MEMOIR: GIRLS AND BOYS (BIG REWRITE)

 

Her name was Lynette, and she was the dreamiest girl in grade six. She was blonde and otherworldly. She, like me, was only eleven, but that was enough. It would do. I think we may have touched hands once, clammy and warm, soft and fleeting—but I can’t be sure that this piece of memory, this touch of hand, goes with Lynette.

But I do remember her, or an impression of her, and that was her name, and she was “my” girl, the first girl 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.

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. And yet 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. I loved her the way, I suppose, you might love a painting with a velvet rope in front of it. You stand at a distance, admiring it, unable to touch it, but wishing you could. I think Grade Six Adrian wanted to touch Lynette’s brushwork, or at least get close enough to see it. But he only ever saw her, in passing, at school, from a distance—but like a fine painting 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, complex, flawed, mixed-up collage of a person. She was all surface, no substance. She was glamour, made of reflected light and magic. I have no doubt that she was as lovely a person as she appeared, but we were never introduced.

This was the hurly-burly world of grade six, after all. Life moved fast.

Next thing, we were suddenly all in grade seven, and while on one hand we had at last become kings of the school, we were all preoccupied–and shit-scared. Because while it was marvellous to have at last clawed our way to the summit of the shit-heap at primary school—we are grade seven! fear us!—the sad fact was that the very next year we were all getting packed off to high school, and that meant a very snakes-and-ladders reversal of fortune for us as we would be lowly first-years, lowly grubs at the bottom of the academic and social heap! The humiliation of it! We would have to make sure we enjoyed grade seven.

In the end, as fickle fate would have it, Lynette and I were not to be: at the end of grade seven, she went to a different high school from the one I went to. We never saw each other again. Then again, I don’t know if we ever saw each other. I saw her; I doubt she ever saw me.

XXX

High school was like a new geological epoch. 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 mattered previously.

And as everything was changing, we were changing, too. Puberty was erupting in all of us. Some it rendered monstrous (sticks hand up); some it rendered impossibly gorgeous, handsome and sexy. It was astonishing. You could almost smell the boiling hormones surging through everyone as you walked around. Some kids seemed to revel in it, enjoying it, playing up their newfound sexual feelings; others, like me, felt confused and bashful, blushing and sweating profusely. My mum commented that I was constantly growing out of my clothes as fast as bought them.

High school seemed much less about academic education, and much more about some other sort of education instead. There was a throbbing undercurrent beneath everything that even lumps like me could feel. You knew who was with whom. You knew who was popular. You knew some girls seemed to have a waiting list. You wondered how to get on those waiting lists. 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 plastic lunch-wrap and rubber-bands as makeshift prophylactics. The boys involved were said to be absolute legends, and the girls were slack molls, or worse.

There were always rumours surrounding such stories of accidental pregnancy from the Glad Wrap breaking, but I never heard or saw proof. I did hear stories of teenage pregnancy involving girls from other nearby high schools. There were inter-school rivalries, and one nearby school was considered a real hole, and it was no surprise that the boys there would use the sort of contraceptive sandwich wrap that would break. Only the boy geniuses at my school knew to use proper Glad Wrap as God intended.

XXX

When I was in high school, life was difficult and confusing. The bullying all the time was bad, as I’ve said. But what was worse was just being a boy, being male.

I learned many things in high school. I learned about different sorts of triangles (so handy!), and I learned that boys will be boys.

Boys in groups. Boys sitting around, waiting for a class to start, or on a school bus, smoking, on the way home. Anywhere, really. What mattered was the group. Groups of boys. Talking, having a laugh. Just mates together. Regular, ordinary boys, too; by no means “bad” boys, or “troubled” kids, nothing like that. Ordinary kids. They weren’t every boy; they were any boy. Any boy at all.

And God, how they laughed!

I’ve carried these memories all my life. They are some of the most difficult memories I’ve had to deal with in this entire project. I’ve gone over this chapter countless times. Right now this might be about the twelfth draft, because I’m trying to get this right. To tell the difficult truth about boys, and these boys, and me, the boy I was.

The thing I remember most, the thing that sticks, is this: it was a few minutes of downtime before a maths class. The teacher was late. I was sitting somewhere around the centre of the room. In the back corner was a group of boys, gossiping about girls they knew, girls with sexual reputations. One girl, a girl in this same class who had not arrived yet, who was quiet and shy, they said was so promiscuous, was such a slut, such a whore, that her vagina was huge and incredibly slack, that it hung loose between her legs.

They laughed themselves to the point of breathlessness, saying all this. They went over and over it. This girl’s grotesque genitals were the talk of the school. Everybody, it seemed, knew about it. And it was hilarious!

I remember that laughter. The hatred in that laughter. The contempt. Sure, they were just joking around, it was just idle banter, no harm intended. Just some boys blowing off steam. Nothing was meant by it. It was just some boys being boys, and can’t you take a joke?

I’ve been hearing these exact words all my life. I’m pretty sure I’m sick of hearing these words now. Because under cover of these words and this joke is every form of abuse, violence, misogyny that women (and many men) experience every day. It is a joke where the punch line can give you a broken jaw.

But it’s just boys being boys. It’s blowing off steam. Nothing is ever meant by it. You’re taking his words out of context. He never said that. It’s just a bit of fun. Can’t you take a joke?

I was often in or near those groups of boys, back then. It was difficult not to be. I sat there, in that room, ears and face burning red, sick inside, feeling angry, confused, frightened, all at once. I hated these boys. I hated being there, but I didn’t know what to do. I did not feel like one of them. When the greatest, funniest jokes were about the huge size and slackness of a specific girl’s vagina (significantly, a girl from a poor background, a girl with a parent on welfare), and everyone is rolling around laughing, killing themselves laughing, I felt a profound sense of shame and wrongness. What this called for was something like the Superman I read about in comics. Superman with his blazing sense of justice, who instilled in me that same blazing sense of justice, who would swoop in and pound the living shit out of these boys—or, better yet, Wonder Woman!

Time Traveller Me watches all of this with a certain cold disdain—both for the laughing boys, and for my younger self, wishing for Superman to come and dish out some mighty fantasy justice. My teenage, bullied, cowed self was given to this kind of thinking. He was always imagining himself in situations where he had such superpowers, where he could smash his bullies about.

But here, in this situation, and the situations like it that I have encountered all my life since, superheroes wouldn’t help. These creeps here are weak. They have nothing going on. They don’t think. Why are they making jokes about a girl they know, about her most intimate parts? Mainly because they can. Because nobody tells them they can’t or shouldn’t. Because they’re boys. Boys have filthy minds. We all do. I do, you do, we all do.

What should my younger self have done here? I would love to say that teenage me should have shown some gumption and stood up and said, “That’s enough. You know that girl. You know she’s a decent girl. Don’t talk about her like that.” Or something.

I should have done that. In an ideal, perfect world I would have done that. They’d laugh at me, mock me, and I’d have to persist, to keep making the point. In the end, though, they would smash me to pieces, like a piece of cheap furniture you break up to burn in a fire. Because they are many, and I am just one doofus. But that’s what is called for here. Someone to speak for that girl, and for all their girls. Because the point about you being right and them being violent is this: they can hit you and knock you down, and even kill you—but you are still right.

You have to speak up. Because just as boys will be boys, it is also true that boys will be boys.

And as I’ve grown older I have seen that this only gets more and more true. It’s unbelievable. Everything I ever needed to know about men I learned in school, in situations like these.

But I don’t know, in a realpolitik sort of way, if this sort of noble protest, this principled stand against braying beasts, would achieve anything other than further destruction. It would be good for the protestor’s own soul and conscience, but that would be thin comfort when lying in your hospital bed recovering from the beating of your life. You’re up against prevailing, deeply embedded male culture here. The patriarchy. The Empire. The Reich. You’ve encountered a group of Hitler Youth joking about the girls they chase but secretly hate. What do you think will happen if you protest to them?

But what do you think will happen if you don’t? I’ll tell you. You’ll die inside, little by little. You’ll be torn. You’ll struggle. What do you do about power when it’s used like this? What do you do about boys and power? What is the right thing to do? How should you live?

