BROKEN ARM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixel has cleared out of the impact zone.

Michelle stirs, sensing trouble. “Sweetie?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REGRET

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

If only, say, you had a time machine?

Well. Where to begin?

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

“There was this girl.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was I, the steady friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was I thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNRELIABLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there were two essential problems with this picture.

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

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

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

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

Then she simply came right out with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hurts because it’s true.

WRITING AS SYMPTOM, AS MADNESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I thought I was getting clean away with it.

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

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

TIME TRAVEL: Memory and Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A TITLE SUGGESTS ITSELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAT AS ARMOUR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE HUNCHBACK OF LOCKRIDGE HIGH

We were in Mandurah one night several years ago, a warm clear night full of stars and the smell of the sea. We were eating at an outdoor restaurant with a view of the famous Mandurah Estuary, enjoying the food, and enjoying each other’s company, as always. It was as perfect a moment as it’s possible to have in this life.

Mandurah is a place I’ve felt close to all my life. It was a big part of my childhood and growing up during my dad’s “messing around with boats” period. It feels to me now like we were always down there, and I was always paddling around in the Estuary, getting terribly sunburned, or walking around town dressed only in my underwear because I was too clueless to know better, while Dad laboured away on some bastard’s expensive boat. When Michelle and I got married, we had our honeymoon in Mandurah, and the place still had at least some of the old seaside salty magic. We’ve gone back there every chance we’ve had ever since, and on this particular night we’d just arrived at the beginning of our stay.

“Excuse me,” a woman was suddenly standing up a few metres away, at another table, looking at me. She looked about my age, brownish hair, possibly hazel eyes.

It developed that she wanted to speak to me. “You’re Adrian Bedford, aren’t you?”

Ah, I thought. She must be someone who’s read one of my books. This sometimes happened, though usually readers know me as K.A. Bedford. “Yes. That’s me. Can I help you?” I smiled a blank sort of smile.

Then she smiled all warmly and said she was (as I’ll call her) Jenny Ross, from Lockridge High? We went to high school together.

This was as astonishing as encountering an actual space alien while eating one’s dinner.

I said hello, and hi, and we both stood there, at our respective tables, and it was getting a bit awkward. Because, as much as she explained, I only very vaguely remembered her. I did not know what to say. I never expected to run into anyone from “that life” ever again. Even to this day, I retain only one friend from high school, who lives in New York; we hang out on Facebook.

We asked after each other, and we both said we were doing okay, that we were doing all right, that life was pretty good, and that it was nice to see each other, and I still had no blessed idea who this nice lady was who had bobbed up out of the sea of time, and whom I never saw again.

But ever since, all these years later, drifting along on the surface of the sea of time, I think about Jenny Ross a lot, gnawing on the mystery of her. Who was she? Why did she remember me so much, and so fondly that she was happy to see me years later–when so many girls in my own recollection of that time regarded me as the worst sort of filth? Not all, by any means, bit you don’t need every single individual to make an impression. There were, in those days, some girls who were at least neutral towards me, who would chat. There was even one girl, a pretty English girl with strawberry blonde hair, who was so nice she tried to help me learn to ice skate one time during a school excursion to a dilapidated old ice rink, but I kept slipping, self-conscious, clumsy, humiliated, on my cold, wet, arse. The sight of her soft, warm, pale hand was terrifying. How could I tell her how utterly grateful I was for her graciousness towards me, the Hunchback of Lockridge High? I couldn’t. I felt loathsome. I felt that my loathsomeness was contagious. She reached out to take my hand, to guide me round the rink, and all I could think, looking at her winning smile and pale hand, was that what was wrong with me would rub off on her perfection. This is psychosis. It affects the way you see the world, and the way you see yourself–without your being aware there’s any problem, that what you see is the truth, that you truly are monstrous.

THE TELLTALE PANASONIC

It was a small boxy blue Panasonic transistor radio and it wasn’t mine, but I had it, and nobody knew I had it.

Nobody knew I had stolen it.

It was exciting. It made me feel all hot and thrilled-up inside, I could hardly stand it. I would take it out of its hiding place in my room and turn it on and listen to the voices, the scratchy AM radio voices, of the late-60s Turn-Turn-Turn songs, and think excited, happy, terrible thoughts.

