Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Impossible Task

This post is a "reprint" of a Twitter thread that I have stumbled upon a number of times over the last year, and reread each time. I share it here mainly for my own benefit for finding it again, and maybe increase the chance that someone who needs it may stumble upon it.

I claim no responsibility for the content, and have maintained the enforced Twitter "Paragraph" structure as much as possible, except where the author indicates a flow on to the next post, where I have joined them up. I have also put a break in where M. Molly Backes returns to the thread a few days later to respond to the overwhelming reaction her original thread caused.  The illustrations are also in the same location in this reproduction as they are in the original Twitter thread post.

I thank her again for her succinct words, that ring so very true for me, and hope she is OK with me sharing them here. The title I have taken from the post itself:

The Impossible Task

A Twitter thread by M. Molly Backes

Aug 28, 2018

Depression commercials always talk about sadness but they never mention that sneaky symptom that everyone with depression knows all too well: the Impossible Task.
The Impossible Task could be anything: going to the bank, refilling a prescription, making your bed, checking your email, paying a bill. From the outside, its sudden impossibility makes ZERO sense.

The Impossible Task is rarely actually difficult. It’s something you’ve done a thousand times. For this reason, it’s hard for outsiders to have sympathy. “Why don’t you just do it & get it over with?” “It would take you like 20 minutes & then it would be done.” OH, WE KNOW.

If you’re grappling with an Impossible Task, you already have these conversations happening in your brain. Plus, there’s probably an even more helpful voice in your brain reminding you of what a screw up you are for not being able to do this seemingly very simple thing.

Another cool thing about the Impossible Task is that it changes on you. One time it might involve calling someone, but maybe you can work around it by emailing. Another time it’s an email issue. Then when you think you have it pinned down, you suddenly can’t do the dishes.

If you currently have one or more Impossible Tasks in your life, be gentle with yourself. You’re not a screw up; depression is just an asshole. Impossible Tasks are usually so dumb that it’s embarrassing to ask for help, but the people who love you should be glad to lend a hand.

If you have a depressed person in your life, ask them what their Impossible Tasks are & figure out ways to help—without judgment. A friend once picked me up, drove me the two blocks to the pharmacy, & came in to help me refill a prescription. TWO BLOCKS. It was an amazing gift.

The one good thing about struggling with Impossible Tasks is that they help you to be gentler & more empathetic with other people in your life, because you know what it’s like. You know. The trick is to turn that gentleness & empathy toward yourself.


Sept 2, 2018

Hi everyone! I am overwhelmed & deeply gratified by the response to this thread. I have loved hearing from so many of you, & it has been beautiful to see you lifting each other up. I have been trying respond to everyone but I'm afraid there are simply too many to keep up with!

To answer a few common questions:

1) "Impossible Task" is not an official name, just what I've always called it. A psychiatrist might use the term "executive dysfunction."

2) Experiencing this does not necessarily mean you're depressed; it can be a side effect of many conditions including anxiety, ADD, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, autism, grief, stress, fatigue, chronic pain, etc, and/or a combination of the above. If you're concerned about your particular experience, I recommend seeking professional advice (& yes, I realize that can be its own Impossible Task!)

3) Different strategies of treatment--including medication, talk therapy, CBT, meditation, exercise, smooching puppies, etc--work for different people. What works for one might not work for another, & what worked for you in the past may not work in the future.

Let's not be too prescriptive with each other, because statements like "This worked for [whoever], why doesn't it work for you?" or "My cousin was depressed until she started training for a triathlon--why don't you do that?" often feed our inner voices of guilt & shame and lord knows that none of us need MORE guilt rattling around in our brains.

4) Unfortunately, there is nothing you can to do fix someone else. You can't "make" someone get better, no matter how much you love them. It sucks, I know. And sometimes, you can't even help them!

People who are struggling with depression, anxiety, etc, may not allow you to help them with their impossible tasks because they're so embarrassed about them. That's ok! In those cases, you can always leave the door open to future help, & just love them fiercely in the meantime.

5) If you're currently struggling with one or more Impossible Tasks, you're not crazy, you're not lazy, & you're not alone. Try to be gentle with yourself. Beating yourself up isn't helping! Consider asking someone to help--sometimes just having company during the task can help.

6) And finally, despite what depression tells you, this won't last forever. There will be a day when you're able to tackle a whole stack of old mail, or drive straight to the post office, or get out of bed without effort. There may even be a day when you WANT to! Those days usually come incrementally, not all at once. But one day, hopefully in the near future, you'll feel like your favorite version of yourself again, and it will feel like seeing the sunshine for the first time in ages. It's coming, I promise. Until then, hang in there.

Take care of yourself, even if that means cutting major corners in your life, or not being "productive," or living on Netflix & takeout for a while. It's okay. And try to let others take care of you, too, even when you don't believe you deserve it.

Remember that people want to help you because they love you, & allowing them to do something for you is its own form of kindness. Don't rob your friends of the chance to feel good by helping you do something that's impossible for you but a cinch for them!

