Philip K Dick says “Don’t try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.”… shoulda listened! Instead, a 4am ramble.
As a person who regularly experiences periods of insomnia, people often ask me what it is I worry about when I can’t sleep, as if wakefulness automatically means being consumed with anxiety rather than just not feeling particularly tired, which is the far less exciting truth. On some occasions, however, I really am worrying, awoken in the night in the iron grip of a familiar terror, a cold conviction that ‘this is wrong’, or, more accurately you are wrong, this is all a big mistake, an awful joke, a case of mistaken identity, and somehow sooner or later EVERYONE WILL KNOW and then you’ll be unceremoniously booted from the club, ejected without explanation, because the secret is out: this isn’t REALLY your life, this isn’t REALLY you, not the you you were supposed to be.
Basically, what life coaches call imposter syndrome, which, when it strikes, makes me wish I had grown up just ‘knowing’ that it was OK for me to be an artist- or that it was even an option- instead of having to convince myself, and everyone else that it is/ was OK and that being able to spell or do differential equations doesn’t immediately mark you out as an uncreative right-brain (read: boring) rationalist.
But it’s not limited to career choices; it’s more a general, over-riding sense of uneasiness which makes your life, personality, circumstances etc feel like a random mix of fragments that somehow you have to convincingly piece together into a coherent ensemble in the performance of ‘you’; like waking up late, hung-over and with no clean clothes for a really important interview and trying to construct an outfit out of the random bits of your wardrobe, most of which probably don’t even fit or are covered in bike grease or cat hair, and having to put across a convincing performance as a coherent, sane and employable individual despite wanting to crawl back into bed saying ‘nope, wrong person’!
The costume metaphor is particularly fitting (pun alert!) given that I am going through yet another rerun of a long-standing (see last year’s blog post from pretty much same time- surely not coincidentally, Christmas) ‘issue’, which is weight, and food. But at the moment, I’m also reading everything symbolically, including losing a brooch only to discover it was still attached but that my top was on back to front, meeting an old flame who I had almost no recollection of, and dreaming of eating a plastic octopus – though as these all happened late last night it’s quite possible the symbolic message was stop drinking and go home– hence I’m reassigning some kind of cosmic, symbolic significance to my ‘food issues’ in the hope I’ll finally get to the bottom of them, and finally have only 1 size of clothes in my closet.
Anyway, food issues…I kind of even hate myself for writing about this, not only ‘cos it sounds like a cheap celeb ‘special’ (How I Battled My Inner Weight Demons And Finally Stayed A Size 10 For More than 1 month and then an amazing man fell out of a tree and gave me a million dollars [or other ‘dream life’ scenario]- now buy My Diet Book or Yoga DVD)- a requisite part of the ‘woman in public life’ narrative, or even just the woman narrative; but especially cos, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I can’t help feeling like I have failed by having this ‘problem’.
It’s like I’ve agreed to the brainwashing that equates skinniness with cool, with success, with ‘It’; and to measuring my worth according to my appearance, rather than knowing, and I mean truly knowing, not just on paper, that my right to be here, to participate and have agency in this world and be sexy and hot and whatever else men can be while also sometimes looking like dogs, is totally unrelated to how I happen to look and especially to how much I happen to weigh.
Whatever I believe- and I do go thru periods of genuinely not giving a toss about how I look, though they’ve often coincided with being in lurrve or under the influence of strong mood-altering chemicals, which amounts to pretty much the same thing- social norms dictate that regardless of whether or not I buy into it, people will and do judge a woman on her weight and equate it with her ability to ‘manage’ her life (i.e. it’s SYMBOLIC).
And yet the worst thing is, I also judge – not when it comes to other women, but with myself; it’s not so much that I feel ugly or useless when I’ve gained an extra couple of kilos (ok maybe a bit of that too), but more that I feel exposed; like the fat betrays you, making visible your inability to manage your life, or more accurately your feelings, because, like many women, when difficult feelings arise my autopilot response is to fall on a bag of something and mechanically eat my way through it like a deranged robot, or else inhale biscuits by the packet-load without even tasting them (which is even more pointless cos that means there’s not much pleasure involved).
In fact until a few years ago I didn’t even ‘know’ I was feeling anxious, rejected, depressed or whatever- I just knew I needed to eat a whole bar of chocolate, and right now. Over time I learnt to read cravings as a sign there was a feeling I was unable to sense consciously; pretzels means ‘too much work, too little fun’, chocolate means ‘nobody loves me (wah wah wah), bread means ‘unhinged, lost at sea’ and so on. (btw, there are whole books devoted to the art of reading your binges and cravings, like coffee grounds, for insight into your dysfunctional emotional processing patterns).
Similarly, ‘feeling fat’ is shorthand for ‘feeling shitty’ in some vague, undefined way; ranging from the general unease of feeling wrong in your skin, to all-out self-loathing fantasies of being reborn in a different body/ life/ place. Annoyingly though, just being intellectually aware of what experts call the stimulus-response relationship (i.e. feel like shit= pig out) doesn’t make it any easier in the moment to override the command to devour a packet of biscuits. The problem is now that I can’t kid myself that I just love biscuits, or say hey, what’s wrong with a few biscuits- obvs, NOTHING- since, reading it symbolically, I know that how you eat, more even than what you eat, has a deeper meaning that reflects the way you experience the world, and what you believe to be your place within it.
