Sunday, September 26, 2010


The last few years of my life have been particularly difficult. I have endured depression, anxiety, and loneliness so severe that there have been times I would almost have preferred that life not go on. I have longed to find a sense of belonging with others and acceptance of myself. So far, I have not succeeded.

I have been through three particularly nasty bouts of depression, in 2007, 2009, and 2010. This year was by far the worst, and while I am much better than I was a few months ago, I am still not entirely out of the woods. I suspect that I never will be.

The thing which hurts the most is loneliness. This has long been an issue for me, but it has only intensified as the years have passed. In the past I have tended to blame others and the world for my woes, but after a certain point I realized that I am the constant. I think that people are ultimately drawn to those who they feel will benefit them in some way, and unfortunately that rarely seems to be me. There seems to be something broken about me, and people realize this, and keep their distance.

That is the hand I’ve been dealt. I do the best I can. I would love to be sociable, always friendly, optimistic and happy. But it just isn’t in me. I cannot pretend to notice how unwanted I am and put on the cheery face that is apparently needed. My continual failure to be able to make and maintain real and meaningful connections is agony, and making it through each day is a struggle. I can’t pretend otherwise.

But I can take it. Despite how bad the depression, anxiety, and loneliness gets, I manage to endure. And eventually it lessens. Each time I learn a little bit more about myself. Each time I get a little bit tougher. Each time I am forced to find a little more strength within myself – and I do.

We all face many struggles in life. Regardless of our age, income, family situation, political beliefs, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, or health status, we all face different battles on a daily basis. We often face them alone, without the support that we would have in a perfect world. But this world is very far from perfect.

Through watching the Clint Eastwood movie, I recently became aware of the English poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. The word itself means “unconquered”, and it is a poem about self-mastery despite difficult circumstances. The author had his leg amputated at age 12, and the poem inspired Nelson Mandela during the 27 years he was imprisoned. It is a truly inspiring poem. And while I am no Nelson Mandela, like the poem says, my head is bloody, but unbowed.

Despite everything, I am, and will remain, unconquered.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

World War Z

Zombie movies have always been something of a guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t watch them very often, but I do watch a couple each year. Most are disposable “so bad it’s good” type movies, while others are well-crafted comedies, such as Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead. A rare few, like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later are something really special. I almost never have nightmares, but I had one after seeing that particular vision of hell.

But the novel World War Z puts them all in the shade. Written by Max Brooks and published in 2006, it is done as an oral history. I like reading oral histories, and Brooks was partly inspired by his experience of reading The Good War by Studs Terkel. I haven’t read The Good War, but I have read Japan at War, written by Haruko and Theodore Cook. It consists of interviews with Japanese people from all walks of life, talking about their experiences before, during, and after the Second World War. It was an incredibly moving book, and it is to Brooks’ credit that he manages to conjure up something of the same spirit in a book about a zombie apocalypse.

The plague starts in China, which tries to cover it up. Refugees flee the country, and gradually the contagion spreads all over the globe. Government inaction and incompetence, apathetic populations, and opportunistic businesspeople all contribute to the situation gradually worsening until the future of the human race itself is threatened.

The world Brooks depicts is scarily believable. China’s cover-up is reminiscent of what happened with SARS, American military mistakes bring Iraq to mind, and Russia gradually lapsing into Tsarist theocracy does not seem a stretch at all.

But the true power of his book is in the memorable characters he creates. WWZ contains the stories of soldiers, doctors, politicians and many more giving their experiences of the war. An American veteran angrily explains the military disaster that was the battle of Yonkers, a Cuban businessman relates with irony how American refugees fled to his country, and an Australian astronaut tells of watching the world go to hell from the International Space Station.

Also, stories of how some great leaders were killed, not by hostile action, but by the awesome responsibilities of their positions, really ring true, bringing to mind the US president FDR and Australian prime minister John Curtin, both of whom led their countries during world war two and died just as victory was in sight.

