Anxiety

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So far, the winter is not going brilliantly. On top of a recent bout of norovirus, I have been suffering with terrible anxiety. It is crippling, all-consuming, terrifying. I have been chronically anxious for just about my whole life, obviously, but this is something different. My anxiety used to be attached to more or less tangible things: to exams, to job interviews, to moving house, to messages from my ex boyfriend, to the concept of dying. But not anymore. Now, it floats around untethered, weaving worries from the silvery threads of the cobwebs on the ceiling of my room.

Now, it manifests physically. I can’t bear the darkness. It makes me think I’ve gone blind. I don’t fall asleep. Or else I do but then I wake up in the night unable to swallow. There is a clunking sound in the pipes. I twist and writhe beneath my duvet, in between bouts of vomiting into the bathroom bin. I am crippled by paralysing pins and needles that engulf my whole body. I have diarrhoea. My feet are heavy and numb, like rocks. My hands open and close back in on themselves; my fingers curl up like claws. I cry all the time. Or else, if I’m not crying, I am very close to the edge of bursting into tears. I sleep sixteen-hour days. Or, at least, I lie in bed trying to dispel the adrenaline, gasping fitful snatches of sleep when they appear. I am unable to get out of bed before 1pm.

What are those strange orbs crowding at the periphery of my vision? Am I dying? I think I might be dying.

Did you ever see Cat on Hot Tin Roof?

Fractured scenes from it keep playing in my mind.

Maggie: Why can’t you lose your good looks, Brick? Most drinkin’ men lose theirs. Why can’t you? I think you’ve even gotten better-lookin’ since you went on the bottle. You were such a wonderful lover… You were so excitin’ to be in love with. Mostly, I guess, ’cause you were… If I thought you’d never never make love to me again… why, I’d find me the longest, sharpest knife I could and I’d stick it straight into my heart. I’d do that. Oh, Brick, how long does this have to go on? This punishment? Haven’t I served my term? Can’t I apply for a pardon?

I ring my friends.

‘I feel a bit anxious.’

‘You’ll be okay. Have a nice bath. Light some candles.’

‘Yes. I will. That’s a good idea.’

‘Make yourself a nice dinner and get some sleep.’

I heat some ox-tail soup from a tin and eat it with an old ryvita I find at the back of the cupboard. I sprinkle lavender oil onto my pillows.

Deadlines shoot by, missed. I can’t read anymore. Nothing longer than a blog post. My eyes scan pages and the words jump around and buzz up at me like angry flies, frightening and incoherent.

I check the Facebook page of the cousin of a girl I went to school with. Her daughter is ill. They are waiting for a bed at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich. I check the WhatsApp profile of that guy I was seeing. He’s online now. Who is he talking to?

Remember when I used to read?

There is a clunking sound in the pipes.

I am so selfish.

Last month, I cried at a lunch with my sister. My tears fell in wet streaks and splashed off my chin onto the table. She didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell her what was wrong. There weren’t the words for it. It’s everything and nothing. It’s a vinegar sensation burning holes in my heart.

I call my Mum.

‘Me and Holly were saying it might help you to try some medication.’

‘Oh.’

‘We didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know.’

‘Just for a bit. We’re worried about you.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘Why don’t you speak to a doctor?’

‘Yeah. Maybe. I’ll think about it. Maybe I just need to stop drinking first.’

I poke and I prod and I scratch at lumps and pimples and bruises on my body. I wonder which one is a tumour that might eventually kill me, and which is innocent, benign, nothing to see here babe, move away.

Maybe I need to stop subscribing to all those cancer blogs.

I dial 111.

‘You need to calm down. You have to learn to stop over-thinking every little thing.’

‘There’s a pain in my chest.’

‘You’re okay. Breathe in deeply. Hold it for two beats. Breathe out to the count of four.’

‘_. _ _. _ _ _ _.’

‘How does that feel?’

‘Better, I think.’

‘Good.’

‘I’m scared I’m going to die of this.’

‘You’re not going to die of this.’

