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Chocolates on my desk

A bag of chocolates is sitting on my desk. I can’t decide whether it’s being cruel to me, or kind.

I don’t particularly like chocolate; I’ve never been a sweet tooth. Always more of a savoury person. This bag of chocolates, though, was a gift. From a chocolate factory down south.

From her.

The pain, when I think of her, is excruciating. The fog of self-pity rises around me, thickens, threatens to drown me.

The bag might as well say, “My soon-to-be-ex went on a holiday, and all I got was this bag of chocolates.” All I got after thirty years. From “soulmate” to “so long, mate”.

It’s not really fair of me to say it like that. But the word fair has lost all meaning. Who is fair anymore? What is fair anymore? Is it fair that football players on the world stage get to cheat the ref and not suffer any consequences? Is it fair that world leaders get to bully and belittle, to do nothing about incompetence and greed and instead encourage racism, sexism, and xenophobia, to be the worst kind of role model? To rip apart agreements that tried to set the world on a better path and to rip apart families whose only sin was to seek a better life for their children? That those who screech “Immigrants out!” conveniently forget or ignore their own ancestry?

Is it fair that I, who never strayed, who believed with all my heart that our love was strong enough to withstand anything, whose love didn’t stop, who dedicated all my loyalty and devotion to my family, should now… should now… damnit, here comes the fog again.

I think I need to take a break from writing for a short while. Not that this was much so far, but… it’s hard. I hope that the fog will dilute enough to let me breathe for a while, disperse enough to let me forget – well, ignore – the self-pity for a bit.

Maybe I’ll catch some more of that series I’ve just started watching. The Handmaid’s Tale. Think of something else, you know, take my mind off things. Think of how much more horrible the world could be if the holier-than-thou morons who made the sociopathic con artist their king were running the world. I thought it was bad back when they made the village idiot their king, but oh, how wrong I was. At least he was a well-meaning idiot who knew he was an idiot and listened to smarter people. This one thinks that his delusions of mediocrity are real, and that he can blunder his way through any stuff-up by stuffing up more and then pointing to it, and by calling those who call out his lies liars, but more loudly. How do so many people fail to see that for what it is?

I could go on, but it won’t solve anything, nor ease my depression. Oops. There, I’ve said it. I’ve acknowledged my affliction. Publicly. Should I admit that it got bad enough that I had to go seek professional help? Better not. No, I’ll keep that to myself and go watch another episode now. Break-time. Continue writing later.




Back now. And all I can think of is how much I’m like Offred, lying there helplessly, not understanding, while the cold, dispassionate universe fucks me over and someone who should be on my side is holding down my wrists.

It’s not all bad, of course. It’s still amicable, for the kids’ sake, but also because she just won’t stop being nice. I’ve tried getting myself to hate her, thinking it would ease the pain a little. I couldn’t. It’s just not how I’m built, even when I’m broken.

I just have to remind myself time and time again that I need to fight hard every moment so that the thin layer of self-control that is stretched tight over my emotions doesn’t burst. They’re just beneath the surface; I can feel them writhing, but I constantly have to push them back when I’m around her. She’s moved out into the shed that was once a guest room, but to minimise the impact on the kids (who have been so great, so mature, so supportive), she’s staying around, still helping out with everything even while she needs to struggle to get her own life into a solid stance.

So many things I can no longer allow myself to feel, or to act on. Don’t reach out and caress her face, don’t push that strand of hair behind her ear, don’t even casually touch her shoulder in passing. Pockets. Pockets are a safe place for your hands. Don’t laugh too much when one of the kids says something funny, because it could so quickly turn into pathetic blubbering.

I only ever had one battle plan for facing life: grow old together with her. That was it. Simple as that. That was all I needed. That’s completely blown out of the window now. There was never a Plan B. Her and me, that was a given, and with her I’d be able to overcome anything. But depression sneaks up on you, a silent assassin, staying in the shadows so you never see it, so you don’t even become aware you’re under attack. It made me do exactly the wrong thing: withdraw more and more from those closest to me. It let me think I could and should deal with this myself, it lulled me into believing I just had to wait until I felt better. What a fool I was. And then came the bombshell.

I tried to fight. I tried to reason. I tried to understand.

I lost. I couldn’t make her see. I still don’t get it.

