Fighting the good fight

[In response to an e-mail asking for comments on our new diversity monitoring form. Not meant to be pissy or anything. Just promised myself I’d raise these things when I got chance.]

Hi [Head of HR],

Recently a friend of mine made me aware of a campaign by people who consider themselves ‘asexual’ to have this recognised as a sexual orientation. I’d suggest we consider including this as an option.

More information is here:

The same friend would also hope to see an option for people to record that they are involved in more than one committed romantic relationship. Though I recognise that this isn’t a characteristic protected in law, my friend would argue that this is partly because the census does not allow people to put this as their status (people who do have it recorded as an error), so there are no official stats on how many people are in these sorts of relationships.

The term ‘marital status’ can be offensive to some people who are unable to, or do not wish to, get married. It tacitly suggests ‘married’ is the normal or ideal state of being. ‘Relationship status’ is a more neutral term.

Our form as currently drafted doesn’t make it easy for someone who considers themselves agnostic to note this. You’re either religious or not. An ‘agnostic/I don’t know’ box would be a nice option.

Finally, I don’t think it’s right that some questions provide ‘prefer not to say’ as an option but not others. Is a person’s sexual orientation a private matter but their relationship status is not?

Hope this is helpful.


Slightly putting words in the mouth of ‘my friend’ here but hopefully he’d mostly approve of what I’ve said.

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So just had the interview discussed previously. It went basically fine. Could’ve been more polished but I’m pretty happy with it overall.

For those wondering, JR didn’t apply. LH did apply but didn’t get an interview. So I was the only applicant. If I don’t get it then it’s totes on me for being a well moron.

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the enemy within

So I’m in the process of applying for my job, that is to go from being ‘on loan’ from [The Tanning Salon] to [The Exhchange] to working for [The Exchange] permanently.

It’s been advertised internally, so anyone else is able to apply – but realistically there are only about six people who would apply – others being too junior or senior, or already doing the same post as me. Of those six, two have made it clear (albeit indirectly) that they won’t be applying, two of the others I just don’t think would be interested, the other two I wouldn’t be surprised if they had.

One who I’ll call LH is a more junior member of staff, ze* is interested in moving into my line of work but ze doesn’t have much experience so is unlikely to get it. The other, who I’ll call JR, is currently doing work at a similar level, with some overlap, and for zer it would be a slight pay bump, and possibly a move into territory ze might be interested in. Or maybe not, I don’t know…

JR is the only one who I think could give me a run for my money if ze has indeed applied. No one has yet confirmed whether our/my application forms have secured an interview (we’ll find out later today, interviews will be tuesday). Unless I’ve written a right old load of bumwank on my form I should get an interview, and I’ve been told that people are happy with me here, and that they want me to stay. The post is pretty much being advertised for my benefit…

But it’s just killing me to know whether JR has applied, or more pertinently whether ze will have secured an interview.

Because of this I’m interpreting zer behaviour differently, at a brief meeting yesterday… was ze encroaching on my turf? Is ze being quiet towards me because ze feels guilty for maneuvering to basically make me lose my job? TBH ze is pretty quiet most of the time anyway, it’s not remotely unusual for ze and I to go a whole week without speaking to each other. So I’ve no basis on which to judge. I’ve checked zer calender to see if ze has time blocked out for when the interviews are scheduled, as I do – and in fact ze has other meetings booked in, but the fact that they’re internal meetings ze could easily cancel means I take no solace from that.

I’m acutely aware that I’m currently viewing zer as a kind of a threat/enemy – but this could be entirely down to an erroneous assumption on my part. Unlike me, JR has a permanent post here. No real reason to apply unless ze just fancies a change and a (probably quite small) pay increase.

Anyway, there’s no real moral of the story here. Just a bit of brain dump, and insight into how my mind works. Probably how yours works too…

In other news:

For those who don’t know, S and I are moving away from [city we live in] – albeit not far. We’re going to a small village the next county over. More rural, the bit we live in has the feel of a tiny medieval village, although it’s actually the centre of a larger commuter-type community of around 9,000 people.

Moving to seek a bit of inner peace, a home which is more intrinsically pleasant to live in. To me, more so than for S, the place we are at present is a little rough around the edges, and in a location which is not particularly nice, but has the significant saving grace of being very close to friends and recreational facilities. Staying in touch with our friends will require more effort – from us and from them – but not that much. We’re only a 15 minute drive or 25 minute train journey away.

The flat itself has, for me, been forever tainted by the unjustifiable hassle from the letting agents [aka the Kennel Club] when we moved in, it left me feeling that when something went wrong (lots of small but significant things) we had no one to turn to. Although that too is a little irrational (see above). It has been made better of late when we started to bypass [the Kennel Club] and go direct to our landlord – who turns out to be a decent guy, if a little forgetful.

