MEMOIR MANUSCRIPT SUBMITTED–OH GOD!

MEMOIR MANUSCRIPT SUBMITTED–OH, GOD!

Have just now emailed the manuscript of RANDOM ACCESS MEMOIR to the first publisher on my list of candidates who might be a good fit for such material.

And a year ago, I was lost in the wilderness, getting used to the idea that I was a “former writer” and wondering what I might do with the rest of my life. I was thinking maybe about university study. Ancient Roman history sounded good. It still does, actually.

Meanwhile, this book has erupted out of me, as if desperate to be born, in two months and ten days, without a break. Every single day, and often multiple times a day, I wrote essays for the book. I’ve never had an experience quite like this. Even if nothing comes of it, publishing-wise, I’ll always be grateful to it for waking up my writing mind, for getting the signal back. I missed it like an amputated leg.

MEMOIR READY TO SUBMIT

RANDOM ACCESS MEMOIR MS READY TO SUBMIT

I have spent the day porting the memoir manuscript into Word, fixing some formatting issues, and touching up the text. Just now I’ve added the ID and page number header, which is the last job. It’s now ready to submit first thing tomorrow! Exciting! Sooner than I expected! 🙂

Only 4% power in the iPad, too! (Have done entire project on iPad.)

MEMOIR 2nd Draft Complete

MEMOIR 2nd DRAFT COMPLETE

Have tonight completed work on the second draft of RANDOM ACCESS MEMOIR.

Have also organised a working running order for the individual pieces, but I’m sure that will change as the project goes forward. Once I’m happy with this running order I’ll export the whole thing, in one step, over into Word, to turn it into a manuscript I can send to publishers.

Eeeeeeeeeeee!

Manuscript so far runs to 93,000 words, btw. Had to lose several pieces from the second draft. Did not make the cut. Better out than in, they say!

NOTEBOOK: EXHAUSTION

NOTEBOOK: EXHAUSTION

I visited my psychologist yesterday and told her I had a curious problem. On one hand everything was going fantastically well. I was functioning every day at a very high, even unprecedentedly high level, with terrific clarity of thought, and it did not appear to be a manic phase, or even hypomania. I appeared to be healthy. I was also losing lots of weight. Among other things, I’d finished the first draft of my illness memoir, and was well into revisions and rewrites for the second draft, and was 20K into a new novel as well. Plus my Korean lessons were going well, too. No trouble concentrating. I’ve never known a time in my life like this. It’s amazing.

But put that aside for a moment. Because on Wednesday afternoon I went to the local swimming pool to slog out some laps, and the noise of kids screaming, squealing, playing up, and generally being kids really triggered all my misophonic responses. Which is to say, those specific sounds made me feel like I was under direct, life-or-death, physical attack. Made me feel like someone had just spat on my saintly mum. The thing about misophonia is it fills you with violent, murderous rage. You find yourself with a head full of the worst thoughts in the world. It’s the most awful experience. And it’s taking me days to get over it. I left that day feeling like I never wanted to come back.

And I remember when I loved going there. When all the noise was exciting. When it was a fun place. But my noise sensitivity only developed last year, right around the time my doctors in the hospital started switching my medication around. Everything stems from that. Now when I hear those sounds, it feels like an attack, like a vicious punishment.

And it’s worse when I’m tired.

Because there are days at the pool when the noise does not bother me that much, when I can cope with it pretty much fine. So what was different on Wednesday? Well, behold! Check out the rest of this website. Note that I’m producing material every single day. I’m working every day, learning Korean every day, losing weight hard, and I’ve been on this intense program of activity, without a day off, for more than two months now. In that time I’ve also lost more than ten kilograms.

It might be a little bit unsustainable.

It might be exhausting. Because I’m not eating much, either. That’s one of the key things. My metabolism is so dead, anything more than one reasonable meal a day makes me start to gain weight, so I have to fast much of the rest of the time. It’s gruelling.

My psychologist listened to me explain these two things, the incredible productivity and the terrible day at the pool, and she saw a connection. She says that I’m putting myself under a certain amount of stress and pressure to achieve all these things. I like doing them, and I feel good when I can do them, but there is pressure and stress involved. And even though you can call it “good” stress, it’s still stress. So I’m wearing myself out. I have no time off. I’m exhausted.

