Wednesday, 31 December 2014


This is a detour from the narrative of this blog, but I wanted to share it. 


I slept badly almost every night when I was very small
I’d toss and turn and cry and fight and you’d hear me through the wall
You held my hand, sat by my bed and took away my fear
Stroked the hair upon my head and said the words ‘I’m here’
Now you’re the one who’s scared and frail and needs help with everything
I feed you and you look so pale, your eyes searching, your body thin
In my childhood many years ago “Granny” meant magic and glee
I was then too young to know how cruel old age could be
When Friday night was Granny Night, we watched old films and baked
Played board games to our heart’s delight, knitted and ate cake
You had a wooden button box and we used the spares as draughts
In the hall stood a big tall clock – when it made us jump you laughed
I recall bags of wool in every shade, the stories that you told
I remember all the clothes you made for me and for my dolls
Your breasts were large and pillow-like, your lap was strong and wide
Now you’re small and feather-light, you’re weak and you are tired
And I want us to look at photographs while you talk about the war
But you can’t sit or see or even laugh when you feel so ill and sore
So I try to make some idle chat and tell you about my job
But I can’t even seem to manage that as when I try to talk, I sob
So I hold your hand, sit by your bed, wipe away both of our tears
Kiss you on your tired old head and say the words ‘I’m here.’

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Chapter Four

NB: I'm telling a little story with this blog, so if you're coming to it for the first time, I'd suggest starting at the bottom and working upwards. Thanks for reading :) xx

Little boy runs outside
Perhaps he wants somewhere to hide
There is nobody to watch him there
But he doesn’t really care
He likes the garden, green and fresh
The sun beats down on his pale flesh...
The innocent know not of fear
The voice of caution won’t reach their ear
He saw the pond there waiting for him
And didn’t know he couldn’t swim
He didn’t know he’d drown and die
He never saw his mother cry

When I was 18, a family friend’s toddler drowned. It was sadder than the saddest thing I could have imagined and so cruel, unfair and unexpected. I will never forget his mother’s eyes at the funeral. They looked right at me, still searching, and I wished with all my heart that I could retrieve him from wherever he was, hand him to her and say, ‘it’s ok, I’ve found him, you can have him back now.’ But I couldn’t.

I hate this poem. I hate it because it’s dark and sinister and I feel threatened by the part of me that couldn’t help writing it in the aftermath. I sat at my computer wanting to write something beautiful, because he was beautiful and I loved everyone who loved him. But all I could see and feel was the horror and shock of it all, and that came out.

Now, at 21, the scene I never saw and the searching eyes are the shadow of all my thoughts again. I am not thinking about them right now, on the toilet in a flat with clean white walls and wooden floors. I am not thinking about them when a two year old calls out my name, making me try and wee faster. I hate going to the toilet; leaving him on the other side of the door, where I cannot see him, scares me. As an au pair, I take my number one task of keeping the children alive extremely seriously. But in a world full of hazards and tragedy it feels like an impossible undertaking, and hard as it is when just Luca is home, it’s even worse when they both are. When they start to fight with each other, I wish that the floors were carpeted and furniture with corners had never been invented.

I have hidden all the scissors and big knives on top of a cabinet; Elian is tall enough to open the kitchen drawers and I am worried he’ll take one out. (It’s not that I think he is a psychopath; he’s very sweet. I just know accidents can happen.) I’ve even hidden some of their toys – any which are slightly heavy and could cause cerebral damage should they have an unfortunate collision with a skull are behind my wardrobe. I can’t hide all their little cars; there are too many and they’re more or less the only things the boys play with; so instead I’ve turned to my old pal God for help. I have long and strange conversations with him, bartering over responsibility: ‘I’ve done everything I can God. I don’t give them too much sugar [for this, their mother loves me], I’ve hidden all the sharp and heavy objects, I watch them every moment I can; but those cars are their favourite things. Don’t let them trip over one or swallow a small part, please. I will go back to church and only ever say or think good things about people…’ I’m not even sure he’s listening these days. I broke so many of his rules, I excommunicated myself in the end.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. I am supposed to be working overseas for culture and adventure (and because between the parties, the boys, the job and the crash diets I never got round to working out what else I would do when I left university). Yet, while it’s fair to say I’m getting some of each, I have spent a lot of my time so far worrying, as usual.

