Friday, March 27, 2009

House hunting

My mum arrived on Wednesday. It's great to see her. She realises I've got problems (or issues as we call them) so she's extended her stay till next Saturday. I've spent the last two days "semi-studying" for my exam, by which I mean looking at books and notes vaguely connected with the subject, almost for entertainment purposes, without concerning myself with any of the detail (and it's of course the detail that largely determines whether you pass or fail). For instance there's a book I was given by one of my work colleagues, The New Finance, that flies in the face of anything I've learned by suggesting that average returns go down as you take bigger risks. So it's an interesting read but probably not that handy for my exam. Right now I couldn't care less about my exam, though I daren't tell Mum that.

I took my first Efexor pill yesterday morning, and I felt like total crap for the next 48 hours, just like I did in August 2001 when I first took citalopram. Only this time I didn't have the added complication of thinking about dying 18 hours a day. Because I can see parallels between now and my previous experiences, I'm optimistic about the future. Even my bizarre fits of laughter on the day before taking Efexor were a repeat performance of my weird behaviour just before I started the citalopram.

On Thursday and Friday I simply didn't want to know, but today I've improved significantly. Mum and I spent the morning looking at houses, though only from the outside. Mum is much more "house-savvy" than me. Whevever I go down south, Mum and Dad are always taking detours to look at newly built houses, which I often find depressingly ostentatious. Some modern constructions scream "look how much money we've got" and I'm thinking, why not go the whole hog and paint a great big dollar sign on it. I should point out that Mum and Dad designed their own house and it isn't ostentatious at all - I really like it actually. Anyway, Mum knows a lot about houses, but things that bother her greatly don't matter to me one bit. "It's so dated, like something from the eighties; I wouldn't touch that with a barge pole," Mum would say, while I'd almost see that as a plus. Anything that looked like the place I grew up in would likely bring back happy memories for me.

On Tuesday I finished reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Though it took me a while, I found it utterly captivating. There was a lot of stuff I could relate to (going to university and being socially isolated) as well as plenty of stuff I couldn't (intricate murder plots for a start). But what really got me was how someone could write that well at such a young age. Writing a novel would be the most amazing thing, but I haven't had anywhere near enough life experience yet and my writing probably isn't good enough anyway.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Losing my mind

Things have escalated in the last couple of days. On Sunday night I went to bed late, which meant I got up late, which meant I got to work late. At 9am I had my daily meeting with my boss and pretended that things were basically OK. Shortly after that, we had a team meeting - these are often a source of embarrassment for me because my boss asks each of us in turn what we've been doing in the past week and what we've got coming up, which for me is usually not a lot. But yesterday I had a smorgasbord of items on my plate so I rattled them off when asked, knowing full well most of them would remain untouched. After the meeting, time seemed to fly by: eleven, half-eleven, twelve, half-twelve, and I still hadn't done anything. I was constantly yawning. I ate a Subway at my desk, partly because I felt I was too far behind to take a proper lunch break, but mainly because I couldn't face sitting with the usual crowd and having to make conversation with people who are so jovial and optimistic and young and alive. Not that I have made conversation with any of those people at lunchtime for a while - I just sit there with the paper, if I can get hold of one (they're like gold dust) and do the crossword if the woman from Distribution hasn't already filled most of it in. There are a couple of ifs there so that means I often just stare blankly into space. Even though my concentration is impaired, I can still do things like crosswords because I've done them hundreds of times before. I've even compiled them on occasions. Anything new, on the other hand, and I'm screwed.