This is one of those examples where I need to remember Point 22 on my 30 B4 30 list, specifically my mother’s inability to place ‘being right’ as anything less than her #1 priority at all times. My inability to be at peace with the fact that even though the letting agents were clearly in the wrong, they would never admit as much, and that my efforts to persuade them otherwise were coming to nothing have, as I say, tainted my whole relationship with my home. Stupid of me, of course. But too late now. I learn and I move on.

I really think I am improving how I deal with things like that. At work I’ve had a recent dispute where someone at a conference venue we’re dealing with has clearly fucked up and caused us problems and is being unhelpful in resolving it. I’ve been absolutely calm about the whole thing. Stayed polite but firm. A colleague even commented “You’re being much nicer about it than I would be, [malbo21]!”

Likewise with the new letting agents… they are, themselves, very nice and helpful, but their processes involve the same stupid bullshit all letting agents require. But I’ve gone out of my way to be pleasant, calm, with them – and I think they’ve responded in kind. Whereas with previous agents I’ve gotten a bit huffy about things like credit checks and the fact they’ll be managing the property (denying us human contact with the landlord), this time I’ve just accepted it.

I’m still somewhat of a coiled spring, S can tell I’m stressed. But I’m trying not to act stressed, or indulge it too much. It’s the first step.

This isn’t a revelation to anyone but me, I’m quite sure. It’s just not in my nature/nurture. My parents default response to conflict is to stick to their guns, be aggressive (or worse passive/aggressive), and seek to correct the other person. That isn’t fair, nor does it result in good relationships with the person you’re dealing with (as evidenced by the lack of closeness I feel to them after years of various disputes/guilt trips about my choices), nor does it ultimately result in good mental health for one’s own self.

Checking back on this blog it seems I’ve not recounted the specific epiphany I had recently regarding my parents’ approach to life. I don’t suppose the detail matters, but basically I was given the chance to see my mother’s behaviour through the eyes of an objective third party, who was firmly critical without being unkind. Because of this, I was reminded that sometimes she believes things which are flatly untrue – she is deeply, pathologically capable of tailoring input to what she already believes. All human beings are of course, but she more so than most (though I do think I understand the reasons from her own past which have contributed to this). Listening to the lady in question talk about my mum’s behaviour, not only was I reminded of what she is like, I was reminded of what I am like.

The urge to fix things and fix people can’t be undervalued, but it can be overdone. The world and the human race are sick entities – but not so sick that we haven’t been able to envisage a better way to be. But it’s possible to internalise the conflict between what is, and what should be a little too much. That’s my big problem. Coupled with a bit of depression and self-centredness at times.

Without insight, where are we?

Anyway… as usual this blog post has been much longer than I intended.

Turns out there was a moral of the story after all.

Tra la la…

*non-gender specific pronoun

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30 B4 30

S did a post quite a while ago listing things she wants to do before she’s thirty. I’ve just turned 29, and I actually started drafting this post in september last year. Just spotted it and thought I’d resurrect it. The first bit of the post is the original bit, below the line is new.

The main thing I wanted to do before I was 30 I have already done – it was releasing an album. So what’s next?

1. Learn to drive – really quite long overdue on this. Just got a mental block on it. My brother learned to drive as soon as he was 17, and whenever my mum mentions this I feel like I’m being accused of being sub-human and just want to scream and throw things. Goes back to my own teens when my active opposition to learning to drive was treated almost as a direct insult to anyone who could. You would honestly not believe how much shit I was given because of it.

2. Write a novel. And finish it. Even if it’s shit. [Since writing this post I’ve got about 30,000 words or so into a new novel. Slightly disillusioned with it now, realised not much has happened. Not sure whether to persevere and finish it just to meet this target, or whether to start yet another one. I feel like I’ve learned plenty from doing this one – so it hasn’t been a complete waste]

3. Eat at the Fat Duck. I can probably just about afford this now, as long as I don’t do much else in the particular month I happen to go. Just need someone to go with since S has no interest in it whatsoever.

4. Work out what kind of career I actually want. My current job’s pretty good. But I’ve wandered into it without thinking.

5. Become active in a political party. As soon as I find one worth my efforts.

6. Join an amateur dramatics group. Because I’m a bit of a showoff on the quiet.

7. Buy a bike and ride it to work sometimes. First we need somewhere to put it.

8. Take a human life. lol

9. Go scuba diving. Cos I like fish innit.

10. Get involved in a new musical project which is genuinely collaborative, with people who are interested in putting time and effort into doing gigs, making & releasing records, and attempting ‘success’, however modest.

11. Host a dinner party. No not like Come Dine With Me, not as a competition, just for fun, and as a way to challenge myself and do something nice for friends.

12. Get back involved with some kind of voluntary work. Would give me some much needed perspective on my own current down in the dumps-ness. Have a particular place in mind, but they’ve historically been a bit shit at getting back in touch.

