MEMOIR: ME VERSUS GIRLS (Third Draft)

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS GIRLS (Third Draft)

Her name was Lynette, and she was the dreamiest girl in grade six. She was blonde and otherworldly yet still somehow accessible, though I’m a little unsure how I knew that since she and I never just about never spoke, as far as I can remember. I think we may have touched hands once, clammy and warm and soft and fleeting, but I don’t know that that was her, exactly. I have only the briefest impression of her, less a small black a white photo in a box than a dim recollection of having once seen such a box, and seen her photo in that box. But I do remember her, and that was her name, and she was “my” girl, the first one who ever mattered to me, who made my heart all nervous-bird fluttery. She was neat and special and I liked her so much I would never tell my parents about her. Because they would fuss. It would be excruciating.

Anyway, the salient point here is that Lynette never knew, or even suspected, that she moved my world. That I lay awake at night thinking about her. That I sat in class between morning recess and lunchtime, wondering if I’d see her. Wondering if I’d have the nerve even to mumble an awkward hello. That I was attracted to her like a magnet.

Lynette was the first girl I ever had anything resembling “feelings” about. I knew nothing about her. I knew nothing about books she liked, TV shows she liked, music she liked, her favourite meals, where she lived, nothing. She was mysterious. Not only did I never even get to first base, I could not even find the change-room. Couldn’t locate my car-keys to go out that day. I only ever saw her at school, from a distance, in passing, but she was a vision, and that vision sustained me, and got me through bad days.

I still think fondly of Lynette because I never learned anything about her to spoil the image I always had. She never became a real person. She was, in a way, the first celebrity I ever encountered, all surface image. I have no doubt that she was as lovely a person as she appeared, but I never knew for sure. We were never introduced. This was the hurly-burly world of grade six, after all. Life moved fast. Next thing it was grade seven, and while on one hand we had at last become kings of the school, we were too busy being preoccupied–and shit-scared–by the thought that next year we would all be first-years in high school. I don’t recall seeing Lynette anytime after grade six, and certainly not in high school.

High school changed everything. It was like the transition between geological epochs. Things were different now. The air was different, the light was different. Everything was brighter, more fraught, more intense, more terrifying. The stakes were higher. Everything mattered now in a way it had not before. Primary school now seemed like clownish rehearsals for an amateur theatre production; high school seemed like opening night on the West End.

And as everything was changing, so were we. Puberty had arrived, erupting in all of us, but acting differently from person to person. Some it rendered monstrous (sticks hand up); some it rendered impossibly gorgeous, handsome and sexy. It was astonishing. You could just about smell the storming hormones blasting through everyone as you walked around. Some kids seemed to revel in it, enjoying it, playing up their sexual feelings; others, like me, felt confused and bashful, blushing and sweating profusely, and growing out of my clothes all the time.

High school was, it often seemed, was much less about academic education, and about some other sort of education instead. There was a throbbing undercurrent even shambling, sweaty lumps like me could perceive (and desperately, pathetically want somehow to be part of, if truth be told). You knew who was with whom. You knew who was popular. You knew so,e girls seemed to have a waiting list. You knew some really vile guys (often the sort of guys who would help bullies, or otherwise clap and cheer bullies in their projects) who had no problems getting girlfriends, and you wondered how the hell they did that? What did the girls see in guys like that?

Some couples at lunchtime would lie around on blankets on the lawns and make out as if all alone, no doubt relishing the public display they were making. Teachers and admin frowned on such behaviour, but it never stopped anyone. The only thing I never saw was actual sex. Nobody dared go that far on the lawn outside the Manual Arts Block. But then you heard through the school grapevine that there were kids having actual sex out by the back fence of the school grounds, and using recycled Glad lunch-wrap and rubber-bands as makeshift prophylactics. The guys involved were said to be absolute legends, and the girls were slack slags. There were always rumours surrounding such stories of accidental pregnancy from the Glad Wrap breaking, but I never heard or saw proof. I did, though, hear of a great number of girls who were widely dismissed and derided on account of extreme alleged sexual activity. It was normal at the time, but was still shocking to hear boys around me talking about girls in the class this way, based on no facts, no information. Just malice. Hatred. It was the sort of thing that made me start not liking guys. Because guys could be monsters and think nothing of it. It was chilling.

I liked girls, but at least in high school they didn’t much like me. I don’t blame them, to be honest. I was a hopeless case. I had no idea how to interact with them. Advice like, “just be yourself” was no use because I had no idea how to even begin just being myself. At the time I was a kid who wrote terrible science fiction stories all the time and wanted to work up to writing novels. I also read every science fiction novel I could get my hands on. My bedroom was covered, wall to wall, in sf artwork. I also had a 4.5-inch reflector telescope. On cold, still, late nights after the street lights were turned off (after 1:30am) I would take the clanky, cumbersome thing and its tripod out to the backyard and spend a chilly couple of hours staring in bliss at stars, planets, and anything else I could find that looked interesting. This is who I was when I was home. This was me being myself. I was a deeply “interior” kind of person. There were not many hooks where a notional girl might attack herself. Unless she was also a geek, into astronomy and science fiction. These days that would not be a problem. But back in the 1970s it seemed unimaginable. I felt I had a big brand across my forehead: UNDATEABLE.

And it didn’t help that I fundamentally did not understand girls. I was extremely curious about them, interested, not just in a hormonal, sexual way (I was a teenage boy and the nights were long, let’s just say), but in the sense of simply having a relationship, a companion, of having someone in your life beyond a friend, beyond even a best friend. I was lonely. I wanted someone who would look at the shambles of me and not immediately throw up. Who would smile, and extend her hand.

There were a few girls in high school who were nice. It wasn’t all bad. The problem I had was largely with me, and how I saw myself, the extent to which I bought into what the bullies had been telling me every day for years. Most girls, as I say, avoided me. I was ill-mannered, had no conversational skills, didn’t know how to chat, share a joke, just get along like a regular person. I later, once I ended up in hospital, had to learn all this in an actual class (see my piece about “Group Therapy”). Plus I was always sweating, because I was a hormone fountain. The endocrine gods were fickle. Some people they transformed into gods and goddesses; others they turned into cave trolls and toads. I would have given my right arm to have been even a cave troll.

Then one day in the middle of high school, a weird thing happened that led to one of the nastiest experiences of my life. I was having lunch with some misfit buddies one day when this older girl comes by with her friends. They’re all smiling and laughing. The older girl smiles and tells me, and it’s definitely me she singles out here, that she fancies me–but then she and her friends flounce off and are soon lost in the crowd.

I was astonished. In a way it was like a great many dreams I’d had. Neautiful woman appears out of nowhere, professes undying love, swoons at your feet, roll credits. Typical teenage boy fantasy. And here was an event kind of in that genre. The gods had leaned down from Olympus and touched you in a very deliberate way. It messed me up inside, to say the least. My buddies were also amazed. I did not know what to think. I was stunned. I remembered she was very attractive, in an unobtainable sort of way. In an out-of-your-league sort of way. My guts were in boiling knots. I couldn’t sleep. I bumped into things, and couldn’t pay attention in classes. Who was that girl? She never told me who she was, I realise. How was I supposed to get in touch with her? Was I supposed to respond? Were we meant to be together? Was that what this was? Is this how it might work? Were there actual feelings here? It seemed impossible, but what if there were?

Then someone helpfully told me that girl was not only on the student council, but that a portrait gallery of the whole student council was up on a wall in the library. Getting this information takes days and days of unbelievable stress and turmoil. My whole life is in flux. It’s a genuine offer/it’s a big con. These are the two sides of a coin that won’t stop flipping and settle. One side seems more likely, but you know that weird and unlikely things happen all the time.

But you do get this information. Her photo is in the library, along with her name. You set off for the library, a detective in hot pursuit of the truth. And once you get there and you find the gallery of headshots, your main reaction is that you’re surprised there are so many people on the council! Surely maybe four or five would have been plenty.

But then, as you’re thinking all this, boom, there she is, her face, that smile, cocky, looking down towards the camera a little, and you’re reminded of how she looked at you, too. By this point you’re angry. You haven’t seen her again. It’s been days. You’ve barely slept. The voices in your head scream all night. You can only sometimes eat, when you eat everything, or not at all. You’re upset, prone to long showers, and your parents are No Help.

You finally track her down at school, laughing it up with her friends. She sees you, the look on your face. She says it was just a joke, and laughs, and her friends laugh. “Who’d fancy you?”

And all you can think as you burn in the fire of her scorn and mockery is that she’s right.

Hospital, D20, August 1979. Time Traveller Me standing in a ground floor corridor, leaning on a white-painted wall, when an office door opens, and a boy shuffles out, followed by a middle-aged female doctor with a bag and a bundle of documents. She looks concerned for the boy. The boy looks like a dead person, as if his living spirit has just been blasted right out of his body. He’s moving slowly. He believes his life is over. He’s been told he’s psychotic.

A few years later, no longer in the hospital system, but his ears still ringing with that word, “psychotic”. It’s the early 1980s. I’m trying to get a job, and it’s unbelievably hard. I have a two-year hole in my resumé, and it turns out that employers don’t like to hear that you spent that time caught up in the psychiatric system as both an inpatient and an outpatient. They don’t want to hear that you have this history, that you have “problems”, that you are a problem, walking around, looking haunted by the spirit that got blasted out of your body.

I met many wonderful girls and women in hospital, from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life. They were all kind and accepting. Some, who had been raped or survived childhood sexual abuse, were often blisteringly angry and that was hard to deal with for a sixteen-year-old boy. But on the whole everyone was splendid and I thrived.