I do like working on my writing every day, so I’m going to keep doing something there. This weekend I’m going to focus on revision of memoir pieces for the book, but I’m not going to do anything new on the novel until next week. I may also do another Notebook piece tomorrow, but that’s it. I won’t be working my arse off producing 3-4000 words of writing every day over the weekend as I had been doing.

I’ll relax the other requirements, too, though I have already done a Korean lesson (I can now introduce my mum and dad, tell you I’d like to buy you something, ask if your boyfriend has a job, and much else).

I’ll also look at going to the pool at a different time, when there are no kids. Because as things stand I hate the happy little buggers. 🙁

MEMOIR: THE BEST USE OF A TIME MACHINE (Updated)

MEMOIR: THE BEST USE OF A TIME MACHINE (Updated)

Dad was packing a suitcase and he was leaving and it was all my fault. I lay in my bed listening to the sounds from Mum and Dad’s room: I heard him zipping up the suitcase, fastening the buckle. The air reeked of cigarettes and anger.

The Time Traveller is there, watching, listening, wishing he could help. The boy is in a catastrophically bad way. He believes everything that’s happening, and that has happened, is entirely due to his bad behaviour and personal shortcomings. If he’d been a better son, a better student, if he’d been better at everything, none of this would have happened. Dad and Mum would not always be fighting, and tonight Dad wouldn’t be packing. The boy wishes he could throw himself on the exploding grenade of his dad’s terrible anger, wishes he could absorb it all, and save his mum. He’s seen all these movies about World War II. He knows what to do. But then, he’s also up for plain old begging, too, if that would help. Maybe blocking the front door and refusing to let Dad pass would work. He doesn’t know. He’s desperate. He can hear his family coming apart. He’s dead scared. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen.

The Time Traveller would love to help him out. Would love to sit down on the end of the bed and explain a few things. Such as, what the hell is up with the boy’s poor tormented dad. Right now the Time Traveller is older than the dad. The dad is a guy in his thirties who is having a really hard time with everything, but especially with being the provider, with holding down a steady job, with his wildly oscillating moods. He doesn’t understand why sometimes he feels like a million bucks, and sometimes he feels like an unpaid bill for a dollar-twenty-five. He knows that every morning when he gets up he has to go to work, fixing engines on boats. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes they’re bastards of things. Sometimes you have to strip the things down to nothing and rebuild them piece by piece several times before you isolate the tiny, secret problem. Sometimes it takes all bloody day to look like a genius. Sometimes the clients are arseholes, too. That’s always lovely. Who expect the impossible, or won’t pay up. All of them arseholes.

And some days, it doesn’t matter, no matter what, for some reason, you just can’t get out of bed. You can’t stop crying. You can’t go to work. Your wife has to phone in for you. You’ve probably lost jobs this way.

The Time Traveller understands all this, and has had this whole experience, too. But the Time Traveller has also had, and is still having, treatment. He sees a doctor and a psychologist. He has a whole bunch of medication to take every day. He has a diagnosis that he carries around like a brand burned into his face, and he feels as if he walks with a limp. The Time Traveller gets it. He knows the boy’s beleaguered dad has been getting various sorts of psychiatric help since before dad even was a,dad, since he was about eighteen. He’s been given medication of various ineffective sorts, and seen a series of doctors, and he’s just been very unlucky to find himself in a historical period when the treatment options available to the mentally ill were terrible. The one treatment that will really help, a wonder drug called Lithium, the boy’s dad won’t get for years yet.

Then he’d like to do a couple of other things. The boy, who here is about 13, has been through this apocalyptic scenario a few times. Mum and Dad have had another big fight, they’ve said dreadful things, and next thing Dad’s packing a bag. I don’t recall Mum ever packing a bag. I also don’t recall Dad or Mum engaging in any sort of physical violence. It was never like that, thank God.

