Wednesday, 28 October 2009

My Japanese Adventure

Tomorrow morning, I leave for a holiday in Japan. I will be there for two weeks visiting my brother and I'm really looking forward to it. However, inside me there are a couple of things that I'm finding a little hard. Firstly, I'm taking my Dad's old camera equipment with me. So, opening it all up to check it over I couldn't help but remember some of the occasions that I went out with him taking photographs. He would have loved to have seen Japan and would, no doubt, have filled up a memory card or two full of great shots. He would have very much approved of me taking it with me though, so my brother and I will get some great shots for him.

The second tough thing is that I'm going to miss my son. It sounds a bit silly - afterall, I'm only going for two weeks. But, this feeling is the same one I had when I went on a trip to Ireland (for 3 days) a year ago when I suffered badly from depression. It was a horrid trip - I distinctly remember being at Heathrow airport feeling incredibly homesick. I was in Dixons when Michael Buble's song "I want to go home…" started belting out of the speaker system. That briefly made me smile and think "come on, give me a break!". Skype was a lifesaver last year - I was able to get to the hotel, boot up my laptop and Skype chat with my wife and son. Boy, did that make things easier. This year, things are rather different.

I think the time of year doesn't help - the clocks have just gone back and it's been incredibly gloomy the last couple of days. Unlike last year, I'm no longer on the anti-depressants and there is no doubt that there will be some hard times to cope with now that I'm off them. To my advantage, my mind feels a lot stronger than last year, so I need to keep reframing those negative thoughts to positive ones. I'm about to close the computer down and go around the corner to say goodbye to my son - I'm looking forward to the hug, but not the goodbye.

I need to remember how far I've come. Three months ago, I would never have considered doing something as mentally difficult as going overseas. Just going out down the road was difficult enough. I'm certain that when I get on the plane, I will be fine. In the meantime - positive thoughts!!

Knowing When To Stop Listening

Last weekend, I was due to attend the birthday party of my 5 year old Godson. I'm Godfather to 3 children in total. I was using the birthday party, on the Sunday, as my first opportunity to catch up with two of my friends - friends of mine and my ex-wife's for the last 8 years. However, the female friend is my ex-wife's best friend and they go way back. I was asked if I wanted to come along to the party a month ago, and was told that my ex-wife and her new partner would be there too. I said I didn't have a problem with that and expected them to be there. However, on Saturday I received a phone call from my ex-wife asking me why I had not told her I was attending and that she WOULDN'T be attending because I was going. I explained that I had just assumed she knew, and, because I didn't have a problem with it, that she wouldn't have a problem either. Obviously I was wrong.

Now, we got into a bit of a heated conversation. When I say "heated", I actually mean that she turned around and said some pretty nasty things about me being thoughtless and spiteful and that I was trying to take her friends and family away from her. I told her that she should give her friends and family a bit more credit - they can make up their minds themselves about who they want to remain friends with. I then pointed out that it takes two to tango - IE: they haven't phoned her, but she hasn't phoned them either. Her response was that it was a "fair point".

I offered to drive ALL of us over to the party on the Sunday - including her new partner. I pointed out that I was "being thoughtful" and her reply was "well, shame you haven't done that for the last 3 years". Ouch!

I spent Saturday evening feeling really down and upset. It seems that no matter how well I do at getting myself back up to a high, it only takes a few words from her to take me all the way back down again. As she points out, she is supposed to know me better than anyone else. Yet, she seems to be the only one who thinks that I'm thoughtless. When I mentioned the argument to a couple of friends, who know me quite well, they pointed out that I was very thoughtful - one of the most thoughtful people they've ever met.

The birthday party on Sunday was very strange. I wasn't sure what reaction I would get. But, it was all incredibly positive. My ex-wife's best friend was really happy to see me and her husband said that he isn't ever going to speak to my ex again "after what she has done". I told him that I didn't want that - my ex will need support and friends and he should still remain friends with her if he can (but, again, it's his free choice). The biggest surprise came from my ex-wife's best friend's Mum (stay with me on this one, it's getting complex). She has known my ex for over 15 years. Yet, she came up and offered me support and a hug, said she couldn't understand it and even gave me her home phone number incase I needed someone to talk to. I was quite taken aback.