One young woman, who I’ll call Kelly, was my first great love. She was a fellow patient. I never quite found out what she was doing there but I have a feeling she might have been raped. She had a haunted look about her, and a sad sweetness, and freckles, that I liked. She and I got on well. Like with Michelle and me, Kelly and I could talk. We got on. But I had no idea what to do. Once I began to realise I had proper, adult-scale feelings, I did not know how to deal with them, or how to proceed. I think she was a few years older, too, which didn’t help. But the main thing that got in the way was our both being patients, our histories. Relationships between patients were not encouraged. Such relationships generally contained far too much baggage to work in a healthy manner.

Nonetheless, I tried in my hopeless, clumsy way to make with the woo. I even told my parents about her. And, as I expected, they did indeed make a fuss.

Kelly and I never took off. We kind of just about achieved take-off speed, heading down the runway, but not enough. We ran out of runway. I was too young. She was too haunted. She did, though, give me my very first kiss at a D20 Christmas party in 1981. It was quick and fleeting, but packed a lot of feeling in it. It lasted just a second, but I can still feel it, still feel my astonishment, my joy, my leaping over-full heart.

A year or so later she sent me a letter to tell me she was settling down with a guy in Bunbury, and there was a baby involved. I wrote back with my congratulations, but I felt hollowed out. It was awful. I was so sad. Many years later we met up again on Facebook. She said that when she got my reply letter that time, she could tell I was upset. No kidding. We corresponded for a while, but drifted apart. I think she was hoping the old magic might still be there, but I was long settled down. I wasn’t looking for anything new. She seemed lost, and I was sad for her, and wished I could help.

So there I was in about 1982, 19 years old, haunted by the idea of being psychotic, haunted by my whole psychiatric experience, imagining my life as before hospital and after hospital. And lonely. I’d missed out on Kelly, I understood, because I did not understand women. Had no idea, not one clue, nothing. I also believed, in a very deep and fundamental way, that I would never be able to marry, because of my illness. I had thought I might just possibly be able to marry Kelly because she of all people would understand about my illness. But she was the exception. A regular woman, I imagined, would never accept such “damaged goods”.

Then, one day, waiting at the doctor for an appointment, I had the brainwave that would save my life.

I picked up a copy of CLEO magazine and started reading it. From cover to cover it was articles about exactly the things I wondered about, written for and by women. It was startling. I made a point of reading every issue of CLEO I could get my hands on. I started reading COSMOPOLITAN, too. My brain was lighting up with powerful and helpful information.

Listen to women. Believe what they say. Don’t be a dick. Ten things women are looking for in a potential boyfriend. Don’t interrupt. Don’t leave the toilet seat up. And so much more besides, much of which I see reproduced these days on websites written by women for women. CLEO, I believe, has not survived, and that’s a shame, because it saved my life.

It made it possible, when I chanced into meeting Michelle when I was 23, to talk to her, to become friends, to build a relationship, to not be a dick. To be a decent guy with her. On our first proper date in the city, though, I did sit her down, first thing, and told her about what I called “my sinister secret”, the whole psychotic, bipolar thing. I told her because she needed to know. If it was going to be a deal-breaking thing, better it happen here at the beginning.

But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. She and my doctor at the time had a meeting, and talked all about it.

Meanwhile, for quite some time now the vast majority of my closest friends have been women. I treasure them, one and all. I feel as if I earned their friendship, in more ways than one. They are more interesting than men, have more to talk about, or at least I feel as if I have more in common with them. While I do have some good male friends, they are generally guys like me, who have been turned off by notions of traditional masculinity, of what blokes are supposed to be like. There are times I hate being male. There are times I’d love it if there was something like a Japanese onsen or health spa where you’d go in, for a fixed, limited time, and you’d take off your whole gender and sexual identity, your entire masculinity. Just take off the whole thing like a bathrobe and hang it on a hook. Because this would likely include your brain you’d hang that up, too. You’d be eyeballs on a stick. And for an hour or so you’d just take a break from all the bullshit tied up in being a man, the responsibilities, the obligations, the posing, the competition, the oneupmanship, the sexual anxieties, the worries about work and being a breadwinner, all of it. A break from being male. I think it would be lovely. Just eyes on a stick, and all the noise in your head simply gone.

This is why I like women. They’re not men. They’re more interesting. They’re funnier. More articulate. They’re allowed to have feelings. There’s no masculine bullshit. You can just relax. Women are marvellous. I love you.

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS GIRLS (Partial Rewrite)

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS GIRLS (Partial Rewrite)

Her name was Lynette, and she was the dreamiest girl in grade six. She was blonde and otherworldly yet still somehow accessible, though I’m a little unsure how I knew that since she and I never just about never spoke, as far as I can remember. I think we may have touched hands once, clammy and warm and soft and fleeting, but I don’t know that that was her, exactly. I have only the briefest impression of her, less a small black a white photo in a box than a dim recollection of having once seen such a box, and seen her photo in that box. But I do remember her, and that was her name, and she was “my” girl, the first one who ever mattered to me, who made my heart all nervous-bird fluttery.

The key point here, I think, is that Lynette never knew, or even suspected, that she moved my world. That I lay awake at night thinking about her. That I sat in class between morning recess and lunchtime, wondering if I’d see her. Wondering if I’d have the nerve even to mumble an awkward hello.

Lynette was the first girl I ever had anything resembling “feelings” about. I knew nothing about her. I knew nothing about books she liked, TV shows she liked, music she liked, her favourite meals, where she lived, nothing. She was mysterious. Not only did I never even get to first base, I could not even find the change-room. Couldn’t locate my car-keys to go out that day.

I still think fondly of Lynette because I never learned anything about her to spoil the image I always had. She never became a real person. She was, in a way, the first celebrity I ever encountered, all surface image. I have no doubt that she was as lovely a person as she appeared, but I never found out. This was the hurly-burly world of grade six, after all. Life moved fast. Next thing it was grade seven, and while on one hand we had at last become kings of the school, we were too busy being preoccupied–and shit-scared–by the thought that next year we would all be first-years in high school. I don’t recall seeing Lynette anytime after grade six, and certainly not in high school.

High school, you may have gathered, was not good. My whole body, and the bodies of everyone else around me, was erupting and transforming. It was as if a werewolf needed several years each full moon to fully change from human to beastly monster. Only I felt like a beastly monster all the time. I felt loathsome, and everyone was only too happy to make sure, as I’ve previously said, to make sure I remembered my place. I felt revolting, dirty, filthy, and vile all the time, no matter what I did, what measures I took. I sweated buckets all the time, and was probably one of those teenage boys who smelled like goats, only really stinky goats.

And yet, high school was all about sex and desire and attraction. It was all about the throbbing undercurrent of hormones and what you could get away with, and who was seeing whom. It was subtext and often text as well. Everyone knew what was happening to their bodies, the point of the exercise, and some were quite pleased with the results so far. You could practically smell the hormones as you walked around. Teenagers, on heat like cats, and only too aware of it. Some couples at lunchtime would lie around on blankets on the lawns and make out as if all alone. When you heard through the school grapevine that there were kids having actual sex out by the back fence of the school grounds, and using recycled Glad lunch-wrap and rubber-bands as makeshift prophylactics, it seemed enormously interesting, but also fraught with extreme peril, and you wondered who on Earth would be so desperate, so crazy–but then you just thought about yourself, your own mind, the things you thought about all the time, especially alone at night in bed when you were supposed to be sleeping. You were a teenager.

And, a couple of years later, when you first got admitted to D20 after your breakdown, and the admitting doctor asked, in the midst of a big long list of questions he has to ask to take your history, “do you masturbate, and how often?” You felt as if you could have imploded like like a collapsing star with white-hot embarrassment. The thing that could never be discussed, and there it was. And you lied, you lied, you liar, pants on fire! You were radiating in the infra-red with shame, and shaking with adrenaline flushing through you, but you lied and said you didn’t, no, not you, you weren’t like that–when it was just about all you did when you weren’t bloody writing!

Because every day, all day, at school, the whole time, you were surrounded by girls. Girls everywhere. City girls, country girls, girls you liked, girls you didn’t like, girls who picked on you, girls who wouldn’t hold your hand in Ballroom Dancing class, but also a few girls who were perfectly fine. And a couple of girls you actually liked, who you fancied, and who didn’t even know you existed.

And maybe that was for the best. Because what if you’re a misfit or a freak? If you are a designated hate object, despite having those same throbbing hormones squirting through your body, the same changes happening everywhere?

Nothing. There’s nothing at all you can do. You keep your head down, lest you get it shot off, and go about your business. You try to blend in, and try to present as small a target as possible.

And there are those few girls who have not received the briefing about you, and who are quite happy to talk to you, but only up to a point. You talk to them, pathetically grateful inside, trying not to let on just how grateful, and it’s nice, even though it stings all the more, for reminding you of how terrible everyone else is treating you.

One day a girl you don’t know tells you she fancies you, and walks off. You’re astonished. You’re all messed up inside. You bump into things. Your guts are in knots. You don’t even know her name. Someone tells you she’s on the student council. It takes ages and days of turmoil but you eventually discover there is a gallery of headshots of student council people in the library. So you steam off there at flank speed, and you scan those photos–and there she is, with a name.

You set out to find her, a detective on a case. By this point you’re angry. You haven’t seen her again. It’s been days. You’ve barely slept. The voices in your head scream all night. You can only sometimes eat, when you eat everything, or not at all. You’re upset, prone to long showers, and your parents are No Help.

You finally track her down at school, laughing it up with her friends. She sees you, the look on your face. She says it was just a joke, and laughs, and her friends laugh. “Who’d fancy you?”

