When nothing edible can fill the emptiness inside me

…and when eating a big tube of jellytots makes things worse!

Following on from my last blogpost – and thank you to those of you who took time to respond, if you remember one thing from this post, it’s not to eat a tube full of jellytots. You get a sugar rush that needs far too much fibre-based foods to combat. Yet growing up I can’t recall times when I was conscious of different foods affecting my mood.

Following a morning of filming Heidi Allen’s Brexit event in Cambourne (videos here) followed by a champagne tea at Homerton College for their 250th Birthday, I came away with the familiar sensations of having been in crowded rooms full of people yet completely and utterly disconnected from them at the same time. The first time I had heard of this as a concept was in the mid-1990s when The Levellers wrote JulieWhat I didn’t know at the time was that a few years later I’d move down to the town where the band formed – in Brighton. It would be a full decade after first hearing their music that I’d see them live – at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2004.

“Oh – it’s Puffles!” 

Heidi introduced me to the packed hall as I brought in my filming kit – telling the audience that the event was being filmed. (Not everyone likes being on camera at political events – even ones that are open to the public, hence why this is important). As I made my way through to the back of the hall, I could hear people whispering in hushed tones:

“Oh! It’s Puffles!” 

In some parts of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire and London I’m more known for the escapades of my tweeting dragon Puffles. The dragon’s not everyone’s cup of tea – but in recent times I’ve been getting more comments about why I’m not taking the dragon out and about.

“How does a person feel disconnected and empty inside, while having ***over seven thousand social media followers***??!?”

Those around in Puffles’ early days have often commented that social media felt a lot more friendlier back then than today. In the early 2010s every so often I’d host pub lunches in London for social media friends who had not met up face-to-face before. What struck me at the time with those was how the conversations seemed to have a natural flow to them – as if everyone had known each other for years even though they had not met face-to-face before.

Eventually I was no longer able to sustain hosting them – a train ticket and a pub lunch in London doesn’t leave much change from £50, and few people were willing to spend that much to make the return journey. While finance is less of an issue now, it’s health and confidence that are my barriers. It’s only when you’ve experienced the sensation of heart-related chest pains that put you in A&E that as a chronic worrier you end up second-guessing every bodily ache or pain. I cannot begin to tell you how draining that is.

Your life through the eyes of other people

In the process of a clear-out of things, I stumbled across a host of photos from my first couple of years at university – mainly of other people long gone from my life who I never knew for long anyway, and a handful of me. All I see of myself in those photos is just how ill and gaunt I looked – something that obviously reflects badly on myself but also of the institutions that should have intervened but never did. Photos of me in pre-social media age are actually quite rare – from my early teens I made it my business to stay out of photographs because of incredibly low self-esteem combined with being horrified at the results of photographs that were actually taken of me.

The really sad thing in all of the sets of photos – most of which will be binned because most were from visits to other places with people who I was only with for a few weeks at most, is that none of the groups of people from one set to another knew each other, and never stayed in touch. The people from the visit to Athens in 2000 were not the same group in Istanbul in 2001, for example. The same is true for everything after I graduated. The people I got to know through one activity or place of employment never crossed paths with another – despite my various efforts at the time. It was like oil and water – you can bring them together but they shall not mix.

Five years ago I made the observation that no one had been through the series of life experiences good and bad from the point of view of being by my side. (See the subtitle A life story through one pair of eyes only). When you’re at school and college, you have dozens of people sharing the same experiences as you in the same classrooms – even though your individual reactions to said experiences are inevitably different.

“I can’t go back – only forward”

One of the responses to my previous blogpost included the above. The nature of Cambridge (the town) today is one that has a destabilisingly high transient population. Thirty years ago this part of South Cambridge had such a lack of movement that it sort of became stale. From one extreme to another.

The response was in the context of being an integral part of a community group but for various reasons moving onto new projects and feeling that trying to go back for that same experience as several years ago wouldn’t be right – and wouldn’t feel right. This is my experience with dance lessons in central Cambridge, where at the invitation of a couple of acquaintances I’ve started once-per week just to get some exercise in. But I’m under no illusions – this is not the same set up of 2002-04 that I’m going back to, despite a handful of vaguely familiar faces. It’s a much smaller operation now – about half the size it was at its 2005 peak.

“You’ve not danced the Viennese Waltz for over seven years? That means you’re really good at it”

…when someone in far better shape than me grabbed me to dance the above on Friday night.

There’s a bit of me that really wants ‘to feel what being physically fit feels like again’ yet at the same time given age and health I don’t know if I could hack such an exercise regime that -given my poor mental health would leave little left for any other activity. But one thing that will always stay with me from the decade that I loathe to call the Noughties, is the sensation of dancing with someone who instantly connects with you on the dance floor. By that I mean you have this unexplained telepathic understanding of being able to lead/follow your fellow dance partner. This side of leaving the civil service I can’t recall ever experiencing that sensation dancing with anyone where you can almost close your eyes and have everything blurring into the background as the two of you move effortlessly around the floor, zero collisions.

When being permanently exhausted seems like a new found shyness

One or two people mentioned this over the years as well as recently. It’s all mental health-related, and in particular the sensation of no longer having the internal strength to fight the incessant worry chatter of what one friend calls her ‘mind weasels’. Or for those of you familiar with Spoon Theory, it’s a bit like knowing you could energetically participate in something knowing it’ll eat into your allowance of spoons for the next day/week and thus you’ll have to pay for it at some point in the future by lying in bed recharging your internal batteries. Back in the day when I did basic social media and public policy consulting, for every day at work I’d need to spend a day crashed out recharging. Two days in a row full on would be three days recharging. Hence I have no idea how people working in schools and hospitals manage on such full-on timetables. So if it looks like I’m taking a bit of a back seat at something, know that this is me pacing myself rather than being an unwilling/disinterested participant.










One thought on “When nothing edible can fill the emptiness inside me

  1. Dear Puffles

    Addressing you like this as another persona- as this is not always ‘you’ but its you in the dark place of depression.

    I’m so sorry to read this. Its horribly illuminating and sad making.

    Do haul yourself out as soon as you can.

    Your honesty and self knowing makes it double hard for you.

    I really hope perception of life does not have to be like this.

    You are closely involved in many groups and are well known and well loved.

    Its lonely at the top for talented interesting people like yourself. I come across ‘ the outsider’ in many creatives.

    Go dancing.. get better soon.

    All very best & love


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