Archive for category Life

Beginning Again

The last couple of weeks have seen a radically positive shift in my state of mind, ironically triggered by finding out that my ex-wife has her boyfriend moving in. I’ve realised that life is too short to live in the past (even though I wasn’t conscious of doing so) and that looking forward is the only way to go.  I’ve made the first few small steps to meeting people.  I actually had a mini-date last weekend, and I think I managed not to completely mess it up.

I watched a movie called “Begin Again” last weekend.  It stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, and it tells a story of new beginnings in the face of what would seem to be the most trying circumstances.  For Knightley’s singer-songwriter character Gretta, it is moving on from being dumped by a rock star boyfriend; for Ruffalo’s record-producer character Dan it is trying to maintain relevance in an industry which he helped create but now seems to have changed beyond his recognition.  It might seem trite, but this film has touched me in ways I cannot count.  In one scene, after Gretta and Dan have convinced Dan’s daughter Violet to play on one of Gretta’s tracks, Violet finally overcomes her nerves and starts to play and…  well I don’t want to spoil, but it becomes a beautiful rendition of the pride of a father for his daughter.  Even though it’s not the kind of movie I would usually choose, I am profoundly grateful to myself that I did (thank you, iTunes $0.99 rental special) — the music alone is ringing in my mind like nothing I’ve heard in ages.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time in the last few years thinking that I was alone.  It’s taken a while, but I know now that nothing is further from the truth.  There are people around me who care.  Some more actively than others, but such is the nature of friends — all are important.  From those that actively seek you out and talk, to the barista at the coffee shop who still greets you by name even though you only come in once a month nowadays — all are important.

I feel like I should have felt after surviving my heart attack — I feel like I have won my life back.  I feel like I’m at a gala ceremony, like I’m in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or the Crown Palladium, and they’ve just called my name as the recipient of “Most Unlikely Resurrection of 2015”, and everyone in the place is cheering and applauding.  Befitting such an august venue, it would be proper to make a speech…

I could not possibly have done this alone.  There are people around me who keep me sane, keep me grounded, yea verily who breathe life into me; I have let them go unrecognised for far too long.  I have to mention a few names, but if I don’t say yours don’t think that your place is so much less.

Peter T, you have a knack of drawing things out and getting to what really matters — you, sir, are truly a Man Among Men and I feel honoured to know you.  Leanne, you are a subtle dose of realism when the world seems devoid of reality; our workplace, and the lives of all around you, are richer that you are there.  Grant, Gav, Tex; your touch is more reserved but no less profound and I appreciate it no less.

There are people in far corners of the world who have also helped me tremendously.  Eduardo and Peter McC: I met the two of you in a New York summer in 2012 and despite me being old enough to be your father you let me tag along while you celebrated your youth in those Hudson Valley clubs; to this day, you include me still.  Gentlemen I thank you for the camaraderie you showed then and the fellowship you show now.  For all its negative aspects, I have words to say to anyone who doubts the power of social media to be a positive influence in people’s lives.

To my family, who I have scorned and made suffer while I let my circumstances overcome me, I don’t have words to describe my pain and regret.  I have not been there for you, not because I’d stopped loving or caring but because I didn’t think I was worthy of you.  I’m sorry.

My oldest and dearest friend (although it must not seem like it) is someone who has been in my life for longer than any other person with whom I don’t share blood.  You likely have no idea what a difference you make, Brad… but you’re like a line in my palm: unchanging, always there.

To my former wife: now I know you were right.  Now I understand you, now I forgive you… now I thank you.

Finally, the most precious people in my world are my two children.  They enrich me, they teach me, they drive me, they inspire me — all of which I wish I’d opened myself to sooner.  Their energy, their laughter, their pure spirit, all are infectious.

At the start of this I said that I could not have “done” this, like it was a job finished.  Far from it, I know that I’m still on a journey, and while I’m on a mountaintop right now I know there will likely be canyons and valleys ahead.  The thing about mountaintops though is that they are unforgettable — and I never thought I’d see this one.  So now that I know it’s possible to climb the mountain, I’m damned if I’m going to accept being at the bottom of a cave ever again.  Let’s go find another mountain.  Only taller.

 Thank you.  As you have all been there for me, know that I am there for you also.

UPDATE — 12 Dec 2015, 1205 AEST:

Eduardo made a really nice comment on Facebook (thanks!) that reminded me about how easy it can be, when you’re fighting your own personal dragons, to disregard the positive effect you can still have on others.  Even when you’re at the bottom of your own metaphorical cave, there might be something in your struggle that provides inspiration, or motivation, or hope, to another.  For me, that I have been even in some small way able to help others is an honour; that it has happened even while I fought my own issues is incredibly enriching.

