Give Me A Crowd

Vladimir Lenin speaking to a crowd.

Vladimir Lenin speaking to a crowd.

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?”

They’re not the the only alternatives though. I’m not comfortable in front of people or with people. Social anxiety. If I’m surrounded by people I can get tightly wound and feel like everyone is judging me. In any given social situation I feel like I’m “in front of people”.

Strangely, though I am nervous beforehand, I have no problem with public speaking. I’ve spoken at weddings, funerals, birthdays and conferences without any real problem. Indeed people tell me I do well speaking in public.

That, of course, may be part of the reason. Success always makes subsequent performance easier.

I believe that’s not the only reason. I think the core reason is that public speaking has a structure. Going in you already have all the information you need to get to the end.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I’ve been diagnosed with mild Asperger’s and one of the symptoms I have is a difficulty in reading people. In an unstructured social situation the people you are talking to give you a multitude of signs about the conversation such as when they want to say something, if they are interested or bored and so on. I have trouble reading those signs. It makes me nervous and uncomfortable.

Give me a situation I can understand and prepare for in advance then my intelligence, love of theatre and strong command of the language come to the fore. I actually enjoy that first moment when the nervousness of the preparation disappears with the first intake of breath ready for the first sentence.

Just a few weeks ago I spoke at Jessica’s 21st. It wasn’t a large crowd, perhaps twenty of her friends, but it went well. Every time I speak in public I like to put a small joke close to the front. The experts say something about the effect of that on the audience but I do it because it has an effect on me. When you get that laugh back you know you have an audience.

So give me public speaking ahead of cocktail party conversation. How about you?

An Interesting Day – R U OK?

R U OK? DAY Bondi Beach. Awesome morning! Hope...

R U OK? DAY (Photo credit: andy@atbondi)

Today was R U OK Day here in Australia. It’s a day promoted by the foundation of the same name, “a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging all people to regularly and meaningfully ask ‘are you ok?’ to support those struggling with life”, as they put it. They believe suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

Over the past few days I have shared a fair number of their posts on Facebook so it would be almost impossible for any of my friends there to not know it was on. It would also be impossible for anyone who knows me to be unaware that I have been fighting major depression for the last eighteen months.

Socialisation is so good for me. Getting out and talking to people and connecting to the world. As I’ve mentioned Jessi just turned 21 and her 21st birthday party was better than drugs. It had a knock on effect, I felt better after the party so I managed to get some serious tasks done and that also made me feel better. Of course it eventually faded.

I also have to admit that I am not the best social companion at the moment. I am prone to spending at least part of the time telling you about how terrible I feel and my current anxieties, though not all the time. I will, as an example from a recent drink and a meal with a friend showed, be perfectly happy to spend half an hour on a pointless argument about the digital review system in international cricket or listening to how you are going and some of your troubles.

I now find it difficult to try organising or asking for social connections. It only took a few misses, knock-backs and last minute cancellations before I found myself with a terrible anxiety about rejection. I have tried to make it clear that I would really like social contacts from small gatherings to just a cup of coffee or a drink with a friend.

Given all that how many of my friends do you think were reminded today that they haven’t talked to me on the phone or made any contact apart from Facebook in many months? Don’t know the answer to that but I can tell you that not one actually picked up the phone.

It’s pretty easy to find yourself feeling lonely and isolated when you’re suffering depression. I don’t have a full time job at the moment so I can sometimes go weeks without talking to anyone apart from Jessica or the people in the supermarket. Beating myself up is easy. Feeling that nobody cares and nothing helps is all too familiar. Having a day like today makes it almost impossible to not think of myself as friendless, worthless and a failure.

In case you’re wondering, yes I did. I rang a friend who lives at a long distance and spent a few minutes checking how he had been going. He’s fine, a new job has lifted him out of his hole. Oh, and to my friends, don’t feel guilty, that’s not what this is about and you were (obviously) not the only one.

Please, if you know someone going through a rough time then make sure you stay in touch. If you really care then you might even want to put a repeating entry into your calendar, “Phone Steve”. Google Calendar even allows you to have something repeat with a gap in any number of days so you can set it to some number like 17 or 23 so your friend doesn’t think “Pete rings every third Friday”. Then be prepared for a little real conversation, be ready to arrange a cup of coffee or a drink. If you go to the R U OK Day website they have some tips on how to do that.

You could save a life. Perhaps even mine.

Thank You

English: A female doctor examines a child.

 A female doctor examines a child. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).”

So what to be thankful for? I can’t be thankful for my health; my asthma is currently terrible due to the fires around Sydney yesterday and major depression isn’t fun.

People? Should I be thankful for my friends? I don’t feel I have friends I

rely on. I’ve often felt quite alone and unsupported over the last 18 months.

There is one person I’d like to thank. Many (many) years ago I asked a woman I was sharing a house with to recommend a doctor nearby and she pointed me towards a family practice in Enmore. There I found Sheila and for the last thirty years (almost) she has been my GP. A good GP is a blessing, a great GP is a miracle.

Sheila is incredible, not only is she a good doctor she knows all the best specialists and she makes sure to get feedback on how you like the people she refers you to.

