Monthly Archives: March 2017

Nothing to fear

Don’t worry, folks, I was entirely unaffected by the ostensible terror attack here in London today (even my commute home was untroubled).  While it’s sad that innocent people died, it was clearly a futile endeavour compared to 7/7 or 9/11 (or the recent attacks in Europe), and I’m not afraid of terror.

However, that might be the case anyway, as I’m less anxious now than I’ve been in years.  Much like Cartman thought had happened to his sense of humour in that South Park episode, I think I may have “blown an anxiety fuse” recently — and, like Cartman, perhaps that’s a ludicrous explanation and I’m actually just getting more mature.

(Yeah, right, and monkeys might fly outta my butt…)

I first noticed this phenomenon during the horrors of November 2014, when I was doing that shift-based job I hated from the start: the second (and last, as it happened) day shift, on a Friday, saw me mysteriously perk up after lunch, almost as though a switch had been thrown in my head… or the part of my brain dealing with anxiety had simply worn out and shut down.  As I thought at the time, it may have been purely because it resembled a normal working weekday, for the first time since I’d finished at Camden (those six weeks of 90-minute commutes to and from Greenford didn’t count), but it certainly felt like some kind of biochemical change in my noggin.

And now, today, in 2017, I don’t really feel afraid or intimidated any more.  Okay, I still can’t stand noisy, crowded places, but that’s because I’m a human being from the planet Earth, and nothing to do with anxiety — I find such environments unpleasant, as any sane person would, but I don’t find myself freezing up, trying to stifle a scream or curling into a foetal position, just wanting to get the hell out there as soon as possible.  Similarly, a couple of weeks ago I was so afraid of arguing with my former-drummer housemate that I installed a voice recorder app on my phone, in case I needed evidence that he was threatening me… now, I find I don’t really care what he does, because it’s not like he interferes with my food or anything like that — it’s all just tedious “jokes” and annoyance.

Moreover, now that I’ve settled into my job as IT helpdesk “face” and put the terrors of January 2016 behind me, I find that I don’t panic when my boss criticises me, or cajoles me into doing some work — I know she’s just doing her job, and I’ve been reliably informed (by my workplace senpai) that she’s a lot nicer and more reasonable than many IT bosses… and hey, she may be right, it’s not impossible for someone of management grade to be correct about something!  Plus, of course, she swung me a pay rise, which has turned into another pay rise thanks to a new payscale being introduced, so I owe her a great deal, and can stop feeling afraid she’s going to ditch me on a whim, or that she’s setting me up to fail.

Having more money, of course, also helps me feel confident about my place in the world — I’m no longer living hand-to-mouth, and can finally do things I’ve only dreamed of (like going back to the USA for the first time in three years, Trump notwithstanding).  You may think it’s wrong for me to feel happy having money when our government seem to be ensuring as many people as possible end up in poverty (zero-hour contracts, unemployed and disabled being cut off from benefits, the economy tanking due to Brexit while the rich get tax breaks), but sometimes you’ve got to worry about yourself first, before you can help others.  Much as I dismiss the Bible, I see the wisdom in the bit about beams and splinters, and know I’ve got to keep myself safe and well if I’m ever going to help my folks (the most important people to me).

Something definitely seems to have changed in me.  I remember how I’d get massively depressed and/or anxious during 2015, in the aftermath of that horrible period of unemployment, even with pitifully small cause — clamming up and withdrawing from the office because people were being noisy, or worrying that I’d offended a girl I fancied, and spending whole days sinking deeper into sadness even as I tried to throw myself into my work (to the point that a work friend recommended I take St. John’s wort).  I’m beginning to wonder whether the part of my brain that caused those bouts of misery (and began doing so in late 2011) is malfunctioning now, perhaps dying at last, and that this is why I keep getting “brain fuzz” these days: it’s a case of crossed wires (or a leaking pipe), and instead of depression/anxiety being triggered by this thing, I’m getting random bursts of memory at those times.

As far as this particular brain issue goes, I’ve seen the quack (again) and arranged a blood test for next Friday, just in case it’s down to hypothyroidism.  I know I apparently didn’t have that back in 2015, according to a blood test I received at that time; I was concerned then that I was feeling the cold a little too much, but it later emerged (after I spoke to an actual doctor in person, rather than a bored receptionist on the phone) that I was borderline low iron, which would explain a lot.

