Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So long, and thanks for all the fish

It has been a while since I started this blog. My first post was on June 26th last year, and I originally imagined that it would be a series of book reports written as I tried to mine a little happiness from each book that I ready. It started out like that, but quickly became a place for me to let out a bit more of myself, as much as I felt comfortable in posting.

It helped. Writing a weekly blog helped me to focus a little, gave me an outlet for my writing, and enabled me to vent. It let me feel that people were hearing me, and it also let me contact a lot of other bloggers going through similar issues. In no particular order, I enjoyed reading the blogs of and interacting with, in no particular order, CID, Susan, Jen, 4-Lorn, Lil, Stephi, Nick, In The Pink, Snowbrush, Up The Mountain, Anonymous, Wendy, and many others who have dropped by my blog over the months to post, or simply to read. It has been nice knowing that people were out there, people going through comparable experiences, or at least prepared to lend an ear or a shoulder to someone going through a rough time.

When I was first starting this blog I read a number of different blogs about depression, and I was frustrated by the way many of them seemed to only last for a post or two, or gradually trail off, or change topics to something less focused on depression or mental illness. I was in the grips of one of my worst bouts of depression, and I wanted to read about others who were in that state also.

But in the last few months I have come to understand why that happens with so many blogs. There is only so much to say. There is only so much it is beneficial to go over. And there is only so much that is safe to say online. As Stephi noted before, the internet can be a wolf in sheep's clothing, and it can be easy to let too much out.

But aside from the internet and related issues, the more I think about this blog and its focus of fighting depression, the less productive it seems to me at this point. The focus on fighting depression seems to me now like a man drowning in quicksand focusing on thrashing around and hitting the sand that traps him. It doesn't help him get out, and can drag him in deeper. Instead, it is better to focus on whatever lifeline is available. Dealing with depression is a part of my life, and I suspect that it always will be. But it can't be the focus of my life. That seems counter-productive, and my heart isn't in this blog anymore.

So I think I've said all I have to say on this blog. Thanks again to all of you who have spent time reading it, and my best wishes to you all. I think I'll close with a couple of words from Henry Rollins that have helped me.

Give your self a break from self-rejection,
Try some introspection,
And you just might find,
Its not so bad and anyway,
At the end of the day, all you have is yourself and your mind.
--Henry Rollins, Low Self Opinion

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Japan by Night

In my last post I was complaining about trouble getting to sleep. I am still having that trouble, but I am learning to manage it. A few weeks ago I was going to bed a bit after midnight and then tossing and turning, turning the light on, reading for a while, trying to sleep, failing, reading again.. then finally getting to sleep around 2 or 3 after hours of frustration. Once I am asleep I am okay, but getting to sleep is tough.

In the last few days I've been changing things up a little. It is August, which means that here in Japan it is very hot. This may have something to do with my sleeping problems, but I don't recall having this problem in previous years. In any case, it also means that the heat is pretty oppressive during the day and it feels a little like the sunlight is punching you, especially if you've decided to go running around in the midday sun, as I have been doing for the last few weeks. It means I do sweat a lot, which is good, but running is a struggle.

Anyway, in the last few days I've decided that it might be good to kill two birds with one stone, and started night running. It is not that much cooler than during the day, but the lack of glaring sunlight does help. In addition, there are not too many people about, and a lot less traffic on the roads. The feeling is a little bit different too, and while there are always some other joggers and random pedestrians running around, the city feels very different at night, particularly on weekend nights.

Japan is famous for being a safe place, and I've never felt in danger running around at night. The public toilets nearby are open and lit. Back home I would steer clear of them at night, but I have no hesitation about using them here. Last night I went out and ran for around 90 minutes by myself in a hilly area I hadn't been to before, which was nice. To some the near-empty streets might seem lonely, and they probably would to me if I were walking. But while running they feel okay, much more manageable that the crowded, yet incredibly isolating place that the streets of Japan usually are for me.

Then after the run I get home, eat something, shower and relax. I'm watching the first season of The Tudors and an hour of the machinations of Henry VIII and his courtiers is about enough to let the tiredness from the run and the day that has passed seep into my bones, and by the time the episode finishes I am almost tired enough to sleep.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A quiet evening

Sunday evening has rolled around again. It is almost midnight as I write this. Today has been humid and rainy, and the city is quiet, the usual calm before the week starts again tomorrow morning. I went for a short run earlier, and while it was a bit painful it was good to get out there and do it.

I've run three times in the last week, short runs. Constantly having aches and pains related to running is an irritation, but it is better than the alternative, that being the state I find myself in if I don't run. Exercise is one of those things where you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Over the last month I have been having a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I don't feel especially bad at night, but my body simply does not want to turn in for the night. It may be partly the warmer weather, and partly doing a bit less exercise than I was before. But it feels like more than that somehow. I hope that it passes quickly - I am getting tired of feeling fatigued during the day due to lack of sleep, then being unable to sleep properly at night despite being tired. Sleep is a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference.

I've been using some of my extra, unwanted waking time to read Game of Thrones, the first novel in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. It is the first fantasy novel I have read in years, and it is very enjoyable. I really liked the first season of HBO's show based on Martin's story, and as I work my way through the book I find that the show is very faithful to the book. The people at HBO did a great job of realizing the world that Martin created in his book. Byzantine political machinations, a world with a history, a place similar enough to the history of our own world to be familiar, but different enough to be fascinating on its own terms.

As I work my way through the book, I find myself with a problem that faces all of us who find ourselves confronted with a good book or show - making it last. Some people sit down and read a book from cover to cover, or have a DVD marathon and watch all of a great series in one go. I always remember the case of an old university friend who, even after I warned him to ration it, insisted on going off and watching all of Band of Brothers in a single sitting. Unsurprisingly, he was pretty shell-shocked after that.

But for the most part, it isn't fear of bad effects that causes me to ration the good stories. It is wanting to extend the moment, to be able to spend longer in the various fantasy worlds, whether that is the Winterfell of Game of Thrones, the 1960s Madison Avenue of Mad Men, or the Baltimore corners of The Wire. Perhaps this is sad, that I need to depend on my time in fantasy-land to keep myself going. But sad or not, it is a necessity, and I'll keep rationing out the chapters as long as I can.

It is after midnight now, so i think I will turn in, read a final chapter, and then try to sleep. Hopefully this evenings short run will have convinced my body that it is time to sleep.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Night / Zombies

Well, Monday morning, to be precise. But I thought I should probably try to get back into my habit of Sunday night posting. This week has been a long one, filled with confusion, weariness, and not enough sleep. But I got through it, and am ready to face the next one.

I haven't really exercised in the last week, after pushing myself a bit too much in previous weeks. Apart from the walking involved in my daily life I haven't really done anything, no riding or running. My legs feel a bit better, but I don't think it has been very good for my state of mind. If it isn't one part of my body letting me down it is another!

Anyway, aside from that I did manage to get a lot of things done this week. I'm still struggling with duller wits than usual, plus a memory that seems increasingly unreliable. So I've been using lists to try and get things done, and I've managed to knock off a few things that I've been procrastinating about for months. There are still more things to be done, always more things. But it is nice to have gotten a few things out of the way.

I also wandered down to the bookshop and poked around. I went looking for the Game of Thrones books by RR Martin, which I found, but instead I was diverted by the site of The New Dead, a zombie anthology featuring a story by Max Brooks of World War Z fame. I've just finished reading it, and while it had some good stories in it, it was definitely a mixed bag. Max Brooks' story "Closure, Limited" was actually not so great. "Lazarus" by John Connolly featuring as the first zombie didn't really work for me, and "What Maisie Knew" by David Liss, the story about sex with zombies was a bit much for me. I suppose I am a bit churlish being grossed out by a book about zombies, but still..

That said, there were some good entries. "The Wind Cries Mary" by Brian Keene was a very short but surprisingly touching lament for lost love, and "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" by Joe Hill, written entirely in tweets, worked surprisingly well. "Shooting Pool" by Joe R Lansdale was noteworthy for not having any zombies of any kind in it. Probably the best story in the book was "Family Business" by Jonathan Maberry, a story of a bratty teenager living in a post-apocalyptic town, job-hunting while resenting his older brother the zombie slayer. It is the longest story in the collection, and probably the most enjoyable.

