solo in sydney

Ticking Clocks and Quiet Goodbyes
September 14, 2013, 10:31 am
Filed under: dear diary, depression | Tags: ,


In the depths of depression, my brain seems to entirely rearrange my own perceptions of time, blurring days into weeks or even months, but occasionally providing such a vivid, searing memory that I can almost hear the clock ticking off the seconds.

In the midst of Packing, I have two distinct memories that fit into this curious latter category.

The first, perhaps not coincidentally, relates to an innocuous wall clock that had adorned three apartment walls from the first year of our relationship. Gifted to us by my best friend and her partner at the time, the clock in question was of a simple, modern design.

In my early days of packing – those rare few early days when I was lucid enough to be able to strip everything off the walls, all my posters and prints and artwork, I hesitated when I came to “our” wall clock.

I still can’t fully explain the hesitation. Yes, it had been a gift to “us,” and it took pride of place in every apartment we called home. At the same time, it was a gift from my closest friend, whilst not a single friend or relative from “his side” had ever sent us a card or even brought over their own snacks or drinks, let alone kindly giving us something, anything, we would love enough to display in our home.

I felt a righteous ownership. And yet, I hesitated.

Some part of me knew that it would be the kind of bizarre item J would contest.

I was right.

I was leaving 95% of my belongings behind, including many items J and I had bought together but also a number of items that I had owned previously. I just wanted to be gone.

But that clock, for some reason, was mine.

He noticed its absence immediately. He walked into the apartment, surveyed the blank walls, and asked where “his” clock had gone.

I informed him that I’d already packed it.

He locked his eyes on me, his lips in a grim, straight line, and asked “Why?” in a cold and unfeeling voice.

My friend gave it to us, so I’m taking it,” I stated calmly.

“It was given to us. Why do you get to keep it?” he inquired.

I asked what his friends or family had given us in the many years we’d been together.

He was momentarily silent.

Then, with a powerful sense of conviction and entitlement, he informed me that I wasn’t allowed to take something if he didn’t have an immediate replacement. The irony of his losing me clearly didn’t occur to him in that moment. The logic of someone making far, far above the average annual salary being unable to replace a $70 clock was completely ignored.

I dug in my heels. I still don’t know why it even mattered. As I’m writing this, I can glance over and see the clock in question hanging on my wall, and I’m still slightly baffled as to how such an insignificant item became such an issue.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor or an allegory I could make here. Something about how even when I felt like I was losing everything, I was still holding onto the things that mattered, whether I knew they mattered or not. Perhaps an allusion to the fact that J was losing someone he could never replace, and was instead grasping onto an easily replaced item.

Frankly, I don’t know. I didn’t even realise at the time that I still had any fight left in me, so it continues to perplex me why I spent what little energy I had on such an inconsequential thing. And yet occasionally, I’ll glance over at that clock and be strangely proud that I was even capable of standing up for myself at that stage, so deep into my depression.

As that clock relentlessly continued to tick away, I sunk even deeper into my crippling depression, my “reinforcements” arrived, and my belongings were packed into precious few cardboard boxes. To the best of my knowledge, J stayed elsewhere for this period.

With one exception.

I remember nothing else of that day. Whether the boxes were packed, whether my mother was there, whether my flights were booked.

I remember nothing but J walking through the front door, dropping his bag and keys on the floor, walking straight towards me where I was inexplicably hovering between the bedroom and the living room, and taking me into his arms.

He held me gently, and he cried.

In retrospect, that moment compels me to defend him. It prompts me to clarify that he was never an inherently bad person, he was just incredibly bad for me. He was a good person unexpectedly trapped in a bad situation, one that he couldn’t fix, much to his frustration.

At the time, however, I simply I hugged him back, somewhat automatically, and remained blank. I felt a slight twinge of regret and sadness, mostly that I felt so little. I wasn’t physically capable of crying. I couldn’t share his grief or loss. On the whole, I felt nothing.

In between what can only be described as weeping, he meekly asked if we could remain friends.

