Friday, April 29, 2011

Seeing my brother next weekend

I saw the doctor on Tuesday. He seemed more knowledgeable about Venlafaxine (or Efexor) than the female doctor I saw in Auckland. Basically he said if I want to get the proper effects of the drug I need to be on a proper dose. He's put me on 225 (I was on that for a short spell before but I dropped back after some stuff-up with the prescription) and has given me enough ammo to go to 300 if I feel like it.

Apparently some fairly well-known people will be tying the knot a few hours from now. I can't get excited about the royal wedding I'm afraid. I just hope that somebody else (most likely a group of people) doesn't decide to throw their idea of a party as well.

Here's the good news - I'll be seeing my brother (who was two days old when Charles and Di got married) next weekend. It's been such a long time. And to think I used to see him every day! It's scary how easily families can drift apart.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Juggling eggs and feeling scrambled

Yesterday was an up-and-down sort of day. On a “mood scale” from 0 to 10, I swung back and forth from a hopeless 1½ to a just-about-manageable 4. I entered a couple of inner-city lifts that normally stopped at real estate agents’ offices but yesterday weren’t going anywhere. I didn’t care. It was quite nice being in a lift. In Dick Smiths I was overwhelmed by all the lights and noise but sensibly got out before I did thousands of dollars worth of damage. I also chatted briefly with the busker I met last weekend. He juggles with up to four Head tennis balls, often dropping them. I can manage three and had a go myself. I asked him what the trick was for doing four; it looked to me like an optical illusion where you do two in each hand simultaneously. He only had 70 cents sitting on his rug; I threw him another 70. I suggested he might get more money if he diversified a bit – different coloured balls, tennis rackets, clubs, I even mentioned eggs. He just nodded and chuckled. I could do his job, if only I had the balls, so to speak.

Yesterday I was losing it, swearing and punching pedestrian crossing buttons, but when my mood scale was at four I steeled myself to view two flats. The first was in Brooklyn, right next to the cinema. I mean right next to the cinema. It had a spacious deck, but all you could see from it was the cinema wall. I couldn’t have fitted my bed in either of its two bedrooms. The 77-year-old landlord was charming and it’s a shame I’ll almost certainly never see him again, but I still couldn’t take the place. The other was in Te Aro – I walked to it from my apartment – and was potentially great but a bit pricey. If I was moving in with a flatmate it could have been a goer.

I got home and writhed around on my bed. Oh shit. I’ve got all this stuff to do with no hope of ever doing it. I rang Brendan in Auckland and we spoke for 2½ hours. I don’t think I’ve ever talked on the phone for that long before. He was very helpful; I’m lucky to have him as a friend. We clarified what I already knew, that applying for the job in the first place wasn’t particularly clever. Brendan was going through a bad patch himself a few months ago and he seems a lot better now.

It’s really hard to care about flats, my job or a lot else at the moment. Nothing excites me any more. My get-up-and-go has got up and gone. I really wish I could get it back.
In that earthquake claims job, for a minute there I actually cared what I looked like when I walked out the door in the morning.

Two things to say about Wellingtonians:
1. You lot who keep complaining about the weather obviously haven’t got very big problems.
2. “It’s too far away.” Bollocks! You have no idea what “far” is.

I’m struggling a bit with the complexities of living is 2011. What the f*** is Blu-Ray? Bluetooth? How does a T-stick work and why should I care? So for me, Good Friday’s supermarket sweep at Hamilton’s Pak ‘n’ Save was a good news story. The store automatically opened as usual, even though it was a public holiday, due to a computer glitch. No staff were present so people just filled their trolleys to the brim and left without paying. What was wrong with a man or woman with a key?

I might pop to the cinema (if I can face it) to see Paul. The film I mean.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Eagle vs Shark

At the last Asperger's group I went to, or was it the one before that, Eagle vs Shark was recommended as a "must-watch Aspie movie". I've just watched it for the first time on DVD and can see why it got the recommendation. I thought the Awesome tracksuits were awesome, as was the whole concept of the Crazy Burger - two slabs of meat with bread in the middle. Lily looked like one of my female friends from university (but a lot more feminine!) - this friend has been married for over four years now. I got another flashback to 1998 when the Stone Roses song This Is The One played; my first-year room-mate (who hailed from Barnsley and spoke with an almost incomprehensible accent) played that song over and over. The bit where Jarrod met up with his old classmate (who was now wheelchair-bound) made me wince.