It is very hard to connect with other people. Their voices are loud and irritating; when I listen to them speak it feels as if someone is tapping very hard against the inside of my skull. I am separate, very far away. I am watching life at a pinprick distance, as if through a backwards telescope. Or a spyhole on the outside of a door.

I have lost the art of conversation. I used to be so good at that.

I interrupt people halfway through their sentences. Or I ignore them.

I say boastful, barbed, spiky things.

I don’t trust any of them.

I have forgotten how to love.

My interactions don’t feel as if they belong in the real world: they are more like dress rehearsals. Eventually, I’ll hone the witty, confident, charismatic character that I think I used to have, or that I could have, one day, if I could only stop slagging everyone off and maybe do something about all this pain.

Sometimes I see my dead friend’s absence in the shadows of strangers on the high street. But oh. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. She’s turned to smoke and faded away on the thin air.

This is really my life.

Do you think a glass of ice-cold prosecco might help? With a raspberry dropped in to make it more festive? A whisky on the rocks? Then another one? A little brandy just to move it all along? Remember that bit in Cat on a Hot Roof?

Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.
Big Daddy: What’s that?
Brick: A click in my head.
Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?
Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.
Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.
Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.
Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!
Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me.

I’m smiling and nodding at a woman I used to work with. We’re in a café. The lights are very bright.

We’re drinking tea. She is talking about her son. Or her brother. I’m not really listening.

What is that numbness in my little finger?

‘Sorry, can you excuse me a minute?’

I call my Mum.

‘It’s nothing, Kate. Go and see a doctor if you’re really worried’.

I go to the doctor. To the hospital. They give me an enema; pass a camera up my bum. Is this nothing or will it turn into a thing, do you think?

It’s nothing.

And then I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. No, really: really. I can’t breathe. Can I? I’m talking, so I must be breathing — isn’t that the sign — but they were wrong about that, weren’t they? Don’t the police get different guidance on breathing after that black guy, the one in America, died — I remember something from that podcast. What was his name? Am I suffocating?

Is that a pain in my chest or my lungs?

Breathe.

It’s nothing.

Is that pain in my lower back or my kidneys? Where would you feel the pain if it was coming from your liver, if you’d damaged it irrevocably?

A trainee doctor I knew once told me that alcoholics sometimes choke to death on the blood from the burst blood vessels in their throats.

How much do you think Amy Winehouse drank before it was enough to kill her?

Why do I wee all the time?

Am I going to die soon?

There’s a weird hollowness that moves up and down the inside of my body. It starts in my diaphragm.

Is this nothing or will it turn into a thing, do you think?

I’m hot. I lay on the bathroom floor and press my cheek against the smooth, cool tiles. I’m cold again. My skin puckers up into goose-pimples. The thousands of tiny hairs on my arms and legs stand to attention, they are beautiful, slightly bent like erect penises, or flowers reaching up towards the sun.

I’m shaking.

Do you know what, darling?

I don’t think I’m very well.

Part 178: Excitement

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My friend’s sister is getting married and we’re all just fucking sick about it. It’s not jealousy, for once — we really do think she is making a terrible, terrible mistake. I mean, she can’t be thinking straight. There must be some serious denial at play here. Certainly, there is evidence of recklessness — such as how she’s thrown caution to the wind by having his name tattooed on her body in several places, although they’ve not even been dating for a year. (In case you’re unclear, my stance on people getting the names of their lovers or children tattooed on their body is best summed up by a line my brother said to me last year, when I told him my new boyfriend had his son’s name tattooed on his hand: ‘Why, in case he forgets it?’ Although, I do know a woman who has her dead dog’s name tattooed on her forearm and I feel that tips over the precipice of mawkish into brilliant, so it’s a fine line.)

This guy, the friend’s sister’s fiancé, has all manner of warning signs flashing in neon colours all over his personality. He has spent his adult life in and out of prison, he is controlling and violent, he belongs to a polyamorous swingers circle*, he lives in the box room of his elderly mother’s terraced house (the bloke is in his fifties), he is not physically attractive, in either the conventional or unconventional sense. And while I am all for living differently, there is a point at which one must draw a line; a point at which someone’s disregard for social norms morphs into sociopathy. This guy, the fiancé, has reached that point.