In the afternoon I tried frantically to find the one vital spreadsheet, out of those ten or so spreadsheets I had open simultaneously on Friday, that I needed to complete my most urgent task. I promised I'd have it done by the end of the day, which wasn't far away. A figure of eleven grand was bandied about that morning, but I couldn't find any figures on any of those spreadsheets that were even close to eleven grand. I called Brian over. "I've got a lot of spreadsheets open here, Brian, and none of them seem to be the right one." "Did you save it?" "Er, ah, I think so. Oh hang on, my computer crashed on Friday and I ended up crawling under my desk and turning it off at the wall. So maybe I didn't." "No worries," said Brian. "All you've got to do is change this and add in that and check the claims." "Thanks." Change what and add in what and check what?! I gathered this was probably a simple task but I had no idea what Brian was talking about. I went to the toilet and found myself writhing around in the corner of the cubicle, moving my head backwards and forwards, and after a while, laughing uncontrollably. Shit, I'm going mad. I must have been in the loo for twenty minutes. When I'd composed myself I went back to my desk and waited for the clock to tick round to five. Outside the office, nothing seemed real. The sunlight was almost intoxicating, rather like how it seemed when I arrived in New Zealand in 2003, having been accustomed to the weaker English sun. The walk to my car felt like a hike of several miles. I still hadn't sent off my assignment which was due at 5pm Sydney time. After a lot of faffing around (why do they make the process so damned complicated?) I got it sent off just before the deadline, not that it really mattered anyway. I can't see how I'll pass the exam. I haven't done any study for weeks now. I went to tennis - the boot camp session where you run around and hit balls and don't have to worry about scoring - for the exercise. I felt better after that, but then my mum rang. She's coming up from the South Island tomorrow; she managed to get one of those "grab-a-seat" fares. I was unable to talk coherently and had to hang up at one stage due to my inability to stop laughing. She's understandably very worried about me and I wish she could be up here for longer than just three full days.

I saw my doctor this morning. I was lucky to get an appointment at such short notice. I told her all my symptoms before again being overcome by uncontrollable laughter. I was told to take the next five days off work and to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist, which I did, in spite of the cost.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Let's face it, 7:45 was never going to happen. And when I did get to work, I was all at sea. I must have had at least ten spreadsheets open at one point. After successfully crashing my computer I spent the rest of the day in meetings.

Had tennis - again - on Saturday. Didn't play with Bazza this time; instead I partnered the bloke I played in that friendly singles match on Thursday night. We both played well that night and on Saturday we carried on where we'd left off, racing out to 6-2, 3-0, 30-0, at which point my partner thought he was Superman and could latch on to anything at the net. In contrast I hardly hit the ball at all. The more he played Harlem Globetrotters-style tennis, the more tentative I became. Every drop of confidence had drained out of me, and soon I was hating the whole experience and just wanted to get off the court. After falling behind in the second set, we had three match points on my serve at 6-5, 40-0. They all came and went, as did a fourth, and we were fortunate to close it out on our fifth opportunity. Fortunate, because mentally I was gone.

I had no energy at all in the mixed match, which thanks mainly to my partner, we won 6-0 7-5. I've got no idea how that score in the first set happened because I was like a zombie for the whole match. Overall we won 5-3 and I was glad it was all over. We had to forfeit a match because one of our players strained his achilles, and there was way too much bitchiness among the women for my liking.

I woke up this morning with no sensation in my limbs. Made it to Takapuna market just before they packed up - visually the market was a bit more than I could cope with, especially as I had only ten minutes to make my purchases, so everything happened so quickly. When I got home I felt completely scrambled. Got my hair cut this afternoon - quick, cheap, probably not that good but I didn't care - and went for a swim which seemed to improve matters a bit. Negotiated the supermarket, which would have been an impossible task a few hours earlier, but now I'm totally knackered.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Today hasn't been a bad day really. I was struggling for the first two-thirds of it and wasn't totally coherent in my meeting with Andy. But I played tennis tonight against someone from my interclub team and managed to find an intensity level I haven't reached in months. So many of my recent matches have been played in slow motion, but tonight I couldn't get on with the next point fast enough. We were evenly matched and my lower unforced error rate proved decisive in my 6-4 6-4 win. A crucial moment I felt came towards the end of the first set. Despite playing two solid games, he played out of his skin, and my 5-2 lead was pegged back to 5-4. But instead of panicking and going into my shell as I've done so often lately, I stuck to my guns realising he was unlikely to play at that level for a third straight game, and if he does, well that's just too good.

I'll be coming off citalopram in the next few days and starting on Efexor (one F or two?) which seems to have more side effects than you can shake a stick at. It's a bit alarming for me because I already have some of those symptoms without taking Efexor. Apathy for one - Efexor could plunge me deep into don't-give-a-shit territory. Still, I'm strangely excited about the prospect of taking a new drug, having been on the same stuff for nearly eight years.

