It was a good Christmas. And a long one. Love of Christmas runs deep in my blood. My mother couldn’t sleep on the night of the 22nd December because she was so excited about Christmas. I think she might be the only person I know who loves it as much as me.
I stayed in Cork for a long time this year. I stayed for over two weeks, my longest Christmas at home since 1999, and I barely got irritated at all.
I suppose I should say that our family Christmases are probably a bit different from other people’s. We tend not to visit any relations, or to visit anyone really, none of us drink very much – I only had one glass of martini in the whole two weeks – and Christmas tends to be a quiet time. It was lovely.
It was also awful. A lot of us were focused on my dad’s health, and I certainly spent a lot of time just stopping myself from crying. I think we were all conscious that if this is our “last Christmas together” that we wanted it to be right.
Old age is undignified. Your wife and your children make decisions about you and help you in ways that you wish they didn’t have to. And people ask you kindly questions in artificially cheerful voices, or sometimes in artificially sombre voices, that I know would drive me crazy if I had to listen to them. And when your second DVD player breaks, it’s OK that it’s too expensive to replace, because you don’t need to record things from one DVD to another because you’re old and past it and your hobbies don’t matter any more, even if you were physically able to pursue them, which you’re not.
I was very pleased that for the first time in my life, I got my dad a Christmas present he actually likes and uses.
Of course, the philosophical battle that is my family life raged on. A little part of me is jealous of all of them for having religion, which gives a meaning to life and death and suffering. But I have long accepted that I’m just on a different course and we’ll never be together on that road. My dad has taken to poking me with a stick, saying things that he knows will annoy me, like that Muslims don’t believe in the principle of cause and effect (what?) but also making big pronouncements that I disagree with about the modern world and truth and meaning and happiness and God. Of course, I don’t really argue back. At least the gay cure book he was reading has disappeared. Luckily, we have my mother to say things so ridiculous that it deflates the tension of the culture clash. (e.g. this classic from last week: “We’re basically living through anarchy now, because since abortion is now legal, anyone can kill anyone.”)
Anyway, eventually I came home to my little village in Longford. It wasn’t a good first two weeks. I jumped straight into my least healthy behaviours.
A typical day involved me getting up, showering (while trying, and failing, to convince myself to be normal for the day) and then sit in the car and start on the daily binge, driving to a garage and buying a breakfast roll, eating it, driving to another garage, buying a chicken fillet roll, eating it, driving to a third shop, buying another breakfast roll, eating it and going to a fourth place, not able to fit in another roll and getting a chicken fillet wrap instead. And then buying a pack of biscuits. Then I would drive around and around, trying to persuade myself to just go home and do something with my day, but just keeping on driving and driving and eating and driving. Eventually, I would get home, too sick to keep driving and go to bed, to sleep off my binge, having accomplished nothing with my day other than breakfast. Sometimes I would manage to get up again around 10:00 pm and go for a pizza and taco fries, which I would also eat in the car and then go to bed sick to my stomach again. I really do wish I had a more glamorous addiction – I’m basically the Keith Richards of chicken fillet rolls.
I have been feeling very fat and worthless recently. I’m in constant pain. It is very hard to live life when your joints are just constantly screaming at you, when even sitting down is painful. I pine for the days when it was just my ankles and knees that hurt. Now my shoulders, wrists and hips are all constantly sore too. Sometimes the pain wakes me up at night. Sometimes I find myself just unable to move. I weighed myself at Boots on Tuesday. I’m now 27 and a half stone – a new record high!
And the fatter I get, the more withdrawn I am. I’ve avoided so many social opportunities in the last few months. I don’t really like people seeing me like this. And so, even though I am in many ways a social person, I steadily become more and more of a hermit.
I know how I look to the world. My nieces and nephews are adorable, and it was lovely to see them so much over Christmas, but children speak truths that adults are too embarrassed to voice. The middle three kids just couldn’t stop talking about how fat I am, asking me why I’m so fat and why I eat too many sweets and why I don’t exercise. I wish I had an answer for them. And one day at a family dinner, one of my nephews roared out that Uncle Connor wasn’t having dessert because he was so fat, my brother gave out to him and he cried and he had to apologise to me, which he did in the cutest way possible. And it’s not just children who are related to me. I remember last Christmas when I was coming home from Vietnam in an airport a little boy pointed to me and asked his mother why I was so fat. She slapped him and he cried. I am a freakshow who makes children cry. They all learn about nutrition in school, which I think is great, but I’d be willing to bet that they are taught that you shouldn’t eat too many sweets, not because they could get diabetes or damage their liver or get heart disease. No, I bet that we’re teaching children that they need to avoid getting fat, the implication being that fat people aren’t as good as thin people.
Anyway, as I say, I haven’t been in a “good place”. There’s a lot going on in my head at the moment and a big part of it is trying to decide what on earth to do with my life. I’m not writing my novel, or doing any of the other things I planned to do in my rural retreat. Instead I’m eating and driving. And I don’t want to go back full-time to TEFL jobs. I’ve been talking about getting out of that since 2007, and Vietnam confirmed it for me. I’m happy to do odds and ends to keep the wolf from the door. In a moment of weakness, I applied for a permanent (scream) job as a lecturer in a university. I really don’t think I want to do that either, but one day my mother was very sad about my dad, so I told her that I’d applied for it and she got so excited. I have no idea where that will go, though it is a job I’m well qualified for, so I could be called for an interview. Maybe I won’t be and I don’t need to worry about it.
I’m broke too – I already know that there’s no way I’ll make my loan repayments to the bank in either January or February, but I should have enough for my car payments and my rent. I’ve run out of heating oil for my house again – I should be able to get that again in March. It doesn’t help that my bingeing is very expensive. And I bought a new car too, though I didn’t really have much choice about that. I couldn’t get finance for a second-hand one.
But I do have my online jobs, and even though there’s a big Vietnamese hole in my finances, I know I’ll be solvent again by March, which will be fine. And in the meantime, I’m not going to forget my dreams. I deliberately gave up chances of full-time employment to follow them. So I’m going to write this bloody novel. I’m going to do my Camino in June, and if by the end of the summer I haven’t managed to make all of this work out, then I’ll re-assess and go for a new career/job/approach, possibly including looking at university jobs. But spring is mine and I have a Project and I’m not ready to give up.
On the millionth attempt, I managed to hit “reboot” on myself yesterday. I stopped driving around aimlessly, I tidied the upstairs of my house, I answered all the emails I’d been putting off, I did some online work, and I went for a walk. It was hard. I haven’t exercised since November. It was a short walk, only about 40 minutes. It made the friction burns on my ass bleed. It hurt my joints. But my muscles loved it. Little waves of pleasure went up and down my hamstrings and my calves. Yay! Walking! I felt so happy afterwards and had my best night’s sleep in weeks.
I woke up this morning and I went for another walk. And it was almost as good. I can feel “me” again. The clouds have parted. I ate at home today. Like a normal person. Not in a car. For the first time this year. The dishes that had been “drying” beside the kitchen sink had been sitting there since before Christmas.
I’ll keep on fighting. I’ll keep on trying to get out there. I’m in training for a Camino after all. And my mental health needs me to keep walking. And everything else will fall into place.
If you see me, ask me if I’m still walking. And ask me if I’m writing.