TURNING POINT

Tomorrow I’m off to see my psychiatrist again. Last time I saw him (two weeks ago) I impressed upon him how dreadful I was feeling about runaway weight-gain, which at least in part is a side-effect of the drug Nortriptyline. I asked him what other treatment options he had, other than bombing my illness with that drug.

He is very reluctant to change things too much. It was so difficult just getting me to this point–my mood is consistently pretty decent, as long as I don’t get thinking about my weight (see my earlier post, The Scales)–that he is loath to mess up something that more or less is working.

He told me last time I saw him that he was thinking about changing one of my other medications, Latuda, for an anti-anxiety drug called Topamax, in part because of that medication’s reputed side-effect of weight-loss. It’s that rare thing, a psychiatric medication that doesn’t make you stack on the kilos. My only concern about this is that I was on it for a couple of weeks last year in hospital, during which time I had to urinate so often I was more or less living in the loo. I have mentioned this to my doctor. He says that at the time I was coming off and going on to so many different drugs that it was hard to assess whether it was the Topamax causing the problem, or what. I’m also on a completely different set of meds at the moment from those I was on last year. Maybe the constant urination thing had more to do with my medication situation last year, and won’t be a problem now.

As for the possibility of quitting the Nortriptyline altogether, the doctor wants me to organise a sleep-study, and a blood-test to check my blood-levels of the drug. I have sent the sleep clinic a request, but they have yet to get back to me. I’m still in the process of organising the blood-test.

The other thing that has changed in the past two weeks since I last saw the doctor is that I’ve managed to lose 3 kg. I have altered my diet and eating patterns, and this has arrested the crazy trajectory of my weight-gain. I thought it was out of control, that nothing I tried was helping–but that was before I really, seriously tried. One day recently the scales told me I had reached 127.1 kg, up from my lowest weight, recorded while I was in hospital, of just over 114 kg. Since then I’ve been working hard, mainly reducing as much as possible the tasty treats, without stopping them altogether. This morning my weight was 124.2 kg, exactly 10 kg off my record best, my “personal least”. I would dearly love to get back down there, and keep it going down. I still want to go sky-diving when I hit 100 kg.

The doctor also asked me how I’d feel about trying again with the repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a treatment I tried last year, but which I hated. But now I feel like I could try again. And if it meant no longer having to take quite so much medication, I would be all for it.

Wish me luck!

WEIRD KID 1

It was a weekend afternoon, the sun well on its way to the horizon, and I was a little kid, maybe eight or nine, and we, the parents and I, had come to visit my Uncle Bill and Auntie Rita.

The thing is, though, when we arrived, and it was time to get out of the car and actually go down the steeply sloping red path (manicured lawn on each side), I could not bring myself to exit the car.

And this wasn’t the first time.

By this point Mum and Dad knew it was pointless arguing with me (tears, yelling, the whole catastrophe), so they got out of the car, deeply not happy with me, and they went down the sloping red path, up on the porch, knocked and were welcomed. I stayed in the car, in the metal box of heat, starting to sweat, and feeling a tangle of sticky, horrible feelings.

I knew I should be with Mum and Dad in the house. And I did love Uncle Bill and Auntie Rita. They were wonderful to me at all times. Uncle Bill was a retired grocer. Auntie Rita, ten years older than Uncle Bill, was my dad’s father’s sister, as far as I could figure out. I mainly remember her kindness and her sweetness.

But I also remember I was deeply weird around them. I would sit in the car for, it felt like, hours. Sometimes I would muster up the nerve to go down the path to their door, and they would welcome me, and I remember they never made a big deal about it. It was as if I had simply been unavoidably delayed, but was here now, and that was lovely.

I remember feeling so shy and very likely anxious that I would burrow in next to my mum on the lounge room couch, and sort-of try to hide behind her.

I would hear about all this later. It was embarrassing, and not right. But I couldn’t help it. It also didn’t have anything to do with Uncle Bill or Auntie Rita. They were lovely. I was blessed with a wonderful extended family. No, the problem was me, and the way I just didn’t much like being with people. Being with people made me feel on edge, not sure what to say or how to just be there with everyone. I was quiet, usually in my own world, even when otherwise present.