I’ll tell you one thing for sure: speaking from where I sit now, in this young man’s far future, in a world that’s gone to hell and shows no sign of coming back any time soon—those braying bastards, those young men laughing about that girl’s genitals, should never in any scenario, be allowed to win. You can disappear up your own philosophy-studying arsehole, thinking about “what is the right thing to do?” But bastards like these laughing and joking about this girl and her alleged extreme promiscuity and her genitals? Get yourself a cricket bat, and get stuck into them. They will crush you, most likely, but go down swinging.

(But wait, I know some readers would be dying to interject, #NotAllMen are like those boys. Some men are decent. Some are allies. Some have never trafficked in that kind of humour, have never been in those sorts of groups, etc. Well, yay for you, bro. But it doesn’t need to be #AllMen. It only needs to be a majority to create a culture of acceptable abuse of women. Where a group of schoolboys can sit around waiting for maths class to start, laughing about a fellow student’s enormous slack genitals, because she’s such a disgusting slut. It doesn’t require all men to be pigs to create a culture where behaviour like that is okay. It probably doesn’t even need to be a majority. It just needs boys to be boys.)

I hated—and to this day still hate—those bastards. I’ve been suspicious of boys and men ever since. It has made me deeply uncomfortable about my own maleness.

When women complain about systemic misogyny, about patriarchy, about whole global systems of oppression operating across centuries and millennia, when they talk about bastards like Harvey Weinstein, and about middle managers threatening jobs ordinary women desperately need, etc etc—I believe everything, and every one. I understand.

Because I was raised a boy. I was raised a man. I groped a woman at a convention when I was 17 and clueless and I was deeply wrong, and I have always felt ashamed and sorry. I once kissed a girl without specific permission, because I believed she had given me signals welcoming the gesture. She did not. She ran away, upset, and I felt gutted. We never spoke again. Much later I heard that she had died in mysterious circumstances, her car found abandoned in churning surf at a beach. It haunts me.

I carry these experiences and others with me all the time, burning rocks in the pit of my gut, hot and painful, never letting me rest. In different times nobody would ever even blink about such incidents. But now we know that consent is the most important thing of all. I know that now. But teenage me? University me? I was an idiot, but that is no excuse. My conduct is my responsibility. I treated people, the ones I mention here and others, very poorly indeed, and I am ashamed.

But I’ve gotten away with it because (a) the times were different, and (b) I was a white male.

When I say I’m suspicious of boys and men, I am one of them. I am an offender, too.

Since those days, I have worked hard to do better. It’s a work in progress.

XXX

High School Adrian, a creature so deep into his own murky interiority that he was like something fished up from a deep abyssal ocean trench, all weird body and shambolic appearance, liked girls very much, and was very interested in them, but they didn’t much like him.

I don’t blame them, to be honest. I was a hopeless case, and knew it. I had no idea how to interact with girls. Standard 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 attach 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.

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 to me. 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.

(To some extent, even now, sometimes I struggle with meeting people.)

Plus I was always sweating, 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.

XXX

Hospital, D20, August 1979. The Time Traveller 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. He looks like a dead person, as if his living spirit has been blasted right out of his body. He’s moving slowly. He believes his life is over. He’s been told he’s psychotic.

Despite believing my life was over, I met many wonderful girls and women in hospital, from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences. 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, whom 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. We could talk. 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 that we were both patients, with our respective 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 woo her. I even told my parents about her. And, as I expected, they did indeed make a fuss. And it was excruciating.

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 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.

XXX

By 1982, I was 19 years old, still troubled by the idea of being psychotic, haunted by my whole psychiatric experience, and imagining my life as before hospital and after hospital. I felt smashed apart by what I’d been through, and lonely. I’d missed out on Kelly, I believed, 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. A regular woman, I imagined, would never accept such “damaged goods”.

Then, one day, waiting at the doctor for an appointment, 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 was not a perfect guide by any means. But it was a sound foundation on which to build an understanding. I could start with CLEO and go on from there. I could use tips and ideas from there and start talking to women that I met.

It changed 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 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—and what boys and men have always been like, the way I saw them in high school.

There are times I hate being male, and wish I were not, that I were blank. 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 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. I can relax. Women are marvellous.

MEMOIR: THE SINGULARITY (FINAL, NEW POSTSCRIPT)

MEMOIR: THE SINGULARITY (Final, New Postscript)

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 far away, 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’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 one’s 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 accelerates 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.

My Singularity is going to be a pasty, baggy, 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 next.

But in his mind, in his heart, this Singularity will be every bit as grand as the technological one, and every bit as reality-distorting as the physics 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 I’ve 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 program”, 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 program 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.

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 program”. 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.

I may have to go into orbit around the Singularity. It might not be possible for me to go off into the 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’m worried I am not well inside. I’ve been worried about 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. 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 clothing 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, but also tired and perhaps a bit teary. I might stay in bed all day. Michelle will probably be quite excited, but also very glad it’s over. Mum and Dad will probably be more excited than both of us put together. A 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 folding into myself, and being all self-effacing.

The Singularity, up close, distorts the fabric of reality. It makes you believe wrong things. It messes with your head. It’s anxiety. It’s madness. It’s exactly where you’re trying to go, but going there is doing your head in. You can feel it, the noise in your head. The voices in your head are telling you that all the people you know are this close to defriending you on Facebook because of your endless weight-loss posts. Because you never shut up about it. You believe this.

This is my anxiety talking, my voices, my nerves. Mirror Adrian, the guy who lives in the mirror world who is still fat like I used to be, wants me to be fat again, just like him. So just when you might think I would be feeling proud and excited, getting ready for my big moment, maybe even a triumphant moment—I’m not. I’m anxious. I’m worried.

And I’m still eight kilograms out.

POSTSCRIPT: February 2018

Shortly after I reached my target weight on 7 December 2017, after a period in which I was consuming only 2500 kilojoules, I was diagnosed with a form of anorexia nervosa.

Since then I have been meeting with a psychologist specialising in eating disorders and working on a re-feeding program. It has been shocking, truly shocking, to find out how desperately ill I had become—how ill I had made myself—during the low-food program.

I had always thought, during the five years of my weight-loss project, that achieving the goal would be something to celebrate. But I found, when I reached the goal, the Singularity, that while I had indeed lost the weight, I was a shipwreck. I lost the weight, but also my health. My vim and vigour. My spirit. I was grey and haggard, hollow and sunken. Worse, my brain was starved, and barely functioning.

All self-inflicted. Because I had to lose the weight. That drive, that madness.

I still feel it now, calling to me.

I had planned to go skydiving when I reached my target weight. But once I got there, I knew there was nothing to celebrate. I felt awful. I felt like I’d failed at something, that I’d crash-landed. I staggered about, forgetful, vague, unable to concentrate. Miserable, foggy, barely present. All signs of prolonged starvation.

I’m a weight-loss survivor. I think that’s the best I can say right now. I got through it, and lived to tell the tale. One day I may write a book about it. For now, I’m just sorting through the burning wreckage at the crash-site, looking for clues and evidence. Signs and portents. I may have to lose weight again one day. It would be handy to know a better way to do it. Maybe I can learn something from what went wrong this time.

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS GIRLS (FINAL)

MEMOIR: ME VERSUS GIRLS

Her name was Lynette, and she was the dreamiest girl in grade six. She was blonde and otherworldly. She, like me, was only eleven, but that was enough. It would do. I think we may have touched hands once, clammy and warm, soft and fleeting—but I can’t be sure that this piece of memory, this touch of hand, goes with Lynette.

But I do remember her, or an impression of her, and that was her name, and she was “my” girl, the first girl 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.

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. And yet 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. I loved her the way, I suppose, you might love a painting with a velvet rope in front of it. You stand at a distance, admiring it, unable to touch it, but wishing you could. I think Grade Six Adrian wanted to touch Lynette’s brushwork, or at least get close enough to see it. But he only ever saw her, in passing, at school, from a distance—but like a fine painting 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, complex, flawed, mixed-up collage of a person. She was all surface, no substance. She was glamour, made of reflected light and magic. I have no doubt that she was as lovely a person as she appeared, but we were never introduced.

This was the hurly-burly world of grade six, after all. Life moved fast.

Next thing, we were suddenly all in grade seven, and while on one hand we had at last become kings of the school, we were all preoccupied–and shit-scared. Because while it was marvellous to have at last clawed our way to the summit of the shit-heap at primary school—we are grade seven! fear us!—the sad fact was that the very next year we were all getting packed off to high school, and that meant a very snakes-and-ladders reversal of fortune for us as we would be lowly first-years, lowly grubs at the bottom of the academic and social heap! The humiliation of it! We would have to make sure we enjoyed grade seven.