A movie will be made of the book, and I am very curious to see what happens with it. If done right, I think it has the potential to be the best zombie film ever made. With WWZ Brooks created a real work of art, and I truly hope that the film lives up to it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Low Self Opinion

I know the self doubt that runs inside your mind,
I know the self doubt that treats you so unkind,
If you could see the you that I see,
When I see you seeing me,
You would see yourself so differently -
Believe me!
--Henry Rollins, Low Self Opinion

When I was at my lowest ebb a few months ago, every morning when I woke up I’d play the Rollins Band song “Low Self Opinion” to get my day started. The hard rock sound, and Rollin’s lyrics, which sound as though they are coming from someone who has been to some very dark places and survived to tell the tale, helped me get up, helped me to force myself to start another day.

I am definitely doing better than I was a few months ago, no question. I had fallen so far into depression that I had no choice but to try and radically change the way I was living. So I got more serious about exercise, tried some alternative therapies, as well as different medications, went back to therapy, started being more honest with myself and others about my state of mind. I cut back my work hours, and started eating healthier. I have tried to be of use to others. I started this blog. Basically, I did everything I could think of to get myself out of the big black hole I was in. And it has worked to some extent.

But when it comes right down to it, I think I still have a low self opinion. Very slowly I am getting better at being understanding of others, at putting myself in their shoes and not being so judgmental. There is a long way to go, but I am making progress.

But when it comes to myself, it sometimes seems I haven’t made any progress at all. I often feel a crushing loneliness, feel separate and unwanted from those I know. I feel ambivalent about reaching out to others, thinking that I am simply a burden, a buzz-kill, a drag. In the movie Strange Days, Angela Bassett says to Ralph Fiennes: “Friendship is more than one person constantly doing favors for the other”, and I guess that is how I feel about my relationships with other people. It is like they are doing me a favor, that it is some kind of charity work.

Essentially I feel alone. Unnecessary. And this, more than anything, is what keeps me in this depression. I long to be wanted, needed, included. To be part of what is going on, and to be accepted for who I am. But I can’t seem to find that. I never seem to have what people want, so I pass through their lives with barely a trace. I wish I could be the happy shiny person that it is apparently necessary to be in order to be included in things, but I can’t. It isn’t in me.

Sometimes it feels like I am swimming in an underwater cave, and finding social interaction and someone I can really talk to honestly is something like finding a small pocket of air. But then I have to plunge back underwater again, and desperately swim for the next air pocket. And I’m getting really tired of it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Slow and steady

The other night I went out for a run. It was a hot Summer evening, about 29 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit). The humidity was high, but there was a slight breeze, so it was not too bad. In any case, things always seem better when I am on my way to go running.

I have been running on and off for about six or seven years. I have never been particularly religious about it, and have had long periods where I slacked off and didn’t exercise at all. These have often been followed, new-years resolution style, with periods of increased, unsustainable, and probably harmful exercise. Which leads back into inactivity. I know that running is probably not the greatest form of exercise. It can be solitary, it can be hard on the body. But I’m always drawn back to it. And at the end of the day you have to do what you love.

Generally I tend to go at things like a bull at a gate, which frequently ends badly. The same is true for running, I usually start quickly, which is sometimes okay, and sometimes not. But this night I decided to take some advice I’d received about starting out very slow.

It felt good. My legs gradually got used to the run, and despite going slower than usual, I was still running faster than most of the other joggers I encountered. Our bodies are designed to move, and there is nothing quite like running.

I didn’t push myself, I just listened to my body and enjoyed the run. I felt my feet hitting the ground, felt my posture straighten, felt myself breathing in and out. I heard the cicadas in the trees, felt the breeze running through my hair, and felt the relief as I sweated all the stress and toxins out of my body. I felt alive.

When I reached the end of my run I stretched, and sat to enjoy the moment. I have so many things that I should be grateful for, but instead I usually wind up feeling inadequate, like I just don’t measure up. So I push myself more and more, until I fall in a heap, physically or mentally.

But I think I am done with those days now. I am myself, for better or worse, and I will never be anyone else. All the self-loathing, all the “should haves”, all the pushing myself to breaking point hasn’t helped. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it can make the difference between getting to the finish line or falling by the wayside. Slow, and steady. And never give up.