This radio belonged to a young man, the son of a family we knew. I am not sure now, from this static-filled distance, how we knew that family. The young man, I’ll call him Rob, was a great guy, a good friend. Older than I was by about ten years, involved in computers in the days of huge mainframes, and massive ASCII art print-outs of Snoopy or Bob Dylan. He was as cool as a guy could be.

And I stole his radio.

I don’t know why I stole his radio. I don’t know why I did that to him, when I had such deep regard for him, when he was such a great guy, and who was a patient and kind friend to me, a weird moody little kid.

He worked it out. He was no fool. He was a master of computers at a time when people who did that were digital savants, people like no others, speakers of a language no-one else knew or understood. He was smart, was Rob, and he put together the instances when he had left me alone with his stuff while, for example, went to the toilet.

He had a word with me one night while we were visiting his family. I forget exactly how it came about. I remember an unbearable tension beforehand, before I knew that he knew, but when I did know that he was starting to know, and that it would not be long. I have a vague recollection that might not be based on anything real of Rob asking my parents if they had seen his blue Panasonic transistor radio anywhere, and they had not, where had he last seen it, and it turned out he had last seen it in his room. He said, looking my way.

I remember, somehow, I ended up in our car, on the back seat, and Rob in the door, the rear door, leaning in, a bright yard light behind him, and I remember him telling me he knew I had taken the radio, he knew I had done it, and he was confused and upset and felt all betrayed, and why would I do that, why had I done it? And could he please have his radio back?

I felt flayed alive. I was made of blistering tears. I screamed and wailed.

The thing was, that radio was not the only thing I had stolen.

I was never any sort of master thief. But, as a small boy, I did have a thing for things that were not mine. I think I took, usually from my parents, a few small things, here and there, and was duly found out, told off, really thoroughly told off. Possibly The Belt, Dad’s trouser belt, might actually have been used (it was sometimes threatened, he would reach for it, and start to unfasten it, but then “think better of it”).

And, one day, in a chemist shop in Leederville, on my own, away from Mum and Dad, wandering about, restless on a hot, sunny day, a tiny bottle of Visine eye-drops.

The terrible steamy exciting thrilling hot flush of it! Because at any moment someone will see. Someone will know. It never occurs to you that you’re just a little kid, and nobody cares, nobody’s watching, and besides, the very essence of shopping is grabbing stuff from a display. What’s suspicious is acting all weird about grabbing stuff from a display. But at the time, I was a master criminal trying to pull off one last big job before he retires. I just had to get myself and the merchandise out of the shop.

What the hell was I doing? Why was I doing this? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about my career as a thief, as a taker of things, as my life.

Why did I do it?

Why did I stop doing it? Why didn’t I keep doing it? How did it not become my career? How did I not end ip “known to the police”? What happened to stop me? Did I stop voluntarily? Was it the shame? Because there was so much shame. While I had Rob’s radio, I hardly touched it, hardly even looked at it. It was radioactive with wrongness, with guilt. It was The Telltale Panasonic.

Why do people choose this rather than that? Why do they do the things they do? What causes a person to steal a radio, or a bottle of Visine? Do you think you’re going to get away with it, and live the good life, like Ronnie Biggs, in Rio? There was no good life in Rio with Ronnie. I don’t think I ever even used the Visine. I never used Rob’s radio for more than a few seconds at a time. I could not bear to touch it, let alone to hold it. It burned with accusing wrongness, the static between stations screaming, “THIEF! THIEF!”

ME VERSUS WORK

I have not had a proper job since 1988.

When my whirling instability at university finally got the better of me and I crashed out of there in the middle of my third year in 1985, I landed at the family home, and began slowly to recover.

In time, I became well enough to go back to school, but I was done with university. I needed a job, and that meant skills. The only skill I had at that point was typing. I had always been able to touch-type. As a writer it was always very handy.

I landed at TAFE, technical college, and blasted through two years of office skills training.

During this time I was also going through a major medication overhaul: transitioning off lithium carbonate and the various support drugs I had been on since my diagnosis in 1979, and trying to find something new that worked as well or better. It was brutal. Two weeks to ease on to a new drug, then experience it for a while, see how it felt, then if necessary two weeks to ease off it again, then begin again a new cycle with something else. This went on for much of that year. The side-effects were the worst, both the effects of the different drugs, but also the withdrawal effects as they came and went. And during this time I was trying to study.