I stand up and am washing my hands when the pounding starts. Within seconds, hot poison is coursing around my system. I grip the sink to steady myself and swallow some bile. This has been happening all week and I know what’s causing it: shame. Because a few nights ago, something so bad happened that all my attempts at keeping the boys safe will soon be futile. The whole family and I are going to be murdered in our beds and it is all my fault.

I’d had a great night out in Zurich – drinking cider in the British pub and meeting lots and lots of boys. Alcohol did what it always does: made everything feel safe and enjoyable, made all my worries seem amusing and turned me into an absolute delight. I was walking home through the fields, laughing to myself at things that had been said and leaving my friends in the UK charming (and expensive) voicemails about how much I loved them and how marvellous everything was. I was still in this happy, cider bubble when I realised I wasn’t alone.

‘Gruezi’ I said in my best Swiss German to the men outside the barn. They approached, looking at me like I was a navy cat they wanted to get a closer at. One of them had eyes like dirty coins and the other was a giant baby with a bald head, missing teeth and a permanent look of fascination. They both had cans of beer. I think I must have smiled at them (fuck knows why). I don’t know who said ‘how are you?’ first, but we had a conversation – some of which I understood, much of which I didn’t. Quite quickly, I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to piss them off. Nonetheless, when they offered me a beer and invited me into the barn, I said ‘no thank you’ (even I wasn’t that stupid), explained that I had to sleep because I had bircher muesli to prepare in the morning, said goodbye and tried to walk away... But something was wrong. Coin Eyes had my arm and I remained rooted to the spot. The next part is a blur. I know I fought and shouted ‘no’ and ‘help’ in English, Swiss German and high German. I know Baby Head watched our tug of war like an infant watching tennis for the first time.

In the end I was saved by the giant baby. He said something I didn’t understand to the other one, who then (without letting go of my arm) told me in a mixture of German and English that they were going to walk me home now. I said thank you for the kind offer, but that I was fine. They still came. After fighting for air when Coin Eyes kissed me goodbye, I managed to leave them at the corner, but they watched me walk into the apartment block. I went up the stairs, through the unlocked door and into the bathroom, where I sat on the floor for the next hour, thinking about the implications of what I had just done.

I brought danger to the door. Because I am a reckless, horrid, little English tart. I got away but now they know where I live, with the children. I confessed the next morning and Maria was kind to me; but her assurances that she wasn’t angry, she was just glad I got away OK, that we were safe in the flat and she’d talk to some of the neighbours, just made me feel worse. And now it’s not just the toys I have to check – it’s the locks, it’s the surrounding fields, it’s every noise and every shadow. I should have gone into the barn with them. I should have let them do whatever they wanted; even if it meant I ended up dead. It was selfish of me to resist and bring them here because now we’re all a target...

Luca calls me again, bringing me back to the present. I dry my hands, shake the thoughts out of my head and go to find him.

I don’t want the world
And all its risks, all I need
Is one safe corner

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Chapter Three

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” – Kate Moss.

I am eighteen and things have improved for me in the last couple of years. I got twelve GCSEs, one AS level, three A Levels and a part time job in shop. I made some good friends, learnt that I really, really like pineapple Bacardi Breezers, kissed five boys and have just got into university to study English and drama. I have ‘blossomed’ says everyone. Apparently I am normal after all. Or at least, I’m doing an Oscar winning performance of my new favourite character: Eve, Normal Girl.

And I have, at last, found my talent. When I was eight, three girls in my class did an adorable little presentation on ‘self confidence’. At the end of it, they gave everyone a tiny piece of paper on which we were to write down one thing we were good at ‘to keep in our pencil cases for when we felt sad’. I remember how I stared at that piece of paper and cried all afternoon because I couldn’t think of anything to write on it. Now I wish I could go back in time and tell eight year old Eve that she was wrong! Because I do have a gift after all: I am very good at being thin.

