London, Germany and the Great Depression

Gosh, Germany is beautiful. We caught the plane but just before we got on, Butters got sick. He was as white as a sheet, with a slight tinge of bile. Of which we saw plenty later, so it’s the best metaphor I have to hand. I’ve just spent time running with a 23 kilo pack, a 10 kilo backpack and a takeaway container full of a plastic bag holding vomit, to catch a train from Stuttgart to Karlsruhe. Or something else starting with K. I am depressed and so dull of light that I can’t see the point to life anymore, and Butters is pretty much the same – but the beauty of a German city can cut through any amount of shite. Butters is looking out the window, holding my elbow between his thumb and forefinger, and smiling. The sun is washing everything. They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and right now we need a decent bucket load of it over the head. And we’re hoping the rest of Germany can do more for us than even that. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think so. If a normal conversation can be sullied by the relative gloomy countenances of the interlocutors, making every tone graded in the negative, every word soaked with spiteful derision, and every chance at a relationship moment bluntly hammered to death by the advance decision that your spouse has it in for you, then surely a well turned leaf, a sun warmed sitting rock and a glass of wine with old friends can turn things slightly for the better. We’re aware of the problems. Now we just need to focus on letting things heal.

I have become fat. Not just in body, but in mind. As Butters and I have fought more and more, I have retreated into the only source of comfort I use, and that’s food. I’ve deliberately not said that it’s the only source of comfort I have. I’ve just never been good at using the others, or other. Sticking food in your face doesn’t really require a manual.) In real terms, I think I’ve probably put on five kilos of weight. The effects of the extra weight have been manifold. Unsurprisingly, the effects of the extra weight have included a worsening of my mood, my depression, and my feelings of having nothing in the world left that’s good. It’s compounded my disability to write, and write well. (It hasn’t stopped me a whole lot, but I feel worse about it, and about what I’m writing.) These last two weeks I have also got sick (a cold), and have overextended my knee and injured a tendon, therefore making it almost impossible to exercise. Then there’s the place we’re staying – the least clean, most box-like pile of bricks and timber I’ve ever been in. I won’t go in to the extent of the uncleanliness, except to say that if I’m not staying somewhere that’s clean, I’m not at home. Never comfortable. I haven’t slept well – nether has Butters. And when I’m not comfortable, I don’t tend to exercise. Butters and I went for a couple of walks in the mornings, but that’s all.

All of these things have contributed to the fatness and the depression etc, but none of them is to blame for it. They’re just bringing out what are major issues in my life. And to that end, I guess there are things to be said for them. My relationship is not good enough, and my self-image is not good enough, to withstand any pressure at all. A few pokes, and the roof has come down on me.

I can’t tell you how disgusting I feel about the sight of myself in the mirror, with the extra fat. We ran to the train, and got on with a minute to spare, and I was sweating in my shirt, so I went into the bathroom to take it off and air myself out. Looked at myself in the mirror. I’m not a thin person – I could be, because my frame is small, and short. I have been a couple of times. My obsessive relationship with food, however, has always kept me a little over the ideal weight. I have always been right on the far end of the healthy BMI for my age and height. Right on the edge – 25. But now, I shudder to think what I am on the scales. In the mirror, my stomach is not only a bit round, but its growing roots in my pubic region. It’s starting to become two-tiered. The most shocking part, though, is the fat between my breasts and my stomach. On my torso. It now falls into rolls over my abdominals. I almost fill out my shirt. It is disgusting to me, and alarming. Really, really alarming. I look at Butters and cry, and they’re tears of fear. He pats my arm and says, ‘It will be okay.’ I hope it will. Because I’m terrified.

If my body was a metaphor for my mind – and it is, it so perfectly is – it would be telling you what kind of mental state I am in. The junk up there is equal to the stuff that wraps around my muscles, loading it up with stuff that could kill me. Is making me sick.

This morning before the plane I scarfed down a Costa coffee and a chocolate muffin. I sort of just… do it. If it was as easy as just not doing it, I would do that. And in the end it technically will be about just not doing it. But it’s not that now.

The reason that it’s not that now is that mentally, I have sick road blocks that stop me from ‘just not eating.’ I tell myself every day, about four times a day, that I will just not eat things I shouldn’t I say, ‘it’s that easy.’ And then I do it – for no reason that I can explain, other than mad, rabid compulsion. It’s like the kidnapper that gives you food to keep you alive so that he can bash you around a bit more the next day. You take the food, because it makes you feel good – it’s the only thing that makes you feel good in this whole experience. It’s just that for me, the experience is life. And I feel taken hostage by it. By everything. I am going places against my will and it’s not even like he said it would be when we get there.

A lot of it is performance anxiety. I know I am a good writer, but I am both scared of failure and scared of success. I try to keep failure down by putting tremendous pressure on myself to write successful pitches, make relationships with people whom I think hate me (editors). I have absolutely no confidence that they will either like me, or hire me. Then, when or if I do get a whiff of ‘yes, you can actually do that,’ I put a whole load of other pressure on myself not to succeed, not to be heard, not to say what I think, and to act in a way that no one will ever read anything I have to say. I try to hide in a corner.

Sometimes, that’s why I write. That’s the way I write. In a corner, writing things that no one will ever see (but not admitting it to myself), so that I can both get the love and wonder I get from writing, but never let it contribute to success.

And a lot of this I find unfair. By whose standards, and through what authority – I don’t know. Who makes the rules of life? Does God have a concept of fair? I know he doesn’t, and I know it’s not relevant. Nevertheless, it is the standard to which I hold everything that happens in my life. And in getting married, I wanted someone to help me sort this out, someone to help shield me against it all. When he doesn’t do that – which is pretty much all of the time, and I’m not classifying that as criticism yet – I get angry. I demand that he help me against the world. I fearfully demand it – because I’m scared of the world. But he doesn’t give it, and I feel like it’s a betrayal.

So I sit somewhere and eat food. Cafes are the worst, and the only, place for me to be to write, sometimes. It’s like a heroin addict hanging out in a crack den just for the view.

We have discussed it a lot, and we’re going to try to help ourselves out of this mess. Butters is sick because of stress – I’ll be fair to myself, not just because of me, but definitely because of our relationship – but I can’t have him this stressed, either. He has absolutely no idea what to make to what’s going on, and as he says, his own words, ‘I am a fairly base model when it comes to emotional understanding.’

I am embarrassed, this afternoon; I know I will have to see people I know. People I know from years ago (when they were the same weight they’ve always been), but people I also saw a month ago. That is the most embarrassing thing – presenting myself. ‘This is who I am,’ my body says for me as I enter a room, without my approval. But it’s telling the truth – this is who I am, at the moment. It’s not who I am fundamentally, but to be honest, it’s who I’ve been for a very long time. And it’s making the colour go out of me. I am embarrassed for myself, the comments that will be made in private when I’m not around (justified as may be), and also for the things that are evident about me as a person. I’m just embarrassed.

We will figure it out, though. Come on, Germany.

The houses are white and peach and brown and beige, and capped in pointed roofs that speak of another sort of weather. Today, it is hot. It seems that Germany wants to show us the best of it, but turned on the oven in preparation and forgot to turn it off. The sun is hot. Rephrase: the amount of sun that is getting to the earth today, over Germany, unheeded by atmosphere or cloud, is quite a lot. I am sitting on a train to Permasense eating a muesli bar (half of which I’ve put aside, because I don’t have to scarf it down), with my sick but smiling husband (that is his way), on our way to visit friends. I think there will be a happy ending.

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