Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Dear Alcohol,

You have been one of the great loves of my life, but as much as it saddens me, I think it is time for us to part ways. We have shared some fantastic times together you and I, really since it all began when I was a boy in high school. I recall how you took me by surprise when I was only fifteen years old and you were the older woman. You were far from gentle with me, flirting with me outrageously and then leading me on through a night of hilarity that ultimately resulted in me waking up the next morning in a pool of my own vomit. I learned early of the tough love that you are capable of giving and the respect that I needed to show you, even though on occasions over the years that respect may have slipped. We shared times together in many exotic locations. Rum in Barbados. Shochu in Tokyo. Guinness in Dublin. Long Island Iced Teas in California. Champagne in France. Raki in Turkey. Mekong whiskey in Thailand. Retsina in Greece. Grappa in Italy. Vodka in Poland. And many many beers and wines in every country that I have set foot in. Remember those intoxicating days of love when we shared each other's company for months on end in campgrounds around Europe? And countless nights out with strangers in bars across the US and Asia and, of course, Australia. Or even those nights in, just staying at home and chilling together at our place. You were the perfect partner, comfortable in any environment and happy to accompany me everywhere. You were even happy in my more promiscuous days, to have regular threesomes with me and my other old love, cannabis. What more could a man ask for from his partner? The three of us truly had some wild times and for quite some period were almost inseparable. I felt blessed to have two such beautiful lovers. And even after nights where things seemed to have got completely out of hand, leaving me with feelings of regret and a queasy stomach, you have usually been able to settle me the next day in a very forgiving way.

But I guess those heady days had to come to an end at some stage. I know that we have had our short periods of separation in the past. Sometimes where I would leave you to instead have an exclusive relationship with cannabis. I'd almost shun you, quite rudely as if you no longer meant anything to me. But I knew that you were still always there for me as faithful as ever when I'd come back to you. And you did always take me back.

But despite the fact that we have shared such amazing times, I think now that I need to make a clean break from you. There is no other love to take your place this time. Cannabis and I are also through, not really seeing each other regularly for quite some time now. In fact I'm not sure yet how I'm going to fill the void that I'm sure you'll leave. But it seems that hanging with you recently has led to a few other bad decisions on my part that have helped weaken my body. So I can't see you any more. Not at all. To spend time with you periodically will be too difficult for me to bear. I'm sure that that would cause us to slip back into our old ways and next thing we know we'll be shacked up together again. I know that you already enjoy relationships with many many other men and women. Ours has never been an exclusive relationship. So forgive me if I need to leave a party or a function or a gathering where I see you getting intimate with other people in the room. I may not be able to watch. And so it is with heavy heart that I bid you a fond adieu. 

With love and best wishes for your many other relationships,

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Love is Live is Love is Live...