In the end, as fickle fate would have it, Lynette and I were not to be: at the end of grade seven, she went to a different high school from the one I went to. We never saw each other again. Then again, I don’t know if we ever saw each other. I saw her; I doubt she ever saw me.

XXX

High school was like a new geological epoch. 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 mattered previously.

And as everything was changing, we were changing, too. Puberty was erupting in all of us. Some it rendered monstrous (sticks hand up); some it rendered impossibly gorgeous, handsome and sexy. It was astonishing. You could almost smell the boiling hormones surging through everyone as you walked around. Some kids seemed to revel in it, enjoying it, playing up their newfound sexual feelings; others, like me, felt confused and bashful, blushing and sweating profusely. My mum commented that I was constantly growing out of my clothes as fast as bought them.

High school seemed much less about academic education, and much more about some other sort of education instead. There was a throbbing undercurrent beneath everything that even lumps like me could feel. You knew who was with whom. You knew who was popular. You knew some girls seemed to have a waiting list. You wondered how to get on those waiting lists. 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 plastic lunch-wrap and rubber-bands as makeshift prophylactics. The boys involved were said to be absolute legends, and the girls were slack molls, or worse.

There were always rumours surrounding such stories of accidental pregnancy from the Glad Wrap breaking, but I never heard or saw proof. I did hear stories of teenage pregnancy involving girls from other nearby high schools. There were inter-school rivalries, and one nearby school was considered a real hole, and it was no surprise that the boys there would use the sort of contraceptive sandwich wrap that would break. Only the boy geniuses at my school knew to use proper Glad Wrap as God intended.

About these boys. They regarded themselves and their mates as legends. Men among men. Heroes. They chased girls, flirted, chatted them up, groped when they could, laid on the bad boy charm, harassed—and ultimately won them, used them, and dumped them, Glad Wrap or no.

They would sit around in groups, these boys, teenagers, during idle moments, waiting at the beginning of a class for a maths teacher to turn up, or a bus driver to get back from a toilet break, and they would talk about these girls they chased and seduced and dropped. They would gossip about the girls in the class generally. They had the greatest, most horrifying contempt for them. Such loathing. Such vileness. They were all fat ugly molls. But it was all good fun. It was just joking, of, course. Boys being boys, and you know what they’re like, there’s nothing to it. Just blowing off steam.

(Boys being boys. This phrase, when I hear it now, in middle-age, and I’ve been hearing it all my life, used always vile and reprehensible behaviour, makes me gag.)

I was often in those groups of boys, back then. It was difficult not to be. I sat there, ears and face burning red, sick inside, feeling angry, confused, frightened, all at once. I hated these boys. I hated being there, but I didn’t know what to do. I did not feel like one of them. When the greatest, funniest jokes were about the huge size and slackness of a specific girl’s vagina (significantly, a girl from a poor background, a girl with a parent on welfare), and everyone is rolling around laughing, killing themselves laughing, I felt a profound sense of shame and wrongness. What this called for was something like the Superman I read about in comics. Superman with his blazing sense of justice, who instilled in me that same blazing sense of justice, who would swoop in and pound the living shit out of these boys—or, better yet, Wonder Woman!

This was teenage me. Child me. Reaching for a comic-book hero to serve up justice because even at this age I knew that real world justice would let me down here. Everything was in their favour, not mine. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve encountered this sort of behaviour countless times, everywhere. It’s unbelievable. Everything I ever needed to know about men I learned in school, in situations like these. Listening to arseholes laughing about the slackness of a sweet shy girl’s vagina because she was fucking so incredibly much, and wasn’t it just the most hilarious thing!

I hated those bastards. I’ve always been suspicious of boys and men ever since. When women complain about systemic misogyny, about patriarchy, about whole global systems of oppression operating across centuries and millennia, when they talk about bastards like Harvey Weinstein, and about middle managers threatening jobs ordinary women desperately need, etc etc—I believe everything, and every one. I understand.

Because I was raised a boy. I was raised a man. I groped a woman at a convention when I was 17 and clueless and I was deeply wrong, and I have always felt ashamed and sorry. I once kissed a girl without specific permission, because I believed she had given me signals welcoming the gesture. She did not. She ran away, upset, and I felt gutted. We never spoke again. Much later I heard that she had died in mysterious circumstances, her car found abandoned in churning surf at a beach. It haunts me.

I carry these experiences and others with me all the time, burning rocks in the pit of my gut, hot and painful, never letting me rest. In different times nobody would ever even blink about such incidents. But now we know that consent is the most important thing of all. I know that now. But teenage me? University me? I was an idiot, but that is no excuse. My conduct is my responsibility. I treated people, the ones I mention here and others, very poorly indeed, and I am ashamed.

But I’ve gotten away with it because (a) the times were different, and (b) I was a white male.

When I say I’m suspicious of boys and men, I am one of them. I am an offender, too.

Since those days, I have worked hard to do better. It’s a work in progress.

XXX

High School Adrian, a creature so deep into his own murky interiority that he was like something fished up from a deep abyssal ocean trench, all weird body and shambolic appearance, liked girls very much, and was very interested in them, but they didn’t much like him.

I don’t blame them, to be honest. I was a hopeless case, and knew it. I had no idea how to interact with girls. Standard 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 attach 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.

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 to me. 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.

(To some extent, even now, sometimes I struggle with meeting people.)

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.

XXX

Hospital, D20, August 1979. The Time Traveller 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.

Despite believing my life was over, I met many wonderful girls and women in hospital, from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences. 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, whom 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. We could talk. 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 that we were both patients, with our respective 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 woo her. I even told my parents about her. And, as I expected, they did indeed make a fuss. And it was excruciating.

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 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.

XXX

By 1982, I was 19 years old, haunted by the idea of being psychotic, haunted by my whole psychiatric experience, and imagining my life as before hospital and after hospital. I felt smashed by what I’d been through, 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. A regular woman, I imagined, would never accept such “damaged goods”.

Then, one day, waiting at the doctor for an appointment, 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 was not a perfect guide by any means. But it was a sound foundation on which to build an understanding. I could start with CLEO and go on from there. I could use tips and ideas from there and start talking to women that I met.

It changed 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 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—and what boys and men have always been like, the way I saw them in high school.

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 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. I can relax. Women are marvellous.

MEMOIR: LIFE AND DEATH IN PRIMARY SCHOOL

MEMOIR: LIFE AND DEATH IN PRIMARY SCHOOL

When I was a little kid in lower primary school, the most terrifying place in the entire school was not the headmaster’s office, though that was plenty scary, because you got sent there when you did bad stuff, and the headmaster gave you “six of the best” across the palms of your hands with the cane.

No. The most terrifying place in the entire school was the entrance to the girls’ toilets.

The toilet block was a big red-brick building longer than it was wide. On the side facing the central quadrangle was the entrance for the boys’ toilet. Going in there was risky, but hardly a source of terror. When I say risky, you had to worry that the cubicles had walls that did not extend all the way to the ceiling: boys in adjacent cubicles could pop up and say hello, offer trenchant and smart-arse commentary regarding your activities and output, or just hurl abuse, as was the way.

I hated the pop-up.

But I also hated standing up pissing against the steel urinal panel. You’d get a line of boys standing there, jostling each other, yakking, giggling, trying to write their names on the urinal panel with the force of their own urine jet. I remember some whose flow was so powerful, so prolonged, so laser-like, that they managed to leave a tiny burn in the steel surface. All that uric acid blasting away at it. It was something to have seen. These boys had been there. They had left their mark. Because they were boys.

I had a few goes at this meagre sort of immortality, but my waters lacked vigour. It was all they could do just to escape my body, as if fleeing a burning building. They didn’t care about laser-focus or acid-based immortality on the urinal wall. My waters just wanted to get away from me—and who could blame them?

The thing about standing there at the urinal wall was the furtive comparisons. Everyone had a look at everyone. There was nervous laughter, giggles, boys bouncing on their toes.

There was the smell of piss and urinal cakes, and we all wondered what the hell urinary cakes even were.

On freezing cold winter days, your stream of piss was wreathed in steam as it shot out of you, and you imagined it freezing on its way down.