Oh, and I added to the mountain/cave line in the “speech”…  and added to the thank-you at the end.

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Among the coffee mugs in my cupboard at home is one I’ve had for over 20 years.  It was a gift; if I remember right, a semi-joke gift in an office “Secret Santa”.

"Works and plays well with others"

“Works and plays well with others”. O RLY?

The slogan on it reads “Works and plays well with others”, and it’s a reference to one of the standard phrases seen on children’s school report cards.  It’s one of the standard mugs in my hot beverage rotation, and every time I use it I can’t help but think back to when it was new, and of how much has changed since those days.

It’s easy to treat a silly slogan on a coffee mug as little more than just a few words designed to evoke a wry grin from a slightly antisocial co-worker.  Sometimes it can take on a deeper meaning, if you let it.

For the last 6 months or more I’ve been working on transferring the function of our former demonstration facility in Brisbane to a location in Melbourne.  This has been fraught with problems and delays, not the least of which was an intermittent network fault into the network our systems are connected to.  Steady-state things would be fine; I could have an IRC client connected to a server in our subnet for days at a time.  When I actually try to do anything else (SSH, HTTP, etc), within about 5 minutes all traffic to the subnet would stop for a few minutes.  When traffic would pass again, it would stay up for five or so minutes then fail.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

It looked like the problem you get when Path MTU Discovery (PMTUD) doesn’t work and you have an MTU mismatch[1].  I realised that we had a 1000BaseT network that was connected to a 100BaseT switch port, so went around all my systems and changed where I was trying to use jumbo frames, but that made no difference to the network dropouts.  I found Cisco references to problems with ARP caches filling, but I couldn’t imagine that the network was so big that MAC address learning would be a problem (and if general MAC learning was constrained, why no-one else was having a problem).

Everything I could think of was drawing blanks.  I approached the folks who run the network we uplink through, and all they said was “our network is fine”.  I was putting up with the problem, thinking that it was just something I was doing and that in time we would change over to a different uplink and we wouldn’t have to worry any more.  My frustration at having to move everything out of the wonderful environment we had in Brisbane down to Melbourne, with its non-functional network, multiplied every time an SSH connection failed.  I actually started to rationalise that it was pointless to continue with setting up the facility in Melbourne; I’d never be able to re-create what I’d built in Brisbane, it would never be as accessible and useful, and besides no-one other than me had ever made good use of the z Systems gear in the Brisbane lab anyway.  Basically, I had lost confidence in myself and my ability to get the network fixed and the Melbourne lab set up.

Confidence is a mental strength, like our muscles which provide our physical strength.  Just like muscle, confidence grows from active use and wastes if underused.  Chemicals can boost it, and trauma can damage it.  Importantly though, confidence can be a huge barrier to a person’s ability to “work and play well with others” — too little confidence and one lacks conviction and decision-making; too much confidence and they appear overbearing and dictatorial.

Last week I was in Singapore for the z/VM, Linux on z, and KVM “T3” event.  Whenever I go to something like this I get fired up by all of the things that I’d like to work on and have running to demo.  The motivation to get new things going in the lab overcame my pessimism about the network connection (and lack of confidence), and I got in touch with the intern in charge of the network we connect through.  All I need, I said, is to look and see what the configuration of the port we connect into looks like.  We agreed to get together when I returned from Singapore, and try to work out the problem.

We got into the meeting, and I went over the problem in terms of how we experience it — a steady state that could last for days, then activity leading to three-minute lockouts.  I asked if I could see the configuration of the port we attached to… after a little bit of discussion about which switch and port we might be on, a few lines of Cisco CatOS configuration statements appeared in our chat session.  Straight away I saw:

switchport port-security

W. T. F.

Within a few minutes I had Googled what this meant.  Sure enough, it told the switch to monitor the active MAC addresses on that port and disable the port if “unknown” MACs appear.  There were no configured MACs, so it just remembered the first one it saw.  It explained why I could have a session running to one system (the IRC server) for ages, and as soon as I connected to something else everything stopped — the default violation mode is “shutdown”.  It explained why the traffic would stay down for three minutes and then begin again — elsewhere in the switch configuration was this:

errdisable recovery cause psecure-violation 180

If the switch disabled a port due to port-security violation, it would be automatically recovered after 180 seconds.