I'm still way behind at work, though I did wipe off some of the deficit yesterday. My goal is to get to work at 7:45 tomorrow, which is only nine hours away. This morning I was still in bed at that time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Battling the brain

I did it. It was hard work, perhaps even harder than I predicted, and my time of just under 53 minutes was a full five minutes slower than my 2006 effort. It was probably only because I was dragged along by a heaving mass of humanity that I finished it at all. As you can see if you click on the link, a good chunk of those 53 minutes were spent getting to the start line, and for the first couple of hundred yards you couldn't run even if you wanted to. Plenty of people didn't want to, and walked the whole way - I think they had the right idea. There was one runner with a huge brain attached to his head. I got close to him - close enough to read the slogan on the back of his T-shirt: "I'm joggin' for my noggin" - and I was determined I would beat the brain. But unlike last time I had no sprint finish and the brain powered to the finish line, leaving me for dust.

After the run and some much-needed calorie replenishment, I watched our doubles tennis team win comfortably without me, seven matches to one. I went for a dip in the sea and that was pretty much my weekend over.

Monday at work was uneventful though my legs were aching from the previous day's exertions. I probably wasn't in the best shape to play tennis that night, but really it made little difference. Though I didn't play at all badly, my opponent was tactically very astute and I found his game almost impossible to combat. I lost my singles 6-2 6-3 and the doubles 6-4 6-2. The team we played are top of the league, a position attained by consistency and guile rather than scorching winners.

Everything kicked off yesterday. I used to worry that my boss wasn't speaking to me. Not any more. I now get to meet with her every day! The last few months, when I haven't performed at all, have finally caught up with me. I haven't done anything right at work since heaven knows when, and even in a large company where you can slip under the radar a bit, you can't go on like that for ever. Hopefully these one-on-one meetings, which will involve daily work lists, might bring some much-needed structure to my work - most of the time I don't know whether I'm coming or going - but the fact that I need these meetings at all is an idea of how far things have slipped of late. After yesterday's meeting I was in a daze and couldn't think straight. I couldn't find what drive or directory anything was saved in, and spent the rest of the morning wondering how I was going to get myself out of this mess. I was pleasantly interrupted by a phone call from my dad who was about to hop on a plane to the UK - I wished I could join him. In the afternoon I actually got some work done.

Took ages getting to sleep last night - my mind was racing away - but today I worked my butt off. Got in maybe ten minutes late but stayed an extra hour and didn't take a lunch break. Just popped out for a sushi which I ate at my desk. Since the last time I had sushi, the price had risen from $7.00 to $7.90, a deceptively large increase of 12%. No wait, 14%. Hang on a minute, it's 17%! God, I really am losing it, I thought. I can't even work out a percentage any more. In the end I settled on 14%. This afternoon I was introduced to a new spreadsheet, which was fun in a funny sort of way. You had to change a few cells to make some other cell as close as possible to zero without going under, a bit like blackjack in reverse. It behaved unpredictably, and just when you thought you'd got it, bust! and you'd have to start again. If and when I do this task again I'm sure I'll have forgotten most of it, but I'll still remember the reverse blackjack spreadsheet. When I got home I realised the sushi price hike was in fact 13%. Man I'm going crazy.

Tomorrow I'll be seeing my doctor about possibly getting my medication changed - I've been on citalopram almost non-stop since 2001, though I did increase my dose a couple of years back. I'll also be seeing Andy. He informs me that it's not CBT, but it's very useful all the same. It's great just having someone to talk to because so often I don't.

My mum will be coming up to see me next Wednesday. I'm very much looking forward to that. This place is a complete and utter mess - I'll have to give it a serious clean at the weekend and get all my washing done. I don't think I can face my previous experiences of my mum hanging undies from my phone wire or my CD rack! I should probably try and make some inroads into my piles of unopened mail as well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fun run - the world's greatest oxymoron

Another utterly frustrating day at work. I've been a lame duck there for quite some time, but now I'm heading into "dead duck" territory. I sit at my desk with that same sinking feeling. I've got tasks to achieve and deadlines to meet but I don't know where to start. I feel embarrassed and stupid. I wonder what the hell I'm doing there. Wanting to put a fist through my computer monitor I instead gnaw on my pen. I pluck up enough courage to send (or "flick off" as they say here) a couple of emails asking questions that I hope aren't ridiculously basic. I take a phone call about a subject I know something about and for the only time that day I'm able to help somebody. I stare at the screen which is full of bizarre alphanumeric codes. I get distracted by palindromes or combinations that spell things forwards or backwards or in another language. I look at my watch - only five minutes have passed in what seems like half an hour. And so it goes on. Every day is the same.

