MEMOIR: TIME TRAVELLING THROUGH YOUR LIFE

(Believe it or not, this is a new version, with all-new middle bits and updated ending bits. Am having technical trouble with Ulysses, no doubt due to the whole “beta-testing” thing! 😉

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVELLING THROUGH YOUR LIFE

Suppose, just for a moment, for the sake of argument, that you had a time machine. What would you do with it? I’ve often thought about this. I’m a science fiction writer. Before I wrote this book I wrote a stack of science fiction novels, some of which have been published. I write about time travel a lot. And I think about this question a great deal.

I would try and help my younger self. That boy, that young man, was (and often, in middle-age, is still) in a world of strife, confusion and misery. He discovered, the hard way, at age sixteen that he had bipolar disorder. He is still, to this very day, decades later as I write these glowing blue words on my iPad screen, dealing with this problem. If I had a time machine, I would absolutely try to help that kid. Because I remember being him. I remember what his life was like. I remember the fear, the loneliness, and I remember the anger. I did not know what to do with all these feelings. It was as if I were constantly being struck by lightning, but had no means of earthing the current. I was full of teenage poison. I was a boy made of nerve-endings.

Growing up didn’t much help. It was Act II in a play. The sets had been swapped out, and the main character wore a different costume, but he was still made of nerve-endings, and still full of lightning and storms. In this part of his life the fundamental problem was pretending to be normal, while definitely not being normal. The problem was keeping people from finding out the secret. No matter what. It was hard. It wasn’t the sort of thing employers wanted to hear about a potential employee. New friends were sometimes fine with it, but sometimes not. But then this young man full of storms fell in love with a wonderful girl, and he had to tell her his terrible secret. She was, indeed, wonderful. We are approaching our 25th anniversary.

Act III of this show covers the past few years, the “present day”, as the storm-filled boy finds himself middle-aged, his medication no longer working, hugely overweight, lost at sea, the storms now outside as well as inside. He’s in trouble. His doctor decides to bring his medications into the 21st century, and admits him to hospital for what should be only a couple of weeks, but tuns out to be five months of agony and turmoil, an unprecedented ordeal the man has never known, and from which he is still, a year after leaving hospital, recovering. An experience so overwhelming, so mind-altering, that I felt the urge to write about it and my whole life with the stain, the illness, my companion. The limp only I can feel.

The thing about mental illness is it messes with your head. It makes you think weird stuff. It makes you believe things that are not true. And you believe them the way you believe in gravity and your mother’s love. These wrong beliefs wrap you with cobwebs. You’re not even aware of it. It happens slowly. It’s like cataracts forming in your eyes. You never notice them, but then one day you can’t see. Same with the cobwebs coccooning your mind. You never notice it happening, but then one day you find you can’t move. Your whole sense of who you are as a person, frozen, pinned down, unable to act, because you believe terrible things will occur if you do act. You believe you might die, or people (or pets) might die. The cobwebs whisper in your ear, telling you these things. Sometimes they scream. Either way, you can’t do things you want to do, go to things you want to go to, see people you want to see, or even simply leave the house. You know it’s irrational, but you believe it’s life and death.

Finding ways to get past these wrong ideas to the truth is what I’ve been doing. I have found that I am very susceptible to the cobwebs. I get them all the time. Sometimes I can clear them out on my own. But I also have a terrific psychologist, and she has a very good stick.

Writing this book has helped me with the cobwebs.

This book is about exploring my life as if I were a Time Traveller, especially as it has been affected by mental illness, my bipolar disorder and anxiety. What would I see, as a grown-up, middle-aged man, with all my experience with the illness and treatment, that my younger selves don’t see? I know, obviously, that I can’t help them. But I can bear witness. I can listen and report. I can tell you what it was like back when these things were never discussed. Back when being sixteen and bipolar was pretty much the end of the world.

All my life I have done my best to present myself to the world as if I was fine. To conceal my stain. Which is to say, I have been a liar all my life. Always pretending to be something I’m not and was not. And always feeling the strain of the pretence. This book is about that feeling, how it felt, and still feels. How it used to feel, when it was shameful and a secret, and how it feels now, when you can write about it and speak about it.

I imagine myself, middle-aged, married, man in possession a time machine, visiting my teenage self the night I had my first huge terrifying breakdown, the night I feared I die of crying. What might I see, watching from the corner of the room that teenage me, at the white-hot fragmentary centre of the event failed to notice? The smallness, the intimacy. The nurse and my mum, each holding one of my hands as I howled and screamed into the night. Wanting to tell the kid it gets better, but really, remembering back, remembering my own experience, it does get better, but it takes geological ages first. It takes many years, and much, much more pain. No amount of glib, “it gets better” mottos will cut it here. There is only one path ahead for this boy and it’s the hard path.