I’m absolutely wonderful at it in fact. I can put my hand up behind my ribcage, I can hang things from my hipbones (at least I’m sure I could if I wanted to), in a pinch you could use me as a prop in a human anatomy class. I am a self crowned Queen of the Lollipop Heads. Granted, this has its downside. I get a lot of headaches, bruise easily and my periods (which eventually started at 15) have stopped and so I’m concerned about being infertile again. But I don’t care. It’s worth it; when my size six prom dress had to be taken in, people said ‘you’re so lucky’. When I wear a tank top, other girls marvel at my concave stomach and say they wish theirs was the same. In 2004 when you’re a middle-achieving, awkward virgin, skinniness is the great equaliser. Now I can say to myself, ‘hey! I do have something special after all: willpower.’

Of course, this sexless skeleton is more than just a costume. It’s my life’s work. Like all things worth having it takes time and dedication. I know its angles and statistics better than I know my phone number and I am incredibly organised. Taking Weight Watchers as my inspiration, I have devised a points system. I’m allowed 8 points a day, maximum. A rice cake is worth 1 point, an apple is worth two, a yoghurt or a jar of baby food is worth 4 and a slice of toast is worth 6. Coffee, alcohol and laxatives are a free for all. I can earn an extra point with 50 sit ups. It sounds complicated, but actually the beauty of this system lies in the simplicity of its central equation:

More food + less exercise = fatter. Bad.

Less food + more exercise = thinner. Good.

It’s so easy, even I have managed to grasp it. And yet, deep down, I feel certain it’s all unreal. When people comment on my size (some appraisingly, others with concern) I feel like I’ve defrauded them. Somehow, I have convinced everyone that I’m slim when actually I’m not. I’ve lost the ability to feel reassured by what my eyes tell me. I step on and off the scales 15 times to be sure what they’re telling me is true, I count my items in the fridge again and again in case I’ve eaten something and forgotten about it, and I stare into mirrors at a reflection that has lost all meaning.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Chapter Two

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” – William Faulkner, Light in August

“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, Eva sleeps tonight” sing my peers as I walk past. I haven’t managed to work out why the implication that I am a wild beast has become their weapon of choice and I bear the burden very ill. I am fourteen, highly strung and unpopular.

My mantra that “if I worry about it, it will never happen” isn’t working so well for me these days, though that doesn’t stop me applying it. Every night I worry about the slaps, the names and the singing. I worry about the phlegm which christens the back of my neck, the taunts and the gestures. It continues to happen and I become obsessed with it, and (it gives me no pleasure to confess) obsessed with myself.


1.       a persistent unwanted idea or impulse that cannot be eliminated by reasoning.

2.       a recurring, distressing idea, thought or impulse that feels "foreign" or alien to the individual.

3.       compulsive preoccupation with an idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
I hate my voice, I’ve heard it on tape. It’s annoying, posh and every shrill syllable conveys my deepest insecurities. My face is like a potato – round and lumpy and plain. My hair is even flatter than my chest and I’m stupid. Everything about me, from my body to my thoughts to my failure to grasp long division is irrefutable evidence of my schoolfellows’ case against me: I am a freak. I’m a weirdo, a loony and a retard.

Every disturbing or horrid phenomenon I come across must, surely, apply to me. Racist? Undoubtedly – I am sure I had a bad thought about a non-white person once. Dyke? Paedophile? I’m not even sure what either of these things is and I’m afraid to find out because I know they’re bad words and so I am probably one or the other or both. Hermaphrodite? Sounds about right – I probably do have some male genitalia I don’t know about. I stare sometimes at my body, comparing it to the drawing of a generic adolescent girl in my ‘Growing Up’ book. Her breasts are definitely bigger than mine and her hips are much wider. It’s so she can have children, the book explains. I will never have children. Even if I don’t have a penis in place of a womb I am almost certainly infertile, ever since I stood too close to that microwave. Every time it’s on I go into another room but it’s no good; I can still feel it cooking my ovaries. It tingles. My periods haven’t started because my eggs have all been scrambled by proximity to microwaves (that’s if I don’t have sperm instead).

