Saturday, September 17, 2005


OK, I am now officially PMS-ing. Yesterday’s gym experience proves that, unfortunately.

I didn’t remember to bring Blue Baby with me this time, but I did have my headphones, which meant I could listen to the sound on the cardio-machine TVs. So I ran along with Sky News, then cross-trained to “The Hits”, one of those presenterless music-video stations (I didn’t seem to be able to change channels to anything better).

Gwen Stefani – fine. Peter Kay doing “The Way to Amarillo” – cheesy to the point of gorgonzola, but cheerful, anyway. I was bouncing away and keeping up a good pace, feeling a little tired but OK.

Now the next song was James Blunt’s “Beautiful”. James Blunt is one of those silver-spoon English pop singers (I think he used to be in the Brigade of Guards or something, unless I’m thinking of someone else) and “Beautiful” is a sort of doleful slow ballad thing. However, I’d heard it several times on the radio without it making any particular impression on me.

I hadn’t seen the video before, though.

If you haven’t seen it either, it involves Blunt standing on what appears to be a tiled balcony or poolside, wearing jeans and a parka and looking a bit bedraggled. It’s snowing lightly. He sings about a girl that he saw, fell in love with, but isn’t going to ask out because she’s already with someone else.

During the course of the song, he slowly takes off his coat and T-shirt. At this point, I suddenly thought, “He’s going to kill himself.”

I am very easily upset by the thought of young men killing themselves, not just because it’s a gloomy subject, but because the D. B. was plagued by suicidal thoughts for some years, and during that time I worried constantly that he might do it. (He’s a lot better now, but has said that if not for me he might well not be here, which is quite a frightening thought, as I have no idea what exactly I did except what any girlfriend would do.) And when I am even vaguely hormonal, I cry at the drop of a hat. Anything even mildly sad will do it. So I had a lump in my throat already. On the other hand, my brain was already trying to salvage the situation with logic.

“Look, K. Taking off one’s T-shirt does not indicate imminent death. People do not kill themselves because someone won’t go out with them, and anyway, this isn’t real. It’s a pop video, for heaven’s sake. He’s not even really standing in the snow, he’s in a warm studio somewhere.” I pounded the pedals of the cross-trainer really hard, trying to work through it. But my eyes were tearing up. I blinked frantically.

Torso now bare (and not even the least bit goose-pimply) Blunt was now taking his shoes off. “Look. It’s a pop video. Anything could happen. The girl could run on and hug him. He could fly up into the clouds – listen, he’s singing about angels now. That automatically makes it a cheesy song, doesn’t it. You don’t even LIKE this song. ‘I saw your face in a crowded place’? What kind of lyric is that? And he has a funny high breathy voice.” However, by this stage, big fat salty tears were making their way down my cheeks. Consumed by embarrassment, I clung to the vague hope that nobody would notice. My face was wet with sweat by this point anyway, so I hoped the tears would kind of blend in. James Blunt was lining up his wallet and rings on the tile in front of him. No, James! Don’t do it! Over the sound from my headphones I could hear myself sniffing and gulping for breath a bit. Oh for heaven’s sake, if anyone could hear me they probably thought I was about to fall from the crosstrainer in a fit.

Blunt finished singing. He leapt from his balcony into the cold sea below, and the water closed over his head. The Black Eyed Peas wanted to know where the love was, but it barely made any difference to me; I was a wet mess, managing not to sob out loud but only just. The course came to an end and I jumped down, wiped my face with my hands and headed at a fast clip for the changing rooms. My eyes must have looked as if I’d been swimming in chloriney water. Alas, there’s no pool at this gym.

Fortunately there was only one other person there. I tried not to look in her direction, but she asked if I was OK.

“Oh, fine!” I said, with an artificial-ish laugh. “Just a bit tired, be glad to get home.” Goodness only knows what she made of that.

Once I’d had a shower and taken some deep breaths, it was hard even for me to believe that I’m quite so easily moved to tears. And today I’m absolutely fine – perfectly cheerful. I had a good time out on Wednesday evening and was glad I went, so there have been ups as well as downs.

I hate PMS. It’s a catch-22: either you admit that you have PMS, thus making it seem you are a slave to your hormones (as men are not); or you deny that you have PMS, making it seem that being illogical, maudlin and weepy are permanent character traits. Either way you come over as unreliable.

To his credit, the D. B. didn’t laugh when I told him about this little episode. I love that boy. And I’m going to see him today! Hooray!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Struggling along

I’m having some problems getting myself together this week.

At the moment, I only have one aim in life, and this is it: to get into work before nine o’clock. Yesterday: 9.26. Today: 9.11.

