26 November 2022

Making Weight

Like a barometer for my mental well-being, my weight goes up and down. When it is up, something is wrong, generally, and when it is down, something different is wrong. I've never managed, for most of my adult life, to find some way to stay even, ever since I discovered how to lose weight when I was twenty-three and about to marry. I was still a child then, and I didn't understand the connection between what I ate and how much I weighed. It was just an idea. There was a family restaurant, Saizariya, near my house where I could sit and study Japanese because they had a ¥299 Drink Bar. I would drink cappuccino, sometimes six of them in a row without thinking about it. When I finally learned how many calories were in this, I turned into a kind of evangelist about it: dude, do you know that has like as many calories as a coke, it's nuts. This was just the start of it, of all the things that I didn't know, but these huge gaps in my knowledge seemed to be papered over by the fact that I was in Japan, and living a relatively productive life and managing myself fine: it didn't matter that I wasn't exactly clean, or I wasn't paying any attention to what I was eating. I must have been doing something right.

The loss of weight, in that first instance, taught me how to exercise control, control that became the hallmark of my early twenties. My faith was slipping away and with it, any sense that God had a wonderful plan for my life that I needed to seek out and follow. Instead, I started to date again for the first time in years, and the woman I was with was smart and professional and, what I would have said at the time, out of my league. It was all very civilised — not the sort of paralysing passion that I'd experienced in the past and created as much pain as anything else. I felt like an adult suddenly. We weren't doing the cheapest things all the time: I was eating in Japanese restaurants, rather than just getting pizza whenever I could. She was older, more settled. And I was working out and began my MA and she would come after work and sit on the tatami and read the newspaper, while I studied. In a year, I was eight kilograms lighter, married, and soon to become a father. 

A couple of weeks ago, I gave platelets, and it went fine, but the following day I got a message that my next appointment had been cancelled, and then on Friday morning, as I was waiting for some shoes to be delivered, I got a letter from NHS blood and transplant saying that my blood work had come back abnormal, with the abnormal numbers and a note to see the GP. I, of course, googled these numbers and was immediately concerned, even though the letter was clear that this could be an error. I told a few people, but couldn't manage to tell people in a way that got the response that I wanted, and I fell into a Tom Sawyer fantasy about how much I would be missed if I did, in fact, have a rare form of blood cancer and was dead by the end of the year, like that TikTok filter had told me in January would happen this year. Instead, the prevailing explanation became that I had actually gotten Covid before my marathon and had stupidly run through it, giving me the numbers I got. That or the rapid lab results were just wrong.

I went to see the GP on a Tuesday morning, when it was raining heavily and I had another meeting to make at the primary school afterwards, and the doctor, talking to me, seemed to heavily suggest that the blood and transplant on-site testing was not something I should trust and if my lymphocytes, which were the real concern, were actually ten times what they should be, I would not be running a marathon. He managed to get an me an appointment in an hour to take my blood and I cycled over in the rain, missing my other meeting, and they told me the results would be back in three days and if I didn't hear anything, it meant they were fine, but I could call and check if I wanted to be reassured. I got on with things and then, the next day, as I was waiting for a group of primary school pupils to come over to Newman for a lecture I was giving called 'What is University', a text message came saying the blood work showed only 'very mild abnormalities and they needed to be redone in three months. There was, apparently, no blood cancer. 

This year, I have been down and back up with my weight twice. The first time was ahead of the Great Welsh Marathon. Then I attributed my success in running fast to losing ten kilograms after my previous race in the autumn, but I put the weight back on in three months. This second time, I'm back after I lost control of my eating serving a mountain of stress that began with the unwanted and returned bean-to-cup coffee machine on my birthday, topped by a visit from my parents and driving a nine-passenger van around Scotland for a week. I don't know why eating is my response to stress: it makes me feel terrible physically and mentally, emotionally. The frustration compounds: everything becomes ungovernable until I open up some app again and commit to an unsustainable regimen of logging everything I eat, something I'm a kind of master at now: That apple is 90 calories, I just know. 

The loss of control is not something I realised was a feature of growing older. You can control a lot more when you're younger, or you think you can, before your choices set in and your options begin to narrow. I can still lose weight, and indeed, it seems, do so in a way that doesn't include counting every calorie in an app, or trying not to eat when you're actually quite hungry, or taking a day off running because something has come up. It's a small success, not something to write home about: the breakdown of control in every other area of my life still remains an unsettled tangle, too many intersecting personalities now. Maybe with luck, those tangles work themselves out. Or maybe the tangle is just the way it is, and you sit down every so often, have a go at untangling it. Maybe you make progress. Maybe you don't. But you give up eventually, let it lie there and try again to accept it.