Last thing: whenever you're tempted to beat yourself up for being "lazy," remember that you fought harder to get out of bed & get yourself dressed today than the average person could even imagine. You're not lazy. Your mountains are just that much steeper. Keep going. ❤️

Saturday, 19 January 2019


Two years back, I was working on a small pet project. For years I'd wanted to get a group together and make a short film. Two years ago today, I posted on Facebook the following. I repost it here so it's easier for me to find and remind myself that I DO finish things sometimes, and it's worth it!

People have asked me, how did the Second day of Shooting go yesterday?
Not as planned. Or... Not as not planned. I kept second-guessing myself with a heap of things, constantly indecisive, and wasted people's time and effort, petrol and temperaments in the process. Weather and temperature and time of sunset were problematic. We got some good footage, but didn't wrap filming. The blooper real should be good though!

Introspection follows:
Most of you know I suffer with anxiety and depression. They are constantly feeding on each other,  both sharing the role of cause and effect. I have long bouts of being frozen with anxious inaction, thinking, " Do something... You're wasting time... You are SO going to regret this Not-Actually-Doing-Anything!!!" But if I actually break through that (and for the first 6 months of being payroll clerk, or starting a new job, or having an interview, or an exam, that break through usually involved violently throwing up first) and actually commence something, I am constantly bombarded with thoughts of "this will all end badly... you suck at this... You know you'll just end up quitting like you always do... Quit now before you make a complete fool of yourself... Let's face it, no one believes you can do this... You are surrounded by people who are incredibly kind trying to help you out, but you are wasting their time - and whatever modicum of friendship they may share with you. This is no good... You. Will. Fail."
Mental illness is incideous, and not just mentally but physically debilitating. The last two days of filming, I have started the morning feeling much like anyone would who has two exams, their wedding, the birth of their first child, their driving test, and their first sky-dive all happening that day. It is seriously that bad, and probably understating it. My medication helps me stay the course a lot better than I used to be able to- hey, I don't tend to throw up anymore!-  but mental illness is not just "in your head". It manifests itself in quite severe physical ways. (Anyone who has watched me try to wield a pen could vouch for that!)
So if it is so debilitating to even contemplate putting myself through this, why would I? I asked myself that (yet again) in the shower today, still shaking with the agonizing feeling of "I just can't do this!" that has riddled my life for so long. And I had a bit of an "Aha!" moment. It consisted of just three words: "Tour de France". 
Every year Wendy (my long-suffering wife) stays up 'til all hours watching this grueling race, and every year I watch a bit, and nearer the end watch in incredulity at the ones at the back, the ones who have been riding for weeks with no hope at all of actually winning. And every year I ask myself, "Those guys are knackered, they are killing themselves, they have no chance of a place; why do they keep going?!?" The aha moment was that the answer to both of my questions is the same. 
I'm still not entirely sure what that answer is; I suspect that the fear of regret plays a part, but also know that regret can be a cruel diet for depression.
It may be part of the human psyche to conquer things. I don't know, but I do know this: This film is not going to be the "masterpiece" I have in my head. I don't think I have the "tools" to do that. But I do think that there have been some skills developed during this experience- not just me, but the rest of the crew- that have made this worthwhile. I also know that there is, I think, just an evening's worth of filming left. And I think WE are now more skilled to do it (coming from someone who has never been a team player, due to feeling more comfortable to "inevitably fail" alone, and has therefore found it hard to share out the challenges) and understand more what is involved (the ages waiting, followed by everything happening at once!) I'm hoping that I can convince myself that you also genuinely want to see this through, even though you now have a scarier idea of who you're dealing with: A scared weird little guy trying to complete a Tour de France from the back of the peloton, with a broken collarbone and severe saddle sores. But I need to get it done, and keep the momentum to do it.
Gilbert, Fletcher, Paul, Tyson, Thomas, and Nathan (yes, I still very much want you!), please keep pushing me; we need to do this before Fletcher disappears on his mission, or the Baleno (his very sick car, which features in the film) dies; whichever comes first!

Spoiler Alert:
The short film was, indeed completed. A premiere screening was held in my local Church's recreation hall, with the permission of my local church leader - which, considering some of what goes on the film, was quite a surprise, but for which I'm very grateful to my Bishop! It was invite-only, with cast and crew each adding names to the list. We managed to fill the hall, and even my Doctor (who helped push me along, and is very involved in my mental health care) and her husband came along! I was, of course, a mess, but they seemed to enjoy it.
The film can be found on YouTube, and if you push past the black screen opening credits that go on too long, to where the film starts, it might keep your attention! It can be found here.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


A very, very dear person said to me on Facebook recently, “I'm thankful for your courage in your various posts about marriage equality. It's not easy being open on social media - I know I'm a chronic ‘people pleaser’ and will often forsake my views for more harmonious interaction with other people.”; I'm not feeling courageous; in fact I had a panic attack earlier, contemplating how to put all these rambling thoughts that are bouncing around my Cranium together. I also feel uncomfortable with the possibility of having less than harmonious interaction with other people. I guess it's just that I've become so weary and tired of seeing people I love and respect get hurt, from both sides of the “marriage equality” argument, but also continue to see the spread of half-truths and outright lies from both sides.