I've never felt so completely smacked in the face by my own mortality as when I was told that I had cancer. The news was couched more diplomatically than that by my doctor. She said to me that the scans showed that I had a large mass on my kidney that had all the signs of renal cell carcinoma, but my mind definitely heard her say "you've got fucking cancer mate!". What do you do with that kind of news? Everyone who has found out that I've had cancer has told me that they were completely shocked when they heard. It's pretty safe to say that the shock that filled me on hearing this news was complete and overwhelming. At various stages over the following days I visited my own funeral and saw a room full of mourners and a box at the front containing my lifeless body. I thought of my final words to my children and how I'd like to deliver them. I thought of Tori moving on in life with a new partner (I'd want her to do that - hopefully he's a decent bloke and treats her right). I was filled with sorrow of the events in my children's life that I'd never be around to see. I'm sure that this is common for anybody confronted with the real possibility of their own death. It is difficult not to grieve for yourself. "Stay positive", everybody says. Easy to say. And I'm sure that the more bleak the news, the harder that is to do. You don't really have control over your subconscious and mine tends to run wild on all possible outcomes of all situations. And here was a very confronting situation with some potentially grim outcomes of finality. As with many situations in my life, I turned to sport for the answer. My friend Paul, who some years ago had been through his own cancer battle, told me that he had approached it as a challenge; a mental and physical battle like we'd both experienced many times previously on our various sporting fields. That resonated strongly with me. I had an opponent I needed to triumph against and it would take dedication and effort to achieve the desired result. My mate Darren told me that I was batting in the corridor of uncertainty. That I needed to put my head down and play with a straight bat. I hoped that as I stood there with my bat in hand taking guard and looking up the pitch that it wasn't Michael Holding with a brand new cherry running down the hill towards me from the sight screen, gathering steam as he approached the crease and then hurling down a thunderbolt on to a bouncy deck that reared up off a length around my helmetless head. That image filled me with fear, just as I'm sure it did to batsmen the world around back in the day. I took some solace from the lifeless MCG Boxing Day pitch, preferring the image of me batting on that, facing some below par English medium paced change bowler who'd been fielding in the baking sun for two days and had just been thrown the old ball by the skipper. I could even see myself  gloriously cover driving a wide half volley to the boundary as my innings became more confident. Which type of bowler I'd be facing and on what type of pitch was going to largely come down to the details of this cancer. How aggressive was it? Had it spread to my lymph nodes or other vital organs? By the time I met my urologist I'd moved on from cricket to footy. I need to not get ahead of myself; to take this whole thing one game at a time. I can only control the controllables so might as well not get bogged down worrying about the things outside of my control. I pictured Lenny Hayes managing to walk off the ground unaided with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, and the way that he methodically went about his rehabilitation to return an even better footballer than he'd been before. And Robert Harvey, who on being told that his partially torn planar fascia would have been easier to treat if it had been fully torn, continually jumped off his kitchen table on to that foot until it was. In short I guess I decided that however things were going to unfold, I was going to do whatever I could to give myself the best possible chance of being fit for this year's final series and whatever would be would be.

It all started with a pissing episode just prior to Christmas. I woke in the middle of the night and stumbled half asleep to the toilet to relieve myself, trying not to wake up too much in the process so that I could drop straight back to sleep afterwards. I began to piss, or at least thought I had, but nothing was coming out. Bone dry, so to speak. I was fully awake now. Pissing muscles fully engaged, but nothing. After a few minutes of changing positions and squeezing for all I was worth, it finally gave and out came a flowing torrent of urine and blood. The bowl was red and I was freaked right out. Things cleared up the next day, but clearly I needed to see a doctor.

Over the few months prior to discovering I had a large tumour in my body, I hadn't been feeling brilliant. I'd been low on energy. Often tired. And I'd had a few sporadic brief bouts of depression that had been far deeper and darker than anything I'd ever experienced before (for a glimpse of how deep and how dark, see my post on The Black Dog). I'd put it all down to being too busy and stressed with work and over indulging in the runup to Christmas, which I'm sure did play some part. It amazed me that only a week or so after my operation when I'd recovered some from the physical trauma of it all, and then recovered further from all the opium based painkillers that had been fuzzing out my head and turning my stomach in knots, I felt loads better than I'd felt for months. When the pathology report indicating that the doctor had successfully removed all of the cancer had fully sunk in and I'd moved past spontaneous bouts of cathartic sobbing, I also felt emotionally better than for quite some time.  When I told this to my urologist, he wasn't surprised. He said that my body would have been expending a huge amount of effort to deal with a cancerous growth of that size. How long it had been there nobody can say. Apparently it was quite an aggressive form so whether that means it was growing for six months, twelve months or longer I have no idea. I'm just glad now that it's out. And I feel loads better than before I even knew it was there.

One huge positive to come out of the experience was the tidal wave of love that came pouring over me from friends located all round the world. I've always known that I've had strong connections with the many amazing people that I've met through my life, but the flow of beautiful words and deeds has been truly humbling. People bringing over meals and healing treatments. Offers of assistance for anything should we need it. My social media was overwhelmed with messages of love and support and I have endeavoured to respond to each one individually. While typing into my phone from my hospital bed, I was inundated with subliminal messaging from my phone. Continually when I intended to type "love" the display showed that I had actually typed "live". Was my phone trying to tell me something? I'm sure I typed "love". But it says "live". I know that the keyboard proximity of "O" and "I" coupled with my fumblingly inaccurate fingers is the likely cause, but I saw a message through it anyway. There's lots of people who love me and who I love. And they want me to live.

So...my life must change. I need a new approach going forward. 

