Hello to my community. Community has become a much nicer C word than Covid-19 – or any other C word. Before the virus, community and neighbourly values were on a steady decline. Now however, we are seeing some incredible changes in individuals, groups, communities and even corporations. Changes for the betterment of humanity and…community. More on that in a minute. I really don’t want to talk too much about the state of the world, self-isolation or anything that sinks the soul. It is unavoidable in a lot of ways. And there is enough of that going around on news and social media.
I have not written in a while for a couple of reasons. The first was that I was just so incredibly busy with my paid writing gigs – pre virus. As many of you will know, I have carved my own niche career as a result of my starting out this little blog here. You see, it is really quite simple but includes a lot of good fortune. I started writing here about my photography, travels, experiences and life. Then, I started writing about photography realted topics – and more importantly Fujifilm – for the Fuji X Aus Facebook community. This was recognised by Fujifilm Australia who started to re-post my articles and even ask me to write new ones.
Next, I was writing for a professional photographic services company as a ghost writer. Then, I applied for a writing role at Shotkit.com thanks to encouragement from my good mate the ORP (Overrated Photographer). Finally, I picked up a grand gig ghost writing customer education pieces for a photography retailer. All of a sudden I was full time writing about my favourite topic – photography. What’s more is that I was working from home, choosing my own hours and loving it! Of course, it was not all of a sudden. The process took around three years – but it was an organic transition to a new stage in my life.
Unfortunately, due to the virus, things changed – as they have for so many of you out there. My contracts were cancelled as a result of the impacts on retail and photography in general. Financially I have taken a big hit – but I live in Australia and for the most part, we are being incredibly well looked after. We have an amazing healthcare system and the government is making significant economic changes to support people. At the end of the day, I and my kids are well. Sometimes I have to stop myself and just look around – we have a fridge full of food, we have internet and heating and above all else, we have our family and community. Those things are priceless as so many people in the world cannot even list those luxuries.
Fortunately, the team at Shotkit.com have embraced this situation and are doing everything possible to keep our heads above water. I have picked up some extra work doing data entry and research to streamline the back-end processes. I am writing product reviews as well as buyers guides. And, I have gotten my lighting kit out of the garage and have been doing lots of product shots. This has been especially beneficial to me as it has slowed me down to set up products, lighting and my cameras to get great shots. A by-product of this is being able to shoot other things while I am in the process. Things like Lego Star Wars ships and scenes. This has been a lot of fun and I am inspired to do more.
I work from home so having to isolate and work from home resulted in no transition for me. My two adult children both study from home – again no huge impact on them. My youngest is now nine and attends a local primary school. In Australia, all the schools closed a few weeks ago and they are likely to stay shut all second term – until halfway through the year. So I have added a new gig to my day as a stay-at-home teacher. This has proven to be a tough job but I know that I am not alone. My community of parents have all expressed their trials and tribulations as stay-at-home teachers. Another benefit of the community is that we can share those experiences, swap ideas and support one another.
When I do head out to the supermarket – one of my only destinations now – I love that I see so many people out walking. Couples, families and friends (only in pairs now) enjoying the sun and fresh air. Cabin fever is a serious thing so being able to get out there is of real benefit. For me, I have been catching up with friends – mostly online obviously. I have cooked meals and taken a pot to a friends place on occasion – always leaving it on the doorstep and then talking to them from the other side of their gate. I hardly ever did this before the virus – but now it is such a valuable experience. And I see and hear more people doing it – whilst still observing social distancing expectations. I have friends who call and message to see how we are doing and I do the same.
These are all community values and activities that were slowly eroding before the virus. My aim is to try and keep them alive as much as I can and encourage others to do the same.
Aside from the virus, I have had some big lifestyle changes of late. This is another reason why I have not written in a while. I wasn’t ready then to share my story – I am now. The first is that I have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea. Not a shocker as I am a big guy and suffered from it around ten years ago. At a friend’s wedding late last year, I was staying in a share house with the bridal party. One of the guys there approached me and told me he could hear me chocking and struggling to breathe while asleep. I decided to do something about it and worked with a sleep clinic to first diagnose the issue – 128 sleep apnea event per hour – and address it. Now I use a CPAP machine that gives me a pressured dose of oxygen while I sleep. I am glad to report that I am now down to an average of 2 sleep apnea events per hour. Aside from the stats, I feel amazing. I wake bright and with energy and never feel overly tired during the day. I am finally getting real quality sleep for the first time in years.
