Tag Archives: depression

Today’s Whinge: Friday 1st February 2019

It would seem, according to those I follow on Instagram, that pretty well everyone in the world is either (a) a model (B) a blogger (c) a gym and fitness fanatic, or PT (d) a photographer (e) a traveller, (f) a Lifestyler or (g) an influencer! The latter absolutely intrigue me, as it appears to be someone who gets a whole lot of goodie bags of “stuff”, and through whatever means influences others to buy it, or tells them what they should be wearing, or where they should travel to! In my day, this was called marketing…but then – I’m old! I sort of feel sorry for people who lack the individuality to decide these things for themselves. A bit like the young royal wives stepping out in a rather plain outfit…and suddenly it’s copied, then snapped up by all those with no imagination to dress themselves!

Now don’t get me wrong – as a gay guy (or some would say an old queen…yet others that I’m a dirty old man) I’m only human, and get a big thrill out of looking at all these buff, toned, six-packed, shaved smooth men in their sweaty gym gear, Speedo’s, or Calvin Kleins (even the odd occasional tight, naked rear). Let’s face it…I’m not going to get there…not at my age!

But this does raise some questions. Reading some posts, I’ve detected some calls for help…depression…and have to wonder if this platform is a healthy place to be if you suffer from depression, or problems of self-esteem. There is a certain eroticism, hedonism, exhibitionism, egoism, even megalomania on Instagram. Photoshopping is rife! You just know that a lot of the guys…and girls…on here, given the opportunity, would get off on being naked. Amongst men, the image of the undies/swimmers clad body beautiful, and the buffed guys who live in the gym and happily snap themselves posing their bulging muscles, or at the cable machines present an image of health and happiness that few of us can ever hope to gain. Again, I have nothing against a healthy lifestyle, nor guys staying fit – I am a vegetarian, and do fitness Bodyweight training at home 2-3 times a week – but when we are saturated with it, when this is presented as the norm on social media platforms, in fashion and health magazines, in television shows, it has an unhealthy knock-on effect! Those who don’t have the body type, or the access to gyms, or the monetary resources, or just the addictive inclination needed to be constantly working out in gyms, start thinking there is something wrong with their bodies, that they are not up to scratch, are unable to fit into this mould, so start out on a cycle of self-destruction, self-harming, eating disorders, self destructive thinking, and low self-esteem. This in turn can lead to depression, and even suicide.

It is time to have more balance in how we depict both men and women, and like the death of the man-bun, and the hoped death of every man wearing a beard…even one’s who don’t suit them…it is time to move away from the over buffed body that requires an unrealistic amount of time to maintain. It would be interesting to know if these guys who pretty live in the gym, and can talk about nothing else, have looked forward 20 or 30 years and thought…is this lifestyle sustainable in the long run! It is time to push a model of attainable fitness, and a healthy diet that has more than chicken and lettuce in it. There is also a dietary model of veganism being “fashionable” at the moment (caused by Influencers, perhaps…), and though there is nothing wrong with the vegan diet, it is an extreme (though the advocates will never admit it). It’s like healthy people eating gluten-free…you are not doing yourself, or your body, any favours.

But I guess the question that all these models/photographers/bloggers/travellers/influencers raises is…who the fuck is doing all the hard work! Whose policing us? Putting out fires? Sweeping the streets? Being builders, electricians and plumbers? Car repairers? Are they all on another social platform? Are they all on Facebook, with their overalls around their hips, flexing with their greasy spanners? Looking uber butch in their King Gee shorts and footy socks and boots? I guess in 20 years, when everything just falls to pieces, we’ll find out!

I love Instagram. My way of counteracting all this blatant sexualism, is to post selfies. I want guys to realise that there is also a sexuality in getting older, that it is not something to be ashamed off, or hidden away, or denied. I am proud of being my age…I’ve done a lot to get here! Okay, you are not going to see me naked, or flaunting myself in my Hanes, but you are going to see my wrinkles, my graying hair, my white goatee and moustache, my chooky neck. I am what is a life well lived! The most disturbing part of this is the number of young guys who “like” my posts! I guess if one can be easily flattered…then, believe me…I am! I also want to show that extraordinary lives are lived in ordinary places, that disabilities are not disabling, and that self care doesn’t have to be an extreme!

Live the life you want to live, not the one you think everyone else wants you to live! Be proud of your individuality, your creativity, and striding outside the square. You can be an Influencer of a different kind, one who, just by being themselves, demonstrates the true beauty of a human being!

Tim Alderman 2019

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Black Dog Rising! A Journey Into – and Out of – Depression!

Originally published as “Not Who They Knew” in the August 1999 issue of “Talkabout” magazine.

“Easygoing”, “Always Smiling”, “A Strong Shoulder to Lean on”, “Outgoing” may all be phrases that you are familiar with, especially if you have been pigeon-holed with them, as I have over the years. This is not to say I am not all these things, just that it puts a set of expectations upon my shoulders of how I will appear to people, irrespective of my true feelings.

Towards the end of 1996, at the end of chronic illness, I had a major emotional and psychological problem on my hands-ME. I had been on the DSP for three years, I was not exactly 100% healthy, but I was certainly no longer ill. My viral load maintained itself at undetectable, my CD 4’s were stable. Combination therapy had moved the word ‘death’ quite a way down my vocabulary list. I had always had a group of peers for support years ago, but HIV had decimated that group. I felt alone, outcast, surviving with nowhere to go. I could not see a future with me in it.