This book is about what that path was and is like for me.

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVELLING THROUGH YOUR LIFE (Total Rewrite)

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVELLING THROUGH YOUR LIFE (Total Rewrite, Revised)

Suppose, just for a moment, for the sake of argument, that you had a time machine. What would you do with it? I’ve often thought about this. I’m a science fiction writer. Before I wrote this book I wrote a stack of science fiction novels, some of which have been published. I write about time travel a lot. And I think about this question a great deal.

I would try and help my younger self. That boy, that young man, was (and often, in middle-age, is still) in a world of strife, confusion and misery. He discovered, the hard way, at age sixteen that he had bipolar disorder. He is still, to this very day, decades later as I write these glowing blue words on my iPad screen, dealing with this problem. If I had a time machine, I would absolutely try to help that kid. Because I remember being him. I remember what his life was like. I remember the fear, the loneliness, and I remember the anger. I did not know what to do with all these feelings. It was as if I were constantly being struck by lightning, but had no means of earthing the current. I was full of teenage poison. I was a boy made of nerve-endings.

Growing up didn’t much help. It was Act II in a play. The sets had been swapped out, and the main character wore a different costume, but he was still made of nerve-endings, and still full of lightning and storms. In this part of his life the fundamental problem was pretending to be normal, while definitely not being normal. The problem was keeping people from finding out the secret. No matter what. It was hard. It wasn’t the sort of thing employers wanted to hear about a potential employee. New friends were sometimes fine with it, but sometimes not. But then this young man full of storms fell in love with a wonderful girl, and he had to tell her his terrible secret. She was, indeed, wonderful. We are approaching our 25th anniversary.

Act III of this show covers the past few years, the “present day”, as the storm-filled boy finds himself middle-aged, his medication no longer working, hugely overweight, lost at sea, the storms now outside as well as inside. He’s in trouble. His doctor decides to bring his medications into the 21st century, and admits him to hospital for what should be only a couple of weeks, but tuns out to be five months of agony and turmoil, an unprecedented ordeal the man has never known, and from which he is still, a year after leaving hospital, recovering. An experience so overwhelming, so mind-altering, that I felt the urge to write about it and my whole life with the stain, the illness, my companion. The limp only I can feel.

The thing about mental illness is it messes with your head. It makes you think weird stuff. It makes you believe things that are not true. And you believe them the way you believe in gravity and your mother’s love. These wrong beliefs wrap you with cobwebs. You’re not even aware of it. It happens slowly. It’s like cataracts forming in your eyes. You never notice them, but then one day you can’t see. Same with the cobwebs coccooning your mind. You never notice it happening, but then one day you find you can’t move. Your whole sense of who you are as a person, frozen, pinned down, unable to act, because you believe terrible things will occur if you do act. You believe you might die, or people (or pets) might die. The cobwebs whisper in your ear, telling you these things. Sometimes they scream. Either way, you can’t do things you want to do, go to things you want to go to, see people you want to see, or even simply leave the house. You know it’s irrational, but you believe it’s life and death.

Finding ways to get past these wrong ideas to the truth is what I’ve been doing. I have found that I am very susceptible to the cobwebs. I get them all the time. Sometimes I can clear them out on my own. But I also have a terrific psychologist, and she has a very good stick.

Writing this book has helped me with the cobwebs.

This book is about exploring my life as if I were a Time Traveller, especially as it has been affected by mental illness, my bipolar disorder and anxiety. What would I see, as a grown-up, middle-aged man, with all my experience with the illness and treatment, that my younger selves don’t see? I know, obviously, that I can’t help them. But I can bear witness. I can listen and report. I can tell you what it was like back when these things were never discussed. Back when being sixteen and bipolar was pretty much the end of the world.

All my life I have done my best to present myself to the world as if I was fine. To conceal my stain. Which is to say, I have been a liar all my life. Always pretending to be something I’m not and was not. And always feeling the strain of the pretence. This book is about that feeling, how it felt, and still feels. How it used to feel, when it was shameful and a secret, and how it feels now, when you can write about it and speak about it.

