The Black Dog is back

I’ve got that skin-crawling-uncomfortable-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life feeling again. You know what I mean – or perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you’re perfectly happy with your life. Perhaps you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

Black dog

Or perhaps you do.

It has been a familiar companion of mine for years. Like … so long, I can’t remember the first time. It’s the claustraphobic feeling of being trapped and not knowing how to get out of it. It’s the bone-tiredness of not wanting to deal with the everyday drudge that is life. It is the dread of work the next day. Wanting to bury yourself in bed. Guilt that you’re playing the role of a person that is ‘perfectly fine’ but you’re really not. The wanting to not ‘be’.

I usually share these blog posts on Facebook because I know more people there than Twitter (no offence Twitter, but I really don’t get you) and honestly, if you didn’t Facebook it, did it really happen?

But I won’t be doing that with this one.

I don’t want my partner to see it. (Yeah, you guessed it. He’s not a Twitterer.) I feel ashamed of feeling this way. If I was to actually mouth these words out loud to him, I would feel so stupid and ungrateful and at a complete loss to explain why … just no.

He’s seen me in childbirth. I shall spare him this. Try to keep the romance from completely dying out.

Of course, my logical brain – the one that doesn’t get swayed by the huge behemoth that is emotions – knows, or at least suspects, that this is due to being in lockdown for 4 weeks.

And also spending the last 4 weeks averaging 9-10 hr days working from home on things that are slightly outside my comfort zone because of changes in circumstances (yeah-dohy), new opportunities and the desire to appear indispensible should the shizzle hit the fan for our company and hard decisions need to be made.

Ooh. That last point made me tear up. Must be the one I’m most worried about.

So yeah. Not a good place. I do strongly suspect I’m not the only one and this is indeed a traumatic experience that we are all working hard to make light of when in fact it has changed the way we work, play, view our world and plan for the future.

We had a family get-together planned for end of July. Two-thirds of my grown-up kids and my mum were coming over to spend a week in gorgeous Queenstown. We’d booked an AirBnB and paid the deposit and everything. Now we don’t know if they’ll be able to come over. Should NIH and the littlest princess and I still go down there and spend a week in a huge house, just the 3 of us? If the bans on international travel still exist, should we ask local friends if they’d like to join us? Should we see if we can get the booking postponed until another time?

These thoughts swirl around in my head. First world problems, to be sure. But damn, we’ve been planning this for a year! And we are not exactly flush with cash – it’s taken so long to gather the savings to pay for it. But I haven’t seen my grown up kids since last May. Nothing makes me feel the distance as much as now does.

And whilst I can neither confirm nor deny it, there may or may not be an impending addition to the family tree in mid-November. Will I be able to be there to support the arrival of this impending addition? It’s so hard to say – at the moment, we’re just hanging out for contactless takeaways to be reinstated.

So much emotion pressing down, it’s hard to breath at times (no covidesque pun there).

I feel like the proverbial rat in a trap, wanting to gnaw its own leg off to get out yet knowing that’s not an entirely wise course of action. Thoughts and prayers, right?

Thoughts.

And prayers.

Brave New World?

Now we all can be like the Jedi Council

I’ve been working from home since Monday and this is not totally new to me. Before moving to New Zealand I worked from home as a freelance graphic designer/administration assistant – and I liked it.

I’m self-motivated, good at setting up routines (and more or less sticking to them) and managing my time appropriately to get things done. I would make time for self as well as work. Aiming for a solid work/life balance was one of the main reasons I left the ‘rat race’ because in all honesty, when you are working for someone else their needs will always come before your own, no matter how flexible they profess to be, because they pay for your services. It’s just the way it is.

So here I am, back to working from home. And it should be ok. My partner is here to deflect, tackle and otherwise manage Little Miss (who turned 3 on the first day of Lockdown. Seems fitting, and all who know her would laugh then nod sagely) so I can get solid concentration time.

Do we all have pants on? Nobody will ever know.

But I am finding it so hard to concentrate. Maybe if it was by choice I was working from home, it would be – feel – different. But at the moment, I am struggling to find my footing, get into a rhythm …. essentially I’ve lost my mojo.