———New bit.———

13. Take some time off to travel. Even just a few months or weeks. I hate people who distinguish ‘travelling’ from ‘going on holuday’ as if one is somehow a noble pursuit whereas the other is frivolity. People who have an acquisitive attitude to visiting places, and say things like ‘I’m going to do Italy‘. Italy is not a verb. Nonetheless there’s something calming about being in a place where you’re divorced from your usual environment. I can’t visit somewhere without constantly asking myself ‘would I want to live here?’. Many many places I conclude that I would. But I acknowledge that’s a bit daft. I get homesick for places I’ve visited. I never get homesick for the place I live. But I get homesick for places I’ve lived before. I don’t know what this means. But yeah, be nice to go on a longish trip and see some places….

14. Be vegetarian for a week. I have no intention of ever giving up meat, but I do want to eat less of it, and eat more vegetables and enjoy them. Not eating them is a silly childish habit (as are most ‘I don’t eat that’ pronouncements), and one which I should be able to break by now. When I make a conscious decision to eat some vegetables I can usually do it, but then I lapse back into picking them out of things and leaving them uneaten. It’s just daft. A week without meat would push me to eat some new things. Plus when S cooks for us both it’s always lovely – though she tends to go big on the cheese for my benefit. Maybe I should try being vegan? (lol)

15. Buy a Bob Dylan album. In preparation for when I’m no longer interested in new music.

16. Start meditating. I dabbled very briefly with Buddhism when I lived in Brighton. I liked meditating, and sometimes do something like it when I can’t sleep. Just concentrating on the qualia of physical experiences from different bits of my body. Nearly always works. But I should try and do it more regularly to calm myself and switch off my incessant inner monologue. I was put off it by the mystical nonsense around it (why do people have to add fairies at the bottom of every garden?), about enlightenment and one-ness and foo-farrah, but learning to switch off your thinking is a useful skill to have.

17. Put on a gig. I’m always talking about doing this, but I never do.

18. Say hello to a dog. Because I’m never going to think of 30 things for this list.

19. Go back to Iceland. Because I just love it there. It’s beautiful and peaceful. I keep having dreams I’m moving there to live. In fact last night I had a dream I was there and my long-dead maternal grandfather was going on some sort of killing spree with an automatic gun. People from work were there and my boss’ deputy was responding to the situation by saying we needed to do some research. I was infuriated by this and saying ‘what possible use will more information be?’ and just wanted us to take action, which is somewhat my default problem with where I work now. Instead I went in and reasoned with him. Win. But yeah, I like Iceland…

20. Learn Welsh. Or at least start learning it. This is a slight cheat as I have in fact paid to start a Welsh course in september. But if it had occurred to me when I first did this post then I would totally have included it. And I’m about seven years into my ‘learn three things’ – which were ‘learn to drive’, ‘learn welsh’, and…

21. Learn to cook. This is not what my work would call a ‘SMART Objective‘ in that how exactly does one measure having learned to cook? I’m already doing a bit more stuff that is closer to real cooking, my interest waxes and wanes. But yeah, maybe a few lessons. Or just doing a few more recipes from books.

22. Become less like my parents. I observed to S recently that ‘all I’d ever learned from my parents was to not do what they do’ – whether by ending up in prison through various entirely avoidable instances of stupidity and irresponsibility (Dad), or never knowing when to stop worrying, back down, cut your losses, have your mind changed, or accept that sometimes being happy is more important than being right (Mum). It’s a little harsh of me, and I was annoyed at the time, but I’d do well not to forget it.

23. Get to know my brother. He’s always there just being quiet whenever I visit my family. I tend to work on the basis that he’s relatively indifferent to me, we don’t have a whole lot in common, though we get on fine. But then my mum always nags me to ring him when they’re away, and she reminds me that when I went away to uni he slept in my bed for two weeks cos he missed me so much. Something I still find it hard to credit. He cried at my 21st birthday when he had to go to bed (he was 11), he wanted to stay up with me and my friends. I think that’s probably the only time I’ve ever told him I love him. Anyway, it’s clear he’s got a lot more affection for me than I often realise. He’s off to uni in September, girlfriend of 12 months+ in tow. Already clear he’s going to have a very different life than I will. But I guess he’ll be around longer than the rest of my family will, and it’d be odd not to have any relationship with him beyond a quiet person at the dinner table when I’m home to visit….

24. Go on a wine tasting course. Without turning into a complete nob.

25. Spend some time in a professional music studio. Just hanging out a bit and learning by osmosis, rather than agonising over whether to drop everything and spend years in poverty doing a formal course.

26. Try contact lenses. I much prefer how I look without glasses. I’m a bit squeamish about the idea of putting them in, but I imagine most people are… S really really doesn’t like them, and I sort of use that as an excuse, but really it’s just laziness. I should’ve had my glasses prescription updated quite some time ago.