From this distance I no longer remember whether I did this anywhere else. I have fleeting fragments of something that might be memory telling me I did do it with some friends of the family, and possibly when we visited my maternal grandparents in Fremantle, but I’m not sure. I might ask my parents what they remember. Certainly they have told me many times that I was a “difficult” kid in many ways. And probably most weird, and most difficult when it came to food and eating.

But that’s a story for another time.

HELPFUL BOOKS

I’m not much into self-help books, and don’t plan to write one, because I’m far from an expert. I’m not even an expert about myself and what I’ve been through.

Over the several months I’ve been visiting my psychologist, she has recommended books to me that she thought might help me. The first of these was MINDSIGHT, by Dan Siegel, a therapist who uses mindfulness techniques to help his clients. It was this book that convinced me of the value and effectiveness of mindfulness as a way of changing your thinking about your illness. It was a very powerful read for me, and helped me very much.

My psychologist also recommended THE HAPPINESS TRAP, by Russ Harris. This one looks at a variation of mindfulness, in which you accept you have all these unhelpful and generally awful thoughts and feelings, but rather than trying to get rid of them, instead the book teaches how to pay less attention to them. Most important, for me at least, is the emphasis on living a rich, meaningful life, rather than trying to be happy. The author says chasing after happiness will generally lead to unhappiness, but that aiming to live a meaningful life is better, and more satisfying. Choose to do things, even in your spare time, that mean something to you, that are important to you. It’s because of this book that I’m writing again.

Last, MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, by Austrian psychiatrist Dr Viktor Frankl. It’s a short book, and is divided between the author’s memoir of his experience in Nazi death camps, and a brief introduction to his therapeutic method, called “logotherapy”, which, like the Russ Harris book (THE HAPPINESS TRAP), is about pursuing a meaningful life. Frankl credits this technique with helping him survive the camps.

While I recoomend these books, I make no promises that you will find them as helpful or useful. I think people are too strange and various for that. But I did find them the most helpful to me of all the many books I’ve read, and you might get some benefit, too. I particularly endorse the idea of pursuing meaningful activities and endeavours in your life, where possible.

As soon as I understood the idea, the first thing that occurred to me was that my number one meaningful thing was writing. Writing is my thing. For a long time I forgot that.

MANIA

Everyone knows depression is awful. There have been many books about it from all kinds of different angles, including plenty of sometimes harrowing memoirs. I’ve written here about the horror of full clinical depression, too. Maybe you’ve read a couple of my earlier posts about it. As an experience I give it no stars. It is wretchedness. You’re left feeling like a World War I battlefield, picked over by carrion birds.

The thing about what’s called “bipolar disorder” (what was once called “manic depression”, and what a doctor, when I was 16, called “biochemical, bipolar, manic depressive psychotic disorder”) is you get two experiences that, usually, alternate. You get the full-throttle–or perhaps the no-throttle–depression that everyone knows about, and everyone hates. But you also get mania, and, to me, mania is worse. Much, much worse.

I have had this conversation many times over the years since I became what feels sometimes like a “professional patient”. Which is worse, depression or mania? It’s like that awful question wankers sometimes pose, “if your wife and your child were both drowning but you could save only one, which one would you save?” It’s an impossible question, or seems like it. For me, mania is worse, no question.

When you’re depressed, you can lie down. You can sit. You can stay in one place. Your thoughts come at you one at a time. They’re horrible thoughts, full of anger, accusation, criticism, and poison, but they come at you as if over a dial-up modem connection, at 33.6 kbpm. When you’re depressed, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to stay in bed for days on end. You don’t much want to eat (unless your interior voice is making you want to eat everything). Bathing is out. Answering the front door, or picking up the ringing phone is also no good. Depression is inertia. Your miserable mind congeals around your self-loathing.

Mania, on the other hand, is gigabit broadband madness, and your thoughts and ideas and feelings blast through and around your head faster than you can imagine. You can’t lie down. You certainly can’t sit. What you can do is move, walk, run, dance, swim naked at midnight in winter. You can walk all night long, and the whole time your mind is lit up like a movie premiere, searchlights and all, and you have more ideas per second than anybody in history, and all these ideas are BRILLIANT!

