Lose weight now! Just don’t ask how.
It seems that I have shrunk.
I was in London last week and people that I hadn’t seen for a while were commenting on it and asking what I’ve done to lose so much weight (about ten pounds – though I only know this from weighing myself at my mother-in-law’s after yet another comment, because we'd all weighed ourselves at Christmas and just for the record I wrote it down)
(For the sake of my sanity I kicked our own bathroom scales out long ago)
I hadn’t really noticed it myself, especially now it’s the season for woolly jumpers and big coats, and none of my trousers have been anywhere near falling down.
To be honest, for once in my life I have just been too busy to think about it.
And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have it – my weight loss secret.
Become an unpaid carer for a person with a complicated condition that there is no cure for and very little specialist support (very little support full stop if you don’t happen to live in the right part of the country, which is most of it)
Someone with a chaotic lifestyle, even when they are physically unable to get out of the house. Someone who needs you all the time. Who might call for help just as you are about to sink into the bath at the end of a long day, or when you were finally sitting down to dinner with the rest of your family, or making a salad, or thinking how you could just fancy a nice cup of tea and a biscuit or three in front of the telly.
They need you. You have to drop what you were doing and go. If you can't go right away, the worry will gnaw at your guts until you can get there to try to solve the problem.
I pretty much guarantee that this will affect your weight.
And the hole that knots up your stomach each time there is a crisis – it makes it hard to relax. You are too busy to fill that hole with food.
If the person you care for has trouble chewing and swallowing, as Nick does, then you will spend mealtimes together helping them to eat, feeding them the last tricky bits with a spoon and wiping up the spills. Patting them on the back and clearing airways if they choke. You may not feel like eating much after that. And because Nick has such a radically different diet from me, there is never the temptation to polish off any leftovers. Or (unlike his cat-sitting neighbour) raid the fridge. We don’t even like the same kind of wine or ripeness of banana.
The only thing I ever eat or drink in his house with him is coffee. Black and strong like my men, dark and bitter like my women - as the old saying goes.
I just want to make it clear that I am not skinny by any stretch of the imagination and have never been the kind of ethereal waif like woman who “forgets to eat.” No.
But stress, and being constantly on call, and the accumulated trauma that you just have to swallow because there’s no time or point in dwelling on it now, does have an effect.
When I was much younger and my mum was starting to show the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease, stress affected me differently. I got fat. It was my coping mechanism, the only way I could think of to try to stop time, pretend this wasn't real, create some armour against the terrible thing that was happening to our family.
And Caitlin Moran says this very insightful thing, although I think she meant a broader definition of the word carer:
"Overeating is the addiction choice of carers, and that's why it's come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. Its a way of fucking yourself up whilst still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren't indulging in the "luxury" of their addiction making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone. And that's why it is so often a woman's addiction of choice. All the quietly eating mums. All the KitKats in office drawers. All the unhappy moments, late at night, caught only in the fridge light." *
It's different these days. Now my coping mechanism is to cope. I can't not cope, although sometimes that feels very close. And I can't afford to pretend this isn't happening, because Nick needs me.
Today is my long working day and I won't see Nick until this evening. Accordingly, I had got everything in place for him when I left him last night around 10pm. But as I set off for home at lunchtime hoping for a nice bowl of home made soup and a quick flick through the weekend paper before this afternoon's session, a message comes in his laboured texting to tell me that his online food delivery has not arrived for the second consecutive day and this time it's because his card has been declined (how? I checked his bank account when we made the order two days ago) and also his remote control has stopped working and the neighbour is banging on the ceiling again because Nick had put the radio on for the Archers. And - most urgently - he has run out of wine.
Are there no other people he could text, asks a well meaning friend, but you see, Huntingtons makes you very set in your ways. It is so hard for him to press out the words on the keypad and however much I remind him he just can't remember to use the quick dial. So it is largely up to me.
I grab a packet of soup and an apple for my lunch, get in the car and go to the rescue. If I'm lucky I'll get some toast at my client's house later.
It's the "Big Sis to the Rescue" diet, but there are definite health warnings attached for the long term and unless you are living this dream yourself, I really don't advise that you try it.
*How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, Ebury Press 2012