“Of course,” I said, and he pulled me closer and cried some more.

As soon as he let me go, some time later, my memory fades back into an opaque fog. I don’t know if we even said goodbye, or if I left that minute or that day or weeks later.

But that last memory of J, of his vulnerability, his unguarded, soft side – I wouldn’t say it makes me miss him, nor the good times we spent together (of which there were many, despite what I’ve shared here). But it makes me appreciate those times, appreciate the many lessons learnt, and perhaps even more importantly, to appreciate the people in my life who make me feel important and loved every single moment of every single day, the way that J simply couldn’t.


The Importance of RUOK Day
September 13, 2013, 9:55 am
Filed under: dear diary, depression | Tags:
This year, the 12th of September 2013, marked yet another official RUOK Day – a day in which people are encouraged to ask those four magical letters of those they love. It is a simple idea with complex, far-reaching consequences.

As is my usual habit on the internet, I made the mistake of searching the #ruokday hashtag on Twitter, and subsequently came across a cynical subset of people who questioned the very worth of such a question, let alone a day dedicated to asking it. This is my response.


I remember the day perfectly, all these years later. I was 15. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, straight white teeth. A cheerleader, a class captain. Liked and respected.

And desperately depressed.

I didn’t know it at the time. Even as a teenager, I thought I was able to intellectualise my depression and write it off as nothing more than a pesky teenage phase. Long before “emo” became part of the social vocabulary, I simply assumed I was part of the emotional teenage masses.

Months slid by, my A-level grades gradually declined, and slowly but surely I started eating less, talking less, caring less. Eventually I was joining my many friends at recess and sitting in complete silence, without a word or a bite. The world continued around me.

I didn’t think anyone noticed. I didn’t want anyone to notice. I wanted to be invisible, because that’s what I felt I deserved.

I didn’t deserve any modicum of respect. I didn’t deserve popularity. I didn’t deserve to be a class captain or a cross country team member or a cheerleader. I didn’t deserve concern.

At one stage, I vaguely recall my homeroom teacher taking me aside and asking if everything was alright. I smiled and nodded and said I was fine. I know he wasn’t convinced, but there was little else he could do. As class captain, I was fulfilling everything that was expected of me, crossing every T and dotting every I.

Weeks later, I stood outside my physics class, bulky textbooks clutched to my chest, as I stared into the distance thinking of nothing in particular. The sky was a brilliant blue, the bricks of my single-storey 1960s physics lab were their usual dull red, and my eyes were as vacant as they’d been the last few months.

“Are you okay?” asked a girl I was only fleetingly familiar with until that moment. Snapped out of my daze, I looked at her as if I’d never seen another human being, paused momentarily,¬†dropped about $300 worth of textbooks, then burst into tears.

Until that point, not only had I not realised that I wasn’t okay, but most importantly, I hadn’t realised it mattered. I truly didn’t believe anyone cared, because I didn’t think I mattered.

If ever I’ve had a light-bulb moment, that was it. After many months of my closest friends being scared and unsure of me, of why I’d changed so dramatically, it took a near-stranger to ask that one simple question and change my life.

As far as I’m concerned, this is there inherent and undeniable strength regarding RUOK Day.

My closest friends at the time knew there was something seriously wrong, but without any form of permission to ask me if I was okay, implicit or otherwise, they said nothing. They were still concerned, they still loved me, but they needed an external power to let them know it was okay to show their concern.

Even still, asking the question is just the beginning. Those asking the question in earnest need to be ready to hear the honest answer, which could so easily range from casually flippant to terrifying or heart wrenching.

Outside that physics lab, so many years ago, I wasn’t okay. It took someone to ask me outright for me to realise I wasn’t. Perhaps not incidentally, that person has been my best friend from that day forth.

And yet, when a select few people asked me yesterday if I was okay, my unintentional response was to cry.

I guess that means I’m still not okay.

That’s not the fault of those who asked me if I was okay.

Nor is it the fault of those who didn’t.