‘What does she see in him?’ I asked my friend, when she told me about the impending marriage and her fears for how it would unfold. (Badly.)
‘I dunno,’ she shrugged. ‘She says he’s exciting.’

And I rolled my eyes, cracked a wry smile and thought: ‘Ah! That old chestnut.’

For which of us hasn’t been intoxicated by the ostensible excitement offered by a selfish cad, with regard only for his dick and his ego? Which of us hasn’t felt the sharp, twisted pang of maltreatment and mistaken it for longing? It is easy to confuse unkindness with excitement when your life is a grey series of snapshots: a montage in which you push a vacuum cleaner around the flat, buy discounted three-packs of sellotape from WH Smith and check the Facebook profiles of girls you went to school with, who always seem to be doing very well, thankyouverymuch, if Facebook profile pictures are reliable measures of wellbeing, which they very probably are not.

Excitement is the great big booby trap lying in wait for single women — and, let’s be honest, married women too. It snaps up around our ankles, ensnaring us in its grip. If we’re not careful we very soon end up ragged and strung out, chain-smoking by the river, stress lines criss-crossing deep grooves into our faces — and I’ll just remind you, if you’re still tempted, that the sex rarely holds up after the first month or so. So just beware of that darling, when you feel bad about yourself over Christmas.

It feels good to have finally relieved myself of the need for ‘excitement’, after many years being seduced by its pull.

Not that it’s all good news.

The big story I bring you this week, from the coal-face of dating, is that boring straightforward men can also be massively selfish, egotistical and disappointing. Just because they are a bit geeky and loserish and have fashioned a persona that foregrounds kindness, it does not mean they are truly kind, dynamic, selfless people in real life. In fact, the thing I have learned, lately, is that when people tell you they are kind they are usually only doing it so you won’t shout at them when they act like a prick. Kindness in this scenario acts as a kind of mudguard, in the same way indifference does with your common or garden variety arsehole.

‘So what do you like about him?’ My friend (the one the one whose sister is currently lost to the mists of excitement) asked me, when I described a recent lover, who I thought, perhaps, had the potential to father my children, if only he’d stop being so evasive and dull.
‘He’s gentle,’ I replied.
Now it was my friend’s turn to roll her eyes. ‘Gentle in bed, or gentle, like, picking up a hedgehog?’
‘Gentle with a hedgehog.’
‘Ah that’s nice babe,’ she said, ‘But he’s also boring and a liar. You don’t really want him. You’ll go off the idea.’

And she was right.

It turns out kindness is just as good a cover for sociopathy as excitement, in the kind of guy who didn’t lose his virginity until five or six years after most of his mates. Fuck. Now I remember why I went for the excitement, once upon a time.

Oh well, as Damien Marley once said: Life is a thing when you learn you learn you grow.

*I try not to judge, but can I just say: if you are so broken inside and frightened of intimacy that you cannot love another person without adding a third, forth or even a fifth party into the sexual mix, then you have no business being in relationships at all. Get some therapy. Join us when you’re whole again.

**Is it inappropriate to use a picture of a baby I found on google to illustrate a this blog? Have I mentioned that I want a baby very, very badly and it’s leading me to make some questionable choices? Can you save me from this hell? Can you? Babes, can you? Please?

Part 177: Eleven Essential Pieces of Life Advice

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Yesterday, I read the worst magazine feature that has ever been written. I’m not going to do you the disservice of linking it here because: fuck them and their heteronormative nightmare reinforcement. Fuck them and their sponsored content reminding you just how empty your life is, should you be conducting it sans husband and children. Suffice it to say the article was a list of ‘eleven essential pieces of life advice’ (given by a b-list 90s celebrity who apparently has to do this for money now) and number four was ‘never underestimate the love of a good man.’ (There was another thing about the ‘school run’, but I was so pissed off by the time I got to that I had already texted my housemate and asked him to bring home a very cold bottle of sparkling wine and a straw).

Fuck. Yourself.

It was the kind of article that makes you want to appear in a primary school playground during pick-up up time and perform a naked one-woman show in which you smash wine glasses and graphically describe all the casual sex you’ve ever had.