To be fair, on Monday night I was still awake and staring at the wall at 3am. There’s not much pattern to my occasional insomnia, but in this case it’s probably low-level anxiety about not having done various things that I ought to have done. Like phoning the wedding-dress lady; doing some proper research into courses for next year – and applying for them; sorting all my financial bits of paper; working out when I can see the D.B.; that kind of thing. Nothing major, but enough to keep me from my sleep. I’m not that great at hauling myself from my pit at the best of times, never mind when I’ve only had four hours’ sleep.

I don’t get into trouble if I’m late in, but since I’m on flexitime, every minute I’m not in the office has to be repaid later. I had collected three hours of credit, and it feels just awful to fritter it away sleeping. I mean, three hours is an afternoon off. Granted, until recently I had every Friday afternoon off, and I mostly spent them in the gym or vaguely bumming around town rather than writing an award-winning novel or anything constructive like that, but still.

Despite my sleep-deprived state I did get to the gym on Tuesday. They’ve been renovating the place for months now, and this was the first day I’d been there when the new cardio suite was open. The old one was in a smallish, basic room, with only 28 machines, but with windows opening to the outside. The new one looks fantastic, has loads of brand-new machines with TV screens on them, and fancy light-fittings and stuff, but is in the centre of the building. Therefore it’s rather hot – at least it was on Tuesday.

If you’ve been here and here (and if not, why not?), you’ll have seen some of the recent discussions about the wonders of iPod playlists. It was my birthday on Friday and I was surprised to receive one of these. I had thought it would be nice to have one, as my otherwise splendid Walkman doesn’t like treadmill rhythms (they cause it to stop). Tuesday was the first time I’d taken my new blue baby to the gym, and certainly the music made the run seem shorter (though not easier). It was strange, though, that I seemed to want to slow my pace to match the beat of the music. This is fine when on the crosstrainer, not so good on the treadmill. It’s never been a problem with the music they have playing in the background, so why is it a problem with my own music? Maybe I pay more attention to it.

The run was hard going. It may be that the new treadmill is slightly faster than the old ones, but I kept finding myself gradually moving backwards on the belt. Usually I run at a steady 5.6, with the occasional break to walk if I need it, but I had to keep tinkering with the speed to find a comfortable and sustainable pace.

Today’s been a dullish sort of day, the kind where you keep finding yourself staring out of the window. By teatime I had built up a fair degree of weltschmerz, possibly mildly hormonal, and couldn’t really work up any great enthusiasm for going out with some friends from a drama group I’ve been involved in. On the other hand, I haven’t DONE anything other than work and the gym for ages, so I am smothering this feeling and going anyway. And I discovered today that Monday is a public holiday (don’t know how I missed that one), so have got myself on the net, acquired a cheap flight and am going to see the D. B. That should sort me. I haven’t seen him for over a month.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

“I am not ill, I am not well…

… My quondam dreams are shot to hell.” No, actually, things aren’t anything like that bad, I just had the Dorothy Parker quote on my mind.

It is possible that I’m not terribly well, though. I’ve been unusually knackered all week, and my dad and sister have or have just had terrible colds, and both maintain that it started out by feeling sort of wiped out. So when I woke up several days running with sore and swollen tonsils and a flu-like ache in the bones, I thought I was in for something too, but it hasn’t come to anything and the tonsils have returned to normal. Must be my superior immune system.

Anyway, as a result of this persistent weariness, I haven’t been to the gym yet this week. What is it that keeps preventing me from getting into a routine? I know it was easier with my old job, but still. Last week I was congratulating myself because I’d gone to the gym three times: I hadn’t done that for ages. Food was going fine and I lost another pound. I’ll be amazed – no, stunned – if that happens this week.

It’s not that my habits have been awful, but I keep catching myself eating stuff I don’t really need because I’m tired and I think it will give me more energy. This is bad. Back when my eating habits were at their poorest, and my physical fitness was lowest, that was my usual excuse for eating junk – “I need the energy”. Now I know that if you exercise, you feel more energetic and don’t feel the need to self-medicate with angel cake (or whatever) but this week, I just haven’t been able to summon up the… what? Energy? Gumption? Life-force?

However. I have my gym kit with me today. That means I’m going to the gym this evening, no excuses.

Gah. I shouldn’t moan on, considering what is going on in the world. But I’ve noticed a posting lull among quite a few normally prolific bloggers. Probably the relentless gloom on the news is having a knock-on effect on everyone’s levels of vim and vigour…

Oh well, we just have to plough on…

(Warning: long navel-gazery bit, but with bonus book review.)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week about this weight-loss business and about body image. On the whole, I don’t think mine is too bad, at least as an adult. I may never have a perfect body or love my upper arms, but (clothed anyway) I don’t think I look too bad.