But the message of RUOK Day is that asking the question and truly listening to the response is priceless. It could greatly improve someone’s life, or even save it. The power of those 4 little letters need not be constricted by the designated day of awareness – that’s the entire point. The permission, even the incentive, to ask that one question on that one day, then empowers you to continue to ask it the remaining 364 days a year.

If you think RUOK Day isn’t worth it because it’s only one day, one question, then you’re not only missing the point of the movement – one of continued diligence and engagement, but you’re also missing the point of the power of that one simple question.

It may not mean much to you, but those 4 letters saved my life.

I very much doubt I’m alone.

Down and Back Again
November 12, 2010, 8:06 pm
Filed under: dear diary, depression

J got home last night far later than he’d promised. Before the door had even closed behind him, he pointed to the kitchen counter and asked in a loud, authoratitive voice:

“How many of those have you eaten?!”

He pointed to a box of chocolate muffins on the kitchen bench. I attempted an unphased shrug and answered that I’d eaten two.

He tsked and rolled his eyes, as if this was the most despicable offence I could have committed. As if it was disgusting that in the course of the day, I had eaten two 50 gram slices of pre-packaged muffin.

“Tomorrow, you’re not to touch them. Or this, or go near here, or here!” he declared as he pointed to the pantry, the fridge, and the freezer, respectively.

His words were slightly slurred, so I knew that he’d been drinking, but let’s not beat around the bush. When I met J, I was tiny. I’ve always been petite, and I’ve never had to try particularly hard to be so. My metabolism has kept me at a healthy level for the most part of my life. But there have been deviations in both directions.

The latest one involves my medication. Almost all anti-depression medication involves one side effect in common; weight gain. As someone who has tried various medications over the years, this has never phased me in the slightest. Somehow, my metabolism kept working. Not unsurprisingly in retrospect, the medication kept failing, or at least underperforming.

Until now. Until this medication. I’m doing well. I feel alright. Not great, but okay. But that side effect, the one that had never even bothered me before, the one that I had waved off to my doctor, had taken hold.

I’m 10kgs above my normal weight, and about 15kgs over my ideal weight – the weight I was when I met J.

I’m not tall by any means, so when I carry extra weight, I feel as though it shows. When I tell people how much extra weight I’m carrying, they don’t believe me, but the comments are made nonetheless. Last Christmas, a normally somewhat tactful relative suggested that I could donate all my “ridiculously expensive” clothes I no longer fitted into to her daughters. When my sister came up behind me and subtly re-fastened a button that had come undone on my dress, the aforementioned relative exclaimed “Oh, thank god someone has finally fixed that, it’s been bugging me all day!”

Hard to believe that said relative is even remotely tactful under normal circumstances, but unfortunately it’s true, which made it all the more difficult to hear those things from her. Never mind the fact that when I had bought the dress many years earlier, I had to take it back because one of the buttons was completely faulty and wouldn’t do up at all. That wasn’t the point. It still hurt. A lot.

She obviously had no idea the causes behind my weight gain, at that stage only a mere 5kgs. J however, knows the whole story. He knows that my appetite has increased tenfold since I began this latest medication. He knows that I’m exercising more than I’ve ever exercised. He knows that I’m trying to be healthy once more, and that I’m not doing very well despite my efforts.

Tonight, for the first time since my high school days, I binged. And then I purged. I downed soft drink and chocolate and alcohol and sweets, and then I knowingly, deliberately brought it all up again. Even as some part of me screamed that it was stupid and pointless, another part of my mind calmly told me it was the only way. And I listened.

And despite the glaring obvious, it wasn’t until I started writing this that the two events became linked, that my brain finally made the connection.

Everything had been okay. Since my return to Sydney, things with J had generally been pretty great. But the last 48 hours have been far from it. These are the times that I find so easy to forget, to block out when I really need to remember just what I’ve been through to be with this man I love.

I hope I remember this time. I hope the pain and the shame remains with me, so that next time I won’t make any excuses for him. So that next time, I’ll be strong enough to leave and never return.