Hospital, D20, August 1979. Time Traveller Me standing in a ground floor corridor, leaning on a white-painted wall, when an office door opens, and a boy shuffles out, followed by a middle-aged female doctor with a bag and a bundle of documents. She looks concerned for the boy. The boy looks like a dead person, as if his living spirit has just been blasted right out of his body. He’s moving slowly. He believes his life is over. He’s been told he’s psychotic.

Early 1980s. I’m finished with hospital, and have yet to go to university. I’m trying to get a job, and it’s unbelievably hard. I have a two-year hole in my resumé, and it turns out that employers don’t like to hear that you spent that time caught up in the psychiatric system as both an inpatient and an outpatient. They don’t want to hear that you have this history, that you have “problems”, that you are a problem, walking around, looking haunted by the spirit that got blasted out of your body.

I’m still no closer to finding someone to be with. I came close while in hospital with a beautiful young woman whom I will call Kelly, but who had her own troubles. Still, she gave me my first kiss. It was as wondrous as it was unexpected. It wasn’t a perfect, slow, romantic moment. It was a spontaneous Christmas thing during a party, and I felt it for weeks afterwards.

The fundamental problem I faced during this time was that because of the circumstances of my life up to this point I knew nothing about girls and women. What were they like, what were they interested in, what did they want? I had no idea, but I wanted to know. I wanted to have a girlfriend, but also did not necessarily believe I deserved or was worthy of one. Ever since my diagnosis I’d believed I’d never be able to marry because of the illness–who would have me? It was a big problem. I had hoped that girl Kelly might be a possibility, but one day around this time she sent me a letter to tell me she was getting married, and there was a baby.

Well, bugger.

Then, one day, waiting at the doctor for an appointment, I had the brainwave that would save my life.

I picked up a copy of CLEO magazine and started reading it. From cover to cover it was articles about exactly the things I wondered about, written for and by women. It was startling. I made a point of reading every issue of CLEO I could get my hands on. I started reading COSMOPOLITAN, too. My brain was lighting up with powerful and helpful information.

Listen to women. Believe what they say. Don’t be a dick. Ten things women are looking for in a potential boyfriend. Don’t interrupt. Don’t leave the toilet seat up. And so much more besides, much of which I see reproduced these days on websites written by women for women. CLEO, I believe, has not survived, and that’s a shame, because it saved my life.

It made it possible, when I chanced into meeting Michelle when I was 23, to talk to her, to become friends, to build a relationship, to not be a dick. To be a decent guy with her. On our first proper date in the city, though, I did sit her down, first thing, and told her about what I called “my sinister secret”, the whole psychotic, bipolar thing. I told her because she needed to know. If it was going to be a deal-breaking thing, better it happen here at the beginning.

But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. She and my doctor at the time had a meeting, and talked all about it.

Meanwhile, for quite some time now the vast majority of my closest friends have been women. I treasure them, one and all. I feel as if I earned their friendship, in more ways than one. They are more interesting than men, have more to talk about, or at least I feel as if I have more in common with them. While I do have some good male friends, they are generally guys like me, who have been turned off by notions of traditional masculinity, of what blokes are supposed to be like. There are times I hate being male. There are times I’d love it if there was something like a Japanese onsen or health spa where you’d go in, for a fixed, limited time, and you’d take off your whole gender and sexual identity, your entire masculinity. Just take off the whole thing like a bathrobe and hang it on a hook. Because this would likely include your brain you’d hang that up, too. You’d be eyeballs on a stick. And for an hour or so you’d just take a break from all the bullshit tied up in being a man, the responsibilities, the obligations, the posing, the competition, the oneupmanship, the sexual anxieties, the worries about work and being a breadwinner, all of it. A break from being male. I think it would be lovely. Just eyes on a stick, and all the noise in your head simply gone.

This is why I like women. They’re not men. They’re more interesting. They’re funnier. More articulate. They’re allowed to have feelings. There’s no masculine bullshit. You can just relax. Women are marvellous.

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS JAPANESE FOOD (Updated)

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS JAPANESE FOOD (Updated)

I was more than fifty years old, and I was afraid of all sorts of food, but none more so than Japanese food, and that was because of all the raw seafood content. In the dank and fevered interior of my mind, Japanese food loomed large and terrifying, a source of waking anxiety and awful dreams.

What was it, exactly, that scared me about it? What specific thing? As with all my food-related phobias and aversions it was the thought of public vomiting, and especially public vomiting in front of family or loved ones, just like when I was the little kid gagging on the boiled corn and Mum and Dad were furious.

So, there I was, 50-Year Man, who had lived his whole life afraid of so many things, but especially of food. It was time to do something, or at least try to do something, about it. I realised that my greatest fear was vomiting in public–but that it was only vomiting. There were probably worse things I could do in a restaurant, if I applied myself to the task, than mere spewing. In any case, “mere” spewing was still plenty worrying, and I was in no rush to do it–but I was in a rush to put my plan into effect.

I told Michelle about it. That I wanted to eat Japanese food.

Once I’d revived her and helped her up off the floor, she agreed to take me to some suitable places.

The first place we went was a Japanese café in Subiaco, a little place, not fancy, not crowded, and just right. I stood in the doorway, sniffing. It did not smell bad. It did not smell fishy. It had previously occurred to me that “smelling or tasting fishy” was one of the things that put me off about Japanese food, and that I equated that with the most disgusting thoughts imaginable. Once I stopped to examine that thought, it began to seem strange, and foolish.

Anyway, there I was, in the doorway of an actual Japanese establishment, nostrils twitching, checking for fishiness–and it was fine. There was a food or cooking smell, for sure, but I couldn’t identify it. One thing I could tell for sure: it was not “non-food”. It wasn’t my category 3.

We went in, and found a table. I felt weird and shaky, cold and wobbly in the legs, and jittery in my stomach. I was aware of a sensation of being a bit “brave”, for certain values of “brave”.

Then I was sitting there, looking around, an astronaut on a distant, alien world taking in the vista before him, aware that everything he sees and says is historic. The very fact of my being there was shocking. The last time I was in a Japanese restaurant was in about 2003, and I was an invited guest to the local science fiction convention, Swancon, and that year the convention committee thought it would be fun to take all the guests to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. It was excruciating and mortifying for me, but I couldn’t imagine not going because I was a guest–they’d been kind enough to invite me. I still remember the waitress on her knees begging me with the greatest humility to please just eat something, and having to politely, so politely, refuse. It was awful.

So here I was on my alien world, taking historic steps. I examined the menu. The names were mysterious. Michelle explained things. I settled on the grilled octopus balls, and the teriyaki beef skewers. I went for the octopus because they were the most objectively terrifying thing available. Octopuses wig me out, and the idea of eating them doubly wigs me out. The beef teriyaki skewers were intended as something rational, understandable, food from my home planet.

The octopus balls came out, hot and alive. They had these flakes of bonito fish on them which wafted about in the heat coming off the balls, making the entire thing look alive and menacing.

And, ladies and germs, I ate one of those bastards. I jammed it in my mouth, and it felt a bit weird in texture, but not disgusting, just unfamiliar–but the best part was that it tasted meaty, savoury. It did not taste the least bit seafoody or fishy. It was good!

I enjoyed the second of the two I was given, and felt like the King of the Freaking World, like I could do anything.

The teriyaki beef skewers were a bit sweet, but were grilled beef bits on sticks. Definitely food from my home planet, posing no problems.

I left this cafe 2–0, feeling pretty damned good, ready to take things up a notch. This was forthcoming. Michelle later took me to another Japanese restaurant she knew near IKEA, which she said was good because it was always crowded, which meant the food must be very fresh. I liked her logic.

I’d never been to a sushi train restaurant, so that was fun, with little plates of things trundling past, leading to a lot of intense, split-second decisions. On this occasion I was determined to investigate the whole raw fish thing, so when a couple of pieces of raw salmon sushi came by, I grabbed them. Again, I was nervous as hell, moreso than I had been at the other place. The stakes were higher. This food was raw, while the food at that other place had been grilled (which improves everything). The sense of being an astronaut a long way from my home planet was even more acute. I was here with Michelle but I felt all alone, just me and my treacherous, ready-to-spew stomach.

This raw salmon sushi was exactly the kind of thing I was most afraid of. Imagine being afraid of spiders and then grabbing one with the intention of eating it. Imagine your fears becoming manifest. But also imagine knowing your fears are stupid, and trying to beat them.

I picked up one of the salmon sushi pieces. It looked huge, but I had seen people eat these things in one go, so I tried that. I shoved it in my gob–

First, there was no fishy or seafoody taste.

Second, I was gagging hard. I was about to be sick.

This was it. The doomsday scenario. I’m aware that there is Too Much Food in my mouth, that it’s uncomfortable, like something’s about to burst. I’m glancing about, because obviously People Can Tell. I’m starting to sweat. I’m retching. Thinking about where the toilets might be, and how to tell Michelle. Can I remove the salmon from my mouth first–might that help, or is the situation too urgent? It feels like this situation has always felt: profoundly anxious and shameful, as if I’m bringing shame upon my household from which we will never recover. What’s more, I know this is nonsense, but it is nevertheless what I’m feeling.

I’m chewing like mad. There is so much to chew. I must be chewing an entire freaking fish! There is nearly no taste to it, which helps. There is just this mass of stuff in my mouth, and over time the feeling of it pressing down on the back of my throat, on my gag reflex, subsides. I swallow, and swallow again. I have a little green tea. I swallow more.

Normal service resumes. The crisis passes. I mop my brow. The manager comes by and asks if everything is all right. Michelle smiles for both of us. I just nod, exhausted.

