…Ben Goldacre doesn’t even know you exist…
Ok, so things went a bit weird there for a while. I don’t really want to write about it because…well…because it’s excruciatingly embarrassing to talk about it in the cold light of day, but I’m still going to. (Not that this really is the cold light of day, exactly, given that I’m still fairly…bothered…about it all, but it is at least the colder light of day. And I can probably write a whole post about it without gibbering hysterically and running off to hide under the duvet. Well, pretty much.)
Before we get going on all that, though, an apology for my abrupt and total disappearance, and for the worry and alarm I seem to have caused. I was off-line for a lot of the time, so didn’t realise for a week or more that anyone was worried. Then, when I was briefly dropping online, I needed to work out why people were worried, or if they were just pretending to be worried, in order to entice me to break cover, which all sounds very odd, but might make sense when you’ve read the rest of this post.
Also, to those of you who emailed, I’m sorry for not replying to you. I’m still very wary of email, though, and am finding it easier to post this. Which is in itself a bit odd – this is a way more public forum, after all – but I think has to do with the fact that once an email is sent it’s gone outside my control, but I can pull this blog down at a second’s notice if I feel I have to. (…sshhh…nobody mention web archives…)
Anyway, what happened? Well, in the real world, nothing, but inside my skull quite a lot, actually…
I had been feeling increasingly uneasy for quite a long time. Some of the feeling of unease is grounded in the real world – there are things (really, crucially important things) that I absolutely, positively had to do two months ago, and I still haven’t done them, and it’s all just horrible. So, I think it grew from that. I also think the ongoing panic about Coughing Pig Disease featured fairly heavily in the run up – it was (and is) taking a lot of my mental energy to keep a lid on that, which means it’s harder to keep a lid on other stuff.
At some point (and this is where things start to get hazy), the feeling of unease started to turn into a feeling of being under threat, as in actually being threatened by someone. I had a devil of a time keeping my temper, in all sorts of situations, both real world, and online, because I felt like I was being constantly got at. I was beginning to see patterns of behaviour and activity where there were probably just coincidences. When I knocked my aerial off the windowsill and it smashed, and that meant I had to go a night without TV before I could buy another one, the most likely explanation was that something significant was due to be shown on the TV that night, which if I saw it would help me put everything together and work out what was going on, and I was being prevented from watching it. So by this point I was fairly primed for going temporarily batshit, as I believe the DSM describes it.
Anyway, a lot of this feeling of being threatened decided to focus itself (and this is where it starts to get excruciatingly embarrassing) on Ben Goldacre. I’m not really sure why it should have been him, although I had recently bought his Bad Science book, and I had watched him not winning the Samuel Johnson prize on TV, and I was continuing to check out his blog, so it was perhaps just a reflection of the fact that his name was cropping up fairly often. I think the fact he’s a GP may also have been significant, given the Scary Pig Plague background, and the fact that I was at least vaguely aware that I was getting rather odd, and probably ought to see someone about it, but at the same time was terrified by the idea of doing so.
Although I describe myself as being threatened by him, to begin with I wasn’t exactly threatened, I was just convinced that we were connected in some way. I started to feel that if I sat and read his book, then this meant that there was a channel of communication between us. I spent a few days relatively convinced that, if he chose to, he could see out of my eyes. This wasn’t a question of me being singled out – it was something that he could do with anyone who read his book.
At this point I still knew enough to at least half understand that this was rather unlikely, but that started to change when I began to feel like there was a particular focus on me, and I started to get angry, and then scared. I rush-read the rest of the book, thinking that if I read it properly through to the end then that would break the connection, but it didn’t seem to work like that. I buried the book itself under old clothes at the bottom of my wardrobe, and that helped, but didn’t completely break the connection. I started to change the routes I walked to places so as to avoid going past GP surgeries, because they were doctors and he was a doctor and…well, that seemed to be a good enough reason.
I started to get very focussed on trying to decode what he was trying to communicate to me, because then I could reply, or do whatever it was, because maybe that would mean that he would just leave me alone. (I had started to feel rather like I was being persecuted, not just by him, but by everything.) The miniblog on his website was particularly important – these short, cryptic messages that were obviously significant, but I couldn’t work out what they meant. I started to feel he was taunting me, particularly when a link on the blog was to a toaster that burned a picture of Darth Vader’s head onto the bread. It was a message that he was watching me, but also laughing at me because of the state I was getting into, and because he could get me into this state.
