Thursday, April 28, 2016

Closing the Book on Depression

A little over twelve months ago, I wrote a blog about depression - it was 'well received' and yet only scratched at the surface and that was down to my belief that some things should remain as personal as possible. I come from a generation that still views depression as a weakness, despite many people having suffered from it, at times. The thing about happiness is it's like recovering from an operation; as time passes you forget just how bad it was.

This goes with my theory that there is no such thing as rock bottom. When you think your life can't get any worse, you are deluding yourself. What actually happens is bottom becomes the new normal, opening up chasms of new depths to plumb.

The irony, for me, is that on April 19, 2015, when I was hitting a new low, I had no idea that the chasms about to open up to my then rock-bottom-self were too horrible to contemplate. If I thought April was a new nadir, then I wasn't expecting May and June. Really, I didn't think things could get so much worse. But they did and some people around me noticed that I was becoming... a worry.

Murray's death seemed to be timed perfectly to temper my heartbreak at a new Tory government; I was too concerned about him than anything else and the GE results just compounded the feeling that life had to get so much worse before I could see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Being offered a job that didn't pan out didn't help and then being given hope from others that also didn't pan out made me think that people will say anything rather than say 'you're not right for this job.'

By September, I was not earning anything. I was not eligible for any benefits, my wife earns just too much money and I began scratching around, calling in debts, selling stuff and walking next door's dog to buy food and this existence lasted for four months until our neighbours' called an end to the dog walking. I could understand their frustrations - what if I got a job and left them in the lurch? I mean, there's only 25 registered dog walkers in Northampton, what were the chances of them getting another one at short notice? However badly my neighbours handled it, I can't blame them, because I bang on a lot about how people really don't care about others when they have no understanding of how bad things can get.

Anyhow, I'm waiting for a start date for my first proper job in three years. I've been paranoid about it, because as I discovered this week, depression isn't just a leaky tap you can switch off and even after a couple of weeks of positivity inside the Hall house, I woke up yesterday morning feeling like everything was about to cave in under me. Nothing has gone badly wrong (the car's brakes are knackered) and when misery has been a constant companion for so long and takes a break, you get lulled into a false sense of security.

I was in a solitary and withdrawn mood the day before yesterday and I avoided people on my dog walk because of that. I needed space and time to dwell and play out bad case scenarios to satisfy the demon that lurks and thrives on negativity. Then I woke up yesterday morning and instead of feeling like the previous day was a blip, I woke up thinking about Murray and how his death has affected us so much worse than previous deaths and how last May was still a yawning black hole of horror. I think Marley knew I was feeling melancholy because she crept next to me and cuddled up on one side, with Doug sprawled, unaware, to my right.

Then one of those Facebook memories came up and I remembered it was the day before we noticed something wrong with Murray. Our last long dog walk before the nightmare descended. That was the day the wife thought he had conjunctivitis but it was actually lymphoma.

I beat myself up about it at least once a week despite the fact that what Murray had was a death sentence however you look at it. He wouldn't have been cured and we would have had an undetermined amount of time to be looking at him, wondering when the nightmare would return. The fact he went quickly is really the best outcome, especially as he wasn't happy, but, you know, we're supermen when it comes to our loved ones and the past is always the worst time to reflect on.

What usually happens when I feel this way is I take a leaf out of the handbook for depression and go for a long walk and as some of you will remember from blogs passim that this usually ends up in one or two of the dogs covered in unsavoury animal poo and me wondering why on earth I thought it was a good idea. Cleaning shit from a dog that isn't its own is a great leveller especially when you feel down.

It hasn't helped that I've been bored. With nothing mapped out, I'd go through my daily ritual of an hour or two on the jobs pages; a bit of blowing things up on a Facebook game, reading the papers and doing housework. Currently I'm confident enough to not look at the jobs pages and with recent footballing events and the government getting up my nose at every move, the desire to look through the papers - real and on-line - hasn't been there for a few days, nor, I expect, will it for a few more. It's been too cold to do anything in the garden and honestly, I'm terrified of putting my back out or buggering up one of my shoulders before I start this job. I feel as if I should buy a containment suit for between now and my start date so I can't catch a cold or any germs. Oh, and then I ricked my neck...

