Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wishful thinking

It was wishful thinking that I might be over this yucky patch. I didn't feel too bad this morning. I watched the darts - two very good quarter-finals that both went down to the wire, each going to a tie-break in the final set. I noticed that Kirk Bevins (Countdown champion and now a trainee actuary) was the announcer for the second match. After that I felt I should actually do something constructive but even just a short walk was a major effort. I felt like I could collapse at any moment. Martin came over just after 3pm, and some human contact was just what I needed, even if I couldn't stop myself from yawning. I asked him if there were any vacancies at his work, even though I wouldn't fancy my chances of holding down a new job for any length of time right now. We played a game of chess, and I was all at sea ("so you're just offering me your knight?!") but I actually lost more slowly than I guessed I might. He then stayed for dinner - I just used some leftover turkey and ham and boiled up some vegetables. I was more than happy for him to stay - even though I was feeling like crap, I figured that being alone would make me feel even worse. Martin wolfed down that food with incredible speed, and didn't leave a scrap. Surprisingly he asked if we could play Scrabble. I fared a bit better than in the chess (and got better selections than in the game on Boxing Day), winning by 320 to 175, despite getting an unplayable Q near the end.

I'm less tired now than I was several hours ago, but with work tomorrow I should probably think about hitting the sack.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Depression - it doesn't take time off over Christmas

Maybe I'm coming out of yet another depressive spell, and soon it will be completely wiped from my memory. I hope so. In case it does get wiped, I'll mention right now that things got seriously shitty.

I've had all the physical symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, without (yet) the chronic bit, plus a whole load of really crappy stuff going on in my head.

I was able to finish work at three on Christmas Eve, but still felt (and looked) completely shattered when I got home. I remember it being an unpleasantly weird day for me, but I've mostly forgotten the details. Dad was also struggling: his tablets to help him pee less often during the night had the side-effect of reducing his blood pressure. We went to church at St Joseph's, a modern building just around the corner. The sermon was unlike anything you'd get in Geraldine. The priest told a story, but not the nativity story, and even used a spade as a prop. At times he switched to Spanish - he must have spent some time in South America. There was also a lot of Maori being spoken, even though I could hardly see any Maori among the 400-plus-strong congregation.

On Christmas morning Mum put the turkey in the oven, then we went for a long walk (at least 10 km) around the bays. It was good to make the most of the sunny weather, but neither Dad nor I was quite in the right state for that sort of distance. Mum forged on ahead, anxious that the whole apartment block might have burnt down, though at least the seismic risk problem would have been solved. The building was still intact when we finally got home, and we had a good Christmas dinner: turkey, ham, lots of vegetables, Christmas pudding, not much alcohol. Mum even made those extremely tasty devils on horseback (prunes wrapped in bacon). It made a nice change having it in my flat with the sun streaming in, and with just the three of us. (I don't think I could have faced a big extended-family Christmas, and I'm pretty sure Dad couldn't have faced that prospect either.) It turns out my brother also had a quiet Christmas with a friend of his - they go back a long way. We then went over to my cousin's place and sat outside (and grazed, as if we needed more food) in the early evening sun.

On Boxing Day we took my old TV to the tip (that cost $5), picked up a few $2 books from there, then drove around the coast. Mum and Dad had their eyes on properties and for-sale signs - they'd like to buy an apartment here at some stage. That evening we played Scrabble. Mum had a really good game, as evidenced by the speed at which she played (the whole game only lasted an hour) and how little complaining she did. I didn't do so well. I had a bunch of letters that didn't go together (F, U, V, W) and no esses or blanks or anything remotely useful like that. I did have the J and the X - at the same time, quite late in the game. Mum must have beaten me by forty-odd, with Dad, who was unlucky to get stuck with the Q, a bit further behind.

