Sunday, April 29, 2012

Things are looking up (especially my mana level)

I've been offered a permanent role downstairs at work. I've been given three options:
A: go back upstairs (which would be sheer lunacy in spite of the extra money)
B: stay downstairs
C: leave.
This is a very easy decision for me. Lock in B Eddie. It’s clearly a less taxing (and depression-inducing) role than the one upstairs, but it’s still a permanent job in a multinational corporation and everything that comes with that: team meetings, performance appraisals, little red squares on my screen. All the stuff I want no part of. My strategy will be to pretend it isn’t permanent at all. In 2012, who really has a permanent job anyway?

Thursday was an interesting day. I set a new PB that morning for the number of letters I sent out, not that anybody would have noticed. I then had lunch with Tracy from the autism group. We have quite a lot in common. We’ve both lived in France, we both like British comedy and we both take antidepressants. However she has a lot more self-confidence than me (that isn’t that hard I guess) and does get very animated when talking about certain topics. One of her interests is board games. She plays a variety of (sometimes obscure) games with a bunch of friends, participates in an online forum and even attends conventions. She sent me a link to the forum; I found one of her posts where she asked what to do when her mana level drops to zero. The next time I see her I might ask her whether she managed to top up her mana. I’m not sure whether she has a boyfriend, but if she does I bet his mana level is off the scale.

After work I went to the depression group on Cuba Street. There were only the two of us – the long-haired six-foot-five bloke and myself. After a few months of living with his parents (whom he said he didn’t speak to – yikes) he was about to move into a boarding house. He was also about to change jobs (from one office job to another) but had no interest in pursuing a career in that kind of environment. Instead he fantasised about becoming a (semi-)professional online poker player. That gave us plenty to talk about. I’ve since sent him a long email telling him the story of my poker career so far. I’d be more than happy to teach him strategy for badugi and triple draw – I’m all for people having dreams, and here I’m in the unusual position of being able to help someone along the way. To deal with his depression he has tried a number of unconventional therapies – with considerable success I might add. But, like me, he often loses the ability to take pleasure in things. When I got back there was an email (there’s no way I could have read it in time) saying that the depression group had been cancelled.

So New Zealand wants to lead the world in becoming smokefree, which apparently is now all one word. By 2025 the price of a packet of 20 will be $100, which nobody will be able to afford, so nobody will smoke. Simple. I think it’s time for one of those Tui billboards. In reality cigarettes will be smuggled in from countries where they cost a fraction of the amount, and the purchase and sale of tobacco will be driven underground like we already see with marijuana. Previously law-abiding smokers (yes they do exist!) will turn to crime to feed their addiction, and it’s a very strong addiction! Yes it would be nice if nobody smoked but the Ministry of Health seem to be going about achieving smokefreedom in completely the wrong way. In this weekend’s Dom Post there were several statistics given about New Zealand’s smoking. So 650,000 Kiwis smoke. My back-of-a-fag-packet calculations tell me that’s about 20% of adults. Between them they bought just over two million cigarettes, so while one in five Kiwis smoke, on average they only smoke three fags a year! My hunch is that the number of cigarettes is missing three noughts from the end. If my hunch is correct, that’s nearly nine a day per person, which would seem about right if you also add in the 600+ tonnes of rolling tobacco.

Last week I got a birthday card from my aunt (Dad’s sister) in the UK. This was a pleasant surprise – I wouldn’t have thought she knew either my birthday or my address. I must reciprocate in six months’ time. I should also write a blog post about my aunt at some stage.

I live almost next door to the National War Memorial (whose campanile houses 74 bells) so I had absolutely no excuse not to attend the Anzac Day ceremony there. Plenty of my relatives have fought in wars so I feel duty-bound to go. It seems to get bigger every year and has surely overtaken Waitangi Day as our national day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Will you still need me, will you still feed me...

Strangely enough, we sang that Beatles song at assembly at primary school. One of the teachers there was a bit of a hippie. Here's the rather psychedelic video to When I'm Sixty-Four, from the Yellow Submarine film. Today I've reached the half-way point.

