Monday, February 01, 2016

Black Dog Dead - January

Wow, so 2016 started off a real downer, didn’t it?
Bowie, Rickman, Frey and the lesser-known to many but actually pretty significant to my early experiences of Doctor Who and other TV dramas, Robert Banks Stewart. Like a hero cull.

As I’ve said elsewhere, many of us are just at an age where we begin to lose our heroes. No matter whether it’s too soon or whether they have lived to a grand old age. We would much prefer them to be immortal. They are, in a sense. But we still feel their loss keenly. It’s impossible still not to feel a little sadness when I think of Elisabeth Sladen, Caroline John, Mary Tamm. Although that touch of sadness comes hand in hand with a great appreciation for their contribution to – well, I was going to say my childhood and so on – but, ultimately, to me. Heroes help shape who we are.

Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with depression. But if we happen to be suffering with it, then it is another of those contributing external factors that can really seem overwhelming, especially when combined with the general post-Christmas blues and frankly shitty weather that generally characterises this time of year. I’m looking at more of the wet-and-windy gloomfest through the cafĂ© window right now and it’s not doing a whole lot to lift my spirits.

Fortunately, today, they need no external lifting. I’m – what’s the word? – okay. I’m tempted to say good. But something makes me wary of overstating how I am. There’s a cautionary note attached to my self-diagnosis. So let’s go comparative and say way better than I have been.

That first fortnight of the new year, I was fairly miserable. But the chief culprit there was a germ. Some pernicious virus invading my system through the protective barrier of alcohol consumed over the festive season and proclaiming “Contact has been made.” Once it made contact, bloody hell, it settled right in and seemed determined to stay like a malignant microbial squatter. I’d keep shouting at it to leave, in short exclamations ending in *cough* but it paid m no attention. Laundry day required an extra machine just for handkerchiefs.

All right, that last part is pure exaggeration, but it was a menace and I felt grotty. Partly because I wanted to be cracking on with so many projects and things, to make a really good start to 2016.

Two weeks in, it finally packed its biohazardous bags and left, presumably to make greener pastures in someone else. Yours truly was free to throw himself into those projects and, even if I didn’t have a whole lot of energy to burn I did feel highly motivated. Determined, I guess, to make up for lost time.

Here we are at the end of January and a rough estimate concludes that I’ve achieved approximately half of what I’d hoped in this month. And several things that I’d not planned on achieving at all.

Which is about what you’d expect plus bonuses.

Now, I’m training myself out of the habit of measuring my days, weeks or months purely in terms of what I’ve achieved. There has to be more to the mental health and self-worth scale than that. But for right now I can look at the things I’ve done in the face of a poorly start and take that as an indicator. On top of that, I know that in the latter half of January I’ve had far more good days than bad.

There were times, moments usually, when the Black Dog threatened and one seriously down and strangely tearful day. Like I hadn’t shed enough fluids already with the damned cold.

But even there I was able to identify a clear and distinct trigger. And this was a new phenomenon to me.

There were moments in the wake of a really really good day where essentially I looked for someone to tell, to share that with, and felt the lack as keenly as any loss. Ironically, it cut sharper than when I’ve felt a need for someone to talk to about a bad day. I guess in part because when I’ve had a bad day, a really bad day, my assumption is that nobody will want to hear it. Whereas a good day, a really good day, surely everyone wants to hear about those. Anyway, yep, I’ve a suspicion it’s that old devil called loneliness at work.

Again, nothing to do with depression and a common enough condition. But a dangerous contributor to the Black Dog. Might as well coat yourself in Baker’s Complete and invite the Black Dog in to feast.

So, what’s the course of action now, especially in light of the clear progress I’ve made throughout 2015.

Obviously, the ultimate goal is to take that Black Dog out back and put a shotgun to its head like Old Yeller. In that event it would probably rise from the dead and continue to shamble after me like a canine zombie, but they key word there is shamble. There’s every chance I can outrun it if it’s undead.

The mission then for this year ought to be focused primarily on tackling those contributing factors – or rather, how I deal with them. It’s akin to dosing up on Lemsip, Echinacea and burying yourself under several duvets and a cat to combat the symptoms of a cold. You can’t immunise yourself totally against the germs and once they’re in they’re probably going to run their natural course, but you can alleviate the effects to some degree.