(Although, when I was younger, there were nights when I’d be in bed trying to sleep, but there was this noisy kerfuffle from the other side of the wall, in Mum and Dad’s room. There would be muffled voices, and the occasional exclamation and cry. It would sound like someone was being hurt. A few times, before I understood things better, I yelled out, all noble, “Stop it! Leave Mum alone!” Which I can only imagine resulted in fits of giggles on the other side of the wall. Sometimes a voice would reply, “Go to sleep!”)

I went through much of my youth not understanding my father. He was baffling and unpredictable. Every day would be something new and unexpected. Sometimes good, sometimes not. Sometimes the end of the world–job lost, or sometimes I’d come home from school and find Mum and Dad packing the station wagon because we were going for a holiday to Esperance. Now. Today.

No-one sat me down, when I was little, and explained to me that my dad’s weird and scary moods, his erratic behaviour, his wild and sometimes very generous impulses, were all symptoms of an illness. Mum sometimes, when I was older, tried to sort of explain this but I didn’t really get it. I needed someone, at an early age, to say to me, “look, your dad is sick. He does a lot of weird stuff, and has strange and unpredictable moods. A lot of the time he seems angry with you, but he’s not. It’s just his illness. He can’t help it. He loves you very much and wishes he could tell you more clearly what’s going on with him. But he is not mad at you. Nothing is your fault. Hang in there. It’s going to be okay. He loves you.” It never happened, or if it did and I’ve simply forgotten, I can still say I wish it had been earlier, much earlier. I would like to have known, when I first started feeling like it was all my fault, that it wasn’t. It would have spared me a lot of what went into my breakdown when I was 16.

If I had a time machine, I would use it to go back to visit this version of my Past Self, and tell him all this, to give him this kindness. I might also invite the kid, and maybe Past Mum and Dad as well, to come with me to 2017, the present day, when Mum and Dad, now elderly, live across the road from Michelle and me. I would bring in Past Self and Past Mum and Dad, and show them. Look, this is how things turn out. It’s going to be fine, once you get some help. Because these days, as of just tonight, my parents were laughing and joking and we were having a nice time over cuppas. We were close and happy. We were as far from that night when I was a kid as it’s possible to imagine. And to me it’s about the only really useful thing you could do with a time machine, to make miserable people see that there is a point in carrying on, that there is a worthwhile future for them.

MEMOIR: FAT AND HATING IT

MEMOIR: FAT AND HATING IT

They say that when you lose weight, the actual material that you lose is expelled from your body in your breath, that you breathe it out. I found this out just recently. For years as I’ve slogged away at my weight-loss efforts, I tended to think that the material I was losing was exiting my body via urine and faecal matter. And when I had a particularly big dump, I was a proud father, you might say.

As of this writing, in late July of 2017, I’ve lost almost fifty kilograms. I could not lift a fifty-kilogram weight. A while ago we visited an Asian grocery store, and I saw they had these twenty-five-kilogram bags of rice, and they were huge, like small mattresses. The thought that I’d lost just about two of them was shocking. The thought of trying to move two of them was impossible. When I was in hospital last year I was looked after by a great many nurses, many of them young Irish women. On hearing that I’d lost fifty kilograms they’d be all, “That’s me! You’ve lost me!” As if I’d been staggering about for years with an entire person riding on my back. That was a disturbing thought. An entire, full-grown person on your back, everywhere you go, upstairs, downstairs, every step you take. No wonder I was always tired. No wonder my knees were always screaming in pain.

All my life I’ve been fat. I was a fat baby, a fat toddler. I’ve seen photos, including some that my parents still have on display in their living room. There I am smiling gamely, but already what my mum has always called “a little pudding”.

It was because I was fat that I attracted the attention of bullies in primary school. You take up more space than you’re allowed to. Than you’re entitled to. Than is fair. All my life, I’ve been “fatso”, “fat pig”, “fat arse”, and many other appellations as lacking in wit as they are numerous. I’ve had the oinking, snorting noises in the locker area as people go past me. I’ve been in the hateful phys ed classes where in athletics it’s just assumed that I’ll be the anchor for the tug-of-war event, and that I’ll of course be up for shot put.

