Sunday, August 30, 2009


It's been a funny sort of week. On Wednesday I was seriously considering flying to the UK for my grandmother's funeral; this morning when I spoke to her on the phone it was almost as if nothing had happened. She's been plagued with intestinal difficulties for at least half a century, and has undergone several operations. Last Sunday her bowels were blocked again and she was whisked off to hospital in a lot of pain. Three days later they were still blocked; the doctors refused to operate due to her age despite Dad begging them to please do something. At that point Dad jumped on the first plane to Heathrow. By the time he arrived, her bowels had miraculously freed themselves, and she was let out of hospital not long after. Normally when I talk to Gran the line is bad and I only catch about every third word (it doesn't help that she jabbers at a hundred miles an hour in a Welsh accent) but this morning she was as clear as a bell.

You could say Gran is a survivor. In her thirties severe depression made her life a living hell. In those days she couldn't just "bump up her Efexor" like I can - she had to resort to such treatments as ECT. After Grandad died from Alzheimer's in 1999, Gran started blacking out for no apparent reason. On one occasion she flew out to see me in France and passed out on the plane. It was found that her heart stopped beating in these episodes, so she got a pacemaker fitted, in an operation that took five hours and nearly killed her. Last year when I saw her she was in a bad way after suffering a small stroke, but somehow she keeps bouncing back.

On Saturday I felt better than I have for at least two months. My grandma wasn’t dying after all, spring was in the air, and I didn’t have to study for any stupid exams. In the morning I played tennis with Bazza. I wasn’t expecting much. When I faced two set points on Bazza’s serve at 5-2 and 40-15 in the first set, I was expecting even less. But I clawed my way back from the brink, eventually winning 7-6 (7-4), 6-2. Afterwards I realised how much my mood affects everything I do, tennis included. In the first seven games I was spraying unforced errors all over the place; had it been the previous Saturday I’d have bashed my head with the frame of my racket, lost all capacity to think straight, and undoubtedly been on the wrong end of a 6-2 6-1 thrashing, not that I would have cared.

After tennis I did my Italian homework, spent some time on my puzzles, then went out for dinner with Julie – it was a complete rip-off (that’s one reason why I rarely eat out) but it was good to catch up with her. Yesterday I had the French club – I spoke more French than I normally do, largely because I was in a better-than-average mood.

Tonight was my weekly Italian class. I’m doing reasonably well with my Italian – it’s satisfying to feel that I’m good at something. It’s a shame I only get that feeling for two hours a week; for the entire forty I spend in the office I feel the exact opposite. The trick is not to let that affect all other aspects of my life.

Mum is flying up to see me on Wednesday. I’ve seen more of my parents this year than I have for at least five years. That’s partly because air fares have come down but mainly because they’re worried sick about me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Triple birthday celebrations

Yesterday I didn't feel good at all. The morning's strategy meeting went by in a complete haze; at some stage I was probably informed of what work I might have been expected to do in the next few months and in what order, but everything in that meeting just bounced off me. While my colleagues discussed high-level business plans or made in-jokes that I pretended to understand, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. However my ears did prick up at the mention of suicide exclusions. Currently we pay out on suicides as long as the policy has been in force for a certain length of time, but because suicides make up a significant percentage of our death claims it was suggested we exclude them completely. This matter was discussed for all of thirty seconds, and I don't think we'll actually go through with the proposal, but it's only an issue at all because so many New Zealanders are killing themselves. Our suicide rate is above the OECD average and almost twice that of the UK. Why should it be so high in such a beautiful country as New Zealand? The best explanation I can come up with is that a relatively high proportion of Kiwis live in rural areas and are therefore isolated; many of these people also have access to guns. But maybe it's also because kiwi blokes don't feel they can talk about their problems. I really don't know.

After the meeting I raced off to see Andy - I was half an hour late. He could tell I wasn't at my best and that my work was probably having an impact, so he brought in a woman to assist me with my work situation. She was very helpful. I told her exactly what was going on - Andy said if it was a job interview I'd have given a good demonstration of what not to say - but there was no point in dodging the issue. So far I've managed to control myself, but I'm concerned that if I stay in my current job much longer, I might suddenly blow up and injure myself or someone else.

Yesterday was Andy's birthday. It was also Uncle Dan's 69th birthday so I emailed him, wishing him all the best at what must be a very difficult time. I don't know what it is about August 21st, but Bazza's speedo also clicked over (mentioning Bazza and speedo in the same sentence just gave me a really bad mental image). I was the only person to call him yesterday - evidently nobody else knew or cared that it was his birthday. Apparently he's dropped a few kilos since I last saw him. We'll hopefully get a game of tennis in next weekend. While he's got a new racket and should be fitter and meaner than ever, I've been almost completely absent from the court of late, so I imagine I'll be in for a tough time despite my good record against him.

The woman from the flat down the road never got back to me. I called her yesterday but she had forgotten who I was. She then remembered, so we talked for a couple of minutes until her phone cut out. I tried ringing her back but couldn't get through. I very much doubt I'll ever hear from her again. I never got my hopes up too much - I've learnt not to - but even I expected things to go a bit further than this.