Clearly, with the best will in the world, I’m not going to be able to prevent further hero culls. Although I am fighting the good fight there to a tiny degree, as royalties from my Evil UnLtd series will continue to go to Cancer Research UK. That and an appropriate spell of mourning coupled with a celebration of their lives and works is pretty much all anyone can do.

Loneliness? A trickier foe, perhaps. But there are measures that can be taken. Getting out, taking a night off. I’m very lucky to have friends I can go seek out or bump into randomly on the street (Penzance is a small town) and even luckier that some of them are such brilliant company they can lift me with just a few words or a laugh. One of my favourite people has a smile that I really think ought to be available on the NHS: one sight of that smile and you’re set for the day. And then there are the friends that you don’t see but they’re only a Facebook post away. It’s not proper social human contact, but many people’s personalities manage to shine through the screen.

Meanwhile, since I’ve been busier and more creative/productive than ever it would seem to make sense to continue in that vein. Besides the achievement factor, it delivers other – probably more significant progress – in terms of confidence and feeling generally happier within myself. That is a change that others are able to see.

Only the other day a friend told me, “You’re looking well.” It surprised me – my first thought was, “Am I?” But hearing it worked wonders. As though it needed someone else to observe the improvement in me in order for me to quite believe it. Gold dust. 

And I will take that and bank it and let it earn interest.

Am I rid of the Black Dog?

Probably not.

But I have shotgun and ammunition.

SAF 2016

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Black Dog Down - Happy New Year!

There are two questions that colour conversations this time of year.

1) Did you have a good Christmas?

2) What are your New Year's resolutions?

The second one is invariably answered with complete honesty, although we know in our hearts that there’s no way in hell we’re going to follow through on all those resolutions. But it’s not uncommon to have to answer the first one with a lie or two. Maybe you suffer with depression or maybe life just served you up one of its special curveballs.

Shit, let’s face it, is no respecter of calendars. Sometimes when Santa is delivering lots of goodies his reindeer crap all over your house.

If you’re already depressed or vulnerable, all that Christmas pressure to be of good cheer and not dampen the party atmosphere can prove too much. It has dangerous potential to isolate you further and although the act of pretending to be fine can work to beneficial effect – the old ‘fake it til you feel it’ approach – it can cost you dear and, as with any recreational drug, can result in a crash.

For me, this year, I’m glad to be able to say – without having to lie or give it any positive spin – I had a great Christmas, thanks for asking.

Shit happened. You can be certain of that. And it affected me – as it should. But amidst all that, despite of it, there were spells that qualify as one of my best Christmasses ever.

What the hell, as they say, is that about?

Worry not, I’m not about to go into describing every specific brand of shit that came my way over the Christmas period – nobody wants to read that on New Year’s Eve – but allow me to cite a few examples for their educational value.

In the run-up to Christmas, I learned I’d been blocked and unfriended by someone on Facebook. Not the most traumatic of experiences, I appreciate, but this was one that actually mattered. See, I’d met the guy a few times, disagreed on practically everything but got on like a house on fire all the same. Respected, admired the fellow greatly. And he once told me, “If you ever have a problem with me, just tell me to my face.” An approach, by the way, which I fully endorse and support. So for that and because of the kind of person he is, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why the hell this guy, of all people, would choose to sever all ties like that. It upset me, dear reader.

Now, I couldn’t control my reaction. Couldn’t just tell myself not to get upset. What I managed to do though was give myself full permission to be upset... but only for a day. That’s right. I imposed a 24-hour time-limit on those feelings. And it worked! Woke up the following morning and was actually, genuinely able to shrug.

I’m relating the ‘incident’ now and it doesn’t even qualify as an incident. Somebody burns a bridge? Why automatically assume there was anything to be missed on the other side?

I daresay this whole time-limit method would not work on more serious upsets  – and how would you gauge in advance how long you would need to grieve, feel pissed off, cry your heart out etc for any given trauma? – but it’s something I intend to apply to the smaller stuff in the future.

Lost an aunt on Christmas Eve. There’s no statute of limitations on that. I deliberately refrained from acknowledging that loss on social media because I didn’t – and still don’t – wish to invite sympathies. Sympathies and heartfelt thoughts should go to my uncle and cousins because the loss is theirs, above all others. I mention it here because it does put other shit into perspective and because it’s the one thing I feel a little guilt over, for managing to still go ahead and enjoy Christmas.