So Long, Sydney
September 22, 2010, 5:41 pm
Filed under: depression

I’ve packed up a suitcase and I’m jumping on the next plane to my home town, but Sydney most certainly hasn’t seen the last of me. To be truthful, there’s not much anchoring me to Sydney anymore, but I love it nonetheless and I expect to miss it greatly.

I haven’t decided yet when I’ll return, or if I’ll return permanently. At the very least, I’ll need to come back to pack up the rest of my belongings. I thought I’d be more sure that this was the way to go. I’ve been set on this course of action for so long, but now that it’s staring me in the face, I’m wavering. Despite the struggles, I love Sydney, I love my life here, my apartment, my neighbourhood.

I’d be lying if I said J didn’t play a part too. When I booked my one-way flight a few weeks ago, it was like he flicked a switch and went back to the amazing guy I fell in love with. I’d like to think that I’m well aware that it’s too little, too late, but now I’m more confused than ever.

I looked him in the eye and told him that I wasn’t in love with him anymore. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but it needed to be done. And yet even faced with this, he still wants to be the one to support and care for me, and love me no matter what. When I finally lost my job a fortnight ago, he was incredibly supportive, understanding, and positive.

I feel like I should know better. I feel like the terrible times we’ve spent together should be jumping to the forefront of my mind, telling me that it’s just another hollow promise. But when I try to think of those terrible times, it’s all just a vague blur. All I can remember are the good times, the great times, and I don’t want to let go of that.

Yesterday as I attempted to pack for an indefinite period of time, it hit me all at once. I’m really doing this. I’m really packing a bag and leaving. After months of being sure this is what I wanted and needed to do, a sledgehammer of doubt took my breath away and struck me to the floor. I stayed there for what felt like hours, crying and gasping for air.

I thought there’d be clarity.

I thought there’d be relief.

Instead, there’s just grief, regret, doubt, and heartbreaking pain.

I don’t know if I can do this.

August 23, 2010, 3:03 am
Filed under: dear diary, depression

There’s no other word for it. Flat. This week has been a whole lot of nothingness. I can’t get enough sleep, and when I’m awake I can’t get enough food. I’m positive I’ve already stacked on at least 5kg in the last 4 weeks alone. My so-called New and Improved Anti-Depressant is not treating me well.

Hopefully it’s just a teething process. If you’ve ever been on any kind of anti-depressant medication, you’d know that it’s a hit and miss affair. Some medications will treat you well, some will drag you to hell and back before you start feeling better. Some just drag you to hell and leave you there, dumping you out from a moving vehicle and flipping the bird as it speeds away. Many bring you back in some distorted zombie form.

Currently, I’m feeling flat. Not great, not bad, just hovering somewhere below alright. Comfortably numb. And nocturnal. I’d be far more comfortable if I could just keep regular hours and return to my day job, but my body just won’t allow it. No matter how many alarms I set, I sleep until the sun rises and sets again. My snooze button gets a workout. Most mornings I will continue to hit it every 8 minutes, from 7am all the way through to whenever J gets home after work. Every 8 minutes. It’s not even worthwhile sleep, yet still, I can’t break the cycle.

One more week. I’ll keep setting the alarms, keep getting my work clothes ready every night, and keep telling myself that today, today will be the day I start to get better. Again.

The Turning Point
June 22, 2010, 11:56 pm
Filed under: dear diary, depression, sydney

The title is quite optimistic, perhaps foolishly so, but damn it, I’m feeling optimistic. Maybe I’ll look back on this moment and laugh (or curse) at how uncharacteristically positive I was, but for now I’m just going with it.

I caught up with a friend on the weekend. That really shouldn’t be a post-worthy event, but after struggling so long with depression and severe anxiety, it’s actually a huge achievement. But that’s not all. I have a friend in Sydney, a true friend who will open her doors to me even though I haven’t seen her in years, even though I’ve cancelled on her too many times to count. She heard me out, my whole pitiful story, and her arms and her doors were instantly open to me. I get teary just thinking about it.