By this point I was also sure that all the scorn for humanities graduates in Bad Science was aimed at me, personally. The bits about these people writing about things that they didn’t understand was proof that he had read my blog, and taken offence that I had written about subject areas that were his. A short paragraph in the book happened to relate to something I had blogged about last year, and he took a different view to me. The point at which I got realised things were really serious was when I was watching That Mitchell & Webb Look, and they had a sketch about the same thing, and taking Ben Goldacre’s side. I realised that this was why he was pursuing me, but also that he wasn’t going to stop, and that I was going to have to fight him, but that there were dozens of ways that he could get to me, and none where I could get to him.
I’ve laid that all out as though it was very smooth, and logical, and as though I understood what was going on, but actually I didn’t. The experience itself was pretty scary, of course, but what has been (and is) freaking me out much more is that at the time I was going through it I had no sense (as in no sense at all) that there was anything odd or unusual about my thinking.
Eventually it did strike me that my ‘logic’ for explaining the connection between Ben Goldacre and Mitchell & Webb (BG looks quite like Steve Punt, who was in a comedy duo, and Mitchell & Webb are a comedy duo, so obviously they know each other and are collaborating against me) wasn’t all that logical. When I realised that, I also started to realise that a lot of other stuff seemed a bit iffy, and was gradually able to work on bringing myself round. But for a while there I was properly lost in the middle of it, and that’s really quite scary. I have got quite used, over the years, to existing in this kind of hybrid state where I absolutely know something odd like this is absolutely real but at the same time know it’s very unlikely, but I don’t have any experience (as far as I know) of losing that awareness altogether, and I am really quite scared that for a while I did, and alos worried about what it might mean.
Anyway, it was at some point in the middle of all that that I took the blog private. Given what was going on in my head at the time, it seemed fairly logical – a way of hiding, in the hope that he’d get bored and move on to hassling someone else. But it was also just what I do – retreating from the world and going into hibernation. It’s my main coping strategy, and it’s probably not a very good one, but it’s the only one I have.
Given that I tend to blog fairly regularly, and hardly ever write about how difficult I find some things, I don’t know if you’ll be inclined to believe me – but, even though I love it, blogging is also something that I hate. I hate the fact that there is a part of me draped out of the window and open to examination. I mean, I really hate it, the idea that people’s minds are crawling all over what I write, looking for the gaps, and the things I have tried not to say, and the way in, the way to get to me and at me.
This is itself a fairly odd feeling, I think, but I have it all the time, although how much I feel it fluctuates. But when it’s at its worst I find it almost intolerable to leave the thing up, and for people to look at. I’m always having to fight this feeling to some extent, and when other things are going badly, there’s always a fair-to-middling chance I’ll pull the blog down, either because it has started to bother me so much, or just because I can’t spare the energy to worry about it. I’ve blogged before about the way that everything takes effort for me, and this is a part of that – doing apparently nothing, just leaving a couple of hundred posts out in the open for people to read, takes effort. I have to constantly squash the feelings that come from it: who’s reading it, why are they reading it, what are they looking for, what are they finding etc etc.
Which begs the question: why do I blog in the first place? Well, because I also enjoy it. I’ve made some good friends through it. I’m vain enough to be flattered when people sometimes say nice things about something I’ve written. Plus it’s a good idea for me to be forced out of my comfort zone. Writing the blog helps me to create a routine, a structure. Sometimes it helps me to think about myself in a more analytical way; more often it helps me to think about something beyond myself. But there is no doubt, it’s a question of constantly balancing the plusses and the minuses, and sometimes I’m really not sure which one wins out.
Anyway, one thing I can say for definite (unless, of course, I change my mind…) is that I’m not going to be updating the blog as regularly, at least for a little while. I’m still feeling fairly jumpy, and tired, and out of sorts. But, given that some of you, at least, have been worried, I felt I owed you an explanation, as well as an apology.