I have always hated my fat. I think it’s always hated me right back. I’ve always felt that it has meant me harm, the way the depression has meant me harm. I would not be surprised to learn that the two are in fact directly connected, that the one is a manifestation of the other. It would explain some things I’ve seen.

It’s drawn attention to, and never good attention. It’s always made clothes shopping an excruciating experience. Reaching the point where regular menswear shops could no longer help me was dreadful, and a bracing experience in shame, and then my first and all subsequent visits to Kingsize Menswear was even worse. Yes, they had a huge range of all kinds of things in my size. They had everything. It was extraordinary. It was colossal. This was indeed my kind of store. They would have you believe your dignity would be restored here, for a price. And in some ways it was. But the simple fact of your having to be there at all. That your life had come to this. That you needed to wear clothes that might be better suited to a giant. You had become freakish and monstrous, though at least you were a stylish monster.

One of the great pleasures of major weight-loss is being able to go back to regular stores to buy clothes, and finding plenty of options either side of my size. Of being able the funny and clever t-shirts I’d always wanted but could never previously fit into.

All of this aside: I hate being fat. I hate it with a fury. I would remove it from my body with a spoon if I could. I would get the bariatric surgery if I could. At one point, before embarking on the long-way-round diet-exercise campaign,mI actually looked into the surgical option. Even with top level health insurance coverage, it would still be $4000 for the cheapest option. But one of the the things that killed the whole thing was a specific note, that the surgery was not available to patients with a history of depression. Absolutely not, no exceptions, not even if you have a letter from your doctor. Just no.

I hate taking up so much room. I hate getting winded from doing simple jobs. This happens less than it used to, I’m pleased to say, and the stairs at IKEA are much easier than they were. Though I remember when I went to see the top orthopaedic surgeon in the state, an actual professor, and I hadn’t started losing the weight yet, so it was me and my 165.5 closest friends, and they were screaming about everything I tried to do. Could help with knee reconstruction? He said no. He said my colossal weight would crush any device he might install, and I would be worse off. He suggested I come back when my weight got down to 140 kg. I never did go back to him, though I blasted past 140 on my way down to my current 117.

Ever since I was a kid, people have seen my fat before they saw me. They’ve seen me clumsy, pasty, gormless, awkward, and only too aware of not fitting anywhere. Less a round peg in a square hole than a piece of fruit being played with by a cat nowhere near the square hole. But that’s my life generally. Doesn’t Fit Anywhere Man.

Meanwhile, my current helter-skelter weight-loss efforts are paying off so well I’m having to confront the question of how to ease out of weight-loss mode once I reach my target weight of 100 kilograms. At the moment am pursuing a low-food/high-fasting regime that is not for the faint of heart, but which is working with my flatlining metabolism. I’m a hurtling downhill skiier racing at insane speeds down the slick and icy slopes of the Peak of Madness. Sometimes I’m just on the narrow edge of one ski, and sometimes I’m in full downhill tuck screaming down a slope, and sometimes I think I’m going to crash.

I’ve been doing this for a month, and it’s still working, to my amazement. I’m eating one meal a day, and some treat chocolate. The rest is fasting. Up to 22 straight hours of fasting. For real. In that time I have to keep busy. At noon each day is weigh-in. Sometimes it’s good news, and sometimes not. I brood about weigh-in. Three-quarters of my daily total thought is entirely kilojoule math. Everything I eat I first inspect to see the kilojoule cost, the weight in grams.

If I eat any more than this, I gain weight. It’s the thing I fear most. During the period when I was going up the Peak of Madness, when it all seemed out of control, I was petrified and did not know what to do. In the end what helped was adopting the 5:2 intermittent fasting program, only I just did the fasting. There were no feeding days. I tried having feeding days and my weight would jus spike up again. So it had to be all-fasting, all-the-time.

Recently Michelle cooked some sausages. I love sausages. I had two, and they were outstanding–but I felt terrible about them all day long, worried about their effect, their mass, on the scales the next day. It was bad. I obsessed about it much more than you would ever believe. (They were more or less fine, a great relief.)