On other zombie-related topics, the movie of Brooks' WWZ is apparently filming now, and is due to be released next year. Brad Pitt is involved, and while his movies are definitely hit and miss for me, here's hoping he'll do another bang-up job like Fight Club or Snatch. The source material is great, and it sounds like the studio is throwing lots of money at it, so here's hoping it works out.

Finally, there is a teaser trailer out for season two of AMC's The Walking Dead. It looks like the second season will be just as awesome as the first one. There is a longer, five minute trailer out too, but I haven't watched it. I don't want to spoil any of the story for myself. I'm really looking forward to that, and can't wait to see what Rick Grimes and his motley group of survivors get up to in the next season.

Well, that's about all for now. Time to turn in and get rested up ready for another week. My best wishes to all of you out there.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hitting a wall

I've been feeling low recently. I feel like I'm in a fog. My memory feels worse than usual, and I have a bunch of things I want to do, but I can't seem to motivate myself to get things done. On a deeper level, there are things I know I need to do to try and deal with the root causes of why I have been slipping back and forth into states of depression, but I don't seem to have the guts to do them. And in addition to that, I am taking a break from running due to pushing myself too much over the last few weeks.

I haven't even been keeping up with blogging as much as I did before, in the past I put up a post as regular as clockwork every Sunday night, but the last month or so I haven't been so regular, nor so motivated to write anything.

Part of the reason is that unlike most bloggers, and perhaps missing the point of blogging, I don't want to put up much detail about myself. I never post about my family, my work, people I know or the specifics of my life. Nor do I really go into the details of my treatment, or many of the root causes of what has led me to this state. And as much as I'd like to be able to discuss these things with others who have similar experiences, I am wary about putting things online for anyone to read, knowing that it could come back to bite me later.

I seem to have hit a wall with the blog. I have things to write about, but don't feel comfortable in putting them out for the world to see. I've also hit a wall in my real life too, where I am starting to see what I need to do to maybe feel better, but I'm stuck. I feel like I need someone to help me reach the next level, but there is no one to do so. So I am stuck. It is a very bad feeling, and I know if I can't break through somehow things will continue to deteriorate.

Something's got to give, something's got to change. But I can't see how to do it by myself, and there doesn't seem to be anyone who is really willing and able to lend the helping hand that I need. So I'm stuck, writhing in frustration, unable to break free of this deep funk I am stuck in.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Graveyard Post

I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by a university friend back in the 90s, and really enjoyed his Sandman series of graphic novels. While most of the details of the plot have slipped from my mind, the feeling of being transported away to a world of magic, wonder, and adventure has stayed with me.

I hadn't read anything by Gaiman for a few years, but the other day I came across a copy of his children's novel The Graveyard Book in the local library, and thought it was about time to pay a visit to one of Gaiman's intricately crafted worlds. I am glad that I did.

It tells the story of Nobody Owens, a young boy who finds himself in a cemetery being raised by a community of ghosts, who all have something to teach him. It was a good read, written in classic Gaiman style. Much of what Gaiman writes follows a similar pattern, he uses elements of magic and the supernatural, a main character thrust into a world they do not really understand, plus a large amount of historical real-world research to give realism. It is a good mix, and even though the book is quite similar in general ways to Neverwhere and American Gods, it is such a pleasure to spend time in Gaiman's worlds that I don't really mind.

While some people find graveyards creepy, I grew up right next to one, and could look out the front window to see the rows upon rows of graves. Unlike the graveyard in Gaiman's book, which is no longer being used for new burials, the one across from my childhood home was, and is, still growing, so as the years passed gradually the number of graves grew. I didn't really think much about it at the time, but it was a good reminder that death is always on the march.

From time to time I've wandered among graveyards elsewhere, in Australia and in Japan. Gaiman made a good choice setting his story in an old graveyard, as they always seem to have more character. I remember wandering among a hilltop cemetery in an abandoned mining town, and visiting the grave of some of the first members of my family to come to Australia in the mid-19th century.

I've visited the Yokohama foreigner's cemetery too, which holds the remains of people from all over the world, who came to these shores and never left. After just finishing The Graveyard Book, I can't help but wonder what type of community might exist among the ghosts of those people, visitors, teachers, sailors, prisoners of war, and others who found themselves interred on that quiet hill in Yokohama. I can imagine the mixture of languages and views, those who came to love the land they made their home, and those who were bought here as slaves and never found their way home again.

I've been to Japanese cemeteries too. Cemeteries are almost always quiet, peaceful places, and I don't think that the dead really mind people coming by. In Japan cemeteries are generally located near Buddhist temples, and last year when I was in a bad way I was working nearby an old temple. I would often go there on breaks, and the quietness helped me to get through another day.

It has been a little while since I've visited a cemetery, and perhaps it would do me good to visit one again. It has been years since my visit to the Yokohama foreigners' cemetery, perhaps I should drop by again, and see if the residents have anything to teach me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another Dawn

A year ago I thought this was a sight I would never see again, that I had seen my last Fuji sunrise. But it was not. I managed to get my depression and anxiety somewhat under control, and so didn't leave Japan. Fuji is still here, and so am I.

I'm tempted to go over all the things, mostly about myself, that I am unhappy with. But after reading a superb post by Jen I've decided to look on the bright side of life instead.

In the last twelve months since I started this blog I have been through a lot, and I have pushed myself as much as possible to try and shake, or at least partially domesticate, this black dog. I haven't really made amazing progress, but I have made some. I've tried to be healthier in general, eating better, exercising more, trying to sleep well. Physically, I feel better after Mt Fuji this time than I ever have before.

I've rediscovered some hobbies, and tried to reach out socially. I will never be a social butterfly, but I have been really trying, and it has helped a little. It is hard trying to keep my depression under wraps as much as possible, as my first instinct is to just blurt everything out. But I know from past experience that this is not really a good idea. I'm trying to come out of my shell a little bit, but not too much.

Living in a place where I don't speak the language well no doubt contributes to my depression, but while I am often unhappy, I am in a situation that lets me meet interesting people from all over the world, from all walks of life. Most people I know on a very basic level, but sometimes it is deeper. And when we get past the skin color, the language, the country of origin, we are all basically the same.

We are all struggling with life. Everyone has issues, whether they be with family, work, alcohol, money, or whatever. For some of us the issues get to the level of making us dysfunctional, but everyone struggles with them to some degree.

While I never quite identified it as such, in the past I loathed myself, the ways I lack, the life I have led. And I felt that I needed forgiveness and acceptance from others to make me whole. But it doesn't seem that things work that way. I'm not sure that anyone else can make us whole, I think that it is up to us to do it.

And whether or not we are on Mt Fuji, each day brings a new dawn. The sun rises, the clouds part. Light fills the world, and we have a whole new day to try.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What do we say to the god of death?

I just got through watching the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it was a lot of fun. I was really big on fantasy when I was a teenager, reading a lot of D&D related books, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and so on. I never read anything by George RR Martin. In fact, I haven’t read anything in the fantasy genre for probably about a decade, since re-reading Tolkein’s books before Peter Jackson’s films came out. I had left the worlds of fantasy far behind.

But a few months back someone who had read Martin’s series was raving about it, and telling me that I had to watch the series. I wasn’t particularly keen, but tuned in knowing nothing at all about the story.

It is quite a good series. There is a lot of good acting, interesting characters, and a medieval world similar enough to ours to be familiar, but different enough to be intriguing. Where no one lives forever.

Which brings me back to the title of this post, a line spoken by a minor character, a fencing teacher to his young charge; “What do we say to the god of death? Not today.“ Despite all the interesting characters and remarkable scenes, it is that single line that has stuck with me the most.

The reason is not too hard to figure out of course. I’m still fighting depression, and while I am not suicidal, it is tough to get through every day. But no matter. For me it is not so much the god of death as the god of despair, of hopelessness. Of giving in and falling apart. And maybe that will happen someday. We are all mortal, and in the long run we are all fighting a losing battle.

The other day as I was out running in the blazing sunlight, sweating, suncream dripping into my eyes, my legs hurting. I wanted to stop exercising, to just say “bugger it” and give up and just shuffle home. But those two words came back to my mind, and I kept running, kept up the exercise routine that is helping to keep me sane.