It was only on Monday that I began to realise that I've got to toughen myself up and stop allowing comments from my ex to get to me. She is supposed to know me better than anyone, and yet she clearly doesn't. Everyone finds her situation incredibly strange and it's obvious to me that she is in a downward spiral and has problems. She wants to see me being upset and grovelling to have her back, but I'm not. That's got to hurt. I will continue to do what I can to help her and hope that she gets better and gets a life back that she is happy with. But I'm not going to let her project her problems on to me and drive me down.

Monday, 5 October 2009

My Anti-Depressant Gamble

I've decided to take a gamble. Well, actually, it's more of an educated risk. I went to see my kinesiologist last week. I have seen her about three or four times over the last four months and she has really helped me get over the emotional pain of what has happened to me. The kinesiology that she has tried with me has involved various techniques including some EFT and I have noticed the benefits.

Last week I went to see her and took my medications with me, to test whether my body had problems with them. She tested my antidepressants and found that my body really doesn't get on well with them. That didn't surprise me - they must have cut down half a forest to print the leaflet with the list of side-effects. Yes, it's that long.

My history with anti-depressants is quite long now. I have been on them since I developed depression after my son was born, three years ago. I came off them once last year and went downhill quite quickly again. In fact, coming off that higher dose was horrendous - I was walking around in a zombie state at times, which became quite scary. When I started on anti-depressants, I was on a 20mg dose. Late last year I went down to 10mg, and gradually experienced less side-effects. When I had my breakdown in June/July I went to see my Doctor and he upped my dose to 20mg again. I very quickly noticed the side-effects of this - I really struggled to get a decent amount of sleep and just felt tired all the time. When I started my recovery (and this blog), I took the decision to go back down to the lower dose. Now I'm taking the ultra-bold step of giving them up altogether.

At the end of last week I went to see the Doctor. I went in, sat down and said "I have been taking anti-depressants, but I want to come off them. I realise that this medication is serious stuff, not to be messed with, so I want to do this properly". She asked me about what my reasons were for coming off them and told that I would be coming off them early. I told her that I had been working on ways to get through my emotional problems and have become stronger within myself. I wasn't going to give her an exact list of what I have been doing - EFT, neuro-linguistic programming, meditation, etc. But, even without that, she seemed impressed and we agreed a course of cutting down on the medication. She has advised me to take one pill every other day for a week, then one every three days for a week and then stop.

I can't guarantee that I'm going to be ok with this. Afterall, last time I came off them I really struggled. But the fact is that I don't want these side-effects any longer - I want to sleep properly and not feel tired all the time. Also, I feel like I can take on the full challenge now and have the determination to win. I've had ups and downs recently - some days I've felt like I've been slipping back down again. But, I think that if I keep going with the techniques that I have been learning then I can do it myself, without medication. The tricky times will be in the winter months, when I suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

First Date For Ten Years

Boy, was I nervous on Saturday morning. I haven't felt like that in years - the feeling of nervousness that I can only liken to being about to go into a job interview or big business meeting. I arrived early and walked along to a nearby supermarket for part of the plan that I had concocted. A friend had given me a tip to always arrive on a date with something as a little gift - something appropriate to who the person is.

I met up with my date - immediately feeling a bit more relaxed once I'd said hello to her. Thankfully all the work I have been doing on self-improvement of confidence, reading body language, leading conversations and being more relaxed paid off because she was obviously very nervous and didn't say too much to start off with. Her body language was certainly displaying uncertainty and being out of her comfort zone.

So, what a few years ago would have been a painful experience was much more enjoyable as I led the conversation and made her laugh a lot. We sat at a cafe for a little while drinking tea. After chatting for a while, I decided to spring my surprise. She had revealed that she had done geography at college for a while, so I told her that if she could name the five oceans of the world, she would get a prize (the thing that I had bought at the supermarket). She looked a little shocked at first - even more so when I told her she could ask other people for help if she didn't know. "well, I won't be doing that," she said.