Maybe it’s the compulsive reading of news reports late into the night that builds on an already heightened level of anxiousness.

Maybe it’s the broken sleep. Not an unusual thing – Little Miss is not a champ at sleeping through and even less so at the moment. Perhaps she feels my anxiety.

Maybe it’s the not-quite-knowing what to work on, now that projects are being halted – or cancelled.

Having said that, there’s a couple of exciting opportunities that have just fallen into our laps, including offering more online workshops. Silver linings, people. Look for them.

Maybe it’s the struggle within our team to try staying connected while all working together at distance that has me feeling off-kilter.

We have many and various tools to help us stay connected in real-time. One of them is the Microsoft Teams platform – very secure with lots of cool features that we’re known of for a while but are now getting super-proficient at using (handy, since we ARE the Digital Workplace team and Microsoft Teams is our ‘schtick’).

The trick is knowing “how” connected you need to be. We have a daily Teams Hangout set up and are figuring out as we go the ettiquette that comes with having audio and web streaming.

Don’t be like Callum.

Should we streaming video all day while we sit at our desks? In some ways, it totally replicates working together in the same room – you can see if someone is away from their desk or in another meeting – but unlike working in physical proximity, it feels way more intrusive.

Or maybe that’s just my age showing. I think my boys do this kind of thing all the time (gamers) but for me it feels slightly strange.

Today I’ve taken the option to be “in” the Team Hangout but with both my video and mic turned off and my music on. So they know I’m here and it’s a simple “hey” or message to let me know they want to talk but not streaming myself to them finally makes me feel a little better – a little more focused and calm – than I have all week.

And since my wifi was playing up a little this morning, I feel safe using that excuse if questioned (not that I think they would – we’re all in this together and everyone is respectful of each persons’ coping mechanisms).

How about you? Are you fortunate enough to be working from home? I am so very aware that there are those losing their livelihoods over this. And there are those on the front line, taking the risk of catching Covid-19 in order to support the rest of us with life essentials or take care of the sick and suffering. By comparision, I am extremely fortunate.

This is merely a transition to another way of doing business.

And it’s important for me – for us – to remember that.

Hobbiton!

Hobbiton signBeing the supreme geeks we are, one of the great bonuses to moving to Hamilton was the prospect of being only 40 mins away from Hobbiton, the amazing little piece of New Zealand farmland out in the middle of nowhere transformed (twice!) into a magical film set for two epic trilogies.

Ok, one epic trilogy and one fair-to-middling trilogy that gave you something to do every Boxing Day for three years in a row. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is which …

The set is beautiful, surrounded by lush green hills about 12 ks from Matamata, literally in the middle of nowhere. But for me, it is the stories told as part of the two hour tour that are really intriguing.

For instance, every hobbit hole is built to a predetermined scale so that they could achieve what they in the movie business call ‘forced perspective’. The hobbit hole below was a smaller scaled model, with the top lintel only reaching to your shoulders. An adult standing in front would look like a giant – or a normal human in a hobbit world.

Hobbiton blue door

The larger hobbit holes were for filming the hobbits in front of so they appeared child-like.  Sadly, any interior shots were done in a studio so there was no climbing in to see what Bilbo’s house at Bag End really looked like inside. But there was no denying the exterior views were pretty special.

Hobbiton yellowThe New Zealand Army actually had a lot to do with the creation of the original set. Peter Jackson was still an up-and-comer and the budget was tight. Legend has it he approached the NZ government for assistance and they volunteered the Army to lend a hand, building a road into the site (still used today) and digging out sections of the hills to install the facades. It was arguably the worst-kept secret ever that filming of  LOTR was happening in the area, especially when the army dudes knocked off for the week, went into the local Matamata pub, got drunk and spilled the beans. Fortunately, Kiwis are very similar to Aussies with their blase attitude and didn’t get in the way.

Hobbiton fake treeBy far the best story of all revolves around the large oak tree atop Bag End. Do the leaves look a bit funny to you? They should – they’re fake. They have done a marvelous job of making it look so realistic but it was a long and difficult process for some poor sap (yes, pun definitely intended!). If you’ve read LOTR and The Hobbit you know the tree is an important part of Bag End and whilst they could have done CGI, Peter Jackson was quite adamant about using realism as much as possible.

