Hello Old Friend. Prequel.

October 23, 2017

‘There are years that ask question and years that answer.’ Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

I have a problem with beginnings. I go too hard in an attempt to make an impression. It’s in my blood. I’ve always been keen to be seen (unintended chain of rhymes there) in the most robust light. The most entertaining, the most exuberant, the loudest, the funniest… Validation I suppose. And when that spark is extinguished, I vanish into the walls. My life runs on momentum. When that is stolen away, I feel smaller than nothing, whatever you consider that to be.

So here is my attempt at a beginning. The beginning? Well, not really. You cannot change what has happened, you can only move forward. I thought this to be true until twelve months ago I attempted to ‘restart’ during a heavy bout of anxiety and depression in London. I kept saying to myself, you are one day away from being able to find the real you again. I sat in bed some days until 4PM hoping I’d start to feel okay again. And there would be occasions when I did start to feel the energy pulsating through my bones only to be hit by another wall of fear. The voice of Rupert, the name I gave my anxiety before I moved across to the motherland, pestered me as I attempted to crawl back into a life of… normality.

‘It is too grey outside.’ ‘It’s a bit cold today.’ ‘What’s the point anyway?’ ‘You don’t need to eat. There are chips in the cupboard.’ ‘You have caused this yourself.’ ‘You useless fucking cunt.’

Normality. Our relationship with this word in western society is confused. Normality has become the malignant tumour that sits just off of our spine. It has become the bowl of fruit loops on our birthday. We crave it as we grow up, but we push away from it as we grow into ourselves. As children, isolation comes through ungainly difference. It brings unwanted attention from kids with explosive growing pains. The amount of tears I cried over the glasses that I had to wear and the puppy fat I carried.

‘It’s better than being normal.’

For the past two years, I have craved finding normality again. I craved to be someone who wasn’t so afflicted by periods of panic, anxiety and depression. There were moments when I feared I would never be able to regain the upper hand on my mind again. Unconsciously dreaming up a bleak future where my options would be deep unhappiness and regret or suicide. I still feel the waves of those memories in my head as I type this. I’ve cried so many tears in my chase for a life fresh and hopeful. That’s why the idea of restarting seemed like such a perfect option.

I know now, after much screaming and scrounging for answers that waiting for the shadows to pass is no way to live. The soul that I will speak of so many times, both ironically and metaphysically, or however you want to see it… well, you know what. Let me explain my concept of the ‘soul’. This is something that I believe in. I don’t believe in a god or gods. I believe that time brings questions, those questions are what the deeply divided self dreads. Some will never publicly acknowledge this eternal and universal fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of nothingness. The fear of you being but a pawn in this sick, sick game. They won’t acknowledge it as if the act of acknowledgement will soften their resolve, weaken their stature in the world or make them look like a fool. But privately everyone will eventually have to come to the same conclusion. We are vulnerable, we rely on the compassion of other human beings and we are at the mercy of a biological force. The tick-tock of the wrist watch of mortality.

So there within exists the essential part of our humanity. The soul. The soul is the link between the rational and irrational. Stapling together that schism. There is madness and an animal within all of us that we will never completely harness. When we try to push away from this, we equate to less. When we accept the madness, we become whole. We throw out the concept of perfection and grab onto the moment. We act with impulse and spontaneity. Life is not boring because we choose to not wait for it to happen. There’s always an adventure to be had. There are sins that don’t hurt anybody that make us feel fucking good. There are moments where we fall but get back up again.

But it is risky. There are three layers of risk here. The first comes in the form of the pressure not to edge over that invisible line that gets hammered into us by those who hold the magnifying glass up. Social control. The judging eyes, snide asides, the moralising opinion of those watching on, the institutions that exist to ensure and the internalised guilt of doing something wrong that seems to haunt so many of us.

The second is fear. Fear of our hearts being broken, fear of failure, fear of missing out on a life lived in comfort, with a cushy job in a big firm, a white picket fence, three kids and Sunday night drinks on your new decking. Fear of Big Brother, fear of an early death, fear of social isolation, fear of fear for fear’s sake. Fear of financial insecurity, fear of losing the people you love. Fear of the animal within taking over and us losing control. Fear of comparison. Fear of 3AM wide awake thinking about the nothingness of the universe and how little you really mean to it.