You get angry because your stupid made-of-meat mouth can’t keep up with the extreme bitrate of your thoughts. You can stay awake for days, just like if you were on methamphetamine.

But there is no possibility of rest or peace. You can try to lie down and close your eyes, but the whirling light-storm of ideas zooming around behind your eyes means you can’t rest, even though you are exhausted. Your useless meat-puppet body is not up to what your brain is doing. Because your brain is screaming, supersonic, oh and did I mention that everything is FUNNY? You are the funniest guy ever. You imagine going pro as a comedian. You imagine recording a comedy album. You might even begin writing one. And people you run into do seem to laugh. At least at first, you are in fact pretty funny. But your audience gets exhausted. You can see it, and you try to keep them, but your mouth can’t keep up. You trip over your million-miles-an-hour words, and you get frustrated the way you get frustrated over a computer that won’t do that one simple bloody thing–

You scare people. You can see it, and you are horrified, and you try to make them understand, that you’re okay, you’re a nice guy.

Then there are the delusions of grandeur, that you have uniquely penetrating ideas, key insights nobody else has ever understood before. You become paranoid about assassination, about people reading your mind.

Once, when I was 16, and I was in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s psychiatric unit, I realised one day, sitting next to my dad, that my dad could hear my thoughts. He could hear me thinking. He naturally did not let on about this. It was a secret. He sat there, cool as a master spy, taking careful note of my thoughts, and even more careful not to reveal that he knew I knew.

When I’ve had mania, or manic episodes, I end up sleeping only because the meat puppet is exhausted. Not that there is any rest. You wake up, as if hungover, but with a bit of luck the phase or cycle is finished with you for now, and the guards can drag you back to your cell.

Because you can find yourself wishing for depression.

A YEAR AGO TODAY–The Worst of Times

Today, one year ago, things were bad.

“MELTDOWN UPDATE: Michelle Bedford; Marie Bedford: have just seen my doctor for a brief but welcome visit. Proper meltdown occurred. Major loss of reactor containment. Ye gods. Upshot: not getting discharged quite yet. Yesterday they were talking about maybe this weekend. Now I’ve said I don’t actually quite feel ready. Don’t feel “done” (in the baking sense). He explained (reminded me, really) that they have, in, essence, deliberately provoked a depressive phase by taking away my Clomipramine. I’m still making my way across that endless no-man’s land. The Zyban is still throttling up to full power. He said that in his judgement I’m a good 75% of the way there, but there’s still some way to go.

Good news: they’re quite happy for me to go home over the weekend for day-long visits (as opposed, say, to just the afternoon or a few hours).

Better news: he’s referring me to see a psychologist as well, someone I can really Talk To about Things and Stuff that my usual psychiatrist often doesn’t have time to listen to.

I was, I realise, starting, in a way, to feel a bit panicked about prospect of getting discharged so soon. That’s a weird thing to realise, I can tell you. But I want to be prepared. And now that I’ve spoken to him about all that, I feel much better. More relaxed.

Ye freaking gods, what an ordeal! :(”

UPSHOT: things are so much better now. By no means perfect, but I can go about my life. My major concerns now are some nasty side-effects. I’m no longer a building-site. I can make plans more than a few hours in the future. I don’t experience catastrophic teary meltdowns when Michelle leaves for work of a day anymore. I’m well enough that I can write, though some might question whether I should!

MISOPHONIA–THE TROUBLE WITH SOUND

We were out at a cafe, middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon. I was on day release from the hospital, and all excited that I could go home for the afternoon and evening.

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

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

Michelle and I sat in the middle of the cafe, with plenty of unoccupied space around us. Another member of the cafe staff was sweeping or possibly vacuuming at the back of the room, because the place would close for the day pretty soon. We were among the day’s last customers. Michelle and I enjoyed our excellent coffee and cake. Michelle turned pages of the newspaper.

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

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

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

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

I’m still okay.