Last night Dad emailed me two pictures of my brother with his girlfriend, so that I can see what my future sister-in-law (yes I think that's a pretty likely scenario) looks like. They've got another trip to NZ planned in August (I must make sure I see them then) and might eventually move out here permanently. Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Heading down the right track

Saturday's tramp on the Akatarawa ranges was billed as "easy". It wasn't. Nor was it what I'd call a tramp. It was a rather arduous bush-bash. We followed the main path for all of fifty yards before our experienced leader said we'd gone the wrong way and led us down a "track" that we wouldn't even have noticed had it not been pointed out to us. He said he hadn't been down that track in four years; I don't think anybody else had either.

We then followed a creek, rock-hopping until that was no longer an option. Soon we were wading through two feet of water; I just managed to keep my undies dry though one or two others were less fortunate. My boots (which I got in 1997, were made in Bulgaria and have Cyrillic writing on them), my socks and most of my trousers were obviously soaked.

The idea was to reach a spectacularly wide rata tree - "it's another 45 minutes" but after 90 minutes we were still some distance from the tree and would have needed to scale a very steep bank, so that plan went out the window. As it was, there was plenty of crawling through vegetation and at one point we descended a bank with the aid of a rope. At least we went at a sensible pace and took short breaks every now and again. After six hours we finally clambered out of the woodland to the "bibeep, bibeep" of civilisation as someone received a text.

I must say it was a most satisfying feeling to have been on that tramp - an all-too-rare sense of achievement. I'd used muscles that hadn't been flexed in years and in some cases didn't even know existed. It felt great to get away from the internet, the phone, work, men in suits, my flat... Best of all the fact that I am able to feel good is indicative of an improvement in my mental state. Twelve of us did the trip. Due to work commitments Danielle unfortunately couldn't make it.

I slept for 9½ hours the following night. On Sunday I saw the Lorax with my cousin, her three boys and one of their friends. I suggested it to them because I knew they had a few of Dr Seuss's books including that one. I'd never read the Lorax myself but I pretty much knew the story anyway, largely thanks to this song and video. It was a good film with a pretty important environmental message which is even more relevant now than it was forty years ago when the book (and Cat Stevens's song) were written.

Last night I attended the autism group for the first time in six weeks. There was an American bloke who was new to the group and certainly didn't mind talking (especially when the facilitator asked each of us in turn to say what we were good at).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Measuring up (or not)

My work week had been running fairly smoothly until half-twelve today. My boss wanted to see me after lunch. What for? What have I done wrong? I went through all the possibilities over lunch: the silent-but-deadly fart I let off the week before last; blowing my nose like a trumpet every now and then; the day I was ten minutes late when everyone was snowed under with work due to the system failure. Of course I tried to rationalise: there was probably a 70% chance that I'd done nothing wrong at all.

I got back after lunch; my boss kept me in suspense till half-two. I had done something wrong. "Is everything OK? Your performance has dipped today and I just wanted to see that nothing was wrong." Oh. That was strange; I was sure it had improved. "We've had two other people doing the same task this morning to try and help clear the backlog caused by the system crash. They've both done twice as much as you." Aah, so you're comparing me against them, not against my previous performances. "Yes, you see we've got all kinds of charts and graphs, but this was the first time I could really gauge your performance. But no need to get stressed about it. It's best you're making sure you're doing it right."

And that was the end of our very short meeting. What he said was a bit like saying "you smell really bad but there's no need to worry about it." Bugger the system crash. Bugger those two Energizer bunnies, both aged twenty-not-much, whom I was suddenly in competition with. Bugger my depression. And bugger generally, because what can I do to become twice as fast? Even on a really good day, I spend a good portion of it trying to remember what I clicked on last, re-opening envelopes to make sure all the correct forms are enclosed, and re-printing letters or forms that I'd put on the wrong letterhead. I catch a lot of my own mistakes (and probably miss a few too). I put about as much paper in the recycling bins as in the customers' envelopes.