However, last night I saw some holiday photos and had it borne into me once more that what I see, when I look in the mirror, may not be what others see. It is rare that I like a photo of myself. Not that I see a girl with perfect regular features in the mirror – I know I have a funny little rounded nose, a high forehead, a largish chin – but I’m always surprised by how much chubbier my face, in particular, looks in photos. I often think I look rather stupid.

“Do you really like this one? My face looks so fat. And I’m doing a really goofy expression.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. I don’t think you have a fat face – it’s just what you look like” said my mum. Oh, please no. Don’t tell me I really do look like that.

I’m aware that other people see a difference in me now. I don’t see any difference naked, not really, but the tapemeasure tells me I’ve lost 3 inches off my waist, and one pair of my jeans has now reached the stage where I can pull them off without undoing them (and consequently have to wear a belt with them, which is a new experience, I can tell you). According to Dietgirl, this is the stage at which you can officially buy smaller ones. And it’s true that I have recently bought the odd item of clothing in a size 14, including a dress which makes me feel quite alluring, and possibly even makes me look that way.

The other day my sister and I went clothes shopping and I was startled to realize that my slim size-12 sister and I had acquired a few things that were (officially anyway) the same size. I know, really, that we are not the same size. She might borrow my tops, because she likes things to be a bit loose, but the day I can borrow her jeans will be the day I see a pig soaring gracefully into the sunset on porcine wings. However, it’s an odd feeling that although we will never have the same body type, I might actually be able to be… relatively slim.

Somehow, even now that I’ve proved I can lose some weight, I haven’t stopped thinking that I am just naturally a big robust girl. And in a way I don’t want to stop identifying myself as such. Maybe it was a defence mechanism – I am not thin, but thin girls are waifs, slender reeds, fragile wisps. My feminist self doesn’t want to be a fragile wisp, therefore it is OK not to be thin, and besides I have a Mind Above Such Things.

When I read D-girl talking about how one doesn’t wish to go on about one’s bodily dissatisfactions in public, it made me think – yes. Partly I was hoping if I didn’t bring the subject up, nobody would go “Yes, actually, now that you mention it you are a bit on the lardy side.” But the bit of me that is more realistic simply wanted people to think that I didn’t care particularly about my weight. I was an intellectual, not a vain, superficial person who cared about fitting into society’s dictates for female beauty. (So why do I have so many clothes, all purchased in the vain hope that this will be the item that magically makes me elegant, cool and reveals my inner wonderfulness? Because somehow I’ve never quite managed to shake the idea that new clothes will have this effect.)

I’ve never stopped thinking, all the time, about the way people will perceive me. A couple of weeks ago I read William Leith’s The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict. It’s very interesting to get a male perspective on the issue, because men talk about their feelings about being fat even less than women do, I’d say. Leith had various other things wrong in his life, and ate emotionally because he was miserable; the book documents his cycle of loss and regain, discovery of the Atkins plan, his starting to lose weight by using the plan and realising that he had shifted his comfort mechanisms on to other things (drink, cocaine and painkillers) and finally having therapy and sorting himself out a bit.

The book’s been criticised for his, as it were, swallowing Atkins whole; actually, he’s only mildly evangelical about it, for someone who’s evidently found it very useful. I know the temptation, when one has seen results from a particular activity, to sell it as The Answer to everyone you know. (I started this site in part so as not to bore everyone by going on about how wonderful Nautilus machines are…) Some might find it hard to sympathise with someone who has behaved in what should have been an obviously self-destructive way: the subtitle is apt, because food was evidently an addiction in the same way that booze and pills were. But he doesn't really sell Atkins and therapy as a universal solution – he just documents how they helped him.

Leith is spot-on about some things: the way in which, when you’re fat, you divide the world into people who are thinner than you (and so enviable) or fatter (and so a source of comforting “at least I’m not THAT fat” thoughts); his description of remembering when he used to go to the gym and feel pleasure at seeing another regular who was fatter than him, and his gloomy realisation that he was now about that size himself; the feeling that you don’t look smart even in your good clothes, that they somehow always look dishevelled and don’t hang right. There is the odd piece of writing that doesn’t quite come off (he describes an obese woman’s hands as “veinless”. Well, I’m looking at my hands now, which are not even chubby – and I don’t see any visible veins. I think most youngish female hands aren’t very veiny). But on the whole I thought it was an interesting read.

Why, then, did I read it standing up in the bookshop, almost hiding at the corner between two bookcases? There might be defences for this behaviour – it’s probably not a book I would want to buy and treasure forever – but upmost in my mind at the time was that people on the bus would see me reading a book about weight issues and consequently would look at me and think “Yes, that looks like a person who needs to concern herself with weight issues.”

I do not make judgements about whether other people around me should lose weight. I don’t think any the worse of people who are trying to lose weight – on the contrary I admire them – so why am I still so convinced that others will make judgements about me?

I don’t think I’ve got it all entirely sorted yet. I’m going to the gym now.