I miss being thirteen. When I was thirteen all I had to worry about was being the Virgin Mary. Just as I had once prayed to God to spare me from orphancy, now I prayed to be spared the humiliation of an immaculate pregnancy. As a meek virgin with a working knowledge of scripture, I feared I was a frighteningly good candidate to carry the second coming of Christ. But I was already struggling at school – both academically and socially – and I didn’t think I could cope with a child. One bizarre conversation to which my long-suffering mother was subjected involved me asking her if she’d believe me if I told her God had got me pregnant. To her maternal (or perhaps Christian) credit, she assured me that she would.

Luckily, I no longer have to worry about being the Virgin Mary. Because in between the school toilets, the boy who spent last biology lesson attempting to insert biros up my backside through the hole in the bench, the ones outside the sixth form college who grab and grope me when I walk past and the thoughts in my head, I am pretty certain I no longer qualify as ‘pure’ enough to gestate Jesus. So in a sense, every cloud really does have a silver lining.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chapter One

Love and fear are one

The same, pride turns to shame

And all is never well

I am seven years old and my brother Joe is five. We have a tin of Quality Street between us on the carpet, in the corner of the room Aled Jones is walking in the air with a snowman, and one of our grannies dozes on the sofa while the other clatters around the kitchen. All of us are full of roast potatoes and trifle.

Joe is playing with his new pirate ship and eating the gold Quality Streets. I am eating the purple ones and trying not to cry.

“How long have they been gone now?” I ask.

“About half an hour. They’ll be home soon, I’m sure they’re fine” soothes a granny.

“I’m not going to bed until they’re home.”

We are talking about my parents, who have gone to check on granny’s house and switch some lights on; despite living only a mile away, Dad’s mum stays the night at our house every Christmas and our parents walk off the excesses of the day by ‘checking’ hers in the evening. Years later they will laughingly tell us how they’d often ‘had a quickie’ in Dad’s old bedroom and popped in for a drink with the neighbours. If only I had known at the time that they were having so much fun, my Quality Street wouldn’t have been washed down with quite so many swallowed tears.

At the tender age of seven I am already Mummy’s little worrier. Her evenings have been filled with such topics as, “nobody at school likes me”, “where will we live if you and Daddy die?”, “what if some of us are good enough to go to heaven and some of us aren’t? Will we never see each other again?” and “if you, me or Joe gets ill will Daddy pray?” (Daddy’s  atheism troubles me.) In the midst of one of my existential crises she reassured me “if you worry about it, it will never happen”. This to me was a revelation. That all my worrying was saving us from the very things which it focused on was wonderful news; I didn’t need to worry after all! No, wait, I did...

And so that’s what I’m doing on Christmas night in 1993. I am channelling my sugar high into being the most disciplined worrier there ever was. I am conjuring up every possibility of my parents’ demise and willing each of them not to happen. I start with them being murdered; the streets, in my view, are a dangerous place after 4pm. Then I think about them being electrocuted; I imagine that in her Christmas morning excitement Granny could have left a tap on – one flick of a switch could mean instant death for one of my parents and the other will be stood, devastated, over their spouse’s electrocuted corpse. Next I picture them bring run over; other people are probably a lot more relaxed about drink driving at Christmas...

After each gruesome scenario has forced its way, uninvited, into my childish mind and I have worried fervently to stop it happening, I seal the deal: hoping nobody notices what I am doing, I clasp my chocolatey hands together and move my lips in silence, “Dear God, please please please don’t let them die.”

Saturday, 18 October 2014


It’s 12.30am on a Saturday morning, I’ve had too much chocolate and this is my 88th attempt at writing a first sentence. I don’t normally find expressing myself quite so difficult; if nothing else this has been a useful exercise in empathising with many of my students – the ones who look traumatised when I tell them to write down the point they just made so clearly during a discussion. Never again will I tell them ‘just write it how you told me’ or that they ‘can’t get it wrong’. After this experience, I don’t know how they’ve all refrained from jamming their pens in my eye for giving them such useless advice, when all along they had the total conviction that no words on a page could ever convey what they wanted them to. I get it now and I’m sorry to all of them. Here are some excerpts from my various attempts at the opening sentence:

‘I remember the moment my life changed.’ This is so cliché I could vomit.