The end will come someday. But it didn’t come that day. It didn’t come yesterday. And it won’t be today either. The god of death, along with his buddies, despair, delusion and defeat, can all bugger off as far as I'm concerned!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Library stamps

The other day I went down to the local library and wandered around looking for a book. I eventually settled on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I’d read it once before, at least six or seven years ago, and I thought I might take another trip through Hugo’s epic tome.

As with all libraries these days, the book has a barcode and is scanned, and a slip printed with the due date. After I took the book home, I noticed that someone had left their slip in the middle of the book. They’d borrowed it two years before, at the same time as an issue of GC magazine. What kind of person was this?

During the 90s libraries changed over from the old system of having a slip of paper to stamp the return date to the barcode system, and I’ve always felt that something was lost in the reading experience. Not a big thing, of course, the book is still the same, and from the library’s point of view it is no doubt better, as they can keep better records on which books are popular, how often they are borrowed, and so on.

The books that are consistently popular were not so interesting, they just had an endless series of date stamps as one person after another borrowed them. But I was always more interested in the books more rarely borrowed.

Who borrowed this book three times in a row ten years ago? Was it the same person? Why had no one else borrowed it? What type of person were they like? Were they like me? Would we have anything in common?

With the switch to digitization, this little part of the library reading experience has gone, and apart from judging by wear and tear on the books, it is hard to tell if a book has been borrowed all the time, or never left the shelf since the library bought it.

But looking at the print-out slip left behind in the middle of Les Mis, I wondered about the person who had left it. Had they been using the slip as a bookmark, and did they give up reading Les Mis half way through? Or did they just absent-mindedly pop it in there after they finished reading? Were they a deep thinker who borrowed GC in a futile attempt to become more fashionable, or a metrosexual who borrowed Les Mis in a futile attempt to become better read? Or were they just like me, someone who picks up different reading material on a whim?

I guess I will never know. But I'm glad that I stumbled on the slip that made me wonder this. It almost tempts me to get out unusual combinations of books together, then leave the slip in one of the book for future borrowers to find.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

18k / Lists

It is Friday here in Tokyo. The rainy season has come, and it was raining for most of the day yesterday. But today was nice so I went out for a run. It was a bit humid but I went anyway. At first it felt kind of heavy, and I have had some foot pain recently. But I persisted and kept running. I took short breaks to drink and use the public toilets, and took the opportunity to stretch a little bit each time.

I had been intending to run 5 or 10 kilometers, but in the end I wound up doing about 18. My pace was relatively slow, about 90 minutes, but I’m happy with that. Before I always wanted to keep running the whole time, but that is less fun and limits my distance. My feet were a bit sore by the time I finished, but I felt a real sense of accomplishment. Tomorrow I will most likely feel a real sense of discomfort, but it will be worth it.

Moving on.. the other day I met a friend who told me about his list system for getting things done. It is pretty simple, he has the same list every day more or less, and if the things on it are not necessary for that day he just skips over it and moves on to the next thing.

Lists are something that I do on and off. They do seem to help me to get things done, but so far I have not been able to write them consistently. I keep it up for a few days or so and then lapse again. Then a week or two later I do it again for a few days.

I am the kind of person who likes routines and responds to things being orderly and predictable. As I blogged about in the last post, I’m also a person with memory issues, so lists are a good fit for me.

So, why haven’t I been able to continue with the writing of lists, despite the fact I know they help? Writing down tasks and crossing them off is satisfying, and it seems that writing things down means that they are more likely to be done. So why haven’t I been able to do it?

Perhaps part of the reason is that I have not had anyone to keep my honest about it, and I am prone to procrastinating. Perhaps a public statement that I’m going to work out a list system and then stick to it will help, so that is what this post will be.

Over the next week I’m going to work out a format for a list that I can stick to, and then start actually using it. There will be some trial and error, but I think this is something that could really help me be more effective and a bit more functional. And hopefully, a little happier.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I am not quite sure what happened to my memory. I am barely in my mid-30s, but things just don’t seem to stick anymore. My memory has never been particularly great, but these days especially, everything seems to just go in one ear and out the other. And that is really pissing me off.

At the risk of sounding kind of nerdy, when I was a teenager I could remember things much better. I was no genius then either, but I seemed to be able to keep things in my head better. I was never any good at maths or science subjects, nor was I any good at French, which for reasons which were never entirely clear, was the foreign language at my school. I was much better at English, history, literature, legal studies. On a nerdier note, I could remember most of the dialogue from the original Star Wars trilogy verbatim.

The fifteen years since then have gone by very fast, and I don’t have much to show for them. But I do have a memory that seems a lot worse than it used to be. I don’t think this can really be due to age. Early-onset Alzheimer’s seems rather unlikely. Part of it is probably due to depression. Some of it may be from side-effects of medication. Some of it may be due to being socially isolated. But whatever the reason, it is frustrating as hell.

It probably isn’t just memory either. My ability to really comprehend, to take things in is not great either. And a lousy ability to understand combined with a lousy ability to retain things is, well, a pretty lousy combination!

I’m frustrated as hell about the whole thing, and I don’t know what to do. I eat pretty healthy, I exercise more than many people do. I tried doing a “brain training” book for about a year but it didn’t seem to really make much difference. I’ve tried to study Japanese probably about ten times since I moved to Japan and always give up for some reason or another without having improved much at all. I’ve tried to learn to play the guitar but nothing seems to stick there either.

I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is. Basically, I just wish I had a better brain that would allow me to have a better life. But that doesn’t seem to be on the cards, so I guess I have to struggle on with the one I was issued.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Barefoot in the Sunshine

Tokyo had a lot of nice weather recently. The sun was warm but not hot, the humidity of the rainy season hasn’t come yet. The warm weather recently indicates we are probably in for another very hot summer, one that will probably come with blackouts or power restrictions given the loss of power from the tsunami damage to the nuclear plants. But for now, it is just a nice day to be out.

I have been feeling a bit up and down recently, so I thought it might be good to get out and get a little more exercise. I went running a few times in the last week, but I am planning to enter a few races this year, including the Osaka marathon in October, so I need to get out and do more distance for that. More importantly, I know that when I run more I feel better. So I threw on my shoes and my iPod and was out the door.

Last week I bought my first CD in some time, The Sound of Sunshine, by Michael Franti and Spearhead. It is a lot lighter and more joyful than a lot of their previous stuff, and as I jogged around I listened to a mix of it and a few other Franti albums. I couldn’t have asked for better audio accompaniment for my run.

I ran at a fairly slow speed, not pushing myself, just wanting to do the 10k with some enjoyment and a lack of pain. I did so, and about two thirds of the way through the run I reached, not exactly runners high, but a stage where I feel better. Where the sun, the run, and the music had flushed out my mind and body of at least some of its depression and anxiety.

At the end I checked my watch, it had taken a little over an hour. I stretched a little, and enjoyed the moment. Then I took off my shoes and socks and walked back home. I’ve been doing a little barefoot walking recently, and it is pretty enjoyable. It reminds me of being a kid, my feet touching the ground without being imprisoned in stiff shoes, being able to feel the texture, the temperature of the ground. It is a simple pleasure, but it is really something.

You would expect that the ground is rough and dangerous, but actually it is not bad. In Tokyo, despite a near-total lack of rubbish bins there is little litter, and while the pavement and roads are not exactly made of rubber, they are perfectly fine to walk on. I haven’t been to the beach for a long time, but I think I’d like to try and get there at some stage in the near future. I’d like to feel the sand between my toes, feel the sunshine, see the waves coming in. That’s definitely on my to-do list now.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Born to Run

“The real reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other.. but to be with each other.”
-- Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

I have never liked sport. I’ve never liked watching it, doing it, or reading about it. I’m not terribly well coordinated, so I’ve never been particularly good at it either, although I do seem to remember being not too bad at playing dodgeball in high school.

Despite this, about eight or nine years ago I started running around the neighborhood occasionally. After I came to Japan I did it more, and in the first spring and summer I was here I ran a lot. I remember running late at night by myself enjoying the quiet, the warmth, the run.