I imagine myself, middle-aged, married, man in possession a time machine, visiting my teenage self the night I had my first huge terrifying breakdown, the night I feared I die of crying. What might I see, watching from the corner of the room that teenage me, at the white-hot fragmentary centre of the event failed to notice? The smallness, the intimacy. The nurse and my mum, each holding one of my hands as I howled and screamed into the night. Wanting to tell the kid it gets better, but really, remembering back, remembering my own experience, it does get better, but it takes geological ages first. It takes many years, and much, much more pain. No amount of glib, “it gets better” mottos will cut it here. There is only one path ahead for this boy and it’s the hard path.

This book is about what that path was and is like for me.

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVELLING THROUGH YOUR LIFE (Total Rewrite)

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVELLING THROUGH YOUR LIFE (Total Rewrite)

Suppose, just for a moment, for the sake of argument, that you had a time machine. What would you do with it? I’ve often thought about this. I’m a science fiction writer. Before I wrote this book I wrote a stack of science fiction novels, some of which have been published. I write about time travel a lot. And I think about this question, what would you do with a time machine, if you had one, a lot.

I would try and help my younger self. That boy, that young man, was (and often, in middle-age, is still) in a world of strife, confusion and misery. He discovered, the hard way, at age sixteen that he had bipolar disorder. He is still, to this very day, decades later as I write these glowing blue words on my iPad screen, dealing with this problem. If I had a time machine, I would absolutely try to help that kid. Because I remember being him. I remember what his life was like. I remember the fear, the loneliness, and I remember the anger. I did not know what to do with all these feelings. It was as if I were constantly being struck by lightning, but had no means of earthing the current. I was full of teenage poison. I was a boy made of nerve-endings.

Growing up didn’t much help. It was Act II in a play. The sets had been swapped out, and the main character wore a different costume, but he was still made of nerve-endings, and still full of lightning and storms. In this part of his life the fundamental problem was pretending to be normal, while definitely not being normal. The problem was keeping people from finding out the secret. No matter what. It was hard. Then he fell in love with a wonderful girl, and he had to tell her. She was, indeed, wonderful. We are approaching our 25th anniversary.

And then there’s now, Act III, the midlife reconstruction. After thirty years on the same terrible medications, the storm-filled middle-aged man’s doctor decides things might be better if the man’s medications were brought into the 21st century. A short hospital stay of about two weeks should suffice. It winds up taking nearly six months. There’s a full-scale depressive cycle. There are countless medications to try. There is an experimental dabble with transcranial magnetic stimulation.

It’s almost a year since I left that hospital for the final time. It has been extraordinarily hard, getting to this point. The thing about mental illness is it messes with your head. It makes you think weird stuff. It makes you believe things that are not true. And you believe them the way you believe in gravity and your mother’s love. These wrong beliefs wrap you, the sense of who you are inside your head, with cobwebs. You’re not even aware of it. It happens slowly. It’s like cataracts forming in your eyes. You never notice them, but then one day you can’t see. Same with the cobwebs coccooning your mind. You never notice it happening, but then one day you find you can’t move.

Finding ways to get past these wrong ideas to the truth is what I’ve been doing. I have found that I am very susceptible to the cobwebs. I get them all the time. Sometimes I can clear them on my own. But I also have a terrific psychologist, and she has a very good stick.

Writing this book has helped me with the cobwebs, too.

This book is about exploring my life as if I were a Time Traveller, especially as it has been affected by mental illness, my bipolar disorder and anxiety. What would I see, as a grown-up, middle-aged man, with all my experience with the illness and treatment, that my younger selves don’t see? I know, obviously, that I can’t help them.

All my life I have done my best to present myself to the world as if I was fine. As if I had no illness. Which is to say, I have been a liar all my life. Always pretending to be something I’m not and was not. And always feeling the strain of the pretence. This book is about that feeling, how it felt, and still feels. How it used to feel, when it was shameful and a secret, and how it feels now, when you can write about it and speak about it.

I imagine myself, middle-aged, married, man in possession a time machine, visiting my teenage self the night I had my first huge terrifying breakdown, the night I feared I die of crying. What might I see, watching from the corner of the room that teenage me, at the white-hot fragmentary centre of the event failed to notice? The smallness, the intimacy. The nurse and my mum, each holding one of my hands as I howled and screamed into the night. Wanting to tell the kid it gets better, but really, remembering back, remembering my own experience, it does get better, but it takes geological ages first. It takes many years, and much, much more pain. No amount of glib, “it gets better” mottos will cut it here. There is only one path ahead for this boy and it’s the hard path.

This book is about what that path was and is like for me.