The guys didn’t really understand what this all meant, but it made sense to me.  Encouraged by my confidence that this was indeed the problem, they gave me the passwords to log on to the switch and do what I thought was needed to remove the setting.  A couple of “no” commands later and it was gone… and our network link has functioned perfectly ever since.

The real mystery for the other network guys was: why has this suddenly become a problem?  None of them had changed the network port definition, so as far as anyone knew the port was always configured with Port Security.  The answer to this question is, in fact, on our side.  To z/VM and Linux on z Systems people, networks come in two modes: “Layer 3” or “IP” mode, where the system only deals with IP addresses, and “Layer 2” or “Ethernet” mode, where the system works with MAC addresses.  In Layer 3 mode, all the separate IP addresses that exist within Linux and z/VM systems actually exist behind the MAC address of the mainframe OSA card.  In Layer 2 mode however, each individual Linux guest or z/VM stack gets its own MAC address.  When we first set up this network link and the z/VM and Linux systems there the default operating mode was Layer 3, so the network switch only saw one or two MAC addresses.  Nowadays though the default mode is Layer 2.  When I built new systems for moving everything down from Brisbane, I built them in Layer 2 mode.  Suddenly the network switch port was seeing dozens of different MAC addresses where it used to only see one or two, and Port Security was being triggered constantly.

This has been a learning experience for me.  Usually I don’t have any trouble pointing out where I think a problem exists and how it needs to be fixed.  Deep down I knew the issue was outside our immediate network and yet this time for some reason I lacked the ability, motivation, nerve, or whatever, to chase the folks responsible and get it fixed.  The prospect of trying to work with a group of guys who, based on their previous comments, really strongly thought that their gear was not the problem, was so daunting that it became easier to think of reasons not to bother.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t know for certain that it wasn’t something on our side — there is another problem in our network that definitely is in our gear — so I kept looking for a problem on our side that wasn’t there.

For the want of a 15-minute phone meeting, we had endured months of a flaky network connection.

On this occasion it took me too long to become sufficiently confident to turn my thoughts into actions.  Once I got into action though, it was the confidence I displayed to the network team that got the problem fixed.   For me, lesson learned: sometimes I need a prod, but I am one who “works and plays well with others”.


[1] I get that all the time when using the Linux OpenVPN client to connect to this lab, and got into the habit of changing the MTU manually.  Tunnelblick on the Mac doesn’t suffer the same problem, because it has a clever MTU monitoring feature that keeps things going.

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The last time

I had an unexpectedly emotional departure from Brisbane last week. It was supposed to be a standard flight to Sydney, but became something a lot more.

When I first started travelling by air, flights to Melbourne were on 737s and to Sydney were 767s. I guess you knew you were going to the “big smoke” when you were on the really big plane (sorry Melbourne, you know I love you). As flight schedules changed Sydney started getting serviced by more 737 flights, but you could often still find yourself on a 767 depending on the time of day, etc. I would seek out the 767 flights, sometimes just for the sake of a change of scene from a 737.

Of course there was another, real, reason why there were fewer 767 flights on Qantas, but I was oblivious to that… until last Monday.

The original flight I was booked on got cancelled. I had a moment of disappointment that I wouldn’t be on the 767 flight I’d planned, but since Qantas has phoned me well in advance and sorted me onto the next flight I couldn’t fault the situation (it gave me some extra time before flying).

When I got my seat assignment I realised I was going to be on a 767 after all. I wondered if they simply pushed the plane from my original flight back to the time of the later flight. Anyway it didn’t matter, I was happy to get my ride on the Seven-Six.

While we were taxiing for takeoff, the captain made an announcement. He did the usual welcome, and then said something remarkable — I don’t remember the exact words, but I’ll paraphrase…

Thank you for your patience, I know some of you were booked on the flight that was due to go before this one, but that aircraft became unavailable. Luckily the airline had the option to use a bigger aircraft to carry the load of the two flights. It’s an option that we won’t have very soon, as this aircraft is due to be retired on the 27th of December. So unless you’re going to be with us again very soon, this could be your last flight on a Boeing 767.

The captain then went on to advise us our departure procedure, but honestly I wasn’t listening. I started looking around me, trying to soak up as much of the environment as I could. Then I thought to myself “it’s just a plane”, but no, it was more…

When do we ever get the chance to know that we’re doing something for the last time? I’m not talking about the extraordinary things, the once-in-a-lifetime things that you know right then you’re never likely to do again. I mean things that are a part of your life, things that… things that until they are gone you do not think you’d miss… or the things that you know damn well you’d miss if they weren’t there, but you just can’t imagine anything could possibly cause them to be gone…


Upon disembarking in Sydney

Even as I write this, days later, I’m choking up.