Yesterday I was at work, and it was a shocker of a day. At one point I ended up in the store room. I couldn't find anything I needed, and I must have balanced myself on two box trolleys, rocking back and forth, knocking brochures and letterhead and envelopes off shelves, not really caring. It wasn't too bad being in the store room really, as long as I didn't attract anyone's attention, or heaven forbid, someone actually came in. They didn't. At lunchtime I ventured outside, as always, even though the weather was horrible. I sat in the food court and opened Love in the Time of Cholera at page one. I read and re-read the first few lines over and over, not getting anywhere. As far as work was concerned, I might easily have entered incorrect bank account details and a lot worse. Walking to and from work, and even just around the office, was painfully slow. Later we saw the second Hobbit movie, which I thought was very good, even if I struggled to concentrate for 2¾ hours. If I suffered from arachnophobia I probably wouldn't have lasted very long. The end, which absolutely invites you to see part three in a year's time, was a bit of a surprise to me.

Mum and Dad flew back home this morning. We'd had a pretty good Christmas together, even if both Dad and I were struggling. No arguments, apart from the one on Monday when I broached the topic of work. That's always been the number one source of arguments with my parents. After dropping them off at the airport I went to the market then attempted to put up a small ad for a flatmate in New World in Newtown. I asked one of the staff who wasn't very helpful - they don't have that facility - and in reply I dropped the F-bomb on her. When I got home, for some reason I remembered that the darts would be on so I found a live stream. I saw an extremely high-quality match where a bloke by the name of Peter Wright, sporting a mohican and a tattoo of a snake on his face, averaged a whopping 106 but still only squeaked past his younger opponent 4-3 in sets. It's changed so much since I watched it as a kid - with all the walk-on music and cheerleaders, it's become a lot like the rugby sevens. I received a website-related email that I was supposed to act on, but it was all beyond me. I got very frustrated and rolled around on the floor shouting. I walked into town and sat out on the waterfront for a while. There's nothing like Christmas to make me even more aware of the passing of time, and I just sat there with my head in my hands. Life is slipping away and Mum and Dad and me, we're all getting older and it's all happening so damn fast. My brother's getting older too and I have no idea when I'll see him next. I've now had eleven Christmases since I landed in Christchurch. Christmas in 2023 or 2024 doesn't even bear thinking about. I happened to bump into my cousin and her family. Their youngest was riding a bike; he picked it up almost instantly just a few days ago. When I got home I made myself go to the gym. That's probably the best thing I could have done. I then spoke to Richard, and I'm certainly feeling better now. I came off the Efexor a few days earlier than planned (because I was feeling terrible) and that might have made me feel even more terrible. It's anyone's guess.

The 60th anniversary of the Tangiwai disaster, which killed 151 people, received some media attention (including a very unjolly radio programme on Christmas afternoon) and with such a huge death toll I'm utterly ashamed that I didn't know anything about it before.

Sometimes I think they should bring back public flogging. Those teenagers who attacked that German couple camping in Whakatane on Boxing Day certainly deserve it.

About ten days ago Louis Theroux did a programme on American autistic kids and their incredible parents. Boy do those parents have it tough. I'm glad they touched on life for these kids after childhood. The saddest bit for me was when the mother of an autistic boy talked about praying for a miracle every time she goes to church. Her (non-autistic) daughter said, "Mom, God made him that way" to which the mother said, "Yes, God made him that way to teach me a lesson."

Here's hoping my mini-revival continues. I'll be catching up with Martin tomorrow.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Feeling funny

I've been feeling a bit funny the last few days. Dizziness. Weird tingling sensations. No feeling in my limbs. Lack of energy. Whether it's Efexor withdrawal or something else I don't know.

Mum and Dad arrived yesterday. It was really good to see them, and we get on pretty well (as long as I don't mention anything about work). We had a very tasty (and inexpensive) meal at a Chinese restaurant on Kent Terrace last night. As a rule regarding Chinese food, the less Chinese it is the more likely I am to enjoy it.

The upturn in the economy has made consumerism even more depressingly rampant than in recent Decembers; a combination of that and my own financial situation has put me in an even less Christmassy mood than normal. But when we had festive music playing at work today, I thought, you know what, some of this is actually very good. Especially the one by Slade, which is surely the best of them all.