They first scoured the area for a suitable oak tree: found one near Matamata; carefully carved it into a giant jigsaw of branches; numbered them; trucked them all back to the set and reassembled the tree. Of course, trees aren’t much for moving so … the leaves fell off.

Ah. Ok.

So they arranged for something like 30,000 silken oak leaves from Taiwan to be delivered and some poor sucker had to manually attach them with wire to the tree. Dear sweet lord.

But then … it took a while to get around to actually filming on the exterior set and thanks to the New Zealand weather, the leaves had all faded. What to do? Spraypaint. Every. Single. One. I bet someone was muttering swear words under their breath while they did it.

But wait … there’s more.

After LOTR filming wrapped up, they took away a fair percentage of the set, including the oak tree. In 2011, when they decided to film The Hobbit, they had to go through the whole process again! But this time, the set would stay.

The owners of the property signed a contract that gave them permission to keep the set intact after filming and use it to conduct tours. The first tour was apparently six people taken in a jeep – nowadays they have 55 seater buses going three-four times a day, every day apart from Christmas.

If you ever get a chance, take a tour through Hobbiton. It’s not just the beauty of the set but stories of the sheer determination and ingenuity of people passionate about creating something amazing that will inspire you.

Can't even see I photo shopped the photo bomber out

Can’t even see I photo shopped the photo bomber out

A little bit grey today …

robin grey

An open face. A tired and troubled soul. His ability to make us laugh will be sorely missed.

Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock (or on a hilltop in remote Iraq avoiding being slaughtered … but that’s another blog entirely) has heard the sad news of Robin Williams’ passing.  I really didn’t want to get on that bandwagon – I don’t know him personally, I’ve never met him, I have no real rights to grieve his death – and yet … it haunts me.

Robin Williams reminded me so much of my dad – who also died at age 63. My dad looked similar, his laugh was just as loud and instantly recognisable and he also hid a struggle with depression and disease behind the jokes and sociable outward face he presented to the world.

As anyone who has lived with someone with depression knows, there is really nothing you can do to help them. My dad described it as being stuck down a huge hole and just not having the energy to pull yourself out.  For a long time, I didn’t really understand what he meant. How could you just not make yourself happy?  Especially when you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, family and friends that adore you?  Then I went through a very stressful and, to date, the most difficult time in my life …

“Ah. Hello, hole. I believe you know my dad?”

And Robin Williams, apparently.

See, the thing with depression is you never fully recover from it. It’s always looming in the background, ready to tap you on the shoulder when life’s hurdles start making you jump. A little bit of stress and all of a sudden, there you are. In the bathroom. Trying to put your makeup on to get to work on time whilst sobbing for no apparent reason.

You know what the reason is, though. And you learn to adopt practices to try and sidestep that gaping black hole both terrifying and tempting. You know it will actually pass, if you can just make it through the morning. The day. This week.

Dad used to give himself 24 hours. He was allowed to wallow at the bottom of the hole for a day and then it was time to resume the mad scrabble up the sides to reach the light.

Life for me has become so much better since my dark hole days, but every now and then depression gives me a little tweak, just to let me know it’s waiting for me should I ever drop my guard.  But back in the days when it wasn’t so great, those days when I would wake to a crying jag, I knew I’d have trouble dragging myself to work but once there, the people I worked with would lift my spirits just by being themselves and by lunchtime, the light would be breaking through the thunderclouds.

I used to promise myself to concentrate on the fun jobs that I enjoyed and the crappy stuff could wait a day. (I was the boss, which was handy.) I was gentle and kind to my soul, making no demands and forgiving transgressions (“You want that cupcake? Have at it. You can exercise it off tomorrow”). I tried to go for a walk in the sunshine, or in summer tried to do a few laps at the pool. Or just settled for a bath.  Anything that would soothe and re-balance the chemicals in my brain causing me to feel funky.

Did Robin have little rituals and promises he made to himself? I’ll bet he did. But the recently revealed fact he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease must have been just too much. No amount of rituals or promises would spare him from traveling that path. 

I hope he knows that he took a piece of the world’s heart with him when he died.

He will be missed.