And this is the thing. I have had to put aside the world of eating and food. I have to be extremely careful. Food is dangerous. Because I am close now to a goal I set almost five years ago. And even closer to getting back onto the main road of that quest. Last year in hospital I reached 114.3. Now I’m 117.1. I’ll be there soon, and then I push on to 100, and when I get there I’m going skydiving.

Because I have always, always hated being fat. Hated always having to ask for seatbelt extenders on planes. Hated never having clothes that quite bit. Hated never being athletic, or seen to even potentially athletic (notable exception: in high school I did once win a walking race, and it was seen as the strangest, most unlikely, but also most “typical” thing ever, “that Bedford would win a walking race”). I’ve always hated the weird difficulties I’ve had with food, and how that’s contributed to my being fat. I always hated with a fiery passion the way my medications has made me stack on weight. That has always seemed among the cruellest side-effects of all, when you have people who are already at a low ebb in the way they see themselves, and then you give them a drug that might save their life, but might also destroy their self-esteem.

All I’ve ever wanted, from my earliest days, was to be thin, to be normal. When in high school phys ed class, we all had to head into the change room, strip off, change into sports gear, and later have showers. I always found the change room experiences traumatising. Getting naked in front of other boys is bad enough, but with bullies in the mix is worse. Add in acute self-anxiety, self-horror. I was fat. There was no way to hide it. It made you big and pale, a white whale wrapped in a bath towel, covered in goose-flesh, and boys laughing and pointing at you.

I just wanted to be unremarkable, normal height, normal weight, nothing to see here. My current campaign is my best-ever chance at that. I just wish it was not so very nearly unendurable. The discipline required is terrible. My psychiatrist says if I can keep this going for six months (!) it will become easier because my body will reset what it’s “normal” weight is. He says that right now it’s thinking that my initial starting weight, 165.5 kg, is my normal weight and wants to push me back there. But if just hang in the with my impossible regimen, I can hack my body into thinking this much lower figure is “normal”. Is he right? I hope he’s right. But six months? Ye gods.

MEMOIR: SICK/WELL (Updated Again, Better)

MEMOIR: SICK/WELL (Updated Again, Better)

Yesterday, a cold, wet Monday in July, I did about three days’ worth of Korean language lessons on Memrise, read two chapters of a Joan Didion book I’m working through, went to the local pool and slogged out heavy-duty walking laps for a full hour (so probably a bit more than a hundred laps), despite dreadfully agitating noise conditions. Later, when I came home, I wrote two long chapters for this book (about 3500 words total), took a long nap, and was in pretty good shape for Michelle when she came in late last night from work.

Yesterday was a regular sort of day for me lately. Some days in recent times I’ve done three chapters for the book. Some days I’ve done four days’ worth of Korean lessons. Yesterday was the first time I’ve tried to do a whole hour of walking laps, though. Up to that point I’d been doing 45 minutes, and thinking that was plenty. I’m going to try for an hour again next time because today I feel quite okay.

I saw my psychiatrist last week. I told him the book has been gushing out of me. That I’ve been exercising every day. That I have a clarity of thought that is pretty much new to me. That I feel consistently decent from day to day. That even the Trouser Department is reporting for duty. I’ve even been losing weight. That part has been very hard. I’m having to drastically reduce what I eat down to one meal a day in order to get past the effects of Nortriptyline, but it’s working. My doctor tells me that the combination of fasting and Topamax, another medication I’m on, in part for its weight-loss properties, is good for clarity of mind. He said he’s never seen me look so well. He said I’m “overflowing with energy”.

The last time I was anything like as productive as this was in 2015, when I was writing ETERNITY LEAVE. But the rest of the day I was a heap of dirty laundry with sick flies buzzing around it. I wasn’t able to get out of bed before 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I was a greasy smear on the couch. But I was writing up a storm, because my doctor cut back one of my drugs, and suddenly I could think. Within a few weeks of him cutting back that dose, I started writing that book, and was finished the whole thing in only 80 days.

What I’m experiencing this time is different. I have much the same productivity, but I can get out of bed like a regular person. I can function and do things. I can think and learn things, and go to the pool and work really hard. And write a big pile of words.