‘I was 23 when I had the thought which ruined my life.’ Whereas this is far too dramatic. How could anyone like me after reading that?

 ‘Why the fucking fuck can’t I write this? I am so bloody fuck- bollocking useless.’ I think this speaks for itself.

The problem is, writing about your life changing without being dramatic or cliché is close to impossible. If it helps (it probably doesn’t) my life didn’t change in any dramatic or cliché way. I didn’t come into a fortune or win a competition, find out I was dying or lose a loved one, fall in love or have a child. I didn’t witness a crime or a miracle, discover I have superpowers or receive my letter from Hogwarts (sadly). In fact, nothing of any consequence happened at all.

I had a thought. And, as you may have gathered, it was a big one. I’d had thoughts so powerful they had filled my entire head before, but this one took over my whole body. One minute I was packing clothes into a suitcase – probably not carefree, but in no great agitation – and the next I was gasping, in foetal position, as unable to move and as terrified as a rodent caught on a glue trap.

After about an hour, I recovered from my paralysis, continued packing and went on my holiday. But from then on, things were different and slowly my life did change. First, I started getting more and more thoughts – awful, disgusting, shocking thoughts and ideas – each one more frightening than the last. As a consequence, my career took a different pathway; the one I was on was just too thought provoking. Next, I started to lose friends. They tried to keep in touch with me, but being around them made me think too much, and thinking frightened me, so I avoided them. Then I started arguing more and more with my family, until eventually we were strangers – living together in separate worlds.

Four and half years after it happened, at around 2am on a Sunday morning in December, I lay crumpled on the pavement crying so hard my ears were ringing. A teenager walked by and bent over me to ask how I was. ‘I’m fine’ I choked, ‘just having a little lie down.’ But I was exhausted. The thoughts were taking up all of my energy. If I wasn’t having them, I was planning for them. I spent all day doing things to prevent them from coming or neutralising them when they did. But it was hopeless, because wherever I went my thoughts came with me and I was living my life on a tightrope, suspended over all their awful possibilities. It all went back to that first thought – the one which ruined my life. And I wished I could go back in time and put the television on, or decide to make a cup of tea at the moment it came in, or do anything instead of have it. But it was impossible. I couldn't unthink it any more than I could be unborn.

You may be reading this wondering ‘what was this thought?’ or, ‘why did it have such malevolent power?’ The answer to the first question doesn’t really matter (but I’ll tell you later anyway, don’t worry). And the answer to the second is simple: I have OCD. Writing that as an explanation feels inadequate even to me. The colloquial use of the phrase has robbed it of its weight (much like the word ‘melanoma’ would cease to be taken seriously if people started describing their pimples in such terms). But OCD in its true form is terrifying, consuming and life-threatening in its awfulness.

 Recently though, I’ve come to realise something: the thought I had that night wasn’t the life defining event I’ve been seeing it as.  Firstly, because a life doesn’t change just once; it can change a thousand times. All those things I said before (falling in love, having a baby, getting a terminal illness) could still happen, as could countless other unknowns, and my life will change again. Secondly, I didn’t really develop OCD in a second. It spent years creeping up on me, because for as long as I can remember, I was unable to leave my thoughts alone. I picked at every worry, doubt, risk and fear like they were scabs until they bled into every part of my life.

I’m writing this now to help two kinds of people: those who don’t know much about OCD, and those who know too much. If you fall into the first category, I hope to show you that behind OCD’s public persona – that of the ‘quirky’ personality trait – lies a dark and very real illness. Perhaps by writing about its true colours, I can help you understand what it is and what it can do to a person. And as for the people in the second category, already horribly familiar with the condition because you’re on the inside of it: I want you to feel like it’s OK to talk about what frightens you, to know that you can get better and, crucially, realise that you’re not alone. And so I’m going to do something I never thought I could do before: I’m going to share my thoughts with you.