Then there is the help she gave me when major depression hit early last year. There was a few months where she was seeing me once a week just so I could walk into her office and cry for fifteen minutes and she would listen to me vent my pain, talk to me and keep me grounded and here. Since she has spent many hours listen to me complain about side effects as we went through a half a dozen different drugs that didn’t work before we found something that did any good.

In this day and age she does house calls. She also gave me her mobile number once and told me to phone her, when I didn’t she called me.

Sheila is caring, thoughtful and can put up with a heck of a lot from her patients. I know over the years I’ve put her through a lot and I know that she cares and even worries about me.

So thanks Sheila.

I Can’t Help Myself

English: The Four Tops in concert, New Rochell...

The Four Tops in concert, New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt was “Take the third line of the last song you heard, make it your post title, and write for a maximum of 15 minutes. GO!” The last song I heard was ‘Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch’ by The Four Tops. (Do yourself a favour and go see those dance moves. Them and The Temptations are the slickest movers on a stage.)

It’s true, I can’t help myself. Not totally. It’s part of major depression that you are easily confused, find it hard to stick to a task and lack energy. That makes it hard to find and organise the care you need. You need care and help to fix your problems.

The peculiar thing is that managing to achieve something makes me feel better. I organised insurance for my scooter and went down to the Motor Registry and registered it and renewed my license. I felt such a sense of achievement my analyst was amazed.

So the Catch–22 is that by the time I manage to get myself together enough to find and organise the care I need doing all those tasks will have me well on the way of getting out of the hole of major depression but I won’t be able to do that until I’m well on the way to getting out of the hole.

I also feel a huge lack of care. It seems that nobody around me cares enough to follow through. I can’t help myself but nobody around me seems to be capable of helping either. They all seem too busy to worry about me. They seem too involved in their own life to care about me.

Major depression is a terrible disease. It takes your life and leaves you unable to take care of yourself. Major depression kills people, sometimes swiftly with suicide sometimes slowly by destroying your health.

I can’t help myself. I hope I can find others to help me.

Not Really Laughing


Today’s Daily Prompt is “Do you consider yourself funny? What role does humor play in your life? Who’s the funniest person you know?”

Am I funny? What role does humour play in my life? No, not much.

As I’ve mentioned I suffer from major depression. One of the defining symptoms of major depression is anhedonia, which can be quickly defined as ’an inability to feel pleasure, particularly from activities usually found enjoyable. Combined with the anxiety and self-loathing typical of all depression this makes it hard to find humour in what most would find funny.

I usually love good humour. On my shelves you will find several Monty Python movies, the complete set of Fawlty Towers and a bunch of other comedies. Humour used to play a large part of my life. A couple of night ago I was watching an episode of Fawlty Towers and while I still enjoyed it the humour had left me.

I also feel the same about books at the moment. Usually Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams would have me giggling but at the moment they somehow leave me cold. I can still read them but the pleasure at the humour is not there.

I miss it. It would make a depressed life so much easier if I could laugh more. When you suffer from major depression you lose so much of an ordinary life and one that I miss almost constantly is a good laugh.

Do It Later

A pile of Lego blocks, of assorted colours and...

A pile of Lego blocks, of assorted colours and sizes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt was entitled ‘Procrastination’ and asked “What have you been putting off doing? Why?”

Procrastination is a huge problem for me at the moment. My depression has robbed me of a great deal of my drive and will to do something. At the same time one of the symptoms of major depression is anhedonia, an inability to experience pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed. An effect of this is that I put off doing things I previously enjoyed, for example I have a bunch of Lego models that I don’t find the time or drive to put together. I think I’m afraid that it won’t be as much fun as it used to be.

Indeed my procrastination is so bad that before I started writing this post I had to make a cup of coffee and have a cigarette. Then I had second thoughts about writing it.

As a result of all this I have a long list of things I am procrastinating over. Some of them are even costing me money, I have a bunch of medical expenses I could claim that are on my list.

Another effect of major depression is a loss of concentration. This means that sometimes when I start a task I can’t keep at it long enough to complete it. These uncompleted tasks are another source, I think the failure and a fear of further failure adds to my procrastination. Sometimes I won’t start a similar task for the same reason, at the moment I am putting off reading any number of good non-fiction books as I haven’t had the concentration to enjoy and finish the last couple I’ve started.

A lack of concentration and a fear of failure have also made me procrastinate over writing for the Daily Prompt for the last couple of weeks. I look at the prompt and can’t quite get myself to start writing and on the few occasions when I start I can’t seem to finish. Of course those failures strengthen the procrastination for the next one.

So there’s a partial list of things I’m procrastinating over, Lego, bureaucratic paperwork, reading non-fiction and writing. I hope you can understand some of what’s driving it.

As short as this post is I think I better get it posted before I start procrastinating over that.

My Little Secret


anxiety (Photo credit: FlickrJunkie)

Today’s Daily Prompt : Tell us something most people probably don’t know about you.

That’s a hard one. Most of me and my life is an open book, I don’t have much hidden away.