Hi. My name is Greg. I have only one kidney. I don't drink alcohol. I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I don't work too hard. I eat healthily. I exercise regularly. I do qi gong. I spend a lot of time in nature. I play guitar and write. I have regular acupuncture and take chinese herbs. I have relaxing bowen treatments. I drink ginger and lemon tea, as well as a load of water. I hang out whenever I can with my family and with my friends. I'm early to bed and early to rise. If I don't take this whole episode as somewhat of a serious warning sign that change is essential, then what the fuck would I ever take as one? When people think of a cancerous growth in their body, the tendency I believe is to think of it as a foreign body that has somehow grown inside of you. An alien structure that doesn't belong. But in fact it's a part of you. It is your cells that have gone a bit haywire and started replicating in a way that they shouldn't. So somehow in my previous existence I have created a situation where my body has responded in an unfavourable way. Certain of my cells have gone berserk and created a large growth to form on my kidney that is as much a part of me as the kidney itself. Or at least was a part of me. They are both gone now. Sorry right kidney that I didn't treat you better. The doctor has told me that this type of cancer tends to attack when the immune system is weakened. And I've certainly been doing my best over the past twelve to eighteen months to shatter it. Staying up until 5:30am in full flight party mode. Travelling to the USA for work and still doing several hours of my Australian work remotely each day after an eight hour day onsite with a US customer, while simultaneously trying to come to terms with jetlag. And then while exhausted from that week, going straight to the airport on the Friday and flying several hours across the country to meet up with good friends and a load of drinks in North Carolina, before flying back on Monday morning and going straight to work to do it all again. Madness. So that has now ended. Instead I am going to nurture my body. It seems like a massive change but I'm hoping it's sustainable. I'm not very good at moderation. I find abstinence much easier. So in regards to drinking, that's the approach I intend on taking. While acknowledging that it's possible that this or some other cancer could come back regardless, and that I'll be shitting myself waiting for the results of each of the regular scans I'll be having over the coming months and years, I'm happy to consider myself cancer free at the moment and will do what I can to make it so. The doctor has said that with some holistic health that strengthens my immune system, there is no reason why this cancer should come back. It doesn't occupy my mind or affect my mood at all at the moment. I just feel grateful that for now it is all over. And grateful for my beautiful family and friends who have supported me. And grateful for fantastic doctors with compassion and skill. And grateful to have what seems to be in some ways a second chance. It seems hugely ironic that having cancer could potentially make me a much healthier and happier being. But I feel better for it already.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Love Is Love

I Love My Beautiful Wife Tori.
I Love My Beautiful Daughter Jazzy.
I Love My Beautiful Son Finn.
I Love My Beautiful Son Kimi.
I Love My Beautiful Mum Joy.
I Love My Beautiful Sister Nat.
I Love My Beautiful Friends,
Both Here and Gone.
I Carry You All With Me.
You Are All A Part Of My Soul.
You Always Will Be.
My Love To You All.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Black Dog

I always thought that the black dog followed you around. Waiting for an opportune time to attack. But that is not the case at all. The black dog lives within. It mostly sleeps but when it awakes it quickly turns into a terrifying growling beast, teeth bared and lip curled back in a vicious snarl. Ready to attack. It forms out of the darkness that you’d forgotten was even there. Barking menacingly at anyone who dares to come near. Sometimes it has such power that it takes on three heads. Each of them a wild entity unto themselves. There is danger for anybody who approaches. But the biggest danger is for within. It builds in strength by feeding on the darkness. And as it rises, it feasts also on the internal organs. Shaking its head as it tears into the stomach and spills out the guts. Black blood dripping from its slavering fangs. It takes control of the voice, rendering its host silent. Like a stunned rabbit caught in the jaws of a wolf. Sometimes it speaks with a guttural growl that will make bystanders recoil in alarm. They think it comes from you. Sometimes it howls with the power of a screaming banshee that has risen from the grave. Its urgent despair clear for all to hear. Sometimes its sorrow is so deep and its control so complete that nothing else matters at all. It is all consuming. It is not an animal that can be easily placated. Do not try to pet or tame it. If a well-meaning person tries to approach they may be mauled. Sometimes mortally. It may savage their arm but really it yearns to rip at their throat. And if there is nobody to attack, it will resume quietly eating. Chewing away at the liver. Crunching through intestines and kidneys. Its appetite can seem insatiable but often as quickly as it appears, it will lay back down and go to sleep. Nobody knows for how long. The cold darkness vanishes. Maybe a hint of warmth appears. It’s as if it was never there. Where did it go? Perhaps it became distracted and with its anger diffused it shrinks to a size that cannot be detected. But it is still there. It is lurking. And nobody knows when exactly it will again rise in its rage filled fury.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The great Facebook massacre of 2017