27. Become the first female President of the United States of America. Can’t hurt to try.

28. Pay off my credit card. Difficult but not impossible.

29. Start doing some exercise. Preferably something which doesn’t involve a gym.

30. Organise a fun 30th birthday party. Celebrating everything I’ve done with my life, and everything I will do with it in future.

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salmon with green beans

In the grand tradition of people taking pictures of food they’ve made and putting it on their blog…

This was last night’s tea. Lemon & pepper salmon with green beans, tomatoes, parma ham, and mixed seeds.

Was quite pleased with it. I cooked the salmon pretty well, I prefer it a little underdone and slightly pink inside which I achieved (ten minutes in the oven, no more). I also hit on a good innovation (for me) by adding seeds to the green beans and tomato mix. Aside from the fact that I could eat seeds and nuts all day long, one of the things that I dislike about vegetables is the texture – so adding a bit of crunch to an otherwise quite mushy mix meant I could eat it all quite happily, even after I’d finished the fish.

Taste wise the bed of green beans etc lacked a little something, maybe I should’ve added some more garlic or salt, or a bit of red wine or cream? But then maybe it would’ve overpowered the fish. Also as you can see from the surrounding puddle, I may have slightly overdone the olive oil.

This was loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe, but I used parma ham instead of anchovies, and he didn’t put any seeds in his. Also I didn’t cry like a massive girl because ‘no one understands me’.

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A philosophy of depression

DISCLAIMER: This is just a stream-of-conscious personal perspective. I’ve no professional qualifications of any kind. I make no value judgements about you, your situation, or anyone you know. This is an attempt to articulate what I consider the best philosophical and practical approach to a person managing their depression.
(I also haven’t spellchecked it)

So I find myself again confronting the d-word. It’s a constant background noise in my own life and, like the tinnitus which is always there but mostly ignorable, I find the only way to manage it is to consider it self-inflicted.

I don’t have figures to hand, haven’t looked any up, but my suspicion is that a majority of people who have depression do not have it for what you might call ‘physical’ reasons. By this I mean inherent problems with the functioning of their brain and body which induce a chemical state which blocks them from being happy, or causes sadness for no reason.

I believe that most people, even people who have experienced some real hardship, prompt episodic depression in themselves. It’s all too easy to do. Especially if you’re a personality type who is naturally prone to ways of thinking which prompt depression. All the sorts of behaviours and thought processes which culminate in depression are quite good at complementing each other. They become a vicious circle. Being depressed is almost a skill, and like other skills it is honed with use. Like other skills people who are depressed all the time make it look easy. But it takes lots of work to be depressed, just like it takes lots of work to stop being depressed. You just don’t often realise how much effort you’re putting into it.

The depressive personality type tends to be a person who is:

1) Quite self-focussed.
The cliche of ‘navel gazing’ exists for a reason. Constant self-reflection can feed a cycle of depressive thoughts. People who constantly say ‘I am the sort of person who…’ are potentially prone to this, unless they’re also utterly free of self-doubt. I think this is where religion can help. Any sort of rock of certainty can be a buttress against depressive thoughts. If you have no solid foundation on which to build your personality, or if that foundation is unstable then that can both be troubling, and prompt the sort of soul-searching that leads to conclusions of ‘I am a bad person/a failure’.

By contrast people who are happy tend be those who look outwards. People who find socialising enjoyable, or who are at ease socialising. I know lots of people who find socialising difficult, but no one who seems to genuinely not enjoy it (and where would I be likely to ever meet such a person, I wonder?). Altruism is one of the best ways to lift yourself from depression. I did a fair bit of volunteering and stuff at university and it was one of the things which helped me manage my own depression. I don’t do so much of it now, I try and look at how I can help people through my job (though it doesn’t always give the same level of hands-on satisfaction). Altruism is also a way to expose yourself to the mythical ‘people who are worse off than you’ which can, perversely, cheer you up by making you more grateful for what you have (if you have anything). Everyone knows in theory that people are worse off than them. But when you really see it…

2) Prone to feelings of helplessness/giving up
One of the worst things you can do with depression is attritube it 100% to an outside cause, or to ‘no cause’ – i.e. to phyisological factors which are internal and not linked to your conscious thought processes. If you are genuinely in the latter group then you’ll need medication, probably for your whole life. I’ve never experienced that, thankfully. I know a handful of people who do have those problems and it’s clear that the day to day problems it causes them are in a whole different league to the malaise and constant cycle of getting better then getting worse which I have been through/continue to go through.

But looking at the cause of depression is important. Say you believe that the tree in your front garden is giving you depression, so you cut it down but you’re still depressed. It’s easier to conclude that it wasn’t the tree, it was something else – maybe your attitude to the tree?