So this has been hard, and I'm still none too confident I'm going to be able to articulate my thoughts on why I, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or “Mormon”, have landed on the side of the “Yes” campaign regarding marriage equality. I will openly admit that I'm a pretty poor example of what an LDS member is (it's funny; our church has managed to accumulate almost as many “names” as the LGBTQQIAA(!) community has); I do not blame my parents for this, and believe they actually did well to “raise [me] up in the way I should go”. But I, like everyone else, have my failings, caused both inwardly and outwardly, and thus I can easily be dismissed as “barely a Mormon” anyway. That would be hurtful, but possibly fairly accurate; I certainly castigate myself with the same self-accusation. But I think there are some redeeming features that drag me from the bottom of the unredeemable sinner pile. I would like to think that, at least occasionally, I endeavour to remember that “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…” The ol’ Golden Rule: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself” (the positive or directive form), or, “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (the negative or prohibitive form).

So, one thing I'd like to clear up first; I fear that many church members somehow missed a fundamental shift the church has made concerning “Homosexuality”. I grew up with the writing and talks of Spencer W Kimball and Bruce R McConkie, with statements  concerning Same-Sex Attraction such as

"God made me that way," some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. "I can't help it," they add. This is blasphemy. Is he not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be "that way"?’,  “homosexuality (along with a long list of other things; Bruce R McConkie was quite exhaustive in his ‘Sex Immorality’ section in his thankfully now out of print ‘Mormon Doctrine’) (is) condemned by divine edict and (is) among Lucifer's chief means of leading souls to hell” “But it can be corrected and overcome.

Alas, there are still many members who believe that this is still the church's stance, that it is a choice, that can be cured. Homosexual Conversion Therapy is still bandied about in certain ignorant quarters. It is not a Choice, and nor does the Church continue to hold that belief. On the official Church website we read:

“Feelings of same-sex attraction are not a sin. Elder M. Russell Ballard stated:

Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including [those with same-sex attraction]’” (“The Lord Needs You Now!” Ensign, Sept. 2015, 29).

While same-sex attraction is not a sin, it can be a challenge. While one may not have chosen to have these feelings, he or she can commit to keep God’s commandments. The parent of a child who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay should choose to love and embrace that child. As a community of Church members, we should choose to create a welcoming community.”

“For someone who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay, counseling may help the person approach his or her sexuality in healthier, more fulfilling ways. However, counseling and therapy are not needed by everyone.

While shifts in sexuality can and do occur for some people, it is unethical to focus professional treatment on an assumption that a change in sexual orientation will or must occur. Again, the individual has the right to define the desired outcome.” (emphasis mine)

And where once family-banishment seemed commonplace upon learning of a child's “unnatural” sexual orientation, the church offers wonderful guidance, pleading the opposite reaction (see .)

So, we as a church have come a long way concerning something that affects roughly 10% of the world's population; roughly the same number who are left-handed. Think about that for a moment. Think how many people in your local congregation are left-handed. (I'm waving my left hand wildly!) Statistically, we also have in our congregation the same amount of people who, whether you, or they, like it or not, don't sit in the pew marked “heterosexual”; repeating Elder M. Russell Ballard's words, “‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people”.

And then, “The attraction itself is not a sin…” - and here is where God's law, and civil, law-of-the-land law diverge - “but acting on it is.

That's tough. Here you are, a member of what you believe to be the Church of Jesus Christ, but you've been born with desires that you cannot act on without offending God. Those limitations are also placed by God upon everyone else, but everyone else has an option to act on those desires; they can get married. Not so those with Same Sex Attraction. These brothers and sisters who do sit amongst us are mighty strong who choose a life of celibacy, and have my awe-filled respect.

All that (and yes, it was a lot) being said, what of those not of our faith? What right do we have to deny the right of civil union of two consenting adults, who are already, legally allowed to act on that “complex reality of same sex attraction”. What right?  

One of the other axioms that I have endeavoured to live by, is also one of my favourite pieces of modern day scripture; this is scripture that we believe has been given by God through modern day prophets. It is actually one of our "Articles of Faith", a concise listing of thirteen fundamental doctrines of Mormonism composed by Joseph Smith as part of an 1842 letter sent to "Long" John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, and first published in the Latter Day Saint newspaper Times and Seasons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), later canonized the articles as scripture in 1880. Article of Faith 11 reads:

We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

Holding to this has resulted in friendships through my life with (amongst many others) Baptists, a few members of the Salvation Army, a Jehovah's Witness, a couple of Pentecostals, a bunch of agnostics, a nonconformist conglomerate of atheists, and a wonderful Muslim Turk who made the best Kebabs in Fairfield, NSW- just don't call them souvlaki!

Article of Faith 12, just out of interest, reads:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

(So if you see a “good Mormon” doing sixty through a school zone, they are not only breaking the law, they offend God in the process!)