Depression is a hard word to define. Ask twenty people, get twenty different answers. To me, depression was not that dark, down twisting spiral into oblivion that it is for many. Nor was it an ongoing thing that kept re-occurring over time. It was a period of intense self-doubt, a losing of self-worth, and my own values as a functioning member of the community I moved in. I wanted so much to return to life, not the life I had known, but an entirely new one, free of all the dross I had been dragging around with me, the frustration of unfulfilled dreams, and directionless yearnings.

I started (unknown to all, except by those close to me) to have black, brooding moods, periods of long silence where I would not communicate with anyone. I had panic attacks in bed at night, and developed a fear of the dark. I could not stand to travel in the subway, and avoided crowds. I saw a black future of pensions, and struggling to get by, ageing on my own, loneliness, and pills, pills pills. I remember that late one day I really needed to talk to someone desperately. I rang two of our HIV counselling services, to be told that noone was available-would I like to make an appointment for another day! I ended up ringing a friend and frantically dumping on him.

I do not like antidepressants. This is a personal thing, I have nothing against them in general, nor the people who need to take them. I already shovel enough tablets down my throat (at the time of all this happening, around 300 per week), and have no desire to add to the load. I am also, by nature, one who is capable of intense self-analysis. I knew I had severe problems, I knew I needed help. But where to start? 

The major problems, ones I have had all my life, were impatience, and wanting to do everything at once. I was aware that I needed counselling. This was not an easy self-admission. I had never believed in them. I rang Albion St, and arranged an appointment. The first meeting almost justified my misgivings about them, being a rushed affair whereby I felt time limitations were more important than my need to talk out issues. Following appointments were not so. I then did three of the beneficial things I have ever done with my life. I started volunteer work at the offices of PLWH/A (NSW) Inc, and started group work through both the ACON HIV Living Unit, and the Coleo Project. The ACON HIV Peer Support Group put me in contact with people going through similar experiences to mine. It gave me an outlet to voice my opinions, and to gain the advice and knowledge of other people to handle these panic situations. The Coleo project taught me the value of self-motivation, and the management of long-term treatment taking. They also encouraged me to take up writing, it being a good outlet for emotions-published or unpublished. This led to me joining the Positive Speakers Bureau, which has been, for me, one of life’s most fulfilling experiences.

In 2012, I had a bad experience after eye surgery at Royal Brisbane Hospital. I had some very serious surgery on my right eye…the left was blind (and is now a prosthetic)…and they fully covered the right eye after the operation. Coming out of vety heavy anesthesia, I thought I was blind, had a massive panic attack and attempted to pull the dressing off. A young Malaysian nurse, seeing this happening, started yelling at me, just making things worse. They eventually xalmed me down, and readjusted the dressing to admit some light, but the situation wasn’t good. At home, I started having attacks of anxiety & further panic attacks. I wasn’t sleeping well, was waking up with a start at around 4-5am, and had to get up as I couldn’t stand staying in bed. In bed, I couldn’t wear jewellery, or tee-shirts with tight necks – I felt they were choking me! This went on for about 6 weeks, and I was getting to the point of dispair. I contacted an Anglican support service (non religious, otherwise I wouldn’t have) on the advice if a HIV service. They, in turn, then kept in regular contact with me, helped via some counseling, and introduced me to Acceptance & Committment Therapy (ACT), and through the meditation sessions, and breathing, I eventually, over a couple of weeks, worked my way through it. I also put an official complaint into the hospital, and just doing something affirmative about the cause of this problem helped with the process of returning to where I had been before the operation.

Then, in early 2015, just after my return to Sydney from Brisbane, I had another period of both anxiety & panic attacks. 2014 had been a year from hell! I had a dreadful 60th birthday, followed by the breakdown of my 16 year relationship. Some financial oroblems followed on from that, then my ex-partners (we were clise friends after the breakup) parents both became serioysly ill; I had a very serious, debilitating dose of Shingles; Ampy, our longest surviving dog at that time, died; then in early 2015 I had my blind eye removed. This had all been bottled up, and on my return to Sydney – a move I really didn’t want to make – everything crashed in! The difficulty sleeping, getting moody, feeling that everything was getting on top of me, a severe drop in my libido, and Restless Leg Syndrome in bed at night all pointed to a return of the black dog. So off to the doctor, a psychological evaluation, and some antidepreeants & a drug to settle my restless legs. I went back to ACT, and within a fortnight we returned to a more normal state. 

But I know the capacity for anxiety & panic attacks is there, and that I need to ensure that I deal with issues as they come along. I consider myself lucky in some respects that it never gets worse that this. I don’t get cyclic deep, dark depression, nor do I get pushed to the point of suicide…but it is still a disturbing, disorientating and horrible place to be. Depression in any ofits forms  is not a pleasant place to be in.

This is a very different person sitting at this computer today. No longer scared of the future, or what it will hold. Confident that I have both a place, and direction to move in. I cannot give answers to others going through what St. Therese called ‘the Dark Night of the Soul’, except to hang on. There is, and must be, light at the end of the tunnel.

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Tim Alderman ©1999 (Revised 2017