APPROACHING THE SINGULARITY

APPROACHING THE SINGULARITY

I could have called it “Weight-Loss Christmas”. I could have called it “Adrian’s Retirement From Dieting”. I could have called it “the Summit of Weight-Loss Mountain”. It’s the moment when you have to Trust the Force, close your eyes, and launch the proton torpedoes and destroy the Death Star—and try not to be destroyed yourself in the process. This last strikes me as very potentially applicable.

I call it the Singularity. It’s the destination. It’s where I’ve been going these past five years. Most of that time my determination, my dedication, has not been as keen as it is now, when that destination looms up in front of me. Five years ago, four years ago, it was way off, beyond the horizon, only visible as a faint blue shadow on the horizon if at all. I said it was my goal, to lose 65 kilograms, but I had little serious expectation of doing it. I thought it much more likely that I would fail in the attempt somehow. That I would make a good attempt, get maybe 20, maybe 30, even 40 kg—but then it would all come thundering back, a deafening, wobbling stampede of kilograms charging back, piling aboard, taking up residence on my back, around my middle, on my arse, my thighs, everywhere.

It nearly happened. Earlier this year, the unthinkable began to occur. Since my hospitalisations last year, I’ve been on Nortriptyline. It’s good for depression, but bad for fat. It’s like standing in a wind tunnel machine, only the machine flings fat at you at high speed, and it sticks, and your weight balloons. And while my mood improved under this drug, my weight piled back on. I was in the fat machine. Part of me, the part with the sweet tooth, with the weak sweet tooth, the part feeling dismayed with the world news and eating to express that dismay, liked being in the fat machine.

I gained back 13 kilograms.

It scared me straight. It scared me so straight I took action the same day I saw that result on the scale, and in due course I lost those 13 kg. An observer might have noted a certain anger around my features as I went about losing those kilograms. That I was not under any circumstances letting that bollocks stand. It’s true. I was furious with myself. I had let myself go. If I had stayed on that track I would have gone back to my original weight in two years. I wasn’t having that. That’s the thing about major, long-term weight-loss. You start thinking in terms of sunk investments. In terms of asset insurance. You want to protect what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. And the further you go, the more you achieve, the more you want to protect it.

You’re Gollum, and your weight-loss is your Precious.

It’s the Singularity because, like the singularities in physics, the dimensionless points of infinite density at the hearts of black holes, it distorts everything around it, including my own reality. It’s the Singularity because, like the mythical Singularity that was thought to be looming ahead of us in the near future as the pace of technological development accelerated to ever faster rates, to the point where mere humans could never keep up with it, that development would become the province of ever-smarter, ever-more-godlike machines—it would distort all of reality as we understand it.

The Singularity I’m heading for is perhaps not quite as grand as this. It’s going to be a pasty, baggy, white middle-aged man in loose undies standing on a set of scales at midday one day about eight weeks from now, and he’s going to feel a little rush of excitement, and he’s going to tell his wife, and he’s going to squeal a bit, and look at that number, and not know quite what to do.

But in his mind, in his heart, this Singularity will be every bit as grand as the technological one. It will be an achievement years in the making. It will be a physical and mental transformation. Not, it must be admitted, all for the good. In his mind, he’s one of those crashed, burned-out old cars stuck up in an old dead tree you see out in the bush sometimes. These last five years, thinking about “the program” all the time, the counting of kilojoules, of laps, of kilograms, of keeping track,of everything eaten, has been exhausting.

As hard as the past four and a half years has been, these particular last five months have been by far the hardest. These have been the time of the emergency “low-food programme”, where I’ve lost, as of this writing, 19 kg in five months (eating around 3500 kilojoules per day). Where I plan to keep at it until Christmas, to complete the project, the remaining eight kilograms.

The unbelievably hard part is the waiting during the long hours of fasting. I call it, sarcastically, “Cruise Mode”, as if it were a glib LA-type diet. But it’s fasting. Twenty-two hours or so of fasting. Of being hungry. News flash: it turns out that feeling really hungry is unpleasant but it won’t kill you. It’s exactly like a headache, but in your stomach. You can have coffee with artificial sweetener, and skim milk. You can have all the water you can drink.

NOTE: I DO NOT recommend this approach to eating. I do it because the programme I had been on had stopped working. My metabolism seemed to have more or less died. People who experience serious weight-loss find that their metabolisms slow to the point that any amount of food makes them gain weight, which is why so many people who lose major weight gain it back. They can’t help it. They reach the point where even breathing seems to make them gain weight.

This prospect is doing my head in.

