Monthly Archives: April 2014

Memory shoes


I’ve been thinking a lot about shoes recently and it’s doing my head in.

“Meh”, you think,. “Not a bad thing to think about”. And, to a certain extent, I agree.

I like shoes. I like the way you can buy them whatever size the rest of you feels. And I love the way a new pair of shoes can make you feel on top of the world. In fact I’m a sucker for the lure of new footwear; I buy naughtily-expensive, high-heeled shoes and boots that I imagine I’ll live in – and then they languish in boxes under my bed, shunned in favour of the flat boots and ballet flats I feel make me more invisible. Now, I bring out the heels when the mask needs them, on occasions where look-at-me heels distract from my size and being able to stride along rather than teetering is much admired*.

So back to the point. 

The shoes that are haunting me are shoes from the past. Not it a ‘wooooo’, ghostly way, you understand. In an uncomfortable memory-stirring sort of way. Shoes of my childhood. Shoes for feet far bigger than they should be. Shoes, or small boats, more like. 

I was a tall child and was pretty much my current adult height by the age of eleven. And I had the feet to match. Not even delicately slim feet. Big, broad podgers of feet that were hard to contain both in terms of length and breadth. Feet that didn’t go unnoticed. 

These days children are taller than I remember and it’s all much more normal. But in the 70s and 80s a really tall child was a bit of a freak – and that freak was me. I remember shoe shopping as trailing from one store to another before ending up with the (usually only) pair that fitted. I didn’t choose shoes; shoes chose me. They were never flattering and I had no pride in them. 

Here’s what hurt. My feet were the talk of the town. Oh, all right, I exaggerate. But they were the talk of my mother and she talked all over town. It was made abundantly clear to me that I was abnormal and I was made to feel ashamed of their size. It’s taken me many years to realise that that was wrong. That, inadvertently, I was wronged and damaged.

I’m doing my very best not to repeat these mistakes with my girls. My eldest was the same as me – tall young with the feet to match. And yet I scoured the internet for a pair of Barbie clippy-cloppy shoes that were all she wanted for Christmas when she was three and I’ve always paid whatever was necessary to get the shoes she felt good in. She’s a size eight now, aged 16, and totally comfortable with her feet. I think I’ve got that much right. 

My heart still hankers for the girly, dainty shoes everyone else had. The pretty sandals. The Clarks ‘in’ shoe of the season. The patent shininess that you just never got in the adult ranges. 

And yet the weird thing is, my feet are size six.

Maybe not huge now, but massive in my memory.


*While we’re talking shoes, we’ve a rule in our house (a house full of girls) that heels can only be worn if you can walk in them properly. So it’s a rite of passage: first, low heels are chosen with care and then the lessons begin (and must be mastered to my satisfaction) before they can be worn out in public. I will not have any of my girls being teeterers. In case you’re wondering, it’s all about leaning back a bit and pushing your hips forward. You’re welcome. 


Art therapy #4. The one with leprechauns

If we met at work, I think, I’m pretty damn sure, you wouldn’t relate this me to what you’d see because my mask is amazing. 

I’m high-energy, bursting with ideas and pathologically unable to sit through a meeting without giving an opinon. I’m the fixer, the cheerleader, the carer, the trainer, the encourager, the voice of the people. I make jokes and put you at ease. I make sure you’re heard. I do everything I can to get the best out of you, professionally. Even if that means buying a stash of Freddo frog chocolate bars to give you that boost you need just when you need it. I’ll tell it to you straight – the good stuff and the bad. You’ll think I’m a little off the wall, but you’ll put that down to being a creative. Most likely, you’ll respect my opinion.

I am the last person you would think would be wrapped in the tenacious tentacles of depression. 

My mask has grown with me but – and this is important – it’s always been there. It helped me fit in as a moved between nine different primary schools and five countries while growing up. It meant I was one of the team by the end of the first day of every job I’ve had. And it means that everywhere I go, people chat to me. I give off the right vibes, I guess. I’m a social chameleon. 

But my mask is a creation. It is NOT part of me. And this is where Sarah, my therapist, and I disagree. In fact, disagree isn’t strong enough a term. She thinks it’s a distorted part of my personality, a part with “the volume turned right up” while all other aspects of me are on mute.

Absolute bollocks. 

The mask is how I cope in life – by pretending to be someone else. Someone other people want to talk with, laugh with, work with. It’s there to hide the blackness and wrongness inside, and to help to protect people from any damage it could do. 