The third, and the most pertinent for me, is trauma. I don’t want to go back to some of the dark places I’ve been. I suppose this is yet another form of fear, but for me it is deeper and more entrenched than that. Every time I feel I have recovered from the scars of my past, they sneak back up and grip on to my arms. My mind plays out the battle between the man I want to be and the man that I see in the mirror. The man I want to be isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, is emotionally sensitive, laughs, lives and loves openly, is easy going and willing to explore the uncomfortable. He is courageous, strong, bold, a leader, a mentor and a friend.

The man I am right now still can’t handle Mondays. Feels angry with himself until Thursday when he starts thinking about burying himself in a stack of beverages. Still listens to the voice in his head that tells him it is weak and unmanly to show too much emotion and feel too excited about things. Has not allowed himself to swell up in love through fear of being tossed to the curb. Requires six beers to launch onto a dance floor. Worries about what people think about his body. Worries if women find him attractive. Thinks too much about his younger self and how happy he was back then. Is his biggest critic. Fears every creak in his body that might spell an early death. Just wants to make his father proud.

Anyway, that’s sort of my theory. And a bit of a bleak look into my insecurities, hang ups and complicated mind matter. Hell yeah. But you know what, I’ve felt the winds change of late. I’m actually a pretty chipper fella. I love dogs. I love a big kiss and a cuddle. I love spring. I love listening to albums that may have passed through to Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps if I wasn’t willing to give something different a shot – Gabor Szabo’s Dreams is my latest discovery! I love connecting with people. I love swinging on swings in a park – I didn’t learn the physics of the whole venture until I was 13. I also didn’t learn to ride a bike without training wheels until I was 8… again, see childhood traumas. I love a good story. I love a good cry. I love a beautiful beach and exclaiming, ‘how good is this?’ when I enjoy what is in front of me. Just like my old man.

I just happen to be one of the many earthlings who lives with a mental disorder. Or, in my case, a couple of itty bitty spiders that crawl up and down my neck on a daily basis.

I don’t want to be that guy who makes excuses because of a series of unfortunate events. I don’t want to be the man who hates his reflection in the mirror because his hair is thinning, his gums are receding and there are bags under his eyes. And I want to help those younger than me, and perhaps those older than me, find a way to embrace our vulnerability, harness our nervous energy, ride our emotional rainbow into places that make us uncomfortable for the sake of The way I write this book is the way I think. It is my soul being milked for the nourishment of others.

Well now, I got so carried away that I forgot to introduce myself. My name is William, but you can call me Willie. I have just turned 27 years old and I enjoy apples but my teeth require implants due to football injuries and generally being a grub, so I can’t really eat them at the moment. My days currently are still spent deliberating over what the point of leaving the house is. I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder at 20 after a tremendous trip on mushies in Laos. Living in London, I sunk into a pretty blue period of depression that I am still meandering through. I’d contend (without contention) that I have a binge alcohol problem, and my liver reading is higher than usual.

It’s safe to say it hasn’t been the best two years of my life. I moved to London in the middle of 2016 to run away from everything and basically everyone. I had just finished my law degree and all I wanted to do was write, have sex, drink beer and listen to music. So I picked up my stuff and headed north. Unfortunately my anxiety got on the next flight and latched onto my neck, worsening as I struck hurdle after hurdle. I enjoyed a few too many nose beers, meandered my way through the bad days hoping they’d go away until I ended up bawling my eyes out in various doctors’ offices. There was the doctor who regretfully informed me, ‘we don’t book in brain scans for reassurance’, the doctor who told me, ‘the numbness in your left side could be a B12 deficiency’, the counsellor who couldn’t understand what was fun about a group of people doing cocaine and getting blind drunk together and the psychiatrist I never paid the bill for

Some days are good and some days are bad, but what has persisted is my binge drinking, my penchant for casual sexual romps, my aversion to being tied down and my low self-esteem. The anxiety pains come and go throughout the day, keeping me alert and taking me back to the dark days of searching Google to diagnose myself with anything that seemed to catch my eye. The more serious, the better! I’m frustrated constantly, I hate Monday to Thursday, and then I drink to push those feelings away on the weekend. My sexual appetite cannot be understated, but as I’m on antidepressants, the high of ejaculation ain’t what she used to be.

