The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The hardest words to say

No, it’s not “I was wrong”, or “I’m sorry”, or “You have something in your teeth” (which I do actually struggle with, by the way). It’s not even “I’m sorry I was wrong about you having something in your teeth”. The hardest words for me to say to you, are also the words that I find hardest to say to myself.

Before we go on, though, a warning. I rarely write about anything serious, and even when I do, I can’t help but make light of things. This is, however, a serious post, and has the potential to make some of you feel awkward. It may even be triggering. For that, I am sorry, and can only say that if the thought of me being serious is a little too weird for you, now might be a good time to stop reading.

And if you’re one of those people, that’s OK, I promise.
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For the rest of you, the hardest words for me to say are these.

I have depression. And also no, I’m not joking.

I won’t go into any great detail about the whys and wherefores. I’ve had it once before, and managed to come through (mostly) unscathed. But the last year or so has been a little hard, and over the last six weeks things have finally seemed to catch up to me. At first I told myself I was just having an off day. I’ve had off days before (who hasn’t?). Then, yeah nah, it’s been a bit of a tough week, eh. I’m just tired, I reckon, and a bit stressed at work. I need some sleep. I’ll feel better tomorrow. I can get through this. I wish I was a Windows Phone, so everyone will leave me alone, and any minute now I’ll randomly reboot and everything will be OK again. But before you know it, it’s six weeks later and you’re starting to realise that, if not outright lying to yourself, you’re at least making some pretty flimsy excuses. A black dog ate my homework, as it were. And then, one day, even you can’t believe the excuses you’re peddling, and you start to worry that maybe you’re not as strong as you think you are. For me, that point was about two weeks ago, when I lost my last, treasured place of refuge. Sleep was no longer the inevitable end of a long day, but a blessing, something to look forward to, the one place I could hide from the multitude of pressures and disquieting thoughts. But after getting six hours of sleep in three days, I could run from the truth no longer. Much like Churchill himself, his black dog can be a relentless little bugger, and he’d finally chased me down.

And so, as of about 10 days ago, I am getting the help I need, and am extremely fortunate to have a good support network. The last three days, however, have been particularly hard, and if I’m not leaning against my lounge room wall crying uncontrollably, you can find me lying in bed, hoping against all hope to find a reason to get up. So, for some reason, I’ve decided to write about it.

Unfortunately, like many things associated with depression, this presents somewhat of a contradictory challenge. Because this is simultaneously the best and the worst time for me to be writing about it.

It’s the best time, in that it’s the only time you can truly describe it. When I have previously described my first encounter with depression to friends, I tended to say things like “Yeah it wasn’t fun. But, you know, it didn’t last very long” – which is kind of like Churchill cursing a visit from the aforementioned dog, but later admitting that, hey, at least it wasn’t a cat. I don’t think this is a feature unique to depression. Time heals all wounds, it would seem, and even if it doesn’t heal, it certainly dulls the memory. Those four hours that you spent literally staring at a wall seem almost funny many years later. Staring at a wall for four hours…? Outrageous! So I think it’s important to write about it now, before the meds (hopefully) kick in.

But it’s also the worst time to write about it. Writing it down makes it real. It compels you to think about everything that’s wrong, until you realise that you’re actually not sure what’s wrong, which of course makes you feel even worse. Not only that, but writing requires a plan. Structure. A mind with ordered thoughts. And right now I feel like I have none of those things. Sure, you might read this and think, “Well your thoughts seem fine to me, that Windows Phone reference was awesome”, and I would actually like for you think that. But that’s not the truth. You haven’t seen me rewrite that previous sentence six times, and still doubt if it makes sense. You’re not here to see me stare blankly at the screen for ten minutes. You’re not aware of the tears welling even as I type this, a fact rendered all the more difficult because I am in a public bar and the Backstreet Boys’ “Bye Bye Bye” is playing on the sound system. Your assessment is based only on the thoughts making it to the keyboard, and not the million others that are all fighting each other for my very limited attention. And I’m sure that none of you know the shame of finding yourself wishing you were a Windows Phone.