All kinds of charts and graphs. You're telling me. There are large monitors mounted on the walls of the office showing how many calls are waiting, for how long, and a service score that goes up and down accordingly. The scores are broken down person-by-person; I also see colours that keep changing but I don't know what they mean. I hear the Quality team talk about black lists, grey lists and red lists. My boss sometimes brings up a screen showing a large pie chart. On my screen a little red square appears next to some of my tasks to indicate poor performance. I asked about this - apparently it wasn't my fault and I didn't need to worry about it. Sometimes the square is yellow. Once or twice I might even have seen a green square. While we don't clock on and clock off in the old-fashioned way, all our entry and exit times are recorded on our swipe cards and secretly stored somewhere.

Is there anything else you'd like to measure while you're at it? Does all this measuring and target-setting really achieve anything? All targets tend to do is incentivise people to cut corners in order to meet the target. You want me to send 100 letters a day instead of 50? Sure thing. But when Mr So-and-so gets asked for his smear test results, don't blame me. One example of this is the National government's target of 65% of students achieving Level 2 NCEA English. It's currently around 50%. That's an easy (and totally meaningless) target to reach. Just lower the pass mark until 65% pass, and voilĂ ! How about a target of "teach our kids to read and write"?

Last night I attended a depression group which I found on Four blokes turned up, including me, at a totally unswanky Asian eatery on Cuba St. We mainly just talked about our difficulties in meeting people in Wellington ("it's cliquey" being one problem mentioned), then one of the guys whipped out a pack of cards and we played Last Card. There must be as many variations of that as there are cards in the deck. One of the blokes (six foot five and with the sort of long hair I wish could have) plays online poker so we had something in common straight away.

On Saturday I'll be making an early start for my second tramp - the Akatarawa Surprise (in other words I've got no idea what I'm letting myself in for). Danielle will be coming - haven't seen her for ages. Let's hope my health and the weather play ball.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My big grandiose dream: I want to be happy

Well I had my first e-counselling session on Friday. I told the machine my problems; it told me it knew how I felt. No you don't - you're a bloody machine! It then told me I had rather a lot of problems so it would take a while to sort them all out. Great. So you'll extend the programme for me? The course was devised in the UK and isn't too bad I guess, but I remain highly skeptical.

I had fish and chips and my cousin's place on Friday night. My cousin got the takeaways, taking her youngest with her while the other boys watched telly in the lounge, leaving her husband and me in the kitchen to have a chat about his job. He manages seven people, none of whom have any respect for him. He'd just been on yet another pointless leadership course, and showed me a special pack of cards he'd brought back. There were 52 cards but you'd have a hard time playing poker with them. On each card was a word that represented a so-called value such as "power" or "honesty"; you had to select a few, make sure they aligned with your colleagues' values and heaven knows what else. (Back in Auckland in 2004, we had to do something similar except we got to choose our top five or however many values. Mine included peace and freedom. Sounds like you're in the wrong job, mate.) Anyway he never wanted to manage people but got forced into it. Now all kinds of rifts have opened up between him and his colleagues, which I find hard to imagine as he's such a nice bloke. He said he wanted to quit his job. "Resign?" "No. Quit. If you resign you have to give a month's notice and I couldn't face that." They wanted to know his career plans for the next five years; he readily admitted that he had none: at 43 he's already at the end of his career. Eleven years younger than him, I've reached the end of my career too.

My latest role isn't a career job but I'm happy with that. I don't think I'll ever have another career job, at least not in that sort of environment. I work right next to the Quality team. Before my move downstairs I'd heard of the Quality team but had no idea what they do. Quality of what, exactly? It turns out they monitor calls made to customers (so why not the Call Monitoring team instead of some euphemism?). The call centre people get graded and colour-coded based on what they do or don't say. As with much of what you see in the corporate world, it's a lot like being at school (and in fact most of the call centre staff haven't been out of school long). The Friday before last, people started talking about the $26 million Lotto jackpot. I ventured that when you buy a Lotto ticket, what you're really buying is a dream. The woman opposite me said that if you no longer have dreams, you might as well be dead.