I was thinking about this yesterday, while I walked, trying to think of another time in my life when I functioned this well, and I couldn’t think of a single one. I was having to think back to when I was a writing-mad teenager, whose bedroom walls were covered completely, all over, with science fiction artwork from SF MONTHLY, the 1970s British magazine that used paperback book cover art as pull-out posters, often featuring, for example, the dazzling work of Chris Foss. In those days, when I was a green potato of a boy, writing like mad, for hours and hours and hours a day, to the point that my parents would bang on the walls to make me stop, when I could produce multiple terrible short stories each day. Because I was mad about science fiction, and because I was mad. I was manic, and had no idea. All I knew was that the throttle in my brain was open all the way, and I was roaring.

That was the last time I had productivity like this. When I was desperately sick.

Am I sick now? Am I well?

I’ve been thinking about this for months now, because for years I have felt sick, like something was wrong. I often didn’t know what it was that was wrong. At one point, when going about my life was like pushing through heavy, sticky syrup in order to do the slightest thing, when it was as if breathing was exhausting, it turned out I had an underactive thyroid. Excellent, I thought at the time. We can get this fixed and we’ll be in business. The feeling of wellbeing lasted at most a couple of weeks, then it was back into the treacle. No matter what we tried, there would be a brief lift, then back to the treacle. It was terrible. Something was wrong, something obvious, something trying to get our attention, but we were distracted.

So yes, I was definitely sick then. And I appear to be in rude health now. Right? Right? Because what would “well” look like if not like the picture I described at the beginning? I feel fine. I’m able to work hard at my chosen activities. I can do all my jobs around the house, and I can study. All the activities I’ve designated as meaningful to me, as being part of the pursuit of a peaceful and contented life, are there.

So why do I hesitate? Why do I stand before the door, and not go through the door? Because something is making me hesitate. In part I’m not convinced I’ll ever truly be well. That I’ll always, in some profoundly fundamental way, never quite be right. When I was in hospital last year, going through the worst of it, when I “couldn’t regulate my emotions”, when I’d find myself in tears at the slightest thing, and feeling utterly broken, unable to function, I sometimes thought of myself as Pinocchio, who wants only to be a Real Boy. I think I have always, and especially since my initial diagnosis, been Pinocchio, and I have always wanted to be a Real Boy.

It would be nice, I sometimes think, to forget that I was ever sick. That I ever had a diagnosis, that I ever had a file thick as an old phone book. Over the course of many years I saw that file grow, like a tumour. It was a visible sign of my illness. I hated it. I wanted to burn it. I wanted to remove all trace of myself from the system.

But I know none of these ideas would work out. I’d be burning the map, not the territory.

People sometimes speculate about what they would do if they had a time machine, and where they would go and what they would go and see. I’ve written about such people at scornful length in a couple of books. Because for me it’s not a fun or idle question. It’s life and death. If I were to lose my memory of having the illness, the illness itself would soon remind me, and simply show up. I would fall ill because I wouldn’t be taking my meds. And that’s the thing. If you travel back too far, you lose access to good medication and civilised treatment options. It’s extremely scary to contemplate just how recent the current array of psychiatric treatment options really are. Not that long ago people like me were simply locked away. Or in any case would not have lived long because the illness would long since have driven them to suicide.

I can’t imagine actual wellness. I can be fine, functioning better than at any time in my life, but in my blackened heart I know that no matter how many thousand words a day I do, or how many laps at the pool, or whatever other measure I choose, I’ll never quite be a Real Boy, because I’ll always be just a tiny bit sick.

PS: This is me writing a few weeks later. There has been a development. On the whole, all is amazingly well, as I outlined above. I completed the first draft of this book in two months flat. I started writing a novel (am already up to almost 20K). But I am having an increasingly difficult time with noise at the local pool, and specifically the noise of very small children playing. I’ve written about the anxiety I have to do with certain kinds of sound (see my piece, “Murder Sounds”, about misophonia), and when I’m at the pool there are often a lot of kids, and those kids love to squeal, scream, yell, and otherwise loudly vocalise in a piercing manner because the indoor pool acoustics make such sounds really bounce around, and my hyper-vigilant brain interprets such sounds as mortal threats. They feel like knives going through me. They feel like punishment. It has come to the point where I have no problem slogging out the laps, but I hate being at the pool. It makes me very unhappy. I need to talk to my psychologist about this.