After drinking our tea, we went for a walk around the harbour. We shared a lot of laughs and talked about some of the stuff that we both like (we share similar tastes in movies and TV programmes). After about an hour and a half, we arrived back at the entrance to the harbour and I reminded her that she hadn't yet fulfilled her challenge. So, she guessed two of the oceans. I then stopped a passer by - an older guy. I said "you look like an intelligent person, can you possibly help us out by telling us the names of the five oceans of the world?" He replied with 4 of them. It was a demonstration of my confidence and she seemed impressed. I let her off the last ocean, telling her what it was. I then led her back to my car and gave her the present - a couple of cookies. I then walked her back to her car and said my goodbyes.

It was an enjoyable first date and within 20 minutes I received a text telling me that she had really enjoyed herself and hopes to see me again. She seems like a nice girl, so I will most likely see her again. Though I don't think there is a great spark there, she did tell me that I was a "very entertaining young man".

Friday, 2 October 2009

First Swim For The Tiny Clownfish

After much hard work with the online dating websites, the success appears to be beginning to pay off. I had my first email through earlier this week and, after some emails backwards and forwards, it looks like I'll be heading out tomorrow on my first date for nearly ten years. She seems like a really nice girl and we have a very similar sense of humour. I have some concerns, but that is only natural. My concerns are that, at this stage, I just want to have fun - nothing serious. I'm wondering whether to establish that early on, so that I don't go on to hurt her further down the line - if it gets that far. Or whether just to let things just happen and then approach the subject if she starts getting more serious.

Rather coincidentally, I received my first email from the free dating website Plenty of Fish (POF) a day after the email from The contrast between the two women couldn't be more vast. While the girl is funny, clever and really nice, the POF girl seems like a rather desperate woman who is living with her ex and is "trying to see if the grass is greener". From what I can see, she likes eating and shopping. If that's not bad enough, her second profile picture is a photo of her breasts (JUST her breasts).

Anyway, I'm nervous but excited about the date with girl number one. Hey, it'll be fun!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Comparing People To Art

Yes, I'm not going barmy, today's blog is about comparing how we see people to how we perceive art. This week I visited a local art gallery. I enjoy looking at modern art - I'm more a Tate Modern man than a National Gallery man. The exhibition I viewed this week was about the life's works of a deceased German artist. I walked around the exhibition and I have to admit that I laughed at a couple of the pieces on show. I laughed because I was thinking "what is that all about? That's supposed to be art?". I really didn't get it - I didn't understand what the strange exhibits were and why they were supposed to be so fascinating.

As I was looking, in a confused manor, at one of the exhibits, a young lady employee walked over and started writing something down on a clipboard. So, using some of my new found confidence in talking to other people, I opened with a simple question - "hi, so, what are you writing down?". She replied that she was taking the temperature reading inside one of the glass-cased exhibits. Fascinating. I enquired some more and we had a chat about the exhibit (the exhibit had fat in it, sitting on a chair, and she had to ensure that the temperature didn't get too high so that the fat melted back into liquid). I then went on to talk to her several times more as she took me around the exhibits.

It was only after the young lady talked about the artist and explained some of his personality to me, that I began to see the art differently. His personality really shone through in the art on show. This got me thinking - the way that most of us look at people is exactly the same. The first impression we get of someone always comes from looks and we often don't try to see, and get to know, the personality inside before reaching our conclusion about who the person is.

This goes along with my experience of online dating so far, and why it isn't really working for me. People naturally go on their first impressions on looks and then, if they like the photo, they try to gauge, from a screen of text, what sort of person you are. As someone said to me, "Internet dating is all about cursory glances without meeting the person". When I meet someone in the flesh, I let my personality shine through and as they get to know me a bit more (if they give me the chance) then they realise I'm a nice guy. But, with online dating I'm not there infront of them to talk to them and so my personality does not come across. Text chat is such a horrible medium of communication, as there is no emotion involved. So, something you wrote to be funny can easily come across as offensive, if the person reads it a different way.

So, there we go. Today I have compared people and art.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Squadron Leader At Ladies Day

Yesterday I attended Ladies Day at a local racecourse for a friend's 30th birthday celebration. This was always going to prove a big test for me, as I would be going along on my own and would only know one person. Things didn't start off too well - I met up with my friend and his other friends on the train and said hi to him. But the seating positions meant that I had to sit down on the next row of seats back. I had planned to go in there and make an immediate impact, not to sit there and be un-noticed.