(Oddly, I also don’t feel the cold anywhere near as much nowadays… though that could be due to rebuilding a layer of fat, alas!)

In the meantime, my bouts of brain weirdness seem to have stopped entirely, even though I’m back drinking caffeine, eating chocolate, listening to my diverse music collection, and working hard.  I still feel brief weirdness now and then, often when thinking things out — like a single word, rather than a group of memories, is sounding in my brain — but something similar happens to me when I’m dozing off in bed at night (while reading, wash your minds out!), so it’s no big deal… probably.  I wonder if this apparent recovery is due to having discussed the issue with my mother at the weekend — it certainly felt like something “turned over” in my brain at that moment — and perhaps it’s like so many people’s experiences with the IT helpdesk: when you try to demonstrate the problem, it immediately disappears and you look foolish!

I know I should feel more worry about the state of the world at the moment, with the deplorable rise in right-wing sentiment, and my government’s plans to spy on us wholesale and punish whistleblowers, allegedly in the name of combatting terrorism — and, of course, Trump (no complete sentence needed there).  As I’ve noted before, my life improvements seem to send the rest of the world along the highway to Hell… but what good would it do for me to feel bad, to give up the good things in my life just because I feel like I don’t deserve them?  If anything, now that I’ve got my life on track, I might be in a better position to help others… and maybe help prop up the economy by spending?

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Too much, too soon?

A lot of stuff is going on in my life all at once, and I wonder if the reason I keep getting “brain fuzz”, even after cutting down on caffeine, is that my brain’s shutting down whenever it’s overstimulated.  I’ve had quite a few bouts recently, and while I seldom get more than one a day like I did in December (when it was really bad), it’s still troubling — so I’m going to see the quack again tomorrow, in the hope that whoever’s filling in for my actual GP can give me better advice than “keep an eye on it”.

This occurs just as I’ve taken a half-day to visit the dentist tooth-quack, in order to restore an external filling over a tooth root.  There’s been a groove at the top of that tooth for years now (apparently due to the gum receding), and while the operation went well in the end, I’d had a nightmare last night in which my lower right canine was coming out, and I was desperately trying to force it back into the socket!  It’s not the first time I’ve had that exact dream (a previous dentist said it was due to tooth-grinding in sleep), and I have to wonder if it’s stress, and thus a sleepless night (despite retiring early), that’s given me my mental problems today.

If I hadn’t been seeing the dentist this morning, I’d have been staying in anyway, as the landlady told us she was having a mortgage surveyor (or “survivor”, as autocorrect put it) come over to look at our house.  She’d made a mistake, and he’s actually coming tomorrow, but I’ll be having the entire day off to let him in… and also see the quack, and hopefully rest my head a bit, in case it’s stress that leads to my bouts of “brain fuzz”.  But how can I reduce stress if it’s possible that the landlady’s thinking of selling this place, and we all have to move out?

Can I really go through the stress of January 2012 all over again, even if the weather’s a bit less cold and miserable at this time of year?  I know I complain about this house in winter, but I’ve got a good thing going here, with rent being lower than it should be for Finchley; it’s also a good spot on the Northern Line, as I can always get a seat on trains that come down from Mill Hill East (strikes and “good service” notwithstanding) — and I wonder if I could find the same in a cheaper location.

($DEITY help me if I have to live on the cursed Piccadilly Line again… and $EVIL_DEITY help me if I have to live on Caledonian Road again!)

There’s also the question of anywhere here in London, on a tolerable public transport route, actually being cheaper anyway; I don’t want my recent pay rise to be wiped out by either higher rent or higher transport costs (or both).  To complicate matters, I am in fact due a second pay rise next month, owing to a new payscale being implemented at my workplace, but I’m concerned that this might set me just above the monthly gross wage limit that would disallow me from deferring repaying my student loans for another year.  I may be all right (it’ll be close, that’s for sure), but if I do have to start paying back, will the payments wipe out my wage increase?

