The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Chased By The Black Dog …
July 22, 2022, 8:00 am
Filed under: Dad, Emotion, Empathy, Family, Health, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Paul

So this week has been a rollercoaster of posts hasn’t it.

Some daft … some attempting to be useful and far too many about postboxes.

So as the final post of the week, I’m going to leave you with something serious.

Suicide.

Specifically mine.

Just to be clear, I’m good. But something happened recently that reminded me of a time when I wasn’t.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving home pretty late when the song Nights In White Satin came on the radio.

Within seconds, I was transported back 37 years.

At my desk.

In my bedroom.

In my family home.

The reading lamp to my right hand side, shining brightly against the yellow curtains that were closed against the dark night sky.

That song playing in the background.

Deciding if I was going to kill myself.

I don’t mean that in the dramatic fashion of a 15 year old kid who is having a bad day. I mean it exactly as it is written.

I had never told a soul about this – no one – until I talked to my wife two days ago.

In some ways, I’d kind-of forgotten about it – or I’d convinced myself I had – except the moment I heard that song, it all came back. Tumbling out of me like an uncontrollable mass of messy feelings, memories and emotions.

Where every detail was so clear, I could almost smell it, let alone touch it.

The thing is, it was not even a particularly hard time in my life. I was to experience much more challenging stuff in the next 5 years, and yet I never considered ending my life then.

I distinctly remember thinking how Mum and Dad would feel if they found my dead body. Wondering if they’d understand it was nothing to do with them. Hoping they wouldn’t blame themselves. Then wondering how I’d get on with doing it.

My Mum and Dad were downstairs in the lounge. Literally beneath my feet so I knew I had to choose a method that wouldn’t attract their attention.

Obviously I didn’t go through with it.

In fact I didn’t go further than running the edge of the blade up and down the inside of my arm. But hearing that song reminded me how focused I was about it. How much I was considering it. How much I wondered if it would set me free me from the pain I was in.

And yet no one knew or would know how I was feeling.

To most people, I was happy and full of life. And I was … but there were times where I felt darkness would just turn up to fuck with me.

An all-consuming blackness that would envelop me in the blink of an eye. Set off by the smallest of triggers. Sometimes so small, I didn’t even realise it.

Then gone just as fast.

Something I’d put down to ‘getting out of bed the wrong side’ … when it was most likely depression.

Never diagnosed, but probably that.

It’s why the recent CALM campaign – where they showed the last photo of people who then chose to die by suicide – is so powerful.

None of the people look like they’re in pain.

None look like they’re struggling.

And maybe at that second they weren’t. Or maybe they were but had found a way to compartmentalise it. Or maybe they just didn’t want the people they were with to suspect – for reasons of compassion or to ensure nothing could stop their plan. I don’t know. Everyone is different. But whatever the reason, I think I get it … which is why this campaign is so powerful and so important.

The thing I don’t really understand is why some situations lead you to the absolute edge and some don’t. Why some cross that line and some don’t. Or can’t. I’m sure there’s professionals who can explain the reason, but all I know is I’ve faced a number of moments in my life that were of incredible pain and sadness and yet none of them came close to how I felt that day when I was a kid at home. Except once. Where I found myself in the same place. Wanting to rub myself out. Literally rub myself out. Like a stain. Over and over again. Believing – and hoping – that was the only way the pain could stop. Except in that case, I knew what had caused it and was able to talk to people before the idea took on a greater life of its own.

Fortunately those are the only occasions in my 52 years of life where I have gone to the edge. Where my thoughts were about how I’d do it rather than if I would. And while I still don’t really know what interrupted the path I was going down, I’ve learnt to not just recognise the signs when things may be going dark, but how openness and communication always lets in the light.

At least for me.

I have no problem saying I sought out professional help.

And there have been other occasions where I’ve gone for advice on things I’m trying to work out or seem to have a disproportionate hold on me.

I distinctly remember the first time I told my parents I’d been to see a councillor and they were shocked.

Shocked I felt I needed it.
Shocked I hadn’t gone to them first.
Shocked they hadn’t recognised where my head was at.

But it was good because it opened a conversation we would never have had. One that opened up understanding and support. And when I say understanding and support … I mean it in the sense they realised there were occasions when I felt talking to an outsider would be better for me than an insider. Not because they’d done anything wrong – because frankly, my parents gave me a level of love and encouragement that was breath-taking and unconditional – but it just was better for me.

