The secrets of the body


For Christmas, I got myself one of the fitness watches that track your every movement and physical metric. This one is a Garmin.

I was slow to that party. Most people I knew had some variation of it, but I turned my nose up at it – if everyone’s doing it, I probably don’t. Since getting it though I’ve learned a lot about myself, and about health in general – the signs and indicators.

I never thought about it before, but I can observe that when I’m not feeling well, my heart rate is elevated. There’s a stress measurement also, which reads off variations in heartbeat – the higher the reading, the greater the stress. I’ve noticed the more ‘stressed’ that I am, the more calories I burn. For the last couple of weeks, my stress readings have been high dealing with the challenges of work. Some of that is physical – going up and downstairs – but much is simply a part of dealing with so many things at once. In a way, for me, it’s almost a measurement of mental activity.

Recently they added a function called Body Battery. As it sounds, it basically measures how much stored energy you have, much as it would your mobile phone. I’ve really struggled with this in recent times, and no surprise. A few times it’s got as low as 5, and stopped there (thankfully). Any further I’d be in deficit, or dead. In theory, the battery is charged with proper rest, especially sleep – like you charge your phone. It’s depleted with activity and, I’ve noticed, with stress – using your apps too much, or making too many calls. Unfortunately, you can’t just plug yourself in to charge.

Part of my problem is that I’m not getting much out of my nightly sleep, but one. The big sleep I had Saturday night added about 70% to my battery – the next best has been about 30%.

I’m really struggling at the moment. I’m fatigued all the way through, and somehow my watch picks that up. By the end of the day, I’m completely stuffed.

But then, Thursday night, I’d been crook in the afternoon, due to fatigue, I think. In the evening I sat on the couch and watched TV. I felt myself slow. I was so still that I could feel myself slowly restore. I watched the app on my phone with the measurements showing coming from my watch. My heart rate slowed, as I could feel it, and fell as far as 54 bpm. At the same time, my Body Battery gained about 25 points.

Last night was the opposite. No matter how still I became, I didn’t rest – and my heart rate got no lower than the high eighties. I knew something was amiss, and now I could see it as well as feel it.

My sleep last night wasn’t great. It was full of strange dreams. It wasn’t restorative. I need a good few days of doing nothing and hopefully will see all the signs come good.

One thing I have insight on now is how to look after myself. I’m someone who’ll often work when I’m unwell, on the basis, it’s only inconvenience and discomfort. Now I understand, when I do that I don’t give my body the chance to correct itself. I stress myself when the body is already stressed. I need to rest and let nature take its course without disturbance.

Lead the way


I watched Scott Morrison in his press conference announcing updates to COVID-19 restrictions. For the first time in my life, I almost felt sorry for him.

Customarily Morrison comes across as a smug prick, with an unwelcome smirk on his face. Most of what he says and does it couched in political terms. He’s always trying to gain an advantage, as if the prime purpose isn’t the national good, but political gain. For me – unlike many others, obviously – he’s never come across as a convincing national leader. First and foremost he’s a political operator.

That remained true until about a week ago. Then he woke up, I think. He realised he was in the middle of a catastrophe and it was his job to do something about it. He was very late to that understanding, which explains why the response to date has been slow and hesitant.

Last night there was no smirk and no sign of being smug. Instead, he appeared almost vulnerable – the most human I’ve ever seen him. He was caught up in the biggest challenge this country has faced since the wars, and he knew it. He was verbose, as he tends to be, but gone was the political cant. Still, the message was vague.

I think one of the issues we have is about the strategy we should have adopted. All the talk is about flattening the curve – a phrase that will live on in the language long after this. The right strategy to achieve this is hard to know because, essentially, there’s a conflict between economic and physical health. Right now they’re almost at odds. The best way to curtail infection and save lives is basically to shut the economy down – a lockdown. That’s a harsh cure, and one the government has been pussyfooting around. Throughout, they’ve sought to compromise between the two poles.

Personally, I think that’s misguided and probably pointless. My view again is that you have to take the firmest measures and try and stop this thing in its tracks. That’ll save lives and if it means going into lockdown then so be it. Better a sharp shock than prolonged agony, which is what we face without decisive action.