That night I tried a bunch of different things, and that gagging emergency aside, I had a nice time. But that is also the last time we went out for Japanese food, and it must be more than a year now. It was good, but I didn’t love it madly. One thing that night I did enjoy was another salmon sushi thing, but this was salmon whose skin had been lightly seared. I also took the precaution of eating it in two bites rather than one. It was great! I really enjoyed it.

There are still Japanese food things I want to try. I chickened out on the prawns that night. And I’d like to try sashimi, and Kobe beef, among other things. And I need to investigate the world of noodles at some point. I’m put off all things ramen (and related phenomenon of Korean ramyeon) by the very non-food smell of it, but who knows, I might be wrong.

The main thing, when thinking about these remaining Japanese food challenges, is that they are simply challenges now. I can imagine going into a Japanese restaurant as a regular customer, knowing about certain items on the menu, and feeling fairly comfortable. I wouldn’t have to feel so much like an astronaut landing on a remote alien world, making history with every step and gesture. I could just enjoy myself as a regular doofus Earthling. A regular doofus Earthling who nonetheless managed to get himself to go up a level with this whole experience. It is a powerful thing to face down a fear and push yourself through it and out the other side. You feel reborn, as if you can do anything.

The worst can happen, the things you are most afraid to face, most afraid to say, and it’s okay.

MEMOIR: TESTOSTERONE (Rewrite)

MEMOIR: TESTOSTERONE (Rewrite)

Every two weeks, since last year, I visit a men’s health doctor, where I get an injection of testosterone in my backside. It takes all of about five seconds, and is as close to painless as you could possibly get without quite managing to ne painless. There is the tiniest of stings, but it’s worth it.

Frankly, if the process involved shoving a garden hose into my fleshy backside to get the testosterone, I’d be fine with that, too, because the stuff is so good.

Let me explain. I was sick (ie, chronic, major depression, so deep and long-lasting that it had become my “normal” and I didn’t realise I was sick) for at least a few years prior to last year’s medication-swap adventure. I spent most of each day in bed. It was usually 2-3pm before I got up, sometimes later. Michelle spent huge amounts of time on her own. She was lonely; I was lonely. When I did get up, I’d plant myself on the couch like a garbage bag full of dirty washing.

I was doing a bit of writing, but not much. In early 2015 Fremantle Press published my most recent book, the novel BLACK LIGHT, a fantasy novel about a science fiction writer who has to embrace the supernatural to survive. This was a new book, but I wrote most of it years earlier. It’s just that in about 2013, at a time when, full of depression and poisonous bitterness about writing and the book industry generally, I was thinking about retiring from writing, but I had these old floppy diskettes, and one of them had the old manuscript for BLACK LIGHT. It appeared out of nowhere, a new book that just required a bit of fixing up. Later that same year I did write the third Spider Webb romp, ETERNITY LEAVE, and I hope to see that published someday.

But other than that brief flourish of writerly activity, a mad Catherine Wheel of fizzing, spinning light in the darkness, my depression had kicked the stuffing out my interest in writing. I felt like a failure in every respect: failure as an author, and a failure as a husband, failure as a man.

Because it turns out that when you have this sort of illness, you get prescribed medication which helps to varying degrees, depending on sometimes not much more than sheer luck–but which comes with truly diabolical side-effects. The two worst, yet most common side-effects are weight-gain and sexual dysfunction.

This can manifest in all kinds of ways, including simply making you feel like a mouldy potato starting to grow roots while it’s in the cupboard. You feel cold, inert, and repulsive. You want to hide your physical self. You no longer get anything resembling the sexy feeling that drove you nuts in high school. If you’re a guy you’ll remember that. Starting around age 12 or so, suddenly your penis wakes up and begins to lead a life of its own, keeping its own hours, popping up unexpectedly at odd and unwelcome moments, amd generally being a pain in the arse. You have to start remembering always to carry a bag or a jumper or large books with you everywhere you go because your willy might find the bumping and jostling motion of the bus you’re on rather entrancing, and suddenly you have company in your lap. Or you’re in class, bored out of your mind, aware that your willy is on a secret rampage but it’s okay because you’re sitting down and nobody can see it–but then Mr Philpott asks you to come up to the blackboard to show the working on this algebra problem, and you know very well that you simply can’t stand up right now, but Mr P is staring at you and you’re sweating, and you can feel your willy is almost somehow smug about your predicament. You remember this sort of problem. Everything reminds you of sex. You have no idea what sex is, but you know you know you want it. One day you hear a group of classmates whispering that Singo’s got a “franger” and there’s fevered discussion about what this means, only you don’t know what a franger is, but you gather it fits in a matchbox, because all these boys are boiling around this matchbox, peering in at what could be a fabulous treasure like the Hope

Diamond. Whatever a franger is, it’s something to do with sex, so that’s as exciting as it gets, that’s weapons-grade excitement. Only many years later do you learn that a franger is a condom, and you’re all, “ohhhhhh, I seeeeee!”

But when you take psychiatric medication, all of this goes away. It dies, like an old man with emphysema breathing through a hole in his throat. It’s horrible. You feel hollow. You feel like no man at all, like you’re made of plaster.

I lived with this for a long time. Once in a while, on a good day, with the wind behind me, I could do my husbandly thing, and feel pretty decent about Things and Stuff. Then I’d read an article where someone was explaining that normal couples have sex at least once a week, and my morale would sag like, well, other sagging things.

Last year, when I entered the hospital the first time to begin the medication swap, one of the first things that happened was I had to talk to the registrar on my usual doctor’s team, give him my history, explain who I was, what was wrong, why I was there, and so on. I explained about all the usual things.

But I also realised I had an opportunity here. For decades I’d lived with this dreadful sexual dysfunction. It filled me with horror and shame. I could not being myself to talk about it, not with anyone. I could barely discuss it with Michelle. When she and I did discuss, she imagined she was the problem.

She was not the problem.

So when I found myself with this registrar, I saw an opportunity that I might not get again. I explained, through tears, The Problem. It was bad. It was so bad. It was like confessing a secret sin of the worst, vilest, most shameful sort. The doctor nodded, stroked his beard, made some notes, and said we’d better get onto that then.

I got referred to a “men’s health” doctor, who specialises in not only issues surrounding sexual health, but also psychiatric stuff, and even general practice. An unusually versatile doctor. He examined me (gulp!) and, to my enormous relief, found nothing unusual or obviously wrong or freakish in the general equipment. Fifty-three years old, but pleased like a schoolboy to be told everything looked just fine–neither too small nor too large.

At length I started taking Cialis every morning for its, let’s say, salutary effects on the equipment. Almost immediately, I started getting, let’s say, news reports from the Trouser Department. Things were going well. I couldn’t believe it! I practically wept, I was so grateful.

It shouldn’t be like this. Psychiatric medication should be better than this. It’s always been a blunt instrument. Yes, it will more or less, if you’re in the lucky fifty percent, help you to some extent, but at considerable cost in terms of side-effects, including some that you will absolutely hate. In my case, I was getting sexual dysfunction from both Clomipramine and the carbamazepine. I remember when, thirty years earlier, when my previous doctor and I were going through the MIMS book trying to find me a combination of drugs to replace the lithium I had been on since my initial diagnosis. We settled eventually on Clomipramine and carbamazepine, but I did see in the book where it listed the side-effects, where it said sexual dysfunction. I knew then, just as I was getting to know Michelle, before we’d even started going out, that things would be tricky, to say the least.

This is one of the great perverse things about psychiatric medication: that you’re taking it to help you with certain problems, but it ends up causing you fresh anxiety and depression about other things. You can find yourself feeling as if you’re playing Whack-a-Mole, where every time you smack a problem, something else pops up. It’s endless.

I wound up on testosterone last year when my consultant suggested that it was a master hormone that had regulatory effects all around the body, and that it was thought to boost the effects of certain antidepressant medications as well. By this point I was up for anything that would make me feel less broken and useless, a forgotten doll of a man complete with weirdly-blinking eyes.

A year later, I can report that between the effects of the Cialis and the testosterone, things are greatly improved. It also helps that I have lost a huge amount of weight and I’m getting regular exercise. I’m no longer a bag of dirty laundry on the couch. I’m awake each day in the mornings. I spend loads of time with Michelle. We’re pretty happy. Better living through chemistry, indeed.

MEMOIR: THE WRONG LENSES: THE SCALES Postscript (Updated)

MEMOIR: THE WRONG LENSES: The Scales Postscript (Update)

I wrote a long essay about my anxiety last year over our wayward, unreliable scales, and my need for accurate information about my weight.

Now, while it’s not that I regret writing it, I am feeling deeply stirred up about it. That whole experience, the intensity of my neediness, my self-hatred over the effect it was having on Michelle, was dreadful. When I think about what a shit I was, how I often I felt the urgent need to apologise, because I knew Michelle was fed up. She was doing her very best to humour me and help me, and was utterly wonderful, despite a very demanding job, and the other calls on her time. Writing about that period reminded me, even made me re-experience to some extent, that same sense of need and shame, how dreadful it was, and one of the worst things was knowing it was affecting those closest to me.

Anxiety about anxiety. Thoughts about thoughts. Feelings about feelings. The thing about my sort of mental illness is it’s like when you’re at the optometrist, and you’re sitting there with this thing against your face that makes you look a bit like a suburban Aztec Sun God, only in a t-shirt and tracky pants, and the optometrist is slotting different lenses into the Sun God mask device, and you say, “better” and “worse” until he gives you a lens with which you can see clearly. The illness is like all those wrong lenses. It distorts everything you perceive, including your perception of yourself, and you sometimes don’t understand how much its affecting what you see–but sometimes you’re only too aware, too hyper-conscious, that you’re looking through a very wrong lens, but you can’t help it. It’s your whole brain that’s wrong.

