DROWNING

I was drowning on a Monday afternoon at Trigg Beach. Other than the friend who came with me, and who was off somewhere else doing his own thing, no-one knew I was there. The beach was deserted. There were no lifesavers. And I was taking on water.

I was in a rip, and it was carrying me out to sea. Already the beach looked a long way away. Even if I screamed, no-one would hear me. The roar of the sea would always be louder, more insistent, would always win. I could not touch bottom, and I was out of strength and, worse, breath.

The sea was going to kill me, but first, like a cat with a mouse, it was going to slap me around a bit. The water was cold and sharp, and it was indeed slapping me around, especially during those panicking moments when I was trying to get my mouth above the turbulent waterline–wham! Mouth full of water, lung full of water, sink a little lower, fight a bit harder to come back up to try again.

I could feel it wanting to kill me, that it had the intention, the malice aforethought, the desire. That it believed I was fair game, coming out here on a day when I should have known better, when there was no-one to save me. I have rarely felt so in the presence of something so full of wanting to harm me, something immense and unstoppable.

I strained downwards with everything I had, trying to lengthen myself, to stretch, to strain, to touch bottom. It was simply out of reach. It might have been a gap of only a single centimetre, the sand beneath my pale feet stirred by my flailing, or there might have been an unfathomable abyss. No way to tell. Not without going under to see. And if I went under, I might not come back.

The essential problem here was that I couldn’t swim.

But the really essential problem, the root of the whole situation, the thing that looked like it was going to get me killed, was that I had been a weird kid, as I have previously indicated.

When I was in primary school, at some point, I no longer remember exactly which year it was, the school sent the kids in my grade to the blue and white majesty of Beatty Park Aquatic Centre (built for the 1962 Empire Games, and very impressive for the time), where we were to be taught how to swim. Because if there is one true thing about life in Australia, it is that you need to know how to swim. Because if you don’t, well, you don’t want to think too much about that.

I was excited. This was going to be excellent fun. I had always, always loved water, being around water, playing in and with water. As much as I was crazy about space and rockets, I was crazy about water. My earliest memories involve a lot of mucking about with garden hoses, and sitting in canvas paddling pools with my young dad (still with thick dark Brylcreem hair) pouring buckets of water over me.

But there was also the Floreat Forum incident. I was truly tiny. I’m not sure how much of what I remember of this incident is genuine first-hand memory, or whether it’s you-wouldn’t-believe-he-did-that! family legend. One day, when I was very little, my grandfather on my dad’s side (the one forever lives in my heart for being the one introduced me to the wonder of Milo on icecream) took me for some sort of outing or shopping expedition to the Floreat Forum Shopping Centre, which was a bit flash and posh.

There were these water fountains. Which featured beautiful white and blue ceramic tiles, with running water flowing in a very appealing manner. Please be aware that I’m piecing this together out of image fragments, as of stray dusty things found in a long-neglected box. I barely remember this, but have heard the story so many times.

It seems I was so entranced by the way the sunlight fell through a skylight onto the flowing water in the fountain, over the white and blue tiles, that I just had to get closer to it. I had to be part of it.

So I stripped off my clothes, and climbed up and got into the main fountain basin, and had a perfectly lovely, fabulous time laughing and splashing about. It was the best thing ever!

My grandfather, who had fought in World War I, was mortified. Passersby pointed and laughed, and probably made a few funny comments.

I remember boundless joy. I was happy beyond measure. And my grandfather’s discomfiture was part of that. It was funny, how upset he got. (Sorry, Pop!)

The situation was retrieved. I was dried and reclothed, and a family legend was born, one of many, but one of the better ones.

This is all by way of establishing my bona fides as what my mum has always called “a water bug”. To her I was “a space nut” and “a water bug”.

So, primary school swimming lessons at Beatty Park. I had never smelled chlorine before. What on Earth was that? The change rooms were huge, too huge, as if for vast numbers of people. The glare out on the pool deck, the bright sun reflecting off the surface, made for squinting and shading your eyes with your hand.

But the water, in those enormous long so long huge endless pools, was entrancing. The play of light. The white tiles with the black stripes and markings. I’d never seen anything like it. I could not wait to get started. All of us, I remember, were excited and restless, a bunch of little boys, fidgeting, as if on the night before Christmas, and they’ve noticed some particularly large and promising presents under the tree with their names on. It was a wonderful moment of anticipation.

The teacher, when she arrived, was a young woman with pointy 1960s breasts in her one-piece swimsuit. I was very young but I was very much a boy. I noticed things like that. This teacher, I no longer remember her name, had a lovely, kind, patient manner about her. You wanted to do well for her approval. The lessons went well. The water seemed to glow, it was so white in the sun.

Weeks passed. The swimming lessons were a highlight of the week.

But then one day we turned up, bursting with excitement and enthusiasm, ready to go. As usual there was a lot of talk about flirting with the teacher, and speculation about who she liked of all of us (obviously not me, but I was used to that by now).

A different teacher turned up, a middle-aged woman with a tight, curly hairstyle, and a solid build. I also forget her name, but it was almost certainly Mrs Someone. She had a very authoritative manner. She was firm. She tolerated no nonsense, and would tell you if your efforts were not measuring up to her standards. None of the boys speculated about which one of us she liked best. As far as we could tell, she disliked all of us. She looked, when dealing with us, like she was sucking a lemon.

I lasted about two weeks before making the decision that many years later was going to get me killed one Monday afternoon at Trigg Beach. I stopped going to swimming lessons. I decided I didn’t like the new teacher. She was a permanent replacement for the nice pointy-breasted teacher. We never learned what happened to her. I still miss her. She was nice. I felt encouraged. I always wanted to do well because her approval felt so warm and genuine.

I no longer remember exactly how I managed to get out of swimming lessons. I think I was the only one who did. It seems conceivable that during that time I was sent to the school library, but I really have no idea. I also don’t remember why my parents went along with my decision, or if they even knew about it. My recollection of events stops here, with my decision that I didn’t like Mrs Someone, and that was that.

So I never properly learned to swim. Because I was a weird, foolish, moody, strange kid.

That afternoon at Trigg Beach, when the sea tried to kill me, only one thing saved me–luck. I remembered something I had read long before about rips. Australian beaches are lousy with rips, and there is a great deal of literature available about how to survive them. I had read some of this. If I had not, I doubt I would be sitting here telling you this story.

A rip forms a deep channel along the axis of the current leading out to sea. This means you can even be quite close to shore, and still find you can’t touch bottom. But either side of the channel the bottom is the usual height for thag distance from shore. If instead of trying to swim against the rip’s current, which will get you killed, you swim just a bit to the side, you’ll find much shallower water. You might be able to touch bottom.