You heard tales of unpopular kids getting flushed. Their heads forcibly shoved into a toilet bowl as deep as possible, and then subjected to a full flush cycle. It was used as a severe punishment for boys who’d broken the unspoken code. The code which defined what a boy was and what he was not. What he could do, how he should carry himself. I never saw it written down. I never heard it referenced in any systematic, legalistic manner that would be recognised in court. There was no jurisprudence.

But there was a code, and we all knew it.

The so-called “Royal Flush” was bad, but for us little boys in lower primary school there was one sanction above all others, a nuclear option, so terrible we hesitated to invoke it. I saw it only once, perhaps twice. A boy in violation of the code to such a degree—though at this distance I can no longer remember what kinds of infraction might have have warranted this ultimate sanction.

It would have had to be extremely serious. Insulting your mate’s mum. Something at that level. Betraying a friendship.

There would be a meeting, and then the deed would be done.

The offender would be apprehended, horrified, screaming, protesting, trying to negotiate, panicking—and carried around to the other side of that red-brick toilet block, and to the entrance used by girls.

The most terrifying place in entire school.

It was dark. Standing there outside the doorway, you couldn’t see much. The entryway had a dog-leg built-in. You took one step in, then turned left, then about two steps that way and then you were in the toilet/change-room, same as the one for boys, except no urinal wall, and more cubicles. I learned all this years later.

But when we were all little, when our eyes were bigger than we were, when our panicking hearts wanted only to leave our sacrifice here at the mouth of the volcano, that didn’t matter.

The offending kid had to die. He had broken the code. We, literally, four to six of us, holding him so he couldn’t touch the ground, flung him into the dark cave of the forbidden land of the women.

He crashed in a heap of limbs, shrieking with the worst sort of terror, flailing as if the floor and walls were electrified. It actually pains me to think about this, thinking about how he might have grown up, the man he might have become, especially these days. When we were eight, it was 1971. It was grimly serious, but we were also playing. It was all in good fun, but it was life and death.

Because this was Girls, and girls were spooky, strange and weird. They had Girl Bugs. You could get them on you. It was bad. Next you’d up liking poetry and sunsets and collecting pretty leaves, or some damned thing. Girls were Other. We did not understand them, not yet. How serious was this fear of girls, all this “girl bugs” business? It’s difficult to tell. It probably varied from boy to boy. But there was, for want of a better word, a “vibe”, a feeling, even a “hysteria”, if you like, about anything to do with “girls” (as opposed to individual girls whom we actually knew in class). There was a suspicion of girls. Girls were up to something, though from what I could see, the something they were up to was mainly complicated rope-skipping games.

I think I more or less went along with this nonsense for the sake of getting along. I struggled in primary school. I wanted to be left alone to read books, but I also very much wanted to belong, and be one of the boys, because if I were one of them, they’d stop tormenting me. I’d be one of them. So I did things with them sometimes. Things like this.

But on deeper reflection I don’t know for sure whether I was a participant or a grinning, laughing witness. I can’t remember, and it bothers me that I can’t remember. I know I definitely saw it done. Because this thing we did feels now like terror, like abuse. I remember how the victims screamed, and how we all laughed, and it horrifies me. It’s a truism that kids can be horrible, but here we are, being horrible. Because of the ideas we all carried in our heads. The code, the violations of that code, the shame of it, the powerful sense of deepest wrongness—and then the ultimate sanction, death.

Where did all this come from? Why did we have these ideas in our heads? Why were we like this about girls? What had girls ever done to us? We knew girls—they were fine! But this sense of panicky weirdness about girlnesswas something else again, something alien, boiling up from our bone marrow, from the bowels of our tiny premature testicles. This sense of profound revulsion. There was no conscious thought to it, nothing rational, nothing you could explain.

And this feeling we boys had about ourselves about this “code”, these rules? How to be a boy? Fifty years later, I still struggle with this question. I don’t think I’m very good at it. I think I’m a very poor boy now, just as I was then. But how did an assortment of eight-year-old boys in 1971 get it in their heads all at once that there was a way to do things in order to be a proper man? Was it TV? Songs on the radio? Was it our dads? Was it our mums?

The kid flung into that doorway quickly got up, gathered his wits, had a bit of a squizz in the girls’ loos, and quickly scooted back out into the welcoming community of us boys—all forgiven, laughing, happy, reborn, alive again. It was a miracle. I saw it with my own eyes.

MEMOIR: EPILOGUE—FEELS LIKE A BEGINNING (FINAL)

MEMOIR: EPILOGUE: FEELS LIKE A BEGINNING

I finished my weight-loss project recently. 7 December last year, just three days before my projected “Landing Day”. Getting there, the final few months, with my “low-food program”, was almost impossibly hard. By the end—I’m crying, believe it or not, as I write this—I was forcing myself to subsist on just 2500 kilojoules of food per day, because I was so desperate to reach my target weight.

It was harder than I ever imagined it would be. It was just as hard on Michelle, who had to live with me, who felt it every day when I weighed myself and the scales said I was 100.3 kilograms, or 100.2 kilograms, or 100.4 kilograms. She heard the sharp intake of breath, felt the tension in the air. She felt the way I just wanted to scream and never stop screaming. Like the day when the scales said 100.1 kilograms.

100.1.

I always weighed myself at the same time every day. I had to have reliable data. It had to be consistent. I needed it for my graph. I spent a lot of time looking at that graph. And in the final six months, during the low-food days, as I starved myself, as I consumed myself, I stared and stared at the uncanny straight line leading down towards my target.

Before I started the low-food program, when I was just a regular weight-loss guy, before my medication was changed, before Nortriptyline entered my world, my graph was all over the place—up, down, up again, but mostly down. Trending down. It was fine. My weight was floating down like a drifting leaf fallen from a tree. People said I looked great, and asked me what was my secret.

But once I turned to low-food, the weight came off fast and easy. Four kilos a month, no problem.

No problem except I was always, always hungry. One small meal a day, at lunch. The rest of the time, nothing. Nothing but numbers. Kilojoules. Kilograms. Adding up, over and over and over. Projections, thinking about your weight today, your weight yesterday, and based on your recent figures, when you might hit your next milestone weight. So many numbers.

In the early months I had boundless energy. I wrote all the rest of this book. I wrote most of another book. I took up language lessons. There was nothing I couldn’t do. It was an extraordinary time in my life, unequalled before and certainly not since.

Those early glory days on the low-food program faded. Things started to get harder; there was friction in my thinking. I couldn’t write so easily, or so much, or so often. Soon, I couldn’t write much at all, except here and there—but only in the way, when you have heavy side-effects from medication, and your mouth goes dry, you can only talk if you rehearse what you want to say first, and then take time to work up a lot of spit in your mouth. Then you can say your piece in one go, and it’s fine, and you hope nobody has follow-up comments. Writing in the latter months of last year was like that for me.

Because I was, literally, starving.

XXX

When I was close to my target weight, I told my psychologist how dreadful I was feeling. I was exhausted. I was more than ready for the whole ordeal to be finished. Michelle, even more so. I had, a long time ago, entertained ideas of celebrations to mark the occasion of reaching the target weight. But by the time I was in the vicinity, it was clear I was a physical and emotional wreck. In no way was I up for any kind of celebration.

My psychologist referred me to a specialist clinic, the Swan Centre, which deals with people who have problems with food and eating.

They took one look at the state of me, and told me I had a form of anorexia nervosa.

They also told me I was suffering from a condition called “Starvation Syndrome”. The notable feature of which is where the brain, deprived of nutrients, shuts down all non-essential services and functions. You become a potato. You lose interest in almost everything. You lose the ability to read and write anything substantial. Say goodbye to novels, short stories, magazine articles. You tune out of most conversation. Your head fills with something very like static. On my first day at the Swan Centre they gave me an information sheet about Starvation Syndrome. It felt like an arrow aimed right at me. It was as if they had been secretly inside my head for months, looking at everything, taking notes, snapping photos, and had worked up a detailed case study, only this was based on a study of healthy young men in World War II called the Minnesota Semi-Starvation Study. It was spooky.

It was shaming.

This is why I cry. Five years ago I set out to lose a stack of weight, and I had a crazy, naive goal. I never seriously expected to reach the goal at the time, but what the hey? I’d always been fat, though, and had always hated being fat, had always hated taking up so much space. I always wanted to be small, to be thin. To be a regular size.