You know it’s wrong, and that people around you are upset, but there’s nothing you can do. You’ve got the wrong lenses in. You know these lenses are wrong. But you’re in the middle of what the staff call a “cross-titration period” where you’re easing off one drug and easing onto another one. Your doctors are tearing their hair out trying to find you the perfect set of lenses, but it takes time, and experimentation, and patience. And you’re just hoping and hoping your wife and your mum and dad will hang in there with you until you can see the same reality as everyone else. But in the meantime you’re Mr Magoo.

Sorry, Sweetie.

MEMOIR: MURDER SOUNDS (Rewrite)

MEMOIR: MURDER SOUNDS (Rewrite)

It was the middle of a wet Saturday afternoon last year, I was on day release from hospital, and we had stopped at a cafe for lunch. I was all excited to be out and about after a week cooped up on the ward.

The cafe was quiet, with only a few other customers, three of whom were trying to chat up the girl behind the counter.

But then a guy comes in and orders a coffee. Girl behind the counter, pleased for the distraction, gets busy making coffee.

Michelle and I were sitting in the middle of the cafe, with plenty of unoccupied space around us. Another member of the cafe staff was sweeping or possibly vacuuming at the back of the room, because the place would close for the day pretty soon. The place would be closing soon; we were among the last customers for the afternoon. Michelle turned pages of the newspaper, and I was aware of the sound of the pages turning, as I was aware of the vacuuming, the boofheads at the counter, the coffee machine’s hiss and gurgle, and of course the never-ending noise in my head.

The guy got the coffee he ordered. I forget what he ordered.

As we’ve seen in coffeeshops in North America, this place had a separate bar area, in the middle of the room, right near our table, where you bring your coffee to add sugar, flavourings, and so forth. The guy with his coffee comes over to the bar. He removes the white lid.

Up to this point, everything is okay. I’m feeling a bit angular, a bit round-peg-in-square-hole, as if I don’t quite fit into this day. By this point in my hospitalisation, I’m still a building-site, with part-built cinder block walls, a slab of concrete, and big piles of sand everywhere, with a scattering of construction-crap here and there. I’m a work in progress. But just at this precise moment I’m doing okay. I’m aware of things, I’m prickly, sensitive, but not yet freaking out.

Then the guy with the coffee puts some sugar in his coffee.

And I’m still okay.

Coffee Guy grabs a thin wooden pop-stick and begins stirring his coffee. It makes a little, repetitive sound as the stick bumps against the inside surface of his cup. It’s very faint. I can only barely hear it. Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump, it goes, very soft, but repetitive.

And that’s it. Without even being aware of doing so I’m staring at Coffee Guy as if staring could kill him. I mean him actual, no-kidding harm.

Back in the 1970s there were these excellent paranoia thrillers like, eg, TELEFON, with Charles Bronson, whose premise was that the Soviet Union had these sleeper agents hidden in the United States, only they didn’t know they were sleeper agents. Only if they heard a code-phrase would they wake up to their true self and carry out their true, deadly assassination mission. It was brilliant.

And I was like that. Coffee Guy’s quiet stirring of his coffee was the code-phrase that “woke up” the killer in me.

Which sounds funny, and I am kind of playing it light here, but the thing is, it wasnt’, and isn’t, funny. I really did mean him harm. If I were the sort of person who attacked people at random, if I were the kind of person who was into “one-punch king hits”, Coffee Guy would have been on the floor. I mean it. When I was a kid I had a vile, towering temper. I’m sure it was part of my illness. It was out of all proportion to my small size. And when I heard that guy stirring his coffee, I felt it rush through me again.

I wanted to yell at him, though he was not even a metre away from me, to, “PLEASE STIR YOUR COFFEE QUIETLY!”

It feels exactly as if someone, some utter bastard, has insulted your sainted mother’s honour. As if someone is coming right at you with a wicked knife, and you know they will try to kill you.

It feels like you know, in the most fundamental cells of your marrow that if you don’t get up right now and leave, Something Bad will have to happen. And that guy is STILL stirring his coffee.

We leave. I sit in the car, breathing hard, my heart galloping, my hands shaking, nerves shredded. Adrenaline is flooding through me. Worse, acute mortifying embarrassment, shame, and anger are along for the fun-ride as well.

Because this is not the first time this has happened to me, and it won’t be the last.

All last year, in hospital, I told my doctors I had this weird new thing. And part of what was weird about it was that very newness. For decades I had developed an intimate familiarity with my set of specific illnesses: I had the bipolar disorder, and a specific anxiety involving crowds and cramped places. I’d known these things since I was a kid.

But last year, right around the time we started messing about with taking me off the Clomipramine, this new thing appeared. And it seemed like madness. I experienced a debilitating, violent sensitivity to certain sorts of sounds. Quiet sounds, repetitive, often at a high pitch but not always. Biological noises like chewing food, even soft food, the wet, smacking noises of people eating, even with their mouths closed. Chairs dragged across floors, and all kinds of other things. Sometimes I found new “trigger” sounds almost every day.

My doctors understood that it was a sort of anxiety, but they knew little about it, and, just as they had stared at me blankly about my writing-juju going away, they stared pretty blankly about this, too. Staff gave me anti-anxiety meds to ease things off. I developed a constant stance of what’s called “hyper-vigilance”, where you’re at high alert all the time, watching and listening for threats. Because what’s happening is the brain is taking these innocuous noises and referring them to the fight/flight/freeze department of your brain. It bypasses conscious thought altogether. You don’t get to choose whether to murder the guy stirring his coffee. You’re lucky that you can just barely choose to leave the scene without touching the poor sap.

All day long, from first waking to switching off the reading light at night, one of these noises could occur at any moment. And every time, I felt like murder. If you could in fact kill someone with your gaze alone, I would now be one of history’s greatest monsters (ha-ha!). Everywhere I went, I was on alert, on edge, primed and ready, because it was only a matter of time before somebody nearby clicked his pen over and over. Or before I heard someone using a knife and fork against a china plate, making a little squeaking sound. There was always something.

One of my doctors one day asked to see me, and she gave me a printout from the web, with a Post-It. This problem I had, it turned out, had a name, and there were other people out there with it, or variations of it.

It was called misophonia.

The Post-It had info about a Facebook support group. The printout was from a website acting as a clearinghouse for reliable information about it. Which wasn’t, and still isn’t, a lot. The reason my doctors stared at me so blankly was because it’s a newly classified condition. But that doctor was the first person who helped me with this thing. I’d felt like an isolated mutant (even more than the bipolar, etc, already made me feel) with this strange thing nobody knew about, but here, look, there’s an entire worldwide community! I have since joined that community. It seems most misophonia sufferers, unlike me, have had the condition all their lives. Many have withdrawn from society to some extent. Some have withdrawn entirely. I can relate (see my post, “Recluse). There is also a lot of discussion about noise-cancelling headphones.

My condition seems closely correlated to depression and the anxiety that goes with it. I can tell when I’m not as well as usual, because I notice little sounds–suddenly I’m staring-as-if-to-kill at someone or something. When I’m doing better, those same sounds don’t bother me so much. It comes and goes, but for some people it’s a constant thing, always on, always with the same intensity. I am lucky. It could be much worse.

It’s now a year since my misophonia was at its worst. When I lurched from one sound attack to another, never knowing when the next would be, when I was exhausted all the time from the hyper-vigilance, the tension. When I hated the way Michelle and my parents felt they had to change the way they did everything for fear of making the slightest sound around me. They didn’t want to upset me, and I appreciated that, but I hated that my stupid problem was unfairly making these other people change how they lived their lives. It seemed unjust. Unreasonable. It made me angry and I hated it.

It’s possible my overall illness was making me hate this.

These days I always have my Bose QC-25 active noise-cancelling headphones with me when I go out, except when I visit the local swimming pool. They are not waterproof, sadly. Going to the pool still presents serious problems for me. The sounds of little kids playing sometimes feel like a crushing punishment sent from above. They’re just splashing about in water, just like I did when I was their age (see “Drowning”), but when they scream and squeal and yell the noise goes through me like knives. It’s awful, unbearable.

What has helped is working with my psychologist on various mindfulness-based approaches for helping to change the way I think about noises like these. And to stop me doing what some people with the problem do, who never leave their homes. The world is full of noise, including all these little, simple, quiet, innocuous sounds (Michelle eating an ice cream or a Tim Tam), but I can’t let them force me to stay home barricaded against them. I have to live in the world. I have to be able to function, even though it’s very hard.

One weird thing about misophonia: the noises you perceive to be threatening, that make you want to kill people, are perfectly okay and fine if you are the one making those noises. Michelle comes home from work, feels like an ice cream on a stick. These come in wrappers. If she unwraps it, it would set me off. If I unwrap it, it’s fine. So I unwrap everything now.

I have had to learn to adapt the way I approach my life. It’s difficult, especially when, after a long period of feeling fine, you have a relapse, and suddenly it’s as if you can hear your hair growing because your hearing is so acute. People around me have had to learn to adapt as well. I hate and feel embarrassed that because of a problem that I have, other people have to tip-toe around and mind what they do. It bothers me very much. I have issues. But I can work on those. I remind myself today that things are better now than they were a year ago. I remind myself how long it’s been since I’ve needed to use the headphones while out in the world. How long it’s been since I needed to resort to the emergency supply of Lorazepam tablets I carry with me at all times. It’s getting to be quite a while.

Writing about it helps. I hope reading about it helps, too.