David Coleman, BBC sports commentator for almost half a century, has died at the age of 87. There was something about the way he said, "The Olympic 400 metres final" that made me think, this is important.

We'll probably be going to church tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Game shame

Back to work today, and a reminder of why it was so nice to have that week off.

The autism Christmas party went well tonight I thought. There was plenty of food and plenty of chat. There were also a few games going on. Tom had brought along Cards Against Humanity, a game he'd printed off the internet. When I got the gist of the game (I'd never heard of it), I was really surprised he (and not Rob, a guy who might be into that kind of thing) had brought it. It's a party game, but certainly not a nice party game, and not (I would think) a game that anyone on the spectrum would enjoy. All the pop-culture references, the sexual themes, the potential to cause serious offence. It's an extremely "neurotypical" game and I'm glad I didn't play (the novelty would have worn off for me after ten minutes) but I must admit that hearing "bitches" followed by "crystal meth" followed by "a big black dick" coming from the next table, at an autism Christmas party, was hilarious. At our table we played Bananagrams, a fast-paced word game; 8:30 came around extremely quickly for me playing that, and I could quite happily still be playing now (it's ten past midnight but I couldn't sleep).

My dad has an exhibition in Timaru. It opened yesterday, with no shortage of food and wine to hopefully entice potential buyers. And they did buy: Dad sold six paintings on the day. That might (or might not) sound like a modest number, but some of those were the bigger, more expensive ones. There's definitely wealth in South Canterbury - people have sold farms and found themselves with big bank balances all of a sudden. As well as cars and (occasionally) paintings, they've been spending their money on overseas travel, and that might be why five the six paintings Dad sold were scenes from outside the country - in the past it's always been local scenes that have sold.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


So the Christmas party came and went. It wasn't that bad. I was very glad I missed the events of the afternoon, pictures of which formed a never-ending slide show. The food was good. I drank enough to look like I was almost participating, but not enough to put me out of commission for the next day (which, I'm guessing, is less than it once was). One of my older colleagues impressed me as she told me about her vinyl collection (5000 records). The event didn't finish till midnight and some people would have carried on at some establishment (The Establishment?) on Courtenay Place, but I sloped off at about nine. The chances are (70%?) I won't be attending next year's party.

I got an email on Friday that made me a bit more optimistic about 2014. It wouldn't take much (just one or two lowish-probability events that appear to be outside my influence!) for things get much better, and for all kinds of possibilities to open up, and break the cycle of impossibility that I've found myself in.

On Thursday night another British guy took a look at my flat. He'd seen the Pak 'n' Save ad, not the TradeMe one; the demographics of the two would be slightly different. He'd be a bit older than the other guy, maybe my kind of age. He worked as a tree surgeon and was still in his work clothes. I'd be more than happy for him to move in, but it seemed he needed somewhere a bit sooner than I could offer. I feel a bit funny showing people around (although it was easier with him than the younger bloke). Why has he got this much space to himself? Did his wife leave him and take the kids with her?

Mum and Dad will be spending Christmas with me. They're staying from the 22nd (next Sunday) to the 28th. I'm looking forward to it. My cousin wants us to go over to their place but my parents aren't that keen, and neither am I. We want to keep things as low-key as possible, especially after last year when things got high-key rather quickly.

I played a lot of MGMT on my week off. Yesterday I heard a song by Elton John on the radio called Grey Seal - luckily it was on the Sound and I was able to search their playlist and find it. I'd only ever heard it a couple of times before. Great song, even though I'm not sure what the lyrics mean. I must check out more of his stuff.

I didn't go to the cricket but I snapped this picture of the scoreboard on Friday - the third, and as it happened, last day of NZ's win over the West Indies. It doesn't make happy reading for the Windies - you can see that their last four batsmen were all bowled for a duck in the first innings, and they were forced to follow on. I note that they had both a Samuels and a Sammy on the team - there must be some joke there about playing it again.

