To be honest, posting this scares me.
I want to tell you about this one specific Wednesday a few months back. There have been other days like it since, but I made notes about this one, so I remember the details better.
The day started out innocuously enough with a couple of slices of toast and a bowl of bran flakes, but then I had a row with a friend and before I knew it, I’d bought, chewed and swallowed two brownies, a bacon sandwich, a packet of crisps, some carrot sticks and a flapjack the size of the USS Nimitz. Over the next forty five minutes I added a bag of chocolate buttons, a tuna baguette and a tub of some kind of red and white pudding that looked like someone had pureed a brain and forgotten to pick the skull out. When buying all this, I alternated between a café, a shop and an oh-so-sweetly non-judgmental vending machine, so as not to attract attention (the guy at the shop was like “Buying for friends?” and I was like “Ha ha yes.”).
I honestly couldn’t tell you what any of this tasted like, by the way. Only my hands, my jaw and the prehistoric Lizard bit of my brain were involved, my tastebuds were asleep at their post.
By now I was sweating, my hands were shaking and I had a pounding headache. I drank about a litre and a half of water, and then I went and had lunch.
A kind of mental dam burst during the afternoon, and I carried on in much the same way, systematically eating my way through everything in the house, then curling up in bed, then getting out of it in a panic to go to the shops to replace everything so my wife didn’t find out.
When I’m like this, what’s driving me isn’t hunger, or even the need for comfort, it’s the fear that I lack the power over myself to make a binding decision to stop eating. On bad days I feel I can’t trust myself, any more than I could a stranger.
The following day I wake up early, feeling like an evil toddler is squatting on my chest. The first thing I do is go for an eight mile run. At lunch time I hit the gym and do push-ups and burpees until want to vomit (but I don’t).
I remember the first time a doctor told me I was bulimic. Ironically, I thoughthe was nuts, because I haven’t successfully made myself throw up for more than ten years (apparently I have no gag reflex, and yes, I’ve heard all the jokes.). I told him this and he said the purge half of my cycle is handled through exercise. However you characterise it, my relationship with food, my body and the level of control I feel the need to exercise over it, is dysfunctional, I also get bouts of depression, am in weekly therapy, and have been on anti-depressants at various points since I was fourteen.
So why am I telling you this? Partly it’s because I count most of the people who read this blog as friends, and it’s both good, and much harder than it ought to be to talk to your friends about this stuff, but every time you do, it makes it a little easier, so that’s one reason.
The second reason is, I’m about to start doing some work as an ambassador for these guys. Talklife – essentially a safe online space to talk about mental health issues – is a really good idea, being put into practice by really good people. I’m glad they’re around.
There’s still a culture of silence around mental health, a taboo on talking about your illness that only applies when the part of you that’s ill is above rather than below the neck. This taboo is stupid, dangerous, and it pisses me off. Suicide kills more men my age and younger than anything else in the UK, in large part because most of them never feel like they can tell anyone. The only way to change a culture, is to act like it’s already been changed, to talk about it openly, like it’s normal, (because it is, it’ll hit a quarter of us this year, chances are it’s happening to a friend of yours at the same time it’s happening to you.)
So this is me, talking.
A lot of the time though, when people do talk about it, especially celebrities, they cast it as a long past event, a dark episode in their lives (“My year of bulimia hell” etc). It’s the dip in their story arc, a single crisis struggled through in pursuit of their inspirational journey.
Maybe that is what it’s like for them, but it’s not what it’s like for me. For me it’s more like a chronic thing, diabetes say. Severity varies from day to day, it comes and it goes, it needs thinking about, and consciously managing, but I can live with it, and live well. I’ve written and published three books in the last four years and I got married in 2013 to a woman I’m crazy about.
So here’s the plan: once a month on the Talklife blog, I’m going to write about how that’s going, stuff I’ve written, read, seen, places I’ve been, and how the glitches in my head have affected it. Sometimes the answer will be ‘a lot’, sometimes (hopefully usually) the answer will be ‘not much’, but either way I’ll try to be honest, and if there’s anything I find that’s helpful to me, I’ll say. Over time, a picture should emerge, a picture of someone living with and around this bug. Meanwhile, this blog, and my twitter feed will remain pretty much what they have always been: bad puns, monsters and economics – i.e. me.
Like I said, I’m scared of posting this. I’m scared people will take the piss, I’m scared they’ll think I’m attention-seeking, I’m horrified that they might think I was making this up. Most of all, I’m worried that people will treat me differently to the way they did yesterday.
But if on bad days I don’t feel like I can trust myself any more than a stranger, then on very rare, very good days, I feel like I can trust strangers as much as I can myself.
So here goes.