We’re now where we should have been at three weeks ago. That’s three weeks lost, as well as extra lives ultimately, and it means the pain will likely extend longer. I’m sure tougher restrictions will be required, why not jump to them now? It’s this creeping, indecisive process that dilutes the confidence of people.

One thing I know from leading projects that you must be decisive – or at least, appear to be so. I know there’s a lot of conflicting advice in this, the most extreme of pressure environments, but this is not the time to equivocate. You’re not going to get it 100% right in such extreme situations, so don’t even think that, but if you are to err, err on the side of caution. It’s only human to have doubts, but in times like this, you can’t show it. What people want are leadership and certainty. They want firm resolutions and a set strategy. They want to trust you have this is in hand, and that’s not going to happen unless you’re out in front leading the way.

I think people are ready to do the right thing. There are many crying out for it. There’s a lot at stake. Now’s the time to be strong.

Waiting


There’s a movie from the fifties called On the Beach, based on the novel of the same name by Neville Shute, which is basically one of the first movies made about the end of the civilised world.

It stars Gregory Peck as a US submarine commander and set in my home town, Melbourne. Peck and his crew have been marooned here after a catastrophic war that left every inhabitant of the northern hemisphere dead. A cloud of radiation is slowly drifting south, and killing every living thing in its wake.

Life in Melbourne goes on. They watch and track as the cloud that’ll bring their death comes ever closer, encroaching upon the north of Australia, and coming ever nearer. People react in different ways, knowing a death they can’t escape is getting closer every day. Some go to the edge. They party hard or partake of extreme activities they’d have never considered before. Others fling themselves into relationships. Others again, unwilling to face the inevitable, take their own life.

It’s quite a good movie. Very interesting.

I recall it now because there’s a sense of that with COVID-19 encroaching upon us. It’s not as deadly as that, nothing is guaranteed, but there’s been the same kind of slow-motion, creeping observation of it, with little we can do to stop it.

Its epicentre was Wuhan in China, and slowly it’s radiated out from there, spreading further every day. It’s taken hold in some places, and in other places, it’s been beaten back to a degree. It’s far from contained, still spreading, and the worst is yet to come.

Though there are still only a few hundred cases here, it feels as if it’s finally reached us. I think that’s a general perception. Last weekend I was out for 11 hours in public eating and drinking at The Stokehouse and the Espy. I was surrounded by people and gave no thought to it. On Sunday I went to a 50th birthday party, and there were over 70 people there. As I told Donna this morning, lucky your party was last week – this week would be problematic. And, you know, if the party was tomorrow I reckon a good number wouldn’t come.

The NBA is suspended, and the Melbourne Grand Prix cancelled. A cricket match at the SCG last night played to empty stands. And from Monday all gatherings of over 500 people have been banned.

At the supermarket today it was chaos. A couple of weeks back it was eerie because there seemed so few people wandering the aisles, but it had the feeling of the calm after the storm had swept through emptying the shelves. Today there were people everywhere, and trollies filled to the brim, though many shelves were empty.

I bought what I could. It was all quite disturbing, even unsavoury. I scolded myself for not taking the opportunity last week to buy more when I could. I refused to buy into the panic though, out of pride and disdain. And so when I might have purchased more than a single bag of pasta or rice or a single tin of tomatoes, I stuck to just the one. I’ve not seen a roll of toilet paper for weeks, let alone been able to purchase one.

I’m in a reasonable position, nonetheless. I’m single so what I’ve got goes further, and after going hungry when I was broke, I’d got into the habit of buying reserves of things anyway. It means I have plenty of rice and pasta and sugar and butter. I have long life milk enough for a few weeks. I have coffee, meat in the freezer, as well as a few meals there ready to eat. I even have more than a dozen eggs and plenty of cheese of all sorts. Rigby’s dog food gets delivered, but still, I have ready to go. And just by chance, I’d stocked up on dunny paper the week before the paranoia hit, so I’m good there, too. For what it counts I’ve also got about 150 bottles of wine and maybe 20 stubbies of beer. I’m good enough.

On Monday we’ve been asked to work from home to trial our readiness for it. I figure by the end of the week, one way or another, it will become routine – and so it should. I think it’s sensible now to minimise the risk of infection in the hope that it halts the spread of it. Better to act sooner than later.