When we arrived in Sydney I took a photo of my last 767, VH-OGO, which I saw again a couple of days later while I was waiting for my return flight to Brisbane.

Thanks to a captain who knows that there are still people out there who think that flying is more than just the cheapest seat, I got to know in advance that a chapter in my own personal logbook is ending… and as if I needed one, I also got another reminder that nothing should ever be taken for granted.


A couple of days later… OGO probably about to make a return trip to Brisbane








I started writing this on 7 December, the day that VH-OJA, Qantas’ first ever Boeing 747-400, was scheduled to make its last commercial flight as QF107 From Sydney to Los Angeles. Not only was OJA the first Qantas 747-400, it was the aircraft that set the stage for the “Kangaroo Route” by making a promotional flight non-stop from London to Sydney (a record-breaking run, and the record still stands). I wonder how many times I’ve flown on that plane, never knowing its history. I hope the people on that flight got an announcement similar to the one I got on my 767 flight.

I lost my Fitbit… and found it

I have settled into a somewhat sedentary lifestyle.  My partner tries valiantly to get me involved in her personal training sessions, but I have a lot of inertia.  I know that I need to do something about being more active and increasing my fitness level, but have struggled to find a motivator.

While in Europe I succumbed to a bit of techno-craziness and bought a Fitbit One.  (The craziness wasn’t buying a Fitbit, it was where I bought it—the Apple Store in the Odysseum in Montpellier—and the resulting price I paid compared to if I’d waited and bought it at home, even from an Apple Store.)  I was enjoying the novelty of tracking activity, counting steps and calories, entering water consumption, and monitoring sleep.  I wore it almost constantly through France, in Amsterdam, and on the way back to Australia, thinking I might have finally found a way to motivate myself to exercise—that’s right: the path to a healthier life through good-old 21st century gamification!

I drove up to Brisbane a week ago for lunch with some work colleagues before picking up my kids; of course, the Fitbit was with me all the way.  The only problem was, my leather belt is too thick for the Fitbit’s clip so I instead clipped it into the coin pocket of my jeans.  It’s not so secure, and the Fitbit slid back and forth along the rim of the pocket, but I figured the seam along the edge of the pocket was thick enough to prevent the Fitbit from coming loose.

Almost over the jet-lag from coming back from Europe, I prepared for bed that evening looking forward to wearing the Fitbit to monitor my sleep—only the Fitbit was nowhere to be found.  Not on the jeans, not anywhere visible.  I decided that my method of clipping the Fitbit into the coin pocket was not so secure after all, and it had come loose during the day.

The next day I did the usual “retrace your steps, check behind the couch, blah blah” routine but still came up blank.  During Sunday however, for some reason I decided to start up the Fitbit app on my phone… and was rewarded with a message telling me it was “Syncing”!  I looked around where I was sitting, but still couldn’t find it.  By this time I had convinced myself it really was gone, and the sync message was the app on the phone syncing with the web site.

It got the better of me again today however.  I started the app again, and again was told it was “Syncing”.  I went to the “Devices” list, and sure enough beside my One it said it had synced just then.  Knowing that it had been over a week since I had last seen it, and that the battery was good but it wouldn’t last forever, I decided to pull out all the stops to locate it.

The BTLExplorer screen as it detects my Fitbit One.

The BTLExplorer screen as it detects my Fitbit One.

I figured there had to be an app similar to those I’d seen for scanning Wi-Fi and Bonjour but for Bluetooth, but searching for “bluetooth locator”, “bluetooth search”, and so on led to nothing helpful—there is a growing number of apps that help you search for headsets or objects to which you’ve attached a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tag, but I couldn’t find anything that did a simple scan of Bluetooth devices in range.

I turned to Google at that point, and decided to search for “locate lost fitbit bluetooth”.  The second item in the results was this blog post, which turned up a free app called BTLExplorer.  I installed it, ran it, and straight away it detected my Fitbit!

What followed was an ultra-modern version of “Marco Polo” or “Hot or Cold”.  I wandered around the house watching the indicated signal strength rising and falling, trying to get closer to where it was hiding.  Eventually, I found the room where the strength was intermittently rising above -60dBm, and sure enough, under a cushion, was my Fitbit One!