MEMOIR: THE SCALES (Partial Rewrite, Updated)

MEMOIR: THE SCALES (Partial Rewrite)

One of the things you don’t often hear about bipolar disorder is that as well as all the fun and laughs with the mood swings and so on, you can also get paranoia and delusions. You can find yourself believing all kinds of wrong and crazy bollocks. Like the time, when I was sixteen, and I believed my dad could read my mind.

And like the time, last year, during my second hospitalisation, when my anxiety was so bad, so off the freaking charts, that it started to hurt my relationship with Michelle. And it was all because of our bathroom scales. I have been on a weight-loss campaign for a long time. I weigh myself at least once a day (sometimes more than once). Accurate, reliable data is crucial. I had our bathroom scales in my hospital room. They’d always been a bit iffy, bit in a consistent way. You could correct for it. But during this time in the hospital they seemed to go off on their own, making up all kinds of crazy figures. It made no sense. I found I could no longer trust the scales. The scales were suspect.

This was, as I say, my second hospitalisation last year. In many ways it was a familiar, even comforting sort of experience. I knew in large part what to expect, what the daily routine would be, from morning meds around 8 am, to morning obs, to breakfast and so on. More confounding was why the air conditioning in my room seemed so broken. It was the middle of winter, but the air conditioning was pumping cold air into my room. I felt so cold I imagined myself refrigerated. I took to referring to my room as “the Tupperware” because I often felt like I was in storage, in a Tupperware container like leftovers stuck in the back of the fridge.

The crisp freshness of my room, though, was the least of my troubles. I was much more agitated and bothered about the scales–and Michelle was tired of hearing about them.

She understood that I was sick. She was doing everything she possibly could to help me. It was hard for her, visiting me and then going on to do her shift at the pathology lab. It was an exhausting double-bill. I was only too aware of the toll my illness was taking on her, and I was very keen to get “well” as soon as humanly possible, to reduce the pressure on her.

But, well, the scales…

To explain about the scales, and about my weight-loss saga, I need to go back to 28 December 2012, one of the days the trajectory of my life radically changed. There have been several moments when, looking back, I can see my whole life swing, like a bank vault door, heavy but perfectly balanced, around a pivotal moment. 28 December was one such moment, one of the most significant of my whole life, when just about everything changed. The morning of that day I weighed myself. The result was 165.5 kilograms.

It was a shocking figure. I had given up weighing myself years earlier, because it had been so depressing, back when I had been weighing myself daily, seeing the total go up every day no matter what. So I stopped doing it, and tried to get used to being fat and more or less happy or at least comfortable with my roly-poly self. I felt as sexy, as desirable, as a blob-fish, but I could go about my business. I wrote books, lived my life, travelled overseas to promote my books, and tried not to feel burning shame when asking flight attendants for seatbelt extenders (I always felt the burning shame; the flight attendants were always extremely good about just handing it to me without comment).

My psychiatrist had been encouraging me for some time to consider some kind of weight-loss program, but I was the fat guy who resisted all such suggestions, or who made only half-hearted, soon-forgotten “commitments” to it. I was a writer, too, and spent most of each day at my desk, in front of the computer, sometimes actually working, and sometimes goofing off, usually on Facebook (mortal enemy of writers everywhere). I was pleased, once my broken arm healed, to have my arm back working again with full flexibility and function, and loved to tell the story of what it took to get it back, because it made me look good. What didn’t make me look good was my ballooning body. Having the busted arm made me even less active than usual, a level of inertia matched only by the likes of materials frozen to absolute zero. I was a bin bag of dirty laundry dumped on the couch, watching TV, eating something bad, feeling lousy but kidding myself that things were fine.

Even worse, my knees had been screaming in pain for ages. So loud, so intensely, that I was inclined to believe that other people could hear them crying out in agony at having to support their unbearable burden. My GP had diagnosed osteoarthritis. I had been having cortisone shots, and was chewing through major painkillers. My screaming knees were a big factor in my inertia: activity hurt.

My psychiatrist, one day, in the course of talking more about the need for me to lose some weight, suggested iced coffee protein shakes. There was this whey powder stuff, he explained, and told me all about it. I had tried commercial high-protein diet shakes, and had not liked them. They left a nasty chemical aftertaste in my mouth. Combine that with a general sullen refusal to deal with my weight, and that was that. But this thing my doctor was talking about sounded different. He convinced me to have a go.

The whey powder was a body-building product, which puzzled me. I had been expecting something from the weight-loss industry. It smelled good when I opened the giant container, and when I mixed it up as directed and tried it–it was good! No chemical aftertaste! It tasted better than iced coffees I’ve paid upwards of $6 for in actual cafes! I could not believe my, well, my taste-buds! This was something that might work.

As well, I signed up for adult swimming lessons. I never quite learned how to swim properly when I was a kid, so had never been much of a swimmer, and never went near deep water for fear of drowning (see my post, “Drowning”). And swimming lessons, though exhausting, were marvellous fun.

The weight started to shift. The protein shakes twice a day plus a bit of exercise made a difference. I stuck with the shakes, and the swimming lessons. After a while I added pool-walking as well, charging as hard as I could up and down the 25 metre lanes 80 to 100 times, trying to get my heart pounding as fast as possible.

People started to comment about how I looked like I’d lost weight. They started commenting about my face. My swimming shorts appeared to grow so large and hot-air ballon-like that I needed new, smaller ones.

Then one day I noticed that my knees had stopped screaming. When I went to see my GP, my vital numbers were good. At the pool I was racking up literally thousands of walking laps. People would stop me on the pool deck to tell me how I’d lost an amazing amount of weight, and it looked so good. I needed new clothes. I could finally get all the funny and geeky t-shirts I’d always wanted but couldn’t get because I was too big. So many things I hadn’t been able to enjoy because I was too big.

Example: after I finished my first term of swimming lessons, I felt deeply empowered, that I’d really done something good for myself. What else, I wondered, could I do? What did I want to do? One thing occurred to me. I’d love to try sky-diving. But when I looked up sky-diving services here, they all insisted on a weight cut-off of 115 kg. And at that time, I was still a gelatinous monster.

So I decided: I was going to get to 100 kilograms, and when I did, I was going sky-diving. This would mean a total weight-loss of 65.5 kg.

And, flash-forward four years, I was in hospital (ostensibly to get my medication changed to something more effective, and with fewer nasty side-effects), and, as I had been doing every day for years, I was weighing myself every day, at noon.

I had gotten my weight down to 114.3 kilograms. This was a loss of 51.2 kg over that four-year period.

I was so proud. If I had climbed Mount Everest I’d be less pleased with myself.

People would tell me I’d lost a whole person. In the supermarket I saw 25 kg bags of rice, things the size of mattresses, so heavy I couldn’t shift them. And I thought, I’ve lost two of you bastards. I was on my fourth pair of swimming trunks. The shirts I was buying were two sizes smaller than I used to need. My knees were silent. At IKEA, I could race up the stairs to the first floor without even breathing hard, and with no knee complaints. My wife could hug me and reach her hands all the way around. I felt light. My older clothes hung on me like curtains, or circus tents.

But I was now in a psychiatric hospital, and the doctors were changing my medications around. They were all agog that I’d managed to lose that much weight while on 250 mg of Clomipramine, notorious, like all the tricyclic antidepressants, for its weight-gain side-effect. My psychologist said I was probably the only patient in that hospital who was losing weight, because psychiatric medication is often a total bastard about weight-gain.

And that was the problem, right there. I was terrified, after four years of continuous, obsessive, grinding effort, of the weight coming back. The thought, and the fear, obsessed me. What if it all came back? What if, in fact, it not only all came back, but brought even more with it? What if I ended up even bigger than I had been? I had read a great deal about obesity science. I know that people who manage to lose a great deal of weight often wind up regaining it all, and more besides.

It was all I thought about.

I needed to know what my weight was doing from day to day. Needed it like oxygen. Needed it like water. Like heroin.

And I could not trust the scales.

We had bought them years ago, once my weight-loss campaign showed signs of success. Prior to that I borrowed my parents’ bathroom scales. It was on their scales that I first learned about the 165.5 figure. A figure so horrifying, so mortifying, that when I posted about my weight-loss efforts on Facebook I referred to it as OMG! kg, and each successive milestone as OMG! minus the total I’d lost, such as OMG!-51 kg.

That figure was and is important to me. Everyone in the family understood that, but even I didn’t understand how OBSESSED I had become about it.

We bought our own set of scales. When they arrived, the first thing to do was to calibrate them against Mum and Dad’s scales. The new scales showed they varied from the others by about +1.3 kg, so whatever figure they showed, I had to subtract 1.3 from it, and the data would be consistent.

This was fine for a long time. I periodically checked again with the parental scales to see if the error remained the same. Here you can already see the beginning of the obsession, the madness.

Because, after a while, the amount by which our scales varied from the parental scales changed. Sometimes it was +0.8 kg, and sometimes as much as +1.5 kg.

By the time I was in hospital last year, our scales were about four years old, and they were showing truly distressing numbers that made no sense. My weight appeared to be climbing. I asked my parents to lend me their scales. They showed I was not gaining weight.

But sometimes they did show that I was gaining. During my first hospitalisation, at one point I was put on Seroquel to help me sleep, and to help with anxiety. This first hospitalisation was also the worst, the most harsh and distressing. I was in a terrible, deeply fragile state, barely holding myself together, even worrying my doctors. Seroquel was a wonderful drug for sleep, but it has a dreadful reputation for weight-gain. I keep a daily chart of my weight, and it showed a sharp upturn corresponding to the time I was put on Seroquel.