There’s a strange sensation in the air. A ran into friends as I was going to the shops this morning and we had a laugh at it, but we’re all caught up in it now because we must be. There’s a bunker mentality and a great sense of uncertainty. None of us has experienced anything like this before. What does it mean? What will happen? There’s a level of fear attached to it.

I can foresee a day soon when most places are shut and the streets near empty, but in every house huddled families keeping themselves occupied and isolated. Imagine that! And imagine what it must feel like to be one of those in the high-risk categories – the elderly and unwell. It must be terribly scary for them, and for their loved ones. I guess we all should be scared a little.

The underground river


I go round and round in circles searching for explanations and analysing the ‘facts’ because I’m someone who can’t ever desist from trying to know. It’s like an engine in me that drives me this need to understand and, once followed, to categorise and file away. The problem in recent times is that understanding is fleeting, or conflicting versions of it exist.

The confusing thing is, as I reflect that I don’t think any of the conflicting versions are wrong as such. They are true as long as they are current, then another perspective opens up, more ‘facts’ come to light. I never stop in this search, as these pages very well attest, and perhaps this today is yet another version of that – except this time I propose that the many conjectures I posit, the analysis I embark on, are actually addressing the symptoms, not the cause.

For example, I say that I don’t have the burning desire that I had once, though often times my behaviour contradicts that. The explanation I have for that is that having experienced hard times that my perspective has shifted. I just don’t have the hunger, and my justification (for I find it hard to swallow that I might not go as hard as it as I used to) is that I am older, I’ve done that, and I have other priorities.

The real reason is that it isn’t in me anymore. And why? Because I’m sad all the way through.

I made reference the other day to an underground river of sorrow, and it feels a bit like that – hidden away from view. In the last week or so – and I don’t know why – it feels as if I’ve broken into a subterranean cavern and caught sight of the river flowing there.

This is the crux of everything. I’m sad all the time even when I’m happy, and sometimes the sorrow is so deep that I can find it difficult to manage. At it’s worse, I feel as if all energy, even will, has been leached from me. It’s like I’m trying to run with an elastic band dragging me back.

I was a stoic long before any of the shit engulfed me, but in the time since it was that which allowed me to keep going. That became a mantra of sorts – plough through, keep applying yourself. And even when it feels crippling, I rouse myself to get up because I don’t want to succumb to it. It makes for hard work sometimes, like heading into the face of a gale. It was the standard I set, though, reinforced by habit. I was afraid that if I gave way, I might never be able to get up again, but if I appear grim sometimes, that’s why.

I’m not stupid. I know I have issues. It was about two years ago I figured I wasn’t going to survive without opening up about my experiences. I began to share the dark secrets – the shame – of being helpless and homeless. It was a liberating experience and good for me and, though I don’t speak of it a lot, something I continue to do. I’ve owned it.

All I’ve owned though is what happened, not how it left me. Very typically when people ask me about it, I shrug my shoulders and say it’s just something that happened to me. And it’s true. It was like a bad accident that left me debilitated, but – I thought – I had survived and got over it. It was not something that defined me. It was not something I sought sympathy for. I was strong enough to have survived it, and that was that. It was very much in line with the stoical philosophy.

But sometimes stoicism doesn’t cut it. It keeps you from going where you need to go – in this case, into the depths of my sorrow. I sometimes wondered if I was suffering from some sort of PTSD, but I never considered – or was willing to consider – that I might be just fucking sad.

But everything comes from that, I think. I survived, battered and bruised, have lived on to fight and try and reclaim some part of the life I had. And I have focused on that, the scrap to make a better life for myself. But there are things I can never get back, and that’s the source of my great sorrow.

I don’t care I had it tough. I’m still here. The challenges ahead just make me grit my teeth. What I can’t get over is the hole in the middle me knowing what I have lost forever.

I lost all I had materially, but that’s the least of it. It means what would have been easy will now likely be hard, but I’ll get on with it. What I can’t get over is the loss of my mother, and with her, basically my whole family unit. I miss that love and affection and feeling a part of something good. The circumstances break my heart, even now.

People die, and I accept that. I miss mum, but we all suffer such loss. It’s the acrimony that followed her death I find hard to swallow, and the fallout of it that fractured a once-close family into fragments.