It was my last possible move. I had taken on a lot of water. It tasted like doom, salty doom. I was choking and coughing. I was spending more time underwater looking up at the surface than I was above the surface. My arms and legs burned with fatigue. My eyes burned from water exposure. I didn’t want to die, and certainly not like this.

I tried swimming, dog paddle, to the side. I put my feet down.

I touched bottom. It was shallow. I could stand easily. The water here, just a metre or so from where I had been, from where the sea was going to eat me, was about chest-deep. I could breathe. I coughed up so much water. The cold waves and chop slapped against me, but no longer had power over me.

I was a lucky bastard. I have since, at my local aquatic centre, learned to swim. The teacher was an older Scottish woman with a mother’s warmth and humour, whom I like very much. I was so grateful to her for teaching me to swim that I gave her signed copies of two of my books, TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT and my most recent, BLACK LIGHT. One night she told me about a niece who had spotted BLACK LIGHT on her shelf, saw that the author had signed it, and was all impressed, and wanted to know how she knew the author. This story warmed me at a time when I was badly depressed. My freestyle technique is excellent, though I can only do about one and a half laps of the centre’s 25 metre pool. I can do most of the other strokes to some extent, but breast stroke remains a baffling mystery. I am not too concerned. I now know enough to save myself, should I again find myself in trouble at a lonely beach.

THE MEAT SECTION INCIDENT (Updated)

We were in the busy meat section of a supermarket one weekend afternoon a couple of years ago, and I could not stand it. I could not.

I thought I had been fine, earlier that day. We’d driven down to Mandurah, a brief weekend break in our favourite seaside home away from home. That first day, we needed some supplies, so we hit the local Woolies supermarket.

As soon as I walked in, there was something wrong, something off. I felt as if I were made of scissors. Everything bothered me. It was too noisy. The lights were annoying. The people going about their business were too peoply. It felt as if my tooth enamel was on too tight.

I took little notice of these obvious warning signs. You might think, given what you know of my history by now, that I might have demonstrated the possession of a few clues, and recognised these indications as bad signs, and taken appropriate action. Yes, you might very well think that. But I didn’t. I didn’t think about those signs until much later.

We shopped. We indulged in a few holiday treats, the sorts of things we wouldn’t ordinarily buy back home.

I was noticing all the people around me. The place seemed very busy, more than you would expect, or more than I expected, anyway. It felt like I had to be extra-careful with the trolley to keep from hitting people as we made our way around.

Up and down the aisles we went, grabbing the few things we wanted. We chatted as we went, but I was distracted by all the people.

I did notice that I felt hot, as if it were a hot day, but it wasn’t. We were in an airconditioned store. I felt threatened, and tense, hunched in on myself, as if to repel boarders who might try to pilfer our chocolate treats. I can make a joke of this now, but at the time it felt like I needed to be standing there with a cricket bat, to let people know not to mess with me.

And that would be the me who never learned how to defend himself. Who when he was a boy and everyone was picking on him, people told him he should learn to defend himself, to pound the living hell out of the bullies who tormented him in school and elsewhere, but who was too chicken to do anything about it, and wound up in a psychiatric unit to stew over his own cowardice.

But I was going to defend that trolley, from all these–from all these–just look at them all! Look at them, all around me, coming and going, all directions, and all of them talking and laughing and playing with their phones and I don’t feel okay I don’t feel okay mayday mayday my engines are out I’m going down mayday–

Then it’s cold and we’re in the Woolies meat section and you can smell chickens roasting and I’ve burst into horrifying sobbing tears, and Michelle has heard something odd and turned–

“Sweetie! Are you…?”

I’ve pulled over to the side. People are swooping and looping all around me, as if to keep me in place, and I can’t stop crying, and I feel hot and if there’s one thing I hate more than anything on Earth more even than Nazis it’s crying in public, and here I am in nuclear shame God, and I’m telling Michelle

“I feel so anxious!”

She gets me out of there.

I don’t remember what happened next. When I told my psychiatrist about it a long time later, he was shocked. I was shocked that the incident even happened. This sort of thing never happened to me. My post-marriage psychiatric profile was much more likely to feature loads of low-level depression, chronic tiredness, and feeling stuck to the couch like a stain. I didn’t get manic phases. I had good periods here and there punctuated by down phases. It had always seemed like the best I could hope for, that pharmaceutical science could do for me.

God knows, though, I had been nagging my doctor for years that I wanted to change my medication. I used to get, for more than twenty years, these godawful tension headaches that went on and on, sometimes for days, sometimes with such intensity that I threw up. I had every conceivable medical investigation, and they all came up empty. Medical science was officially baffled. Good luck with the future, Mr Bedford.

A neurologist who charged me $300 to walk in his door once suggested I try an experimental treatment involving Botox shots in my forehead. My headaches presented usually as a tight, squeezing, vise-like sense of agonising pressure across my forehead. This brainiac imagined that Botox would paralyse the nerves in the forehead. I was absolutely up for a medical experiment (who wouldn’t?) so I said yes. At the very least I thought it would make a good Facebook post.

The treatment involved 20 injections across my forehead, one after another, in a quick sequence. It hurt like you would not believe. The result looked like a chorus line of bees had stung me. But to no avail. I even had one of my notorious headaches during the treatment. The headaches laughed at the Botox, and went on merrily tormenting me, even if for six months I couldn’t frown to express my vexation.

I was pretty sure my medication was causing my headaches. Again and again I pleaded with my doctor to get me some new stuff. The headaches, for such a long time, were driving me nuts. I gave them a name, and a personality. I named them Mr H Ache, Concerned Citizen, a filthy, ghastly old man, living in a dirty old singlet and gaping, stained old y-fronts, with a bit of fag behind his ear, who spends altogether too much time writing Letters to the Editor of various newspapers, trafficking in conspiracy theories and crackpot notions. I figured Mr Ache would turn up at the front door every so often, a disliked relative, wanting to borrow money, and maybe to crash on the couch for a few days. I seriously wanted to be rid of Mr Ache.

But every time I asked my doctor to get me new medication, he said my existing meds (which at the time were carbamazepine and Clomipramine, which I’d been on for about 30 years) were working “well enough”.

It was more or less true. As I said: no manic phases. And only relatively mild depressive phases, rather than the full catastrophe. True, they brought with them some horrific side-effects in the Trouser Department, and the Weight Department, but those things aside, I was more or less okay. I could function in the world. I could work. I had six novels published, though to strictly modest sales.

But last year, he proposed the medication change to me. What had changed? The main thing was “the meat section incident”, which was greatly out of character for me. Things like that simply never happened to me. It’s true that I had never liked crowds, and there had been times when, for example, I’d experienced panic attacks in close situations while shopping. But the meat section incident was orders of magnitude worse. My doctor is my age, and has been a psychiatrist a long time. He’s seen everything. He’s even counselled hardened sex offenders in prison. He’s seen some things, man. You would think nothing would surprise him.

