Inner and outer H

I had a dream last night in which three women featured – Sally Rugg, a social commentator I’ve got a bit of a crush on; the girl from work I haven’t commented on for a while; and another, invented woman. Cheeseboy was also in the dream, complete with family. Then there was me, at my charismatic, larger-than-life best at the beginning of the dream, down by the beach, flirting with the girls, before toning it down later on. The first two girls interchange throughout, then are replaced by the invented woman for the last third of the dream. I’m keen on her until Cheeseboy takes me aside and tells me they had used her to babysit the kids and found her unsatisfactory. By now I’ve come down off my high and am almost apologetic about it. The last scene sees me drive away and leave the seaside behind – except I’m in the guise of Walter White. The end.

I often think dreams draw together the things in your mind, along with the sub-conscious related things, and presents them in a stylised, allegorical fashion. You can’t take them literally, but there may be some metaphorical truth hidden away in them. This dream I won’t try to interpret, though it feels to me I know what it means.

There’s an outer H, and an inner H. The outer H varies of course according to audience and circumstance, but he has some consistent attributes. In my reflective (inner H) moments I’m sometimes bemused by this outer H. In many ways he seems independent of the inner H, and often times independent of my state of mind. Outer H isn’t false, but he is a distorted version of the true H. He comes naturally, easily, but he is a projection.

Outer H makes his appearance most commonly at work and plays to his peers, and those beneath him – a harder-edged H presents to those higher in the chain, which explains why most of those junior to me think I’m a great bloke, and many senior to me think I’m a hard-arse.

Like I said, outer H isn’t false – everything about him is true in itself – but he is incomplete. Sometimes I think in dealing with others we shift the biases to present a more affable or acceptable face. In my case, it’s mostly to hide away my vulnerabilities, and so to many, the outer H seems a cool and attractive man, funny and confident and laid-back – and, above all, in control. It comes easily because I am those things and I simply switch my energy into those areas and am smart enough to carry it off. It’s not a conscious thing. At this stage of my life, it’s pretty automatic. What’s left out of that persona is the authentic truth.

I’d like to say the inner H is represented in these pages, but that’s not entirely correct. The outer H creeps in quite often, like an official censor making sure only the ‘official’ truth makes it to air. Thankfully he gets overruled often enough that the true H gets a run.

The inner H is much more reflective and thoughtful. He is compassionate and sometimes terribly sensitive. He feels deeply, but he’s also imaginative and creative, even whimsical sometimes. He hasn’t the hard edge of the outer H. He’s not as easy or fluent in many ways, but he’s more honest. And he’s the one who gets haunted. He doubts.

I quite like the outer H, maybe because I’m comfortable with him. He’s low risk. And maybe – and this is revealing – he reflects what I want to be. He’s the guy at the start of the dream, the guy men admire and girls fall for. He’s witty and smart and commanding. But he’s superficial, too. He’s glib, he’s ‘too cool for school’ as one woman from my past once accused me of, he’s not real, and he’s not deep. He’s an Alpha.

Inner H is real and deep, but he’s not easy. Everything is felt. He’s the wellspring of my writing. He’s the curious mind who just has to understand things. He’s the one overwhelmed by tenderness on occasion. He’s passionate about truth and justice. I like him too because he is a decent and interesting man, but I’m scared of being him out in the world.

Few people get to see the inner H – though I’ve craved the opportunity to share him with someone I could trust. Most of the world knows only variations on the outer H.

This is a big part of my problem (and it’s revealing how this permeates my creative writing) – the split between inner and outer. It’s a divide in my soul I have propagated myself out of fear and ego. It’s a conflict that has taken on volcanic proportions in recent times. For most of my adult life, it was under control until I chose to become open and honest with the world earlier this year, and the hairline fractures became fissures. I exposed myself to this, but it was the right thing to do.

I’m more vulnerable now and more fragile because I’ve attempted to add something to the outer H that by nature he rejects. Humility, sensitivity, vulnerability, don’t belong in the outer H. He’s about skating across surfaces and avoiding commitment. I’m probably doing him – and me – and injustice, because he’s a decent, caring, sincere bloke, just at arm’s length.

This is why it’s hard, because I’m trying to be better and it’s dizzying and confusing. I get offended too easily, my mind gets turned around, everything feels personal. I’m in a state of existential flux – but it must go on until the end.

Somewhere in all this is the true H. He is both inner and outer H but in harmonic balance. That’s the endpoint I need to get to, but hard work from here – but at least I know.


All that I lost

I had my best sleep for ages last night and woke this morning in a good frame of mind. I switched on the radio for the news, fed Rigby, made a coffee, and returned to bed. Rigby lay on the end of the bed as I caught up with social media from overnight, before picking up a book. In the background, the radio was sometimes on, sometimes off, as I was keen to hear the latest updates from the AFL trade. I’ve now showered and dressed and just returned from taking Rigby for a walk. It’s sunny, but with a cool breeze out.