None of which is your fault, of course, because it turns out that not only does no one else have a Windows Phone, but pretending to be OK can be surprisingly easy. Which is one of the reasons why telling people you’re depressed is so hard, because you know it’s almost certainly going to come as a shock. I don’t really know what people tend to think of me, but I know enough about myself to know that I probably come across as a bit of a clown, always ready with a (most likely shït) joke. I probably look like I don’t take life too seriously. I post stupid shït on Facebook. I can take the pïss out of myself. I find it easy to go out and have a good time with my family, friends and colleagues. So I fully understand that a lot of the people who know me, and who are bothering to read this, will be a little surprised by my admission.

Believe me, though, no one is more surprised than myself.

Life really isn’t that bad. Hell, life is pretty damned good. I was lucky enough to be born into a beautiful, loving family, in one of the safest, most prosperous nations on Earth. I have a shït load of awesome friends, some of whom may even like me. I have a good job at a really great, friendly, inclusive workplace. I am in otherwise good health. On any given day, I am free to indulge in a wide range of interests and hobbies, like playing sport for an absolutely amazing club, taking sometimes OK photos, or writing this cräppy blog, all of which give me great joy, even if I don’t really think I’m that good at any of them. I have never owned a pair of suede loafers, nor have I ever tied a Ralph Lauren jumper around my neck, which is awesome, right? And, best of all, I have an absolutely beautiful, kind, and thoughtful four-year-old boy, who I love so much that it aches.

And that my friends, is, for me anyway, the worst thing about it. It goes without saying that no one wants to feel like this. But even worse than the feeling itself, is knowing that you don’t have a right to it.

And yet here I am.

Here I am in a place where the simplest tasks suddenly become Sisyphean, if Sisyphus could be bothered to get out of bed in the first place. A place where concentration is in short supply, but the demand for it seems to be endless. A place where, instead of running to all those interests and hobbies that bring you such joy, you have to drag yourself to kicking and screaming, only to find that the joy isn’t there anyway. A place where you have to make yourself leave the house and see your friends, because you’re worried they’ll think less of you for not going, and because you’re desperate for any respite, no matter how temporary. A place where you feel disconnected, detached, alone, unloved and useless. A place where you tell yourself that none of that is true, but you don’t have the energy to make yourself believe it. A place where you have to force yourself to eat, but also feel guilty about having a problem that others would love to be able to solve so easily. A place where you feel like life is something you’re watching happen around you, rather than something you’re living. And, worst of all, a place where seeing your beloved son requires a monumental effort, of which you are sometimes just not capable.

And you hate yourself for it.
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So why am I telling you all this?

Well, to be honest, I’m not really sure.

I know it’s not a cry for help. And I’m not looking for sympathy. I don’t need or expect anyone to rush to my aid, or start sending me schnitzels and whiskey. I don’t even want anyone to know that I’m depressed. In fact, I’m actually terrified of people finding out. Telling a trusted friend that you had it is one thing. Telling everyone you know that you have it is something else entirely. I’m scared that people will think I’m weak. That I don’t deserve to feel this way. People will look at me differently, or they’ll look at me the same, and I don’t know which would be worse. I don’t want anyone to treat me differently, or constantly ask if I’m OK, lest I burst into tears at an awkward moment. Like, oh I don’t know, at the urinals at work.

But maybe it’s important that people know. Maybe by hiding it I’m doing a disservice to all the other people who battle it alone, and in silence. Maybe I need to give myself permission to feel this way. Maybe I want to reach out to anyone else who feels the same, and give them permission, too. Maybe I want my son to read this one day, so he knows that there is no shame in being sad, he doesn’t have to pretend to be otherwise, and most importantly, that no matter how bad things seem, everything will be OK in the end. Or maybe I just ran out of things to write about.