Which brings me to a scripture that has a great deal of meaning to me, that in a lot of ways intertwine these two articles of faith. I'd say that second only to Doctrine & Covenants 89:12-13 (Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.) one of the most ignored of all modern day scripture seems to be this: it's found in The Doctrine and Covenants (a book of modern-day revelation), contained in a section excitedly called 134. Within the Section’s preface, we read: A declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, adopted by unanimous vote at a general assembly of the Church held at Kirtland, Ohio, August 17, 1835.

The whole section is not very long, and well worth a read, and can be found here:

The verse in particular that does the intertwining of Articles of Faith 11&12 in Section 134 is verse 9:

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

And therein lies the rub.

And it's a rub that cuts both ways, to mix metaphors, amplified even more so with the hypothetical claims of certain Anti-Equality camps; that of the “slippery slope” that could well allow demands by some for the legal acceptance of polygamy.

Because we, as LDS, are a people built on the back of polygamy.

From the LDS church’s webpage “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” (again, well worth a full read to grasp more fully the parallels our gay friends and family members currently face):

For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman. The beginning and end of the practice were directed by revelation through God’s prophets. The initial command to practice plural marriage came through Joseph Smith, the founding prophet and President of the Church. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church.

The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event. Revelation came “line upon line, precept upon precept.””

To quote from the manifesto itself, canonised as scripture:

The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?
(Emphasis added by me)

My first rhetorical hypothetical (seeing as we seem happy enough to predict hypothetical outcomes) question for you all is this:

You're a kind, loving, Christian, non-LDS US family in the late 1800s, living next door to a nice, very large Mormon family that's currently practicing polygamy. Would you be one of the sixty millions of people opposed to them continuing? If a voluntary postal survey was dropped off via Pony Express, with the question:

Should Mormons be allowed to continue practicing plural marriage?
□ Yes                         □ No

What box would you tick, do you think?

Let me ask a second, rhetorical hypothetical question:

You're a kind, loving, Christian, LDS Australian family in the early 2030s. Marriage equality between two consenting adults had already been made legal a decade previously. The slippery slope has been slid, and in a surprising and somewhat controversial move, the Prophet of the Church requests its members to request of the government the right for Church Members and other faiths that have traditionally practiced plural marriage to do so in this country. Extensive polling shows 70% approval by the Australian populace, but the Government of the day can't do what they're paid to do, learnt nothing from the voluntary non-binding postal survey fiasco, and there, in front of you, delivered by a completely privatised Australia Post Drone, is a voluntary non-binding postal survey, with the simple question:

Should consenting adults be allowed to practice plural marriage?
□ Yes                         □ No

Be aware that there is strong and vocal opposition to this, no matter the polling. Which box would get your tick this time?

Yes, this is all hypothetical, and I certainly don't wish to know the answer to these two questions. I just want you to think it over, and identify how you feel.

I reiterate Doctrine and Covenants Section 134:9

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

So what of The Family: A Proclamation to the World? If you had managed to drag yourself away from this gripping essay, and read the full Section 134, the next verse perhaps answers that question:

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

And the fear of the impact on children? I am honestly not being flippant, but how much of these terrifying statistics is the result of same sex marriage? My admittedly very small experience with same-sex couples raising children have put my own nurturing efforts to shame.

All this I say from the very blinkered perspective of one who believes he will never see a same-sex marriage performed within an LDS chapel, let alone a Temple, and will defend the Church's (and all Churches) right to take that stand. Just as strongly as I will continue to fight for the rights of two consenting adults - including many wonderful, loving, caring, shy, terrific friends and family - outside of the church to be able to have a civil marriage in Australia. Because it strikes me as totally and ridiculously bizarre that, because I am legally married, I can in this country break one of the Big Ten and (God-Forbid) legally commit Adultery, when so many of my friends and family can't, because they can't legally be married to those they love!

DISCLAIMER: I’m no expert in nuffink except writing long, poorly punctuated ramblings. I represent no one, and no party, in said rambling. I suffer from mental disorders severe enough for you all to completely discredit this rambling, carte blanche. Any offence caused by said rambling is completely unintentional. Minds far superior to mine could probably poke holes the size of Kerberos through any of my statements. That being said, I never said this was my argument; just the reasons why I, as a Mormon, marked the yes box on my voluntary, non-binding, non-vote, evilly divisive postal survey, that even when over will leave us all back where we started.  Thank you for getting to the bottom of this; if you did, and actually read it all, ask me for a hug. It will take me even further out of my comfort zone, but you'd deserve it.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The One With the Vice Principal

Hi. Not sure how you got here, but hi! This post is a little long, and quite personal. I wrote it when I was sick, so my editing is woeful, as is my ability to discern what I should and shouldn't put in. Some may consider these two things to be the same; in this case, they are not. There is a subtle difference.  I ask one thing. If you are going to battle through this post, please imagine you are sitting in a small theatre, and I am delivering this on an empty stage, as a monologue. There is a point at the end of the next paragraph where you are given the option to leave without going on.  If you are not up to “hearing” three thousand words after that point, leave. If you decide to remain, I ask that you sit through the rest without leaving, or throwing Jaffas.  It will take you fifteen minutes, tops. The fact that I am naked on stage may further influence your decision. If it's any consolation, the only way I'm going to make it through this monologue is to imagine that you are too. Are we sitting comfortably? Then let's begin.