I’m not surprised that the initial positive frame of mind has dissipated in the time since. While you do all those things, while you read and listen to the radio and walk the dog, your mind continues to tick over in the background. Thoughts develop along themes until you set aside your book to consider what’s in your head.

What’s in my head this morning are thoughts of grief. This is not something new, but nor is it something that has been resolved. I guess, technically, what I feel right now is depression, but what it really feels like is deep and abiding sadness. I think about six weeks ago I would have thought myself pretty content, though on narrow parameters. What’s happened since undermined that, but in so doing it also upset the delicate balance of emotions. From the depths have emerged grief that I had packed away, hopefully for good.

I think one of the reasons I write is a fascination with both human complexity and human frailty. I’m well aware we develop narratives to describe who we are and what we’re about. They make life easier because they’re arranged in such a way that what’s unpleasant is hidden away. In many ways, they’re necessary. We can’t go about mired in regret and past distress when we can do nothing about it. At the same time, there’s something artificial about that construct. These things happened after all, and they have a formative effect on the person you are today. And, if not properly dealt with, they can come back and haunt you.

This is where I am today. As a writer, I’m a master of narrative. I’m strong-willed and stubborn on top of that. It means that I’ve been very effective in locking things away. You could argue that it’s been necessary given the journey I’ve endured. When things were at their most dire I couldn’t stop to dwell on how miserable things were, I had to keep ploughing forward. I managed that. I survived. I’m grateful, but I lost something along the way.

Right now it feels like one of those movies where miners or archaeologists inadvertently pierce through to a chamber, thus releasing a monster. This monster, for me, is unresolved grief.

I’ve touched on this before. How when mum died I was too busy dealing with the fall-out from it to properly grieve what I had lost as a son. I never got the chance later when I was struggling to survive from one day to the next, nor did I ever grieve for, or even acknowledge, what I lost in that time either. To my way of thinking I had about five lost years but, by and large, I just put them behind me and got on with things.

Now they come back to me and now I must deal with them properly. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t even know how you’re meant to grieve, except that I think it’s a process that till now I’ve skipped through.

It’s true – and very reasonable – that I’ve chosen not to dwell on all that I lost. There was no point to it, I thought. It couldn’t be undone, forge ahead. And, I knew, it was much too painful. I think the time has come when I must face it.

When I lost my mum I lost a lot more than a loving and supportive person in my life. I lost a whole way of life. Her death fractured the family. Up until then, the family had been a warm and predictable thing. We were close-knit and social. We weren’t all close, but some of us were very close – and then she died and outside the funeral, I haven’t seen them since. Six years on the only family connection I have is with my nephews and niece, and that haphazard. For me, personally, it means I don’t have the support network I once had, I don’t have the easy affection that comes from long-established bonds, and I’m isolated – and never more so than on the big occasions. My life is much less for all of this, and the wound is deep.

My life was precarious before mum died, but afterwards, it became catastrophic. Much of that has been documented – the homelessness, the near bankruptcy, the despair. I survived all that, but I lost things that couldn’t be retrieved – opportunity and time.

I estimated a while back that I was a million dollars worse off now than I would’ve been had none of this happened. That probably errs on the conservative side. I was comfortable, had a good life, and had every reason to think it would continue to improve. Even if it hadn’t, I had a great foundation. I’ve not thought about this a lot because it hurts too much. I look at my friends with their nice homes and good lifestyles and that’s all I don’t have. It means that unless I do something drastic my senior years will be a struggle too. I went from having a life (and destiny) of ease and comfort, to struggling to get by, now and into the future.

I had a metaphorical gold pass. I was in the upper echelons professionally. All that was trashed by becoming homeless. Now, I am invisible. I strive to be heard but am overlooked. The roles I would have been a shoo-in for previously I’m not even considered for now. I have become tarnished. Damaged goods. And, I have changed because of it.

I don’t know if I’m being wise in retrospect, but what seems the hardest thing for me is that I was set back then to step into the next stage of my life. In my mind, that’s to become a husband and father. I always wanted that, but I was restless and there were other things I wanted to do first. I’d got a lot of that out of my system and had established a foundation on which I hoped to embark on the next phase of my journey. Then, shit happened, and for all those years I set that aside. It’s what makes me ache most – what could have been.

I hope this doesn’t come across as a litany of complaints. I’m trying not to be self-pitying. All these things have been so painful that I pushed them aside, out of sight, and constructed a narrative around them. This is all about tearing that narrative up and facing up to the ugly facts. These are the things I have to acknowledge, feel, grieve for. Maybe I need to feel that pain, and maybe I need some healthy sorrow.