What interested me the most was Jarrod's ego. A lot of socially awkward people I've met in real life (including some with Asperger's) have pretty damn big egos. Bazza was a fine example - he liked to play up his tennis skills and physical prowess, when in reality he's not exactly a picture of health. Once he laughably compared his current self to a young Elvis. Often a public display of arrogance is a way of covering up one's own insecurities, but I doubt that's why Aspies can sometimes appear arrogant. Possibly they just boast without realising it can be socially inappropriate - I don't know.

The best thing about seeing Eagle vs Shark in Wellington (and something I was unaware of until I saw it) is that it's a Wellington movie. Yes! And full of music from the Phoenix Foundation, surely one of Wellington's best bands. I liked the bit from the director at the start: "if you managed to rip this movie off the internet, congratulations for getting away with a crime."

Today I spoke to Richard on the phone, then took a trip up the cable car at his suggestion. It was a great view from up there on a sunny afternoon. I then walked back. This evening I took a walk along Oriental Parade. I'll get my head around Wellington eventually I hope.

Just as an aside: having visited this we-never-close internet café a few times, it appears there are some we-never-leave customers. For me, having Channel 63 on the telly is a big plus.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rabbit in the headlights

I've made a doctor's appointment for Tuesday. That's just as well - if my pills run out I could end up in a bad way rather quickly.

So I should be getting some more Venlafaxine next week. The big question is: will that be enough? So far, with the possible exception of my time in France ten years ago, I’ve always resisted the temptation to self-medicate. My dislike of being out of control has something to do with that. But if my stress levels stay elevated for much longer the urge might prove too strong.

If I’m to avoid going down the slippery slope, my best bet is probably to get some beta-blockers prescribed. I’ve got a couple of packets of them with me but a Google search tells me they’re well beyond their shelf life. The good news is that, as far as I can tell, you can combine them safely with my antidepressants. I last took beta-blockers in 2001-02 and they were great! Sure, in the first couple of months I had a few feelings of unreality (unreal, man!) and I got tired a lot, meaning I couldn’t really perform that well, but my increased self-esteem more than made up for those side effects.

When I see the doctor on Tuesday it’s vital that I’m put in touch with a support group of some kind.

This moving thing was all so ungoddamnecessary. For most of my life, being myself has meant being by myself. The Asperger’s group and the men’s group had gone a long way towards changing that, but thanks to the move, a return to people-are-very-scary-and-must-be-avoided seems inevitable. My work colleagues are nice people (although I’ve yet to stuff up any spreadsheets so perhaps I’m jumping the gun a bit there), but they still have the potential to be quite judgemental. The constant feeling of being judged is exhausting – I feel like a rabbit in the headlights. When I got back to my apartment last night I had no energy or inclination to look for flats or carry out any of the other tasks on my to-do list. I just wanted to curl up into a ball.

These feelings affect my performance at work too – they dominate my thought processes, leaving little room in my brain for dealing with the matter at hand.

I never felt this tension when I was doing the earthquake work. I could just turn up, do my work and go home, so I never felt under pressure. But in my new job I have to, you know, talk and shit. Well just talk I suppose, although I’m so nervous that frequent trips to the loo are an added bonus.

I don’t know why I never thought of this before, but I might well have Avoidant Personality Disorder. Wikipedia gives these six symptoms:

  1. Persistent and pervasive feelings of tension and apprehension;

  2. Belief that one is socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others;

  3. Excessive preoccupation with being criticized or rejected in social situations;

  4. Unwillingness to become involved with people unless certain of being liked;

  5. Restrictions in lifestyle because of need to have physical security;

  6. Avoidance of social or occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fear of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.

I've got all six of those, except maybe number four where "certain" would be too strong for me. We’re social creatures so having this disorder isn’t conducive, unfortunately, to living any sort of normal life. That’s assuming I’ve got the disorder; maybe I’m just a bad and selfish person for wanting to avoid other people.

Wednesday was my birthday. As it was only my third day at work, and I didn’t want the attention, I didn’t tell anyone. Besides I wasn’t au fait with birthday protocol and I’d fallen foul of that before in 2004. That evening I went round to my cousin’s place; she’d baked a rich dark chocolate cake. Where she found the time for that I don’t know. On top were two candles: a number three candle which she’d used for the boys’ birthdays (and can use again for Jack’s next birthday) and an astronaut-shaped candle to represent the one. After we’d all hoed into the cake, 60% of it was still left. I couldn’t eat the rest of it myself without being sick so yesterday I came clean about the whole birthday thing and took the remainder to work.