The meat section incident surprised him very much indeed, not for what happened but for whom it happened to.

Flash-forward to now: I’ve been on my current medication regimen for a bit more than seven months. I have some pressing concerns, but on the whole things are better than they were. I am calmer. My mood is consistently good. Not happy, but content. I can work well, and do all my jobs.

And I don’t get those headaches anymore. The few headaches I do get are easily dispatched with simple painkillers. They don’t put up a fight. I haven’t from Mr Ache wanting to borrow money in months. Life is better. Embrace change.

WEIRD KID: University

I’m in my first-year university Theatre Arts class, in about week one, I’m not sure. The instability has not yet begun to whirl, but the ingredients are present. The young woman I called Laura in my “regret” piece is here in this class with me. I am aware of her.

But then, as it happens, I’m aware of one very confronting fact: I am one of three guys in this class. The rest, about sixteen of them, are young women.

And I am not okay.

The class is conducted inside the Hayman Theatre, which, a long time ago in the university’s past, was a lecture theatre that was converted via the magic of scaffolding and wanting-it-to-be-so into a theatre space. It’s essentially a giant box of space, a bit like a gymnasium, only it has a concrete floor, and a permanent set of raked seats in three blocks, allowing two aisles.

The two other guys and all the girls are sitting near the front and in the middle. I’m on my own, out on the right, up in the middle. There is a lot of space around me.

I am so obviously seeking attention.

Sure, yes, got me in one. I retire from the field of battle, hurt.

I’m sitting out there because I’m freaking the hell out, and cannot explain exactly why. Or at least the hapless boy sitting there can’t explain why he feels so churned up, so under attack, so vulnerable. Wishing he could go and sit with everyone else so as not to be so obvious, so as not to stand out like a glowing chancre on God’s own dick.

But he can’t. He really can’t. To go over and sit with those girls would kill him. That’s what he thinks. He’d never say that in so many words, but that’s what he’s thinking.

It’s 1983. He’s 20 years old, he’s been clear of the hospital system now for four years, but is still very much in flux, unsettled, a bundle of waves, all peaks, troughs and sudden spikes. And girls are a problem. Girls remind him of high school, where, you might remember, he had a hard time.

You would think girls would also remind him of hospital where he met a great number of wonderful, strong, flawed, interesting, and very non-judgemental girls who did not treat him as filth, who treated him as a friend. You would think that, and a friendly Time Traveller passing by at this moment might even pass a message to the poor sap. “You can do this! You have faced worse. These girls are great!”

He’s doing his best, but he feels like he’s drowning, and he can’t touch bottom. This entire situation (being at university) is overwhelming him, flooding his system.

As for girls: he does know better. He does. He does remember the women he met in hospital, and the handful of friendly girls he knew in school. He’s also still reading every CLEO magazine he can get his hands on, and reading everything else he can find about women today and what they’re about.

But when he sees a whole bunch of them, sitting together like in theatre class, all he can think is that they’re going to notice that he has body odour, or bad breath, that his clothes are dirty and that he smells. Which is all the kind of thing he’s used to hearing. Puberty was a special hormonal hell for him, for me, even for ultra-cool “hey, girl, I’ve got a time machine!” Time Traveller me: my hormones went nuts, bonkers, off-the-scale. I could not stop sweating.

When I was a teenager, at one point I was so desperate I looked in the small ads in the back of women’s magazines for doctors who would surgically remove sweat glands. Such surgery did exist. My only question was what would it cost.

This is why I sat apart. I was scared of contact. Scared of closeness. Of even proximity.

The thing about theatre class, though, is that it’s about breaking down your individual resistance, and get you to work in a group or team. About building trust. So there are all kinds of exercises. I hated them all, they were so effective.

The one I hated most of all involved having to crawl over the bodies, lying end-to-end along the floor, of all your classmates. Which meant a great many women. Which meant huge clumsy grotesque me had to climb over women.

I think I may have been eligible for some sort of cringe-inducing award for apologies-per-second as I did my best to scramble as quickly and lightly as possible across the course in a state of desperate anxiety approaching out-and-out panic. This was as close to a nuclear scenario as I could imagine.

You might be surprised to learn that I actually did very well that first semester in that class. I came out of my shell, my cave. I began to interact with the other girls. I worked on a couple of the theatre’s professional productions, to gain technical backstage experience, which was fascinating. I hung out in the theatre and with theatre people as much as possible.

But by the end of that semester I had told Laura how I felt about her, and I was so sorry. The instability was in motion. I was enrolled for theatre next semester, and so was she. I lasted one class, and had to withdraw. The tension was unbearable. I spent months on end walking around with concrete blocks in my stomach, wishing I could fix what I had broken. Time refused to pass quickly enough, it simply would not.

As time did drag on, I continued to work as crew on various productions at the theatre, and even dabbled a bit in writing, with mixed results. One day I’d like to return to playwriting.

I often think of that poor bugger sitting off by himself in the theatre the way he did, the pressure he felt from within himself, as if from his very own internal Soviet political officer reminding him of Doctrine in the face of tempting and glamorous blandishments from the luxurious West. Look, over there they have pretty girls! Yes, Comrade, but we have Doctrine.

Let’s just say, I’m so glad the Wall fell.

BROKEN ARM

I had a broken arm and I was happy. I was chipper. I was over the moon. My arm did not even hurt that much. The radiology staff at the hospital I ended up at were so impressed with just how shattered my elbow was that they came out to the waiting area to tell me they hadn’t seen one that bad in ages. I thought, this is brilliant!

It was a Sunday in May, 2012. I was 49 and catastrophically fat. I would not begin my epic weight-loss campaign until December. Right this moment, sitting on a bench outside the radiology suite at Joondalup Health Campus that Sunday morning, I’m not too bothered about my weight, despite the likelihood that it had some bearing in what happened.

I told everyone who asked that I tripped over our dog. But that’s not precisely true. That morning, I got up to go to the loo in our ensuite. Our aging dog, Pixel, a blue heeler/kelpie cross, lay snoozing right across the narrow path I had to navigate between the end of the bed and a big chest of drawers. I would have to step over Pixel. I knew that was one of her Things, things she didn’t like, things to which she reacted poorly. So I was worried, even before I got to her.

She was asleep, so that was good. I might be able to achieve the Perfect Crime, and gently step over her, and get clean away with it. I had managed it on other occasions. It was mathematically possible. It was worth the risk.

This moment is one of those bank vault door moments in my life, unrecognised at the time but seen clearly since, great armatures around which your whole life pivots.

I held my breath and lifted my leg over Pixel, tension in my belly, probably clenching my teeth. I’m clenching my teeth right now, writing about it.