Suddenly, I have another option. One that fortunately doesn’t include relocating back to my home town. It includes a friend who lives only a few suburbs away, a couch while I get back on my feet, and a room of my own if I choose to stay.

I’m blown away. I’ve always known this friend to be amazing, but we were never amazing friends. We’ve known each other since high school, but we were never all that close. Out of the blue, and a simple catch-up over coffee, I can see a happier future. I’m not 100% decided just yet, but I’m actually excited. The idea of being single, really single, in Sydney, is exhilarating. The idea of ‘going it alone’ with a friend by my side makes me smile from ear to ear.

For the first time in as long as I can recall, I think I can do it. Perhaps not just yet, not right now, but soon. And I won’t be doing it for J, I won’t be doing it for S, I’ll be doing it for me. That long elusive spark of hope and belief is finally back.

When One Door Closes
June 16, 2010, 11:35 pm
Filed under: dear diary, depression

If you’ve come across my Twitter stream, you’ll know that it’s been a strange few months for me. Even more strange than usual. I’ve been back at work, for the most part, but I still have the odd week or two where I can’t find the energy to get out of bed and out the door. Yet somehow, I still have a job. I’ve been working from home on occassion, tackling small projects that are both trivial and fulfilling.

I’ve been back to my therapist twice now, and our sessions have taken an interesting turn. I won’t go into details just yet, but if we’re on the right track, it could be a very positive step for me. My medication is currently getting me by, but it’s far from perfect. The sedative effect I need at night renders me dazed and incoherent come morning. As my dosage increases, it becomes more and more of a struggle to push through it and get on with life. If my doctor is right about his current hunch though, all this could change.

Things with J have been about the same. Some good days, plenty of bad days, far too many horrible days. We had friends stay with us over the long weekend, and I truly lost count of how many times he told me to fuck off or shut up. There was nothing joking about it either, it was cold and brutal.

Money is still a huge issue. I’m paying him back hundreds every pay day, yet it’s not enough. He wants me to pay it back faster, yet he won’t give me a total because he doesn’t think I’ll be able to reach it. I’m begging him to give me a goal, something to aim for, and he keeps telling me I just can’t do it. I don’t know what he wants from me. Oddly enough, throughout the constant complaints our financial situation, J can’t stop talking about a trip overseas later this year. He keeps insisting that he’ll pay for me, but I know how that goes. If I agree to go with him, he’ll think he has a free pass to treat me how he wants, and he’ll use it against me at any opportunity. He’ll call me ungrateful, and ask why I said yes, forgetting that he’d begged me to say so.

In other news, B is gone, and attempts to stay in contact with him have been shut down. It was all completely innocent, mind you, but it was nice to talk to someone who made me laugh and feel special, if only for a few minutes a day. That door is closed, but as is often the case, another door has since opened.

For some time before J came along, I was trying a long distance ‘thing’ with a great guy. I don’t know if you’d call it a relationship, because although I took it very seriously, I was never convinced that he did. When I met J, I had a difficult decision to make. I honestly felt like I was cheating on long distance guy, let’s call him S, by even entertaining the thought of going on a date with J.

For reasons that I can’t even begin to understand in retrospect, I chose J. I told S immediately. I wanted to be honest with him, but I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t even know if it would hurt him or even bother him in the slightest, as he always kept his cards close to his chest. His reaction was fairly mild, but eventually the hurt started showing through. I didn’t want to rub salt into the wounds, so I ceased contact. We went from talking every day, to the occasional email or text. I spoke to him briefly when I found out he was dating again, and he said she was a great girl, but she wasn’t me.

I always thought he was joking. I never took him seriously. And all these years later, I’m realising what a mistake that was. We’ve been speaking again, and he assures me he was absolutely serious. He still is. He’d still drop everything and move across the world to be with me. I don’t know how I ever chose J over him, but at the same time, I’m not sure I deserve a second chance. A lot has changed over the last few years, and my emotional baggage has increased tenfold. I’m not in a good place and he’s largely in the dark about what’s been happening. He deserves better than this, better than me, but I don’t know if I can say no.