But she always referred to me as her ‘favourite nephew’ and always wished me a Happy Christmas so, yeah, I went ahead and had one. I think what outweighs that niggle of guilt is how impressed I am with my ability to have a good time. For someone previously so easily knocked for six by (sometimes the smallest) provocations, the fact that I could feel the loss and yet do more than survive that day and actually feel part of the party atmosphere, among great friends and family (special mention to my very special sister) is probably one of the biggest indicators of the progress I’ve made versus the Black Dog over the course of this past year.

This does not, of course, mean I am suddenly impervious or invincible.

Whether or not I needed any reminder of that, life supplied one on Boxing Day. There I was in the pub, again in the company of brilliant friends and my favourite sister. And some dill-wallop, over-soused on alcohol and surliness, decides to turn on me for no reason whatsoever. I’m happy to speak my mind and take the consequences but in this case I hadn’t uttered a word or said boo to a goose. But I guess in the absence of any easier target this fellow who preferred to think with his fists advanced on me with menaces. It might have turned to a fight if his chosen opponent was at all given to violence, but all I did was back up and, succumb to the shock of the occasion. In fact, I’m afraid to say, dear reader, I cried. It was not a pretty sight.

Not something a ringside audience wants to see and definitely something that would’ve, in the past, had the capacity to spoil what had been a really fun night. It didn’t though. Because I didn’t allow it.

In similar fashion to my time-limited response to Mr Facebook I allowed myself only a short period to acknowledge the upset (dry the tears, for one), reminded myself of the bloody nicer, sparklier episodes of that evening and, I suppose, applied a bit of perspective. That is to say, demoted the unfortunate incident to its appropriate rank.

The fact is, the tears had far less to do with that dung-brained belligerent than he probably imagined. He was just the extra asshole I didn’t need at that time. And let’s face it, none of us requires an extra asshole. One of our own is quite sufficient at any time.

Ultimately, as the New Year approaches, all this brings us to a principle I’ve long held and endeavoured to apply. Not always successfully, but I’m still persuaded it’s a useful one.

Shed any weight that can’t be turned into muscle.

Obviously, I’m not talking about physical weight. That would require diet and exercise and I am hopeless at those. (And by the way, if you are unhappy with the way you look, by all means, tackle your own physical weight – but the key word there is ‘you’. Don’t be compelled by what others think or what you imagine they think of you.) No, I speak only of those things in life that burden you or drag you down and are of no benefit whatsoever.

Maybe that’s what Mr Facebook was doing. Maybe I’d ceased to be of any use to him. Well, fair enough then and clearly he’s done my job for me there. But I wouldn’t toss aside friends, online or otherwise, lightly. Because friends are a gain in and of themselves, to be welcomed and valued. Those go only if they’re proving detrimental, in which case ‘friend’ is too strong a word for them, isn’t it. You may well feel the loss of them, regardless, but my advice would be, sure, feel it, but not for long.

So, in summary, did I have a good Christmas?

Yes, thanks, really great.

What are my New Year’s resolutions?

Cut down on the drinking. But most of all, cut down on the shit. The quantity of shit that hits the fan and comes my way is not something I have any great control over, but I do have some control over how it affects me and for how long.

And as it happens even before 2016 has started I already have three – no, four – really brilliant things to look forward to and get excited about in the New Year. That, if you’ll pardon my language, is fucking awesome.

And excuse me while I go celebrate that in advance.

Happy New Year to you all.

SAF 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Further Advents In Time And Space No.24

The Husbands Of River Song

The Husbands Of River Song
Is a title that feels quite wrong
It suggests much divorce
When she could’ve, of course,
Been married to me all along

SAF 2015

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Further Advents In Time And Space No.23


At the heart of a new battle ground
Lies a lake where King Arthur’s drowned
A demon brings blights
And soldiers fight knights
Like a lot of folks LARPing around

SAF 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Further Advents In Time And Space No.22

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy

Circus tents stand in the sun
Entertaining three gods for fun
If acts fail to please
They end up deceased
The way talent shows ought to be run

SAF 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Further Advents In Time And Space No.21

Remembrance Of The Daleks

Two lots of Dalek troops land
To battle for Omega’s Hand
They can’t be all that
One’s killed with a bat
It might be their time to re-brand

SAF 2015