It’s true, I can’t go back and change things. I’ve always been bullish and positive, by instinct and intention. That’s admirable, but it’s not enough by itself. It’s time to set that aside and accept these harsh truths and get them out of my system. It’s a further development on the plan to be more open and honest, except this time it’s about being open and honest with myself.

A hard earned thirst

Wednesday afternoon in the middle of what feels like a busy week. There’s a lot on my plate at work, and very typically I enjoy it. It’s invigorating to be challenged, to be well used, to juggle different options, different priorities, different expectations, without spilling one of them. I’m pedestrian when things are pedestrian, but I rocket when the heat’s on.

Of course the concept of heat is relative. I’ve been a lot busier than this in past incarnations, and worked on things much more demanding. For this place though it’s an uplift, and the work itself is sufficiently challenging to keep me diverted. I find I’m capable of keeping many different – occasionally competing – ideas in my head. Just to be able to do that, and know that I’m capable of it, is very satisfying. If it can be done I want to do it.

At some point in the next couple of hours I’ll pack up my desk feeling content with a good days work and roll out of here to catch up with friends for a drink at Collins Quarter. I’m meant to have reduced my alcohol intake over the last month, and while I’ve had good intentions a roll-call of social events has made it pretty challenging.

I’m now officially limiting myself to five drinks a week, which sounds fair enough. But when I go out like I did on Friday night and have five cocktails, as well as a beer and a few glasses of wine, it’s no more than good intentions.

The clock has reset and I’m back in credit for five drinks, but when I’m out tomorrow night and Friday as well then it requires significant willpower.

As they say in the classics, one night at a time.

I’m generally so disciplined. I’ve cut down my chocolate from a block a weekend to one block in the last two months, and reduced my overall sugar intake by about 50%. I’ve cut carbs, and virtually eliminated flour from my diet (I plan to make sensible exceptions). The drinks are harder because I share them in a social environment with friends. It’s natural and enjoyable, but I think I’ll need to find a satisfactory booze replacement that doesn’t contain sugar.

Until such a time I can reassure myself today at least that I’ve earned a drink or two working hard.

Always something

A few weeks back I signed up to get some allergy/intolerance testing done. I’ve long suspected I might have acquired an intolerance in recent times. For much of the last year my nasal passages have been intermittently clogged, particularly come bedtime. The doctor supposed it might be an allergic reaction, but took it no further than that. For me it’s an inconvenience, but I don’t like to be subject to it without any say in the matter. So I sent off some genetic material and waited for a response.

I got the response last week. The good news is that there’s not a huge bunch of stuff I’m intolerant too, and most are easily managed. The bad news is that there was one item on the list which made much sense in retrospect, but which potentially will have a big impact on my lifestyle.

It turns out – according to this – that I’m intolerant to ground wheat. Whole wheat is fine. Gluten is fine. Ground wheat – basically flour – is not fine. And one of the symptoms of ground wheat intolerance is nasal congestion.

I have a pretty robust diet. Though I’ve introduced a lot more vegies and healthy food into my diet in recent years, I also greatly enjoy the broad, traditional food groups. I love my meat. I have a sweet tooth. I have a thing for dairy, particularly cheese. And I love bread, pasta, pastries, and most of the combinations thereof: hamburgers, pizza, Danish, meat pies, and so on. These are comfort foods for me and it’s rare, particularly, that I won’t eat pasta at least once a week. Now all of that is at threat.

My first reaction was exasperation. Here I am on the back of FLS cutting back drastically on sugar and alcohol and generally eating more vegies and grains. On top of that I’m now not allowed flour and other ground wheat products.

I’m definitely not happy, but it’s a challenge too. I plan to do as they suggest and cut out flour altogether for the next two months and see what effect that has. Hopefully it means the congestion in my nasal passages will clear. Then, depending on the outcome, might re-introduce elements on a very occasional basis – pasta once a month say, the occasional pizza or hamburger. In the meantime I’m investigating alternative options. I bought some spelt bread the other day which was chewy fresh, but fine toasted. I bought some spelt pasta, and might see if I can source some spelt pizza bases. And there must be other options.

The other thing I plan is visit my doctor – my old doctor, who I loved but who works miles from home, rather than the more recent doctor. I need to verify these results and ideally get some expert guidance.

Dialling down the lifestyle

It’s been a busy week, with all sorts of activities and meet-ups.

Last Wednesday night I met with Donna down at Docklands to go paddling a Dragon boat. We did that for a bit over an hour and it was fun, before adjourning to a nearby restaurant with our fellow paddlers for dinner.

I took Friday off to go on a hot air balloon. It’s my birthday this coming Sunday, and this was an early birthday present from the entrepreneur. I was out of bed at 3.30am and at Yering Station by 5.20. We were driven a little way to a nearby paddock where another half a dozen balloons were being prepared for take-off. It was a spectacular sight in the pre-dawn light to watch as these colourful balloons slowly inflated at the end of bright orange shooting flames. Soon enough we were in the air, the ground falling away and the landscape spreading far and wide.