There were, across all three hospital stays, and even since then, since I’ve been home, numerous incidences where a medication seemed to make me gain weight. Between the effects of being strung out as I went from drug to drug, and my worries about my weight, and the NEED to preserve the weight-loss I’d achieved, I needed above all else reliable data. I needed to know where I was from day to day, week to week.

Michelle allowed me to buy new scales. Because, like a Cold War spy in a LeCarré novel, I could no longer trust the old scales. I lashed out and got the Fitbit Aria scale, which looked truly space-age, all white and sleek, and supposedly just bursting with all kinds of chewy data, and dying to work with my Fitbit Flex wristband thingy. It was fabulous, and I was dead excited.

Except, once it arrived, Michelle rolling her eyes by this point because she had had a gutful of me and ScaleGate, it didn’t work. In fact it would not work. I Googled support forums, and found loads of disappointed customers, who had found, as I had found, that the scale used a different wifi protocol from what we used in our household wifi. I either needed to buy new scales (Michelle’s patience gossamer-thin by this point), or buy an older modem that supported the older wifi protocol.

I could see this was deeply upsetting for Michelle. My parents, too. They essentially gave me their trusty, reliable scales to use in the interim. Michelle took the Aria unit back, and got a refund. I swotted over the JB HiFi and Officeworks sites online, looking for new scales, because I had to have reliable data.

And all the time I could see in Michelle, when she came to visit, how stressed she was. It made me ache and burn with shame. I was doing this to her. My stupid, pathetic, useless anxiety, and my even more stupid, pig-headed pride, was doing this to her. And yet I could not let it go. I had to have reliable data. Had. To. Have. It.

Had.

To.

Michelle agreed to one, final set of scales. But she told me This Was It. I felt cold all through. I found a new set of scales, a German brand which looked reliable, and the unit seemed to offer lots of data. It was also much cheaper than the Aria. When it arrived, it worked. When checked against Mum and Dad’s old reliable unit, the new scales agreed with it perfectly. It was weighing-machine kismet.

Peace reigned across the Kingdom. Birds chirped, bunnies hopped, and the sun shone. All was well.

Then, right at the end of my third hospitalisation, my doctors, in despair over what they could give me that was strong enough for my “treatment-resistant major depression”, and yet whose side-effect profile was “weight-neutral”, they fell back on another tricyclic antidepressant, of all things. We had gone through everything, and now we came back to the tricyclics, and of those, Nortriptyline was said to be the least obnoxious in its side-effects.

Except for the weight-gain.

And the increased appetite.

The struggle against my weight continues. Nortriptyline seems to be a terrific drug. I give it four stars! But my weight is nuts. Since leaving hospital last November (as I write it’s mid-July) I gained 13 kilograms, my weight rising from 114 to 127.1 kg. I panicked. I was desperate. The weight was coming back, like a tide coming back in, refilling the bay. Nothing seemed to help. I was doing a lot of emotional eating, and that would have added to the gains. I was telling my doctor to Do Something, that I was up for anything. Because, as I say, I am obsessed. I am my own white whale.

My doctor put me on a drug called Topamax, which is mainly an anti-convulsant and anti-anxiety drug, but which has the unexpected side-effect of weight-loss.

I also looked into what measures I could take on my own. I’ve hit upon an eating and fasting pattern I call the “low-food diet” which involves about one meal a day, lunch, and fasting much of the rest of the time, as well as daily exercise. Since I started this regime, and have been on the Topamax, my weight has come back from what I called “the Peak of Madness” of 127.1 kg to this morning’s reading of 117.9 kg. I’m close to where I got to last year, the 114.3 kg figure. If I can hang in with this admittedly extreme system for another month, I’ll likely get there. But it’s hard.

This long climb back down from the Peak of Madness has been good for my anxiety and panic. It’s also been good for my waistline and hips. I’m now physically thinner than I was last year at my lightest. I’m eating myself.

It does occur to me that this may not be healthy. All I know is that four and a half years of weight-loss has killed my metabolism stone dead. If I eat more than a bare minimum each day, I gain weight. That’s the crux of the problem. Anything other than near-starvation means weight-gain.

My doctor today ordered me to double my Topamax dose, and to increase it still further next week. I told him I miss food. I miss eating. I wanted to lose weight, but I’ve lost food as well.

But at least I have reliable data, and a beautiful graph. Yay.

MEMOIR: THE SCALES (Partial Rewrite)

MEMOIR: THE SCALES (Partial Rewrite)

Things were bad, and I didn’t know what to do. The scales were crazy. I couldn’t trust them. Every day, several times a day, I was weighing myself, and getting numbers I couldn’t believe. It made no sense. I was in hospital. This was my second hospitalisation, and I was having a profoundly bad time with anxiety, even paranoia. One of the things you don’t often hear about bipolar disorder is that you also get paranoia and delusions. You start to believe all kinds of things that aren’t true. Like the time when I was sixteen and suddenly realised my dad could read my mind. Back in the present, all I knew, all I could think, all I could talk about, was that I couldn’t trust the scales. And that was catastrophically bad. It was as bad as bad could be. It was an emergency. Because I needed accurate, reliable data about my weight. Every day, and sometimes several times a day, I weighed myself, and recorded the result. I was trying to lose weight. It was and remains extremely important to me. So I needed to have faith in the data from the scales, and for that I needed reliable, accurate scales, and the ones I had at the hospital were clearly wrong, and that wrongness was making me mental.

This was my second hospitalisation last year. In many ways it was a familiar, even comforting sort of experience. I knew in large part what to expect, what the daily routine would be, from morning meds around 8 am, to morning obs, to breakfast and so on. I knew what to expect. More confounding was why the air conditioning in my room seemed so broken. It was the middle of winter, but the air conditioning was pumping cold air into my room. I felt so cold I imagined myself refrigerated. I took to referring to my room as “the Tupperware” because I often felt like I was in storage, in a Tupperware container like leftovers stuck in the back of the fridge.

The crisp freshness of my room, though, was the least of my troubles. I was much more agitated and bothered about the scales–and Michelle was tired of hearing about them.

She understood that I was sick. She was doing everything she possibly could to help me. It was hard for her, visiting me and then going on to do her shift at the pathology lab. It was an exhausting double-bill. I was only too aware of the toll my illness was taking on her, and I was very keen to get “well” as soon as humanly possible, to reduce the pressure on her.

But, well, the scales…

To explain about the scales, and about my weight-loss saga, I need to go back to 28 December 2012, one of the days the trajectory of my life radically changed. There have been several moments when, looking back, I can see my whole life swing, like a bank vault door, heavy but perfectly balanced, around a pivotal moment. 28 December was one such moment, one of the most significant of my whole life, when just about everything changed. The morning of that day I weighed myself. The result was 165.5 kilograms.

It was a shocking figure. I had given up weighing myself years earlier, because it had been so depressing, back when I had been weighing myself daily, seeing the total go up every day no matter what. So I stopped doing it, and tried to get used to being fat and more or less happy or at least comfortable with my roly-poly self. I felt as sexy, as desirable, as a blob-fish, but I could go about my business. I wrote books, lived my life, travelled overseas to promote my books, and tried not to feel burning shame when asking flight attendants for seatbelt extenders (I always felt the burning shame; the flight attendants were always extremely good about just handing it to me without comment).

My psychiatrist had been encouraging me for some time to consider some kind of weight-loss program, but I was the fat guy who resisted all such suggestions, or who made only half-hearted, soon-forgotten “commitments” to it. I was a writer, too, and spent most of each day at my desk, in front of the computer, sometimes actually working, and sometimes goofing off, usually on Facebook (mortal enemy of writers everywhere). I was pleased, once my broken arm healed, to have my arm back working again with full flexibility and function, and loved to tell the story of what it took to get it back, because it made me look good. What didn’t make me look good was my ballooning body. Having the busted arm made me even less active than usual, a level of inertia matched only by the likes of materials frozen to absolute zero. I was a bin bag of dirty laundry dumped on the couch, watching TV, eating something bad, feeling lousy but kidding myself that things were fine.

Even worse, my knees had been screaming in pain for ages. So loud, so intensely, that I was inclined to believe that other people could hear them crying out in agony at having to support their unbearable burden. My GP had diagnosed osteoarthritis. I had been having cortisone shots, and was chewing through major painkillers. My screaming knees were a big factor in my inertia: activity hurt.

My psychiatrist, one day, in the course of talking more about the need for me to lose some weight, suggested iced coffee protein shakes. There was this whey powder stuff, he explained, and told me all about it. I had tried commercial high-protein diet shakes, and had not liked them. They left a nasty chemical aftertaste in my mouth. Combine that with a general sullen refusal to deal with my weight, and that was that. But this thing my doctor was talking about sounded different. He convinced me to have a go.

The whey powder was a body-building product, which puzzled me. I had been expecting something from the weight-loss industry. It smelled good when I opened the giant container, and when I mixed it up as directed and tried it–it was good! No chemical aftertaste! It tasted better than iced coffees I’ve paid upwards of $6 for in actual cafes! I could not believe my, well, my taste-buds! This was something that might work.

As well, I signed up for adult swimming lessons. I never quite learned how to swim properly when I was a kid, so had never been much of a swimmer, and never went near deep water for fear of drowning (see my post, “Drowning”). And swimming lessons, though exhausting, were marvellous fun.

The weight started to shift. The protein shakes twice a day plus a bit of exercise made a difference. I stuck with the shakes, and the swimming lessons. After a while I added pool-walking as well, charging as hard as I could up and down the 25 metre lanes 80 to 100 times, trying to get my heart pounding as fast as possible.

People started to comment about how I looked like I’d lost weight. They started commenting about my face. My swimming shorts appeared to grow so large and hot-air ballon-like that I needed new, smaller ones.