The last woman I was seeing was a good friend of mine. We’ve now fallen out due to my obnoxious text messaging late at night, my lack of communicability, my insecurities and her… well, she expected more from me. I think that’s fair enough. I’ve had sex with a lot of women. This isn’t to brag; far from it in fact. I feel a lot of shame for my philandering ways. I have never had a serious relationship, I had to attempt to go thirty days without masturbating and sexual activities as a blog experiment and I have a fair old reputation around town for being a randy little devil.

I won’t deny it. I love intimacy, cheeky sexual romps and chasing girls, but I don’t get much pleasure out of… well, pleasure anymore. I’m on autopilot. Avoiding emotion, avoiding risk and avoiding responsibility. It gets to a point where it just becomes pretty pathetic. I feel pathetic. All the great qualities I know I have, like a warm heart, daggy off-handed jokes, empathy, ability to bring excitement and joy to the lives of people I know or people who I have just met, has been drained by the last 18 months of my life. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I miss my effortless smile… and I miss speaking about myself positively. I’m mean to myself. Fuck that. I’m 27 and it feels like my spirit has been crushed. Some people might say that’s just a part of growing up, but I can’t hack that.

Since I returned from London in the middle of February, I’ve been working on an idea for a series of essays, a diary or a book, whatever it turns out to be. At first it started out as this idea called ‘Worried Boy//Anxious Man’ and it was a gloomy tale of how I grew up to become such an unhappy, anxious and lost human being. Yeah, so as you can tell, I was in a pretty awful place when I was collating the idea. The book would have been grim to read. There were 60 chapters, and only four of them were about redemption and recovery. As much as I love Cormac McCarthy, I fear it would have made ‘The Road’ read like a Warwick Todd book.

A couple of months back, I received a pretty dire warning from Kew’s finest gastroenterologist that my liver was not returning to its regular levels. Dr Katz asked me if I’d been drinking much. I couldn’t bring myself to say that I’d fallen back on my reputation as an absolute pisshead. ‘Oh yeah, 6-8 beers a week, I’d say.’ The weekend just gone past I had sunk about 50 standard drinks at our end of season football function. I walked out of his office, having been told I’d need a liver biopsy. I haven’t mustered the courage to book the appointment. I’m terrified.

And yet, I have kept drinking heavily. I don’t enjoy it much anymore. The hangover lingers and the antidepressants act like a safeguard when essentially, my drinking is combining with the medication to cause further damage to my body, mind and soul. Brah. Liver disease runs in my family. I don’t want to die at 40. Why do I keep drinkin’ then? The buzz. The mother…fucking… buzz. ‘My name is Willie, and I’m addicted to the buzzzzzz, man.’

For the past two months I’ve been conjuring a plan to quit drinking for twelve months, but on top of that, I’ve been setting guidelines for how I will live my life during that period. Alongside starting my masters next year in teaching, I am recording a podcast with my father, attempting to start a website and magazine with a group of friends and play my final season of footy. I can’t afford to be stuck in my house until 3PM because I’m scared shitless of the pain in my chest or completely devoid of motivation.

I told my friend Jimmy that I was keen to do a clean 2018 sans booze, sans drugs and sans, sigh, sex. He, having gone stone cold sober seven years ago, recommended starting in December. January is a real fly month for getting on the saucy-la-roux so you’ll be better for it. Fuuuuuck. Sober for that long? Oh wait. That’d mean I could start boozing in December 2018! I mean, that would suit me better to start December 1st, wouldn’t it?

I told a few other friends about my plan.

No sex? No sex!?!? Come on. You’ll be a shell of a man!