Anyway, in the spirit of reparation I decided to write my own eleven essential pieces of life advice because, God knows, I can do a better job of it than the people at Red Magazine.

1. When people give you advice, it is inevitably about them. Unless they are your mother
Everyone is basically insecure and uncertain. We all wonder whether we’re doing life right; we are all terrified that the choices we’ve made are the wrong choices. We are all afraid we’ll die sad and alone and then God will make us watch a slide-show of our failures before relegating us to Hell. This is why when we are asked for advice we reinforce the rightness of our own choices by telling the advisee to do what we have done. Or what we imagine we might have done in the same circumstances. Or what we would have done differently because we’re so miserable now. (See for example: ‘It’s probably best to have babies around 35. You’re more sorted then.’ And: ‘In the long term renting is just throwing your money away.’) People who give you advice are only trying to make themselves feel better, unless they are your mother in which case you should probably listen to her. She’s the only one who cares.

2. Don’t tell me you don’t want another drink; I don’t need to hear that
If you have agreed to join me for an evening out, in any capacity whatsoever, you should probably know that I want to stay out late, drink too much, have an argument about politics and then fall asleep under some coats. It is a Friday night and there is absolutely no need to get home sober before 2am, even if you have work in the morning.

3. If you haven’t got a differently sexually oriented bff of the opposite sex, you’re losing at life 
Look, I don’t want to fetishise homosexuals — I know they don’t exist merely to provide company and companionship for fabulous but neurotic 30-something women who might otherwise fall victim to barbiturate poisoning. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d be able to get through life without mates who send me bitchy gifs, screen grabs of tragic displays of heterosexuality our mutual friends have committed on social media, and who are willing to let me sing show tunes at them until 1am on a Wednesday night. And they never even want you to suck their dick in return. Which you can’t say about marriage.

4. Don’t wear floral prints to a wedding, unless it’s a slut dress
Are you over the age of twenty-four? Yes? Then chances are — unless it is skin-tight, cleavage revealing and made from some kind of satin — florals are going to make you look middle-aged and frumpy. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is. You need to decide on sexy or smart. Cute and girlish is over for you.

5. Sometimes people need space
Don’t take it personally. I mean, sometimes people are dickheads. But give it a couple of months before you make up your mind.

6. If he’s made you cry before he’s administered the second orgasm, it’s time to say goodbye

7. If he’s made you cry before administering the first…I don’t know what to tell you babe. But it’s nothing you’re going to want to hear

8. Cultivate a network
The world wants you to think that one person is enough. Your spouse. Your boyfriend. Your best mate. Your nuclear family unit. Toxic one-on-one relationships where you can vacillate between smugness, stagnation and guilt. I want to tell you that the thing you really need is a network. Lots and lots of connected nodes on a web of relationships so that there’s always another option. Trust me on this. I know what I’m talking about.

9. If he cheated with you, he’ll cheat on you
I try to avoid clichés, but nonetheless. Worth remembering.

10. Don’t worry about the corporate affairs of Coca-Cola, you’re only alive for so long
God knows, life is suffering. And while we ought to do our best to make sure we pass on as little suffering to our fellow humans as we possibly can, may I just say: there are very few pleasures that equal an ice cold coke from a can on a hot day, or during a hangover. The Earth is almost definitely going to burn soon. Take pleasure where you can find it.

11. Vegetarianism is not better for your skin, though your soul might prefer it
My acne improved tenfold when I started to eat steaks. Still can’t look a moo-cow in the eyes, but so far, that’s a price worth paying.

Part 176: Henry the VIII

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I’ve been thinking about Henry the VIII a lot recently. I don’t know why, entirely. Certainly it’s been precipitated by a not insignificant amount of murderous rage towards my ex-lovers, which tends to surface during the onset of winter, when I realise I’ve got a barren few months ahead of me, sexless and alone (I mean, that was also true of the summer, as it turns out, but it’s a lot easier to convince yourself that sex is just around the corner when you can luxuriate in the caresses of the sunshine and wear tops that ‘accidentally’ reveal your nipple) and perhaps if they hadn’t been just such massive dickheads, all of them, for years on end, I might be not be such a neurotic mess now.