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

Even though that other cafe worker is still either sweeping up or vacuuming, and even those idiots at the counter are still trying to flirt with the barista girl, and even though Michelle is still poring over the rustling newspaper pages–

ALL I CAN HEAR IS THE GUY STIRRING HIS COFFEE AND I’M STARING AT HIM AND FEEL VERY MUCH AS IF I COULD KILL HIM WITH MY BARE HANDS.

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

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

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

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

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

All last year, in hospital, I told my doctors I had this weird, debilitating sensitivity to certain sorts of sounds. Quiet sounds, repetitive, often at a high pitch but not always. Biological noises like chewing food, even soft food, the wet, smacking noises of people eating, even with their mouths closed. Chairs dragged across floors. Last year, as I came off my old medication regimen, I began to have this problem. My doctors understood that it was a sort of anxiety, but they knew little about it, and, as they had stared at me blankly about my writing-juju going away, they stared pretty blankly about this. Staff gave me anti-anxiety meds to ease things off.

All day long, from first waking to switching off the reading light at night, one of these noises could occur at any moment. And every time, I felt like murder. If you could in fact kill someone with your gaze alone, I would now be one of history’s greatest monsters. There would be bleak but popular anthemic songs on the radio, “He just don’t like chewing”. Everywhere I went, I was on alert, on edge, primed and ready, because it was only a matter of time before somebody nearby clicked his pen over and over. Or before I heard someone using a knife and fork against a china plate, making a little squeaking sound. There was always something.

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

It was called misophonia.

The Post-It had info about a Facebook support group. The printout was from a website acting as a clearinghouse for reliable information about it. Which wasn’t, and still isn’t, a lot. The reason my doctors stared at me so blankly was because it’s a newly classified condition. There is very little research out there, but what there is so far suggests it is a neurological condition in which the fight-or-flight response in your brain is set off by these sounds. It bypasses conscious thought, and goes straight to those parts of the brain that control your response to threats.

Your brain is freaking the hell out because your lovely wife sitting next to you on the couch is eating a TimTam.

Once I’d digested the information the doctor had given me, I could have hugged her, I was so happy to know that it was a real thing, with a name, and that people are working on it. To know there are other people out there likewise freaking out because someone’s idly tapping their feet against the side of a table.

Mine seems closely correlated to depression and the anxiety that goes with it. I can tell when I’m not as well as usual, because I notice little sounds–suddenly I’m staring-as-if-to-kill at someone or something. When I’m doing better, those same sounds don’t bother me so much. It comes and goes, bit for some people it’s a constant thing, always on, always with the same intensity. On the discussion forums there’s a lot of talk about noise-cancelling headphones–are they worth the considerable expense? (Mostly. Peace of mind is worth paying for.)

What has also helped is working with my psychologist on various mindfulness-based approaches for helping to change the way I think about noise. And to stop me doing what some people with the problem do, who never leave their homes. The world is too full of threatening noises. And it is, too, but it’s better, quality-of-life-wise, for me at least, to try to stay in touch with the outside world. I’m reclusive enough at the best of times without adding this element.

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

I have had to learn to adapt the way I approach my life. It’s difficult, especially when, after a long period of feeling fine, you have a relapse, and suddenly it’s as if you can hear bugs giggling and tap-dancing because your hearing is so acute. People around me have had to learn to adapt as well. I hate and feel embarrassed that because of a problem that I have, other people have to tip-toe around and mind what they do. It bothers me very much. I have issues. But I can work on those.

THE WRONG LENSES: a Postscript

Earlier today, feeling fine, I posted a long essay about my anxiety last year over our wayward, unreliable scales, and my need for accurate information about my weight.

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

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

You know it’s wrong, and that people around you are upset, but there’s nothing you can do. You’ve got the wrong lenses in. You’re waiting for your doctor to find you the good lenses, so you can see the same reality as everyone else.

Sorry, Sweetie.

THE SCALES

NOTE: This is another long one. 2200 words.

The scales were crazy. I couldn’t trust them. Michelle was fed up with hearing about them, and unusually for her, she was prepared to tell me she was fed up. All I knew was that I couldn’t trust them, and I had to have scales I trusted because not knowing my weight from day to day was making me mental.