Pixel woke up, and saw immediately what I was attempting, what I was trying to get away with. I was balancing on one foot. She leapt into ferocious, barking, growling action, and tried to bite my hovering foot. I tried to move my foot out of the way. I was familiar with her bites. She had bitten my hands and feet many times, sometimes hard enough to draw blood. I was scared. And, in this split-second, losing my balance.

Pixel lunged at me, and you could hear her jaws snapping shut as she tried to bite me.

I’m falling, suddenly. There is no clear sequence in which you have Moment 1 where I am fine and still sturdily upright, and Moment 2 where I have lost my balance and am starting to topple. It’s more like there is a moment when both conditions happen together. I’m upright and I’m falling over. I’m a liquid man, yet somehow also made of a tangle of angles, and it’s all in a panic, it knows it’s lost its equilibrium bit believes the situation can be recovered with the application of mere panic and flailing. I’m making no sound. I can see the room tilting, angling around me, but I have no comment at this time.

Then the concrete floor rears up towards me and my left elbow hits it with a mighty crunching thump.

Then the rest of me clatters and thumps into the ground and at last me and my jumble of blubbery bits come to rest on the floor, in a stunned, silent, winded, confused heap, sitting against a wall.

Did I mention I’m just wearing undies? It’s a morning in May. It’s nearly winter. It’s cold. The floor under me and the wall I’m leaning against are very cold, and I have a flush of gooseflesh.

Pixel has cleared out of the impact zone.

Michelle stirs, sensing trouble. “Sweetie?”

I tell her I’m all right. Fell over. I’m concerned about my left elbow. Elbows shouldn’t feel like a crushed bag of potato chips, should they?

I pick my various parts up from the floor. The room takes some time to stabilise into a coherent picture around me. I climb back into the cold bed. Michelle complains that I’m cold. I lie there feeling my elbow.

We end up at an emergency GP surgery operating on a Sunday, who when he hears the gear-crunching sound in my elbow sends me to Joondalup Hospital, my arm in a flimsy sling.

I feel so happy. Sleepy, very strangely sleepy, but happy.

I’m happy all that day. People are all deeply impressed when they see the x-rays. Surgery is scheduled for that night. A junior surgery comes by my bed in the emergency ward and marks my arm with a Sharpie pen to indicate that this arm is the one with the problem.

While processing through the emergency system, I see a boy of about twelve, who also appears to have at least fractured his arm, in the course of playing a game of footy by the look of him (the team jersey is a giveaway). Where I am over-the-moon, even a bit loopy with happiness and excitement, this boy is in agony. The slightest movement destroys him, drains him of colour. We overhear that unlike me, this boy has cracked one of his actual long bones, whereas I’ve shattered a joint. There is nothing in my elbow joint to rub together to cause pain, or not very much. But for this poor wretch of a boy, mere existence truly is agony. He is sent home without surgery, his bone not sufficiently sundered even for a cast.

Meanwhile, I’m daydreaming about casts. What it’ll be like, what I’ll get people to write on it. This is the first time since I was a little boy and got hit by a car as I ran across the road after a bully and broke my collar-bone that I’ve had a broken bone of any sort. All through my childhood and teen years I saw all my mates and other kids get broken arms and legs, and for weeks they were the centre of attention, got their friends to write and draw all over their casts, and it all looked pretty good fun. Or so I thought, bitterly, jealously, at the time.

Once I came through my surgery, once I was conscious again, I was surprised and disappointed to see that I had only a “half-cast”: it was a plaster cast formed like a gutter, if you will, to cradle my elbow. It didn’t wrap all the way around. There was very little exposed surface for anyone to write on.

One thing, though: I had the most awesome bruising in the world. It took a few days to fully develop, but at its most majestic, in its fullest flowering, it stretched, black and navy blue and sickest purple, from the upper reaches of my shoulder all the way down my arm to the palm of my hand. You could not have done a better job with a sick sense of humour and a paint roller.

This is all interesting and all, but I’ve left out the key point: what was I so damned happy about that day? Part of it was the juvenile thought of having people scribble on my cast (though who, exactly, I have no idea–I’m not known for my social butterfly ways), and part, undoubtedly, was stupid dumb shock.

But most of it, I think, was much more subtle, more profound: for the first time in decades I had something hugely VISIBLE wrong with me. I LOOKED SICK.

All my post-diagnosis life I’ve been a sick guy who doesn’t look sick. Who has had people reassure him endlessly that he seems perfectly fine, which is no reassurance at all. You don’t tell regular people they look well. Telling a sick person they look well seems a bit like telling a migrant to your country that they speak good English: it draws attention to their difference.

Or maybe I’m just picky and disagreeable. That could be. What I do know is that I absolutely loved “having a prop” to use, like an actor, doing “stage business” performing the part of a man with something wrong with him. It was exhilarating, and I was a little disappointed when it was over and I had to go back to my “civilian” life.

During my hospitalisation, surgery, recovery and agonising five-month rehab for this injury, in which I was up against a major ordeal to get my arm function back (long story short: I got back 100% function in the joint; the therapists were deeply impressed with my commitment to the process. I said I was getting my arm back, no matter what, dammit), I posted about the whole experience, beginning to end, on my Facebook feed.

Last year, when I was admitted to hospital for the medication change process, I decided to document that experience, the entire thing, for good or ill, no matter what, in the very same way. Because, from my point of view, it is profoundly the same sort of thing. They are both medical procedures. One of them involved an orthopaedic surgeon who cracked jokes and used power-tools, and the other involved a squad of psychiatrists, more medications than I can remember, and a sense of deep interiority that is hard to articulate–but they are the same thing. In both cases I was a car sent to the garage and put up on the hoist to have the wheels rebalanced, the sump drained, and all the rest of it. It’s the same thing, so here I am writing about this experience, too. It’s my life, and it might be yours, too.

REGRET

Do you have regrets? Have you done things in your past that, more than anything in the world you wish you could take back, to not have done, or to have done differently, honourably? A heart you broke you would unbreak and restore if only you could?

If only, say, you had a time machine?

Well. Where to begin?

It was sometime in the 1990s. I was talking to my psychiatrist. I was trying to explain to him why I felt quite so catastrophically awful.

“There was this girl.”

We went back and forth about this, him trying to understand why a girl I loved ten years ago was bothering me so much now. In the end, he told me, “Write about it.” He sent me home with instructions to sit down and write out, in longhand no less, the whole story of what happened between me and this girl. And bring the finished piece to my next appointment for him to read.

I had to write about it? I could barely talk about it. How could I write about it? The enormity of what I had done wrong, my betrayal, weighed on me, made me feel sick. I did a real shitty, cowardly thing to a lovely young woman who deserved much better from someone who said he was her friend. That weight had been bearing down on me this whole time.