A chance to talk to someone I didn’t care about.

No history.
No worry of upsetting.
No need to choose my words carefully.

I know my parents probably felt some sort of pain, sadness and guilt about me not turning to them … but they were also incredibly supportive knowing it was helping me … which is why I was able to talk to them openly about it afterwards.

And while I’ve never been in as dark a place as those two occasions – even when my parents passed – I know the circumstances for its emergence can be wide and varied.

Which is why I get very frustrated when people minimise the reality of mental health. That it’s a symbol of weakness. That it’s a ‘woke’ attitude. I also get upset when it is narrowed down to being ignited by a particular set of behaviours or situations.

Sure there are likely some common factors, but in my experience the trigger and the effect is personal not universal. To suggest otherwise not only minimises the impact but ignores the individual.

I was blessed to be born into a family that encouraged showing and sharing their emotions. Maybe if that wasn’t the case I may have ended up in a worse place. But it’s also why we place great importance on creating an environment for Otis that normalises it.

That doesn’t tell him, “boys don’t cry” or pushes him to play sport when he doesn’t want to play sport or discounts his feelings simply because he’s 7.

I’m not saying this will stop him having mental health issues in the future … but hopefully it will help him feel it’s normal. And let him know that with help – whether that is talking about it or getting professional help for it – he can better manage it.

And you can.

That said, I appreciate the privilege I have being able to talk openly about this. I am an old white man and so the ramifications on me being open about what I’ve gone through is far less than if I was a woman, a person of colour, non-binary, a member of the LGBTQ+ community or just younger in age.

And that’s kind-of why I am, because that’s fucked. Mental health can affect everyone … and while the triggers may be varied, the devastation of its impact can be the same.

To have people feel they can’t acknowledge or discuss their situation doesn’t make it go away. It makes it worse. Much, much worse. And for all the supposed claims from companies saying they are compassionate to those experiencing mental health challenges, many have found it’s either true until the company needs something from them or they just can’t risk any possible financial implications by speaking out.

[Which sounds awfully similar to how companies manage the redundancy process doesn’t it?]

Which is why if anyone out there feels they’re in a situation where they don’t know how or who to talk to … drop me a line. I am not qualified to help. But I would be very happy to listen.



The Incredible Story Of Sleep …
March 8, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Health, Sleep

A few weeks ago, I listened to a radio program about sleep.

While its importance has been well documented, this program covered the history of sleep and how it has been dramatically impacted by the way society now lives.

I know, I’m not doing a great job of selling it am I?

But if you listen to the program, you will hear how we used to sleep in 2 phases … how the Industrial Revolution played a significant role in damaging it, from introducing the attitude of ‘time is money’ to the rise of artificial illumination … how we now sleep 20% less than we did 70 years ago and how literally every ailment, illness, negative impact on life is directly attributable to sleep deprivation.

It’s 24 minutes of wonderfulness, which, ironically, will leave you wide awake.

Who knew this blog could actually be interesting and educational?

Though, I appreciate, it’s only because I’m presenting someone else’s brilliant work.

Story of my life.

So if you want to know why one of the most considerate things you can do as a partner, parent or boss is encourage the people around you to get more rest than society tends to let them experience, you can listen to the reasons and background here.



You Only Rest When We All Rest …

Over the Christmas period – our first in NZ – we had 3 weeks off.

When I say ‘we’, I mean the vast majority of the entire country had 3 weeks off.

Some even more.

This was a revelation to me.

As an adult – or at least my version of being an adult – I’d never had more than 10 days off at Christmas and that only happened because Christmas/New Years fell on convenient days so it was worth using some of my annual holidays for it.

And it was when I returned to work this time that I realised how much this 3 week break had positively affected me.

Now you could argue anyone would feel that way after that length of break, but I felt very emotionally scarred from a very traumatic December that included the loss of a dear friend, an unexpected operation for Otis and an unexpected hospital visit for me – so to come back feeling refreshed and relaxed was somewhat of a surprise.

And then I realised why this had happened.

Because it wasn’t just me who had enjoyed this break, but the whole country.

An entire nation who deeply value, respect and treasure this holiday.

And because of this, there were no emails … no last minute requests … no urgent presentations.

In fact, there were no interaction whatsoever.

And it was that ‘blanket break’ that made all the difference.

