Monday, January 31, 2011

Need a boost

I'm flying down to Wellington for my interview tomorrow. You're supposed to be determined to succeed at job interviews, they're supposed to matter, but I'm really struggling to motivate myself. Today I had a look at the long list of questions that I made for my successful interview seven years ago. I got Mum to be interviewer and to randomly ask me questions from my list until we were both exhausted. I must have really wanted that job. Now I wonder where all that determination came from. I saw the doctor last week and we agreed to increase my dose of Efexor to 225 mg to hopefully put some much-needed oomph back into my life.

This afternoon I went into town to meet up with Richard and some of the others from the Asperger's group. It was a bit windy out there but it good to see everyone again. In fact it was good to see anyone. There was some sort of regatta on the water today for Auckland Anniversary Day as well as a display of aerobatics.

Last night I made the 45-minute trip to Papakura (it was quicker coming back) to see Bazza for the first time in several months and watch the tennis. As soon as I walked through the door, he took my blood pressure with his new gadget. Then I had to get on the scales. Thankfully I passed my warrant of fitness. Mr Fish and Chips has turned into a health freak all of a sudden! He took his own blood pressure three times (!) while I was there. I got back home at 1:30am.

Bazza talked quite a lot during the tennis. I didn't expect anything else I guess, and at least he's fairly knowledgeable about the game. Even after the first two games we had a pretty good idea of the likely outcome of the match. It seems to me that Murray works himself into a frenzy before a big final like this, sapping himself of energy before the match has even begun. When you're as emotionally worked up as I sensed he was, it's hard to think straight. Murray has a lot of variety but he kept playing Djokovic's game, trying to outhit his opponent from the baseline. His low first-serve percentage didn't help either. Djokovic in contrast seemed to be enjoying himself. I never knew quite how quick around the court he was; maybe it was his fancy shoes. It would have been nice to see Murray win, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. In the end I picked the winner of both finals even if my score predictions were miles out.

One final thing: I've had to produce five puzzles for an American company on the subject of ice hockey. This wasn't easy - my knowledge of ice hockey is (or was) almost non-existent except for all the fights they have - but it's amazing what you can do with Google.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wellington and wet & windy Wilma

So I was in Devonport on Thursday, about to pick up my medication and some bananas, wondering whether I should have broken my jack badugi, when my cell phone rang. I'll be flying down to Wellington on Tuesday for a job interview! Oh boy.

A couple of weeks ago I applied for an insurance job I saw on Seek. It was based in Wellington, doing the same sort of thing that I did in Auckland for nearly six years and was so glad to escape from. But what the hell. There's no harm in applying, right? So last Friday I got a call from one of the blokes I'd potentially be working with; we spoke for half an hour. I think I came across well over the phone; I did my best to sound knowledgeable but also as friendly as possible, using some typical Kiwi phrases like "mucking in", but I still thought the odds were against me getting an interview (although when I think about it a bit, it's a fairly specialised line of work).

Finding out that I would be having an interview sent me into a mad panic. Christ, I've been in Auckland for seven years, I've finally got used to the place, finally made some good friends, and now I might have to leave. I can't do that. And I'll have to do all that corporate shit again, and worst of all, exams. Should I even go for the interview?

Since then I've had a haircut and my suit dry-cleaned and have calmed down. In fact now I'm looking forward to the interview. Well not the interview itself if I'm honest, but visiting Wellington. I haven't been there since I drove from South Canterbury to Auckland to start my last big job in March 2004. The company are paying for my flights (good isn't it?); I'll be spending Tuesday night there and will head back the next day. My cousin lives in Wellington with her husband and three boys - I didn't think they'd particularly want a fourth, but apparently I'm OK to spend the night with them. From what I can tell I'll like Wellington - its compactness gives it a soul that Auckland badly lacks. But could I leave everything in Auckland behind? My friends and support networks? Love it or hate it, the tennis club? You can't underestimate how important friends are. Moving away from them would be a big deal.

I'm hopeless at interviews, especially competency-based ones like this will be. And of course they'll want to know about all my stunning achievements in my last job (Richard earlier emailed me with some good ideas for things to say there). The chances that I'll actually be offered the job are therefore pretty slim, so the problem of having to leave Auckland is one I'll face if and when I come to it.

Tomorrow I'll be going to Papakura to drop in on Bazza who I haven't seen in ages. We'll be watching the men's final of the Aussie Open - Djokovic against Murray. What an opportunity this is for Murray. Last night I fell asleep twice while listening to radio commentary of his hard-fought win over Ferrer. The women's final will be starting in a few minutes. Here are my predictions for the two finals:

Kim Clijsters to beat Li Na 6-4 6-4
Novak Djokovic to beat Andy Murray 6-3 7-6 4-6 7-5.