Then came winter, and the gradual fall into depression, which I am yet to really escape almost five years later. The worse I felt, the less exercise I did. Gradually I improved a little, and while I have been up and down over the years, I’ve never really fully recovered. That first plunge down was not even the worst one. In fact, the major episodes seem to get worse each time. Whether this will continue to its logical conclusion remains to be seen.

One of the things I did last year to try and save myself was to start running more often, in a more consistent way. I did the the Tokyo marathon again, and have done a few other, shorter races too.

While I rarely feel the “runners high” that people often talk about, it can make me feel better. The physical exercise itself, but especially when I run with others. There is something that feels good about it on a basic level. Maybe it is just the natural combination of exercise and having company. But I can’t help feel that it is something else, that it is somehow more than just that.

I recently read McDougall’s book, in which he talks about persistence hunting, still practiced by the Kalahari bushmen in Africa, in which hunters working together can literally run an animal to death, and McDougall speculates that this may be at the root of our ability to run. Members of the tribe would run together, and be able to bring down game that they would never have been able to catch individually, and in doing so they would be able to feed the group.

I might be just deluding myself, or making too much of a simple thing. But when I run with others, even though we are simply running to keep ourselves healthy, I can’t help but wonder if that special feeling I can’t quite define is not the ghost of those long millennia of persistence hunters, generation after generation of runners working together to survive for another day. Maybe we are indeed born to run.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pets and their passing

In recent months a few bloggers have posted pet-related stories. Snowbrush posted about the death of his dog Baxter, and getting a new cat called Brewsky. Similarly, Stephi has written and posted some pictures about Milo, a new young cat (who turned out to be male!) that she rescued from being shot.

I enjoyed reading these posts, and while I have not had a pet for some years, it is always nice to read about others experiences. But I was especially moved by reading a new post from 4-Lorn. He wrote the entry about the life and death of his dog Townsend. I’m not going to summarize it, but if you like, you can read it here.

4-Lorn wrote about his experience in a very honest, very direct way. He usually blogs about his long and determined battle with depression, and his many attempts to find a solution. But in this post he really wrote something special.

His writing made me think a lot about my own experiences with pets. I haven’t had any pets since I was a kid, but at different times our family had frogs, fish, mice, birds, and at different times two dogs, a Border Collie and a Jack Russell. Both came to fairly sad ends, and after that the family never had any more pets. I think my parents made the decision that pets were too painful to have, and I can understand that, given the circumstances.

Having pets is painful, especially when it comes to dogs and cats. They enter our lives, and we watch them grow and change like a little furry human in fast-forward, see their eccentricities and quirks. See them grow up. And see them age. And before too long, we see them get sick. Or be injured. Or die. It is a painful thing.

We never really get over the death of a beloved pet. It has been almost twenty years, and despite the fact my memory is not what I would like it to be, I can still remember the feeling of those deaths just fine. It is not a good feeling.

In Australia and many other countries it is commonplace to have pets. But after I came to Japan I met many people who had never had any type of pet. Apartments are too small, and many prohibit residents from owning pets. So many Japanese people never had the chance to experience the joys and sadness of having a dog or cat. Some people actually rent dogs or cats, but that is hardly the same thing.

I don’t know what the future holds, and I may never have another pet. But I’m very glad that I was privileged enough to have many in my life when I was young, and while the pain of their loss has never gone away, it is the same for people we lose. And we don’t stop having people in our lives just because they will die someday, and I think the same can be true for pets.

In a previous post In the Pink awarded me an “Honest Scrap” award for my blog and asked me to pass it on. I’d like to give it to 4-Lorn for writing the post about Townsend. It is a great piece of writing, and I think Townsend was fortunate to be taken in by such a caring family.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anzac Day

This past Monday, April 25th, was Anzac Day in Australia. Anzac Day is a public holiday, the anniversary of the 1915 landings in Gallipoli in Turkey during world war one. British, Australian, New Zealand, and other allied troops invaded Turkey in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war. This date is often given as the day Australia, then only an independent country for 14 years “came of age”.

Whether entering a war is a true test of coming of age is something that can be debated. But what can’t be argued with is that the Gallipoli campaign was a bloody, futile campaign that resulted in a decisive Turkish victory. The victory came at a huge cost – 44,092 allied dead, 96,937 allied wounded. The Turks, defending their home, lost far more, an estimated 86,692 dead, and 164,617 wounded. Altogether this adds up to almost 400,000 people, mostly young men, dead or wounded.

The most successful part of the campaign was the withdrawal. By December 20th 1915 all the allied troops had been withdrawn, leaving behind a peninsula criss-crossed with trenches, covered in shell craters, and soaked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of shattered lives.

Anzac Day is a day to reflect on those lost in war. As far back as recorded history takes us we find records of war. From the mess that is Afghanistan today, the trenches of World War One, Napoleon’s troops marching on Moscow, the crusaders sacking Jerusalem, the Romans razing Carthage and salting the earth, to Alexander’s troops carving up the Persian empire, we see troops on the move, cities on fire, rape, destruction, murder and theft, century after century. I am not enough of a dreamer to think this will ever come to an end.

But I’m enough of a dreamer to hope that it will. That some day the swords, rifles, and laser-guided bombs will be put aside, and we will find a better way.

I can’t help but think of a quote, very famous in Australia, from the first president of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who had fought at Gallipoli. Talking of the war, he said:

“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

That sentiment is only talking about one war, one set of enemies who have ceased to kill each other. But it is a start. And I hope someday such eloquence will not be needed ever again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy snaps

When I first came to Japan I took pictures all the time. Everything was new, so I wandered around taking pictures continually. I think we often do this when we travel to a new place. We notice the sounds and sights, historical buildings, interesting people, unfamiliar scenes. We record them as best we can.

I tend to take more when I am with other people. But I am with other people less than I would like, and in the last couple of years I haven’t taken many pictures at all. I catalog and order all the pictures I take on my hard disk, so it is easy to see how few times I have actually taken my camera out and taken pictures.

Recently I am trying to build better habits. To exercise three times a week. To play guitar a little each day. To eat better. To learn to cook a few more things. To keep my place tidy and organized. To take pictures more often.

Most pictures I take are not particularly good, and I really don’t have any idea about how to use a camera in more than a very basic way. But occasionally I do take photos that I am happy with. There is something satisfying about capturing a good image, especially if it is a thing that no one else seems to have noticed, or captured in quite the same way.

I have started carrying my camera around with me on a more regular basis. Sometimes I set out with a plan to take pictures of something, other times I happen across things that seem interesting and take a picture. I’ve put a couple of them on this blog, the guitar from the previous post, and the cherry blossoms from the post before that are my pictures.

They say that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and this week I was in Osaka on one of my rare trips outside of Tokyo. The Japanese Mint is located there, and it is opened to the public for one week a year so we can enjoy the cherry blossoms located there. I happened to be nearby with a little time to kill, so I wandered through there and took a few pictures.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making Better Habits

Friday has rolled again. There have been no radical changes since last week. A little up, a little down. The main thing for this week has been trying to maintain the better habits I am in the process of establishing.

Every day I am playing my guitar (see left) a little. Some days I just pluck a few strings but mostly I spend 15 or 20 minutes doing some basic exercises from the guitar book or just generally playing around with it. It is somewhat calming, and gradually I am building up calluses on the ends of my fingers. That is something that I’ve had trouble with before, but hopefully continual effort will fix that problem.

Also I’ve been trying to exercise three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’m a creature of habit and if I can force myself to keep doing it each of those days I think the pattern will stick. Living in Japan means that I have a decent amount of walking in my daily life anyway, but having a run or yoga session three times a week seems to be good for me.

Before, whether it was running, playing guitar, or other things, I seem to set goals for myself that I’m not currently capable of achieving. I don’t achieve them, then I get into a spiral of disappointment, negativity, and all that good stuff.

Now I am trying to just do what I can, but do it on a set schedule, so while the effort I can put in varies, I am still working at things all the time. I’m not sure how much difference this will make, but time will tell.

Also, I’ve started taking pictures again. I have started taking my camera around with me on a regular basis so that if I see something interesting I can snap a picture. In the last weeks there were a lot of cherry blossoms on show, but I also took pictures of posters, street scenes, and miscellaneous other points of interest around town. I used to do this all the time when I first came to Japan, but gradually fell out of the habit. It is good to start again, and I’ll be posting some pics here.