I never expected to get anywhere near the target, but as I got closer, the more I wanted to go the rest of the way. It mattered more the closer I got, because I started, bit by bit, to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could do something impossible.

Until it mattered more than life itself.

Did it matter more than Michelle? She might well have wondered that. But no. If she had ever said to me that enough was enough, and this far was plenty, I would have stopped. For nobody else, but I would have stopped for Michelle. Because I love her, and now look, I’m, oh geez.

FX: NEEDLE ON TONE ARM SCRATCHES ACROSS RECORD SURFACE

I was wrong here, it turns out, to my horror and shame. After I wrote and uploaded the original version of this essay, Michelle read it. She told me that I was wrong. She said that if she had tried to stop me, if she had asked, I would not have been able to stop. I wanted “the number” too much. I wanted it more than anything Moreover, if I had managed to stop before getting the number, she said, she saw that it would likely be a source of resentment and bitterness between us. That I would always resent her forcing me to stop before reaching my goal. She said she “didn’t want to stand in front of that train”.

She was right. This was the sort of revelation that burns deep and hard because it’s true, and you hate how true it is. You would do just about about anything to stop it being true, but it’s like trying to stop the Pythagorean Theorem being true. It just is. The truth is a train. I was riding my train all the way to 100 kilograms, and I was sick and alone and starving.

XXX

At the Swan Centre I’m working with a psychologist and a very cool dietitian. They have me on a “re-feeding” program. I’m slowly being weaned onto eating again (as of this week I’m back up to 4000 kilojoules, and four small meals a day). The fact that I’m here writing again is evidence that this works. My brain is waking up. I’m finding I can do things again.

When I went to see the Swan Centre people I was at 2500 kilojoules once a day. I could barely think. I had been on 2500 for the final two weeks of the program. Before that I had been on 3000, but I had been frustrated. The weight was not shifting. I was desperate. I could not stand it. I felt like something had to give way. It had been such a long time. I was sick of being hungry all the time. All the time! So, out of my mind I twisted the knife of the diet and went down to 2500 kilojoules. It was a tiny amount of food. I logged everything, counting everything. But 2500 is extreme. It’s like a bad movie where the hero and the villain wind up trying to strangle each other, and they’re really going for it. It’s like that. You know it’s bad, that there’s a limit to it. You can’t do it indefinitely. It’s like holding your breath underwater. Sooner or later I was going to have to start eating again.

All I wanted, I told myself, all I wanted was to hit the 100 kilograms. That’s it. And in that final two weeks, every day, it hovered just above the zero. Every single day. 100.2, 100.4. When, at last, “Landing Day” arrived, the scales read, 99.8. By that point I was so weak, so angry, so burned out, so tired—

I was pleased, standing there in my undies and my loose bags and folds of skin. I told Michelle. She was pleased. We went out for lunch. Yay.

2500 kilojoules a day is like the floor at the bottom of a deep ocean trench, an extreme environment. There’s nothing there other than the rubbish that sinks down from the surface. Nothing lives down that far in the darkness. Eating so little food each day, and then spending 23 hours hungry with your thoughts, trying to keep busy, is like that dark sea floor. Cold, lonely, dark, too much time to think. No concentration for anything you might want to do.

One of the things I insisted on each day was chocolate, the good stuff. Lindt 85% Dark Chocolate, two squares, 483 kilojoules. And there, right away, you can see one-fifth of my daily food budget gone just like that. But that chocolate was, in a way, my reason to live. I dreamed about that chocolate. Our fridge was and is full of chocolate.

And that’s the other thing about extreme weight-loss and mental illness and madness and reality distortion and starvation: you stop eating food. You eat kilojoules, units of energy. You might as well eat Lego.

Did I mention madness? Because I’ve got madness. This whole book is about my life with mental illness, and it’s about my weight. I have said it has often been my impression that my depression and my weight, my fat, were each manifestations of one another. That you could carve out a nice chunk of wet, semi-solid depression and hold it in your hand, and squeeze it until the blood comes oozing out; and that you could find yourself kept awake at night by persistent, moody thoughts of fatness. I don’t know if this is the case for other people like me, but it feels that way for me.

And I’ve still got the madness. I wound up losing 67 kilograms of fat, but I didn’t get a new brain, so I’m thin but still crazy. That said, I got down to 97.8 kilograms, slightly surpassing my goal weight of 100 kilograms. I would cheer, but no. I’m pleased to be here at target weight, for as long as I can be here, but I worry, wondering for how long I can hold back the tide. Because that’s the thing. The odds, I gather, are not ever in my favour. I read conflicting reports. Some say it’s possible to hoodwink the body into believing your new weight is your normal weight. Others insist that your original weight will reassert itself and your body will do its best to get back to it. Then some clever bastard comes along and mutters about set-points and flavonoids and who the hell knows? Will I still be under 100 kg this time next year? Next month? I don’t know. It bothers me.

I told my Swan Centre psychologist that I might be thin now but I still feel like a fat man. Like I cast a fat shadow. I can’t escape who I have always been. You can cut the fat off the bacon, but it’s still bacon.

This chapter is at the end, but it’s not the end. I’m suspicious of endings. Of tidy endings, everything resolved. Perhaps that’s it. Nothing with me is resolved. Some might see what’s happened to me—arrived at target weight, medication sorted, new book, huzzah!—as a wonderful, happy ending, full of major achievements. But it’s not. This is just a pause while we catch our breath, grab a bite to eat, some coffee. It’s only the end of Act One. Maybe even just Chapter One. It doesn’t feel like an ending. Maybe it feels like a cliffhanger.

Maybe it feels like a beginning.

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVEL AND MEMOIR (FINAL)

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVEL AND MEMOIR

Suppose 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.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to try to 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. At age sixteen, he discovered, the hard way, that he had bipolar disorder. He is still, to this very day, decades later, 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 a boy made of nerve-endings.

Growing up didn’t much help. It was Act II in the play. The sets had been changed, 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 the play, 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—and it turned out that she was, indeed, wonderful. We are approaching our 25th anniversary.

Act III of the play covers the past few years, the “present day”, as the storm-filled boy finds himself middle-aged, morbidly obese, lost in midnight seas, and, worse, his medication no longer working. He’s in trouble. He’s taking on water. He’s sinking.

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 turns out to be five months of agony and turmoil, an unprecedented ordeal the like of which our protagonist has never known, and from which he is still recovering, a year after leaving hospital.

It was an experience so overwhelming, so mind-altering, that I felt the urge to write about it, but in writing about my experience last year, I saw that I needed to address the influence of the illness across my entire life.

The thing about mental illness is that 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 your mind 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. You never notice it happening, but then one day you find you can’t think. Your whole sense of who you are as a person is tangled up in cobwebs.

Pretty soon you’re dead inside. You’re barely able to get out of bed. You could sleep for a thousand years. You believe that most people would not miss you if you were to die. You imagine some people would be relieved and pleased to be rid of you. People you know would think this about you. Your friends on Facebook and Instagram. Members of your family would be pleased to be spared the burden of dealing with you and your crap.

This is the cobwebs talking. This is depression.

When you have major, heavy-duty clinical depression, it will try to kill you. It will talk to you about how you can help all the people around you by getting out of their way. The cobwebs lie. Your friends and family love you. Stay. Please stay. Get help. We love you. Stay.

I’ve been fighting the cobwebs all my life, but especially this past year. It’s been a brutal year. When I was sixteen and first diagnosed was a bad time, too—but I would still rate last year as worse. You’ll see.

I can, by now, deal with the cobwebs and all the bollocks that goes with them on my own. But sometimes I need help to deal with the ones out of my reach, and for those I have an excellent clinical psychologist, who has a very long stick. I would not be here without her and her big long stick.

Writing this book has helped me with the cobwebs, too. I have done my best to scrape out everything, no matter how personal, how private, how intense, and put it in here for you to see. I have this idea that my cobwebs might resonate with your cobwebs. If I talk about my stuff, especially the really hard stuff, it might help someone else talk about their really hard stuff.

Mental illness, and especially male mental illness, needs to be brought out of the darkness. When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s it was all secret and terrifying. My dad had a terrible time, and there was no talking about it. There was this awful fraught silence. That deathly silence is a big part of why I wanted to write this book.