It's just as well those matches are played at night - it's forecast to be 40 degrees in Melbourne tomorrow. On this side of the Tasman we've been feeling the effects of Cyclone Wilma (great name, don't you think?). Water has leaked into my bathroom for the second weekend running, but compared to some people that's nothing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's not All Black

I've just started reading John Kirwan's All Blacks Don't Cry which my parents bought me for Christmas. JK has done an absolutely brilliant job of raising the profile (and reducing the stigma) of depression in New Zealand. I've never particularly liked famous sportsmen using their celebrity status to push products, services or agendas, but in this case all the media exposure is to be applauded. Just as Blam Blam Blam didn't say, there's a lot of depression in this country. If one of the greatest ever All Blacks can have it there's no shame in you or I having it.

So far it's been interesting reading. Playing international rugby, and having mates who are all called by their surnames with a bonus O or Y added to the end, couldn't be further from the sort of life I led at that age. But my experiences of depression and anxiety were very similar. So similar in fact that reading his descriptions of panic attacks brought back memories from ten years ago that sent a shiver down my spine.

I'm quite good at remembering dates (though not as good as one particular member of the Asperger's group) and it was 18th April 2000 when I had my first panic attack, two days before my 20th birthday. It was the Easter holidays at university and I was staying with Gran in Houghton (Mum and Dad were living in Australia at the time). I was walking back to Houghton from St Ives, and about half a mile from Gran's place my heart started racing for no apparent reason and I struggled to breathe. I held onto a gate because I thought I might collapse. It was scary stuff. When I got back to Gran's I really felt knocked for six, but I gradually forgot about the incident. I then spent a few days at my aunt's place in Wales before going back to university. I had exams on my return to Birmingham and I was finding the study a real drag, but for those few days everything felt horrible. Grey, metallic, yuck. It perhaps doesn't help that a lot of Wales is grey: a lot of grey slate is used in buildings and walls, and the sky is grey most of the time. When Gran asked me what was wrong I said I wanted someone to shoot me. She then gave me a pill - Valium I think - which I happily took. At the time I didn't know I was depressed.

Fast forward to 15th March 2001. I was in Lyon for my third year of university and happened to be in the middle of a tennis match - the second round of a tournament. I lost the first set 6-2 but was 5-2 up in the second when - bam! - I was struck down again. My heart raced, I couldn't feel my limbs, I was short of breath and totally disorientated. I hung on grimly to the fence, sat down for a bit, then stupidly carried on playing. I staggered on for a few more games, losing in a tie-break. I've had a bit of a love-hate relationship with tennis ever since. Thinking I had a serious heart problem I called the doctor late that night. She gave me an ECG test and everything was fine. I spoke to Dad on the phone and he suggested panic attacks - I instantly rejected that idea because, well, I wasn't panicking about anything. I spent the next four days in my room, then went to hospital to get more tests done. Blood tests, X-rays and heaven knows what else. Nothing showed up. I had more "episodes" and more of those horrible grey spells that lasted three or four days. I was worried and confused.

In June I moved back to the UK and I'd pretty much forgotten about my weird episodes until they returned with a vengeance. On 9th July 2001 - the day that Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in that classic Monday final - I had a two-hour panic attack (although I still didn't know that's what it was). I was utterly convinced I was going to die. Unlike my previous shorter attacks which I got over fairly quickly, this one took over my life. For the next few weeks I slept an average of five hours a day, while for the other nineteen I thought of nothing but death. For three weeks I held down a job packing mobile phones into boxes but I never went out of the house for any other reason - I was too scared to. At work I was standing up the whole time and expected to topple over at any moment; eventually I quit.

I was called up to play interclub tennis. In Mum's words, "it'll do you good". Two men's doubles matches. How would I possibly cope? That day it rained. Surely I won't have to play. But the courts dried up just enough and play I did. Nothing seemed real. Was it some strange dream? I'm pretty sure we lost badly in the first match, but all I remember was the very appropriate Slade song Mama Weer All Crazee Now stuck on a loop inside my head. Early in the second match I decided I couldn't go on. Nobody at the club seemed to mind this and I got a lift home. "That was quick," Mum said. "How did it go?" When I told her, she was incredulous. "You what? They'll never invite you to play again." As if I cared about that!

I'll admit that quitting the match was embarrassing though. It's not something I'd ever done before. I soon developed agoraphobia, which meant quitting anything that took place outside the house. I knew I couldn't go on like that. I had to back to university in seven weeks - how could I do that if I couldn't even leave the house by myself? I rang the doctor. I laughed uncontrollably during my appointment (this has happened to me more recently as well). "I'm worried I might lose it," I said. "You're already losing it," was his reply. He diagnosed panic attacks, gave me beta-blockers and some white pills called Citalopram, and said that in seven weeks I'd be fine.

