Tuesday, October 14, 2008


As regular - and concerned - readers have noticed, I have not been in a good way recently.

I was very ill for a long time, over two months with scarcely any respite. It gets you down. It frightens you. My glands were so swollen I began to worry that it might be, you know, one of those things of which we do not speak. I'm much better now, thank you. Not completely better, but much, much, much better than I was a couple of weeks ago. (I think perhaps I just had an allergy to the "cleaner" air we were treated to in Beijing over the summer. As soon as our smog started to return to something like its normal levels, my cough/sore throat/fever improved enormously.)

But no sooner had I managed to start to shrug off those plegm-factory blues than I discovered that all my work this month had evaporated.

And then, last week, I somehow managed to rick my lower back. For all these reasons and more, I have not been getting much sleep lately. And when I don't get enough sleep, I get horrendously depressed. Getting out of the house was becoming a problem. Even getting out of bed or getting up off the sofa was starting to seem like a major undertaking.

How to blow away all these dark clouds in my head? Well, here are some of the things I've been trying recently.....

1) A change of air
(A weekend away in the countryside a few weeks back almost did me a power of good. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well - scarcely at all, in fact - while I was away, which undid most of the revivifying effects of the cleaner air and the charming scenery.)

2) Shopping
(Men aren't supposed to be susceptible to the siren-call of "retail therapy", are they? Well, not so much as women, anyway. I don't go overboard about it, but..... sometimes, planning and executing an important [expensive!] purchase does give me a lift to the spirits, a pleasing little buzz of satisfaction. During the recent National Holiday, I went for a nose around the big new Solana mall, and bought myself a - long overdue - new pair of running shoes. Strange, how good that made me feel!)

3) Cooking
(I like cooking, but I'm hardly an expert. And, as a lonely bachelor, I can rarely summon the motivation to cook at all, certainly not to attempt anything very elaborate. However, as the autumn air chills, we are entering the season of soups. I particularly like making soups, for some reason. This Sunday afternoon, I knocked out large batches of leek & bacon and carrot & cumin soups. I have to say, I was rather disappointed with the initial results - though I would blame the blandness of the local vegetables rather than the frailty of my own judgement in the matter of seasonings. And the flavours will concentrate over time. They'll have plenty of opportunity, since I've made enough to last me into the middle of next week.)

4) Running
(Despite the ideal weather conditions recently, I've been wary of attempting a run because of the pain in my back. However, I did finally bite the bullet yesterday, and - touch wood - seem to have suffered no ill effects. My running gait isn't significantly hampered, and the exercise actually seems to relax the spasming muscles and ease the problem - for a while.)

5) Manual labour
(A friend was moving house yesterday, and - since she was only transferring to a larger apartment in the next courtyard - hadn't bothered to hire professional movers. I'd volunteered to help her out, and didn't like to withdraw the offer just because I had a bad back. Luckily, there was very little heavy lifting involved, and a few other friends had pitched in as well, so it wasn't too much of a trial. Of course, my back stiffened up a bit - and in some new places, as well! But, as with the running, I think the exercise was, overall, beneficial to my lumbar problem. It was certainly beneficial to my mental health. There's something particularly satisfying about moving house; perhaps it's the process as much as the exercise, the sense of achievement and completion, and the excitement of new possibilities in a new home. Maybe it's time for me to move again?)

6) Children
(I've always had a weakness for children, and a special affinity for them, I like to think. A decade or so ago, this soft spot exploded into a raging want-to-be-a-dad broodiness. That urge has softened a little again now, but I still love spending time with kids - and my house-moving friend's three-year-old is a particularly charming little tyke. Hanging out with him for the afternoon probably did even more good for my drooping spirits than the furniture-wrangling.)