There must be something I can do. I often think of the techniques my psychologist teaches me as “Jedi Mind Tricks”, and I hope she’s got a good one for this problem. Because it’s a doozy. I’m currently wondering about going there early in the morning, for example, when there should be no kids about. I’m reluctant to choose the obvious option of simply not going because I have two good friends who work there. I need a way to be there that doesn’t feel like a threat to my life all the time. Because that’s how all that noise feels. Every squeal, scream, yell, all happy and joyful sounds, all little kids having a wonderful time–in fact just as I would have had when I was their age!–feels like it’s going to kill me. It hurts me and I don’t quite know what to do.

It is this sort of thing that pops up from time to time to remind me, when I feel, as I have been feeling, bursting with wellness, that I am in fact still very sick. That I am in fact still Pinocchio the puppet. That I’m not a Real Boy after all.

MEMOIR: SICK/WELL (Updated)

MEMOIR: SICK/WELL (Updated)

Yesterday, a cold, wet Monday in July, I did about three days’ worth of Korean language lessons on Memrise, read two chapters of a Joan Didion book I’m working through, went to the local pool and slogged out heavy-duty walking laps for a full hour (so probably a bit more than a hundred laps), despite dreadfully agitating noise conditions. Later, when I came home, I wrote two long chapters for this book (about 3500 words total), took a long nap, and was in pretty good shape for Michelle when she came in late last night from work.

Yesterday was a regular sort of day for me lately. Some days in recent times I’ve done three chapters for the book. Some days I’ve done four days’ worth of Korean lessons. Yesterday was the first time I’ve tried to do a whole hour of walking laps, though. Up to that point I’d been doing 45 minutes, and thinking that was plenty. I’m going to try for an hour again next time because today I feel quite okay.

I saw my psychiatrist last week. I told him the book has been gushing out of me. That I’ve been exercising every day. That I have a clarity of thought that is pretty much new to me. That I feel consistently decent from day to day. That even the Trouser Department is reporting for duty. I’ve even been losing weight. That part has been very hard. I’m having to drastically reduce what I eat down to one meal a day in order to get past the effects of Nortriptyline, but it’s working. My doctor tells me that the combination of fasting and Topamax, another medication I’m on, in part for its weight-loss properties, is good for clarity of mind. He said he’s never seen me look so well. He said I’m “overflowing with energy”.

The last time I was anything like as productive as this was in 2015, when I was writing ETERNITY LEAVE. But the rest of the day I was a heap of dirty laundry with sick flies buzzing around it. I wasn’t able to get out of bed before 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I was a greasy smear on the couch. But I was writing up a storm, because my doctor cut back one of my drugs, and suddenly I could think. Within a few weeks of him cutting back that dose, I started writing that book, and was finished the whole thing in only 80 days.

What I’m experiencing this time is different. I have much the same productivity, but I can get out of bed like a regular person. I can function and do things. I can think and learn things, and go to the pool and work really hard. And write a big pile of words.

I was thinking about this yesterday, while I walked, trying to think of another time in my life when I functioned this well, and I couldn’t think of a single one. I was having to think back to when I was a writing-mad teenager, whose bedroom walls were covered completely, all over, with science fiction artwork from SF MONTHLY, the 1970s British magazine that used paperback book cover art as pull-out posters, often featuring, for example, the dazzling work of Chris Foss. In those days, when I was a green potato of a boy, writing like mad, for hours and hours and hours a day, to the point that my parents would bang on the walls to make me stop, when I could produce multiple terrible short stories each day. Because I was mad about science fiction, and because I was mad. I was manic, and had no idea. All I knew was that the throttle in my brain was open all the way, and I was roaring.

That was the last time I had productivity like this. When I was desperately sick.

Am I sick now? Am I well?