I still don't know how long my current job will last. I hope to get some clarity on that next week. I'm seriously considering going down the mental health path in the longer term.

My brother and his girlfriend arrived on Thursday and despite the inevitable jet lag embarked immediately on a whistle-stop tour of the South Island. My brother seems to have boundless energy and not a care in the world. He's just picked up enough points for speeding in his Beamer to have his licence revoked. For the second time.

The doctor asked me on Wednesday how long it was since I last felt great. I told him ten years. In my last year at Birmingham I really did wake up sometimes and feel pretty damn good. Not because I'd achieved anything or done anything remotely exciting; I was just happy being me and being alive. What I'd give to get back to that.

The sun has shone on Wellington for almost the entire Easter weekend so far. Today was a domestic day - going to the market, ironing, hoovering, cleaning the bathroom, getting rid of an old desk, and making a rhubarb and apple crumble. By my standards quite a productive day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's not fair

It was a slow day at work today. Life is going by in slow motion anyway at the moment, but one of our computerised systems (one of the two I have to use all the time) was down virtually all day, finally spluttering into some kind of life at 4:30. Not only was work impossible, but a lot of yesterday's work had been wiped too. I haven't found it the most intuitive of systems, even in its fully functional state. Before I know where I am, I've got four or five different windows and I never know which one I should be clicking on next. The other system I use is a black-screen jobby that came into being in 1980. As did I. As did Pac-Man. And it does look like one of those eighties games that have since become retro-cool.

I've always been a bit skeptical of computers, at least when they have to do anything remotely important. I remember when my local dentist's in the UK moved from a manual appointment system to a computerised one, and what used to take a few seconds (as the receptionist wrote your name in a book) suddenly took ages. It was like pulling teeth.

I saw the doctor today. When I told him I wanted to taper off my Efexor he was a little concerned at first, but he agreed in the end. I'll drop down to 300 for a month and see how I go. He mentioned counselling but then said I wouldn't qualify (unless I wanted to pay heaps for it) because I still have a job. Great. So they offer ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff counselling.
He said I could get e-counselling however. Man/woman being replaced by computer again.

For the last two months I've oscillated between crap and just about OK (or, in the case of last Friday, actually quite good). The steepness of my latest decline has taken me aback a bit. I really have no idea what caused it. And what's different this time is that I feel angry at the injustice of it all. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I'm trying my best to do everything right - go to the gym, cook and eat proper meals, get to bed at a sensible time, take all the right pills, and so on. Why isn't it making any bloody difference?

I've really got to stop this head-banging stuff. It seems to "work", by replacing a very anxious bad feeling with a much calmer bad feeling, but obviously it isn't good in the long term.

Mum and Dad have just phoned me. Oh god. They're really worried about me - my depression has got past the point of being able to disguise it on the phone. After I'd got off the phone they rang me back again. They'd just discovered You could do this, you could do that, you could do the next thing. Yes (and it is a really good idea), but I can't take anything in right now and I really don't want to talk to anyone. I told Mum to "stop bombarding me with shit."

My brother arrives from the UK tomorrow. He's here for two weeks with his girlfriend. Unfortunately I won't see him.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just when I thought it was all over...

Last Friday I was depression-free and felt (dare I say it) good for the first time in several months. The weekend was decent enough if uneventful. Yesterday I made use of the extra hour by going to the gym before breakfast and getting to the market early. I got to bed early (by my recent standards) last night and although I woke up a few times during the night I probably still got seven hours' sleep. It might as well have been seven minutes. When I got up my nostrils were streaming and I felt exhausted. Work today was a struggle. I lay out in the sun for a bit at lunchtime, grateful for the opportunity, but I still felt like crap. In the afternoon I banged my head on the toilet wall (just once!) before being shown a new task. After 15 minutes of this I told my trainer the two things I wanted to avoid today: having to think and learning anything new. I'm not sure she appreciated that.

I seemed to lose the feeling in my arms and legs today. This happened a lot in 2009. I'm seeing the doctor on Wednesday.