If you believe it’s the tree in your neighbour’s garden that’s giving you depression then you can’t cut it down. You can’t ask the neighbour to cut it down. So maybe you start to resent the neighbour? You resent the way he puts out his bins. You resent the way he parks his car. The way he laughs all the time and looks happy. You resent the fact that your friends don’t agree what a dick your neighbour is. Stupid friends, they’re just like him – with their laughter, and car parking and bin putting out. Wankers.

So maybe it’s your friends who are making you depressed as well? After all you do seem to be depressed whenever you’re around them… You remember that one occasion that you were out when everyone else was having a good time and you just wanted them all to fuck right off. You sat there thinking what unbearable idiots they all were. And yeah sure, you were tired, you were a bit drunk, you’d had a stressful day… but those things have happened before and you were fine. So it mustn’t have been those factore, it must mean either that your friends are awful irritating people, or that some external force called ‘depression’ is manifesting itself via your friends, your neighbour, and that fucking tree!

But if you can’t get rid of the tree, that cursed tree – the edifice on which the whole of your depression is founded – then you’re powerless. In this scenario even if it is genuinely the ‘tree’ – the thing out of your control – which is causing, or at least adding to, your depression then that’s even more reason to look at your own thought processes to overcome it. Bereavement is probably the best real-world example of an un-cut-downable tree.

3) Inclined to be drawn to certainties
I’ve said a bit about this already. The same sorts of people whose self-determined behaviour makes them depressed can often be the same sorts of people who are drawn to quick-fix stopgap solutions to their problems. Things like crystal healing, religion, spending sprees, running away on holidays, isolating yourself, giving up. I’d extend this to include seeking medication or counselling – though i’ll say more about that below. The attribution of your depression to causes beyond your control, be they internal or external, makes simple solutions more attractive. the same as the tree above.

When your constant refrain is ‘I should be happy, why am I not?’ then there are two approaches. One is to focus on the second part ‘why am i not happy?’ and seek solutions – such as tablets, such as religion, such as buying that one wonderful new product which you simply must have to achieve X – which require only a modest investment from yourself.

The other approach is to look at ‘I should be happy’. Why should you be happy? What are the things that make you happy? Think of occasions when you were happy. Think of occasions when you weren’t. Does your life function in such a way as to generate more of the first kind of situation, or the latter?

An example, everyone in the world hates their job. True or false? The answer is false. No one wants to work, no one wants to be compelled to spend their time beholden to someone else, merely to earn the money to exist. Some people, if they won the lottery, would pour their time into ‘work’ helping others or running some sort of business. Not everyone would spend their time sat on cruise liners eating foie gras for the rest of their life. But the point is that most people have some element of frustration with their job, but they don’t actively hate it.

Sometimes I hate my job. Even though, objectively, I know I’m lucky to have it, and I’m glad to be somewhere I feel useful and good at it – sometimes I still abjectly fucking hate it. This is because I have the sort of personality which gets fixated on problems, particularly when I think other people are not addressing the problems in what I consider the best way. Because my job links into so many genuine social problems it means I get a lot of ‘raw material’ to get upset about. More so than any other job I’ve had, my current one is one that I ‘take home with me’ – weekends ruined spent in fug, fixating on things that I’m not-quite-powerless-enough to change (because sure sometimes just going ‘fuck it’/having the serenity to accept the things you cannot change(vom) can actually be the best way).

It also detracts from the mental energy I have to do stuff I enjoy, like going out, or making music. So I don’t do them. Sometimes I try and do them and the base level of frustration and fucked offedness stops me enjoying them fully. My basic happiness level is precarious. It doesn’t take much to set me off – someone returning an item they bought off me on gumtree for example. Time and again I conclude, wrongly, that ‘I’m just not enjoying being out’. There’s then an easy, and potentially inaccurate, step to ‘I don’t enjoy going out anymore’.

This isn’t my job’s ‘fault’ – my job is a set of behaviours I engage in, and it isn’t even depression’s ‘fault’ – depression is a description of a different set of my behaviours. So I risk blaming my behaviour for my behaviour, without making the logical leap to changing either behaviour.

If I go out, hoping to have a good time but fail, then that’s unfortunate and can be demoralising – but that just happens sometimes. But if I build a narrative of helplessness around that failure, or a narrative of external blame then it increases the likelihood that I won’t enjoy future nights out. Or worse that I’ll give up on going out, turn down invites and stay in. Which then feeds back into more navel gazing and transference onto other solutions. ‘I won’t go out, I’ll buy a nintendo DS so I won’t be bored if I stay in’. When actually I’d be better just going out more, even if that means more shitty nights out, because I’ll also have more good nights out.

The problem with good nights out of course, is that you (the depressed person) seldom come home and reflect on them. You don’t come home and do a blow-by-blow analysis of the great time you’ve had, like you would if you’d said something slightly inappropriate which you instantly regretted and spent the rest of the evening worried about.