The only thing really hidden is my internal life and even most of that has been told. I feel the only thing most people would find surprising, that most don’t know, is how much of the time I’m scared and frightened.

I try hard to project an air of calm and confidence but when I’m talking to you I’m scared of saying the wrong thing. If I don’t know you when we start talking I’m frightened that you’ll find me weird or strange, too different to like.

With almost every task I undertake I’m scared of failure, anxious that I’m going to do something wrong. Professionally I’m OK, when I’m working on a systems task or fixing a computer problem I start out believing I can do it. It only takes a minor setback and that anxiety is there, though it is in the back of my mind and usually well controlled.

I have the same problem in my relationships, I’m full of fear. I don’t think my partners ever knew how anxious I was.

I’m anxious that as my lover you don’t know how I feel, I’m scared that I’m not open enough. I’m frightened that I’ll get left, get hurt. I’m frightened of hurting you, I’m nervous I’m asking too much, I’m scared about not doing enough, I’m fearful of controlling and I’m concerned I don’t leave room for you. A litany of anxious thoughts.

Of course there are times when I don’t feel anxious, frightened or scared. They are the moments I can relax and I treasure them all.

Dead Already

On the Threshold of Eternity

At Eternity’s Gate by Vincent Van Gogh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many reasons not to write and post this article. It’s a little too honest to be out in the world.  I’ve written it and discarded it several times over the past few months, somehow writing seems to help me but it’s scary to post it. I haven’t given it my usual hard edit as that would require putting aside for a few hours and I’m afraid if I do that my anxiety will overcome my desire to publish and once again it will be trashed. I hope getting it out there is useful to someone.

I’ve been suffering from clinical depression for about eighteen months, for quite a while before that I was suffering from mild depression. This is the third major episode in the last eighteen years.

While I have had clinical depression I’ve been living in a different world to most of you. I’ve been living in a world devoid of hope, absent of energy, empty of will and without any love in it. A world of anxiety, sadness, regret and self-recrimination. I don’t have a full time job, I don’t have a social life and I can’t relax without my mind filling with the self-loathing of depression.

My anxiety can easily become crippling. Recently there was two weeks where I couldn’t answer the phone, couldn’t seem to answer an email or an SMS. I also have strong social anxiety, I find it difficult to talk to people and I find it hard to be around people I don’t know. It’s hard to leave the house.

About three months ago I found an anti-depressant that almost works. It was, according to my GPs records, the fourteenth I’ve tried over eighteen years. This one actually has a positive effect, none of the others seemed to, and the side effects are just annoying rather than disabling. I’m staying on it as better than nothing.

When I say it almost works it lifts me from a totally black hole into a grey void which descends into the hell only every few days and only for a few hours.

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Letting Go

A photo of a group conducting psychotherapy.

A photo of a group conducting psychotherapy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A question came up on Soul Pancake: “Why can’t we let go of those memories which have brought nothing but suffering and pain?” This is an expanded and edited version of my answer there.

This is a question that interests me a great deal at the moment. I’m currently in analysis and I feel that one of the purposes of analysis is “letting go” of the past.

When we say letting go I don’t think it’s the memory itself but the burst of pain that comes with it that we need to let go. Memories will always fade with time, the problem is that some memories can actually hurt in the here and now – not just a memory of the pain of the moment but real, new pain.

That’s what we need to free ourselves from, the pain that remembering some things brings us.

So how do we do that?

Over the years I’ve read a great deal of psychology and some philosophy. I’ve also undergone therapy with psychiatrists and psychologists and taken part in a large amount of group therapy.

The most important lesson I’ve learnt is that “reality” is entirely subjective. It doesn’t matter what “really” happened or what someone else believes happened. To me (or you) the only thing that matters is how I remember it – that’s reality.

The second thing is we need to be understood. Back when we were small children we needed Mum to come and say “Let me look at your knee. That must have hurt, but it’ll get better.” When we grow up that need doesn’t go away. When we are hurt we need to be heard, we need to be understood. This is where therapy can be so useful, it provides a place where you can be understood.

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Half Empty

Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?

Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty? (Photo credit: Pimlico Badger)


Today’s Daily Prompt is “Is the glass half-full, or half-empty?”

This always seems to be a question of optimism against pessimism. A question of seeing what you have against what you don’t have.

If I sum it up that way then I am a half-empty sort of person.

I suffer from depression, bad chronic depression, and one of the symptoms is an ingrained pessimism. I can’t see anything positive in the future and I can’t see the pain going away. At the same time I am beset with a sense of failure in that, according to my inner thoughts, there is little positive in my life situation.

That’s really where depression gets you. Some seem to think that depression is just an extreme form of feeling sad but that’s not where it hits you. Sure, you feel sad, you feel really sad. I can cope with sad, I’m really good at coping with sad. The hard part is to try and be at least a little positive and get things done when there’s a part of you that sees yourself as an unappealing failure incapable of achievement. When the black dog is barking in your ear it’s hard to hear anything else.

In the face of that I’ve become a glass half-empty guy. I try very hard to think it’s half full and at times in my life I’ve been there but it never sticks.