Because when no one is worried about receiving an emergency request or being left behind because everyone is at work while they’re on holiday, they can properly relax.

OK, so it helps its summer … but the universal freedom from worrying about work means everyone relaxes and replenishes.

Hell, we even made a joke about it by creating a holiday gift that was a personalised restraining order for our clients … a demand for them to not contact anyone from Colenso for a period of 21 days.

And while it was all done with tongue very firmly in-cheek, the benefit of following it was real.

Because truly rested clients and colleagues are better clients and colleagues … emotionally, physically and mentally.

In many ways, the most effective way to drive quality, efficiency and happiness is to enforce mass escape.

Not team bonding days.
Not project sprints.
No bullshit claims of unlimited holidays.
But a break.
A significant, mass, vacation that’s treated by all as sacrosanct.

Of course nations in Europe have been doing this sort of thing for decades …

And while many in the UK and US tend to look down on them as if they’re an act of weakness, they’re missing the point.

Because life isn’t simply about what you have, but how you live.



A Place To Work From …
September 27, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Environment, Health, Home, New Zealand

There are many good things about moving countries so much … one of them is the ability to continually keep your house clear of shit.

And given how much shit I have, that means it’s the difference between living in a house you can move around in, or being officially given a ‘harder’ label.

So every time we are moving, we sell/give/dispose of a whole heap of things … stuff that either doesn’t work for us anymore or won’t work with where we’re going. It’s quite cathartic once my wife and I have got past the arguments of what we individually are claiming is ‘not rubbish’.

Anyway, the reason I say this is as we are setting up home in NZ, we needed a table – but, as usual – we decided we wanted something quirky beautiful, so off we went traipsing around and then we discovered this.

Now, I accept being excited about a table is possibly the saddest thing I could ever admit to, but look at it …

A Czechoslovakian, Industrial Laboratory Table from 1976.

NINETEEN SEVENTY SIX!!!

The stories it could tell.
The experiments it’s been involved in.
The people who worked on it.

Though I’m choosing to ignore the dangerous chemicals it has probably had poured on it or churned out. Not to mention the ones still be hidden somewhere in its taps and pipes.

If it was a book, it would be a mystery story where the last pages of each chapter have been ripped out, leaving you to imagine where things go.

And while paying a fuckload of cash for a piece of 45 year old ‘office furniture’ may seem like the most stupid idea ever, when you remember how many robot dog, rabbits and – worse of all – balls I’ve blown perfectly good money on throughout my life, this could be one of the smartest investments I would ever make.



Deliberately Ignorant …

Once upon a time, a creative friend of mine rang me up.

He had been offered a job in China and wanted to hear my perspective on being there.

During the conversation, he asked if the pollution was bad.

When I asked why he was asking, he said he was pretty susceptible to asthma and while on his visit to the agency there, he had felt a bit ill, despite the weather being good.

He had asked some of his prospective workmates if they felt the weather was ever bad for breathing and they all said no and he wanted to know my take on it.

I laughed.

Not just because it’s pretty well documented the air there is not great, especially for an asthmatic – despite the government being the biggest investor in green technology in the World – but because it reminded me of something my Dad had told me while watching the Tom Cruise movie, A Few Good Men.

I know this is going off on a tangent, but hang in there.

You see, at the scene where Jack Nicholson spouts his immortal “You Can’t Handle The Truth” line, my Dad burst out laughing.

When I asked why, he said this:

“There are occasions where people will openly deny truth. Not because they hold a different opinion, but because to accept it means they would have to accept their complicity in a situation truth has revealed. Sometimes, the simple act of acknowledgement means people are forced to face and question the motives and values they conveniently chose to hide away”

His point was literally what my friend had experienced.

The prospective colleagues he asked about weather conditions knew full-well there is pollution in the air. However, their mind had almost forced them to forget it. Not because they were liars or bad people, but because if they admitted the truth, then they would be forced to ask themselves why they were there when they knew it was likely to be doing them harm.

We experience this every day.

Deliberate ignorance.

From people hired to purchases made.

Not because people are bad, but because we don’t want face the questionable decisions we’ve chosen to make to benefit our personal circumstances over health, values or friendship.

Which is why my mate decided not to go to China.

The moral of the story.

Remember people sometimes don’t tell you what they think, they tell you what protects them from you knowing what they think.