I did fine at the study caper. Office skills (different ways of filing, word processing on different machines, using an office calculator) were not too taxing, but having enough concentration to bring to bear on the material was hard. And here was the essential problem.

The essential problem was the need, at all times, for the mentally ill patient to appear to be a regular, well person. To appear not to be mentally ill.

Today, in 2017, this problem is, I gather, much less serious. This problem is part of the reason I’m writing this book. Because when I grew up, this sort of illness was always to be kept secret, shrouded in shame and terrible whispers. Living with this shame was itself part of the problem experienced by people afflicted with the illness. Today it is possible to say, in public, that you have anxiety, or depression, or one of the many other terrible conditions, and most people are supportive, sympathetic, and will at least try to understand. It’s wonderful, for someone old enough, like me, like my parents, who remember how it used to be (and how it still is in some unenlightened countries).

But back in the 1980s, as I worked my way through whole categories in the MIMS book of medications suitable for bipolar disorder, trying to find something, anything I could live with, I was having a bastard of a time pretending to be normal.

One of the worst situations, and the most common, was “dry mouth”. A great many drugs in the categories I was interested in came with dry mouth as a side-effect. Dry like the Atacama Desert. So dry you could imagine your entire face puckering and withering.

So dry, in fact, that you can’t talk. And that was a serious problem. That mattered, because it drew attention to your sinister secret, the fact you’ve been trying so hard to hide, that you’re not mentally well, that you’re trying to pass as normal.

That you’re a giant fraud and liar.

This was a deeply serious problem for me. I had to find a way around it. The only thing that worked was to carefully think ahead and rehearse everything I wanted to say, for example to a teacher, and then work very hard to try to get a bit of saliva in my mouth, which was the very hardest part of the whole difficult operation. But once that was all sorted, I could go up to the teacher and say my piece, appear perfectly normal, smile and laugh, and then head back to my desk, my mouth already turning back to desert conditions.

Every. Single. Time.

The best job I ever had was a six-week posting at a non-government employment agency called Catch-22, whose aim was to provide work experience to inexperienced people looking for work. One of the major things people, especially young people, found difficult when looking for work was employers wanting applicants with experience–but you can’t get experience of you’ve never had a job. This organisation would wheedle employers into taking people on, as interns, and then once suitably skilled they would then become regular employees. I was the receptionist.

It was brilliant. The other workers were all young women, brainy, ambitious, full of amazing ideas and enthusiasm for how they could this program and ventures like it to help people. And they liked having a young man as their receptionist. I enjoyed working for them. Wrote funny phone messages. Had great fun learning how to use their baffling word-processing system. Making cups of tea and running errands, listening to them chat over lunch. I stayed late and arrived early. I could have done that job forever and would not have minded. Helping people, working with lovely colleagues who appreciate your contribution. There were only two things wrong with that job: it was only six weeks, and there was no pay.

I also did a lot of temp work, various assorted office positions, in the public service. One, in the Australian Bureau of Statistics, was quite okay with good people looking after me. Another, in what was then something like Health and Human Services, was great because I was again a receptionist for an all-female section. I enjoyed working for them, and they enjoyed having me about.

But one, the last one, nearly broke me.

I got a ten-week placement to the Australian Tax Office, as a level one admin drone. Whenever I’ve spoken about this to people I know, especially to people in the local writing community, who between them have logged considerable time in the public service sector themselves, they all shake their heads sadly and sympathetically at mention of the dread phrase, “Australian Tax Office”. They are truly words to conjure with.

The main task I had to deal with was a tower of wide-format fanfold computer print-out of about my own height, bound up in a series of fat binders. These majestic beasts were the account details of every financial institution in Western Australia. If you had any sort of bank account in WA, your details were somewhere in that tower. And the job for the team I was assigned to was simple: look at the interest paid in each account. If there was more than $200 of interest, highlight it with a pink or yellow highlighter pen, one of the ones that makes a squeal like a dying mouse. An amount of $200 or more meant the account holder would be earmarked for further beady-eyed tax man attention, and it probably would not go well for that benighted individual.