Well, that is about all for now. Best wishes to all, and I hope that things are going well for you.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Running under the cherry blossoms

“I have the same commitment everyday when I wake up – today I’m going to try my best, today I’m going to give it my all.”
--Dean Karnazes, ultra marathon runner

It is Friday again, and I just came back from a run around a park near my house. My legs got sore so I didn’t run as long as I would have liked. Still, it was good to see the cherry blossoms (picture above), which are in full bloom. Many people are walking around admiring them, some groups are picnicking and drinking under the trees, as Japanese have done for generations. There seems to be less people doing so than usual, in deference to the recent disaster, but people are still out and about.

I don’t feel great, but I am trying to do some simple things to keep my head above water. This week I went running three times, and I did a major spring clean. I threw out a bunch of junk that had been cluttering up my place for some time, and reorganized things. I have more space now, and I think having an organized place helps my state of mind.

In the midst of the spring clean I also pulled out my guitar. I bought an acoustic guitar years ago, before I came to Japan, and have attempted to learn how to play it on several occasions. I seem to find simple things very difficult to learn and remember, and this includes how to play music. On Wednesday I pulled out the guitar for the first time in a year and practiced some very simple exercises from the Mel Bay Grade 1 book. I told someone that I seem to pull out the guitar every year and realize that I don’t have guitar skills. He made the simple point that if I practiced every day, maybe I would realize that I did have guitar skills. I am only three days in at this point, but time will tell. Usually I get ashamed of my own inability to improve and give up.

While I was out running I was listening to the Radio National Breakfast podcast, and today’s included an interview with Dean Karnazes, an American runner who is running across the US. At the time of the interview he was in Missouri, heading for New York. He talked about how he took up running seriously because he was bored and in his regular life everything came easily to him, but he found an almost spiritual experience in his extreme runs.

As I, an Australian running under Tokyo’s cherry blossoms listened to him, an American charging across a entire continent, I thought about how different the two of us were. Unlike what Karnazes said about his own life, nothing seems to come easy to me. Every day is a struggle.

I’m not running because life is too simple and easy, but because for me it is too much to deal with. And some exercise, like therapy, medication, and other things, can help to take the edge off a little bit. I am very much a creature of habit, and I hope that by establishing better habits I can manage my condition a little better. I know this depression, this anxiety will never go away. It is part of me. But I need to learn to tame it, control it better. I hope I am on the way to doing that, I really do.

I am not capable of running across a continent. But I, like Karnazes, am capable of giving every day my all. And that's what I'm going to do.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

March is Dead, Long Live April!

It is another sunny Friday, the first day of April. Things are looking up a little bit since last week. Firstly, the horrible month that was March is over. Good riddance. For the first time in a month or so I went to a yoga class, which was nice. I also went running twice, over 5 km each time, for the first time in a month. There are no quick fixes, but being able to exercise again definitely helps.

This afternoon I got out and ran about 7km or so. It was nice to be outside. The weather was beautiful, a clear blue sky, strong sunlight and just a little bit of a cool breeze. The cherry blossoms are starting to come out now, and soon the parks will be full of people having hanami (Cherry-blossom viewing) parties.

I took my iPod along but didn’t bother to listen to it, I just ran. I’ve heard that putting too much pressure on the heel of the foot is bad, so I am trying to change my posture to land more on the front of my foot. It felt a bit awkward, but seemed to help. Exercise is essential to managing my mood, and having the continual small injuries that come from running incorrectly is not helpful at all.

There are many things that I would like to do or achieve, but until I can manage my depression more effectively I can’t do them. And the most effective way of dealing with the depression seems to be exercise. It doesn’t fix the underlying problems, but it helps my mood lift and gives me a chance to start working on other things, rather than being crushed under a cloud of misery, loneliness, and confusion.

As well as exercise being generally beneficial, I have found that ordeals like climbing Mt Fuji or running a marathon can provide a focus that allows everything to make sense, at least for a short time, for everything to be devoted towards a single goal. I’m not religious in any sense, but for me there is something transcendent in those experiences, and having them more frequently would probably be a good idea.

A couple of days after the earthquake I signed up to do the first Osaka marathon. I’m not sure if I will get in, as it will no doubt be popular. I should find out in May. But if not, there are other marathons that I can sign up for. I don’t think that running, or any kind of exercise by itself can help one banish depression entirely. But I think it can definitely be a major help.

March was a tough month, with recovering from the marathon, the earthquake and all its consequences, plus yet another visit from depression and anxiety. But March is over now. The sun is out, the flowers are blooming. In Japan, the fiscal year and the school year begin in April. The last month, the last year, were very rough. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Depressives don't get happy endings

This would be the perfect moment for the curtain to drop, but depressives don't get happy endings. They don't get endings at all, because depression never goes away. It may be forgotten; it may lay quietly for years; but it's still there. Depressives never know when it will strike again, and every new episode increases the likelihood of another.
--Christopher McDougall, The Long Road Back

I'm writing this on Friday morning, and the sun is shining through the window. It seems like a beautiful day outside. I should go outside and get some sunlight, but I need to get something off my chest first.

It would be nice if the events of the last few weeks allowed me to simply throw off all the depression and anxiety like an old blanket and suddenly become healthy, having been confronted with a disaster, having kept my head and got through it without freaking out and running away unnecessarily as many expats (and not a few Japanese) did.

But that would be a happy Hollywood ending. The reality is, the last few weeks have been tough. While I have little right to complain compared to those in Tohoku who have lost homes, businesses, or loved ones in the recent disaster, in the last few weeks I have had a number of factors come together that have brought my depression to the fore.

Firstly, I have been attempting to taper off medication, after a long time on it. I hate being on medication and I mentally equate taking medication with being depressed. I’m aware this is irrational, but can’t seem to help it. I also worry about the long term consequences of being medicated, and have been troubled about things I have read online.

Secondly, after the marathon a month ago I have had some leg problems which have greatly reduced my ability to run. They are getting better with time, and I’ve been to the doctor and had a few massages but am still not back to 100%. I had started going to a yoga class in December but slipped out of the habit after the marathon. Exercise is very important in managing mood, and for the last month I haven’t been doing that.

Thirdly came the earthquake off Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, followed by the radiation scare at the nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture. While what happened in Tokyo was very little compared to what the alarmist media reports said, and nothing at all compared to what those up north are enduring, it was a tense time. There are concerns about radioactive contamination in the water and in produce from near the reactor.

One might hope that this tense time would let me throw away my own petty concerns and depressions, but the three things above in combination were not much fun. I’ve been stressed, anxious, and had trouble concentrating. One of the most annoying things for me is the fact that I can’t seem to get my head around all these things about radiation, nuclear plants, etc. I read newspaper articles and it just does in one ear and out the other. Nothing seems to really stick, I can’t seem to hold on to it. The sober scientific reports indicated there was essentially no risk to Tokyo, but I can’t really grasp the details behind them. I just have to trust that the scientists know what they are talking about.

But I’m enduring as best I can. I’ve stopped tapering and increased the medication slightly. I’ve been starting to exercise again and hoping that helps lift my mood. I can’t do much about the larger disaster situation, but I’ve made small donations and am paying much less attention to the news. This all feels very selfish and self-centered, but you are no good to the world if you’re good to yourself. And I think I need to accept that I'm a depressive. That the depression will always be there. Denying that simple truth seems to be hurting me. And I'm pretty tired of self-inflicted pain at this point.

Depressives don't get happy endings. But food, shelter, another day above ground, and morning sunlight will have to do. I hope I'm turning a corner here - time will tell.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Earthquakes, nuclear disasters, and an alarmist media

It has been a long week. Thank you to everyone who posted over the last week, I really appreciate it. It is now Sunday night, 9 days after the Tohoku earthquake. The earthquake caused a tsunami which pounded the coast of Tohoku, the region north of Tokyo. It destroyed ports, towns, cars, homes, and took an unknown number of lives. They are still counting the dead, still looking for the dead. The images which flooded the internet and the television look like a warzone.