It seems so tragic and unnecessary to me, and even now, I feel lost. It hurts, and for the first time, I can admit that. It’s Christmastime, and it’s this time of year I feel it worst because it was this time of year that was generally happiest.

This year, like in recent years, I’ll be alone. I have invitations for Christmas day, but I’ll decline them. It’ll be pleasant enough. It’s not what I’ll do that makes it hard. What grieves me is what I’ll miss out on again – love and laughter and trust and affection and a sense of being part of something bigger than me. A family. It’s terrible what happened and one day I’ll get over it, but I guess the first part of that is accepting it.

So here I am. I’m sad, and I want to cry. I’m not the grim, stoical figure you see. That’s just on the inside. On the inside, I’m tender and want to be loved just like everybody else. I’m not as tough as you think, and it’s time you knew that. I’m sad, but now I know it.

I can’t claim back what has been lost. I think I just have to find it again for myself.

Desperately seeking connection


Today is one of those days I’d rather be anywhere but work. Right now, a lot of that is purely physical. I’m having one of those days when I feel generally dreadful. It’s days like this I think how run down I am, how burnt out in general. It marries up pretty well with that sort of narrative until I consider all the days in between I’ve felt fine.

More likely is that I’m just crook. I can’t shake this cough, even though I’ve been taking antibiotics for two weeks straight. It’s not the big cough that it was, but it’s persistent – sometimes wet, sometimes dry, sometimes a tickle, and sometimes enough to inhibit my breathing. I’ve got the other tell-tale signs of a flare-up – I’ve got a sore neck and the across my shoulders, and my ears feel odd. And no energy, generally.

This is where it gets complex, though.

I worked from home Friday and got about 70% of a proposal written. All the hard stuff was done. Yesterday I discovered I had lost it, and no amount of searching could find it. There was an immediate dip in my outlook. I felt close to miserable. Sure, it was an inconvenience, but it wasn’t the end of the world – and certainly not worthy of such depression. It wasn’t the document though – I think – but rather the symbolism of it.

It’s funny when I get this way. It’s almost as if I’m split in two. There’s the me who feels listless and apathetic and unhappy, and the other – conscious – me that observes it. The conscious me asks questions and wonders at it but can do nothing about it. He’s an observer, more or less, though he has the power to push through.

It’s this power I used through my dark times. I would feel utterly miserable and struggling to be hopeful, and this other part of me would say, can’t stop now, keep going. And though I didn’t feel it, I kept persisting regardless. That’s the great struggle – to hang in there. A lot depends on that, but I knew that if I didn’t hang in there, then I was lost. The conscious me knew that even while the other me struggled to get out of bed. The secret is to keep turning up. I did that, and one day it paid off.

So it is now, I’m at work despite these things. I still feel ordinary, and it worries me how frail I am beneath it all. It takes fuck-all really to set me off, and that’s the problem.

I touched on this the other week, and I think it relates to that sense of being untethered. I thought about it more, and remember how watching the doco on Mojo how it went through my head. I think much of it comes down to a sense of connection and belonging.

I have no family now, really, and belong to no-one or no thing. It’s peculiar for a man who asserts his independence so strongly that I could feel the lack so fundamentally. My answer to that is that when you have a choice, you’re a rich man. You can choose to belong or be independent, but when the only option leaves you out in the cold, then it can be demoralising.

I’ve adapted quite well to my circumstances, or so I think – but I wonder if this is another case of making do? I don’t have family, the connections with friends are sometimes strained by circumstances, and I work in a place I despise. Even the other stuff, the connection to culture and general society, the tribal loyalties, is much less than it was.

I can look back fondly at how things were through the lens of Mojo, but it only accentuates how things have changed. It was my time then; it no longer is. I’m out of step and generally disaffected with so much that is now normal. I don’t belong anywhere.

Looking at it like that it seems that’s the most urgent need in my life – to reconnect, to feel as if I belong somewhere. It’s that absence that means I have nothing to fall back on. Hence the merest scratch is deeply felt.

I wonder too if it has some impact on my health. There may be good medical reasons for how I feel today, but maybe there’s psychological cause also.

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?

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.