A year ago I ended the blog by talking about my book project. It's crazy to think that it still hasn't been seen by anyone apart from me and that instead of 40,000 words it's now 77,000 and I haven't touched it since February because it is 'finished' to the point where I need feedback. That was a big positive in a year of negatives and yet it's been dormant, much like much of my life has felt since 2011.

So... This is all very down and dirty. The problem is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I'm excited about it, so there's this fear that something will extinguish it. There is no such thing as an irrational thought when you suffer from depression and I wonder whether depression is a tangible cause of disaster. I mean, could your mental state of expecting the worst lead you to scenarios where the worst can happen? Maybe even subconsciously influencing it? I'm sure someone could tell me, I'm just not sure I want to know.

Yet, the future is brighter. It is, even in my down state of mind I can see that. New job. Easing of money worries. Purchase of much needed things. Holidays. The resurrection of pipe dreams and the thing I think is more important than anything - regaining self-esteem, because it doesn't matter how much someone tells you that you're not worthless, at the time you know you are and, ironically, you know how to flush it out of your system.

If I've learnt one thing in the last year it's that I did, do and have a place in the world. I have made a difference and I have said things that people identify with or have helped or made them understand.

Sometimes the person you see isn't the person inside.

I might feel as though ... well, people who have been where I have been will know all too well how I feel and that's really all that matters. Today, the demon is feeling admonished and is withdrawing; I can feel it because it doesn't like the fact that I can see the future again or that I can see how I can make it better. My mood has changed due to these 700 words, proving that sometimes catharsis through writing is worth a hundred psychiatrists. Everything is fucking horrible, but I've been playing that record for too long and I know it off by heart. It's time for a new beat.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Feel of Contractual Obligations

I'm quite pleased that I appear to be making it to my 54th birthday. There have been moments in the last couple of years where I did wonder...

Apparently I'm healthier at this moment in time than I have been for a number of years (and as usual there will be a caveat at the end just to put that statement into perspective) and am no longer considered as a 'severe' chronic COPD sufferer; I'm just a bog standard 'moderate' which comes with the added bonus of being able to be able to avoid ticking the 'do you consider yourself disabled' box on job applications. I'm not likely to live long enough to ever get it down to 'low' but I can be satisfied with the fact that despite having suffered from the 'spring flu virus' recently and carrying a cough that a smoker would be worried about, my regime of doing lots of walking, limiting my bodily abuse to a minimum and remaining a vegetarian will, I hope, get me to my 70th birthday and the chance of becoming a heroin addict with Roger...

Oh and the caveat is shoulder related. It appears that now my left shoulder has been 'fixed' my right shoulder wants what it's missed out on. The upshot is - summat's not right and I don't think it's been right for a long old while, just never as bad as the other shoulder. I'm staving off the doctor but having been here twice before and knowing my body, I think it's inevitable.

Being healthier doesn't mean I can go prancing around like a ballerina or even (stroke survivor) Monty Don. Getting the garden, slowly, prepared for summer has been fun from a cardiovascular POV, but leaves me feeling like I need new hips and something to do with monkey glands the following morning. I see an old boy called John about once a week when I'm walking the dogs. He's 85, has a completely fucked back, but goes out in all weathers to take his dog for a walk. I'll never see 85 so seeing John reminds me of what I'll be missing...

I just sat here staring at the screen in horror. If there's one thing I've discovered since acquiring Doug is that you should never say or think anything out loud or it will go the exact opposite of what you presume; so don't be too surprised if I drop dead in the next 8 days or both my arms will fall off or my lungs will pack up and John will disintegrate before my eyes in a gust of strong wind.

I have since January 2015 applied for 442 jobs and later this week I have interview #13. You realise that I get an interview approx every 37 job applications, so I suppose I should apply for more...

Doing this blog had lost its priorities slightly. I've been engrossed in football and politics, as well as scrambling around calling in debts and borrowing money to be able to eat. I have got my book to the stage where I'm petrified of letting anyone read it. I literally cannot pluck up the guts to print a copy out (not just because it'll use up all my ink) and I keep making notes about tweaking bits and I have to STOP. I have to say, 'if something's wrong, let someone else find it'. I have to accept it might be a piece of shit. But it feels a little like asking that girl (or boy) you fancied when you were 14 out; you just know it'll go badly. If it's shit, then so be it.