7) Pets
(I get on well with animals, too. They are, perhaps, even better for my mental well-being than children: they're more extravagant and demonstrative in their affection, and they don't make you work quite so hard to win it. I like dogs, but much prefer cats. Dogs often seem to be clumsy, smelly, rather dim and pathetically needy. Cats have so much elegance, so much style, so much more emotional range. Unfortunately, I have become severely allergic to cat hairs in the last few years. But I wouldn't let that prevent me from trying to calm and comfort my friend's pair of cats, spooked by their sudden change of home. Stroking a cat and getting a purr out of it - there really isn't anything better in this world, is there?)

8) Good whisky
(After the furniture-carrying, child-entertaining, cat-soothing exertions of the day, I went out to a nearby bar to meet up with another friend, one who, like me, has been battling the black hordes these past few weeks. Like me, he is, thankfully, on the up again at last. It was good to learn this, good to compare our experiences - and good to celebrate our escape from the dungeon with a well-deserved nip of Talisker.)

9) A good night's sleep
(Last night - for the first time in ages - I slept like a log. I still woke up quite a bit earlier than I would have preferred, but..... I felt beautifully well-rested and content; and the discomfort in my lower back had almost completely disappeared. [It's back again now, but.....] Was it the physical exhaustion after my day's labours? Was it the emotional uplift I'd received during the day? Was it the smoky-flavoured nightcap? Whatever it was, I am damn glad of it.)

10) Walking
(I wasn't sure if I should risk another run today, with the back still twingeing, and my leg muscles a bit stiff from yesterday's efforts. But, since I'd woken so early on another dazzlingly bright day, I thought I'd go for a nice long walk around the hutongs in my neighbourhood instead - probably ended up covering 8 or 10 miles. Bliss.)


Anonymous said...

Look, from time to time I've had ALL the things you've got—lower back pain, depression, insomnia, acute unemployment—and I can tell you that they pass. It must be rotten to have them all at once, though, so I wish you prompt relief from at least some of them.
I disagree strongly with you about children and dogs. For me, the former can be a source of all the maladies you list, and as for the latter, how could
this one fail to warm your heart. The only good thing about cats is that when you take one into your house you are no longer the laziest and most selfish resident.

Froog said...

I'm very fond of dogs too. But I'm a bit of an intellectual snob, I suppose. You are charmed by the dimness of most dogs, whereas I find it a bit irritating.

Not that cats aren't capable of being astoundingly obtuse sometimes, but with them you feel it might be just an act they're putting on.

I recognise that with both pets and children the attraction for outsiders is the joy without the responsibility: you absorb all the positive emotional energy of being mutually entertaining for an hour or two without having to take on the awful burden of keeping the darned thing alive.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean, but even with my grandchildren I have a low threshold of boredom; forty minutes max.

If they could talk, dogs would say Schloop Schloop, I love you; cats would say Can't you SEE I want to go OUT, you foolish man?

You can admire cats, but not love them. Me, I need love.

Froog said...

Do you need love, Tony, or do you need to love?

I don't find any problem with loving cats; but you are always in doubt as to whether they really love you back. Are they just dissimulating hussies who feign affection just enough to keep you wrapped around their pinkie-claw?

I am fascinated by the artistry of that. And, I fear, by the addictive agony of not-knowing. It's much the same with women. Some men favour the dog-like virtues in their partners: loyalty, docility, dimness. Others are attracted more to wilfulness, mystery, élan.... sadism. I fall decidedly into the latter category, alack and alas.

Anonymous said...

All that calls for an essay in response but today I am not up to it.

I wll just say that your cat/dog comparison is not a true antithesis: I have had two wives (consecutively) and both of them had the first doggy thing but neither of the others, plus the first and third cat thing but not the other two.

Froog said...

I never said these qualities were mutually exclusive in women - only in cats and dogs.

But we do tend to focus on that which most fascinates us, and overlook the rest. I am - to my cost - drawn to cattiness in women.

A wise man once said: "Many a fellow falls in love with a pretty smile and makes the mistake of marrying the whole woman."

Anonymous said...

Yes, but a pretty smile can last a lifetime. whereas other desirable attributes often fade.