It has been quite some time since I have written in my “very  occasional” blog, but there has been something that I have felt a need to share since attending a local college performance of Patricia Cornelius' You Still Here?, which  centres around young people in Tasmania in the Eighties as they consider their employment opportunities, life, and sense of home within our island state.  It was a great performance, and perhaps especially resonated with me, as the Eighties in Tasmania were MY teenage years. Also, being in such an intimate theatre that Elizabeth College is blessed (and, perhaps, cursed) with, I couldn’t help but be caught up in a nostalgia trip of the the whole vibrant “thespianity” (it's a word; honest!)  of it all. For it was in those teen years also that, to use a terrible cliché, I developed a love of the smell of the greasepaint, the sound of first night opening curtains, and the glare of stage light.  So there was an almost overwhelming flood of memories and emotions that night; some wonderful nostalgia, but also the surfacing of deeply-buried memories and guilt-ridden regret. It was hammered home even more by the role that was played by the friend I went to watch; I expressed to him afterwards how impressed I was with the dignity he brought to the character (which could easily have become an overplayed caricature), and that I might explain to him one day how gutsy and important a role it was, and why it resonated with me so much. Upon reflection I felt the need to go a little further; to put this on public record and maybe seek a little redemption also. It may be picking at old scabs, and like watching a slow motion train wreck, so if you find life squeamish, Look Away, Look Away! For this all may seem a series of unfortunate events.

In the play, my friend had the challenge of portraying a gay teen, contemplating his future in a State of Australia where homosexuality was still a crime. It is an uncanny coincidence that, on the day I write this, Tasmania is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its decriminalisation, in 1997.  Only two years before my eldest child was born. It seems incredulous. While I incredule(!) over it, I should also point out that, no, this is not a “coming out of the closet” manifesto; that revelation may have halved the few remaining readers who have struggled this far, but in many ways this story is -dare I say queerer?- than that!

The events I refer to are muddied by time; I'm almost forty-nine as I write this, and I was only sixteen when the following transpired. The memories have been reformatted and re-photocopied in my head many times. I shall make every effort not to over-sensationalize things, but any “quotes” I may use will certainly not be verbatim, but instead, dramatic reconstructions. I also have a habit of excessive use of punctuation; I especially like the subtle curves of the semi-colon, and seem to use them 100 percent more than I should.

Looking way back then, I can’t help but regurgitate, with thanks to Dickens, another now-cliché:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”

High School in Tasmania covers years seven to ten, with college covering years 11, 12, and if you're pacing yourself (or really have a tough/lazy/crazy time of those two years) also year 13. I attended a high school out of area, and as such only knew a handful of people there in the transition from primary school. It was a fresh start, and, not being a great maker of friends, quite a daunting task. I was twelve,  and surprisingly very quickly developed a firm friendship with a great, funny, talented guy; basically a great mate. What I did not know was that he had been labelled in his previous school by the kinds of kids who like to do such things, and because those kids followed him to highschool, he wasn't able to shake that label off. And so, being friends with him, I inherited the label too. At twelve years of age, I became a “poofter”. I use that word, much as I find it loathsome and disgusting, because that was the label that was used. “Gay” came later. Grade seven? I was a dirty poofter.

Even after a string of girlfriends those first few terms (my friend and I seemed to play tag-team there; what was it with that?), to a certain influential segment of that year group we were gay, with everything that that, with their overactive imaginations, entailed. It was incredibly incongruous having somehow developed the label of “Casanova” at home, but at school be the opposite! Even after that mate (in the very Aussie sense only) moved away after that year (which, most confusingly amongst all of this, just absolutely broke my heart), I was stuck holding the label.  All my school shirts seemed to have it embroidered across the breast pocket in eighties-pastel-pink.  I think I managed to deflect it from the few other friends I had in high school, but it was one that I never managed to shake.

On my grade ten central Australia school trip, early in the year, we spent a night underground in an opal mine in Coober Pedy. It was in the pitchest of pitch black that I heard the taunts of familiar voices whispering threats of “the poofter is in for an uncomfortable night tonight!”; they probably slept well that night, but every rustling sound of a sleeping bag had me flinching.

Near the end of the same trip, as we reached the outskirts of Adelaide, there was a mass exodus of guys from the coach to use the roadstop restroom; it had been discovered at previous roadstops that dispensers of the condom variety were common in such places.  There were now only a few nights left on the tour for chances, real or imagined, to make use of them, so these guys wanted to be ready. Or seen to be ready. Or seen to be macho enough to be seen to be buying them! I thought little as I could about it, until that evening at that night’s camp spot. I was in the shower block alone; showering, strangely.  There was suddenly a bustle of activity outside the stalls, as a gang of  “yearmates” came in. The ringleader immediately called my name from outside.  I have no idea how they knew I was in there, but was thankful that my clothes and towel were in the locked double cubicle with me, as they were the usual targets in scenarios like this in the school change-rooms back home. Unfortunately there was a big gap between the top of the cubicle and the roof. “Tell me what this is, ya poofta!”, the ringleader called over the wall. I ignored him, as the others cried “he probably doesn't even know!”, and various other taunts. And then he called out again, “Tell me what this is, or I'm climbing over that wall and I'm going to use it on you!”  I was naked, the shower still running, absolutely terrified at what this thug of a man (although I was around 6” by this time, this creature towered over me) was about to use on me in my exposed state!