I’ve now got a long Easter weekend. I want to hibernate but will have to force myself to go on some kind of flat-finding mission I guess. I know that staying in my apartment wouldn't be clever in the long run. Last night the Canadian woman behind the desk at the internet café was trying to translate some French; I helped her with a couple of words. This morning I chatted for a minute or two with the pom in the three-bedroom apartment next-door – he’s also just arrived having lived in Auckland for several years. So I can talk to people in short bursts without much effort. Social situations and building relationships are a different ball game entirely.
I saw on the news last night this bloke who turned up to a Britain's Got Talent audition dressed like a slob (à la Susan Boyle, kind of) only to produce a stirring rendition of Tracy Chapman's Fast Car which has had two zillion hits on YouTube. Great song. Perhaps I'm missing the point of it but I've always thought it's about hopes and dreams: "I can be someone."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The new job - my first two days

Wellington is great. Just walking around the city gives me a buzz. But it's still New Zealand, which means that things tend to be closed in the evenings. I don't have internet access in my apartment so I've been searching frantically for an internet café that's open after six and to my surprise found this one on Manners Mall that never closes.

I'd been staying with my cousin in Wadestown until Sunday. Very nice people though she and her husband are, I didn't find it easy living with them, mainly because if I don't have my own space I'll gradually go round the bend. They're both highly successful and knowledgeable people, especially my cousin who's a real go-getter, and they're bringing their three boys up to be highly successful and knowledgeable too. At the dinner table one of the boys wanted to know what cholesterol was. If I'd asked my mum that at that age, she'd have told me it was bad fat or something along those lines, but my cousin gave a full-on diatribe. They do so much for the kids and themselves but still go to bed before ten - heaven knows how. I marvel at people who seemingly pack 25 hours into each day; they manage about 32.

My uncle, who turned 70 last week, was also there; I've always got on well with him - he's a bit of a misfit just like me. On Saturday we watched a fascinating programme together called Mind Over Money, all about financial bubbles and the irrationality of human behaviour when money is involved. It was on TVNZ 7, a channel which is unfortunately facing the axe. I've been encouraged to enter the housing market, and might still do so, but buying a house might just be one big decision too many at the moment.

On Sunday I felt pretty terrible and I had thoughts going round in my head at a hundred miles an hour. Starting a new job the next morning was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt better when I moved into my apartment which is a stone's throw from work. My company are generously putting me up there while I find something more permanent. It's a very nice, clean, spacious apartment with everything I could possibly want - it's a shame I can't stay there for good.

The next morning the alarm woke me up but I couldn't face getting out of bed (the horrible weather didn't help) so I hit what I thought was the snooze button. I awoke again half an hour later. Right, so I guess that button isn't snooze. I was worried I might be late on my first day but as it happened I still arrived in plenty of time.

My office is on the 25th floor, and being Wellington there are civil defence cabinets dotted around so we can hopefully all survive if (or rather when) the big one hits. We get great views from there when weather allows which it did today, unlike on day one. As for the work itself, it won't be easy for me. My colleagues all seem friendly, more so than in my first "big" job, and the whole outfit seems refreshingly lacking in ra-ra-ra (that's a technical term) but I'm still likely to find it hard. A lot of things that might be obvious to some people are less obvious to me. Do you want this report finished by lunchtime, by next Friday or some time in late August? You seem very busy there - is it OK to interrupt you? Maybe I have Asperger's after all.

The other difficulty I face is that it's still life insurance. Unlike the recent earthquake work, or the flood-risk mapping work I did in the UK, I might find it hard to care about all the life-insurance-based figures and spreadsheets I'll have to negotiate. I can't ever imagine buying life insurance myself, because nobody depends on me financially and my history of depression would force my premiums up. In the back of my mind (or maybe the front) I'll know I'd rather be doing something else with my life. And then there's the exams - eek.

Lunchtime is the highlight of my work day. Central Wellington is food heaven. I asked one of my colleagues what she does for lunch. She said she either brought her own (which is what I've mostly done in my previous jobs) or went to Subway, then she told me where Subway was. Subway? C'mon! I mean there's nothing wrong with Subway, in fact I've been there more often in my life than any other fast food joint by some margin, but there are so many other eateries in the city to try that eating at Subway seemed frankly daft. I'm working my way through the nearby food court, trying not to turn into a fatty.

Adding to my state of panic over the weekend, the two biggest poker websites - Poker Stars and Full Tilt - were seized by the FBI and closed to American players. I've got US$3800 sitting on those two sites. I shouldn't lose the money, especially as I'm outside the States, but the whole thing is all a bit scary. I'd like to cash out but I've got no permanent address so I'll have to wait.