Instead of taking personal responsibility for my circumstances (and my choices, because, let’s face it, when you met him in the street at 1am, drinking from a can of supermarket brand cider, you knew he was unlikely to turn into Mr Darcy) I’ve found myself not entirely without sympathy for King Henry’s beheading model. Even though I abhor domestic violence it would just sometimes be very satisfying to see the heads of all the lovers who’ve ever hurt you roll off a guillotine, entirely separate from their bodies. You can’t deny that. Even if you’re really nice.

It would give one a certain amount of confidence, I think, and calm the mind, to know that if he stopped replying to your text messages and then hid from you in the street, you could order some minion to relieve the Earth of his presence, rather than having to awkwardly avoid eye contact the next time you saw him in Tesco. It would definitely be far easier than having to look at Facebook posts of the walking holiday he recently took with his girlfriend, who is his fiancée now, apparently, and, oh, guess what? They are both very pleased. There’s even a picture (she’s made it her profile shot babe, because that’s the type of woman he’s into now) where he is holding his hands in the shape of a heart, right at the base of her spine. Isn’t that just lovely? Doesn’t that image encapsulate the exact kind of romance you’d like to have in your life? Don’t you feel happy for them — and not at all like drinking half a bottle of ice-cold vodka and fucking some bloke you only just met?

(And can I just tell you about her cover picture? It’s a panorama: she is silhouetted atop a mountain, her face turned away from the camera, her hair snaking sexily down her back as she stares into the hazy distance. That’s a beautiful pic hun. It definitely makes me think she is spiritual, calm and connected to nature and not at all that she is a pretentious, insecure, self-absorbed nightmare behind whose back he’ll definitely be fucking other people, just as soon as she stops baking him vegan brownies.)

What has become increasingly obvious (to me, you probably already noticed) is that I have enough vindictive and controlling personality features to actually be Henry the VIII in my next life, if it turns out you can get reincarnated in the past (especially when you factor in my penchant for Catholicism, despite viciously opposing most of its basic tenets). The one surprising thing, actually — and the other reason I’ve been thinking about Henry the VIII more than the normal amount — is that I am fast catching up with him on the romantic partners-count too. I mean, it’s not wholly surprising, because I’ve got great big blue eyes, a banging body and am in every way more aesthetically appealing than an obese sadistic Tudor monarch with gout and a mouldering fur-lined cloak that he rocks out for ‘best’. But still. It’s come as something of a shock considering all I ever really wanted was monogamy — by which I mean a really sexy husband who likes my personality and wants to touch me a lot. (Although, I have been reliably informed by people with actual experience of marriage that the wanting to touch* eachother a lot abruptly ceases, the minute the ink dries on the certificate. So, maybe it would never have worked out for me anyway.)

*I don’t really mean touch. I mean sex. In case you’re not very adept at inference.

Part 174: Small Happy Things

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I used to go to school with this girl — let’s call her Poppy (even though Poppy is as amusingly far from her real name as you could possibly get. I don’t want to reveal her real name, for obvious reasons — mainly that I’m going to say something mean about her in the next paragraph — you are just going to have to trust me that I’ve made quite a funny joke). We weren’t close. She was in the year above so we didn’t have any classes together, but we did have similar after-school interests that meant we knew each other by name. Anyway, in that random way that sometimes happens, Poppy has stayed a permanent, if fringe, figure in my life, because once or twice a year — sometimes less, if I’m being perfectly honest — I bump into her out of the blue. It’s as if the universe keeps deliberately shoving her in my face, like warning. Who knows for what.

Poppy is perfectly pleasant, if sometimes to unwarranted extremes — last time I saw her, for example, she threw her arms around me and squealed in a kind of over-the-top, enthusiastic way that left me cold and rigid all over — but the reason she gets on my tits is because she has this habit of being deliberately vague about the details of her life. She’s an actor, you see, although she is barely, if ever, working. Fair enough, I am friends with lots of mostly out-of-work actors. But every time I ask Poppy how things are going — and I mean every time, from 1997 to now — she wafts her hands dreamily in front of her face and smiles a thin smile. ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘there’s some really exciting stuff in development, but I can’t say anything yet. You know how it is.’ And I think: ‘No, Poppy. No, babe. I don’t know how it is. If anything even vaguely exciting is happening in my life, developmentally or otherwise, I tell everyone I come across, in tedious detail, including dogs and small children.’ Needless to say, I have never yet seen Poppy bring any of these exciting developments to fruition. Though I’ll be really happy for her when she finally does. (I won’t).