Good times therefore are less likely to self-reinforce in the same way as bad times do.

4) Insecure
In building up to my conclusion that non-physical depression is ultimately entirely within the control of the person suffering it, I can’t overlook the role insecurity plays. No one wants to conclude that their own behaviour is ‘wrong’ – whatever that means. Insecurity survives in depressed people by a process of natural selection. Insecurity can lead you to reject constructive criticisms of your own behaviour (by friends, family, medical professionals etc….) which might lead you to change it, thereby engaging in new patterns of behaviour which contribute to more ‘happy times’.

Insecurity can also be an instigator of depression, or at least of specific instances of depression. ‘No one laughed at my joke, maybe they don’t like me?’. But there’s a kind of insecurity which manifests itself as ‘No one laughed at my joke. They must have no sense of humour because I am really funny. Fuck em, I don’t need them’. This again can contribute to the self-isolation and transferrence to bogus solutions (I promise I’ll come onto meds shortly) which further exacerbates depression.

Of course no one wants to admit to being insecure, especially not an insecure person.


So what am I banging on about? Am I saying depression is ‘all your/my own fault’? Well I wouldn’t put it like that, no. What I’m outlining is something which I consider to be the most empowering way of thinking about depression. I once expressed this as ‘You can’t fight the situation, but the feeling you choose’, and I genuinely believe we choose how we feel about things. It’s just a question of which choice is easiest. If happiness is up a mountain and depression is on the sofa then choosing happiness is a harder choice to make, but it’s a choice nonetheless.

Let me try and move swiftly away from bullshit sounding self-help textbook style analogies.

Say you are:

An accountant
Who lives in Manchester
Married to Alice
Who socialises with Bob and Roger
Spends £100 a month on DVD’s
Is depressed

Then what can you do? There will be numerous factors tying you to each of these things – but which one of them makes you happy and which one makes you depressed? More importantly, which one makes you a depressed person?

If you:

Quit your job
Move to Wales
Divorce Alice
Tell Bob and Roger you never want to see them again
Throw out your DVD player

Then who are you now? Are you the same person? Are you the depressed person? How would you even know?

Philosophically I believe who we are is defined with reference to who we interact with, and what we do. Regardless of whether you, philosophically, believe in an innate ‘self’ then in practical terms you must accept that if you completely changed every aspect of your life it would be hard to argue that you were being ‘made depressed’ by any of them any more.

Now I’m not suggesting that people with depression should all change every single aspect of their life and start from scratch. I’m just trying a thought experiment whereby you take away all the external factors and ask ‘would you still be depressed?’.

Should you quit your job? If you quit your job, would you still be depressed? Yes or no? If you honestly conclude that the answer is ‘yes’ (which is a harder thing to admit to yourself) then you need to address your relationship to the job, your thinking about it. etc etc. I’m not saying the answer is definitely yes. It’s entirely possible that quitting your job, or at least getting a new job, would reduce depression in a lot of people. But if that’s the case then it’s even more in your power to change it, because it’s easier to change jobs (up to a point) than it is to work internally on your attitude to the job you, until recently, were accusing of making you depressed.

Chopping down the tree is as easy as getting your ass in the garden. Feeling better about the tree is harder, but it might lead to greater insight and to genuinely solving the problem.

So far I’ve probably sounded like I’m pretty down on the idea of people taking medication for depression. I don’t think I’d want it to be the first (formal, external) thing anyone tried – ahead of, say, counselling. I’ll admit to that but nothing stronger. I’ve friends who found it helped them, and I’ve friends who found it made them worse. I think it all has to do with what you (the ‘depressee’) expect it to do.

The people I knew who found it made them worse were the ones who viewed it as a quick fix, who viewed it as a crutch, or worse of all who viewed it as just part of who they were (as I said before, people with ‘physical’/chronic depression are completely different and I don’t consider anything I say here applies to them). If you take pills and they make you happy then it’s easy to conclude that you need to keep taking pills to be happy. But they don’t work forever, and they don’t stop you being unhappy about things which just genuinely make you unhappy (like if yr dog dies).

When they work is if you view them as a ‘holiday’. A sort of flipside to divorcing your wife and moving to Wales. The insight meds can give you (if they work) is that you can be happy, or at least not depressed, in your current situation. You can use this period of respite to look at yourself and be a bit more self-critical about your previous behaviour – ‘yeah I guess I was withdrawing myself from friends and stuff’, ‘yeah I guess I was pinning all my hopes on chopping down that tree – how silly’. Then when you come off them (and you should always be aiming to come off them, at least when you first try them) you’ve got new insight when the depression inevitably returns. And it will. Again and again. But at least now, maybe, you understand it, you own it. You’ve accepted it.