I don’t deserve to be telling this story. It should be hers to tell. But I doubt she’d even speak to me, all these 30-something years later.

If I had a time machine, there are two precise moments I would visit.

I went home after that visit with my doctor, wondering how the hell I would even begin to write this story. Because I felt so torn up inside about these events that I imagined I would begin to cry and never stop.

I was a melodramatic drama queen in those days. All I knew was that it felt somehow threatening, even life-threatening, to address this matter in writing, to pull it out of me like a tumour using only a spoon. It occurs to Present DY Me that this might well have been my doctor’s exact idea. To extract the poison, to reveal the thing in its true scale, the look behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, to reveal the feeble little old man.

Which is not to say the people involved here, or their concerns or their feelings, are in anyway less than consequential. But in my case, the guilt I felt might have been casting a greater shadow over my life than the actual incidents might have justified.

One day, I sat down, all knots and grimaces and tension, with a pad of paper and a pen that I nearly broke from holding it so tight, and began to write the story, as if in blood, of what happened between a young woman I’ll call Laura and the bastard she thought was her friend Adrian, who committed the sin of falling in love with her.

The actual matter of the thing is simple. Laura was a beautiful young woman with a love for literature and theatre. She wanted to be an actress, so was in the theatre, where I met her. I liked her a lot from the beginning. We got on well.

But there was another guy, we’ll call him John, who, in the wake of a breakup with his girlfriend, took a shine to Laura. John and Laura were soon an item–until they were not. John’s original girlfriend might have been pregnant. He dumped Laura, and went back to her. Laura was left reeling, beyond hurt.

And there was I, the steady friend.

God, but this is terrible to write. You can see how it’s going to play out. One thing will lead to the next. But what’s complicating it is this is 1983, only four years since I left hospital. I’m still, at this point, trying to settle down with my medication regime. I’m also living on campus, away from home, and keeping strange, not-healthy hours. My life is a flaming mess, but of course none of that excuses what I did, or how I did it.

I wrote on. My arm and hand burned, scorching the paper.

Laura and I became close. We got together, ostensibly to provide her with comfort and a chance to talk about John. Funny, though, how that wound up including a kiss.

John claimed, later, that he saw that kiss. Or at least that he knew about it. I have no idea what to make of this claim.

Laura and I continued to meet. My feelings grew. As far as I could tell, she could not tell how I was really feeling. It was my secret.

Time unspooled. Life went on. We all, in our groups and classes, did our things. We also all hung out and had fun together, quite a group of nerdy, geeky artsy types. I kept staring at Laura. My feelings were growing like a cancer.

One afternoon, at the old and long-gone bus station, we were finished for the day, Laura, Shaun and me. Laura was heading off to get her bus home. I knew then my diagnosis. I had feelings. I loved her.

It was the most awful thing. It was the worst thing I have ever realised about myself, the self-horror of it, wishing for a bolt of lightning or air strike to kill you where you stand. As Laura vanished into the distance, I told Shaun I needed to talk to him tonight. He looked puzzled, concerned, seeing the look on my face, but said sure.

This is the first of my time machine moments. I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have gone home, and borne my misery. Told my parents, sure, but no-one else. I should have written out my tormented feelings and burned the pages.

One of our favourite hangouts was one floor in what used to be the City Arcade building that was entirely empty. An entire floor, with nothing but light and carpeting, and we seemed to be the only people who knew about it, we merry, sneaky few. We all hung out up there many a time. Shaun and I went up there that night, and I told Shaun about my Big Terrible Feelings. He was a great friend about it, and remains a marvellous guy.

I decided that night that the following morning I would phone Laura and confess.

What the hell was I thinking?

My second time machine moment is that phone call that morning. Time Traveller Adrian would sit on that bloody idiot, would wrap him gaffer tape, would break his arms and legs, would rip out the phone line and throw the phone itself out the window. I would do anything and everything, maybe even murder, if Past Me was going to be that difficult about it.

I understand how Past Me felt. I knowhow wretched he felt, how he felt he had let down his friend by allowing his feelings to grow. She had just been betrayed by John, and now again by me. Bloody brilliant friending job, Adrian

Even so, my Past Self should have told Laura, if at all, in person, gently, not over the phone, not in tears, not in apology, not making such a selfish-prick arse of the job.

My psychiatrist, when years later, we talked about it, struggled to understand exactly what I had done wrong. “Did you attack her?” “No. Of course not.” “Did you rape her?” “God no!” He went on like that, trying to get me to see his point, which was, “falling in love with a girl, even in such circumstances, is not the worst thing you could have done.”

It was good to write about it. He was right about that. And despite my producing 17 pages of agonising handwriting, he didn’t read it. The point of the exercise was for me to spoon out the tumour, as I said. It was big, but it wasn’t as enormous as I imagined. I was still a shit. I wronged Laura.

It haunts me, that moment, all these years later. Until all that happened, I’d been doing pretty well at university, and enjoying everything. But suddenly everything was unbearable. I left the theatre. I wound up taking most of second-year off entirely, and just did a handful of electives. My health suffered. I tried and tried to apologise to Laura, unsurprisingly to little effect. She’s never spoken to me since. She hasn’t been one of the people from the past whose looked me up on Facebook.

This was the beginning of what I call the “whirling instability”. I never recovered. In the end, by third-year, even though I was back doing a full study load again, my emotional life was damaged, as ruined, as it ever had been. I withdrew and went home to heal, ashamed of myself.

Of course there are no time machines. Their absence means we have to take responsibility for what we do. And I wish to hell I had not done all this to that wonderful young woman. I hope she recovered and went on to a decent life.

UNRELIABLE

One bright, hard, sunny day, a day of judgement, in 1984, during my second year of university, I was called into the city, to Supreme Court Gardens, to meet a friend I’ll call Teresa. She wanted to speak to me urgently about her sister, who I’ll call Jessica.

I was on time, too nervous and apprehensive to risk lateness. Teresa had a somewhat formidable air about her, I thought. She was the eldest sister, and was studying physiotherapy (this is not what the real person here was studying; I’m being careful) at the same university where I was doing theatre and creative writing. I knew her because she was involved with a friend I knew in the theatre.

The theatre crowd at Curtin University was very social, and was always having parties and get-togethers, especially after shows, which meant most nights. Middle-aged Time Traveller Me looks back on all that socialising with a certain horror. I could probably get as far as the door, wave at a few familiar, friendly faces, smile a bit, might conceivably accept a tiny drink, but then, sorry, yes, sorry, have to be getting back, it’s late, you know, early start in the a.m. All the things you say when the truth is you just plain can’t do social anymore. You like all those people, you enjoy their company, but really you’d rather stay home.

So I head back to my time machine and blip forward a bit to eavesdrop on this meeting between Teresa and me.