No, that’s not true, I must confess. The ENTIRE PROJECT is doing my head in. Or, to be even more precise, and harking back to that burned out old hulk up in the tree, it HAS done my head in. By this point I am limping along. I am not romping home in the closing stages of the race. I’m buggered. I’m exhausted, fed up, hungry—I’m always hungry—and can I just say I am really and truly fed up with unasked-for diet advice. Everywhere I go, online and off, when people find out what I’m doing and the unorthodox way I’m doing it, I get advice. I get all kinds of advice. All of it suitable for regular, healthy people with properly working metabolisms and who aren’t taking major psychiatric medications.

I’m only too aware that what I’m doing is not, strictly speaking, all that healthy or advisable. I won’t be writing a diet book advocating the “low-food programme”. There wouldn’t be enough material for such a book. Eat 3500 kilojoules, and fast for 23 continuous hours a day. That’s it. You’re welcome. Bear in mind that the normal human intake per day is 8700 kilojoules. If you’re thinking, “My God, Bedford, you’re starving yourself!” you’re near the mark. I am almost starving. I am eating just enough to keep things ticking over. Most of my required daily kilojoules comes from my own stores of fat, of which I did have plenty, but now there is a lot less. I am being hollowed out. My skin is sagging on me. Where I used to bulge with round rude curves I now drape and droop with crêpey crinkles.

Five years ago, at my original weight of 165.5 embarrassing kilograms, I found myself in hospital for surgery to fix a shattered elbow. After the surgery at one point I needed to have a new cannula installed in my arm, but there was a problem: my pudgy skin made it hard to find my veins. I remember a young female doctor having the worst day of her professional life so far, trying again and again and again to find a vein in various points in the crook of my other elbow, in the back of my hand, and in fact anywhere she could think of, without success. It took ages, hurt like hell, and she was mortified at her lack of skill—and I was mortified at my pudgy skin getting in the way of her skills.

Flash-forward to now, 57 kilograms later. My blood-vessels are pipelines, terrain-features across the backs of my hands, along my arms. They cast shadows. Sometimes I find myself staring at them, turning my hand in the light just so, looking at shadows, thinking about that poor doctor, wishing I could contact her, and tell her how sorry I feel, how ashamed I felt, both at the time and still. How it was that incident that helped drive me on this weight-loss project in the first place. I had had enough of being too big. I had crushed too many chairs, gone sideways through too many doors, been unable to find clothes in my size too many times.

It’s the Singularity because it has consumed me and my whole existence. Nothing in my life is untouched by it. When I reach it, I don’t know what I’ll do, or how I’ll feel. So much of my life has been about getting there, but I don’t know about being there. Or about leaving it behind. Going beyond it. If what I’m doing here is writing a book about this experience, it’s mostly going to be about surviving contact with the Singularity, with your goal, and trying to rebuild your life beyond it. Because my life will be difficult. I can’t just resume eating like regular people. I still have all my food issues. And I still have my broken metabolism. I’ll still be in danger of regaining all the weight. I’m damned if I’m putting all that back on.

I may have to go into orbit around the Singularity. It might not be possible for me to go off into unexplored darkness beyond its comforting light. I might be too damaged. I might also be a moth, attracted to bright lights. I remember, when I was younger, and travelled into the city a lot, there was a big advertising structure next to the Perth Bus Station. It featured all these big signs, lit by floodlights, and at night the bright floodlights would attract hordes of moths, and the moths would go too close to the lights, and would burn. There was always a terrible smell, and smoke as the moths burned. I think about those burning moths. I’m drawn to my Singularity like those moths were to their light. The closer I get the more weight I can lose, the less I’ll weigh, the thinner I’ll be.

I said I was broken. This is what I meant. I am not well inside. I’ve known this for some time. I want to be thin. I don’t want to be a muscle-bound hulk. I want to be just a regular thin guy, normal for my size. But I want it badly. I’ve always wanted it badly, ever since I was a bullied kid getting picked on for being fat. Because clearly the fat was the problem. There were other problems, too (I wasn’t interested in sport, or other manly pursuits), but they were all aspects of fatness. If only I wasn’t fat, see, then everything would be fine.

This is the thought I’ve carried with me since childhood.

But I know it’s bollocks. I could be made of twigs, and bullies would decide I was made of the wrong twigs, or that twigs themselves were stupid. Or that, suddenly, it was cool to be fat for the first time ever.

Because the key point about bullies is there is no reasoning with them. There is no logic. There is no negotiating with them. They are bullies. They are undisciplined power used towards a bad end. Usually a stupid end. To inflict suffering. For no good reason. Suffering for its own sake. Power for its own sake. So saying, if only I wasn’t fat, if only I was thin, is no good.