I've spent hours trying to organise this weekend's tennis, though I won't be playing. That's because I'll be one of the 70,000-odd people doing Round the Bays. It's Auckland's annual fun run, which must be the world's greatest oxymoron. The distance is 8.4 kilometres or a smidgen over five miles. Just like for my two previous attempts (in '05 and '06) I've done no training, so just like it was then, it's bound to be hell.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Actually ... what?

I'm training to be an actuary and have been for the last five years. Actuary, you ask? Actually, yes. Click here for some information on what an actuary actually does. When I tell people what I do for a living, they often imagine it's something to do with law. Or else they mishear completely: "you mean architecture?" or even better, "bows and arrows?" And of course most people have no idea, to which I normally reply by saying I have no idea either. Now I try to avoid the A-word altogether and just say I work in insurance.

To qualify as an actuary you have to pass rather a lot of exams. Fourteen of them in fact, and they don't get any easier. To give some idea of how hard they are, five possible grades are awarded, four of which (called FA, FB, FC and FD) are failing grades. After five years I've passed ten exams. I used to be very nervous on exam day and absolutely petrified when the results came out, whereas now, when I have serious doubts about where my career is heading or even whether I want a career at all, I take the whole thing much more in my stride. My current course is based around investments. A more logical choice would have been to sit the life insurance paper, but I chose investments instead mainly because I'd find the topic more interesting and of more use to me personally. The exam is on 4th May. I made a very slow start to my studies (when you're struggling to negotiate the supermarket, making any headway with Black-Scholes equations becomes impossible) though I've done a bit better of late.

Training as an actuary, it's possible to progress, financially at least, just by passing exams. Even though the exams are hard, they're a hell of a lot easier to get my head around than corporate politics. In fact the corporate world in general leaves me cold. I've got no intention of ever managing people. I find it hard enough to manage myself.

Yesterday I had tennis again. My two-year winning streak with Bazza came to an abrupt end. We were taken apart 6-2 6-2. They were simply too good for us. My mixed match was much closer, frustratingly so. I didn't hold out much hope to begin with because both my partner and I had been outplayed in our previous respective matches, but we started off well, leading 6-3 2-1, only to lose five of the next six games. In the third set we led 3-1 but again lost five games out of six and that was that. Though my unforced error rate was low, all the oomph had gone out of my shots. I used to be able to force the issue, hit harder, deeper, but all the confidence has somehow gone from my game. Overall the team lost 5-3 (we were only two points away from an overall win) though we still lead the competition.

I was very sluggish today and not feeling at my best. The swim I had this evening certainly helped matters, though as I lay in what was left of the sun, trying to dry off, I was trampled on by a dog. His name: Bazza.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


After Sunday's exploits on the pétanque piste (I'm sure that's not the right word for where you play pétanque, but it sounds good, especially if you're drinking Pastis at the time), I had a similar experience last night on the tennis court. We won our doubles 6-1 6-3, largely thanks to my partner who served out of his skin. One of our opponents, the one I later played in the singles, was unlucky enough to break a string in the early stages of the match and had to borrow a racket for the rest of the evening. We played our singles on Court 11, which for some reason has been a happy hunting ground for me in the past. Not normally this happy though, as I took out the match without dropping a game.

Back down to earth with a bump at work today. I missed a deadline because I didn't know what I was doing and had no-one to ask, and felt stupid.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


For the first time in a long time, I actually feel normal. Of course normal by my standards means studying for the next in a masochistically long line of exams, killing eight hours a day staring at a screen not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing, and spending my weekend either by myself or with people from the baby boomer generation, if not older. But even by my loose definition, I've been feeling far from normal for some months now. My life is still just as full of holes as it always was, but for once I can at least think about trying to fill them.

This afternoon I played pétanque with the Alliance Française mob, up at Browns Bay. The weather was surprisingly hot. My new boules, which I'd recently bought for $21 off TradeMe, were running surprisingly hot too. We actually won one game by the score of 13-nil. Apparently French custom dictates that the players on the losing team must down their trousers when this happens, though thankfully this rule wasn't enforced!

I'm playing tennis for my club again tomorrow night. Inevitably I'll write about it here, and maybe even give some idea of what these exams are all about.