I looked over the top of the stall, quickly identifying the half-dozen usual suspects that I would have no hope of running the gauntlet against, and then looked at what Biff (yes, names changed etc.) held aloft. It was a small, square, shiny packet.

Oh (whatever expletive my “closeted potty-mouth” brain was using in my head in those days)!

The laughs and taunts increased again, then fell, as Biff stepped close enough to look down at me over the top of the wall. This, I remember vividly: although completely naked, and having this thug stare down at me, I made no attempt to cover myself up. It was as if I felt that my dignity, whatever shred might be left of it, would be better maintained by not doing so, than by making some pathetically feeble fumble. That being said, he didn't look anywhere other than straight into my eyes. I have never been good at that; eye contact does my head in, but I think I was too scared to not do so here. I was fully convinced that the headspace this guy was in meant he was ready and capable of doing anything to me. He asked again, “Tell me what this is, or I'm coming in to use it!” “Yeah, except he'll probably enjoy it!”, spewed one of the brute squad. And then I told him; for the next thirty seconds or so I reeled off every name I'd ever heard for the humble condom, in quick succession. I don't think I could do it again, and I don't think I made any up, but I think I even used some names that they hadn't even heard of before! It seemed to catch Biff completely off-guard, but also gave him a convenient escape from any carry-through-of-threats. “You're​ lucky, you poof! I was saving this for (insert very unlikely girl's name here).”

And they left.

And I bawled. As quietly as I could.

A number of weeks later, back at school, one of the smaller members of the brute squad who was out on his own cornered me in the school yard and started his own taunts. It must have been a bad day because I suddenly lost it, grabbing him by the arms, swinging him around and slamming him repeatedly against the wall yelling “I. Have. Had. Enough. Of. THIS!!!” (And this was months before William Shatner did the same with his foot into Christopher Lloyd's​ face!) I might have hurt him a bit. I certainly hurt his pride. I immediately feared gang retaliation, but it didn't happen. I'm guessing he didn't tell. Pride? Guilt? Respect?! Who knows? But he certainly avoided eye-contact with me forever after that.

I never really understood the longevity of this box I lived in, nor was it something I thought I could really discuss with anyone else; not that I thought anyone could do anything about it anyway. I honestly don't think it was helped by my love of the performing arts; rightly or wrongly there seems to be a perceived correlation between the performing arts and a propensity for attraction to members of the same sex. Your mileage may vary. But it was this love that leads us (thankfully!) to the ending of this tedium.

At the end of August the school's major production was staged, over two nights. I scored one of the leading roles, and struggled desperately with learning the lines; I guess I managed better than the other guy who was supposed to be playing the same part on the other night, as I ended up playing both nights. (Bizarrely, the only lines I still remember from the entire three act play belonged to someone else!) The rest of the cast were predominantly in year ten like myself, with a few exceptions. One of those was an extremely flamboyant lad from grade eight. I use the word “lad” somewhat loosely, because if I recall correctly he could sprout facial hair on his top lip in a way that I would only come close to many years later. He was also (and at this point I risk identifying him fully, but hope he will understand, and forgive me) an absolute Boy George fanatic, as if the Culture had been Clubbed into him! He was effervescently larger than life. He was also teased and taunted mercilessly- for being gay. My biggest regret is that I have no recollection as to whether I actively participated in said bullying. I regret I have no recollection, because it makes me terribly afraid that I did; making me guilty of inflicting upon someone else the very hell I, myself, had had to endure. At the very least, I did nothing to stop it; and in that environment I think I may have been in a position to have actually done “something” about it.  What I DO remember was being secretly jealous of this guy. He just oozed self-confidence on stage, and above all emanated an incredible impression that he was comfortable in his own skin, and wasn't going to let anyone change that. He was fourteen then; I still haven't come close to achieving that! It may mean nothing to him, but if there is anyone who has read this far, and still knows him (and I think you'll know if you do) please pass him a link to this? I owe him some respect and an apology!

If you thought “Yay! He's achieved catharsis! AND- more importantly- that's the end!”, you haven't watched Aliens.

A few days following the final performance, I noticed a grade seven kid following me.  I stopped walking. He stopped. I started again. He followed. I stopped again, and resisted the urge to continue the age-old tradition of picking him up and sitting him on top of a locker, as had happened to me as a year seven annoyance. “What!?”, I asked.
“Ummm, I just wanted to tell you what a great job you did in the play.”
“Yeah, I don't know how you managed to learn all those lines!”
“Nah, I don't either! I mucked up a few.”
“Well, I thought you did great.”
“Thank you.”