We've got a late Easter this year (who keeps moving Easter?) which gives me a very handy long weekend. There's a lot to do - finding a doctor and a support group are top priorities. Then I face the small matter of finding a flat or a house.

Tomorrow is my birthday. It's my second since last Easter so I'm getting old quickly. I'll pop over to my cousin's place tomorrow but there won't be a big birthday celebration. I'll be turning 31 but after a month of birthdays you can pretty much stop counting.

I'll give Richard a call tomorrow. I certainly haven't forgotten everybody in Auckland and I'll book a flight up there before too long.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Something beginning with W

I arrived in Wellington on Thursday evening. The drive down, with the exception of the last little bit which involved considerable guesswork, was no trouble; I was blessed with excellent weather. I spent Wednesday night at Turangi, a popular fishing spot just south of Lake Taupo and a very pleasant place to break up the journey. The next morning, I had lovely bright sunshine as I drove along the Desert Road - the first time I'd been that way since 1993 when Mum would have pointed out Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Driving long distances on a nice day when there is little traffic makes me feel so much more alive. I had lunch at Bulls, a town that doesn't have a lot to offer except its name. No bull! A town like no udder! Every shop in the town came with a tagline such as "drink-a-bull", "bank-a-bull" or "irresist-a-bull". The toilets were "relieve-a-bull". I couldn't blame them for cashing in on such a memor-a-bull name. Shortly after I passed a sign telling me I had entered the roaring forties latitudes, the sun disappeared and it hasn't been back since.

Driving in Wellington is interesting to put it mildly. The topography of the city brings the z-axis - up and down - very much into play. There are hairpin bends and precipices to deal with, which would be tricky enough even if I did have a clue where I was going. I did get to my cousin's place in Wadestown in the end. My uncle is also staying here, so with my cousin's husband and three boys, she's seriously outnumbered. Tomorrow I'll be leaving to stay in a hotel in town; I'll be more than happy to do that. I don't find it easy being in someone else's house, easy-going people that everyone here is.

Today I was pleasantly surprised to learn that affordable property, to buy, actually exists in Wellington. I might take a look at a few uncomplicated one or two-bedroom flats, ones that would hopefully be easily saleable if I do decide to move on. It's been tipping it down with rain pretty much from the moment I got here. Yesterday was also windy, but today is calm, which only means the rain is sticking around. I spent some time in the city yesterday and my first impressions were, hey, I think I'll like this place.

Last night I played I-Spy with the two older boys. One of them picked the letter W. Hmm, let me see. Window? Water? Wind? Wellington? Why?! And on Monday I'll have Work.

Update: a 5.3 quake has just hit Christchurch, cutting off power and phone lines.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adios Auckland

The truck has been and gone (my "about 10" boxes of stuff ended up being 26) and in the morning I'll be gone too. My last day in Auckland has been a glorious one weather-wise. The last three days have been quite exhausting - hell, the whole process has been so drawn-out - and it'll feel good to finally be on my way. Tonight I grabbed a pizza from Delissimo's - a slightly tacky burger and pizza joint in Devonport. It was the first time I'd been there since it opened a year ago - the foot-high Comic Sans sign outside had always put me off. "How spicy would you like the pizza?" "You know, fairly spicy." Big mistake.

I attended the men's group for the last time on Wednesday. Another positive addition to my life that I'll have to do without. Yesterday I met up with Andy, who runs the group and has become a good friend over the last two years. I'll admit I hardly oozed positive vibes when we discussed my move.

Now, in spite of everything, I promise to be more positive. This could be the best thing I ever do.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

T minus 57 hours

Not long now, and still so much to do.

Yesterday I had a farewell lunch with the Asperger's group. Richard sent out the invite. He's been such a good friend; I'll miss him a lot. That he gives so much to others having been through so much himself is quite remarkable. We sat in the courtyard of Ironique in Mt Eden on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Richard gave me what looks like a good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from his work; another of the members made a card by hand (she's very good at that) which everyone signed.

After that I drove to Papakura to return Bazza's Cardio-Glide exercise machine. I got a lot of use out of it but he needs it more than I do. When it comes to his weight, he's in that most famous of rivers, de Nile.

On Monday night I had my last (ever?) outing for Belmont. It was an away game at Campbells Bay club. Very picturesque surroundings even if we were confronted by a plague of scarab beetles. We lost a tantalisingly close doubles 11-9 in a super tie-break (we never had a match point nor were we ahead at any stage either in the shoot-out or prior to it) but I'm happy to report that I won my last (ever?) match for the club, 6-1 6-1 in the singles. My overall singles record for the season: P11 W7 L4. Doubles: P19 W4 L15. Eek! Who knows where or when my next match will be, if at all.