But of course you’re reading this in the future. You’re reading this well into the twenty-first century. Who knows, you might be getting it beamed directly into your brain, eyeballs bypassed altogether. And you might be thinking, Dude, My toaster has more than enough brains to write a bit of code that could take care of a job like that in two seconds flat!

Well, indeed. But this was about 1988. This was part of what went so very, very wrong for me. This was part of why I stopped having proper jobs.

Every day was going through these immense print-outs, line after line, page after endless page. There was me, and an older guy from Goa, named Henry, who was a lovely bloke, formerly employed by Pan Am, who told me amazing stories of international air travel in the glory days of jet travel, in 707s. And there was a young woman, whose name I don’t remember, who couldn’t seem to keep her stories straight, who was always taking days off, and who didn’t seem to do much work. Henry and I battled our way through vast piles of print-out, chatting all the while, but this woman didn’t help much.

This sounds like I’m having a pretty swell time. I can see how you would draw that conclusion.

Every day, around lunch time, I would phone Michelle. We were just engaged. I was just about in tears. The job. The endlessness. We’d been at itfor weeks, but the tower of print-out seemed no smaller. I remember my wheedling, helpless voice, I remember being curled around the phone so my coworkers, and my supervisor couldn’t hear me. Michelle would tell me it was okay, I was making progress, even if it seemed very slow, but it was still progress. She’d tell me she loved me, and remind me this was just a temporary placement, that I only had to hang in there for so many more weeks. She’d do everything short of coming in and doing my job for me

I felt terrible shame about this. What I was doing was not hard work. But it was intolerable. There was one kind coworker, who was nice to me, perhaps seeing that I was coming unglued. He was great. It didn’t help that my supervisor was a woman who seemed burned out and bitter, who didn’t care about problems her temp workers might be having. That was part of it, too. Being a temp, being only a partial person, not a whole worker. Just a pair of eyes and a pair of hands. Unlike my good experiences elsewhere in the public service, here I felt dehumanised. Here I felt my illness coming back.

I made it week nine of the ten. Michelle had been coaxing me along, like someone in a window trying to talk to someone standing out on a ledge, who might jump at any moment. And I did feel that way. I was done. This job, the way it played on me, crushed me. I felt awful about being so weak. So many other people, I knew, eked along in jobs they felt were killing them, because they needed the money, needed the benefits, so they could pay the rent, pay for food, support their kids. And here was me, done in by a lousy temp job.

The rumours in my head were true. I was useless. I was hopeless. A man has to have work. This is hardwired deep, profoundly deep, into the very foundation of how our society works. You have to have a job. You have to work. There is dignity in work, it’s said. Especially for a man. A huge part of being male (see my earlier post, Me Versus Maleness) is all about the importance of work and having a job, and providing for your family. It’s as fundamental to being male as having a Y chromosome.

And I couldn’t even do this job. In week nine, I managed to secure the attention of my distracted supervisor for a few moments, and told her I was not well, and would not be coming in.

She was shocked. She told me if I did that, I could forget about future public service positions.

Not once, in all the years since then, have I regretted the decision.

Michelle told me to stay home and write. She did not mind being the bread-winner, and she does, fortunately, make enough money that we can live a comfortable life, we’ve paid off our house, and life is pretty decent, illness notwithstanding. I have come to see, slowly, that writing is working, is a real and proper job. Cleaning up around the house is working. Looking after Michelle is working.

During the past year, with my hospitalisation and struggle to find new viable medication, the part of my mind that enables me to write went away. Went off the air entirely. It wasn’t writer’s block. That’s when you want to write, but feel like you can’t, like there’s something in the way. What I felt last year was more like someone had surgically removed the part of my brain that made me write.

This brought on, for me, a grave crisis that I am only now coming out of,with the aid of this writing project. While my head was silent, I couldn’t write, and didn’t want to write. But if I didn’t write, if I wasn’t “a writer”, the description of myself I have used for decades, what was I? Did I need to find a new task, a new role for myself? It was terrifying.

But I appear to be back, doing what I do, what I have always done, ever since childhood. I was ever scribbling nonsense, and here I am, still at it. If you’re out there, still reading, thank you!