You might have noticed that I have been absent from this blog for some time (despite promising regular postings). My absence is not because I’ve been eating cheese in my bed and mainlining Netflix, as is usually the case during a prolonged writing hiatus, but because, and this is where the Poppy story comes in, I’ve been developing other things that might or might not come to fruition. Sorry to be vague, darlings. I know that it’s so fucking annoying. But all of a sudden I understand why Poppy keeps her cards close to her chest — it’s really disappointing when creative projects you’ve worked and worked and worked at for months or years come to nothing. Which happens more often than you’d probably imagine. I know, I know, you could shut the fuck up about it and wait for the project to materialise into something great or dissolve away, like a tissue on water, but (and this is what I never realised when I was busy judging Poppy), when you’re working at something quietly you want people to know that you’re still in the game. You want everybody to be in no doubt that you have not given up totally on your creative pursuits, although that’s definitely what it looks like from the outside. What I’m saying, then, really, in a rambling anecdotal way, is that I just want you to know that I abandoned my promises about regular content not because of laziness, for once, but because of my enthusiasm for something else that I might or might not one day tell you about.

Anyway.

What has propelled me back here is a sudden upsurge of happiness that I wanted to document before it passes and I’m back to smoking, drinking and contemplating whether or not to slit my wrists before I chuck myself in the river. It’s sort of ironic that my surge of happiness would come now when the rest of the world is completely depressed.

And there is a lot to be depressed about, let’s face it.

The world has gone to shit. Things are not good, generally speaking; globally speaking. Wealth inequality, terrorism, rapidly spreading xenophobia. Brexit (or not). The Zika virus. Donald Trump’s hair (oh and the fact that he has been accused of chid abuse and not one mainstream media outlet thinks this is worthy of headline coverage). Climate change, the slow, painful death of the seas and all life contained within them. ‘Digital Marketing Executives’ and other myriad wankers earning six-figure salaries while teachers, plumbers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers and social workers see diminishing financial returns on their sacrifice.

It’s wall to wall horror and tragedy, everywhere you look.

But I have always been contrary and, true to form, just as the world is wallowing in existential gloom, I’ve started to see beauty everywhere. The bats swooping down over the river as I cycle home in the dark (no street lamps here after midnight, it’s rural), the wafting scent of honeysuckle on the morning breeze, the sky, clear and navy at night, the stars all spread out and sparkling, like diamond dust. Sometimes the beauty is so much I can’t even breathe. And even when there is nothing in particular to stimulate a dopamine rush, say I’m pootling along on an ordinary Friday afternoon, schlepping to the co-op in the drizzle, I’ll suddenly find myself overcome with an unexplained euphoria.

It goes against everything I ever believed about myself. I assumed I was just a miserable bitch, default setting. Sure, I’d had euphoric moments: the morning after good sex with a hot young lovely, the time my first boyfriend said he loved me, when I got told about my PhD scholarship. But they were rare and fleeting and always suffixed with misery of one sort or another (the hot young lovelies rarely call back, as well you know; my first boyfriend eventually dumped me because I made an insensitive remark about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; er, hello? Have you ever tried writing a PhD?). I presumed — from observing both happy friends and melancholy ones, and  reading the old women’s magazines I find abandoned in the staff kitchen — that only significant, unlikely milestones (pregnancy, babies, marriage) would herald similar natural ecstasy. But no. It turns out all you need for happiness is yourself, and a bicycle. And the sweet honeysuckle air of an English summer.

Who knew?