The second medical complication is that I was drinking way too much. A little history first. I have always had a complicated relationship with alcohol. When I was a teen, I drank with friends a lot and developed the usual needing a drink to relax, socialise, etc. This continued in my early adult life and at the age of thirty, I told Isobel that I know I have a problem and I need help. I was using alcohol to deal with my anxiety and depression – a common self-medication practice. I saw a psych and got onto some medication and was able to stop drinking. That was when I was thirty and I did not drink for exactly a decade.
Then when Isobel died, I got drunk with a friend, who did not support my abstinence, unfortunately. Again, I used alcohol to fill the void left by Isobel’s sudden death. That is not an excuse – it just is. That was seven years ago and during that time I tried several techniques to stop drinking. None of them worked – or more importantly, I didn’t let them work. Then I started to see an amazing psych last year. She supported me in not only managing my anxiety and depression but we started to work on my self-love. With that change, I was able to see myself and my drinking for what they were.
I finally reached a point where I could identify that my drinking was no longer serving me any purpose, I no longer enjoyed it and it was detrimental to my health. But, like every addiction, the rational mind cannot always overcome the physical need. Then a crazy thing happened – my feet started to swell up like balloons. I also had a lot of intense discomfort in my abdomen. I went to the doctor and after a series of blood tests and scans, I found that my liver was not coping so well with my drinking. Early signs of liver swelling and damage are not pleasant announcements to hear. This was right when the virus was sending people into isolation.
It scared the shit out of me, to be honest. Scared me enough to realise that with compromised health I was also more vulnerable to the virus. A situation that I could not afford given my responsibility to my kids. So I made the decision to stop drinking. I was already there at an emotional and cognitive level – I just needed to shake the physical demand addiction places on us. I knew it was risky – alcohol withdrawals can be dangerous – but what was my option? I endured about a week of pretty severe withdrawals. I won’t go into details – it’s not necessary – but it wasn’t fun.
Since then, I have not felt any need, desire or calling to crack open a beer – and boy did I love beer. I have completely shaken my need for alcohol. I have been incredibly fortunate to have not experienced any serious withdrawals. As I said, emotionally and cognitively I had already stopped drinking. This was the last step in that process. I could not have done it without the support of my psych.
As for how I feel now, I feel bloody amazing. Stopping drinking combined with my improved sleep sees me rising well before the sun and being energised throughout the day. I am clearer of thought and able to create a significant amount of work. I am inspired to make the most of homeschooling and have been coming up with creative ways to teach my son about life. What’s more, my big kids are thrilled that I am looking after myself – it is something that they have been concerned about. Plus, my community and closest friends havee been so incredibly supportive. I love them for that.
So in the midst of a global pandemic the likes of which our generations have not seen strikes at the heart of the world – I feel fucking amazing. How is the irony? I have been incredibly honest with my closest friends about my alcohol problem. And I share this with you, my community, not as a cry for sympathy or pity, but to hopefully encourage others. If I can encourage one person out there to make a change for the better, get on top of something that is dragging them down, then I am thrilled.
As for the future, none of us really know what that holds at the moment do we? I mean, the experts are saying that in Australia we may be able to beat this thing. I am not sure what beating the virus looks like and I don’t think they do either. But the future will be what will be. I intend to continue looking after my kids, myself and my community in any way I can.
If you or someone you love is battling with a mental health issue, or a dependency on drugs and alcohol, please make a least a small start and get some help. There is no shame in what you are experiencing – even though it feels like there is a lot of shame involved. Below I have listed some contact details for organisations in Australia (international friends just do a Google search for your area) that are set up for exactly this purpose – to help people make positive changes. It is not easy. It never has been and it never will be – but that is why these groups have been established. So don’t do it alone – get some help from the people that understand it best.
Other than that, please stay safe, keep well and do what you can to support your community. Check on an elderly neighbour and picked up a couple of essentials for them the next time you are at the shops. Make a pot of pasta and drop it off to your mate who is doing it tough. Call your friends and family and touch base with what is going on for them. Support your community and you will be surprised to find that it will support you in return. Take care friends. G
- Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
- Family Drug Support Australia 1300 368 186
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 Parentline 1300 301 300
PS: This is the ORP (Overrated Photographer). I know that the images don’t really match the theme of this blog but I couldn’t just leave it blank. These are images I have taken during the last few weeks. G