The indentation on my ring finger is fading, but it refuses to go away completely, even though I took off the golden circlet, which naïvely claimed, “Forever yours”, more than a couple of months ago. The dent is a constant reminder of what I once had, and what is now gone. Never again one of those awesome hugs that let you forget everything else. Never again falling asleep next to her, waking up next to her.

Some nights, the loneliness can be crushing. Nightmares are bad, but having pleasant dreams, and then realising a few seconds after you wake up that they can never become reality again is so much worse.

Some days are bearable. Sometimes food is actually starting to be semi-enjoyable again. Most days, like (mostly) life in general, it’s just bland. Working helps. Work is sanity, people there are great, and I get to solve problems and help people. A select few there know, and are incredibly supportive.

I’m in a holding pattern. All I can do is hope that getting back to writing helps the way it used to. That time will do what they say it can do. Writing about something negative used to always help me deal with it, by getting stuff off my chest, by letting me get my thoughts in order, by forcing me to admit something to a white screen, and thereby to myself. The way it feels now, I doubt this wound can ever heal completely, but perhaps the pain can lessen enough to let me hobble on towards the small light at the end of the tunnel with an emotional disability.

The little bag of chocolates is still sitting there next to my PC, looking at me. It’s not that I mind chocolate, and that particular kind is probably what I would’ve picked if I’d had to pick one. And it was given to me with the kindest of intentions. Maybe I’ll try some soon, but right now, for some reason I can’t really explain, that would feel like I’m not being true to myself. Or it could be that some masochistic part of me wants to feel that pain. I really don’t know anymore.


For anyone who has ever lost someone, or lost someone’s love, or felt blue or depressed for any other reason, my heartfelt advice is not to suffer through it by yourself like I tried to initially. Start by admitting to yourself, and then to one or two loved ones, what you’re going through. Seek professional help if you need it, be that face-to-face or via a helpline. If that sounds too scary, find something online by googling “depression helpline” or similar. In Australia, you could go to, and I’m sure there’s an equivalent in most other countries. It may sound silly, but… don’t be alone alone.

R U Ok? Yeah, I am… now

Today is officially “R U OK? Day“. And, as much as I despise the Twitter-gen shortening of two already-quite-short words, this is the first time I feel like I can identify with it. Not that I’m suicidal or anything like that, but I do feel as though I’ve been through the wringer a bit.

What is R U OK? Day?

If you don’t know, R U OK is an organisation founded in Sydney in 2009 that attempts to fight suicide and depression by getting people to ask each other a simple question, “Are you ok?” To really ask, and to listen to the answer, and to dig a little if needs be to find out whether someone is really doing ok, or maybe struggling with some issue or other. One of the critical factors in depression and how people deal with it is a sense of disconnection from others around them. Talking about it can be the first step in the right direction, and as with so many things, we have a dedicated day (the second Thursday in September) to remind us about it, but of course it’s a good idea all year round.


To explain why I can now identify more with depression, I’ll have to go back a few months in time. And talk about my work.

I’m a geek; I write software and websites, server-side programming, user interfaces, Agile development, that sort of thing. Might sound boring to some, but I love it, and I’m very good at what I do. For many years, I’ve successfully worked in the IT industry as a contractor, meaning I hire out my services to companies or organisations who need my expertise. Contracting has its pros and its cons over being a permanent employee (permie). You get paid quite well, and you get paid by the hour – no fixed annual salary – meaning if there’s a deadline and more than 40-hour weeks or 8-hour days are required to meet it, you get paid accordingly. (Quite often in the IT industry, as a permie, you’re expected to work more than the number of hours you’re expected to work as per your work contract.) Of course, if the place you work for runs out of work, you’re among the first that get the boot. You also don’t get paid leave – if you get sick or want to take a holiday, you don’t earn money. So you typically get paid for about 42-46 weeks per year, but the higher rates more than make up for that.

Before my most recent contract, I’d contracted for six employers, and in each case was offered multiple contract extensions, typically in 3-, 6-, or 12-month chunks. I’ve been offered permanency, and in a couple of cases worked for the same company for several years. In three cases I was asked to come back (and did) when they had new work and knew that I was familiar with their systems and could hit the ground running to help out where it was most needed. I had great relationships with those employers, and still keep in touch with several of them (they’re great references when I apply for a new job).