That’s the thing about depression. It can be hard to get your thoughts in order, and decide how you feel, or why.

I know one thing, though. I will be able to tell you. One day. When I am well again.

And by dog, black or otherwise, I will be.

Now Is The Time To Worry About War

Donald Trump

World War III, as a concept, has descended into the realm of cliche and farce, with its imminence being used as an argument against Brexit, Trump, Clinton, intervention in Syria, non-intervention in Syria, Halal butchery, and marriage equality. If you’ve decided to stop paying attention to the screamsheets’ predictions of a major power conflict that never, ever ends up panning out, I’d say that was a sensible course. Until now, that is.

I hasten to point out that there is no cause for panic. I emphatically do not support any one of the stupid journalistic narratives of some accidental collision of forces causing an apocalyptic major power conflict – that sort of garbage is the result of far too much Hollywood and far too little actual study of the international community. We are, however, approaching a situation of some danger – a sort of near perfect storm of disturbances in the balance of power: questionable world leadership, popular unrest, and regional flashpoints.

While it may currently be trendy to identify Russia or China as future superpowers, and harp endlessly on about their supposed capabilities without reference to their deep, systemic internal problems, the fact remains that we currently live in a world that is still very much unipolar. Given this, the failure of the Trump White House to fall into any kind of rhythm is deeply concerning. To be fair, this administration has been subject to sustained attack of unprecedented savagery and disruptiveness, mostly by deeply hostile major media outlets, as well as from some elements within the government itself. I make no comment on this beyond saying that it’s a major factor in Trump’s continuing inability to put a foot right. The problem with this is that it renders previously predictable situations dangerously fluid. Add this to low-level, but intense and dirty conflicts going on all over the world, and the general instability and uncertainty surrounding the leadership of the USA’s great power supporters, and we have a potentially explosive situation.

Fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine, Central and Western Africa, and Kurdistan, tensions in the South China Sea, and the resulting humanitarian and economic effects these conflicts precipitate, all place great pressure on the current world order. Not only do they have real and significant impacts on governments and peoples, they also all  involve major powers who could conceivably be drawn into larger conflicts as a result. Weakness, confusion, or disarray in the USA can and will be seen as an opportunity for both friendly and unfriendly powers to make diplomatic and/or territorial gains on the assumption that the use or threat of force will go unpunished by a superpower preoccupied with the containment of its own Idiot in Chief. Deep divides in the UK, an unknown quantity in charge of a heavily armed and highly nervous France, a Germany whose centrality is becoming cause for fear and resentment in much of Europe, and a Japan made volatile by deeply unpopular re-militarisation, all make it possible to assume that the USA’s major allies and proxies may also be too busy to do anything about naked adventurism in any or all of the above-mentioned regions. What this can lead to is a situation where prestige politics becomes the only available option, and to judge from the few clear, concrete actions of the Trump administration, we’re practically already there.

What this can create is the kind of slow burner that eventually kicked off World War I. Leaving aside the moronically simplistic narrative taught in schools, there are remarkable similarities to the global instability which slowly manifested itself over a long period of inexorable shifts in the balance of power between 1870 and 1913. A fluid world order, such as the one which is beginning to develop now, needs adroit, courageous, and far seeing handling. It seems unlikely, given the current state of the major liberal western democracies, that we can expect such handling in the near future. I don’t for a second contend that we might wake up tomorrow to a nuclear winter, but whereas until now it’s been a matter of ‘wait and see’, I’d argue that in the past month we have edged appreciably closer to the kind of global disorder which could, if we’re not very careful, drop the first domino in a previously unthinkable chain of events.

It’s vitally important that the populations of the major and medium democratic powers remember the lessons of history, the price of nationalist or xenophobic hysteria, and send our leaders the clear message that grandstanding idiocy will not, under any circumstances, win them votes.