All my life I have done my best to present myself to the world as if I were 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 it is possible to write 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. If I visited that evening, what might I see? A boy, crying so hard he’s worried he might die from it, that something might happen. The boy’s mother, my mum, much younger than I’m used to seeing her, holding the boy’s hand, stroking it, talking to him, doing her best to soothe him, to help him armed only with the magic of love. On the other side of the bed is a nurse, doing much the same thing, only in a professional capacity.

And there in the centre, that poor young bastard, afraid that he’s flying apart. That he’s burning up on re-entry. He’s just had surgery to remove his appendix, but he’s also just failed a bunch of upper high school exams. He believes he’s doomed, a failure.

I want to tell that poor kid that this is not the end of his life. This is his new life being born. Everything gets better from here—though admittedly not for a long, long time, and the road gets harder before it gets better.

It’s a seven-year slog, and he’ll one day look back on it and call it his “Years of Hell”, and it begins on this volcanic night in 1979 and ends in August 1986, on the fateful, lucky, sunny day when he first meets Michelle.

This is a book of fragments and shards. My dad, back when he was a motor mechanic, used to have these huge trays full of screws, nuts, washers, bolts, and all manner of odd mechanical gewgaws, glinting dully in his workshop light, and all of it a bit sticky with a film of oil. How I hated having anything to do with any of that stuff! But that’s this book. It’s a big random mess of parts. It’s got stories from my whole life. There’s bits from when I was a kid growing up in the “Space Age” 1960s to right this week and everything in between, including my histories of mental illness and obesity, because I’ve always believed the one was a manifestation of the other.

All my life I had to pretend I was normal, but I wasn’t normal. Everybody told me so. I was wrong in all kinds of ways. First I was just weird and strange, but then I was sick. I was still pretty weird, too. And I had to hide it all, weird, sick, the lot. I had to seem normal at all times. It was the most important thing in the world. It was impossible. That strain, that impossible task, and what it did to me, is what this book is about.

MEMOIR: THE NOISE

MEMOIR: THE NOISE

The noise in my head is telling me to shut up. It says I talk too much. It says I’ve said too much already. Recently both my doctor and my psychologist told me I was doing fine, and I felt pretty decent at the time, but almost immediately I felt the familiar noise in my head return, the screaming, the abuse, the criticism. The noise hates that I’ve written this book about it. It tells me the book will fail, that it will blow up in my face, that Internet trolls will destroy my life.

It’s been months since I wrote most of this book. For much of that time, I found that when I go to try a bit of writing, immediately the noise pipes up, and right away I’m plagued with self-consciousness. This hyper-acute sense that I never stop talking about myself, that I’m the most conceited man in Australia, that I need to shut up or find something else to write about. I’m full of acute, blistering, embarrassment—except it’s a form of embarrassment that feels like nuclear sunburn, that makes you want to run, scrambling for cover, away from the screaming glare, from the noise.

I have a powerful urge to delete everything. The noise hates me writing. The noise has always hated me writing. Children should be seen and not heard. Nobody likes a show-off. Don’t rock the boat. The noise has always told me these things. Screamed these things, over and over, reminding me, reinforcing them, killing me with them. It hates me writing. It hates me posting my work in public where people can see it—and that’s why I do it, and that’s why I can hardly stand to do it. Why I find it nigh-unbearable, putting the chapters up, exposing myself, believing that there are countless people out there on Facebook who hate it when I put these pieces up, who are all, That bloody Bedford, showboating his “oh poor suffering me, waah!” sooky bullshit again!

The noise makes me believe there are all these people out there, even now, who never say anything, not even privately, but who secretly think this way. Who despise me. They are proper Facebook friends, and do all the usual Facebook friend stuff, wishing Happy Birthday and liking the Freckle photos and so forth—but nonetheless implacably, silently hostile to my chapter posts.

It doesn’t have to make sense.

The thing about the noise is that it’s NOISE. It’s LOUD. It dominates. It controls. It rules your thinking, and leaves no space for your own thinking. I call it the noise, but you could call it madness. You could call it any one of the mental illnesses. It’s thought distortion. Reality distortion.

The noise wants me to burn this book. It hates the book.

There are times, bad times, when I feel inclined to go along with it. That it seems like a good idea. Because, remember, ruling, controlling thoughts. It controls my horizontal and my vertical. It controls my everything.

The noise hates that I learned how to express myself. That I found a way out of the box. The noise is LOUD even when it’s winning, when I’m cooperating. But when I’m not, when I’m writing—and when my writing goes out into the world—

The noise wants me to burn this book. Destroy the book.

How it hates this book. It hasn’t liked any of my writing, just on principle—but this book, this book is something else. This book is like a stage magician writing a book revealing how all the illusions are done. This book is about the noise. This book shows you the noise. Pulls the curtain aside, and reveals the nasty, tiny, wizened, spidery, pale little creature who’s been sitting on a very high stool behind a big audio mixing desk all this time.

I’m not burning the book.

I’m not deleting the book.

I believe there is something—maybe not much, maybe only a little—worthwhile in what I’m doing here. Maybe my noise will resonate with your noise. Maybe your noise has been screaming abuse at you all your life, too, and it’s time you looked behind your curtain.

I’ll tell you one important, true thing, though.

You know the noise, ultimately, is nothing. It’s a feeble little ugly homonculus with a sound system. Yay.

But the noise still gets to you. It still fills up your entire head. It still controls your horizontal and your vertical.

It still makes you feel like you should burn your book, because you truly are the most conceited bastard in Australia, and people really are sick of your poor-suffering-me-waaah! bullshit.

The noise is nothing—but it’s also EVERYTHING. Knowing the rational, logical truth does not destroy the irrational, crazy, madness. If only that worked!

XXX

This noise has kept me from working on this book for months on end. As I said, as soon as I opened the file, pulled up a chapter for revision, the noise would start screaming abuse, and that would be that. I’d hesitate. And in that hesitation, all would be lost. Because I’d believe the spin, the lies. Nobody needs to see this crap, Bedford. Put it away. Do everyone a favour. There’s a good boy. Nobody likes a show-off.

The noise lies to me, just as it does to everyone. I know not to pay attention to it, to disregard it. To regard it the way you’d regard the TV in a doctor’s waiting room—face away from it, ignore anything you hear, concentrate on a book, etc. I know the drill. I’ve been through this routine many times, and I’m good at it. It’s how I got this far. You ignore it as much as you can, and remind yourself that it’s just a sickly pale homonculus behind a curtain with a mixing desk. You can’t make the noise go away. It is hardwired into the physical structure of the brain. It is there for keeps, the homonculus, pale and spidery, screaming itself hoarse about children and show-offs. You have to find a way to coexist with it, and you do that by tuning it out the way you tune out the background noise of a radio playing somewhere nearby.

Noise, noise, noise. It’s never actually quiet in my head, but sometimes it seems quiet. Sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking the noise is sleeping. Maybe it’s tiring keeping that racket going? All I know is that ever since I started this book, the noise has been truly desperate to get me to stop. Because when I’m writing I’m free. The noise can’t touch me here. I’m out. When I stop, and I’m done, and put it up online, then it comes back, and it’s furious, and it sticks its knives into me, and tells me how people on Facebook hate me and wish I would stop, and I burn with embarrassment and anxiety and fear.

But when I’m doing the writing itself, hitting the keys, like now, piecing it all together, hearing the words unspool in my head?

There’s no noise at all.

MEMOIR: EPILOGUE: FEELS LIKE A BEGINNING

MEMOIR: EPILOGUE: FEELS LIKE A BEGINNING

I finished my weight-loss project recently. 7 December last year, just three days before my projected “Landing Day”. Getting there, the final few months, with my “low-food program”, was almost impossibly hard. By the end—I’m crying, believe it or not, as I write this—I was forcing myself to subsist on just 2500 kilojoules of food per day, because I was so unbelievably desperate to reach my target weight.

It was harder than I ever imagined it would be, and it was just as hard on Michelle, who had to live with me, who felt it every day when I weighed myself and the scales said I was 100.3 kilograms, or 100.2 kilograms, or 100.4 kilograms. She heard the sharp intake of breath, felt the tension in the air. She felt the way I just wanted to scream and never stop screaming. The day when the scales said 100.1 kilograms.

100.1.

I always weighed myself at the same time every day. I had to have reliable data. It had to be consistent. I needed it for my graph. I spent a lot of time looking at that graph. And in the final six months, during the low-food days, as I starved myself, as I consumed myself, I stared and stared at the uncanny straight line leading down towards my target.