Facebook brings out the best and the worst in me. Like many people, I have become an addict. Research has shown that receiving likes for a Facebook post activates the same receptors in the brain as cocaine. And like cocaine, you constantly want more. But instead of chasing your friends around the pub wondering if they’ve snuck off to the toilet for another line without telling you, you keep checking back online to see if there are any more likes on your most recent post to give you that little dopamine rush. And like any addiction, it sucks away your time and your health without you even realising it. Compared to other drugs, at least Facebook doesn’t cost you any money. But that means there is no financial restriction to how much of it you can do. You can binge and binge on posts, comments and likes to your heart’s content, occasionally finding yourself lying helpless in a pool of your own vomit.

 I know that I have a fortunate life. I have a beautiful family, I have a job that gives me a large degree of autonomy and that mostly provides me with a decent income. I get to travel a lot, both for work and on holidays with my family. I’m happy to share my experiences online with other people. Undoubtedly Facebook is a great tool for keeping friends up to date with what’s going on in my life when I don’t see them all the time. Particularly those of my friends who live overseas or interstate where dropping around is not so easy. In fact, given how busy my life has become, I don’t get to really see anybody as much as I’d like, even if they live in the same suburb. So Facebook becomes a proxy way of keeping in touch. But I know there is a fine line between sharing what I’m doing with people who may be interested and outright narcissism. Facebook is the perfect outlet when I have a streak of self-importance that means that I am compelled to post something, because undoubtedly everybody must be as infinitely fascinated as me with what I am doing or thinking at any given moment. Conversely there is of course the receiving side of Facebook, which speaks to different character traits. I’m genuinely happy for my friends when they do well and when they are having a good time. I’m mostly happy to see pictures of their lives, children, holidays, indulgences and celebrations. But I can’t help at times feeling envy, or somehow inadequate by viewing some post or other during periods where my emotions are not at the top of their game. I know I’m not alone here and am conscious that some of my posts invariably will conjure those feelings in others. The links between excessive social media usage and loneliness, social anxiety and depression are well established by a load of research over the last few years. I can see from my own experiences how this can be the case. People living in more glorious houses. People on their five star luxury or exotic holidays. People with their flash new cars or other toys. In the old days keeping up with the Joneses usually just meant the neighbours and people who you would see within your own social circles. These days the Joneses are everywhere you look. No wonder there is an increase in mental health issues in our society. If you’re not being made to feel inadequate in some way by advertising, there’s always social media to do it for you. We were already bombarded previously by forms of media such as TV and glossy magazines, now we have Facebook and Twitter on our phones to make the bombardment almost constant. And instead of well-crafted marketing campaigns, we have our friends, acquaintances and that person I friended after spending an hour chatting in a bar while on holiday somewhere a couple of years ago (was it in Bali?) to remind us that our lives on occasions aren’t as exciting, stable, normal, fun, affluent, carefree, social, serene, intellectual, creative or physically fit as theirs. And if I catch myself in any way having thoughts of envy about people I know, then I have guilt to contend with as well. I must not be a good person. Surely I should always be happy with everything that anybody I know does or has.

We all know that a view of a person solely through Facebook is a fake perception. Everybody has their ups and downs. Sickness and death visit us all. Happy photos in front of the Great Pyramid or the Eiffel Tower with the perfect smiling family tend not to reveal the personal problems that we all experience. It is a fa├žade. Captured in a moment where perhaps everything did feel perfect, but perhaps only moments before the next less than perfect thing comes along to jolt the flow in our human existence. But on Facebook, it is typically just those perfect moments that are presented. Most people tend not to post the shit and despair. Not in any detail anyway. And even if they do, it still only provides a one dimensional snippet of it all.