Then my employer ran out of work for me, and I applied for a contract with… let’s call them Company XY. It was supposed to be a one-off two-and-a-half-month contract for a small piece of work with technology I was familiar with. Such short-term contracts aren’t usually my thing, but the timing was right with one week off after the end of the previous one, and I signed a contract with them via a recruitment company. It was a slow start, I had to wait two or three days before I had a PC set up at my new workplace and could log into every system I needed to. I was told that they didn’t have a business analyst (BA) on this project, as the technical architect knew everything there was to know about the business requirements, and had written an extensive document detailing everything.

I got to work, found that the code base was an awful ugly mess written and modified by several different people over time who all had a knack for different anti-patterns. Well, I can deal with that, did some cleanup as I worked my way into the code and became familiar with what it was that they wanted me to do. Until I found that the architect’s document had a logical flaw in it. It had a diagram (a flow chart) with text below explaining the logic, only the diagram and the text contradicted each other. I talked to the architect, showed him the document, and asked – always professional, always polite, at least that’s what I thought – which one was right, i.e. which version to implement. He disagreed that there was even a discrepancy, got confused when I explained my unit tests to him, and told me to just do what the document said.

In hindsight, I suppose the guy felt I’d stepped on his toes, or challenged his authority or something, even though I never brought this up in meetings with the project manager. After two and a half weeks, I’d completed roughly 80% of the work for which they’d allocated two and a half months, and was getting to the point where I really needed a decision on which version of the logic to implement. I tried several different approaches with the architect, finally creating a spreadsheet with a matrix defining all the possibilities and filling it in based on one of the two possible interpretations. He said I had it all wrong, created a matrix of his own, and when I went to his desk to tell him that I now got what the misunderstanding had been, he gruffly told me to “Go away!”

I did, and stayed home the next day due to what I thought was a stomach bug, but maybe it was just a really bad feeling in my gut.

I got a call that afternoon from the recruitment guy telling me that Company XY had terminated my contract effective immediately, and that I shouldn’t come back to their workplace but I should arrange for someone to bring my security pass to their reception and to pick up my private belongings.

I was flabberghasted. I was gutted that this sort of thing could happen.

I explained to the recruiter what I thought had happened, and asked to talk to the project manager and other people, to at least tell my side of the story, but the company refused to communicate with me, except to tell the recruiter that their decision was final. I received an email from the recruiter where he’d copied-and-pasted the reasons they had given for the contract termination, and they were all bogus. It seems they weren’t confident that I could complete the required work in time (I was close to done, with plenty of time left), and something about a lack of communication that didn’t register enough for me to even remember it now. I guess the project manager had bought whatever the architect was saying about me, and some other factors played into it as well that I’ll get to later.

In a daze, I arranged for a friend of mine (who still works there; I’ve known him for years) to get my security pass and to tell him what stuff I’d left on my desk. I was sick of it all, sick to the stomach, literally and figuratively. I decided I needed a bit of time off, didn’t feel like looking for other work right away. I binge-watched some series, played computer games, read some books – anything to keep my mind occupied, keep it from having to figure out what I’d done wrong and what I should do about it.

On the way back up

More time passed than I’d intended, and by the time I started browsing job opportunities again, I had so little enthusiasm for a job that’s always been my passion that I didn’t put as much effort into it as I should have. It took about three months before I found another job – as a permie now for the first time in many years, because I’m too scared to sign on as a contractor where they can do that sort of thing to me. I feel much better about myself again, but I can’t deny that it was a pretty dark time. Part of that shadow still hangs over me somewhere, and will take longer yet to shake off completely.

I’m a very lucky person in that my wife is the most wonderful, most selfless, most loving person in the world. Without her constant encouragement, without her support, I would’ve become lost in my darkness. She knows me so well, knows when to let me sulk or lick my wounds, when and how to cheer me up, when to let me know with a quiet look that she’s always there for me. I can easily see how someone’s downward slide could continue without that type of support.

The occasional rejections from literary agents to whom I’d submitted my work didn’t help during that time, but I’d sort of accepted that that would happen (that glimmer of hope is friggin’ hard to kill, though!).