Now I can resume the monitoring of my activity levels.  In addition, my fruitless searching of the Apple App Store has made me realise that the App Store app on the iPhone is pretty useless for searching for apps: turns out there are a few other apps similar to BTLExplorer, but because I didn’t search for “bluetooth scanner” or “bluetooth explorer” I didn’t find them.

So far I’m pretty impressed with the Fitbit technology, even though it’s not that much more than a fancy pedometer.  While the device is pretty cool most of the intelligence of the system is in the app and the website, which analyse and interpret the data gathered by the device itself.  It is pretty nicely integrated: the device itself gets the movement data and syncs to the phone, which you can use to do basic display of the data while entering additional data like weight measurements and food and water consumption; the phone app syncs all that data to the website which does additional analysis and provides more of the social aspects of the system.

I’ll report back on how the Fitbit and its application environment helps me with my health transformation!

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On global roaming for data

Like most international travellers in the Internet age, during our recent travel through Europe I was confronted by the ridiculous situation that exists for mobile data access.  By ridiculous I mean ridiculously expensive.

Telstra SMS warnings

Warnings from Telstra when a customer connects to a roaming network.

Look, don’t get me wrong: the technology that allows GSM/UMTS global roaming is pretty magical[1].  But it’s not exactly new!  It’s not like mobile networks are breaking new ground in how this should be done!  As I understand it, GSM was designed almost from day one to support the interconnection of networks in the manner that global roaming requires, so why are we consumers gouged so aggressively for it?

Telstra goes to great lengths to warn their customers about the high cost of data when they roam overseas.  Nice.  So let’s say I want to buy one of these International Roaming Data Packs—how much does that cost?  On Telstra’s website I find the answer: in fact I find several answers, since it would be unreasonable to expect one simple, easy-to-budget rate from a telephone company.

The cheapest data pack is A$29, which gets you the princely total of—wait for it…

20MB of data.

Wait, what…?

Twenty megabytes?!?!?

Packs range all the way up to 2GB, which costs an unbelievable A$1800.  I have a Telstra mobile broadband service which costs around A$39 per month and has a monthly allowance of 3GB—that comparison puts the roaming data rate at almost 700% more expensive!

The kickers though are in the fine print:

If you use all of your data allowance, we will charge you 1.5 cents per kB you use which equates to $15.36 per MB.

This is the rate for roaming data if you don’t have a data pack.  An order of magnitude again more expensive than data in a data pack!  Let’s look at the SMS they sent though: “we’ll SMS you every 20MB of data” — which means, if you don’t have a data pack, you’ll get your first SMS alert once you’ve already spent A$307.20!  The next one is the absolute best, though:

Any unused data allowance will be forfeited at the end of the 30 day period.

Are you absolutely @#$%!$ kidding?!?!?  Seriously?!?  Let’s think this one through:

  • You have concocted an astronomically exorbitant rate for data usage
  • You’ve made me pay up-front for my expected use
  • If I get the estimate wrong, I’ll either pay through the nose at the casual usage rate until I decide if I want to buy another pack OR I’ll get no compensation of the up-front money I paid for data I didn’t end up using
  • You’re still collecting on my contract monthly plan fee, which includes domestic call and data allowances I can’t possibly use because I’m overseas!

The whole situation is unbelievable to me.  Unjustifiable.  If Douglas Adams was writing Life, The Universe, And Everything today I believe “bistromathics” would have instead been “phonemathics” (except that it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well).  I can just imagine it:

“Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer’s movement in time, so it was realised that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer’s mobile phone’s movement through roaming zones.”

It’s only a problem because mobile technology is so embedded in our lives today.  We tweet, we post pictures, we e-mail, we navigate, we live connected in ways that we didn’t even ten, or five, years ago.  I know this, because I did without mobile data even as recently as 2009 (when I was in the US and China for a total of seven weeks).  The ironic thing is that we are most likely to want to do these sharing activities, such as checking in on Foursquare and sharing photos, when we are travelling—and even more so when we are in new and exotic places, such as a foreign land.

I call BS on the whole international roaming data scam.  I defy anyone from a telecommunications company to explain to me why it can be three orders of magnitude more expensive to access bits in a foreign country compared to accessing those same bits from home.  It is nothing more than a money gouging exercise, and I reckon I’ve got proof:

Amazon Whispernet.