Being thin has to be a good thing in itself.

It’s good for my health. My joints love it. My heart and lungs love it. I love being able to buy regular clothes. I can run. I’m looking forward to not having the letter X on my clothes labels.

I’m about eight weeks out from the Singularity. I imagine the day I get there will be weird. I imagine I’ll be very excited. Michelle will probably be quite excited. Mum and Dad will probably be more excited than both of us put together. A fair few people on Facebook will be pleased, but I’ll feel extremely self-conscious about making too much fuss about it there because I’m always worried about annoying people, and taking up too much space, and posting happy news when I know other people are suffering, so that I end up kind of folding into myself a bit. So I’ll probably say more over here on my website, both about being pleased to be here at the destination, and about my sense of apprehensiveness about what might be next, that I’ve been so focussed on getting here that I have no plans for the future.

Maybe in the next eight weeks I should get on that!

NOTEBOOK: Describe the Voices

NOTEBOOK: Describe the Voices

I call them voices, but most of the time they are “just” persuasive noise in my head. They are urgings. They are football stadiums full of furious supporters screaming at a guy with a ball, trying to encourage him to either kick a goal, or to make him fumble the kick. Sometimes the screaming is about jinxing him; sometimes it’s about encouragement.

Sometimes it’s my mum, right in my ear, saying, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” And on those occasions, whatever it is probably is not a good idea.

I have over the past month or so had a hell of a bad time with the voices. It’s the major reason I haven’t been here much. It’s the major reason that when I have been here the thing most on my mind has been trying to figure out why I haven’t been here. Why I’ve been so silent.

Well, I can tell you why.

I’ve been scared.

I have these noises in my head. These anxieties. It’s a lot like having a group of friends whose every instinct is to hold you back from everything good that might come along for you, and that might lift you up and away from them. These clowns who surround you want to keep you down with them. They are bad for you. They mean you harm. They are holding you back. They want to keep the old gang together, the old gang from high school, or the block, or the hood, or whatever. You and they go way back. But you are or have outgrown them. You’re going places.

The voices mean you harm, and they will fight you.

Or, rather, they will seem to fight you. They will get right up in your face. They will invade your space. You will smell their breath. You will know what they just ate. You will hear their pulse. You will be so close you could kiss them.

These voices of mine had a real problem with me. They still have a real problem with me and they are up in my face as I write this. I am tempted to wear a string of garlic cloves around my neck to ward them off. My voices have a serious problem with me writing and talking about myself and all my stuff. My mental health stuff, my weight-loss stuff. All my endless stuff. The way I just never, ever, ever shut up about it all. It’s me me me 24/7.

And the thing is, they have a point. I am acutely conscious that I have been and continue to do exactly this. I’ve been talking and writing about all this stuff very intensively for a long, long time now. Anybody would be sick to death of it. Honestly, there are times when I am sick of it, the endless Bedford Show. Look at Me, Look at Me, check out Freak Show Under Glass, the Shameless Monster who just won’t shut up!

Yes, I get it. I started out with the simple intention of demystifying mental illness. I would write about the experience of treatment, show what it was like, what it felt like, the nuts and bolts, all the paraphernalia, the feelings, the whole ball of wax. And the whole thing kind of grew in the telling, and grew and grew. The more I wrote, the more I wrote—the more I could write. I got an actual book out of it.

And not long after that book got its first rejection, the voices in my head came out of hiding. They’d all been pretty quiet—unnaturally quiet, too quiet, and they hit me in what felt like a huge pile-on. One day the weather in my head was fine and clear. Nothing much going on. I felt okay. But the very next day, it was mental winter. It was a mental thunderstorm, and there was me caught in it without even the sort of hopeless umbrella that blows inside out at the first serious squall of cold wind.

The voices were on the attack. It served me right. They didn’t say this in so many words. It wasn’t like someone standing in front of me speaking to me, or someone on the phone. It was more like that football crowd erupting with furious delight because a hated player failed to score a goal. Yelling and screaming. People up on their feet, their arms up, waving banners and scarves, the atmosphere both electric and poisonous with hate. It was like that, but inside me.

They were glad I failed.

I tried to get going on the rewrites for the book. An extremely kind and generous friend offered to help me out. I made a start. But the noise, the noise.