To me, when it’s all under control, Facebook is mostly my personal photo album or diary and occasional soap box from which to yell my views. Pictures for my mum to see of my family and for anybody else to look at if they care or could be bothered. Posts for other people to click “like” on as they skim down their newsfeed without even really giving the post more than a cursory glance, but liking nevertheless, because in some way it seems deserved or owed. Likes such as this can almost make the giver feel benevolent in their actions. “I bestow on you the mighty blessing of my like”. Another flavoursome hit of the social media drug.

Then of course there is the interactive side of Facebook. A ride that only ever seems to lead into the abyss. Political or social issue posts where reasoned debate morphs quickly into outright hostility, anger and outrage. I know that I am excessively guilty of inciting people with provocative posts. I believe passionately in what I believe, especially in regards to what I consider issues of social fairness. I can’t fathom that people really could think any differently to me on certain topics. I know for a fact that my more political posts have bored some people senseless if not offended them. I’d be stunned if a significant number of my Facebook friends haven’t unfollowed me to save themselves from having to read some of my more indignant rants about asylum seekers or how the government of the day is shitting me. Fair enough too (you bastards!). I’ve been engaged in dialogue on numerous occasions by people so caught up in their own ideologies that they can’t see the point that I’m trying to make and it’s like we’re having conversations about entirely different things. Some of the arguments I’ve been involved in have become so heated that they have even threatened real friendships in a way that would never happen in person. Even when the topic has been something as benign as the football. Then there is another level below all of this that is the true cesspit of social media. I don’t count any of my friends (present or recently departed) amongst this dross. For some reason I feel compelled to read the comments of posts on any news story, or political article that I have read. Drawn towards them like Ulysses to the sirens with the same inevitability of being wrecked on the rocks, but typically with the absence of anything that could be referred to as a beautiful voice. I’ve discovered hatred that I knew existed somewhere but was happy that it didn’t really intersect with my life. I’ve read comments by people that are so abusive you just wonder if there’s any chance that they could ever actually say those things to anybody in person. So much bile. So much of the worst that our species has to offer. People so caught up in their ideologies that to make any opposing comment unleashes a torrent of vitriol. Some of the personal attacks on other people that I've read have been withering, often accompanied by extreme racism, sexism and violence thrown in for good measure. I stepped back a while ago from making comments on public posts such as those of the major news outlets. Down that path seems madness.

And now it’s time for me to step further away from Facebook as I’ve known it. I thought about deleting my account, but I have so many photo albums and memories in there that I just can’t do it. I’m trapped. I love the “memories on this day” posts that Facebook displays just for me. Pictures of Jazzy starting school or little Finn at Auskick. Baby Kimi in a caravan in Broome. A shot of Tori and I out on a romantic night having fun together, reminding us that it’s not all about who’s out working and who’s picking up the kids. Photos with friends who I love dearly taken in all manner of places (and states). It all hits me with the nostalgia drug to which I’m also addicted. I want to be able to see what’s going on in friends’ lives and want to be able to keep them up to date with what’s going on in mine. And I probably do still want to yell to the world on occasions that locking desperate people up on an island in the Pacific and torturing them is a fucking disgrace and that our country should be ashamed. So the only way forward for me then is to adjust my habit. If I can’t go cold turkey, I need some form of methadone. Even though like any addict, at times I'll probably relapse. I'm going to make an attempt at taking away the negative but leaving all that is good. And this has started with a very large cull. More like a Facebook massacre really. It’s felt cleansing. One click of the mouse and someone else has been shuffled off my virtual coil. Hundreds have been slain by the unfriend button. All Facebook groups have been abandoned. Most pages have been unliked. Many of the fallen Facebook friends are those who I’d actually love to see in person and share a drink, a laugh and a conversation with. But like the despot who only needs to be upset on one occasion to remove the head of a subject, many friends have been terminated for the mildest of reasons. Some only by association and through nothing at all that they have done themselves. Work related people – gone! Those with friends of their own who have attacked me personally for daring to comment in seemingly the wrong way on a post – gone! Those whose posts are too far to the right for my liking – gone! Those that I just clicked on unfriend by mistake without thinking it through – gone! Oh well. Sorry. Collateral damage. I dare say that some of the survivors are probably thinking “why me? Why couldn’t I have been culled so as to avoid being subjected to diatribes like this? How can I sneak out of social media contact with this dementedly raving person without them knowing”? I say, just go for it. Be bold. Click unfriend. I won’t be offended. After all, it may just save me the trouble next time around :-)