’m not as resilient as I used to me. There are moments I feel quite frail. I doubt anyone can see it, or know it, just the opposite probably – though maybe I’d be surprised.

In the event, I did what had to be done, without issue. Still…

Knuckling down


Up to about ten minutes ago, I was in a nasty mood. It’s Monday morning, it’s cold and grey outside, I’m sleepy as well as suffering from the same low-level unwellness that’s bedevilled the last couple of weeks, and I’m at work – with all the rest of it. Then I head down to get my coffee, and one of my all-time favourite songs is playing as I order my coffee. I tell the girl there, I love this song, and as I’m waiting for my coffee to be made I sing along to it, “I heard it on the grapevine…”

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to turn things around. A great song, the first coffee of the day, and you return to work with a bit more vim.

Saturday was the point that things came to a head for me. After pouring my heart out here, I felt listless but forced myself to follow up on the plans I’d made earlier. I headed out a bit after midday to check out a rental property up the road from me, sussing it out as a potential new home. Now I had the job and knew what I would be earning I felt more secure doing this.

It was the second time I’d looked at this place. I’d liked it well enough the first time but thought it a tad too expensive, and it didn’t have a bath. In the meantime, the rent had come down by $25 and made it reasonable. I wanted to see it again, to imagine myself there. It’s larger and more comfortable than my present home, and much more private. And it has a bigger yard for Rigby.

I left and walked about 6-7 minutes to view another property. I got there just as it began to hail down. It was crazy, like a mini hurricane had swept through. The sky ruptured with lightning and thunder and the hail, driven by a mighty wind, came in at a sweeping angle. I found shelter under the eaves of the property, along with about another fifteen prospective tenants.

In ways that property was better, but I didn’t like it as much, and I returned home thinking about what I would do. A conversation with a friend confirmed my thinking, and I submitted an application for the first property.

I talked about a lot of things with my mate. He was supportive. As I’m talking, my mind is turning over, and I’m shifting from one perspective to another. I can always rely on that. I can’t reason everything out, but I’m good at coming to an understanding.

In my experience, uncertainty and doubt are very poor for your mental wellbeing. You’re better off doing something even if it’s not the perfectly right thing to do. Inaction comes naturally when you’re down, but it perpetuates the apathetic mindset that is so often a part of poor mental health. So, I made resolutions and set goals.

I’m aware there’s a lot of shop dressing in these things. You force upon yourself arbitrary objectives to aim for, but that’s the point – to have something to aim for, and to give yourself a purpose to keep you busy. It lifts you out of yourself and takes you outside the reality you’re in.

In this case I set myself targets that encapsulated a new home (I deserved it), but also took in my professional ambitions. I’m not as ambitious as I used to be – I’ve said that before – but I need a certain degree of responsibility. I’m proud, and I must also improve myself economically. That’s what I did then. I looked at the job I’ve just been appointed to and set myself some KPIs with that. I need to drive myself.

I let something go as well, which was liberating. I’ve been agonising over a situation for about 6 months now and tying myself in a knot over it. On Saturday I accepted that not everything is forever and things change. Just because somethings always been one way doesn’t guarantee it always will, even if that means disappointment. As I know well, disappointment is a part of life. So, I opened my hands and let it fly away from me. Not my problem now.

Now all I need do is knuckle down. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s knuckling down. This is not the sinecure, but it’s a way of managing things until they get better – which they will.