We had about an hour's train ride before we arrived at the racecourse and I had planned to use that hour to establish myself as one of the leaders of the group - not an easy task considering I didn't know anyone. So, I realised pretty quickly that I had to make a move. I spotted that there was actually an extra seat with the main members of the group. So, having introduced myself to the two people sitting opposite me and across from me, I made my move...

My way in to that group was with the birthday card that I had brought with me for my friend. I sat down, stretched across and said "now that you've finished studying the Racing Post, here's another challenge for you". Whilst he was opening that, I said "well, X isn't very good at introductions so I guess I'll have to do it myself... I'm Squadron Leader Y". I introduced myself to everyone there, making sure to listen to their names. This was another of my planned big challenges of the day - I'm normally useless at remembering names. But in reading Dale Carnegie's book 'How To Win Friends And Influence People' it says about how much of an impression you can make by just remembering and saying someone's name when you talk to them. So I vowed to do it. That day, I met about 20 new people and I remembered EVERY name!

When I initially sat down, I could tell that people looked at me as if to say "errr... who are you". Within a few minutes it was all relaxed again, and I had established myself. I took my friend's Racing Post off him and started to look at the form, asking the others who they were intending to bet on and making funny comments about it all. By the end of the journey, everyone was comfortable with me and people were calling me Squadron Leader...

So, why Squadron Leader? Well, I made a joke that when I booked my ticket online, there were options for title ranging from Mr, Mrs, Miss to Right Honorable, Field Officer and Squadron Leader. So, on the Facebook page for the event I joked that I had booked under the title Squadron Leader. On the day, it was my friend (whose birthday it was) who introduced Squadron Leader back into the conversation and it stuck.

We arrived at the racecourse and more of my friend's friends turned up. This time my friend introduced me to them (as Squadron Leader), so I had no need to do it myself. Thankfully, most of the new arrivals were female. On the train there were twelve of us and nine were male. The three women were all attached to the other men (including one cute red-headed girl, who got gradually drunker during the day and who I had a lot of laughs with). These new arrivals, arriving about an hour after we had got there, had never been to a racecourse before - neither had I.

I had made it a task of mine to learn as much as I could about the betting process - what bets are possible, where you go to place bets for different things, etc. That basically involved following my friend around (who was very enthusiastic about it) and then learning as we went. I asked questions about the form guides and studied what things meant and how to spot whether a horse would do well or not. I would use these things to my advantage in a really big way...

After the first couple of races I got talking to a couple of girls - friends of my friend, who had arrived a bit later than us, including one that I thought was lovely. She didn't know about what to do to place a bet, so I started talking to them both and told them both to follow me. I showed them which horses were in the race, told them how to bet, took them along to one of the betting places and advised them on which horses I thought would do well.

I really looked like I knew exactly what I was doing - my confidence and energy was flowing. My advice worked too - the horses were either winning or coming in the top three (on an each way bet) and the girls were winning. They couldn't believe that it was the first time I had been to a racecourse and you could see the delight and smiles on their faces when the horses romped home. I, too, was winning with my bets, but that didn't bother me. I was just really enjoying their company and seeing their faces when they won. I then took them along to collect their winnings and spent quite a lot of time with them.

At the end of the racing day, the two girls (who were both really nice) had to drive back home. The rest of the main group went back to a pub back in my friend's home town. There we sat and reminisced. I sat there, as one of the leaders of the group, chatting and having laughs with them all. It was as if I had been friends with them all for ages.

My three challenges of the day had been completed. Firstly, to get in with the main group and be a leader and be involved in everything - not someone who was just hanging around being ignored. Secondly, to remember everyone's name - this took concentration at first, but I did it. I even remembered the names of a few random people that we met there. Thirdly, I challenged myself not to drink AT ALL during the day and that worked really well for me - I felt relaxed and 100% alert and by the end of the day I didn't feel at all tired.

All in all, a great day, and proof positive that my confidence level is improving and that, once people get to know me, they like me. I've also gained a new group of friends and we have said that we will meet up again soon - we all got on really well. I needed a boost after the last couple of weeks and Sunday really gave me that!