You see, the thing is, in the course of these social get-togethers to do with the theatre, both the ones in the lobby of the Hayman Theatre itself (with all that Brutalist concrete and ghastly carpet) and the private parties at people’s homes, Teresa started bringing her younger sister Jessica along to meet some of her friends, especially those few of us she sometimes called “the triumvirate”, because there were three of us, and we liked to hold forth. We might have been more liable to think of ourselves as Three Stooges, Three Musketeers, or Three Amigos (Harry, Shaun and me), but Teresa decided, and who were we to argue?

Teresa’s younger sister was, I think, about 17 and I was about 21. I liked her. She was quiet, and seemed piercingly intelligent, with watchful, miss-nothing eyes. We talked a bit over a series of group meetings. We seemed to get along. We even started to correspond. She went on an exchange trip to Berlin, and sent me interesting, chewy letters about her adventures. It was all pretty neat.

But there were two essential problems with this picture.

One was that Teresa and Jessica came from a wealthy family living in a very old, conservative, rich part of Perth. I was lucky once to visit their house, their lovely old pile of a house, and poor, working-class I was duly reminded of my place in the social order of things, just from looking around. It was breathtaking. Lovely, but forbidding.

The other essential problem was a more delicate matter, hence Teresa’s request for a meeting.

We sat on a bench in the manicured grounds of Supreme Court Gardens. It was sunny and warm, and I had no idea what was going on. I thought it was very odd that Teresa would want to see me without her boyfriend (I was closer to her boyfriend than to her), but I figured she would explain. I liked her greatly. I admired very much her chosen career, having worked closely with people in that line of work while in hospital five years before, and I had a deep respect for the profession, much as I also have profound respect for nurses.

We chatted lightly, both aware that this was an odd situation, even, perhaps, a little inappropriate, considering I was meeting her alone, without her boyfriend present. I was still, amidst the light fencing, trying to read some intentions.

Then she simply came right out with it.

Teresa told me I had to give up my interest in Jessica. That there could be no relationship, and that was that.

If she had walloped me with a ten-kilogram frozen tuna I would not have been more astonished, or hurt. Once I got over my surprise, my shock. Once I could look up from the grass, and look at her, without my heart in my mouth, I asked her how come?

And here it came. It was because of me and my sinister secret. She and her family didn’t care much about my poor, working-class background, but they would not tolerate someone who was mentally ill being involved with their daughter.

She told me this in a very controlled, level, calm tone. She meant business. There was not a speck of the warmth of friendship in it. It was about the family, and who could be in and who could not.

She told me, “You’re unreliable, Adrian.”

By which she meant my illness. My moods. She would have seen my whirling instability up close for months. I was not well. I should not have been at university. In first-year university I got caught up in a doomed, unrequited love thing that I handled in the worst ways imaginable, and deeply regret, and by 1984 was starting to settle down a bit, enough to see some hope for the future. To see that Jessica might be that future. I was looking forward at last. I did not for one moment, at the time, stop to think that Teresa might have a point, that she might be right.

But me, the Time Traveller, watching this meeting from behind the lemon-scented gum-tree near the bench, watching the way Teresa looks so put-together, so business-like, so, you might say, “dressed to kill”, while my Past Self is just a bundle of raw nerves who can’t sit still, who can’t see himself, but does understand, deep inside, secretly, that he’s a screwup, that he’s made a mess of his emotional life, and deeply hurt people he cares about and he can’t do anything to make it up to those people. And now this, this “unreliable” thing. That hurts like nothing else.

It hurts because it’s true.

WRITING AS SYMPTOM, AS MADNESS

I’m watching my teenage self writing, and I’m worried. Desperately worried. How could no-one back in this time not see what I can see plain as day? Teenage Adrian, starting at around age fourteen, is in a prolonged manic phase, and it’s manifesting as endless writing, or at least typing.

When I was fourteen, as I think I have said previously, I formed the intention to become a published author of science fiction novels, to be a serious writer. I was reading constantly in the genre, loved it madly (if anything, I loved it too well), and wanted to traffic in it. At the time I thought my constant writing was teenage enthusiasm and commitment, but when I look back, when I go back to see myself, and see what I was going through, I see not enthusiasm and commitment; I see illness. I see mania.

Later, when I was I was about 18, and had discovered how to write at novel length, I took to sitting in an arm chair with my portable typewriter in my lap, on a tea-tray, much the way you’d sit today with a laptop, or as I sit with an iPad (though I’m writing this piece in bed), but when I was 14-15, I sat at a desk, on a hard wooden kitchen chair, and I had a constant, blazing pain in my neck, back, and up the back of my head. I was usually dosed up in something like Dencorub or Deep Heat rubbing goop, and on painkillers. The thought of not writing, of taking some time off for a few hours, to rest up a bit, did not rate a mention, though my parents did try.

When I had the time spare, I wrote. If I had a day spare, I wrote for the whole day. It drove my parents, especially my poor dad, my untreated, edgy dad, crazy with agitation. “Knock it off! You’ve been at it all bloody day! Are you nearly finished?” Banging on the wall or my bedroom door.

It was great, much later, when I got my first electronic typewriter, because it had a silent mode. It was bliss!

What is the difference between enthusiasm and mania? When at age 16 I was admitted to the D20 psychiatric unit at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, I took the typewriter with me. I was in a shared room with three other men. But I still wrote and wrote and wrote. One thing I was working on in that period was trying to use science fictional artwork, such as paintings used for book covers, as inspirations for stories. There was a monthly magazine from Britain at the time, with the imaginative title, SF MONTHLY, which published a lot of book cover artwork, which I snaffled into my inspiration files.

So when nobody was around in my room, and when I could get away with it (ie, when I wasn’t supposed to be at a group therapy sort of thing) I wrote and wrote and wrote, same as always.

And I thought I was getting clean away with it.

Years later, my mum told me a surprising thing: my hospital doctors were reading my writing. I knew that they examined all the artwork produced by patients in the art therapy groups for signs of what was happening in their minds, but I had not ever known that they were also reading my numerous failed bits of stories. Mum said the doctors told her, approvingly, that over time they could see a marked improvement in the coherence of my thinking, in my state of mind, from when I was first admitted (only a few weeks after my Vesuvian breakdown) to when I was discharged four months later.

That period of manic graphomania, which is what I think it might have been, has never come back. Effective medication and treatment killed it off. One great thing about even my old medication regime (the one I went to hospital last year to change for a new regime) was that it shut down manic phases completely. I still had mild depressive phases, but no manic ones. So writing became a much more sober, considered sort of exercise. I could choose to do it, or choose not to do it. Which is a choice I didn’t have when I was fourteen.