Emmanuel Macron – Why We Should Keep Worrying

Emmanuel Macron

I find myself in the curious (and somewhat repugnant) position of being in agreement with Andrew Bolt. As per usual, the Boltmeister is flinging partisan mud under the guise of ‘free speech’, but he makes a valid point when he expresses concern over the new French president’s domestic arrangements. I feel a little backgrounding and explaining is required here.

The collective sigh of relief as the people of France turned decisively away from Le Pen was audible around the world. This was partly due to the concern that over sixty years of patiently building of a liberal world order was being thrown away by know-nothing millenials and churlishly selfish baby boomers, which seems to be the fake issue du jour in middlebrow circles. But it was mostly, I think, to do with Trump, Russia, and the toxic, racist, fear-mongering of Le Pen, whose modus and support network were so eerily reminiscent of the US Idiot in Chief. Hacked emails, character assassinations, and a terror incident all conspired to make us wonder if the lessons of WWII were finally to be forgotten, and if France would elect a candidate who, while probably not strictly speaking a fascist, looks and sounds remarkably like one*.

When Macron was elected in what the leftist press termed ‘a landslide’ and the right wing papers ‘a solid majority’, the love poured forth. Major newspapers, left and right, are basically in favour of the establishment, especially if it doesn’t look like the establishment – a role Macron fills to perfection. Any serious analysis of his background, politics, credentials, or intentions (I’d recommend this) has been drowned out by the usual rank idiocy surrounding popular figures. Articles pondering the important questions like, “Who’s Hotter? Macron or Trudeau?” have crept up the search rankings, accompanied by pictures of Marine Le Pen looking sad or angry or otherwise gurning. But beyond the stupidity, there is a real sense of disaster averted which is probably justified – whatever else he is, Macron is from the centre and is probably a safe pair of hands. At least, much, much safer than the alternative. But as Bolt accidentally points out, there are still a few things to worry about.

Bolt wonders very loudly about the nature of Macron’s relationship with his wife. He harps on the fact that their relationship began when Macron was underage (15) and Brigitte was in her forties. He then leaves the reservation entirely, as is his wont, and begins comparing the French president to Milo Yiannopoulos. You can read the article here if you can bothered, but I’d not recommend it. He does, however, raise a couple of valid points. It’s possible, or even probable, that their initial relationship would legally be defined as abusive. He also points out that forensic media scrutiny is next to nil. And here we get to what I feel we have to worry about.

I hold the somewhat unpopular opinion that the personal lives of politicians only matter when they represent a conflict with their sworn duties. I’m aware, however, that this isn’t the case, and the positive spin being placed on the story of Macron’s love life is a function of the fact that most people are unable or unwilling to divorce private character from public function. So what happens, then, when disillusion kicks in? I use the word ‘when’ advisedly. Macron is a financier, an establishment figure and a member of the liberal elite. He believes in the balancing of interests for the greater national good, the judicious use of force, the preservation of essential but ultimately abstract freedoms – whatever his packaging, and whatever his vision for change, he knows the system and will play it, as he definitely understands that politics is the art of the possible. Which means that the love affair is definitely going to be of finite duration. Think Obama in his third year of office. And when love dies, the potential time bomb of his relationship may very well go off, dealing a potentially crippling blow to the forces of moderation in one of the lynch pins of Europe.

And not only this – there’s parliamentary elections still to come. There is a yawning gap of time between now and then during which the populace can grow into the realisation that their current idol has feet of clay, in that like all intelligent operators he is much more a servant of the constituted system than a weathercock for the loudest complaints. Any diminution of his current popularity (and it’s hard to see how it can go in any other direction) leaves the door open for revanchist and fascist forces to snap up parliamentary seats and leave Macron a lame duck president. Which is why I’d suggest it is far too early to celebrate. Macron’s victory is not the end of the war against pointy-headed populism in France – it’s just the securing of the beach head.

 

*Okay, she is a fascist, but her far right disguise is good enough to make saying that a matter of opinion rather than fact.