So, it hit me today while eating a piece of cake (symbolic of ‘good stuff’), observing that I already wanted to eat the next piece, and preferably the whole thing, how ingrained my fears are: I am terrified, on some level, that this ‘good’ will run out, and any day now, it will all be taken away; ‘they’ will see that this was all a mistake and that all my endless striving, reading, knowing, speaking, being ‘in the know’, not missing out- all this is part of a desperate ploy to make sure that nobody EVER discovers that actually I am, in some nebulous way, somehow irredeemably flawed, a hopeless case…. so I’d better eat the whole damn cake
and quick before it gets taken away!
Like one of those cringey dreams where you suddenly realise that you’re in public- back at school, on the street, with your in-laws- naked except for a crappy bit of fabric which you’re desperately trying to cover yourself up with while hoping no one will notice- except instead of bits of cloth I’m using my brains, my wits, the reams of books I’ve read, my blagging super skills, being nice, being in charge, being thorough, being responsible, being fun… well being whatever really, it doesn’t make much of difference, as long as it works; whatever will temporarily assuage this conviction that SOMETHING IS WRONG and if I’m not careful EVERYONE ELSE WILL REALISE, and I will be exposed as a sham-person, a fake, a cheap knock-off.
So anyway it’s this feeling, of thinking everything is totally unworkable and I might as well give up now that then leads out, or rather (in self-help talk) through into its opposite: as John of the Cross says in Dark Night of the Soul, “The soul has to proceed rather by unknowing rather than knowing”. Or, you are not here to fix, to control, to have an answer to why you happened to land in this life, and likewise your life is not a ‘problem’ to be solved, an issue to be fixed, like a bike puncture or faulty boiler: there is no handyman you can call in for this one.
Peace comes from accepting that and sitting on your hands doing precisely nothing, even though every part of you is crazed with an urge to tear the house apart to find that secret key which will unlock the door to the You without issues, self-doubt, world-doubt, paranoia: an impossible Magazine You that oils the wheels of the economy as well as the ridiculous notion that at some point- in the future, of course- when this You has been located THEN you will finally be ‘happy’.
But no. There is no magic pill to make the shitty stuff dissolve and wash away; this caked on limescale, layered up over years, IS you- not some jacked-up fantasy of a pure, clean, debris-free surface which nothing clings to, a Teflon surface that all pain slips off without sticking and catching. No such luck! I recall my bestie, when I was (literally) crying over some two-bit loser who was too lame to man up and face the consequences of over-stepping the friendzone, gently reminding me that all the meditating, yoga and self-reflection in the world isn’t going to take the pain- or the dickheads- away; and it’s true, coz on some level part of me secretly thinks, well shiiiiit I sit on my arse meditating every goddamn day and read books and listen to podcasts about how to live life with some modicum of wisdom, SO WHY THE HELL AM I NOT PERFECT ALREADY?!
Then, the realization, as the Zen parable goes, you’ll never make a mirror out of a stone, no matter how hard you polish it, and you’ll never make a ‘better’ version of you, no matter how hard you try (no matter how many books you read, weight you lose, therapy you do, workshops you attend, clothes you buy, teeth you whiten etc etc). This is the ‘you’ you’re stuck with, and stopping rather than cranking up the endless attempts to fix, cure, control or better yourself is the only way out/ through.
As St John also says, (I’m paraphrasing a bit) we get shitty with ourselves because we want to be saints already, we want to be totally free of our ‘flaws’ and ‘faults’ NOW, without realising that if we were, we’d probably be smugbragging, self-entitled pricks with no compassion for other people’s pain, doling out unwanted advice to the unenlightened wretches who are still struggling with their shortcomings, stupidity and self-defeating behaviors. As Richard Pryor so wonderfully put it, what that shit that won’t flush wants, so to speak, is to let you know that even if it’s carved out of stardust by Italian craftsmen, your toilet is no different than anyone else’s- it’s still a fucking toilet, and it’s still only good for one thing: taking a crap.
And some crap will just keep coming back and keep asking for your attention cos all that inconvenient ‘stuff’ you just want flushed away (annoying habits/ people, extra rolls of fat, compulsive thought patterns, whatever), is actually crucial: a reminder that you cannot control things around you, and you especially cannot control yourself into a better version, rid of these inconvenient hindrances- because that crap is you! And just as wasting even a nanosecond trying to get someone else to change in a relationship is utterly pointless, now I also see the futility of trying to control, fix or cure myself. But unlike a useless boyf, I can’t bail and run as fast as possible in the other direction because this is the life- and the body- I’ve got.
And it’s all going to be over so soon, so best hurry up accept it and get busy enjoying it because something tells me that when I’m lying on my death bed, I will definitely NOT be despairing about what size clothes I’m going to be buried in (as long as they’re nice, the rate I’m going I might well be looking to pull in the afterlife…). Anyway that’s my 4am (6am now) ramble done.