TIME TRAVEL: Memory and Memoir

I have always been interested in time travel. My earliest memories include not just watching men in bulky white suits bouncing around on the Moon, but also Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who, battling Cybermen. I understood, even as a very little kid, that he could travel in time as well as through space. How I could understand, I do not know. It seems like an advanced concept to me now. Though I have written about fictional time travel many times (most successfully in my books about beleaguered time machine repair man Spider Webb, starting with TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT), I have no real grasp of how it might in fact happen, what it might look like, how it might feel, or anything. I’ve read lots of popular science books, and I can just about wrap my brain around the ideas of “closed timelike curves”, and the distinction between “timelike” and “spacelike”, but as I am lacking a grasp of the fundamentals of physics, I’m stuck. I tend to think of my time travel books as fantasy books more than science fiction, primarily because, for all that they go on about quantum this and nano-that, it’s plainly obvious that the stories run on magic. I need time travel to work to make the stories go, so here it is, working. And, oh look, here it is not working, hence the need for a repair guy.

I think about time and time travel a lot. I stand in places and imagine time passing. I imagine what it would be like to spend twenty-four hours in just one spot, watching time pass. I visit the same spot every day for several days, just to see how it’s different each time, how the passage of time has changed it. I think about car accidents, where but for a matter of seconds, or even split-seconds, everything would be different. If person A had done something just a moment earlier or later, how everything would turn out differently. Single moments when gigantic consequences pivot about like bank vault doors.

I have often thought about time travelling into my own past, generally with the intent of giving my gormless younger selves a kick in the arse. For one thing I would attempt to persuade my teenage, writing-mad self that he should allow for the possibility that there might be more opportunities in mainstream or literary writing than in science fiction, that he could do both.

I have often thought, too, about my life, about my memories, the residue of what I’ve experienced, and it has often been dismaying how little remans, or seems to remain, from what I was pretty sure were rich and complex experiences. Why is there not more to show for all of that? Why am I left with these lousy snapshots? What do I do with these? When I think about these fragmentary bits and pieces, they often resemble, to me at least, fragments of film, or maybe very old snapshots (like the photos I remember from the 1940s-1960s, tiny things, smaller than a playing card, often black and white), random detritus of the sort you might find in a drawer belonging to someone who’s died.

What would it be like to time travel back across my life? To inspect the whole thing, from my earliest days, to now, my nervous present? What would the middle-aged grown adult novelist time traveller see when visiting the past that the poor bastard trying to make it through that day doesn’t or didn’t see?

And just how reliable is memory? Is it reliable at all? Is it more like what we have left of dreams after we wake in the mornings? How many times have I had (sometimes under the influence of amazing psychoactive medications) extraordinary, cinematic dreams that seemed, at the time, coherent and vivid, only to wake and find myself clutching at dissolving threads from a rich but inaccessible tapestry? Memories seem like this to me, the veil between now and the past like the one between waking experience and sleep.

But I’m trying to write about my life here. I’m trying to tell you the truth about it. I’m digging down into my emotional grease-trap to find you things I’ve told either nobody or only my psychologist. There are things I’ve been dying to tell, and here I am telling them–but are they true? Did they happen? Am I making it up?

I don’t think so. I hope not. I remember something like these stories, but often even as I’m writing I’m aware of selection and omission for the sake of storytelling. There are details I’m highlighting for dramatic purposes, and others that I’ve left out. The people I’ve mentioned, whether by their real names, false names, or no names at all, all did and do exist. The events did occur. But I worry. After I’ve written one of these pieces, I stew and brood over it. Some of them I’ve rewritten, and some I’ve rewritten almost completely, and I expect to rewrite at least some of them again in the course of making all this into a proper book.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about writing memoir. They all talk about this problem, about dealing with truth, about trying to wrestle it to the ground, that it’s elusive because the actual truth is none of us remember everything in precise, encyclopaedic detail (such as, for example, the poor bastard in Borge’s story, “Funes the Memorious” who was cursed with complete, detailed memory of everything, all the time, ever). We all have gaps, sometimes big gaps.

Sometimes the best we can do is less render exactly what happened than to show how it felt when that happened. How it felt to be you when that happened. How does it feel to be you? What’s it like?

Tonight, as I write these words, I’m feeling very tired though it’s early in the evening. I’m here on my own, with only my dog Freckle for company; she’s fast asleep on the end of the couch. I’m preoccupied with concern that a medication my psychiatrist started me on, Topamax, is making me feel uncommonly edgy and a bit nervy. It’s not a comfortable feeling. It’s hard to sit still. I’m wondering what I’m going to tell my doctor when I see him on Monday, because Topamax is also meant to be good for weight-loss, which is one of my major focuses.

That’s my truth at the moment. If Time Traveller Adrian showed up right now, he’d find Freckle and me here on the couch. He’d see me sitting here with a blanket around me, and the iPad I’m using to write all this in my lap. He’d probably notice that I look annoyed at his presence, but he, a traveller in time, constantly turning up in the lives of other people unannounced and unwelcome, would be used to that.

I like to think he’d be pleased to find me working even though I’m not at my best, that I’m not using my not-okay-ness as an excuse for not working. The

Time Traveller would have seen me last year in hospital, too, when I was silenced, when there were no incoming signals in the writing part of my head, and how awful that was, how existentially challenging it was in the most profound way. During that time I did not think I’d ever write again, but here I am, every day now since 19 May, writing at least one piece each day, and sometimes two (this is my second for today) and I have about three or four “stubs” for pieces on various topics for days when I can’t think of a topic. To me, and probably to the Time Traveller, too, this busy activity must seem amazing. I consider asking him to blip back to last year, to tell my Past Self that it’s going to be okay–but I don’t, because I don’t remember anything like that ever happening. Plenty of people did assure me that it would come back, told me that it was just that my brain was fully occupied with Everything going on.

I am not yet done with this project. As of this unquiet, difficult Topamax night, it’s 23 June, and I think I’m around halfway through this maze, maybe a bit more. I’m kind of making it up as I go. Wish me luck.

A TITLE SUGGESTS ITSELF

Ever since this journalling project started looking more like a basis for a book, like a memoir, I’ve been trying to think of a good title for it.

The first working title I came up with, some time back, was WORK IN PROGRESS, which played on my being a writer, as well as the state of my, for want of a better word, “case”, “treatment”? Something that was still very much not yet finished, not yet at its destination, the “battle” (and oh my, how I do hate all war/battle-related terminology) still playing itself out, and who knows, the illness may yet win, as it does with altogether too many other people, especially men, in my situation.

But as time ground on, I started thinking of other possibilities. A TOUGH NUT TO CRACK was a funny one I suggested to Michelle purely in jest.