I asked his name, we chatted a little, then it was a “see you around”, and I went on my way.

I did see him around. Quite a bit. He was a loner, and I guess I felt that a bit. I'd say “hi!”, and ask him how he was going. He was often evasive, but occasionally opened up, and I listened. He was a nice, shy, struggling kid. I guess I felt idolized a bit, and it felt strange. And good.

A few months (and a number of exams) later, the year tens were counting down the days to end of high school- a month earlier than the rest of school. It was a time of half-baked lessons (reports were already written), boat trips, and beach activities. During one of those half-baked lessons, it happened. A call came over the PA, for me to go to the vice-principal’s office immediately. I had managed to keep my head down fairly well for four years, so this was a bit of a shock to me(!), and, as reflected by the chorus of mocking “Ooooooh!!!”s, to the rest of the class.  I went downstairs, and knocked on the VP’s office.  As soon as he answered the door, I knew things weren't good. The look he gave me was one of smug disdain. This smugness continued in his voice as he asked me in, and told me to take a seat.

“Look, this is somewhat awkward, but I've just finished talking to a very upset grade seven student who I believe you know.”

For the love of all things bright and beautiful, I had no idea who or what he was talking about, and hoped the look on my face reflected that. What I got was a look of patronizing “oh, please!”

He named my little fan-boy. He then said, “he's really upset that you are leaving this week.”
“Oh. Wow.”
“Yes. (pause) So tell me, so I can better understand this all…” And then the puzzle-piece that explained everything; the attitude, the looks, the vocal tone. And the sudden, cynical raised eyebrow. “... what exactly is your relationship with this boy?”

And I suddenly found myself in an episode of a show I had been allowed to watch by my parent's a few years earlier- famous in my mind up until then as being the first time I'd ever seen a portrayal of two people (quite discreetly) making love. “To Serve Them All My Days”, a brilliant British drama about a shell-shocked WWI veteran from Wales returning to England and taking up a post as a teacher at a boarding school. It includes a scene where a crazed Headmaster commences a witch-hunt for older boys being “overly familiar” with younger boys in the dorms. I knew enough by then to understand what was going on in that show. I therefore also knew enough by then as to what the vice-principal was insinuating. In that moment I felt far more vulnerable, stark-naked exposed, and in “deer-in-the-headlights” danger than I did in that shower stall six months before.

Four years of living with the label by my peers, and to top it all off I'm copping it from the VP, but with far more serious, accusatory undertones. This was not a bullying taunt. It was a legal challenge.

I told him “what exactly” my relationship was, but by then I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I didn't have a lot of time to give it any thought anyway, because he looked at the clock on the wall, and said, “Well, there's fifteen minutes before this class period is out. He's sitting on the side of the soccer fields. Please, go speak to him.” He stood up, and strangely shook my hand as he let me out of the office. As I left, he said “Good luck”

I wish I knew what I said to that boy (heh. I call him boy, but now realise at my current age how little difference three years makes!). I can't remember. I was still processing the conversation that I'd had with a “responsible adult, in authority” suggesting, albeit indirectly, that I was involved in an act that I knew was illegal in Tasmania. And all that that entailed. That's what was racing through my head.

But I do know this. I manned up at the end of whatever I said to him, and we embraced. Tears fell from my eyes onto the top of his head, as he sobbed into my chest. This was not a “gay” or “sexual” hug; it was the heart-rending embrace of two man-children heading into uncertain futures, in different directions.

Was he gay? I don't know, and now that he legally “can” be, I don’t care. So much. Because there's still an awful, terrifying divide between what is now legally accepted, and what is socially accepted. And that divide isn't closing anywhere near fast enough. Any of my peers that grew up “poofters” in the Eighties, I salute you. Especially those who stayed in Tasmania. I do not claim to have anywhere close to a full idea as to how it has been for you, but I think I have a small inkling. And for those teens struggling now with this label, whether imposed by others, or self identified- closeted or out- I salute you too, with a virtual man-child hug. I ache for your struggles.

Prior to You Still Here?’s opening night I jokingly asked, “I just hope there's no teenage angst in it…”
My friend's​ reply? “Well, a minimal amount”
Heh. He did good.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Wherefore, honest and wise men and women should be sought for diligently.

(The day before the Septmber 2013 Australian Federal Election, I made the following post on Facebook. I post it here for my own historical records.)

I was asked by a friend yesterday - and so there is no misunderstanding, Dermot, I still consider you a friend - "Are you a Labor voter Colin?" I guess recent comments I had made suggested to him this was the case.

My immediate response was a somewhat flippant "I am not and have never been a member of the Communist party. I do not and have not adhered to the tenets of the Communist party. * * * I have never followed the Communist party line." If you don't get the reference, look it up.

However, it has since got me thinking. In my lifetime I have had the opportunity and privilege of exercising my democratic right in this great country, and this great state, nine times on a national level, seven times on a state level, and I believe I have never missed a local council election during my "Eligible to Vote" lifetime.