In Tokyo, however, people have been somewhat distracted from the horror of the earthquake and tsunami's effects by the malfunctioning of the Fukushima I nuclear power plant. Located conveniently next to the ocean, its systems malfunctioned after a pounding by the tsunami, leading to a nuclear accident and frantic attempts to get the plant back under control. The first explosions took place on the day after the earthquake, and the situation deteriorated from there. Much has been written about the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and their less than stunning track record, and there has been a lot of criticism in the press of the government.

The thing that has really annoyed me, however, was the media. The situation is of course very bad. Reactor buildings exploding and increased radiation levels are generally not a good thing. But the media loves a good story, of course. And "the world is ending" is a much better story than "this is a problematic situation of limited scope that a lot of people are working hard to fix". I can't really talk directly about the nuclear situation, as I was not there, but I can talk about the situation in Tokyo.

Everyone was of course shaken up, both literally and figuratively, by the earthquake and its aftershocks, and by the news of what had happened in Tohoku. Then when the Fukushima plant became an issue in the days after the quake everyone started worrying about that. The French and Germans were the first to leave en masse, with their embassies advising their people to leave.

Over the next few days a number of other countries changed their advice and suggested that their citizens leave. Some countries, such as the US and UK, organized flights for their citizens out. Many people took to their heels and headed across to western Japan to await the worst. There were food shortages resulting from hoarding and power shortages that reduced lighting and train services. But the world didn't end. Media from all over the world, eager to scream and shout, were more than happy to find the most scared or paranoid person they could, interview them, and then broadcast their rantings as fact.

This led people overseas with family in Japan to freak out and demand that those living in Japan leave or go to another part of Japan before the nuclear plant blew up and spread radiation all over Tokyo, ushering in the end of the world as we know it. The scientists generally seemed to be saying that even in the worst case scenario Tokyo would be fine. But for the most part the media beat up the story as much as they could, creating an environment of fear that led some to flee. They didn't flee totally without reason, of course.

Last night I was in Shibuya for a goodbye party. Incidentally, this was for a planned departure, not for a "I'm freaking out and jumping on the first plane home" departure. It was a bit dimmer than usual, with some lights off to conserve power, and the huge screens over the Hachiko crossing not blasting J-pop for once. But the streets were still pretty crowded with young people in crazy clothes and odd hairstyles. The restaurants were still open. The convenience stores, like the supermarkets, are not quite as well stocked as usual, but they are far from empty.

The paranoia seems to be subsiding somewhat. I'm not sure if FDR was 100% correct when he said that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself", but he was definitely onto something. The worst appears to be over. I might be wrong, but I think from now things will gradually get back to normal, and the long slow task of rebuilding will begin. I am fortunate in that I don't know anyone who was killed or injured, but a lot of people have not been as fortunate. It definitely helps put things into perspective.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Earthquake

On Friday afternoon at 2:46pm what is now known to be a magnitude 9 earthquake occurred off the city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture north of Tokyo. At the time I was in a subway station waiting for a train to come to transfer. Earthquakes are very common in Japan and I've never really given them too much thought. The ground shakes for a short time, then everything goes back to normal. Ho, hum.

For the first few seconds I was just expecting this would be the same thing. But the shaking was very violent, and it just kept going and going. I looked around and the other passengers waiting on the platform didn't seem to be going anywhere. The roof was shaking back and forth, the ground was shaking - everything was shaking. I looked at the ceiling and thought about how Japan has strict building codes, and that I probably should be okay. It felt a little unreal. I didn't feel like I was really in danger, nor did I feel any urgent need to get out.

After a minute or two the shaking stopped and I went out. I used my cellphone to update my Facebook status and people started commenting on it immediately, and updating their own. The phone network was totally overloaded and it was impossible to call anyone or get through by cellphone email, but the internet still worked fine and Facebook was the best way to contact people.

I walked to the office, buildings still shaking around me, the sidewalks full of people who had just been evacuated from their buildings. I met my coworkers, who were on the street outside. No one really knew what to do. There was a public announcement that said something about going to higher ground. Did we need to expect a tsunami? No one knew. The closest higher ground was a shrine nearby, so I suggested we go there. We made our way through the hordes of people and went up the stairs.

A coworker and I went to check on another coworker nearby who had been at the gym. He was still there working out, not letting an earthquake get in the way of his exercising! We wandered back to the group, bumping into various people we knew who were waiting outside their buildings. Everyone was freaked out.

The trains were all shut down. The roads were soon jammed with traffic. Taxis were impossible to get and even if they could be found they weren't moving very much. We searched for a place to stay, but everywhere was closing. Finally we found a coffee shop that was not so full, and someone got some snacks and a deck of playing cards and uno from the convenience store. We checked the news on our phones, followed other people's Facebook posts, tried to contract friends and relatives. The damage in Tokyo was limited, but the northern part of Japan was a disaster area, with horrific images of tsunamis hitting the land and destroying houses, fields, roads - and lives. No one knows the final death toll yet, but it will be high.

Eventually we gave up on waiting for the train and everyone decided to walk home. All over Tokyo many people did this, walking two, three, four, or five hours through the cold to get home. Or more. Eventually some trains started running but they were very overloaded. Fortunately I don't live so far from work, so it didn't take me so long to get home.

The aftershocks continued all Friday night and through Saturday. On Saturday the trains were running limited services, and the situation at Japan's nuclear power plants because a worry, especially in Fukushima prefecture, with an explosion at the Number 1 reactor. As I write this on Sunday I know that many expats, especially Germans and Americans are leaving. From tomorrow there will be rolling three-hour blackouts throughout different parts of Tokyo to conserve power. Needless to say, this is all very worrying.

I don't know what will happen. But what I do know is that the Japanese people are tough and resilient. And historically they have met much larger challenges than this. They were forced out of self-imposed isolation at American gunpoint in the 19th century, and within decades were a world power. After the 1923 great Kanto earthquake which leveled huge parts of Tokyo the city was quickly rebuilt. And after world war two, when the country had been totally devastated by bombing, it only took a few decades for Japan to become an economic power.

Japan today faces many challenges. It is politically unstable, with six prime ministers since I came to Japan, and every appearance that the current one is in a lot of trouble. Japan has an aging population, a huge suicide rate, an increasing income gap, and the loss of jobs overseas. But maybe, just maybe, this disaster might be the thing that pulls people together, and sets the country on a different path. I don't know. But I hope so.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


This has been a pretty long week that has left me kind of drained, and I don't have a particular theme for tonight's blog, so like the goldfish that I am, I think I will write about the last thing that I saw. Narwhals!

CID imbedded the short music video of the Narwhal song in a recent post of his as an intermission between the doom and gloom. I think this was a great idea, and the song is also incredibly catchy. At times when I've been trying to think about and discuss serious things I can't help but think "Narwhals, Narwhals, swimming in the oceans, causing a commotion cause they are awesome.." If you haven't been blessed with the Narwhals, you can check them out here.

On the topic of music, I was happy that in a post about me In the Pink picked Cake's The Distance as my song. I remember that song from when I was at university, and I've been known to sing it at karaoke sometimes.

Speaking of going the distance, I have mostly recovered from the marathon last week. Monday was a write-off, I basically lay around and was in pain whenever I moved. Tuesday I felt better, although going up and down stairs was a bit rough. Wednesday I was better again, and I also went for a massage, which helped sort my legs out too. By Friday I was in my current condition, which is probably 80% or 90% recovered.

I haven't been out to run, but I hope to do so in the next day or so. It will probably be okay, I don't seem to have any major lasting pain. It is much better than 2007. And it is even better than after the half-marathon I did in November last year. That has to be a good sign. My body still has a lot of issues, but it does seem to be improving. I'll definitely sign up for next year's marathon, and I am even thinking about doing another one this year.

I hope this finds everyone well. It is now well after midnight, and I think sleep is calling. I hope you all have great weeks.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tokyo Marathon revisited

I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.
--Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Today I ran the Tokyo marathon for the second time. The first time was in 2007, when I had been in Japan for almost a year. I was not ready for it, and had been depressed for several months by the time February 2007 rolled around. But I’m a stubborn sort, and I did it anyway. It took me about 6 hours and 15 minutes from start to finish.

I was in agony for weeks afterwards, and swore I would never run another marathon, that they were crazy things. But last year I started running regularly, and have run most weeks since May last year, sometimes more than once. And I decided to try the Tokyo marathon again. So now it is Sunday night, and I’m at home.