To complicate matter, I've been working on another idea and it appears to be developing a little like the last one, with characters and scenarios before I get a clear idea of what the story is. I also have the added hurdle of wanting to create an entirely fictional government department and, oddly enough, despite my writing always veering off towards SF, horror, and strange fantasy, I like to keep the reality grounded. The last completed novel I wrote before this one was 15 years ago, possibly longer, and I avoided having the police in it, despite it being about a serial killer. The reason was simple - unable to complete my research.

Several years before this I had come up with, what I still believe, was a unique twist on a popular genre, the problem was the two medical professionals I knew steadfastly refused to entertain my imagination. Neither would answer my questions, because my questions were fantasy and what I was asking them wouldn't happen in real life. Neither were prepared to allow their own imaginations to be twisted outside of their comfort zones. So when I wrote about a sleazy serial killer and none of the police officers I knew would discuss police procedure, or even what would happen in the event of a serial killer coming to town. Amusingly, several years later, another copper I know said most normal policemen couldn't answer my questions and those that could, couldn't because that kind of police procedure was classified and not for wannabe writers.

The new thing is just a new twist on an old reworking of another old idea, which proves you should never throw any ideas away. What I like about this new thing is I can, theoretically incorporate three other ideas with another which wraps them up neatly. Writing the words might not always be easy, but slotting together varying ideas tends to be.

***

I'm more than aware that whenever I talk about TV in a blog it is as appealing as listening to my somewhat bizarre music links on Facebook. I might not be as eclectic with telly, but I still don't (and will never) fit into stereotypical TV watching.

With so many channels to choose from now and so many potentially great shows being spread across the cathode tube firmament almost everyone could have a new favourite series with a large percentage of their friends being unaware of its existence.

As everyone waits for the return of Game of Thrones, the other blockbuster US series The Walking Dead ended its sixth season on a cliffhanger that has caused some controversy between fans of the TV show and the comic book series.
    Possible SPOILER WARNING ALERT (although I've not read the comics after #80)

Fans of the comic have been spoiling the start of season 7 before it's even been made, by telling people who dies at the end of the finale and if the TV series sticks with the comic, as it does at times, then one of the longest running in-jokes in the show will come to an end. The character who is 'supposed' to die has built a reputation for escaping the most ludicrous walker situations ever devised, so it would be ironic if he died at the hands of a new character, designed to be the latest 'devil' to infiltrate his way into the lives of our disparate group of (increasingly feral) survivors.
The thing about TWD is simple; like Game of Thrones it uses the source material as a guide; following parts perfectly while adding and subtracting to it for the benefits of a TV audience. I wouldn't be surprised if the 'dead' character isn't the target of Negan's baseball bat, just to throw people off the trail. There was a character called Dale in early series; he played some key roles in the comic, yet died long before any of that could be be fulfilled in the TV show. Other characters filled the Dale slot in the subsequent seasons, so I think we're in for a direction-changing bit of artistic license.
I will say that after a blistering first 8 episodes, TWD seemed to lose itself in the second half of the season as it built up for the arrival of Negan and feedback I've had from many friends who read the comic is that given Negan is a major character for over a third of the actual 150 issue run of the comic, we can expect the next two seasons to follow the path of the comic and having a vague knowledge of the story (from the issues I haven't read, but know what happens), I can't help thinking that TWD might have seen its best days.

I have been banging on about the brilliance of Shameless US for the last six years. A wonderful adaptation of Paul Abbot's Manchester-based series of the same name. William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher is undoubtedly one of the most repugnant and repulsive characters ever created for TV and compared to David Threlfall's original, there simply is no comparison. US Frank does make UK Frank seem like a cartoon character. The sixth series, possibly the slowest paced season so far, ended on one of those all-too-familiar Gallagher tragedies, with the usual amount of redemption given to cast members who didn't have it so good in the past. I expect season 7 will be the last; Emmy Rossum is a big star now; Macy is always in demand and several of the lesser cast members have bright futures. Even if this series wasn't as jaw-dropping as it has been in the past, it is still pretty much the best thing on TV.