Tomorrow the autism group have their Christmas party. Plenty of new faces have appeared this year, and some have gone too. The only male facilitator we had - the one whose football team reached the semi-finals of the Chatham Cup - left because he was too busy. That's a shame - he was a thoroughly nice bloke, and he provided some balance to the other facilitators.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The edge of madness

It's been good to have the week off. At the back end of last week I think I was going slightly mad. My mental and physical processes had slowed to a crawl. On Friday it took me half an hour just to walk home from work; I was drumming on my lunchbox and mumbling to myself (well a bit more than just mumbling) the whole way. If I hadn't already decided to take this whole week off, I'd have called in sick last Thursday and Friday. Unusually, I'm fairly sure what triggered this latest episode. In this instance it was work, which is a hair-trigger for me.

Continuing the subject of madness, perhaps, the body of Australian tennis coach Paul Arber was found in the Waikato River this morning. An exceptional tennis player in his own right, he was in Hamilton for a junior tournament. Some passers-by saw him swimming in the river in the early hours of Sunday morning. They talked him out of the water, but he went back, and that was the last anybody saw of him alive. His behaviour was described as being "distant and spiritual" shortly before he went missing. Something clearly wasn't right with him; I doubt anyone will figure out exactly what. It's all very sad.

Last Friday somebody at work saw on the Stuff website that Nelson Mandela had died, and apart from some Chinese-whispers-style confusion where a few people thought that Nigella Lawson had popped her clogs instead, nobody really paid the story much attention. I suppose it has been coming for some time, and most people at work are too young to really remember apartheid and what the great man stood for and achieved. I'd put myself in that category. I remember watching the 70th birthday concert - he was still in prison then - but at that age (eight) all I thought was, old man, in prison, that's bad, let him out. There were a lot of musical protests and tributes back then too; I still think Paul Simon's Graceland album, though controversial at the time, was amazing.
Mandela's passing has received wall-to-wall media coverage and rightly so. New Zealand has always had close ties to South Africa through rugby and the high numbers of South Africans (50,000) living here. Being in Browns Bay on the day of the World Cup final in 2007 - oh my.
I've just read that the sign-language interpreter at Mandela's memorial service, whose gestures were pure gibberish, has claimed he suffered a schizophrenic episode prior to appearing on stage.

On Saturday I attended the anxiety group Christmas party along with nearly thirty others. It was quite enjoyable, mainly because it was pretty low-key. I could tell the staff at the Speights Ale House were hoping we could all just go home and put them out of their misery. We weren't drinking very much Speights. The guy who runs the group, whom I know reasonably well, has done a remarkable job. The group has grown from fifty-odd members when I signed up to about 350 now. A real success story. (For me the increased numbers has actually made things harder; there are now so many events organised by so many people - heck, even I organised one - that it's hard to know whether I'm coming or going.)

This week I've been busy using my brain in a way I want to be using it, which is a rarity for me. I've been trying to revamp a website using WordPress. The user interface is great, but it's still really really hard. I've had to monkey around with the code (and I'm really just fumbling in the dark there) more than I expected. I struggled to find a so-called "theme" that was appropriate so I had to pick one and customise it - that's a bit of a dangerous thing to do. I've installed a couple of plugins to stop things from happening (I guess most people install plugins to make things happen, but not me.)
I toyed with the idea of going to the test cricket, what with taking the week off work and being a two-minute walk from the Basin where it's all happening, but I've really got to crack on with this website business.

On Monday Tracy, Tom and I played an extremely crazy and chaotic (but enjoyable) board game called Wiz-War. Luck played a huge part, so even though I had to ask Tracy what this or that card allowed me to do (which meant she'd know what I had and could plot a strategy accordingly) I ended up the winner. It was a very close finish - in cricketing terms I won off the last ball with only one wicket left.