The pills didn't kick in instantly. I started to hallucinate and became very sensitive to light and noise. Supermarkets were a no-go area. But my doctor was right. When it was time to go back to Birmingham, I was fine. OK, I felt tired a lot of the time, and still had the odd panic attack, but crucially I now knew what they were and I wasn't in constant fear of the next one. I actually felt considerably better than I did before I had the panic attacks (John Kirwan said something similar). For the first time in a long time I was happy in my own skin.

For once I wasn't ashamed of just being me. Between September 2001 and June 2002 I can honestly say I was happy. I knuckled down, studied hard, and came out with a good degree, thinking I'd killed off the depression beast for ever. As I was to learn later, perhaps you never quite do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Isner–Mahut all over again?

Mum said she'll ring me at the end of the match between Kuznetsova and Schiavone at the Aussie Open. When that will be is anyone's guess. They're currently locked at 14-all and deuce in the third set, making this the second longest women's match ever. Schiavone earlier saved a whole bunch of match points.

Update: Schiavone has just broken and will serve for the match. Again. This is crazy stuff.

Update 2: She was love-30 down in that game but Schiavone did it! 16-14. I'm Skyless by the way, so I've just been relying on live scoring and speed-of-serve data. It looked like Schiavone was just popping her second serve in, not that I can blame her after 4½ hours. And if any of you think that was the longest professional women's match ever, you're wrong.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Real people - not so scary after all

Yesterday I really didn't want to leave the flat. I'd already agreed to play tennis with Andy at 4pm though so I didn't have a lot of choice. I'm so glad I did venture outside - the tennis did both of us good I think, even if we were both sweating like pigs at the end. We might try and fix up another encounter for next weekend. I had a quick dip in the sea after the game and then drove to Remuera to celebrate Richard's birthday. Five of us turned up; this made for quite a relaxing evening. Richard made a pasta dish and the rest of us contributed something for dessert. The second half of yesterday confirmed what I already knew: when you're not feeling great, leaving the house and making contact with other living, breathing humans (even though you really don't want to) can often be the best thing.

On Saturday I attended the monthly autism social group. Due to the time of year only fifteen or so turned up, so for a change we were able to hear ourselves think. The social group is a wonderful way for people with autism to get to know one another, but when attendances are at their normal levels it can become an acoustic nightmare - difficult to contend with even if you don't have the condition. The smaller numbers made the afternoon virtually stress-free for me; as usual there were some interesting topics of conversation. I got a surprise phone call from a recruitment agency in the middle of the session - it seemed unusual to get one in the weekend, so for a few brief seconds I got excited, thinking they might have a job for me (did I use the word excited there?) - sadly it wasn't to be.

My two potential flatmates (Richard and a female member of the autism group) have ramped up their flat-finding efforts. Both of them are currently in less than ideal arrangements and would move into a new flat last Tuesday given the choice. I also want to make the move (I'm paying over the odds for this place and I've lived on my own for too long already) but for me the urgency isn't quite the same. I've lived on the Shore for nearly seven years and have got pretty used to it over that time, so for me it's a case of crossing the Harbour Bridge when I come to it. I spoke to Mum on Friday - she said I need to find a job before I even think about finding a flat, and (how often can I say this?) I wholeheartedly agreed with her. Not many agencies or landlords will take you on if you're not working and I'd rather not have to lie on their forms. Besides, having work gives you many more options.

This morning I went to a WINZ seminar. They're always fun (!) but this time something had changed. Normally the League of Gentlemen job centre sketch (click here for the hilarious and cringeworthy YouTube clip) isn't far from reality, but today you could tell that some of the people in attendance actually wanted work. Three years ago the Devonport-Takapuna-Milford area had an unemployment rate close to zero; that's far from the case now. The bloke running the workshop didn't stop talking; this became annoying but he did make one salient point: you can reply to as many ads and be on the books of as many agencies as you like but unless you know people it'll be tough. An inability to build relationships with people has been my downfall all along.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Comfortably numb

According to Andy, the Pink Floyd song Comfortably Numb is about someone with a mental health problem who sees a psychiatrist, gets put on some medication, and is "fixed" (i.e. isn't depressed any more) but is no longer the same person ("this is not how I am"). I don't know whether his explanation is correct but it fits the lyrics and general feel of the song. I've heard that song - and other Pink Floyd stuff - a lot since I've lived in New Zealand. For some reason they're bigger here than in their homeland - ask a man on the street in a British town to name three Pink Floyd songs and he'll probably say, "Another Brick In The Wall, and, er ... there was more than one? Sorry, I don't know." Another UK group who are more well known here than in their mother country is Supertramp. I bought their greatest hits album last week. For some reason I like all that progressive stuff and I'm not sure why.

