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 important to 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!

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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.

Unwinding the damage


About ten minutes after I wrote yesterday, I had a visit from the guy who had interviewed me for the digital job last week. He called me into an empty office and told me that I had got the job. It was what I expected, so my surprised was muted. Given I was in a bit of a fugue at the time, my reaction was altogether tentative. I thanked him and enquired about the process from here. I was wary knowing nothing was official until it was in writing, and I didn’t even know the salary as yet. And I was conscious of the other job still in play.

For the rest of the day, I went about my work. When I mentioned it to my current manager out of courtesy, she grumbled a little that she hadn’t been told and nothing would happen until she said so. I didn’t take that too seriously. I expected her to grumble, but it’s my sincere belief that she’ll be glad to see me go, for various reasons, but chiefly because I suspect it frees her up to do things which were awkward with me still in place.

My mood didn’t appreciably change from the morning, but as the day went on, I got further insight into it. When I say insight, it was more like recalling to mind things I already knew and had known for a long time.

I have no illusions about the work I do. I’m proud and committed, but for the most part, what I do today is likely to be forgotten in a month. I’m not creating monuments. I’m not saving lives. If I didn’t do it, then someone else could and, even if half as well, it would make little difference. I’ve known that for thirty years. Mostly it’s something out of mind, but occasionally it comes to the forefront, often when I see people take things terribly and – it seems to me – disproportionally seriously. I’m apt to say, it’s only work. You’re working on a cure for cancer.

You would think that someone who has that mindset might not take work seriously. Why bother, after all? Well, because I know as part of the collective it does make a difference – just don’t get hung up on it. And because I have the attitude that if I’m going to do anything, then it will be to the best of my ability. Just keep it in perspective.

It’s one of the things that makes me good at my job, I play for keeps. No half measures, no short steps, you do what needs to be done. Perhaps I’m of a generation when that was more of a thing, but it seems an important thing. And it is a key component of my self-identity. This is the man that H is – hard at it, honest, committed, true. Even when I have nothing else, then I have that.

It’s that which gives me problems sometimes, an attitude, sure, it’s not brain surgery, but if you’re going to do it, do it properly. I hate sloppiness. I hate skyving off. I hate passing the buck. I hate half-arsed efforts. I hate ego getting in the way of good outcomes. I hate people getting personal. I can’t get over it, it offends my sense of what is right, but here I’ve been surrounded by it, wherever I look, and I can’t get it go.

I’ve come to realise that the inability to let it go is a little bit me, but mostly it’s symptomatic of the condition I’m in. I’m such a different person away from work. At work, I feel myself seething more than it’s healthy. Outrage at the way things are is almost perpetual. I’m angry, and I don’t want to be. And I get angry that this has happened to me when, given a square run, none of it would be necessary.

I went to the footy on Saturday, and I can be described as a committed, fierce fan, but I’m focused and calm too. I’ve been called unflappable. Outside of work, I remain my true self, more or less, but in work, I change.

There are reasons for that, but it’s also symptomatic of a kind of work depression. Everything is heightened. I’m aware of how sensitive I’ve become, even vulnerable, and being of more combative nature I react to it. My behaviour is not true to me, but true to a state of mind. I’m someone I don’t want to be.

I had a conversation yesterday with a woman here I like and get along well with. She’s smart and decent and friendly. We had a disagreement about something I thought was unethical. If you knowingly deceive someone for financial advantage then at the very least it’s unethical, I said. She saw it a different way from me, but then her perspective is informed by having to deal with the practical outcomes of this, while mine is purely humanistic: people are being taken advantage, some of whom can’t afford it, and this is wrong.

As sometimes people do, she made it smaller than it was. And, as people sometimes do, perhaps I made something bigger of it (though it has been something festering in me for over a year). I could see in her eyes she was taken aback with how fierce I was. She left, and I wondered, is that I have become? Of course, that made it all so much worse. I was crestfallen.

Today I was called up to meet with the big digital manager. He affirmed the job was mine, and we discussed dollars – it’s about a $17K increase on what I’m getting now. He suggested that I had all the attributes to make it and that I would go far. His one reservation was regarding this state of mind, though he understands full well the situation here and is sympathetic. He assured me that it would be different in the new team and that a change of environment would make all the difference. I agreed that it would – and I think it so.

Right now though all I feel is the damage in me. I need to mend it, and until I do, I’ll never be at my best.

Sugar


The latest episode in my health story led me to a pathology lab in Highett for a Glucose test. This, I gather, is to test for potential diabetes. That’s not something I want to be diagnosed with, though I expect if it comes to that, it will be at the minor end of the scale. I know it’s a reasonably common occurrence in people as they get older, but if it’s to be, then I figure it’s something I can manage. Having said that – I doubt I have it.

There is some family history. My sister, when still a kid, had her kidneys operated on because they weren’t functioning properly. I have a feeling she has only one and a hald now, though it’s so long ago, and so rarely mentioned, that I’d almost forgotten altogether. My memory tells me it was something to do with blood sugar, but no doubt the medical experts out ther can set me right.

My gandmother on my fathers side had a minor form of diabetes also, though she called it ‘sugar’, as so many of her generation did. “I’ve got sugar,” they would say, meaning some variety of diabetes. In her case, she wasn’t on insulin or anything, but had to monitor her blood sugar and watch her diet.

Anyway, it was quite a tedious morning. I had to fast leading into it, so no coffee this morning. They took some blood and then I was made to drink some sickly sweet glucose concoction and sent away to the waiting room. The idea was that they’d take another blood sample an hour later, and another an hour after that. By comparing the results, they could measure how efficiently I was processing the sugar in my bloodstream.

So I read for an hour by myself as people came and went in the lab, the bell ringing, old people shuffling in for their weekly test, and shuffling out again. I watched with half an eye. The book I was reading is excleent (Transit), but I felt restless too.

Generally, you go along with but a cursory look to one side or another. This is your life, these are your routines, that’s what you can reasonably expect. My recent past and more generally inquiring mind lead me to look a little further afield perhaps, but it’s true all the same that you become conditioned to the life you lead – even as occasionally you rail against it.

It’s not all like that though. People live different lives. They have vastly different routines, or no routines. As for expectations? They’re all over the shop. Here I am then, sure, I’m being tested for diabetes but you look at me, and I’m a robust looking fellow who might just be bulletproof – certainly, I feel that way often enough. I’ve got a quick mind still, am conversationally fluent, and all of this feels a bit like an aberration. I’m here, like, in the lab being tested, but I’m not really here, you know what I mean?

And then you see the old dears come in and the shuffling old men and the men who feel like they have to tell you all about their hospital stay last week, propped on a cane, and you get an idea of this other world. That’ll never be me, you think, as you do. Sure you’re being tested for something, just like them, but you’re robust and bulletproof regardless and, look at me, I could do a tap dance here and now if you asked me to. But, you know it’s bullshit.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, maybe half of them could tap dance as well. So when you go in for your second test, then your third, you’re bright and airy, cool as a cucumber, you engage and laugh about craving the first coffee of the day as if to say, look at me, aren’t I well? Aren’t I different from them?

I note all this like an anthropologist would. There’s always a part of me cool and detached. I guess that’s why I write – there’s always a part of me watching. I know I’m different, so to did the nurse who took my blood – but in ten or fifteen or twenty years, I could be just the same.

At the end of it all, a little over two hours, I drove away and bought the coffee I promised. In a week I’ll know the results of the test and I’ll take it from there.