This was me during a nasty period last year. I was extremely agitated, vibrating with chest-hammering anxiety, and was desperately worried. I forget now what meds I was on at the time, and it doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that mattered at that time was having accurate data about my weight.

Context: four and a half years ago, in December 2012, the same year I shattered my elbow, and required surgery and five long painful months of rehabilitation, I weighed myself on December 28, and found my weight was 165.5 kilograms.

My psychiatrist had been encouraging me for some time to consider some kind of weight-loss program, but I was the fat guy who resisted all such suggestions, or who made only half-hearted, soon-forgotten “commitments” to it. I was a writer, too, and spent most of each day at my desk, in front of the computer, sometimes actually working, and sometimes goofing off, usually on Facebook (mortal enemy of writers everywhere). I was pleased to have my arm back working again with full flexibility and function, and loved to tell the story, because it made me look good. What didn’t make me look good was my ballooning body. Having the busted arm made me even less active than usual, a level of inertia matched only by the likes of materials frozen to absolute zero. I was a blob, and felt like a blob.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was the problem, right there. I was terrified, after four years of continuous, obsessive, grinding effort, of the weight coming back. The thought, and the fear, obsessed me.

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

And I could not trust the scales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had.

To.

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

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

Then, right at the end of my third hospitalisation, my doctors, in despair over what they could give me that was strong enough for my “treatment-resistant major depression”, and yet whose side-effect profile was “weight-neutral”, they fell back on another tricyclic antidepressant, the same drug family as the

Clomipramine from which I was released back in my first hospitalisation as we began to see what else might work. We had gone through everything, and now we came back to the tricyclics, and of those, Nortriptyline was said to be the least obnoxious in its side-effects.

Except for the weight-gain.

And the increased appetite.

The struggle against my weight continues. Nortriptyline seems to be a terrific drug. I give it four stars! But my weight is nuts. Since leaving hospital six months ago, I’ve regained nearly ten kilograms. Right now I’m trying diet and exercise ideas to try and get back to where I was, but it’s hard like calculus and hard like breaking rocks. My psychiatrist has some medication ideas he wants to try. I’m doing mostly okay. The frenzied, fluttering-bird anxiety has eased off to a great extent. I’m 90% fine.

And godammit, I’m still planning that sky-diving trip.

WRITING AND SILENCE

Last year, for the first time in my life, I lost access to the part of my mind that has always made me want or perhaps need to write. Where I used to hear from that part of my mind all the time, as if listening to a constant chatter from a radio station aimed only at me, suddenly, in the midst of my illness and treatment, that radio station went off the air, leaving nothing, not even static. It, the creative, scribbling part of me, felt dead.

I had known quiet or fallow periods in the past, and was well familiar with manifestations of “writer’s block”. I sold my first two novels in the same year, during the 90s, and while deeply pleased about this I was also deeply worried about following up with a third book. What if it wasn’t as good? The usual “difficult second album” anxiety, only transferred to the prospect of a third book. I tried all kinds of things, and started in on different projects, each time thinking this would be the one. But no. I got so anxious about this that I stopped even trying to write, and fell silent.

But my head was not silent. I was still getting at least, as it were, “carrier wave” from that radio station. There was just no programming, no content, but the station itself was there and transmitting normally. In the end, as this silence went on, and I became more and more bothered by it, I ended up making a New Year resolution of, “this year I’m going to write a book even if i kills me.” My psychiatrist suggested I try writing longhand, rather than use a keyboard, to see if the unfamiliar writing method and environment made a difference. It did. I sat each day and scribbled out pages of what I knew was utter rubbish, but I didn’t care about that. I was writing. A story was being told. The story sucked, but that was fine. One thing led to another. The ice cracked and thawed. The radio station resumed transmissions, and I ended up with a third novel, Hydrogen Steel.

But last year, while I was in hospital, and during a time when my biochemistry was utterly out of whack, one day a strange silence in my head showed me that the radio station was gone. Or, if not gone, then I could no longer receive its signal due, no doubt, to interference at my end.

It was one of the most disturbing aspects of the entire experience, and one of the strangest things I can remember ever happening to me.