Well, better go. So much to do, so little time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

No text please, I'm British

My mobile phone is stuffed. Water got into it, and now the writing on the screen comes up upside down, backwards and very faint. I'm not making this up. I had no idea the digital brain of a cell phone was fiendish enough to produce upside-down back-to-front text. If anyone who has my cell phone number is reading this, please don't text me. Not until I've got a new phone anyway. At a push (and if I've got a mirror handy) I might be able to read your text but you won't get a reply.

Luckily I'm not one of those people whose cell phone is a fifth limb. Yesterday at the tennis club someone wanted to know what time it was. Nobody in her vicinity had a watch. I remarked on this, and the consensus was that people don't need watches any more because they've all got phones. Well I disagree. I feel semi-naked without my watch, which my aunt bought me for my 18th birthday. Admittedly I'm obsessive about the passage of time - I always know what time it is: it's one minute since I last looked at my watch - but a "proper" analogue watch gives you a better picture of its passage. Time is a gradual, cyclical process, not a series of digits that clicks over every minute. There are a variety of jewellery shops close to my current work. My favourite analogue watch on show has a dial showing the year. It goes up to 2299 - I might have added a couple more centuries myself - but it's still a nice touch. Unfortunately it sells for about forty grand. Continuing the same theme, the clocks went back overnight. The extra hour has proved very useful - it's a shame we can't put our clocks back every weekend.

Wednesday's tennis never happened, but then on Thursday at 6:15 the phone rang and I had to drop everything and immediately drive to Albany to play. Great. We carried on our previously rain-drenched doubles match where we left off at one set all. The super tie-break rule was waived and we played a normal third set, but we didn't last long, going down by the final score of 6-7 (1-7), 7-5, 6-2. When we played a very solid - and quick - game on my serve to close to 4-2, I thought that might send out a message to our opponents, but whatever the message was it fell on deaf ears: we only won one more point. A couple of stats from that match: It was my ninth night-time doubles loss in a row. Also it was only the second time in my life I'd won a tie-break but lost the match. The other time was a singles match in 1996. The score: 7-5, 6-7 (1-7), 6-2. How I remember that I've no idea.

In the singles I put together a steady performance to win 6-3 6-1. The first set could have gone either way - a couple of net-cords towards the end of the set proved crucial. The rallies were long as we both tried to work each other around the court. I was able to stay in a lot of points and was more consistent, and I guess that's why I won. As a team we lost by four matches to two.

On to Saturday. For April it was a scorcher, but there was no escaping the tennis court. I would play my last ever match with Bazza - we're both leaving the club. Unfortunately we couldn't finish on a high note, going down 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3). The score in the first set was highly deceptive - they had points for just about every game. We led 3-1 in the third and were tantalisingly close to victory at 6-5 and 30-all, but it wasn't to be. It was some time since I'd last played with Bazza but he hadn't changed one bit. Dodgy line calls which I sometimes had to overrule and calls of "yours!" when it was far too late. I thought we both played fine given our limitations, which are pretty severe on the doubles court: we're both hopeless at the net. He can be infuriating to play with (even more so if you don't "get" him) but we've had some very good matches over the years - it was perhaps fitting that our last match would go all the way to a deciding tie-break.

We played another tie-break in the first set of the mixed. This we won, 7-2, but there was still a sense of inevitability about the final outcome. Their man had a very tricky slice serve and a strong net game, both of which brought them numerous cheap points. All of our points required far more work. Things just didn't add up. Despite our best efforts we duly lost the last two sets 6-2, 6-3. For the second time in three days, but 15 years after the only other time, I'd won a tie-break in a losing cause. A disco started up as our match was finishing. It was to celebrate the club's 75th anniversary and was mainly for the kids' benefit although adults were invited too. It was a themed disco: you had to dress up as something beginning with B. I saw a banana, a ballerina and Bob Marley (which given the number of kids present, might not have been appropriate). I could have had an absolute field day dressing up as Bazza but I wouldn't have dared.

But that's not all! Tomorrow night I've got more tennis. My last pair of matches for the club.

This morning I went to the French club for the last time. I spoke perhaps more French there than ever before. My imminent move got me some attention I suppose. After that I met up with Richard in Mt Eden for lunch. We had a long and enjoyable chat as always. That's something I'm going to miss for sure.