I have a Kindle, for which I paid about A$100 when the local supermarket had a 25%-off sale.  It’s the 3G and Wi-Fi version, and I take it with me most places I travel.  I’ve had that Kindle in the USA, New Zealand, France, and of course here in Australia, and in every place I’ve had Whispernet come on line and I’ve been able to at least browse the Amazon store.  Now, if roaming data really did cost what mobile networks say it does, how does it make sense for Amazon to make Whispernet available internationally on my Australian Kindle?  I mean, if I browsed the Store for half an hour before buying a A$2.99 book (pretty-much exactly what I did last trip, in France), the transaction would have cost more than it made!  To me, Amazon Whispernet is the proof that there is minimal cost in roaming data and that we’re being taken for a ride.

Needless to say, my phone has Data Roaming disabled.  I became a free Wi-Fi junkie—one of those pitiful souls hopping from one café to the next looking for open access points.  It wasn’t too bad when we were in Paris and Montpellier, but before leaving for the back-blocks outside Toulouse and Bordeaux I knew we’d need a better solution.  In a Geant Casino store in Montpellier I happened across a prepaid 3G Wi-Fi access box from Orange for about 45€, which included 500MB of data valid for one month.  It came in handy too, thanks to the GPS unit in the car getting confused about the location of our hotel at La Pomarede and us having to use Google Maps to find the right way.

Come on mobile networks, get with it.  Stop pissing off your customers and forcing them to do cruel and unusual things when they travel.  Just charge reasonable rates.  You’ll get more business, and guess what—happy customers.  Well, happier.

[1] By magical I refer to Clarke‘s Third Law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

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A long time away

Back when I last posted here, I would never have imagined that within twelve months I would be in a new relationship, travelling overseas on holiday, and generally happy with my life.  And yet, that’s exactly where I am.

I write this from a hotel room in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, having recently returned from Boeblingen (outside Stuttgart) where I spent a week attending an education event.  In a couple of days we will go by train to Montpellier in the south of France, then travel to Toulouse for my partner’s “cousinade” (family reunion).  After that, it will be Bordeaux for a couple of days, then by train to Amsterdam for a few days, then back to Paris for another few days before flying home.

On the technical front since I posted last, I have been spending a lot of time in my System z lab working on Linux and z/VM, as well as building a z/OS Parallel Sysplex (coz dat’s how we rollz, aw yea).  My current project is to build a set of self-paced workshops based on z/VM and Linux for the IBM Systems Symposium in Melbourne in August.

Life doesn’t suck anywhere near as badly as it did about 12 months ago — it’s still far from perfect, but part of what I’m learning is that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I do promise that this will return to being more of a technical blog though. 🙂

Edited to correct the spelling of “arrondissement”.

What happened to my old life

For the last eight months I have been living alone.  On 4 February this year, my wife of 15 years told me that it was her intention to end our relationship.  She told me that she understood that it would take me some time to adjust to the decision she had made, and that there was no discussion to be had about that decision.  The next day, she and our two children moved out.

For about a month I tried to hide what had happened, but the folk I work with knew that something must have happened when I suddenly went from being an occasional visitor to the office to being the first to arrive and last to leave every day of the week.  I have confided in a few of my workmates, and they have been incredibly supportive (and helpful to my sanity), even as some of them go through the same issues in their own lives.

This post is not about casting blame.  If you have read my posts about depression, you may already have put two-and-two-together and realised that this was the major event that pushed me into seeking treatment.  Initially I blamed my wife for not having the strength to help me though my illness, but I accept that she would likely only have been able to do so much in the face of my reluctance to seek help.  I envy her the courage she showed in making such a dramatic change to her own life.

I don’t accept that either of our lives are better — or will be better in the near future — as a result of this change, and the new situation our kids will have to adjust to as they grow up is one that I would still prefer to have avoided.  On this, my wife and I have to agree to disagree: I will claim that I was not given any choice in the matter, and she will claim that I made my choice by not getting treatment for my condition which would have allowed me to be a better husband.  I could be wrong on this of course, but I will never know, since my wife and I can talk (very pleasantly I must say) about just about anything except our relationship and what happened.

I’m proud to say that I have maintained a great relationship with my kids.  They stay with me once a fortnight, and while I spoil them terribly I am still keeping up the father role well.  Visibly they appear unaffected by the change, but I worry constantly about what they don’t show.  My daughter, for example, will suddenly want to sit snuggled in my arms on the lounge for an hour and not want to move.  My son has become intensely possessive (even more so than your usual eight-year-old) and is totally focussed on what toy or present I will next buy for him or give him.  Having said these things though, it is clear that my wife still loves our children as well and neither of us would consciously do anything to bring them to harm.  While this kind of situation is tough at the best of times, I think that the fact that my wife and I have been able to come to a speaking arrangement is a huge benefit to our kids.