I’d gone hot air ballooning once before, in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, which was spectacular. This was different but, for me, a very serene experience, and a lovely way to start the day.

The rest of the day was very indulgent, checking out a few wineries and sampling about 25 different wines, visiting a cheesemaker and later a chocolatier, finishing off the day with a visit to Four Pillars Gin and to a stone-fruit orchard. In between was lunch at Domaine Chandon, which was great. It was a long day, but much fun, with the added bonus and vibe of being on a schoolday.

The weekend was relatively quiet, but the last couple of days I’ve been to lunch with a couple of friends, and tonight am going to drinks with a friend I made first about 30 years ago – and seen probably twice in the last 15. There’s Cheeseboy’s birthday drinks on Friday, my birthday on Sunday, and the following Friday Donna’s birthday party – dancing on some boat out of the docklands.

It sounds all very enjoyable, but yesterday I got confirmation of something I had suspected.

I can’t recall if I mentioned it before, but a couple of weeks ago I had an ultrasound and some blood tests to check if I had one condition or another. The good news, as I discovered yesterday, is that I was clear of the worst case scenario – haemochromatosis. I’d figured that already, but it was good to have it confirmed.

Instead it was confirmed I had a relatively minor case of Fatty Liver Syndrome, which I had figured also. It’s manageable, and even reversible, but the hard part is that it’s going to impact on my lifestyle.

The way to manage it is with diet. Basically it means that all the things I like to eat I must now keep to a minimum. More pointedly, I can’t really drink a lot.

I don’t know if I drink a lot as is, but I’m certainly capable of it. When I’m not being social I might have 2-3 glasses of wine a week, and maybe a couple of G&T’s. When I’m social – which I’ve been increasingly so lately – I don’t really put a limit on it, though I don’t like losing control.

I’ve now got to re-think the whole thing, but don’t think I can start seriously on it until after the birthday season. For what it’s worth, I feel fine.

Needles in my face

Today I had acupuncture in my face. I also had it on my arms and legs, but it was my face I found curious.

I had to stop to consider the adjective I wanted to use. I’d have preferred not to have needles stuck into my face, but I wasn’t afraid of it, it wasn’t confronting, it wasn’t particularly painful, ultimately it was just a curious experience.

I lay there as the Chinese practitioner carefully inserted her needles at strategic junctures of my body, explaining to me each time what the therapeutic value was to be. She spoke of chi, and balancing the yin and the yang, advising that I was weak in the kidney, liver and spleen.

I lay there patiently as she prodded the needles into me, asking as she did more often than not if I could ‘feel it’. I would give her the verbal equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. Sure, I felt it, and to various degrees, though never too painfully – though once I felt my entire foot tingle, and another time my thumb jerked reflexly. Then she went away and I lay on my back pondering idly and wondering what I would look like with all these needles in my face, and how strange it was as a thing but here I was, nothing to lose.

And I’m going back next week for two more sessions. How’s that?

Pinned and cupped

I’ve just had a Tui Na session, something that up to two weeks ago I had no idea about. For those similarly ignorant, Tui Na is basically a combination of treatments, including acupuncture, cupping and massage. It’s a traditional Chinese form of medicine, which – if you want to get technical about – aims to restore your Qi.

So anyway my manager has been getting treatment the last few weeks for her back and has been talking it up. As the treatment is administered by trainee students the cost is very reasonable and so I thought what the fuck, why not?

I used to get massages back in the golden days of my wealth. I enjoyed massage, but I also figured it had a therapeutic effect by getting the toxins out of my system before they built to a dangerous level. I was pretty confident of the preventative benefits, but sadly, as my wealth diminished, so to did the massage treatments. I reckon my health has diminished since, at least partly due to this.

Sometimes I feel like age is creeping up on me quickly. The results of my x-ray last week was not a broken wrist, but revealed was incipient arthritis. That’s not uncommon, but gee, it felt like another sign of increasing age (never mind that I’ve never felt any symptoms of it). Add to that my DVT, a rash, and an almost permanently blocked sinus and I was starting to feel like an old man – time to do something about it.

I had to fill in a form to start with, after which the trainee asked me a series of questions, checked my pulse, checked out my tongue, and so on. He went away to consult with his teacher, and returned with him. He checked a few things for himself and they decided on a treatment plan.

I hate cupping, but that was a part of it, together with acupuncture and occasional massage. I had hopes it would be beneficial, but didn’t expect anything too radical. To my surprise when he asked if I felt any better at the end of it the answer was “yes actually”.

They focused on my sinus, and while it’s not completely clear, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as blocked. Such swift results delighted me. I’m going back again next week.