During that time have I ever voted for a Labor candidate?
Indeed, I have.

During that time have I ever voted for a Liberal candidate?
I have, yes.

During that time have I ever voted for a Green candidate?
Yes indeed.

During that time have I ever voted for a Democrat candidate?
For sure, and I miss them!

During that time have I ever voted for an independent candidate?

So what does that make me, politically? It makes me someone who endeavours to follow this (to some, familiar) tenant:

"Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.
Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil."

For those who recognised this tenant, you would understand why I believe this to be a God-given mandate, so:

During that time have I ever made a donkey vote?
Absolutely not! That's not seeking diligently! Has it been easy to find such persons? Sometimes, sometimes not. But I believe God expects it of me to diligently try. It has also resulted on occasion voting for a candidate in my electorate who does NOT belong to the party I'd prefer to win, due to the fact that they match the mandate, but the candidate in my electorate representing my preferred party does not!

Is someone who is honest and wise to me going to appear the same to someone else? I certainly don't expect that to be the case.

So, I hope that that may shed some light on my political stance.
And just to clarify for you literalists out there, champing at the sexist bit regarding the above tenant:

During that time have I ever voted for a female candidate?

May you all seek diligently your honest and wise candidates before you vote tomorrow.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

After Two and A Half Years...

For more than two and a half years I have been doing what once I would have considered inconceivable. For the first year consisting of two visits a week, then once a week,  I have been seeing a psychotherapist.

On Tuesday,  the twenty-fourth of September, I had my final visit. I said farewell to someone who has become a dear friend, and now knows more about me than I know about myself. She is moving interstate and so, like a bird with a once-broken wing, I am being set loose into the wilds.

I have such mixed emotions right now, but things are good. I have changed a lot over the time I've been seeing Lizanne; I am certainly not the dazed, confused, and outright suicidal blubbering mess that presented at her door the day before being admitted to hospital.

But some things haven't changed.

I  still  struggle with major anxiety, being prone to panic attacks at totally unpredictable times. I wish I could do a brain switch with those who cannot comprehend how real these are. The bouts of depression certainly are less severe, but the black dog still visits. Crowds still freak me out, and to be honest, people freak me out! If I can avoid social gatherings, I usually do. Meetings kill me; if I turn up to one it is a miracle - if I participate,  even more so. I also still have a hard time accepting praise, belittling the reason for it, not feeling worthy of it. Praise is just awkward!

That being said, I feel joy once more! What may be insignificant to many has taken on new meaning to me; the exquisite taste of banana, fluffy clouds (even snow clouds!) the swirl of the Milky Way overhead on a clear night, the tantalising odours of the main local restaurant strip, a walk in a rainforest, a dip in the ocean, or lake, all bring joy where once there was none.

Mental illness is a cruel, insidious, deadly brute.  I deem myself incredibly lucky to have a tender, long-suffering wife who has been and continues to be an incredible strength to me. I have been fortunate to have received incredible community health nurses, who have shown genuine concern and given professional care. I have the utmost admiration for such amazingly dedicated professionals. I have (after some very disturbing and horrific mis-fires) been put on medication that, although not without its side effects, has smoothed some of the bumps and dips. I consider myself most fortunate that work has been very supportive, and that I have some at work whom I call true friends, who put up with me and watch my bottom - er - back. Family and friends have been of immense support. And there have been a great couple of podcasters who have on innumerable occasions put wind in my becalmed, cabin fevered sails, and made me laugh inappropriately in public. They may never know how much influence for good their hilarity has done.

And I am grateful that after one bad experience with a therapist, and an ineffectual one with another, the community Psychiatrist put me in contact with Lizanne.  I STILL don't know how conversational psychotherapy works - the sceptic in me is still incredulous at what these sessions have done for me. But they have, I totally concede, been of immense benefit.

The mountain that overlooks the city in which I live has been the topic of many a session; it is another source of joy. After riding home by bus after a session that happened on the same day I picked up my new camera (another source of joy!) I stepped off the bus and happened to glance up at the mountain. I was in awe - so much so that I walked a hundred metres away from my house to get a better shot. I had the photo printed on a small canvas as a "thank you and farewell" gift. She was a bit overwhelmed,  as was I. She said that she'd love to put it in her new consulting room. We discussed that a bit and concluded that some may find it foreboding and gloomy. It just shows how far I've come, I guess. This image makes me happy!

So... I'm therapist-less. I'm not seeking a new one; the thought of picking at newly formed healing scabs makes me... well... depressed! So I'm going it alone - except I'm not. There's all those I mentioned before with me, plus others. If you got this far reading this... stream of consciousness, then you are probably with me too. No doubt there are going to be some times of turbulence, and times that I'm not going to be so fun to be around (that hasn't changed!) but I'm hoping I can tolerate all this company.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pandora's Briefcase: It's in the Can

For those who haven't twigged yet, Pandora's Briefcase contains my collection of obsolete media storage mediums. "Obsolete" is a fairly nebulous term, and today's entry is a fine example of that.

"I'm off to see a film tonight!"