This year was better than 2007 in many ways. Firstly the weather – last time it was cold and rainy, and I ran wearing a disposable raincoat. I ran alone, and I ran fast, then ran out of energy and dragged myself the rest of the way. I ran in a cloud of depression too, as if the actual clouds and rain were not bad enough!

I’d be lying if I said this year’s marathon was a walk in the park, or that this year is when compared to 2007. But it has improved a lot. Today was warm and sunny in Tokyo. Also, I have made some jogging friends and did the marathon with them, at least for the first half, which helped a lot. In the second half I was on my own, and it was tougher going. But I did have a whole city cheering for me.

Many runners wore all kinds of costumes. There were ninjas, samurais, people dressed up as Pikachu or Spiderman. There was even a guy in a full Darth Vader costume, including lightsaber, and his personal stereo system blaring out his own theme music!

And hearing the crowds cheering was really nice. In the second half of the race, when I alternated between running and walking, a good motivator was running along the side of the road high-fiving all the people. Volunteers, kids, men and women, young and old. The shouts and cheers really helped a lot.

I had hoped to finish in around 5 hours, and while my final time was just under five and a half, I’m pretty happy with that. I beat my previous time by around 50 minutes, despite being 4 years older. I’m in pain, and I was in a lot of pain during the race. But that is okay. Life is pain. Much of this pain has no purpose and it is visited on us by things outside of our control.

But today’s pain had a purpose. It took me outside of myself for a while. Like when climbing Mt Fuji, my whole being was focused on one goal, and propelling myself one step at a time towards my destination. The people around me play a role, but in the end it is my strength, my will that makes a difference.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Whenever I think of alternative medicine I always think of an old ad that used to be on TV in Australia in the 90s. It was for an insurance company, and showed a woman lying down on a table, while a man chanted something and banged two large fish together over her back. The gist of the ad was that the company covered everything.. well, almost everything.

Last year I started trying a few different things I never would have thought I would ever try. I went to acupuncture weekly for almost two months. It was very relaxing, but I am not sure that it was anything more than that.

I also went to a chiropractor/masseur, who took one look at me and said I was in terrible shape. He really went to town on me, especially on my feet and legs. I felt something like bread dough probably feels like when it is being kneaded.

Despite this, (or perhaps because of it – I am something of a masochist!) I’ve been back to see him on a regular basis since then, and despite the fact that the sessions can be quite painful, I do seem better afterwards. While what he does doesn’t seem to address my state of mind directly, it does help my body get into slightly less twisted shape. And that can’t help but benefit anyone’s state of mind.

Late last year a friend recommended that I try yoga, saying that it helped them with running. So I decided to give it a go, and went along. It was hard! I wouldn’t have thought that it was so strenuous to go into simple poses, but apparently it is. I have never been the most well coordinated person, but doing some simple yoga seems to help a bit.

I don’t really buy into the spiritual side of it, and one class I went to about chakras made me feel downright uncomfortable. Not physically, but there was just something that felt wrong somehow. I’m not sure if this is just a hangover from the Christian indoctrination of my youth, my innate skepticism about and disdain for religiosity or what, but whatever it was, I just didn’t feel comfortable.

However, the other class I went to was fine. It was basically a long series of different kinds of stretching exercises. I’ve been to the class a number of times now and it seems good for me on a few levels.

It is physically challenging but not dangerous, and there is qualified supervision. It gives me a different type of exercise to running, and is a more active way of putting my body the way it should be than getting kneaded. In addition, it is a peaceful and relaxing environment, and a group activity.

I don’t have any immediate plans to try any other alternative therapies, but I would be interested to hear about the experiences that others have had with alterative treatments.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Goodbye Vic Mackey

Yesterday I finished watching Season 7 of The Shield. I watched the show from the beginning, back when I was in Australia and watched it online as the seasons progressed. But yesterday I finished watching the final season on DVD for the first time, to really mixed emotions.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it tells the story of Vic Mackey and his strike team, a bunch of corrupt cops in the fictional Farmington district of Los Angeles. Mackey was a thug and a murderer, but also a highly intelligent and charismatic operator who closed cases that others could not.

While the show was always dark, in the last few seasons, especially the final one, it was almost entirely bleak. The frenetic action never really slowed down, but it was clear that in many ways there was no point. Mackey and his guys had lost their souls long ago. Without ruining anything for those of you who may watch it some day, they all reap what they have sown.

The show had a lot to say, but it usually didn’t come right out and say it. It usually followed the maxim of “show, don’t tell”, to demonstrate what policework can do to people, the way people can give in to temptation – or not, the futility of the war on drugs. And it showed a little something about the human condition. For the first four seasons we could cheer on the cops, both good and bad, as they tried to close cases by whatever means they could.

But it wasn’t until the fifth season, when an Internal Affairs investigation started, that those methods were used on the characters we had come to know and care for over the previous years. The pressure, lies, threats, and intimidation were now used on the characters we knew and cared about, not on a random suspect-of-the-week. And they looked a lot less clever and a lot more brutal now that we knew those who were being subjected to them.

The writers behind the show did an amazing job of making us care, and they just got better as the years went on. The show became less enjoyable, but not less compelling. The acting was often top-notch as well, and some of Michael Chiklis’ most impressive moments as Vic Mackey were in the last season. Many of them were completely silent, as he was forced to confront what he was, what he had done.

This is the second time I’ve watched the series, and I don’t think I will watch it again for many years. But I’m glad I spent the time I did with Vic, Shane, Lem, Ronnie, Danny, Julian, Dutch, Claudette, Tina, Steve, David, and the countless other characters that made the world of Farmington a very real one.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Prayer In the Night

I felt awful. It was after midnight, and I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling, as I had been doing for the last hour or two. I hid under the blankets. I wished that I wasn’t alone. I wished that I could call someone. Therapy and psychiatry weren’t doing it for me. I wished that I was loved, that someone, anyone, was there to hold me.

Life had taken its twists and turns and I had found myself in Tokyo, staring at the ceiling, gripped by severe depression, incredibly alone. Longing, needing help, needing someone, anyone, to look after me. So I decided to pray.

Despite the fact that I’ve never seen any reasons to believe god exists, the childhood indoctrination I received has never entirely gone away. While I swear like a sailor at times, I basically never blaspheme.

Some part of me still believes in the notion that god is out there somewhere and wants to look after us, that non-Christian religions are somehow malign, and that there is a heaven and hell that we get sent to after we die. That we really do have souls, despite a lack of any good reason to think so.

So I sat up, pushed the blankets back, got on my knees and prayed. Said that I needed help. That if god would talk to me, give me some sign that he was real, I would believe. That if there was any time when I was open to being changed, it was now. And I waited. And waited some more. And received the answer I had expected. Silence.

I flopped back into bed, and eventually managed to get to sleep. I got through the next day. And the day after that. And so on until the present day. I’ve been up and down, and have managed to reach some level of stability through learning to deal with my depression and learning to be more accepting of myself, and of others. I am very far from perfect, but I am also very far from the person who first fell into prolonged depression four years ago.

It is irrational, but even now there is some small part of me that feels vaguely guilty, that maybe I didn’t pray hard enough, that maybe I am being tested somehow. That I need to have “faith” and then I will see the light and be shown the path to salvation.

But the only light that ever comes is that of the morning sun, as another day dawns. Any path I find will be my own, but will not be to salvation or damnation. But it might just be to a better tomorrow.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

There Is No Finish Line

I had an attempt at a post on god, life, and the meaning of the universe, but it didn't come together very well. I think I need to bounce some ideas around in my head a little bit longer before they come together properly. So instead, I thought I might steal a title from Nike's admen and talk about running instead.

It is after midnight here in Tokyo. I just went out for a night run. It was cold and there was some light rain, but there wasn't any wind, so it wasn't too bad. I had to push myself a bit to do it, but I got my running gear on, my sneakers, running tights, t-shirt, hoodie, beanie and gloves. I put on my headphones, hit play on the iPod, and ran off into the night to the sound of AC/DC's Highway to Hell - that got me moving!

I probably ran for about 12 kilometers or so. I stopped and walked at some points, sometimes for a minute or two, sometimes for a song or two. Then I picked up the pace and started running again. Not pushing myself too much, but not slacking off too much either. A nice middle ground.