Tomorrow they've got the work Christmas party. This year they're kicking off the party at lunchtime with some kind of team-building event. The dinner bit starts at 4:30. Last Friday my boss asked me whether (on my day off) I'd be going to the whole thing or just the dinner bit. Umm, are you sure there isn't another option? So I'll pop along at half-four (or quarter to five) and hope I don't have to stay too long. The first couple of hours (food, the odd drink) will be OK, but at that point I hit the wall. I mean, what are you supposed to do then? More drink, just because it's something to do, and tactical loo breaks every half-hour. That's about as good as it ever gets. I spoke to Mum on the phone tonight, and mentioned the party. She enthusiastically told me to enjoy it, asking if I had a smart shirt ready, adding in "be sociable". There are several helpful things she could have said, but she didn't pick one. It's funny - over the last few years her understanding of "what it's like" has improved no end, but she still comes out with things like this that make me think she's got no idea.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Latest slump

I'm now down to just one small Efexor pill every second day, and in the new year I'll be off it completely. At one point I was taking the equivalent of ten small pills every day. Coincidentally I've been feeling like crap the last couple of days, with little energy or strength.

I'm pretty sure it's work, not medication, that has caused this latest slump, and I'm equally sure that I'll keep getting these slumps for as long as I'm in this job. I guess I was a bit pissed off with mixing up those accounts. What happens to our customers is something I care about, so to make an error that directly affects two customers is disappointing (if not at all surprising). But it's more the regime change, the new boss, the way they want me to be part of this big amazing team, the way I'm getting more like a busier version of Bill Bailey in this episode of Black Books every day, the way I don't want to be there any more. And the fact that I can't see any other realistic options that would be better.

I wonder, out of curiosity, what kind of grade I'll get in my annual assessment. For some reason I kept all six of my assessment letters from my job in Auckland. They were a bit more meaningful because they determined the size of my bonus (wow, a bonus, that feels like a long time ago). My personal score only counted for a third of my incentive, the department and the whole company being responsible for the rest. The first time my boss gave me two out of ten. At the time I hardly gave it a moment's thought (It was a pro-rata bonus as I'd only been there a short while, so the dollar impact was pretty small) but seriously? Two? The following year they changed the rules. If you didn't get at least four for your personal score, you weren't entitled to any bonus at all. I had a long meeting with my boss, punctuated by a fire drill, and she agreed to give me a four. The next time (far shorter meeting) I got another four. Then, shock horror, an eight! How? Ah yes, a change of boss. Someone who appreciated me. Then (another change of boss), it was back to four. Finally, my boss took pity on me and wangled the assessment to give me yet another four.

I was going to write more but I'm not at all in the mood. The good news is that my mood will improve again, and the even better news is that I've taken next week off.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A matter of time (and space)

I've just been to see Gravity in the Hutt with the Meetup group. It's a "space thriller" starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Being a Tuesday we were able to (affordably) sit in the deluxe lounge and see it in 3D. Even though I lay back in a reclining chair to watch it, I was on the edge of my seat. My muscles tensed up; it was like playing a video game and leaning into the corners. The distinct lack of characters was a big plus for me, and I like the way Sandra Bullock played the part of a strong woman. That movie really got into my head, in a good way (I hope). I'm glad I saw an earlyish showing, otherwise I probably wouldn't sleep tonight.

Today my boss informed me that I'd made a fairly significant cock-up. Back in May I'd loaded the same account details on two policies that were completely unrelated, except that I dealt with them at almost the same time. So someone has been paying for both (he's only just noticed that), and someone else has had free cover for seven months. Oops. I apologised several times. We'll have to refund the money to the bloke who has paid twice, and hopefully get some of the money out of the guy (or girl, I'm not sure which) who has paid nothing. I'm not at all surprised that I've made a mistake like this. I pick up a lot of my own mistakes before they become a problem; I've always wondered how many I must miss. I make so many notes and they save me so many times, but when I can't remember what I did a minute ago, this sort of thing is bound to happen. This error led my boss to have a bit of a "chat" about my performance, and how we can improve it in the new year. The chat wasn't that bad, but I didn't like that it was in full view of everybody. She's done this before (and worse) with other people, and I find it unprofessional and a bit embarrassing.