I have written, and wanted to write, since my earliest days. Some of my earliest memories involve stories, books, being read to, and reading books myself. I devoured shows on TV, then wrote imitations and transcriptions based on what I could remember about them. This is how you learn writing: you learn writing by imitating and copying other writing, and other stories. This naturally makes you produce derivative bollocks, but you get past that and start getting your own ideas. Even with the stuff you’re writing based on other things you’ve read and seen, there are flashes of crazy original stuff, embellishments and improvisations, that are all your own work. And over time these things become what you write about, and become the basis of your creative voice.

My creative voice died, though. It went away, and it was as if it had never been. It was like the characters in 1984 who get deleted from history, and suddenly never existed, because people like Winston Smith assiduously edit the official record of the past, to remove all trace of them. The part of me that has always, always written, was likewise deleted.

I told my doctors about it. They would stare at me, astonished, and baffled. This was not a symptom or side-effect they knew about, or were expecting. And it was, indeed, most likely a consequence of the huge mental earthmoving operations going on in my brain. My brain was very likely simply too busy dealing with withdrawal from one medication and the phasing-in of another. I went through a great many medications, trying to find something that worked, and which didn’t bring with it unbearable side-effects.

I was not used to this silence. It was startling. I grieved for the loss of that radio station, and for the person I used to be because of it. It made me who I was. I was a writer before I was anything else. But if writing was gone, what was I now? If I wasn’t working on my writing, what would I do with my life? What would I do? I’m a guy in his 50s: the statistics about employment opportunities for men my age were not encouraging. But questions of work and employment aside, this felt to me like an existential question: what am I now?

You’re reading this essay (I hope someone is reading this essay), so you know Adrian got his groove back. You know there’s something like a happy ending here, though I am suspicious of tidy endings. I am writing lately, and even writing every day, which is marvellous. But I don’t know if this is the new normal or what the future holds. Me and everyone else in the world, I suppose.

But this time last year there was the real and confounding possibility, indeed a likelihood, that I could perhaps be made well and whole again, but that I would lose my creative mind. I might no longer receive those transmissions. How did I feel about that? Was that an acceptable price to pay for being able to function in the world, to live my life?

A great deal of reflection did remind me that I did have one very serious, very important job, quite apart from my writing life–I was husband and partner to my wife, Michelle. She is the breadwinner in the household. Michelle works for Clinipath, a commercial pathology firm, where she works the evening shift in the Haematology section. My job has always been to look after everything else, more or less. My psychiatrist reminded me of this one day, pointing out, “you’re the drummer, but you want to be the lead singer”. My doctor has a way with metaphors! But he was right back then, and the thought remained true last year, in the midst of my strife. Even if I was no longer a writer, so what? I was still Michelle’s drummer, maintaining the steady rhythm in the background that allowed her to do her thing. Michelle doing her thing got us this far. Our house, for instance, is all paid for. We have a nice car, and very little debt. Michelle has managed to accrue savings, and we live in privileged comfort.

But could I live with “just” being the drummer? Could I bear no longer hearing from the radio station? They say you can get used to anything. I recently read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which includes his memoir of life in Nazi concentration and death camps during the war. Even he says you can get used to anything.

So what happened? Why am I writing again? And so much, so often? I had been waiting for my condition to settle down. I’d been waiting for some sign or indication that I was no longer sick, that my ordeals of last year were over. That I was well. I explained this to my psychologist. She told me that maybe I could use writing as a form of self-therapy. Maybe I could write my way to wellness.

Since starting this journal, I have indeed felt much better about things. I’m starting to get the occasional signal from the radio station. Writing is causing writing. Writing is meaningful to me, and I’ve read (in Frankl’s book among other places) that pursuing activities and occupations that are meaningful to you will lead not to happiness but to a sense of contentment. So I’ve been doing everything I can to pursue meaningful activities. All the things that are important to me, from writing to weight-loss, I’m pursuing as hard as I can. And it seems, so far, to be working. I feel quite okay. I don’t know, at this moment, if I will ever write another novel, but I do feel that all this writing will one day lead to some sort of memoir, or at least that’s the aim. And that might be enough.

Meanwhile, I’m Michelle’s drummer. I can do this.