The 2011 Tokyo marathon is coming up in about a month, and I am not ready for it. I wasn't ready for it when I did it in 2007 either, but I managed to get through it, despite it being an agonizing experience. And despite not really being ready this year either, I am a little older and wiser than back in 2007.

My physical fitness is a bit better than it was in 2007, and my depression is not as bad either. Also, I have finally realized that I don't need to run like a kamikaze intent on obliterating myself, the way I used to in the past. It is okay to go slow. It is okay to walk for a time. The important thing is just to keep moving - and to do so sustainably.

I think when I do the marathon a month from now I will most likely do some version of running for ten minutes, walking for two. I have tried it out at shorter distances, and it really does seem to make the run easier. Back in November I did a half marathon where I stubbornly ran the whole distance, despite the fact that alternating walking and running would have probably made me a bit faster. This was pointed out to me while I was doing it. But I wasn't capable of not forcing myself to "run" at that race.

I had quite a lot of pain after that run, and that combined with a few conversations with other runners led me to finally become a bit more reasonable, a bit more flexible in my approach. I think I needed both the pain, plus the advice from others who had been down the same road before me, to help me realize that the way I was doing things were damaging me.

It took a long time, but I finally made the realization. Many things seem to be like this. But life is long. I have time to figure these things out. And I'm beginning to think that I will, one of these days.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Well-meaning Christians

CID recently posted about a guy he used to know when he was a born-again Christian stalking him on facebook. CID talked a little about how this guy would target people who were lonely and vulnerable and use their weaknesses to pull them into the flock. I found this interesting because in recent times I had a couple of well-meaning Christians effectively try to tell me that Jesus was the only way to really recover from depression. The same old story that I am sure many of us have heard in varying forms before.

I know where these people are coming from. And on a certain level I have more respect for the bible-thumping fundamentalist than for the vague Christian whose beliefs don't boil down to much of anything. And don't even get me started on the "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" crowd whose beliefs seem to add up to the wonderfully enlightened "I believe there is something out there..."

When it comes to Christianity, the bible is ultimately the big book of multiple choice, which can be used to justify anything from pacifism to slavery and genocide. And Christianity is a dualistic religion in which there is good and bad, and if you aren't going to heaven, you're going to hell. And if this is the case, any good Christian must do all within their power to prevent that from happening. Even saving one soul from eternal damnation is worth a lifetime of work. I get it.

I get it, but I don't buy it. I went to church until I was about 15. I found it to be a terribly boring place to be. As many of the churches in Australia are, it was in the process of dying, and the vast majority of the congregation were aged 60 or above. My main memories of it are simply of being bored on the hard bucket chairs. At some point when I was around 15 I started actually paying attention to the words of the hymns, and I was appalled. They were full of toadying towards god, terrible self-loathing, and an incredible amount of fear.

They showed a world in which there was a god who created the universe and everything in it, who had unlimited power and knowledge. Yet they also showed a god so insecure that he needed his tiny creations to worship and praise him, to accept him as the most important thing in their lives. For all these creations were wretched sinners, so loathsome and defiled that god had found it necessary to sacrifice himself to himself on the cross to forgive the punishment that he himself had meted out to their ancestors for disobeying him and eating from the tree that gave knowledge of good and evil. A talking snake was involved, and it was never quite clear how Adam and Eve knew that disobeying god was wrong before they had knowledge of god and evil.

The story didn't make a huge amount of sense. But the thing that struck me most powerfully was that even if all of these things were somehow true, the god depicted in this story was far from being worthy of worship. He was petty and spiteful, and prepared to punish forever those who decided not to believe in him. And the way everything he did was justified simply by the fact he was god never seemed really satisfying. A mob boss has power, and can compel obedience. But that doesn't mean he is worthy of respect. It just means he is a mob boss who can compel obedience.

I don't wish this to turn into too much of a rant. But I think that life is a very tricky thing, full of challenges, setbacks, and problems. People are flawed and selfish, lazy and illogical. But we are not damned. And despite being a depressive who has thought pretty of terrible things about myself, I fail to see how viewing myself as an evil wretch who can only be redeemed by the grace of the god who cursed my ancestors for theft of a piece of fruit is a step in the right direction.

I don't think there are any saviors. No angels. No demons. Just us. And that is more than enough.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living Vicariously

The last week has not been much fun. There have been no major changes that prompted my mood to drop, although there have been a few stressors. I get better, I get worse. Life goes on. I don’t think that I’m ever going to get really clear of this damned black dog. But after a certain amount of trips around the merry-go-round of depression I manage to endure it as best I can.

One way I do this is by living vicariously via quality TV. A number of shows have been a huge comfort and welcome distraction during my lower times – mostly American cable TV series. The Wire, The Shield, Rome, Six Feet Under, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, among others, have helped me through some rough times. I can’t tolerate idiotic television anymore, but watching something of substance is a great help to me.

Most recently I’ve been living vicariously in the 1870s, rewatching the second season of Deadwood. Despite being Australian, I grew up watching reruns of Westerns on weekend afternoons, watching John Wayne charge with the cavalry and gun down Indians. Later I appreciated Clint Eastwood’s Westerns – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven almost seem like a trilogy to me, marking the evolution of Eastwood and the genre.

But I hadn’t watched Westerns for some years when Deadwood came around. A HBO series that ran from 2004 to 2006, it was based around the true story of Deadwood, South Dakota, a small mining settlement illegally founded on Indian territory after gold is discovered. All sorts of people are drawn there in search of their fortune, some to find gold, others to make their fortune by fleecing the miners.

Many of the characters were based on real people, and the most memorable of them would have to be Al Swearengen. A foul-mouthed, woman-beating, murderer, pimp and saloon owner, he nevertheless comes across as being human, believable, and even vulnerable, thanks to a superb performance by Ian McShane.

Swearengen, despite being a real bastard who earned the unpleasant death he received in real life, was apparently quite a smooth operator. And in the series as well, he dominates practically every scene he is in. Despite his many faults, he has the odd word of wisdom to dispense. One short scene that has kept me going several times is viewable below.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lessons learned

2010 was quite a year. I began it feeling relatively okay, then over the next few months I gradually deteriorated to the point where I was in the deepest despair I have ever been in. I reached the point where I basically wanted to die, where not waking up would have been perfectly okay by me. How did I get to that point?

It was a combination of things. Loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like a failure, self-loathing, a bunch of other stuff, plus the minor issue of having a giant hole at the core of my being that nothing could fill. Living in a country where I have never really felt comfortable didn’t help either – but then again, I was never that comfortable back in Australia either.

I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve, alone at home as the minutes tick closer to midnight. Last year I also spent New Year’s Eve at home, but then I felt so utterly lonely and abandoned. I desperately needed company, but at the same time, I know now that if I had received that company, it wouldn’t have really have done what I wanted it to. No one can save us except for ourselves.

Over the course of this year I did so many things to try and improve my state of mind. I started reaching out to people more, and came to realize that other people I know have fought – and are still fighting – the same battles against depression that I face. This helped me feel a bit less alone in my misery. And I also finally realized that only people who have been down these roads can really understand. Demanding understanding and help from those who have not been there themselves can end with incomprehension and frustration on both sides.

Blogging definitely helped. I am a creature of habit, and having a self-imposed deadline to write something of significance once a week was good, and it bought me into contact with so many people online that I have learned many things from – Wendy, Takashi, CID, Susan, Jen, Snowbrush, 4-Lorn, In The Pink, and many more.

I also started forcing myself to get out of the house and start taking part in more social activities and exercise. These started to give me a little more of a social outlet, and also provided a sense of purpose, a way to connect with the world around me.

I began to realize that my struggles paled into insignificance when compared to some of the larger issues out there. And while ignoring my own state is not useful, taking part in other struggles, working on other projects to help people other than myself was good for me and somewhat beneficial for the world around me.

As for the self-loathing and feelings of being a failure, they are still there. But the realization that choice is largely illusory, and that we are all doing the best we can, has done a lot to dispose of the feelings of “should” that has beaten me into the ground for a long time.

Things are not perfect. They never will be. But I have come a long way in the last year. So bring it on 2011. I’m ready for you!