Of all days, today (even if I technically posted this just after midnight…), on R U OK? Day, I had a chat with a colleague at my new place of work. Guess where she’s worked before? Yep – Company XY. Guess which architect once made her cry at work, and made a former colleague of hers almost have a nervous breakdown? It’s a small world. I learned from her that said architect has six children at home and a wife who is seriously ill.

Damnit, I really wanted to hate that bullying bastard, but now I can’t.

I’m glad I talked to that colleague today, though. I’m glad she didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and changed the subject when I told her I’d briefly worked for Company XY. She was really curious, and concerned, and sympathetic when I told her my story. I’m glad I opened up to someone I normally would not have opened up to.

A few weeks ago, I finally reached out to my Dad, who lives overseas, about what I was going through. It wasn’t easy, telling him that I wasn’t doing so well, that I was struggling with something. But I’m so glad I did. It was another pillar of support, and he gave me some great advice, part of which was that I should write about what happened. Even if no one ever reads it, he said, it’s important to get things off your chest, if nothing else, then to simply be able to put a mental “The End” under that chapter of your life. Wise man.

Oh, and the other thing I heard about Company XY today (from that other friend) is that by now almost their entire IT staff have been sacked – yay, outsourcing!

And you?

If there’s anyone in your life, even if they’re on the fringes, who might be struggling with something, who doesn’t seem to be their cheerful self – don’t hesitate to offer a friendly ear. It really can make a difference.

If you’re struggling yourself, reach out to someone, even if it’s hard to overcome your misgivings. It really can make a difference.

Open Letter to Sarah Daltry

Background: I read today on Nicholas Rossis’ blog about author Sarah Daltry’s post (read that for this post to make sense) in which she said that she was “closing up shop” and removing herself from social media and her books from Amazon, having been bullied into giving up her dreams of being able to make a living as an author by people too callous to care.

Here’s my response to Sarah.

You’re wrong, Sarah.

You’re wrong to think the bullies “win” this way, wrong to think they feel good about themselves for breaking someone, wrong to believe you can’t make a difference by attempting to fight back. Wrong to think that the “majority of people” are like those bullies. They’re the vast minority, they just have the loudest voices and the foulest mouths.

I think they do what they do out of fear, or anger, or sheer stupidity, not realising what effect they are having on an actual human being. They’re the sort of idiots who walk along the streets at night, drunk, and throw the bottle onto the sidewalk, just not getting that a toddler could cut her foot on the shards the next morning, more interested in the fact that the bottle made a different sound than it did last night. They’re the sort ot wankers who sit in their parents’ basement, testing their boundaries in the knowledge that they can remain anonymous on the Internet. The sort of people lashing out because they themselves were bullied, ridiculed, or rejected. Only a tiny fraction of them are actually malicious; most are just ignorant poor sods.

Most people are not like that. Nowhere near it. The average person cares. I have to believe that. If you are hearing so much negative feedback from people who don’t seem to care, you’re listening to the wrong people. I know that’s easier said than done, and I can’t claim to even begin to imagine what you must have gone through to get to where you are, what it must have cost you to make the decision you have, how much guts it took to write that post. For what it’s worth, I am devastated, I am truly sorry and ashamed on behalf of humanity. Surely there are some people in your area (I’d tell you to move, out of the city or even out of the country, but again, that’s easier said than done when you’re struggling to make ends meet – I’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt) you can reach out to, family or friends you can talk to, a church (even if you join for all the wrong reasons) maybe, a community group of some kind?

I don’t have an answer for you, but I can tell you that some of your assumptions and conclusions are wrong. Probably due to a systematic trampling of your hopes and your belief in the goodness in people, but still wrong. The best advice I can give is to listen to the right people, and to learn to take the opinions of the loud-mouthed bullies for what they are: utterly pointless drivel, not even worth paying attention to.

We care

Do you care about mindless bullying destroying the lives of good people? We can’t change the world and rid it of bullies overnight, but we can all send Sarah a small token of encouragement. If you’ve read this blog post, please take a moment out of your busy lives to go to Sarah Daltry’s blog while it’s still up and leave her a comment of encouragement. She isn’t showing comments publicly for obvious reasons, but says she reads them all. It may not be much, but I feel that every positive message she receives can contribute a tiny bit to helping her restore her faith in the goodness in people.