Before I started the low-food program, when I was just a regular weight-loss guy, before my medication was changed, before Nortriptyline entered my world, my graph was all over the place, up, down, up again, but mostly down. Trending down. It was fine. My weight was floating down like a drifting leaf fallen from a tree. People said I looked great, and asked me what was my secret.

But once I turned to low-food, the weight came off fast and easy. Four kilos a month, no problem.

No problem except I was always, always hungry. One small meal a day, at lunch. The rest of the time, nothing. Nothing but numbers. Kilojoules. Kilograms. Adding up, over and over and over. Projections, thinking about your weight today, your weight yesterday, and based on your recent figures, when you might hit your next milestone weight. So many numbers.

In the early months I had boundless energy. I wrote all the rest of this book. I wrote most of another book. I took up language lessons. There was nothing I couldn’t do. It was an extraordinary time in my life, unequalled before and certainly not since.

Those early glory days on the low-food program faded. Things started to get harder; there was friction in my thinking. I couldn’t write so easily, or so much, or so often. Soon, I couldn’t write much at all, except here and there—but only in the way, when you have heavy side-effects from medication, and your mouth goes dry, you can only talk if you rehearse what you want to say first, and then take time to work up a lot of spit in your mouth. Then you can say your piece in one go, and it’s fine, and you hope nobody has follow-up comments. Writing in the latter months of last year was like that for me.

Because I was, literally, starving.

XXX

When I was close to my target weight, I told my psychologist how dreadful I was feeling. I was exhausted. I was more than ready for the whole ordeal to be finished. Michelle, perhaps, even more so. I had, a long time ago, entertained ideas of celebrations to mark the occasion of reaching the target weight. But by the time I was in the vicinity, it was clear I was a physical and emotional wreck. In no way was I up for any kind of celebration.

My psychologist referred me to a specialist clinic, the Swan Centre, which deals with people who have problems with food and eating.

They took one look at the state of me, and told me I had a form of anorexia nervosa.

They also told me I was suffering from a condition called “Starvation Syndrome”. The notable feature of which is where the brain, deprived of nutrients, shuts down all but non-essential services and functions. You become a potato. You lose interest in almost everything. You lose the ability to read and write anything substantial. Say goodbye to novels, short stories, magazine articles. You tune out of most conversation. Your head fills with something very like static. On my first day at the Swan Centre they gave me an information sheet about Starvation Syndrome. It felt like an arrow intended, designed, built and shot right at me. It was as if they had been secretly inside my head for months, looking at everything, taking notes, snapping photos, and had worked up a detailed report.

It was shaming.

This is why I cry. Five years ago I set out to lose a stack of weight, and I had a crazy, naive goal. I never seriously expected to reach the goal at the time, but what the hey? I’d always been fat, though, and had always hated being fat, had always hated taking up so much space. I always wanted to be small, to be thin. To be a regular size.

I never expected to get anywhere near the target, but as I got closer, the more I wanted to go the rest of the way. It mattered more the closer I got, because I started, bit by bit, to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could do something impossible.

Until it mattered more than life itself.

Did it matter more than Michelle? She might well have wondered that. But no. If she had ever said to me that enough was enough, and this far was plenty, I would have stopped. For nobody else, but I would have stopped for Michelle. Because I love her, and now look, I’m, oh geez.

XXX

At the Swan Centre I’m working with a psychologist and a very cool dietitian. They have me on a “re-feeding” program. I’m slowly being weaned onto eating again (as of this week I’m back up to 4000 kilojoules, and four small meals a day). The fact that I’m here writing again is evidence that this works. My brain is waking up. I’m finding I can do things again.

When I went to see the Swan Centre people I was at 2500 kilojoules once a day. I could barely think. I had been on 2500 for the final two weeks of the program. Before that I had been on 3000, but I had been frustrated. The weight was not shifting. I was desperate. I could not stand it. I felt like something had to give way. It had been such a long time. I was sick of being hungry all the time. All the time! So, out of my mind I twisted the knife of the diet and went down to 2500 kilojoules. It was a tiny amount of food. I logged everything, counting everything. But 2500 is extreme. It’s like a bad movie where the hero and the villain wind up trying to strangle each other, and they’re really going for it. It’s like that. You know it’s bad, that there’s a limit to it. You can’t do it indefinitely. It’s like holding your breath underwater. Sooner or later I was going to have to start eating again.

All I wanted, I told myself, all I wanted was to hit the 100 kilograms. That’s it. And in that final two weeks, every day, it hovered just above the zero. Every single day. 100.2, 100.4. When, at last, “Landing Day” arrived, the scales read, 99.8. By that point I was so weak, so angry, so burned out, so tired—

I was pleased, standing there in my undies and my loose bags and folds of skin. I told Michelle. She was pleased. We went out for lunch. Yay.

2500 kilojoules a day is like the floor at the bottom of a deep ocean trench, an extreme environment. There’s nothing there other than the rubbish that sinks down from the surface. Nothing lives down that far in the darkness. Eating so little food each day, and then spending 23 hours hungry with your thoughts, trying to keep busy, is like that dark sea floor. Cold, lonely, dark, too much time to think. No concentration for anything you might want to do.

One of the things I insisted on each day was chocolate, the good stuff. Lindt 85% Dark Chocolate, two squares, 483 kilojoules. And there, right away, you can see one-fifth of my daily food budget gone just like that. But that chocolate was, in a way, my reason to live. I dreamed about that chocolate. Our fridge was and is full of chocolate.

And that’s the other thing about extreme weight-loss and mental illness and madness and reality distortion and starvation: you stop eating food. You eat kilojoules, units of energy. You might as well eat Lego.

Did I mention madness? Because I’ve got madness. This whole book is about my life with mental illness, and it’s about my weight. I have said it has often been my impression that my depression and my weight, my fat, were each manifestations of one another. That you could carve out a nice chunk of wet, semi-solid depression and hold it in your hand, and squeeze it until the blood comes oozing out; and that you could find yourself kept awake at night by persistent, moody thoughts of fatness. I don’t know if this is the case for other people like me, but it feels that way for me.

And I’ve still got the madness. I wound up losing 67 kilograms of fat, but I didn’t get a new brain, so I’m thin but still crazy. That said, I got down to 98.1 kilograms, slightly surpassing my goal weight of 100 kilograms. I would cheer, but no. I’m pleased to be here at target weight, for as long as I can be here, but I worry, wondering for how long I can hold back the tide. Because that’s the thing. The odds, I gather, are not ever in my favour. I read conflicting reports. Some say it’s possible to hoodwink the body into believing your new weight is your normal weight. Others insist that your original weight will reassert itself and your body will do its best to get back to it. Then some clever bastard comes along and mutters about set-points and flavonoids and who the hell knows? Will I still be under 100 kg this time next year? Next month? I don’t know. It bothers me.

I told my Swan Centre psychologist that I might be thin now but I still feel like a fat man. Like I cast a fat shadow. I can’t escape who I have always been. You can cut the fat off the bacon, but it’s still bacon.

This chapter is at the end, but it’s not the end. I’m suspicious of endings. Of tidy endings, everything resolved. Perhaps that’s it. Nothing with me is resolved. Some might see what’s happened to me—arrived at target weight, medication sorted, new book, huzzah!—as a wonderful, happy ending, full of major achievements. But it’s not. This is just a pause while we catch our breath, grab a bite to eat, some coffee. It’s only the end of Act One. Maybe even just Chapter One. It doesn’t feel like an ending. Maybe it feels like a cliffhanger.

Maybe it feels like a beginning.

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVEL AND MEMOIR (Third Draft)

MEMOIR: TIME TRAVEL AND MEMOIR (Third Draft)

Suppose 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.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to try to 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. At age sixteen, he discovered, the hard way, that he had bipolar disorder. He is still, to this very day, decades later, 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 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 the play, 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 the play 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 in midnight seas. He’s in trouble. He’s taking on water. He’s sinking.

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 turns out to be five months of agony and turmoil, an unprecedented ordeal the like of which our protagonist has never known, and from which he is still, a year after leaving hospital, recovering.

It was an experience so overwhelming, so mind-altering, that I felt the urge to write about it, but in writing about my experience last year, I saw that I needed to address the influence of my illness on my entire life.