I certainly can’t give up on London and move back to Worthing, for a reason more immediate than the usual loathing of the town where I endured my teenage years.  My grandmother needs to sleep in my old room, as it’s close to the bathroom, only using the tiny room at the back of the flat when I come to visit at the weekend; when she’s had her knee operation in April, she’ll need it even more certainly, to the point that I won’t be able to visit at all for a few weeks while she convalseces!  This means that I’ll definitely have to find a new place to rent here in London if the landlady sells, no matter what — but the timescale matters, as how quickly would she want us out?

So you see, there’s a lot going on in my life right now, and perhaps it’s not so surprising that my brain keeps doing strange things (especially if I have my shoulders hunched through stress, and can’t sleep properly no matter how early I get my head down).  Perhaps it’s like when the people at work have computer problems, and I tell them to “turn it off and on again” (which works a lot more often than it should) — I really need to rest and relax, and not stare at computer screens all day, every day, for pleasure as well as work.

What I really need is a holiday… and how convenient, my old Michigan roomie’s brother has invited me over to watch him take part in a bodybuilding show; if I can get the right tickets (and if it doesn’t overlap with possibly having to find a new place to live), this could mean I stay for Independence Day as well, a holiday I’ve never experienced in the US of A… and maybe it’ll actually be sunny enough for me to go outside, despite it being Michigan.

But oh, what about the Trump administration planning to force tourists to hand over their passwords and bank details, just to make sure we’re not terrorists (or to plant evidence if they want to pretend we are)?  Argh, stress, stress, streeeessss!

(On the plus side, my former-drummer housemate and I seem to be back down to Defcom 4…)

The see-saw tilts again

mpfc_swing

“…and a tendency to wobble up and down in the middle because the screw’s loose.”

Sometimes it seems that I can never have an unequivocally good time at both home and work; as one thing improves, the other develops a problem.

Yes, I know, everything’s in cycles, but they usually change any time I comment on them to someone close — how I used to bicker with my UMich roommate in 1998-9 one day, and the next find him being civil and chatty.

And similarly, my former-drummer housemate, having been a jerk to me last Thursday, seems to have mellowed a bit now, probably because I haven’t managed to get on his nerves in a while, thanks to avoiding him outright whenever I can.  I did try to apologise on Sunday for the pie incident, but he threw it back in my face, and also accused me and our Turkish housemate (with whom he’s had major arguments in the past) of being “anti-social”, despite the fact that he seems to be more reclusive than either of us, since ending his career as a session drummer and drumming instructor.

Maybe I should pity him, as I know how hard it can be to interact with people after spending a lot of time alone, and he’s leaving music behind to drive trucks for a living… but at least tonight he’s been relatively decent, not having a go at me for cooking in the kitchen (beyond the usual implied criticism for eating Quorn).  In US military terms, I’d say we’re back down to Defcom 3 — not exactly peace, but not overt conflict.

(I just wish I hadn’t become so paranoid that I’d downloaded a sound recorder app onto my phone, in case I needed evidence…)

But as that situation goes up, so the other end of my life see-saw, work, goes down just a little bit.  Those of you who have worked in helpdesk roles will understand the ticket system: broadly speaking, your “flock” e-mails the helpdesk address with problems, tickets are created and assigned, and you’re judged on how quickly you resolve them, and also on the rating that the original senders give upon completion.  Maybe the details are different for you, but that’s my lot in life, and I either pass on tickets to my teammates (where it’s their speciality or otherwise beyond me), or shoulder the burden myself.

I deal quickly with a hell of a lot of tickets, including layman stuff like changing printer toners (though I monitor those myself anyway, and thus usually obviate tickets being needed at all), adding people to or removing them from e-mail groups, troubleshooting simple problems with people’s computers, setting up and deploying new hardware, training people to use the infernal Skype for Business, installing the infernal Windows 10 updates, creating new starters’ accounts, setting up equipment for video conference calls… all the stuff you’d expect Tier 1 to do, and a bit of Tier 2 as well, as they’re happy for me to take on more tasks where I know what I’m doing.