It’s possible to have a happy life overall and still have periods of depression. It’s even possible to have your life enriched by periods of depression. Have you ever met anyone who seems superficially to be glowing with happiness but there’s something somehow… missing? Just a kind of glaze over their eyes that suggests nobody’s home? I reckon those people are feeling just as hollow as us depressed folks feel when at our whats-the-fucking-point-iest, except they still feel happy – so it confuses them.

The basic point in all of this is that I believe very strongly that depression is an emergent property of the personality that ‘hosts’ it. It’s a meme, if you like, which needs a supportive environment to thrive. If you provide a great habitat for it then you’ll find it difficult to rid yourself of it. But you can kill algae by putting chlorine in a pool, and you can manage depression by accepting that it’s in your power to do so.

Everyone who has ever overcome or learned to manage their depression has achieved this, whether they realise it or not. Whether they had help from medicine, counselling, God, or hundreds of bags of Haribo – they did it themselves. There is no sense of pride to be had in managing without help, depression’s not a competitive sport. But if people recognise that they’ll ultimately only help themselves by taking a long hard look at their own life, their own thoughts, and their own behaviour, then making some harsh judgements and doing some difficult work to change things, then that’s how they will get better.

Of course lots of external support from friends and loved ones helps too, but like the other means of support it only helps you to make the changes that ultimately can only ever come from you.

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sushi and downfall

My love of sushi almost accidentally brought down the head of the organisation I work for today.

We get a delivery of sushi on fridays which was instigated by me. Usually it’s just me and one other person ordering but now and again the Boss orders a couple of boxes for zer* and zer partner over the weekend. Ze’d given me the money to buy it when it arrived and I was having a chat with the delivery guy – who I also did a sushi making lesson with recently – and as ze* passed ze said ‘Your sushi is the best I’ve ever tasted’. The guy promptly asked if he could have a picture with zer for his website. Ze said fine, and I promptly took a photo of them on his iPhone.

Another colleague standing nearby said “Oh, now you can have a picture on your website saying ‘endorsed by [My Boss’ job title]'”. We all had a little chuckle. I carried on chatting to him for another few minutes as he told me about some food festival he’s going to and as he was leaving my boss came back and pulled him to one side saying ze’d been very silly and just had it pointed out that because of zer position ze can’t endorse commercial products. Our Head of Finance and Head of Resources were both laughing themselves stupid on the other side of the room and had called zer over to tell zer off. The Head of Finance was in the middle of preparing a presentation on the Bribery Act and said she now had a new case study to include.

My Boss then had to ask him to delete the picture from his phone. He just looked bemused, I don’t think he really knew who ze was.

We could see the headlines in the [pathetic excuse for regional newspaper] ‘Something fishy afoot at [The Exchange]’, ‘sushi-gate’ etc.

In other news the guy had Jamie Oliver at his shop recently who also said his sushi was the best he’d ever tasted. Apparently Jamie Oliver is ‘not as good as [malbo21]’ at rolling sushi. You read it here first folks!

*I’m using non-gender-specific pronouns because of the vanishingly remote possibility of anyone ever reading this blog.

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What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?

Got married! Played some gigs in other countries.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I can’t remember what they were so no.

This year my resolutions are:
1) Think of a way to meaningfully donate part of my income to people who need it more than I do, then do it
2) Get involved in some causes and stuff
3) Make the effort to see friends outside [city I live in] more
4) Go to Aberystwyth
5) Buy all the Constellation records releases I’ve missed over the past few years

What countries did you visit?

USA, Spain, Ireland, Iceland

What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

A MacBook Pro. A sold out tour.

What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

A certain date in January springs to mind. Also my trip to Iceland.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting married. Doing well at my new job. Doing 31 gigs and enjoying them all.

Were you seriously ill during 2010?

Not as far as I know. I had a cold that lasted about four weeks.

What was the best thing you bought?

An iPad. A Jen SX1000. A Kindle.

Whose behaviour merited celebration?

My cute, funny, clever, gorgeous little wife.

The kids protesting in Top Shop etc about tax avoidance. Brilliant. Young people are starting to care about stuff that’s boring but important and express themselves about it in an exciting way. This is like my dream come true.

Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, Michael Gove, Theresa May, George Osborne, and Vince ‘D’Oh!’ Cable.

Where did most of your money go?

On high end electronic goods, holidays and food.

What did you get excited about?

The wedding. The tours. Iceland. Primavera.

What songs will always remind you of 2010?

David Bowie – Life on Mars
Napoleon IIIrd – The Unknown Unknown
Sam Amidon – How Come That Blood

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Sadder, on a strictly day to day comparison – but only because this time last year I was looking forward to my wedding and honeymoon. Hard to top that.

ii. thinner or fatter? Probably about the same.

iii. richer or poorer? Tiny bit richer?

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Seeing friends. Playing gigs. Recording music.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

Watching TV shows. Working. Moving house.

How did you spend Christmas?

With my family.

What were your favorite TV programmes?