I want to talk about the devil. Devils have been very prominent in my viewing habits for the last couple of months. Daredevil returned in a quite stunning, but ultimately empty, second series. I struggle with Charlie Cox as the man without fear, but I can also see it works very well and the interaction between him, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page is one of the reasons why the chemistry of the series works even if it falls short at times in the story telling. The biggest criticism of this second series was it felt like a preamble; like more of an introduction for the new-look Punisher and Elektra, who will undoubtedly be getting their own Netflix series before too long. What Daredevil has done is introduce that comicsy feel to TV, using the 13-part series like a major story arc in a comic - that means limited resolution and lots of groundwork for what is to come. I really enjoy the series and I think it's the best Marvel adaptation doing the rounds; yet there's something missing from it.

Speaking of devils, but this time the real ones. Damien is a direct sequel to the first two Omen films (they've thankfully and wisely ignored the third film). It looks good and it started slowly, but with an air of menace about it. But after five episodes, you can't help wondering where it's going. Damien is accepting who is is but it doesn't sit well with him and I can't help feeling this may end up being a series about moralising and redemption, because it doesn't appear to have a lot of ambition and the pace has been so slow and lacking in genuine horror that you have to wonder about its longevity. Plus, Rottweillers aren't really all that menacing any more. In fact once you know a few you realise that casting them as the devil's dog is a little like casting Pee Wee Herman as Satan.

However, while Damien struggles with bland mediocrity, Lucifer dazzles in an arena that deserves far more. On the surface Lucifer is complete crap. Honestly it's a crazy-stupid concept, based very loosely, it appears, on the DC comic of the same name, but it is unlikely (not impossible) it will follow the comic book. Lucifer Morningstar has given up his throne in hell and runs a night club in LA called Lux. He becomes involved with a police detective (also a former child and teen star) and begins to help her solve crimes. It has the most pathetic and easily solved crimes in a TV series since those formulaic crime series of the 1970s. Take Tom Ellis (Lucifer) out of the equation and you have a TV series that would have been cancelled after 30 minutes; however put Miranda's old love interest into the mix and you have something quite extraordinary.

Lucifer is a far better rendition of the devil than I have seen for a long time. It's almost like he's just been put into the middle of this crap crime procedural and told to do what he likes as long as he stays within the plot and the decency code. The thing that makes the series so watchable is Ellis; every second he is on screen he dominates it. He is big, bold, brassy and bolshy, he is evil personified, except... he's not and in many ways it is his angel counterpart - played by DB Woodside of Buffy fame - who comes across as devious and subversive. I can imagine that's where the controversy about this series really bites. In the comic, Lucifer fought a power mad god with his zealots and that's what I hope will be the eventual direction taken in this series. Lucifer is, or was, an angel but he's also a realist and both of these traits come to the surface a lot. Given the world as it is, he'd make a far better God.

I really want this series to develop; the problem is its on ABC and they're not renowned for pushing the envelope on network TV. It really should be a series that was done by a cable network - not so it has more tits and violence, because it might have explored ideas the network will shy away from. Lucifer looks like a cheap Rockford Files, while Damien looks slick and HBO-like. One is must watch TV, the other is likely to get dropped.

***

Hasn't the weather been generally meh?

I heard it the other day. The dreaded 'We deserve a good summer' line wheeled out by someone while out dog walking. Fortunately it wasn't said to me or I might have overreacted a touch. I know it's just things people say, but...

Anyhow; the other reason I've really neglected this specific blog is I haven't really had much to talk about and I'm sure the day-to-day struggles of someone whose self-esteem wanders around gutters looking for things to crawl under isn't exactly riveting or up to my usual witty and erudite self. Also it has to do with the overwhelming realisation of the insignificance of existence, but I really can't be arsed to get into that.

I could catalogue the immense toil Doug the Destroyer has placed on our lives, but equally I could just show you cute pictures of him and you'll realise how difficult it is to stay angry with him for long, even if he has inadvertently destroyed something of sentimental importance. He has been good for de-cluttering, but mixed with a lottery style 'you never know what's going next'. It keeps us on our toes. He has been keeping us sane and less miserable - so in many ways he's money well spent.

And before I go for who knows how long this time, I'd just like to publicly state that Jones, R'n'B and Tony have been 24 carat all-stars for the last few months, with a few others really being super cool people - either paying off long standing monies or just helping out with pep talks, good advice and support. I feel humbled and eternally grateful. Karma's wheel will find you all and reward you.

Don't hate people.