I wasn't in the greatest of moods last night so I broke my "no poker till September" promise, thinking that might make me feel better, which I guess it did. I entered the next available freeroll tournament on PokerStars which happened to be razz, a game that shares some similarities to badugi and deuce-to-seven in that high cards are bad and pairs are bad. I made the top 5%, but eventually bombed out in 133rd place after 2¾ hours.

Dad came up with a clever idea for deriving an income from my puzzles, so I've spent some time today on that. I sent off my CV to a couple of agencies and did a long session on Bazza's exercise machine. It's been a gorgeous day outside, but as has so often been the case lately, it was wasted on me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


On Tuesday I saw my psychologist for the first time in four weeks. She seemed to do plenty of catastrophising, if that's a real word, about my work situation. My work is making my depression worse; my depression is adversely affecting my performance at work. I hope to have moved from my current job by the end of November but have so far made little progress towards that goal, mostly because I don't know where to start, and because I find the whole idea of having to send off CVs and do interviews quite daunting. But there is a real sense of urgency now. If I stay where I am I'll still be depressed, and if I'm still there in the new year I'll have to sit exams again; that doesn't bear thinking about.

Back in the UK, even though the market was much healthier than the one we face today, it took me ages to find my first "real" job. And when I take into account that I only got the job thanks to a fluke meeting with a friend of one of Dad's sort-of-friends, my current situation appears hopeless. If I get another job in a corporate environment like the one I'm now in, I can't see what that will achieve. So where do I go? In yesterday's paper I couldn't find any jobs I'd be able to do, let alone jobs I'd be able to do and would want to do.

The good news is that this week at work has been sufficiently crap to give me the impetus to look for a new job. Today was easily the worst day. At one point I scrawled "I GIVE UP" in three-inch-high letters in my notepad; later I had another of my sessions in the toilet; then at 5pm I found out that my whole day spent arsing around with spreadsheets and computer programs had been a complete waste of time because I'd got it all wrong. My next step is to email a few of those job agencies - I'm not sure how I can word my emails to avoid sounding desperate.

The woman from that flat didn't get back to me, so I don't know when, or if, this drink (I don't like to use the word date here) will happen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Something to look forward to

I flew back to Auckland yesterday morning. By end of the trip, the side effects - if that's what they were - had worn off and I was able to relax a bit. At the beginning of the week I really just didn't want to know.

Hanmer Springs was good. The town itself was way too touristy for my liking, but they'd done an impressive job of the pools. I could imagine as a treat spending half a day bathing in the hot pools and ordering drinks. I particularly enjoyed the sulphur pools, though ten minutes in that heat was about my limit.

From Hanmer we made our way over to the West Coast, staying one night at Westport and another at Greymouth. With Dad driving, we never get from A to B directly; we usually dawdle along, making sure we stop at X, Y and Z. Dad paints pictures for a living so he's always on the lookout for views that might make a nice painting. I don't mind this - I've got used to it over the years and it's his job after all - but all those extra hours stuck in the car give us many more opportunities to fall out with each other. That doesn't happen often, but I did fly off the handle somewhere between Reefton and Westport when Mum said I was boring. I'm always very conscious of how boring I am, so when my own mother says I'm boring I feel there's no hope for me.

The best day of the trip was Friday, a gloriously sunny day. We stopped at Punakaiki and tried to figure out how on earth those Pancake Rocks came about. Just around the corner we scavenged for fossils, finding perfectly preserved leaves. When I see millions of years of history like this, our own appearance on this planet seems like the blink of an eye, and all that complicated stuff we spend so much time worrying about hardly seems to matter at all.

When I got back yesterday I played pétanque again with Phil. Just like last time it was teeming with rain, but this time I came out on top, winning 13-5. We were tied at 5-all but from there I wrapped up the game in just four ends. I realise now the importance of scoring multiple points on the ends you win and limiting the damage on the ends you lose, much like in poker I suppose.

In my week off I hadn't given work a moment's thought. Well that's not quite true - I'd certainly thought about where the hell my job might be going - but the actual mechanics of what I do on a day-to-day basis hadn't figured at all. So in this morning's two-hour meeting it was back down to earth with a bump.

Tonight I had my Italian class which, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed. In my last post I mentioned that something strange happened to me. Strange because it happened to me. Two weeks ago a very nice English woman showed me her flat. The next day I sent her a text saying that although I liked the flat I wouldn't be interested in the room because it was too small; I thought it was a shame I'd never see her again. The following morning, to my surprise, she replied, inviting me for a drink. I figure she might not have many friends either - she's got an 11-digit phone number like mine (people with lots of friends tend to have shorter numbers) and she wasn't quite sure where the space bar was, which makes me think she doesn't send a lot of texts. Hopefully we'll go out later this week, and who knows, something might happen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Burner

I'm writing this post from Mum and Dad's house in Geraldine. It's great to get out of Auckland for a week. I flew down on Saturday; Air New Zealand have just implemented comedy safety announcements: "When an oxygen mask appears above your head, don't ask why, and don't ask if you can have it in a different colour." Mum and Dad picked me up from Christchurch airport and we stopped briefly at Uncle Dan's. It was the first time I'd seen Dan since his diagnosis with throat cancer 18 months ago; he seemed in remarkably good spirits, albeit a couple of stone lighter than I remember him.