Sarah would like me to be open-minded about this. She smiles understandingly when I say this is an impossibility. She says we can work on it, that it’s part of therapy. I explain again and, again, she smiles. She respects my opinion, she says. But she believes differently, she says. 

It’s like explaining that leprechauns don’t exist to a true believer. 

And no art again. Ah well. 


Art therapy #3. With art and a lot of baggage


It’s been a weird week which meant a lot of things were going round in my head today, all to do with the stupid body.

Pretty sure I’ve mentioned how ridiculous it is that we have bodies; that we’re trapped in these flesh and blood prisons that cause so much pain. You can argue the opposite but it won’t change my mind. I have always been at war with the body. With its inadequacies and its disobedience. It’s determination to do its own thing regardless of what I want. 

Anyway, over the weekend I realised that I was going to have to haul the body to see a GP because the burns on my arm were looking grim. I’m carefully not looking at you right now; I’ve seen all the expressions there are. Yes, I did it myself. Yes, it’s a stupid thing to do, I know that. But sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me feeling human and anchors me here in the world. Usually I dress the burns myself and I’m pretty good at it but these were deep and (I hope you’re not eating right now) the dead skin was getting smelly. So I, very very reluctantly, made an appointment with a random GP because my GP doesn’t work on Mondays. 

It wasn’t too bad. She didn’t judge and – believe me – professionals can be surprisingly quick to judge. Still horrible though and I felt extremely small. Antibiotics, swabs and a proper nurse-done dressing that gives me the arm of a michelin man. So that was on my mind.

And then yesterday I had my monthly appointment with the food psychiatrist. I like him. He’s human. He talks to me as though I am a competent person who just happens to have some hang-ups around eating. As a result, I trust him. Even though that trust has led me to do some hugely stressful things. 

His view: I’m balancing on a point that just about keeps the body going, keeps hot food almost on the agenda and is unsustainable. 

My view: I’m managing to hold a weight that feels ridiculously enormous and elephant like to me. It’s not – very very not – the weight I believe must exist where I feel comfortable. Very not. Very very not. 

We ended up having an almost philosophical conversation about the value of a piece of toast, in public, at lunchtime. Toast. I ask you. And, as usual with the Hugh-man, I ended up agreeing to try something as ‘an experiment’ that otherwise I would rather cut my nose off before trying. 

So this is a long way round to saying that food and weight was on my mind. Although not on my mind when I made the first sweep of charcoal on the pristine paper. 

I think it’s a set of scales and the range, the gaping range, between where I am and where I think would feel better. And the pressures pushing in different directions plus the markers counting out the moves between one and the other. Chalk and charcoal and graphite and dust later and I felt a bit better. 

Until Sarah pointed out that what she saw was not the markers of measurement but the bars of a prison. 

Still thinking about that. 

Art therapy #2. The one with no art


It started so well.

I managed to leave work on time.

I successfully navigated round a road closure and survived a moment of total panic when I realised I was lost in space (well, Fishponds).

I found my way up the winding stairs and through the right set of double doors without ending up in geriatric psychology (which would be funny in a way, I suppose).

And the room welcomed me: the soothing tick of the clock; the calm splash of light through the high windows; Sarah’s quiet confidence that all would be well in our hour together.

It was that damn question that undid me; that bloody question that follows me round like a needy stray.

“How has your week been?”

As always, I thought about lying. Well, I thought about being selective with the truth (lying). I’m a past master of picking my way through a minefield of  reality that could blow up in my face at the slightest touch.

But I remembered the words of ‘the psych man’ all those years ago. Every time I remember I want to go back and kick him in the knees, but I remember nevertheless: “If you want to live as long as possible, never lie to a doctor”. I hated him. It’s a story for another time but a 15-year-old me was sent off on a train to Oxford to see this man to “sort me out”. I lasted three sessions during the last of which he gave me that advice.

So I didn’t lie. I opened my mouth and let the words stumble out into the sunshine. Let them grow stronger as they acclimatise to being out of my head. Let them tell of the darkness that nearly won in the recent past. How I kissed my cats goodbye and left out the DVDs I’ve made for my girls, got in the car and drove towards my favourite car park. And how, somehow, I changed my mind at a roundabout and came home to cry and cry and cry.

It was liberating to have a conversation about these feelings without anyone being shocked or rushing to activate a crisis plan. It was a conversation without pity or head-tilting. It felt comfortable. Scary, but comfortable. Never thought I’d say talking openly about disappearing from this earth would be that. Wowsers. Maybe I am making progress.

No picture though. Soz about that.