Part 171: Brexit

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I wasn’t going to write about the referendum because, really, by now, we’ve heard everything that needs to be said on the subject. But there again: have we? It strikes me that one of the things conspicuously missing from either side of the debate is a serious consideration of how this shit-show will impact my sex life. Because make no mistake: whatever the outcome of the referendum I am going to find it very, very difficult to ever have sex with anyone ever again.

As I type, there are fewer than five hours until polling closes. Tomorrow we’ll find out in no uncertain terms whether the British populace wishes to leave or to remain in the European union. (And by ‘no uncertain terms’ I mean a couple of percentage points either way.)

Meh.

Despite my being involved in several vociferous social media disputes (I do love an argument and, by the way, I’m very very good at them) I can see the benefits of both possible results. Remain and there might be a little surge in the value of the pound (as I’m currently out of the country any increase in the value of my money is much appreciated. Plus babies, if the pound crashes I will be fucked), Europe will make a bit more of an effort to make us feel special for a while (it’s like when you break up with a guy, and then he begs you to change your mind so you do, and suddenly he starts behaving much more considerately: taking you out and buying you flowers and showering you with little kisses, instead of just sitting gormlessly on the sofa playing Fifa. It never lasts, of course, but it’s a welcome relief from relationship tedium) and we definitely won’t need visas to take a Spanish* holiday. Leave and there will be change (always good), lots of political brouhaha (meaning the papers can divert their attention way from documenting celebrity cellulite this summer) and your racist uncle will finally have his views legitimised by a majority, which means he’ll probably be more chilled out at Christmas.

The whole debacle has utterly put me off sex though. All the men you thought might be worth a go turned out to be thick swivel-eyed fascists, or else earnest right-on lefties who will definitely, at some point, wear socks under their sandals at the beach. Also: you have to think — Gove and Farage and Boris, Cameron and Osborne and Blair, they definitely have sex sometimes, and some of their wives are quite good-looking. How does this happen? How can you put aside your hormonal responses and work out whether you’re fucking someone hot, or someone who will, one day, end up looking and smelling like Nigel Farage? Let me just say my darlings: I’ve thought long and hard on this matter and I’ve come to the realisation that you can’t. (For example, I spent several months a few years ago in a furious online tryst with an old acquaintance. I was smitten. I was into him in all ways, especially sexual ones. Thankfully things did not get physical — because today a picture of him appeared in my Facebook timeline — he’s on holiday somewhere in the Med— bearded and 5 stone heavier. He looked like a vagrant Brian Blessed, only dressed in union jack shorts, holding a pint aloft as though it were a trophy, wearing a stunned, moronic grin. Like, I would probably have married this man, had he asked me five years ago. Would I have come to my senses? Or would I be sexing someone repulsive now, on a regular basis?)

I hope the powers that be have some kind of plan for resetting the national libido, post-result, because, whatever the outcome, I predict a massive decline in British sex. And when have I ever been wrong?

*Though, tbh, I’ve never be overly taken with Spain as a holiday destination. Granted, the weather’s usually good, but it’s a bit arid and bleak, as a landscape, and all the best coastal resorts spoiled with British pubs and perma-tanned Essex Hen Parties (I’d like to say here: no judgement. I’m more or less from Essex myself and I once threw up in an ashtray at an upmarket bar in Puerto Banús. Also: I’d just like to apologise to Greece for the incident with the tampon in the pint-glass on that 18-30s trip circa 2001).

Part 170: He’s Probably Not a Psychopath, Darling

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There’s this corner of the internet where people go to get over their exes; forums and blogs and support groups dedicated to recruiting women (and much more occasionally men) as professional victims. They are easy to spot. ‘Living with a Narcissist’, they’re sometimes called, or: ‘Surviving a Sociopath’. According to these sites men don’t just behave really badly because we can all be selfish dicks and our culture has no respect for women. Women don’t just sometimes get swept away in unwise love affairs because we are all lonely and broken and have readily accepted the lie that the love of a good man will fix us. No. The central philosophy of this particular underside of the internet is this: if a man has treated you like shit it is as a result of his clinical psychopathy. He is a sociopath. That’s why he didn’t love you how you deserve to be loved. There is no other explanation.