The relationships we form as we go through life are part of what define us as individuals.  In fact, the versions of us that live in the memories of everyone we meet are entirely shaped by our relationships with those individuals, and every one of those versions of us is different because of the individual whose memory we live in and our relationship with them.  I have lived all my life with an almost pathological inability to deeply bond with others — it’s a wonder I’ve ever been able to make friends, let alone get married and have kids.  Combined with that, for the last several years I’ve been shackled by depression.

Now, without a love relationship and undergoing treatment for my depression, I find myself in a situation I would never have imagined for myself, even on 3 February 2012.  The relationships I have with people have changed, because I am not the same person I was.  I am being changed, not just by relationships I’ve had for years but by people I’ve met in only the last few months (some of whom will never know the profound effect they have had on me, even in as little as a few days).  Not only that, I’ve finally realised something that I never admitted in the past: that I have the ability and opportunity to change the people I have relationships with, just as they change me.

I am determined to make the best of this situation, by being the best friend, colleague, father, workmate, son, presenter, uncle, mentor, brother, and whatever else life sends me (including, yes, ex-husband) that I can possibly be.

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Wil Wheaton on depression

Unless you’ve been living in a geekness Faraday cage for at least the last twenty years, you will have some idea who Wil Wheaton is.  To many, he’s Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, to others he plays himself (or an evil version of himself) on Big Bang Theory, to yet others he’s Fawkes from The Guild.  To folks oblivious to things off the Internet he’s @wilw: a blogger and prolific tweeter, and sometimes is on TV.

On his blog today, Wil posted about his depression.  His experience is almost exactly like mine, in terms of the initial reluctance to seek treatment and the eventual realisation that life does not have to be that way if we seek some help.  I blogged a while ago about the start of my treatment, but Wil writes so much more succinctly and neatly than I do that it’s worth his take.  Like others who have commented, thank-you Wil for sharing your experience and helping to break the stigma.

I have decided that I need to be open about the other major change in my life, but it’s going to take a while to find the right words.

Update on my illness

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Qantas Club lounge in Sydney Airport. For the last week I’ve been working with a customer installing a new IBM zEnterprise 114. It was a great week, full of learning and new experiences for both my colleague from the customer and me.
But as the highs of the week gradually fade, I settle in to the reality of returning home. What should be a happy time of reunion and catching up is… well, not. More on that another time — it’s the “something else” I alluded to when I first blogged about my depression, and I’m still not ready to share with the ‘Net. For now, let’s just say that all is not as it should be at home.
What is better is my health. I’m glad to say that I’m responding to treatment — my moods are better, I can rationalise things more, um, rationally, and I’m losing weight. I’ve had some disappointing things happen at work, and for the first time in ages I’ve been able to feel that disappointment without despair. I can feel, almost on a daily basis, small things that are better about my life and my emotional state. Yes, I am medicated, but I’m even okay with that too.
I apologise to the people that have been in contact with me with well wishes to whom I haven’t responded. Don’t think that I don’t appreciate your thoughts — in fact, the opposite is true. Knowing that there are people I’ve seldom (or even never) met that care about my condition enough to tweet or comment is one of the things that is keeping me going.
Getting help to deal with this illness is the best thing I’ve done in my life.
I just wish I’d done it sooner.

Hi, I’m Vic… and I have depression

This is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.  There is a lot of emotion behind the words I write here, and I’m trying to keep that out.  If you were expecting the latest snippet of technical insight from me, I’m sorry.  Maybe next time.  This post is about me.

In the first six months of 2004 I changed employer, my first child was born, and I suffered a mild heart attack.  For some time I’ve believed that this set of major events occurring over such a short period was responsible for the way I feel.  If I’m honest though, there’s every likelihood that it was there long before, and 2004 just pushed me off the top of the slippery slope.

People’s reactions to near-death experiences vary almost as widely as the events that bring them to near-death.  To me, how someone recovers from such an experience will depend very much on how they can rationalise who is at fault for the experience.  Experiences like being a victim of armed robbery or a car accident are fundamentally different from health-related near-death because when it’s health-related there’s no-one to blame but yourself — you ate the wrong food, you didn’t exercise enough, you got bad genes, etc.  You can try to blame someone or something else (blame the fast-food chains for your diet, blame the TV programs or the computer games for your lack of exercise, blame your parents for your genes) but deep down you know it’s all on you.  The effect this can have on self-esteem and self-worth are immeasurable.