However, every so often a ticket will come along that I’m supposed to deal with, but which taunts and frustrates me.  There’s one young lady downstairs whose PC I set up for her when she started (one of the first I did, in fact), but which seems to give her no end of bother.  Every time I think I’ve fixed something (e.g. by reinstalling Firefox), either the same problem or a worse one arises.  It’s probably not unrelated to her habit of having 20-30 e-mails open in Outlook at any one time, along with 20 or 30 tabs open in Internet Explorer…

And my boss is getting concerned about the time it’s taking me to resolve this… but even though we now have some brand new Windows 10 PCs ready to set up, she wants me to “do something drastic” to resolve this, and re-image the girl’s PC.  This is despite it having started life as a Windows 7 machine, re-imaged with Windows 8, and then upgraded to Windows 10 during the “free” period — which means I have no way of knowing which of our (expired) Windows 8 keys I could put in, even if that’d work with Windows 10 installation media.  I can also try telling Windows 10 to “reset” itself, but even if either of these techniques works, I fear it’ll serve to do nothing save undo all the tweaks I’ve put in to overcome problems (such as changing graphics card options), and just bring back every problem we’ve already overcome — and how will that lead to a quicker resolution?

Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely boss when things are going well, and she (mostly) respects me and my opinions (even if she’s one of those people who tends to treat me like a naive manchild); but she’s very much a manager first and a computer expert second, and doesn’t always appreciate how difficult some tasks are.  On the other hand, she’s allegedly a lot nicer and more understanding than other IT bosses, and the team whose member has this issue is one which always seems to find things to complain about (especially another member, to whom my boss refers with a preciousss nickname), so I’m motivated to get it taken care of, for her sake as well as my own.

(However, I’m not averse to simply outright replacing the girl’s PC and lying about it, perhaps in conjunction with another of her teammates whose PC definitely needs a replacement… results are what matter, right?)

And that’s not the worst part: I’ve had other tickets open altogether too long, thanks to users not responding when I’ve asked them for updates (or re-opening tickets that I’ve tried to close as impossible to fulfil), combined with my tendency to procrastinate if I need someone’s advice but he’s too damn busy with a more important task (it doesn’t help that I work in the office five days a week, while the others frequently work from home).

face

What I really need to do is remind myself that one bit of honest criticism doesn’t mean my job’s hanging by a thread again: even if my boss wanted a pretext to get rid of me (despite my having made it successfully through 2016), a lot of people at my employer seem to like me, give me good reviews on my successfully-closed tickets, and sometimes even refer to me as a “hero” — so there’d probably be a rebellion if she got rid of me so unceremoniously (especially considering how bad my predecessors were).

However, I also shouldn’t get complacent: while it’s certainly true that I close a lot more tickets than my colleagues, that’s simply because I take care of all the easy “low-hanging fruit” tickets, while they focus on the more complex tasks (like university e-mail servers bouncing our messages, in a kind of arms race), or specialised tasks that a sub-team deals with (like the members’ database).  I’m part of the team — the face, as you’ll remember — and while I work hard and do my best, now and then I do need a bit of a kick up the rear to remind me not to procrastinate, that I really do need to pester my colleagues for help (or pester users for more information), rather than let things slide due to a lack of confidence.

And confidence is something I need at home as well: if I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I be intimidated and stay in my room until that guy’s gone, or worry about cooking stuff in the oven if he’s around in the evening?  In all probability he’s the one suffering from confidence issues at the moment (truck-driving sounds like a lonely, thankless and unrewarding career), and putting on loud bravado to cover his fear of human contact — so no sense in treating him like I’m afraid to be alone in a room with him, as he’s annoying at times but relatively harmless, and he does still coordinate paying the rent and other bills on our behalf.

(Or, on the other hand, he’s on drugs?)

I hope I’m wrong about work and home being the see-saw of my life, and that both can in fact be good at the same time.  Of course, there’s other aspects to my life, such as my ongoing attempts to find a girlfriend — could it be a triangular see-saw? — but I don’t want one thing to suffer just because the other things are going well: I want it all…

— — —

One way in which I’m trying to improve my confidence is to just “go for it” whenever I’m reluctant to finalise something — like an e-mail to a user, or a post in this blog that I’ve been picking at for far too long.  I just think to myself: “I like to live dangerously”… in reference to this classic Austin Powers scene.  And on that basis, I’m going to stop worrying about typos or word usage (or accuracy, which never bothers me normally), and click “Publish” for this post…