I am fascinated by the online psychopath movement and the (mostly) women who subscribe to it. I can’t get enough. I just scroll and scroll through the sites and the blogs and the forums, riveted; my mouth slightly open, a faint string of drool hanging from my bottom lip, like a car-crash voyeur, except more judgemental.

The movement is populated by women too smart or too beautiful for your common or garden variety arsehole. They gather online in their hundreds (thousands, maybe?) convinced they’ve been duped by Machiavellian con-artists. Absolutely certain they have been done-over by charismatic psychopaths so skilled at manipulation it would have been impossible for even the most highly attuned psychologist to see through the act.

They take to the internet, these hapless victims, and they comfort each other with inspirational stories of ‘growth’ and ‘truth’ and ‘healing’; they take to the internet and they pen heartfelt words of advice for readers who have suffered a similar fate. It’s ok, they want you to realise: it wasn’t your fault. His cheating (and it is usually cheating that ends the relationship even when his jealousy/drug abuse/violence had long played a starring role in the romance) was nothing you could have predicted from his behaviour or his track record with friends and lovers. If a man has treated you badly it is all on him. You shoulder none of the blame whatsoever.

On the one hand, I get it. Of course I do. I’ve been there. Rejection is cruel. It is embarrassing to admit you’ve been dumped or duped; painful to face up to the fact he found someone else who was better looking or better company than you are. You were not enough. How can you possibly love again in the face of this brutal truth? What if the next one and the one after that fuck off with someone else too? What will you do? It’s too frightening. Believing a sociopath trapped you in his inescapable web is easier than accepting that people are unpredictable and that even the best of us is capable of behaving terribly.

On the other hand: I hate to break it to you babe, but your ex is probably not a psychopath.

You know how he lied to your face for pretty much the entire relationship — how he went all weird about you getting a lift from that bloke at work and then it turned out he was going down on his own colleague, for months and months and you suspected nothing? You know how he wouldn’t introduce you to friends or family and it transpired he was living a double-life with a wife and kid tucked away in Donegal when you thought he was just travelling for work? You know how you loved him so much and he broke your heart and now he doesn’t care one little bit? Yes, it’s shit. But it is, I am afraid, life. It happens all the time. People are fucked up and, frankly, if your husband cheating is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you then you are very lucky.

I know you feel sad. And yes, your trust is shot to shit and, yes, it is going to be a very very long while before you’ll let go and love with all your heart again, if ever. But you do not need to cultivate a career as a professional victim. You do not need to join a support group for survivors of narcissistic lovers. That’s the kind of self-delusion that made you ripe for a con in the first place.

None of us likes to get our heart broken. And none of us are immune to slagging off our exes. I’ve definitely done my fair share of that, and I have definitely used the term ‘psycho’ — but always with self-awareness, I hope. Always with tongue in cheek and in the full knowledge that however badly I have or haven’t been treated I have played willing role in my own downfall. I saw what he was and I picked him. He played the game and I played right back. I heard the lies and I believed them because it was easier than the faff and upheaval that truth (whatever that is) would bring. (I am flawed, but I am nobody’s fool, except occasionally alcohol’s.)

Let me end with an anecdote:

Once upon a time I sat at a Harvester somewhere in urban Kent eating a microwave lasagne opposite my ex-boyfriend. We were at a crossroads in our on again off-again relationship (and I was at a crossroads in my life: Bored in my job and desperate for stimulation, even the distressing stimulation that comes of romantic drama). I had recently written to his live-in lover to tell her that we were sleeping together again and maybe she ought to think about that before she had a baby with him (leave me alone. I was watching a lot of EastEnders at the time and, anyway, I never said I was a nice person). ‘I can’t believe she hasn’t left you,’ I told him. ‘What did you say to convince her to stay?’ He shoved a chip into his fat mouth. ‘What do you think I said?’ he laughed, ‘I told her you were crazy.’

And he was right. I was. We all were. Not a one of us was sane in that particular triangle. But I forgive myself, and I even forgive my ex-boyfriend. Because nobody is sane in the face of a future that involves certain death. Very few of us are secure enough to love one man or one woman forever and ever amen. We all behave badly. But that doesn’t make us psychopaths. It makes us human.