Mad Men, Fringe, V.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

The Bedroom Community label. James Blake. Olof Arnalds.

Which were the best books you read?

Christopher Hitchens – Hitch 22 – pretty life changing to be honest
Surface Detail – Iain M Banks
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
The City & The City – China Mieville
The Thousand Autumns of Jacbo de Zoet – David Mitchell

Are you happy with your lot?

I’m happy with a lot of my lot.

Who were the best new people you met?

People in Iceland. Particularly Kamilla, Joel, Ruth and Mark.

My new boss.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:

My younger self was right about most things.

Quote a lyric that sums up your year:

“If it wasn’t for that taxi driver we would never know
How it feels to be each other’s little Thundercats ho”

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I am now tweeting under the same name as this blog.

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E-mails that went unsent #9127846

[I was going to explain the background to this e-mail but I reckon it’s actually better if I don’t]

Dear [labrador from letting agency],

Thank you for your e-mail.

I am aware of the difference between standing orders and direct debits, having previously owned my own small bank dealing only in Ecuadorian sucre. You appear to be splitting hairs over the use of the phrase ‘set up’.

On this occasion I used this to mean ‘dealt with’ whereas you are interpreting it somewhat wilfully as ‘provided legal authority for’. As you do not have legal authority over my bank account, and as I am well aware that you do not, I’m not quite clear how you could have interpreted me as having meant this. Unless you believe I inhabit a psychological landscape in which I feel I have no control over my own destiny, where letting agents reign supreme and I am but a pawn in their terrifying schemes? I assure you I do not.

Back to the issue in hand…

As I only learned that ‘M15-1’ is my tenancy reference on receipt of the e-mail below, I am unsure how it could have been added to the payment by myself or my bank. Indeed your own member of staff did not seem to recognise the reference when we spoke on Monday. Perhaps she, like me, felt a brief moment of giddy excitement at thinking ‘M15’ might refer to the shadowy organisation officially known as The Security Service but widely referred to as ‘MI5’. Was my rent payment for a small flat in [city] being monitored for espionage-related activities? Was I about to be sucked into a world of international intrigue and high adventure…?

No. Alas, it was merely my tenancy reference. I will endeavour to contain my disappointment. With hindsight it would be pretty stupid for MI5 to add their name to transactions on accounts they were monitoring. Which is probably why they don’t.

Despite apparently playing no part in the ‘setting up’ of the standing order, you nonetheless refer to ‘requesting’ a reference, and on this occasion it appears my tenancy reference was somehow used instead of my name. Could it be that there was a minor clerical error at some point during the making of the request? I am loathe to again use the ambiguous phrase ‘set up’, but perhaps whilst you were in the act of ‘sending the standing order to my bank for me’ you may have intervened in the process in order to add a meaningful reference, by which you might trace the payment you would in due course receive to its source? Perhaps you even do this for all tenants? Otherwise you would eventually find yourselves each month with a pile of money and no idea who it was from or what it was for. As a modern company I’m sure you recognise that this business model would be unsustainable.

Perhaps, when filling in the form, I missed the opportunity to choose my own reference? In which case I truly am to blame. Had I realised, I would have chosen something much more exciting than ‘M15-1’ or even ‘[my surname]’ – I would have probably gone for ‘Pomeranian’, which is a kind of small yappy dog which once came to my rescue whilst I was stuck up a mountain in Iceland (long story). I may actually amend the reference to say ‘Pomeranian’ rather than ‘Mr and Mrs [surname]’ as it would make it a bit more fun, and be a fitting tribute to my erstwhile saviour. What do you think? If all your tenants did that you could have a veritable zoo of rent payments to deal with each month. You would naturally have to allocate animals on a first-come first-served basis, I expect a lot of people would want cute animals like owls, kittens, and iguanas. You could even have some kind of wall chart which staff could colour in!

Or perhaps you just add the references yourselves after the tenant has filled in the form? Less fun I suppose, but more practical.

Now I appreciate that an air of infallibilty is an important commodity to all modern organisations from political parties to the Vatican. Therefore I quite understand why your e-mail chose to deflect attention from the actual issue (someone in your office, or the bank, probably just put the wrong thing on the wrong bit of the form) onto a critique of my lack of understanding of the legal framework underpinning the banking system. In doing so you seem to try and make the point that it is my own ignorance which is to blame for the misallocation of £500 of my money. If only… IF ONLY I knew more about the difference between standing orders and direct debits the person who made a minor and totally forgiveable clerical error would not have done so.

Deep down, I am sure you are more concerned with ensuring best practice than with avoiding taking responsibility for a minor mistake, so perhaps it would be worth simply checking your internal procedures for requesting the references to see whether or not they can be improved to avoid this happening again? And not leaving people waiting two days to be reassured that their rent money hasn’t been chewed up and drooled on by one of your staff.



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