Then one day I noticed that my knees had stopped screaming. When I went to see my GP, my vital numbers were good. At the pool I was racking up literally thousands of walking laps. People would stop me on the pool deck to tell me how I’d lost an amazing amount of weight, and it looked so good. I needed new clothes. I could finally get all the funny and geeky t-shirts I’d always wanted but couldn’t get because I was too big. So many things I hadn’t been able to enjoy because I was too big.

Example: after I finished my first term of swimming lessons, I felt deeply empowered, that I’d really done something good for myself. What else, I wondered, could I do? What did I want to do? One thing occurred to me. I’d love to try sky-diving. But when I looked up sky-diving services here, they all insisted on a weight cut-off of 115 kg. And at that time, I was still a gelatinous monster.

So I decided: I was going to get to 100 kilograms, and when I did, I was going sky-diving. This would mean a total weight-loss of 65.5 kg.

And, flash-forward four years, I was in hospital (ostensibly to get my medication changed to something more effective, and with fewer nasty side-effects), and, as I had been doing every day for years, I was weighing myself every day, at noon.

I had gotten my weight down to 114.3 kilograms. This was a loss of 51.2 kg over that four-year period.

I was so proud. If I had climbed Mount Everest I’d be less pleased with myself.

People would tell me I’d lost a whole person. In the supermarket I saw 25 kg bags of rice, things the size of mattresses, so heavy I couldn’t shift them. And I thought, I’ve lost two of you bastards. I was on my fourth pair of swimming trunks. The shirts I was buying were two sizes smaller than I used to need. My knees were silent. At IKEA, I could race up the stairs to the first floor without even breathing hard, and with no knee complaints. My wife could hug me and reach her hands all the way around. I felt light. My older clothes hung on me like curtains, or circus tents.

But I was now in a psychiatric hospital, and the doctors were changing my medications around. They were all agog that I’d managed to lose that much weight while on 250 mg of Clomipramine, notorious, like all the tricyclic antidepressants, for its weight-gain side-effect. My psychologist said I was probably the only patient in that hospital who was losing weight, because psychiatric medication is often a total bastard about weight-gain.

And that was the problem, right there. I was terrified, after four years of continuous, obsessive, grinding effort, of the weight coming back. The thought, and the fear, obsessed me. What if it all came back? What if, in fact, it not only all came back, but brought even more with it? What if I ended up even bigger than I had been? I had read a great deal about obesity science. I know that people who manage to lose a great deal of weight often wind up regaining it all, and more besides.

It was all I thought about.

I needed to know what my weight was doing from day to day. Needed it like oxygen. Needed it like water. Like heroin.

And I could not trust the scales.

We had bought them years ago, once my weight-loss campaign showed signs of success. Prior to that I borrowed my parents’ bathroom scales. It was on their scales that I first learned about the 165.5 figure. A figure so horrifying, so mortifying, that when I posted about my weight-loss efforts on Facebook I referred to it as OMG! kg, and each successive milestone as OMG! minus the total I’d lost, such as OMG!-51 kg.

That figure was and is important to me. Everyone in the family understood that, but even I didn’t understand how OBSESSED I had become about it.

We bought our own set of scales. When they arrived, the first thing to do was to calibrate them against Mum and Dad’s scales. The new scales showed they varied from the others by about +1.3 kg, so whatever figure they showed, I had to subtract 1.3 from it, and the data would be consistent.

This was fine for a long time. I periodically checked again with the parental scales to see if the error remained the same. Here you can already see the beginning of the obsession, the madness.

Because, after a while, the amount by which our scales varied from the parental scales changed. Sometimes it was +0.8 kg, and sometimes as much as +1.5 kg.

By the time I was in hospital last year, our scales were about four years old, and they were showing truly distressing numbers that made no sense. My weight appeared to be climbing. I asked my parents to lend me their scales. They showed I was not gaining weight.

But sometimes they did show that I was gaining. During my first hospitalisation, at one point I was put on Seroquel to help me sleep, and to help with anxiety. This first hospitalisation was also the worst, the most harsh and distressing. I was in a terrible, deeply fragile state, barely holding myself together, even worrying my doctors. Seroquel was a wonderful drug for sleep, but it has a dreadful reputation for weight-gain. I keep a daily chart of my weight, and it showed a sharp upturn corresponding to the time I was put on Seroquel.

There were, across all three hospital stays, and even since then, since I’ve been home, numerous incidences where a medication seemed to make me gain weight. Between the effects of being strung out as I went from drug to drug, and my worries about my weight, and the NEED to preserve the weight-loss I’d achieved, I needed above all else reliable data. I needed to know where I was from day to day, week to week.

Michelle allowed me to buy new scales. Because, like a Cold War spy in a LeCarré novel, I could no longer trust the old scales. I lashed out and got the Fitbit Aria scale, which looked truly space-age, all white and sleek, and supposedly just bursting with all kinds of chewy data, and dying to work with my Fitbit Flex wristband thingy. It was fabulous, and I was dead excited.

Except, once it arrived, Michelle rolling her eyes by this point because she had had a gutful of me and ScaleGate, it didn’t work. In fact it would not work. I Googled support forums, and found loads of disappointed customers, who had found, as I had found, that the scale used a different wifi protocol from what we used in our household wifi. I either needed to buy new scales (Michelle’s patience gossamer-thin by this point), or buy an older modem that supported the older wifi protocol.

I could see this was deeply upsetting for Michelle. My parents, too. They essentially gave me their trusty, reliable scales to use in the interim. Michelle took the Aria unit back, and got a refund. I swotted over the JB HiFi and Officeworks sites online, looking for new scales, because I had to have reliable data.

And all the time I could see in Michelle, when she came to visit, how stressed she was. It made me ache and burn with shame. I was doing this to her. My stupid, pathetic, useless anxiety, and my even more stupid, pig-headed pride, was doing this to her. And yet I could not let it go. I had to have reliable data. Had. To. Have. It.

Had.

To.

Michelle agreed to one, final set of scales. But she told me This Was It. I felt cold all through. I found a new set of scales, a German brand which looked reliable, and the unit seemed to offer lots of data. It was also much cheaper than the Aria. When it arrived, it worked. When checked against Mum and Dad’s old reliable unit, the new scales agreed with it perfectly. It was weighing-machine kismet.

Peace reigned across the Kingdom. Birds chirped, bunnies hopped, and the sun shone. All was well.

Then, right at the end of my third hospitalisation, my doctors, in despair over what they could give me that was strong enough for my “treatment-resistant major depression”, and yet whose side-effect profile was “weight-neutral”, they fell back on another tricyclic antidepressant, of all things. We had gone through everything, and now we came back to the tricyclics, and of those, Nortriptyline was said to be the least obnoxious in its side-effects.

Except for the weight-gain.

And the increased appetite.

The struggle against my weight continues. Nortriptyline seems to be a terrific drug. I give it four stars! But my weight is nuts. Since leaving hospital last November (as I write it’s mid-July) I gained 13 kilograms, my weight rising from 114 to 127.1 kg. I panicked. I was desperate. The weight was coming back, like a tide coming back in, refilling the bay. Nothing seemed to help. I was doing a lot of emotional eating, and that would have added to the gains. I was telling my doctor to Do Something, that I was up for anything. Because, as I say, I am obsessed. I am my own white whale.

My doctor put me on a drug called Topamax, which is mainly an anti-convulsant and anti-anxiety drug, but which has the unexpected side-effect of weight-loss.

I also looked into what measures I could take on my own. I’ve hit upon an eating and fasting pattern I call the “low-food diet” which involves about one meal a day, lunch, and fasting much of the rest of the time, as well as daily exercise. Since I started this regime, and have been on the Topamax, my weight has come back from what I called “the Peak of Madness” of 127.1 kg to this morning’s reading of 117.9 kg. I’m close to where I got to last year, the 114.3 kg figure. If I can hang in with this admittedly extreme system for another month, I’ll likely get there. But it’s hard.

This long climb back down from the Peak of Madness has been good for my anxiety and panic. It’s also been good for my waistline and hips. I’m now physically thinner than I was last year at my lightest. I’m eating myself.

It does occur to me that this may not be healthy. All I know is that four and a half years of weight-loss has killed my metabolism stone dead. If I eat more than a bare minimum each day, I gain weight. That’s the crux of the problem. Anything other than near-starvation means weight-gain.

My doctor today ordered me to double my Topamax dose, and to increase it still further next week. I told him I miss food. I miss eating. I wanted to lose weight, but I’ve lost food as well.

But at least I have reliable data, and a beautiful graph. Yay.

NOTEBOOK: GO FOR TOPAMAX THROTTLE-UP

NOTEBOOK: GO FOR TOPAMAX THROTTLE UP

Today I saw my psychiatrist for the first time in about three weeks. He’s amazed at my continuing transformation, and all my news. I showed him my year-to-date weight graph, and he was gobsmacked. He says I look much better now than I did this time last year, and that in general I look 15 years younger.

I also, though, conveyed to him how extraordinarily difficult it is to keep the weight going like this, that I’m eating very little, because to eat more than that brings the weight thundering back.

So he’s increasing my Topamax dose from its current 50 mg each night to 100 mg, for a week, and then throttling up again (second-stage booster kicking in) to 150 mg the week after, and then I see him again to discuss findings for further graph inspection.

He says I need to maintain my current food discipline program (what I not-so-jokingly refer to as the “low-food diet”) for six months in order to convince my body’s ha-ha-hopeless metabolism that this is the new normal, so it will stop trying to push me back to 165.5 kg, where I started in December 2012. As of today I’m 117.9 kg, and I want that to keep going down.

Flippers crossed!