Meanwhile, I’m still working hard on my weight-loss project. It’s going extremely well. It’s in its final stages. It’s so close, in fact, after such a long and arduous journey, that it’s affecting my mind. It’s stirring things up. It’s bringing stress and depression all of its own. And, meanwhile, it’s also filling my head with the urge to write about it, possibly at book-length. I could imagine writing about weight-loss, the closing stages of the project, and the struggle to keep it off, and the way it, the project these past five years, has in many ways, destroyed my mind, messed with my relationship with food and eating, distorted all kinds of things. I feel like a dreadful wreck. I will not, when I reach the destination in about eight weeks from now, be arriving in triumph. I will be like those marathon runners who stagger and hobble into the arena, barely able to move, their shoes full of blood, who have to be helped across the line.

The voices HATE this idea. More bollocks about yourself? More confessional writing? More me me me? More conceitedness, narcissism, self-involvement? More wanking off with an iPad? Have I, at last, no shame?

Can’t I just, you know, give it a rest?

It’s just, the idea struck. That’s it. I’m in the middle of the weight-loss. It’s in its closing stages. It’s on my mind. I can write about it. That’s all.

But the voices, they hate it so much! They hate it the way Gollum hates Frodo. They hate it, and they hate me, even though they are me. They are an expression of me, or part of me, of that part of me I’ve been dragging around like a prisoner’s ball and chain since bullied boyhood. Every resentment, every torment, every hatred, it’s all there in that iron ball, and in those voices. They don’t want me to succeed. They want me to be a stain on the couch, the way I used to be, before I went to hospital last year. They want me mentally ill, depressed, unable to cope or function, unable to write, unable to do a damn thing. Unable to break out of that old group, the guys from the old neighbourhood who don’t want me to succeed.

The thing about the voices is this: they can be loud, and they can be extremely intimate and persuasive. They can appear to you as your mum, your wife, or even as your own self. They can make the nest, most reasonable argument in the world, or the most terrifying, ball-shrinking threats. They can make you unable to speak on your own website. They can fill you with silence. They can make you believe nobody wants to hear from you. It’s eerie, how you end up believing all this stuff.

But the key thing is this: they can’t touch you. For all that they can get intimately close to you, they can’t actually touch you. All they have is words and special effects. They’re nothing. They can make you believe that bad things will happen if you do or don’t do the thing, but it’s all bluff. It’s just noise, a Ghost Train ride at the carnival, and when you go back in with all the lights on you see what a shabby lie it all was.

My voices are compelling, convincing, but they’re all talk. The thing is, though, their talk is so good, so powerful, that it conceals that fact. When they convey the impression that I’d better not write, that people are fed up, that they’re too polite to tell me to my face, but really, dude, give it a rest, just stop. The time has past. Get yourself a hobby. When the voices are telling me this, and making me feel so inhibited, so inward. When I open Ulysses (which, ironically, I’m supposed to be beta-testing!), look at the interface, feel all tense and conflicted and anxious, and put it all away again, it’s weird. It feels like I have all these people on my shoulder, telling me to step away from the writing app. Nobody needs to hear what you’ve got to say, dude. Your time is over. Move on.

This is what the voices are like. They are nothing, but that nothing can drive you to take your own life. My voices have never been like that (thankfully), but I understand how they might. I understand how it might happen, and seem like the most reasonable, sensible idea in the world. That it would seem like you would be doing the people in your life a favour, helping them. Relieving them of a terrible burden. I understand this.

My voices, the noise in my head, takes the thing I do best, the thing I am best at, and makes me believe everyone I know wants me to stop doing it because they are all fed up with me doing it. That they are sick of my writing, and wish I would stop talking about my life and issues. This is my own mind telling me this.

My own mind telling me right now, “Sure, but it could still be true, regardless.”

Wanting to punch my mind.

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WEIGHT-LOSS

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WEIGHT-LOSS

I walk laps at the local swimming pool. Up and down, over and over. For years I used to keep count, which was hard, and I had to resort to all manner of mental trickery to do it. The pool is 25 metres long, and I tried to do 80 (2 km) to 100 (2.5 km) laps per session. During the winter months sometimes the pool admin people ran a competition where you could tally up your lap totals and imagine you were walking or swimming great distances, such as to Rottnest Island, or crossing the English Channel. I won this competition one year, with a total of 61 km of walking laps in that 25-metre pool.

I don’t count laps anymore. Keeping count is stressful and burdensome. Now I just slog out laps for 45 minutes or an hour, which works out about the same, but without all the stress. It gives me a lot of time to think. And today, I had a lot to think about.