On Sunday I went to Pleasant Point to watch Dad fly his plane at the Model Aero Club. For a while he had me fooled with what I thought were some rather nifty aerobatics, but in fact all those impressive-looking vertical loops weren't in the script at all. The electrics were dead, and the plane - which Dad had spent many evenings making - came down in a local farmer's back garden. Dad wasn't a happy bunny; he went home with his tail between his legs while the plane's tail was no longer attached. He still thinks he can salvage the situation. I realise now he just enjoys gluing bits of balsa together; actually flying the finished product is secondary.
The engine room of Mum's life, on the other hand, would seem to be the golf course. I had a hit with her yesterday - quite a lot of hits in my case. It was the first time Mum had used her new club - the Burner. By spending a few hundred dollars on this club, whose head is the size and shape of a large spud cut in half, she's become one of the "haves", rather than the "have nots", of the golfing community. We played nine holes; I consistently scored double par. Mum is out playing a tournament right now, with the Burner of course, which is why I'm able to write this post.

I still don't feel quite right. I'm not sure if it's the depression, the drugs, or something else. Tomorrow we're planning on going to Hanmer Springs which is uncharted territory for me. I wanted to talk about the strange thing that happened to me last week - it was strange precisely because it happened to me - but I'm fast running out of computer time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Side Efexor

To counteract those side effects I'm taking on board a lot of water and caffeine. This means regular trips to the loo, so at work I get to talk to Pam the cleaning lady more than perhaps I'd like. There's one more side effect I neglected to mention yesterday: I can't keep my feet still.

That eco-friendly price-neutral bonus letter arrived today. My bonus was well down on last year, but if it wasn't for some wangling on the part of my boss, I'd have received nothing at all. I was very happy with that outcome; thankfully my mitigating factors were taken into account.

I had a look at another flat tonight; this one was basically a non-starter. The more I think about it, the more I realise last night's flat could have been a good move for me. If only the room had been 50% bigger.

I still dabble with iPredict. So far I'm up around $400 though things can change rather quickly. I did particularly well betting, sorry predicting, that Gordon Brown wouldn't resign before the next election. Of course he might still do so, but iPredict allows you to lock in profits (or cut your losses, something I've done numerous times) before the closing date of the stock. By the way, this is what BK Drinkwater, one of the more eminent figures on iPredict, has to say about New Zealand's obsession with property investment. I might have gone a bit easier on the expletives myself, but I totally agree with him.

I'll be meeting up with Andy again tomorrow. Oh, and I've just started reading The Great Gatsby.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


That mini-boost of Efexor is now starting to kick in. My depression has abated somewhat, but at a price. I get very tired even when I've been sitting on my bum all day, my short-term memory is now a forgettory, and I'm constantly thirsty. A quick Google search suggests that these side effects aren't unusual, and they're a price I'm willing to pay for the time being.

All I remember of Friday is the presentation my colleague gave at a meeting. His talk impressed me because he's only been at the company a matter of months, and he used some sophisticated modelling techniques to arrive at his conclusions. In other words there's no way I could have done any of that stuff.

On Saturday I worked on my puzzles and then played pétanque with Phil from the French club. The bowling club down my street has a pétanque piste attached. I'm sure we were supposed to pay, but being the middle of winter and sluicing down with rain, nobody else was there. The game was a lot of fun even though I ended up soaked to the skin. I came from 10-3 and 12-8 down only to be edged out 13-12. I'm sure we'll have many more battles over the coming months.

I'm struggling to remember what happened at work yesterday, but I don't think any of it was particularly good. After work though I had Italian which was much better. An elderly couple who were about to spend a week in Italy had brought two bottles of wine along for us all to share. The Italian wasn't easy, but it isn't supposed to be, and the wine pretty much made my evening.

Today at work was a complete dead loss. The highlight was an email telling us we'd soon be getting our bonus letters. Actually the highlight wasn't that part of the email - of course I'm thrilled to be getting a bonus of zero dollars - but the next bit. These bonus notifications will have a new, more colourful letterhead which is more closely aligned with our company's brand image, but will also be printed on thinner paper to offset the cost of all that extra ink and make the whole process cost neutral. I'm so relieved it's cost neutral. We were told to give feedback about the new letterhead. I was about to reply that I really couldn't give a rat's arse, then thought better of it.
I couldn't focus on anything for more than ten seconds all day. My soon-to-be-boss spent half an hour explaining a new one-off task to me, and explained it pretty well I thought, but everything simply washed over me. By the way the tsunami alert was a false alarm; I'll be getting a new boss, my fourth since I've been there.
Tonight I had a look at a possible new flat. It had a lot going for it but I'll be saying no unfortunately, because the room isn't really big enough.

I'll be taking next week off to stay with Mum and Dad down south, and hopefully get over to the West Coast, where I haven't been since 1993. I'm very much looking forward to that.