Back to the point. Comfortably numb is pretty much what I've become of late. I don't know whether I can totally blame the Efexor but I'm sure it's a factor. I remember when I used to be excited about things, passionate, enthusiastic, but those days are just about gone. Living by myself isn't helping either - more about that in my next post, whenever that is.

And no, the depression hasn't totally gone away either, despite what the subtitle of this blog says. I'm playing tennis with Andy in about an hour and then going over to Remuera to celebrate Richard's birthday. Of course I want to celebrate Richard's birthday but it's stinking hot, I hardly slept last night and I'd be quite happy just staying here and not seeing anybody.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cryptic crossword

Last month I had a cryptic crossword published in my local mental health service newsletter. I meant to post it a couple of weeks ago but posting files (other than images) on Blogger seems an impossible task. What you can do however is save them in a remote location on the web and post a link to the location here. So if you want to see my cryptic crossword (and who knows, print it out and try it), click here. And here's a sneak peek of what you're letting yourself into:

Have fun!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Views from the South

I'm back in Auckland now; I flew up on Tuesday. My flight was hassle-free, as was the bus to the ferry terminal which got me there just in time for the 10:30 ferry. Except there was no 10:30 ferry, or any ferry at all for that matter. It never occurred to me that it was a public holiday, and anyway I thought the 10:30 ferry ran every day, public holiday or not. At least that's what my timetable says, but since when could you trust those? I was lucky enough to find a bus to Takapuna, but then I had no choice but to blow $20 on a taxi.

Nothing happened on New Year's Eve - I thought we'd go to the Caroline Bay carnival but we did that on Sunday instead. We watched the concert - the star attraction was Suzanne Prentice, supposedly some world-famous-in-New Zealand country and western singer. She didn't do it for me. The concert was hardly Gorillaz material, but hey it was free. From the concert we had a few goes on the chocolate wheel, paying for the dream of winning a box of chocolate, for we never looked like actually doing so. For some reason, out of all the games and side shows, people tend to gravitate to the chocolate wheel - it's the Texas hold 'em of the carnival. I also tried my hand at the darts game - I did hit one of the potential money-spinning black stars, only to reveal a "sorry mate, you haven't won" ticket. I like the carnival though. This was the 100th edition of it; they continue to make good use of the money people lose chasing chocolate-coated dreams.

On Monday I played nine holes of golf with Mum - this was her first hit-out since her back started giving her trouble. The pain had subsided so she risked a half-round and thankfully the pain didn't come back. Golf differs from most other sports in that (as far as I can see) tactics don't play a huge part. That's not to say I don't think mental strength is important (in fact I think it's vitally important), but it's rare that you say, hmmm, which way should I aim it this time? It seems that all players are trying to do the same thing with the ball, just that some execute it much better than others. I'd also say that natural talent plays a bigger part in golf than it does in, say, tennis. I've had a lot of wins over more naturally gifted opponents in tennis just by chasing down balls and staying in points. Such a concept doesn't exist in golf. Talking of natural talent in that game, I don't think I've got the necessary amount of it. I hit some nice drives and made five semi-respectable double bogeys, but I also ran up a nine on a par-four, not to mention one hole where I got mired in a bunker and gave up.

On the way to the airport on Tuesday we popped in to see one of my cousins (probably my favourite cousin) who lives in Christchurch with her husband and 11-month-old daughter (whom I'd only previously seen in photos). Then I hopped on the plane and it was back up here again to begin the Long Job Search. It was good to see Mum and Dad, and I was sad to leave them behind at the airport. It was also good to see some of my extended family again, even if conversation became hard (or impossible) at times. Much of the conversation was simply gossip about people in the local area, and Dad and I, who haven't lived there since childhood, were automatically excluded. At least I don't live there all the time. Dad, who does, feels understandably left out. In fact he feels totally marooned in Geraldine - he's too far away from everything and has little in common with the people there. I would say in 2005 and '06 this put him on the verge of depression; more recently he's come to (dare I say) accept his fate. With the current economy he's struggling to sell paintings, and although my parents are comfortably off I feel sorry for Dad.

I don't know when I'll be down there next. Hopefully it won't be too long until I am. My brother plans to come over at Easter, so if and when he gets his A into G and books a ticket (you never know with him) I'll grab a seat to Christchurch.