Okay, okay. I will restrict sex. But no booze. And fuck it, I’ll restrict my meat intake to once a week as well for half a year and see what happens. Perhaps I’ll push on to become a vegetarian. I watched snails for half an hour yesterday. Honestly, they are majestic creatures. And baby snails. Bloody adorable. The documentary ‘What The Health’, although clearly vegan propaganda, has done a job on me. My secret shame of pounding a couple of Maccas’ Cheeseburgers every week will stop now. I can’t promise that I will be able to quit my (un)healthy obsession with Doritos. If only they were called Doneeet(h)os(e). These jokes will get better, I promise.

The guidelines increased in size once I got a roll on. 

  • No Alcohol
  • Limits on social media use to one 30 minute period per day
  • Limit on phone use to only phone calls and one 30 minute period per day (see above)
  • Restriction of meat consumption to one day a week from December to end of May and Vegetarian diet from June to December
  • No dating apps, no porn, no one night stands, no ‘picking up’ on a night out, no asking women on dates, no sex before the ‘6th date’, masturbation only twice a month
  • Pass the Parcel – Speaking to people who have searched, studied or been forced to dig for techniques to reach a point of ‘wellness’ and taking on board advice to find peace within.
  • Attend SMART (secular Alcoholics’ Anonymous) biweekly
  • Remaining as emotionally, physically and mentally open and available as possible. Be completely honest with people.
  • Writing two hours every day
  • Waking up week days at 6am + weekends 8am
  • Weaning myself off antidepressants by the end of January
  • Reading 50 books and listening to 100 albums chosen by friends, family and strangers
  • Drink two glasses of water first thing every morning

As my old man said the other day, ‘we’ve heard this all before,’ and yes, he has a point. But instead of cementing the guidelines, I’ll let them roll. I’ll adjust and feel what guidelines are helping and what guidelines are hindering. They make me unhappy? Remove or rethink. There is an emptiness in my life. Another guideline added. Someone suggests a way to ease my loneliness? Added, temporarily or permanently. Like a big game. Like a big, fun game. Amongst all the thorns, we shouldn’t take fun and enjoyment for granted. The good days make me giddy. The bad days will pass.

The end goal? I don’t quite know yet. Cleaning up my life, taking responsibility, having fun again, being a better son, brother, friend and citizen. Being vulnerable, open, emotionally available, selfless and calm. I want to feel good again. I want to be the guinea pig for building a roadmap to managing anxiety and depression that others can follow to a better time and place. I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I’m scared. I’m really terrified that the mistakes I have made are costing me a chance to ever be truly happy again. I need to break down the habits I have formed to find the little boy who smiled all the time.

Most of all, I want young boys and girls in Australia and around the world to know that a mental disorder does not mean that your life is ruined or your life is destined to be a dark, dark place. I want to open up more conversations about mental health, to remove the shame that is still associated with our roughest periods. I want them to come to learn that our mind can be our worst enemy, but it can also be our very best friend. And maybe, just maybe, to show how amazing it is to be an individual, to take some time to get to know yourself and come to love yourself in a way that is healthy and liberating.

I also fully intend to make you laugh, cry, cringe, sing, dance and stick your hands up to the sky and shout ‘BOOM BOOM BOOM, LEMME HEAR YA SAY AYOOOO’. Alright, I got carried away there. But I want to bring you all along.

The book will hopefully inspire you to consider your own life’s direction and purpose, as well as be the catalyst to consider the state of your mind and wellbeing. It might spur on conversations that you have with your friends and family, and possibly the guy or gal on the street. I take great pride in belonging in a number of wonderful communities, and I hope to belong to many more in my time on this remarkable planet. Because really, how cool is being uncool!? Cue Bart Simpson. ‘Mom, that is so uncool.’

Oh yeah. The final guideline is probably good for everyone. As the man who wrote the play ‘Doubt’, John Patrick Shanley, said in a commencement speech at Mount Saint Vincent in New York, ‘Drink two glasses of water when you get up. Easy to remember, good for your kidneys.’ Watch it. It’s an amazingly candid and humorous speech.

I’ve drunk my water, I’ve deleted the dating app ‘Bumble’ and I’ve marked December 1 in my calendar.

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