The thing about mental illness is that 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 cocooning 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, is tangled up in cobwebs. Pretty soon you’re dead inside. You’re barely able to get out of bed. You could sleep for a thousand years. You believe that everyone you know would actually like you to go away and sleep for a thousand years. Take two thousand, you imagine them suggesting. Don’t come back! you imagine them adding. When you have major, heavy-duty clinical depression, it will try to kill you. It will talk to you about how you can help all the people around you by getting out of their way. It’s the things in the cobwebs talking. The cobwebs lie. Your friends and family love you. Stay. Please stay. Get help. We love you. Stay.

I’ve been fighting the cobwebs all my life, but especially this past year. It’s been a brutal year. When I was sixteen and first diagnosed was a bad time, too—but I would still rate last year as worse. You’ll see.

I can, by now, deal with the cobwebs and all the bollocks that goes with them on my own. But sometimes I need help to deal with the ones out of my reach, and for those I have an excellent clinical psychologist, who has a very long stick. I would not be here without her and her big long stick.

Writing this book has helped me with the cobwebs, too. I have done my best to scrape out everything, no matter how personal, how private, how intense. Mental illness stuff, and especially male mental illness stuff, needs to be brought out of the darkness. When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s it was all secret and terrifying. My dad had a terrible time, and you couldn’t talk about it. There was this awful fraught silence. That deathly silence is a big part of why I wanted to write this book.

All my life I have done my best to present myself to the world as if I were 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 it is possible to 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’d die of crying. If I visited that evening, what might I see? A boy, crying so hard he’s worried he might die from it, that something might happen. The boy’s mother, my mum, much younger than I’m used to seeing her, holding the boy’s hand, stroking it, talking to him, doing her best to soothe him, to help him armed only with the magic of love. On the other side of the bed is a nurse, doing much the same thing, only in a professional capacity.

And there in the centre, that poor young bastard, afraid that he’s flying apart. That he’s burning up on re-entry. He’s just had surgery to remove his appendix, but he’s also just failed a bunch of upper high school exams. He believes he’s doomed, a failure.

I want to tell that poor kid that this is not the end of his life. This is his new life being born. Everything gets better from here—though admittedly not for a long, long time, and the road gets harder before it gets better.

It’s a seven-year slog, and he’ll one day look back on it and call it his “Years of Hell”, and it begins on this volcanic night in 1979 and ends in August 1986, on the fateful, lucky, sunny day when he first meets Michelle.

This is a book of fragments and shards. My dad, back when he was a motor mechanic, used to have these huge trays full of screws, nuts, washers, bolts, and all manner of odd mechanical gewgaws, glinting dully in his workshop light, and all of it a bit sticky with a film of oil. How I hated having anything to do with any of that stuff! But that’s this book. It’s a big random mess of parts. It’s got stories from my whole life. There’s bits from when I was a kid growing up in the “Space Age” 1960s to right this week and everything in between, including my histories of mental illness and obesity, because I’ve always believed the one was a manifestation of the other.

All my life I had to pretend I was normal, but I wasn’t normal. Everybody told me so. I was wrong in all kinds of ways. First I was just weird and strange, but then I was sick. I was still pretty weird, too. And I had to hide it all, weird, sick, the lot. I had to seem normal at all times. It was the most important thing in the world. It was impossible. That strain, that impossible task, and what it did to me, is what this book is about.

MEMOIR: THE SINGULARITY (More Rewrites, Cuts, Better, Etc)

MEMOIR: THE SINGULARITY (More Rewrites, Cuts, Better)

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 far away, 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’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 one’s 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 accelerates 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.

My Singularity is going to be a pasty, baggy, 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 next.

But in his mind, in his heart, this Singularity will be every bit as grand as the technological one, and every bit as reality-distorting as the physics 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 I’ve 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 program”, 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 program 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.

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 program”. 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.

I may have to go into orbit around the Singularity. It might not be possible for me to go off into the 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’m worried I am not well inside. I’ve been worried about 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 clothing 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, but also tired and perhaps a bit teary. I might stay in bed all day. Michelle will probably be quite excited, but also very glad it’s over. Mum and Dad will probably be more excited than both of us put together. A 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 folding into myself, and being all self-effacing.

The Singularity, up close, distorts the fabric of reality. It makes you believe wrong things. It messes with your head. It’s anxiety. It’s madness. It’s exactly where you’re trying to go, but going there is doing your head in. You can feel it, the noise in your head. The voices in your head are telling you that all the people you know are this close to defriending you on Facebook because of your endless weight-loss posts. Because you never shut up about it. You believe this.

This is my anxiety talking, my voices, my nerves. Mirror Adrian, the guy who lives in the mirror world who is still fat like I used to be, and who wants me to be fat again, just like him. So just when you might think I would be feeling proud and excited, getting ready for my big moment, maybe even a triumphant moment—I’m not. I’m anxious. I’m worried. About bloody Facebook!

And here I’m still eight kilograms out.

POSTSCRIPT: Close to the Singularity

Today, some weeks after I wrote most of the above chapter, I went to see my GP. He recently sent me for a comprehensive suite of blood-tests. By now I’ve been on the “low-food program” for the inconceivable period of six months. I never imagined I could last this long on such a strict regimen. As of today, I’ve lost 24 kilograms in that time. It’s been an extraordinary experience, but one I would not recommend. I have in fact been worried about the long-term damage that might be accruing to me from the extremity of the thing, as I said above. I thought I might be making myself sick. So, blood-tests for everything.

And the results? They were excellent in all respects. I’m completely fine. My doctor was overjoyed for me. He knows exactly what I’m doing, the extremity of it, the restrictiveness of it, and his advice is to keep at it because not only is it working well, it’s doing me good.

Which was not at all what I was expecting to hear today. I thought there would be some evidence of malnutrition or some sort of metabolic problem. Likewise I thought I might have made myself ill in some obscure biochemical manner—but instead, to my great surprise, I’d made myself well. I have heard good things about limited, intermittent, controlled fasting. And I knew there was a program called alternate day fasting, but nobody, to my knowledge, was doing anything quite like I’ve been doing. I’m shocked.

My weight today is 103.2 kilograms. I am extremely close now, a matter of just a few weeks. My body is transformed. I have a great deal of weird, crinkly, crêpey loose skin everywhere. I’m thinking of getting photos taken of me wearing only Speedos, to keep as proof that I did it. I made it to the summit of Weight-Loss Mountain; I touched the Singularity.

I have developed a database of all the foods I typically eat, with details of kilojoules, carbs, and, for some, their weights as well. I am also keeping a daily food diary, with a running tally of how many kilojoules and grams of carbohydrate I consume. At the moment this is just scribbles in a notebook, but I can already see I might need a spreadsheet. I’m working on trying to transition to the ketogenic diet, so I am trying to keep carbs to 20 g/day.

But a funny, surprising thing has happened: I wrote above that I was exhausted. That my head was done in. That I was a burned out old hulk of a car stuck up in a tree out in the bush, that you wonder about as you drive from one dusty remote town to another.

I did indeed feel that way. I was a wreck. I was depressed. I would have quit the whole process just like that if someone had given me a good reason. But nobody did, and I still had good reasons to keep on. I loved what was happening to my body. It was what I’d always wanted. It was my heart’s desire, to be thin. Every fat boy’s fantasy. So I stuck with it. But it was a close thing.

But I made some changes, as I said. Notebook, database. And without all that calculation and information in my head all the time, my mind became a quieter place. I had room to think. I am now clear-headed. I can write again. I’m working on these memoir rewrites. I’m feeling, believe it or not, quite okay.

I had thought that when I got this close to the Singularity the stress and turbulence would be much worse. Maybe it will be harder when I get extremely close. Maybe when I pass the 100 kg mark, and enter maintenance, that will be hard. I don’t know. But right now, I feel okay. And the “burn rate” of the weight-loss is picking up, too, which may be the transition to ketosis starting up. I may reach the Singularity sooner than expected.

I’m not ready. I’m so not ready.

I don’t know what to do.

I am as surprised by this development as you must be to read it. It doesn’t fit the narrative. I’m supposed to be breaking up in flight like the planes that tried and failed to break the sound barrier before Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 came along. But here I am approaching the sound barrier, as it were, looking to go transonic with a quiet boom and onward from there.

The hell with narratives. I’m going for it.