I’ve been thinking about this for months now, because for years I have felt sick, like something was wrong. I often didn’t know what it was that was wrong. At one point, when going about my life was like pushing through heavy, sticky syrup in order to do the slightest thing, when it was as if breathing was exhausting, it turned out I had an underactive thyroid. Excellent, I thought at the time. We can get this fixed and we’ll be in business. The feeling of wellbeing lasted at most a couple of weeks, then it was back into the treacle. No matter what we tried, there would be a brief lift, then back to the treacle. It was terrible. Something was wrong, something obvious, something trying to get our attention, but we were distracted.

So yes, I was definitely sick then. And I appear to be in rude health now. Right? Right? Because what would “well” look like if not like the picture I described at the beginning? I feel fine. I’m able to work hard at my chosen activities. I can do all my jobs around the house, and I can study. All the activities I’ve designated as meaningful to me, as being part of the pursuit of a peaceful and contented life, are there.

So why do I hesitate? Why do I stand before the door, and not go through the door? Because something is making me hesitate. In part I’m not convinced I’ll ever truly be well. That I’ll always, in some profoundly fundamental way, never quite be right. When I was in hospital last year, going through the worst of it, when I “couldn’t regulate my emotions”, when I’d find myself in tears at the slightest thing, and feeling utterly broken, unable to function, I sometimes thought of myself as Pinocchio, who wants only to be a Real Boy. I think I have always, and especially since my initial diagnosis, been Pinocchio, and I have always wanted to be a Real Boy.

It would be nice, I sometimes think, to forget that I was ever sick. That I ever had a diagnosis, that I ever had a file thick as an old phone book. Over the course of many years I saw that file grow, like a tumour. It was a visible sign of my illness. I hated it. I wanted to burn it. I wanted to remove all trace of myself from the system.

But I know none of these ideas would work out. I’d be burning the map, not the territory.

People sometimes speculate about what they would do if they had a time machine, and where they would go and what they would go and see. I’ve written about such people at scornful length in a couple of books. Because for me it’s not a fun or idle question. It’s life and death. If I were to lose my memory of having the illness, the illness itself would soon remind me, and simply show up. I would fall ill because I wouldn’t be taking my meds. And that’s the thing. If you travel back too far, you lose access to good medication and civilised treatment options. It’s extremely scary to contemplate just how recent the current array of psychiatric treatment options really are. Not that long ago people like me were simply locked away. Or in any case would not have lived long because the illness would long since have driven them to suicide.

I can’t imagine actual wellness. I can be fine, functioning better than at any time in my life, but in my blackened heart I know that no matter how many thousand words a day I do, or how many laps at the pool, or whatever other measure I choose, I’ll never quite be a Real Boy, because I’ll always be just a tiny bit sick.

PS: This is me writing a few weeks later. There has been a development. On the whole, all is amazingly well, as I outlined above. I completed the first draft of this book in two months flat. I started writing a novel (am already up to almost 20K). But I am having an increasingly difficult time with noise at the local pool, and specifically the noise of very small children playing. I’ve written about the anxiety I have to do with certain kinds of sound (see my piece, “Murder Sounds”, about misophonia), and when I’m at the pool there are often a lot of kids, and those kids love to squeal, scream, yell, and otherwise loudly vocalise in a piercing manner because the indoor pool acoustics make such sounds really bounce around, and my hyper-vigilant brain interprets such sounds as mortal threats. They feel like knives going through me. They feel like punishment. It has come to the point where I have no problem slogging out the laps, but I hate being at the pool. It makes me very unhappy. I need to talk to my psychologist about this.

There must be something I can do. I often think of the techniques my psychologist teaches me as “Jedi Mind Tricks”, and I hope she’s got a good one for this problem. Because it’s a doozy. I’m currently wondering about going there early in the morning, for example, when there should be no kids about. I’m reluctant to choose the obvious option of simply not going because I have two good friends who work there. I need a way to be there that doesn’t feel like a threat to my life all the time. Because that’s how all that noise feels. Every squeal, scream, yell, all happy and joyful sounds, all little kids having a wonderful time–in fact just as I would have had when I was their age!–feels like it’s going to kill me. It hurts me. It fills me with terrible, horrible thoughts, and I hate those most of all.