I'm not sure I can improve my performance, or that I'd want to. The end will come sooner or later, whatever I do. In this sort of job the nearest thing to a good outcome for me is avoiding bad ones, and I can only do that for so long.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

That wasn't clever, Boris

I was a bit distracted at work on Friday morning. I was reading this article and the subsequent comments, which now number 2200. The article relates to Boris Johnson, mayor of London and possible future British prime minister, who made a highly controversial speech about inequality and IQ. He noted that as many as 16% "of our species" have an IQ below 85, while only 2% have an IQ above 130; he said we should do more to help the 2%.

His numbers are correct, purely by definition of how IQ scores are calculated. Modern IQ tests are designed so that scores are normally distributed (i.e. they give one of those nice bell-shaped curves) with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, and because of how the normal distribution works, you get those percentages that Johnson mentioned in his speech, and they never go up or down. (Well there is something called the Flynn effect that Tracy mentioned recently, whereby performances in IQ tests improve over time, so they have to tweak the test, or the way it's scored, to keep those percentages the same. There's evidence that the Flynn effect is slowing down or has even stopped altogether.)

So Boris got his numbers right, but that's about it. Some people got dealt a nice hand, and some didn't. But to focus only on those who did would be crazy and dangerous, and that's before you look at how blunt an instrument an IQ test is. Then he said: I stress – I don't believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity. Well hard work and determination absolutely should be rewarded, but not all powerful and successful people get there as a result of hard work, and likewise most people who are struggling aren't in that position because they couldn't be arsed. A lot of it is down to, as I said, the hand they were dealt at birth, as well as their upbringing. Martin, and that game of Scrabble, is a good example. Now he isn't stupid at all. But he didn't get a good formal education, and was never brought up to see that as being important. He said that, despite being born in 1987, he's far from a digital native. They had the internet at home when he was in his teens, and you can learn a lot from that, but his dad never let him or his brother use it. Having weird parents like that doesn't help.

Intellectual elitism, and smugness, is something I have no time for. I see it a lot, and I think it's very unhelpful. I had a friend in the UK who became a maths teacher. One day she was teaching one of the bottom streams. "These kids all think that 0.25 + 0.3 is 0.28. How could you possibly be so dumb as to think that?! When I was their age, well, younger than them, I got it straight away." Well I got it straight away when I was a kid too, but like you, I was lucky. Why shouldn't you think it's 0.28? And the fact that 0.3 is bigger than 0.25, that's not obvious at all.

Intellectual arrogance, unfortunately, is rife among so-called high-functioning people on the autistic spectrum. I'm absolutely right, and nothing you say will stop me from being right. And some of them don't mind boasting about their achievements either. Tracy, for instance, talked about an IQ test she took at school. Apparently she did so well that her score appeared as a blank in their system. The staff misinterpreted this, and Tracy wondered why she got chucked in with all the stupid kids. It's a funny story, and an alarming one (the staff didn't even notice how well she'd done in the test and stream her accordingly?) but Tracy certainly didn't mind telling us that she had an off-the-scale IQ. (I'd guess I'd score reasonably well, but not off-the-scale well, in an IQ test, but I've never felt like finding out - it just doesn't seem relevant.)

I've just started reading a book called The Nether Regions by Sue Gough. The library were offloading a bunch of books - I think I paid 50 cents for it. I'm actually half-way through already - good going for me. The story is based in Brisbane, and as the title suggests, a lot of the content is biological. Interestingly, for parts of the story, the narrator is mute. I wish the author wouldn't use such complicated words! I keep having to look things up in the dictionary, and sometimes the word isn't there. Numinous, is that like luminous? Or numerous? It gets over a million hits in Google so why didn't I know it? Maybe if I had a higher IQ. Or if I read more.

It's been a superb day here in Wellington. A great start to summer - let's hope it continues like this.