Then, more recently, thinking about a book about writing, and especially about memoir and creative nonfiction my friend and sometime publisher Georgia Richter sent me, STILL LIFE WITH TEAPOT, by Brigid Lowry, I stumbled across the idea for a title like, STILL LIFE WITH MEDICATION. This went over well with my friends on Facebook, but I thought it much too derivative of Lowry’s excellent title. It felt too easy, and uncomfortably like a betrayal.

So I kept the creative compost turning over. I go for lots of what I’ve taken to calling Thinking Walks (ie, when I walk up to the local 7-11 to get a robo-iced coffee for $2, a 2 km walk), because I get lots of good thinking, especially about writing, during these walks.

And during today’s Thinking Walk it hit me: RANDOM ACCESS MEMOIR: A Time Traveller Explores His Life with Mental Illness.

The idea being that, just as I’ve been writing these pieces in a nonlinear way, so would the book be organised. Where I have references in the text of a piece to another piece (eg, to the piece about my dad’s “messing about with boats” phase) that might be in bold print, and/or have a page reference you could jump to, and at the other end a page reference so you could jump back, so it would be like hypertext, or like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book.

That’s enough for now. I have the extraordinary experience of my brain or mind “fizzing”!

FAT AS ARMOUR

I’ve been fat, to varying extents, my whole life, so for 54 years. I was a fat baby. I was a fat little kid. Around age ten I dropped a bunch of weight when I succumbed to gastroenteritis for a couple of weeks of ghastliness, and that caused me lose a whole bunch of weight, but only because I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach. Once the illness passed, the weight returned, tanned and fresh-looking, as if it had been on a lovely holiday.

During my bonkers “walking to Fremantle” phase in the late 1980s, I lost a great deal of weight, and gained a terrific degree of fitness. It got so that I could walk from where the hideous and huge new Perth Convention Centre is now, around Mounts Bay Road, along the edge of the river, to the kiosk at Matilda Bay, in 19 minutes flat. It was a really vigorous walk, and I loved doing it, trying to improve my time.

But then, as I have said, I got what became a series of jobs, which left me so exhausted by close of business each day that I couldn’t face all that walking. I went straight home, pining for the afternoon breeze off the sparkling river. And, over time, the weight found me again, as if magnetically attracted.

In school, being fat was a serious problem. It was actively offensive. It was intolerable. It was, in fact, un-Australian. Every day, in amongst the torrent of abuse I was always getting from the usual suspects, the main theme was that I was so fat it was grotesque. One day in high school, a young man who has since gone on to lead one of our most important emergency services, ventured that I was so fat, if you were to punch me in my gut, your hand and arm would be trapped in there, the suction would keep it in there, and you could only get your arm back with surgery.

Then there was the weekly misery of what was variously called “sport” or “phys ed”. I hated these experiences to a degree that is difficult to convey without using scientific notation. The idea was that kids shouldn’t only sit around with their heads in books (whereas this sounded great to me), but that they should get out on a regular basis in the sunshine, and play compeitive games, and do a bit of athletics, and maybe develop a bit of muscle tone in our pasty, useless bodies.

Yes, but to do that, first we had to change in sports gear, and that meant all the boys in one, and all the girls in the other. It was unbearable. The embarrassment. Usually, you go out of your way to dress, to pose, to carry yourself to minimise how fat you are, to make yourself look as small as possible. But in the change room, there are no secrets. Everything about everybody becomes common knowledge, and gosh, isn’t it just bloody hilarious! All the non-fat guys had a great time horsing about, laughing and joking, but for the people like me, it was more a question of making sure we didn’t become one of those jokes.

Because, to explain the joke: it’s funny because Bedford is so fat, he’s enormous, and no girl will ever have anything to do with him, because realistically why would she, especially when she has choices like us? That’s the joke, you see? She can have Bedford, the white whale, or she can have one of us, and we’ll treat her right!

I heard this early and often. One thing that did not help was that in first-year of high school, my parents had me wear long shorts instead of the trousers everyone else was wearing. They looked and felt ridiculous, and drew attention to the “comical” aspect of my size. Everywhere I went, people talked about my shorts. There was no respite, not until I finally managed to nag Mum and Dad long enough and hard enough to get them to get me the damned trousers.

But of course, we’re playing Whack-a-Mole. Take away one thing to torment you about, they come up with something else. And so it goes, never ending, right up until I left high school.

I did lose a good chunk of weight in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, mainly by exercising like a crazy person during my manic phases. Because I had to something with the energy and it wasn’t as if I could just take a seat and read for a while, I had to be doing something, I had to be running or jumping or going for endless walks around and around the psych unit, which a square structure around a pretty courtyard. All I wanted was exhaustion, but that was the last thing I could have, at least in those states. But, like I say, good for weight-loss.

Well, that is until hour newly prescribed medication starts piling your weight back on, and then some, as if your account had accrued interest.

As of right now, tonight, I’m in the middle of of a fearsome, desperate struggle with my weight. A few weeks ago, as I posted recently, it had climbed from about 114 up to 127 kg. As of today, as a result of brutal discipline and very careful eating, and lots and lots of sustained fasting, I’m back to 121.5. I think I might be able to reach 114 again. It feels like the fight of my life. It means I’m hungry almost all the time, though. That’s hard to get used to. You have to deliberately not care that you’re hungry, that you can eat again tomorrow. You leave the body to eat its own vast fat reserves.

I think often about this fat of mine, that I’ve been carrying around with me in one form or another, all my 54 years. It’s been a faithful companion in many ways, and does seem a part of me, at least in some ways, but in other ways it feels like something hostile, malevolent, or at least sinister, like it’s up to no good here on my planet.

I also wondered, just today while doing laps at my local pool, in part to help lose the weight, about whether body fat becomes like a kind of armour.

This thought struck me as at least interesting so I spent some time on it. What sort of armour? I wondered. Against what kinds of threat or attack. That didn’t make a lot of sense, since in my own experience fat only draws attacks to you, makes you even more of a target, and it certainly doesn’t protect your secret inner self from cruelty and unkindness. So fat is certainly not any sort of defensive armour, as far as I can tell.

But then I thought: what if it’s keeping something inside that wants or needs to come out? What if something has been in there all along but the fat has always been in the way, silencing, suffocating? What if your true, authentic self, or something like it, the version of you that you would love to be if you weren’t so big, bulky, full of doubt and interior terrors linked to things people have told you about your weight?

Not every fat person is unhappy, I know very well. I know a few who have great lives, and I envy them their self-possession, their poise, and their kick-arse attitude. I have never had those things. My fat has always been a suffocating thing wrapped around me, keeping me contained, smothered, held back. I’m only now, since starting to write again, and starting to mKe some headway on my weight-loss again, starting to feel something like my authentic self coming through at last, from the shattered remains left over from last hear’s ordeal.

My goal weight is 100 kg. Have already lost 44 kg. When I get to that 100 kg figure, I’m going skydiving.