I say this all in my context of course — for me it was too tempting to blame that heart attack for feeling bad.  I’m sure others have felt the same: despite all the other things in their life that might be causes of concern — stressful or unrewarding job, young children, difficult relationships, money problems — the health problem that nearly killed them becomes what they use to define themselves.  This was definitely the case for me: I was 34 years old, I had been overseas for a week for work and was supposed to be at home helping to look after my 3-month old son, what the f**k was I doing in a cardiac hospital after suffering a myocardial infarction?  I was broken, a product of a gene pool that produced 11 out of 13 immediate blood relatives with cardiac issues.  People would tell me this was my “wake-up call”, my “second chance”, but nothing could break my resignation that the deck was stacked against me.

I saw a psychologist for a while in 2005-06, and was on antidepressants for a while around the same time.  I thought I was feeling good about life again.  My last visit with the psychologist was just before I went on an overseas business trip with a colleague in March 2006.  I got a script for more meds before I went overseas (the doctor actually joked with me about how having a psychotic break while going through US airport security wouldn’t be a good thing), but when that script ran out I didn’t bother getting a new one.  Looking back, I was in Zoloft-fuelled denial of my real mental and emotional state.  I actually thought I was better, so I didn’t need the drugs any more.

The denial of my mental state has continued until almost the present day — except that it was no longer fuelled by antidepressants.  Over the last six months or so, denial came from a self-fulfilling belief that there was nothing worth doing.  When I thought I was feeling good about life, I failed to see that what I was really feeling good about were things in my life; in times when things to feel good about became fewer and farther between, so too would my moods get darker and darker.  I’d have good days and bad days, but even on good days I’d be a hair’s breadth from falling into a dark black mood in which even just moving seemed like too much effort.  I have been denying my state of mind — except when it suited me to say “I don’t feel like it” to get out of doing something.  I’ve told myself that my poor diet and lack of exercise led to my heart problems, which in turn made me depressed, causing me to want to withdraw further from family and social situations.

Recently though, I’ve realised that the opposite is true: that all the things that I thought have derived from the heart attack have actually come from a different — but no less real — condition: clinical depression, or “a major depressive illness”.  I’m actually on the border of bipolar disorder, but I’m told my “highs” aren’t quite manic enough to fit that profile.

Some of you reading this will unfortunately think that now that I know what my problem is I can just get over it.  While knowing what my problem is allows me to find proper treatment, it’s a long way from getting over it.  Let me ask you: if someone has a broken leg, does being told that they have a broken leg make the leg any less broken?  “Okay,” someone might reply, “so you just pop some pills to feel better.”  Again: if someone has a broken leg and they take medication for the pain, is the leg any less broken?  “Well, go and talk to a shrink then.”  If you’ve got a broken leg and you talk to someone about the experience of having a broken leg, is the leg any less broken?

Our protagonist with the broken leg starts the road to recovery when the break is set and the leg is cast.  Pain killers might be needed, along with crutches or a wheelchair for mobility, perhaps even a ruler to scratch the skin irritated by the cast.  Physiotherapy to rebuild muscle and supporting tissue might be needed as well, once the bone is sufficiently restored.  Our protagonist might walk with a limp for a while, but will eventually return to full health.

I have started to get help, but I have no idea what my road to recovery will look like.  I saw my GP a few weeks ago and he referred me to a psychiatrist, with whom I’ve had my first session.  Medication will be involved, but I’ve already felt the effects of the other actions I’ve taken: exercise, eating well, and treating my after-hours as my own time instead of an extension of the work day.  I’ve started to lose weight as well (2-3kg so far) — something that I’d always wanted to do but felt was beyond my mood-locked abilities.  I still have dark times though.

Now the really hard part.  Some of you might be wondering if there was a catalyst to all this self-realisation and affirmative action.  I’m not ready to talk about that, except to say one thing: this illness I have is like a cancer — ruthless, vicious, absolutely silent, and often detected way too late.  Unlike cancer though, many people don’t take it seriously.  Don’t take anything for granted.  Depression will take things away from you that you don’t know you’ve lost until they’re gone, and what you lose might be the very things you’ve always needed to make it through to the end of each day.

Don’t wait until RU OK? Day…  if you’re depressed, talk to someone; if you know someone who might be depressed, talk to them.  Please.

Online resources in Australia for depression and bipolar disorder (not an exhaustive list, nor a list of endorsements):