Why have I not been writing lately? Where have I been? What’s been going on? For quite a while there you could not stop me writing. I was writing all day! Yes, you’ve heard me say all this before. I’ve chewed all this over previously, and I have. I’ve worried over possible depression, burnout, all kinds of things. Last time I saw my psychologist she suggested I might have experienced something called a “peak experience”, of all things, and I was now in the inevitable slump following such an intense phenomenon.

But I don’t know. I’m not sure. I think something else, after all this time, is going on, taking up more and more space in my brain.

I’m losing boatloads of weight.

I’ve been doing this now for nearly five years. It’ll be five years on December 28.

When I started, my initial weight was 165.5 kilograms.

This morning it was 109.4 kg.

The current rate of loss is about 3.3 kg/month.

I am aiming at 100 kg. I should be there by around Christmas, which will be the five-year mark.

BMI calculators, however, tell me that according to my height, etc, at 100 kg, I will still be obese. That I need to push on to 75 kg. I will have to think carefully about that.

Back to today at the pool.

I was doing my laps. Up and down. Thinking hard, wondering why I haven’t been writing. Because it wasn’t for lack of thought. My head this afternoon was bursting with stuff I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about essay ideas, about the novel I’ve been writing, rewrites I need to do on my memoir project—all kinds of things.

But one thing above all else: weight-loss.

About today’s weigh-in. About everything I had so far consumed today. Adding up all the kilojoules I’d consumed. My goal for today was to do exactly what I did yesterday, in hope of replicating the successful drop in weight I had on the scales today. And today I also did a big chunk of exercise at the pool, which should help a little. So far the plan is going well. I think about today’s scale result, the 109.4 kg. Wondering if I might drop into the 108’s this week. Because that would be neat.

Meanwhile, in another country, a man somehow smuggled at least ten high-powered rifles into a hotel room and managed to kill at least 59 people and injure more than 500 others.

This weight-loss bollocks has made me the most inward-looking, most self-involved, self-absorbed man on Earth—or so it often seems to me. I exist in a bubble of numbers. It is all kilojoules, kilograms, laps, grams, etc. I squint at labels of things I’m thinking of eating to see what “the damage” is going to be. Today Michelle suggested we go to a really nice café she knows I really like for one of my favourite meals, but I thought first of the huge kilojoule cost of it, that I would need a number of days either side of it to plan my consumption around it.

Why did the man with all those guns kill all those people? Because he seems to have planned it with some care. It must have taken some thought to figure out how to get all those rifles and ammunition into his hotel room without anyone noticing.

Why do people do what they do, make the choices they make? Why did this man do what he did? The US president says the man was simply “pure evil”, as if that explained anything.

Why am I doing what I’m doing? This thing that has taken over my whole life? At this point I am much more a weight-loss guy than I am a writing guy. I think much more about weight-loss than I do about anything else.

Why am I not writing? Why am I not reading?

Because I am “close to the Singularity” now. The reality-warping, mind-warping goal is close enough you can taste it, so to speak. It’s just 9 kilograms away. It’s taking up more and more of my brain.

And today, as I slogged up and down at the pool, I was thinking about this, and realised this is very likely what’s happened to me. I’ve been overwhelmed with weight-loss thought.

And, realising that, I felt myself, in the pool, almost come to a total stop. It was like “the wall” you hear about professional long-distance runners talk about, where they reach a point of exhaustion where they feel they can’t go on, but they keep pushing through it. I felt something like that today, when I wanted to stop, not the slog, but everything. The weight-loss, everything. I felt finished.

Because while I say that the weight-loss is eating my brain, I am still aware of at least some of what’s going on out there. I know about this man, this retired accountant with all the guns. I know about all the people our country has locked up in island gulags, people so desperate they take their own lives, and nothing changes. I know about indigenous people still dying somehow in police custody, decades after we had a Royal Commission into that very topic, but nothing changed. I think about these things a great deal. I can’t bear them. It’s easier to think about dwindling numbers on my scales, to stare at my stomach, to see how I am being hollowed out. Maybe my obsession with these numbers is a coping mechanism against an unbearable world, and intolerable injustice, even here at home.

I plan to keep writing about these numbers and the changing state of my body. I may also write more about the world around me, too, by way of trying to find out what I think, or how I think. All I know is when I walk my laps, up and down, up and down, it feels as if my head is full of lightning and thunder, as if I must write, but I’m afraid to write, afraid to see what I say, a d afraid to see what others say about what I say. But I must say something. My body and my thoughts are all part of the same thing. My thoughts about this man with all the rifles are all part of the same thing, too. It’s all something waiting to be born.

Bear with me.