Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Going to extremes

After writing about overworked women, I realised how easy it is to overdo things, for quite natural desires to turn into unhealthy obsessions. Like dieting that slides into anorexia and bulimia.

We've all been there, I'm sure. I guess most people see me as a fairly level-headed person who doesn't do extremes, but there are one or two skeletons in the closet.

When I was in my twenties, influenced by stories of Buddhist monks in mountain caves, I decided minimalism was the way to go and tried to simplify my life to the bare essentials. I rented a tiny bedsit, gave away my car, eschewed all luxuries and never took a holiday.

Outside of work, I lived like a hermit, talking to no one, ignoring the rest of the world, contemplating the meaning of the universe. This went on for some months until I fell for a stunningly beautiful woman who visited my spartan lair and threw up her hands in horror at my hairshirt lifestyle.

She took me back to her plushy, sumptuous flat and all my minimalist principles bit the dust. I realised a fanatical puritanism had taken over from pleasure and common sense.

It's easily done. And it's not just the headline addictions like eating disorders you have to guard against. There are plenty of damaging routines you can slip into without realising.

Things like excessive house-cleaning regimes, extreme dedication to work, a weakness for destructive relationships or a self-effacing devotion to an impossible parent.

I've known women who couldn't rest until dust was wiped off a table or a stain removed from the carpet, whose houses had to be pristine and spotless at all times. I've known men who would stay in the office till midnight finishing that vital presentation that would impress the boss and win promotion.

We could all name friends who've been in soul-destroying relationships with hopelessly unsuitable people, constantly denigrated and belittled till they're in pieces. And we've all seen tyrannical elderly parents making relentless demands on tearful offspring who can't bear to walk away.

It's easy to drift into unwitting self-sacrifice for the best of motives. Sometimes it's not other people who enslave us. We naively make our own treadmills.

PS: Grandad has nominated me for the colossally prestigious Break Out Blogger Award. What a sweetie!


I'm deeply shocked by the pictures of utter filth and squalor at the Kent hospitals where 90 patients died from the superbug Clostridium Difficile. There was such a shortage of nurses patients were told they couldn't be helped to the toilet, they had to relieve themselves in their beds. The beds were so close together the bug spread like wildfire, and there were body fluids and rubbish everywhere. And this is despite billions of pounds being poured into the NHS. What the hell was done with the money?


  1. Nick:
    Hey, I'm first to congratulate you on the nomination. Well-deserved!
    I think the behaviours you describe are a way of running away from ourselves, some people can't bear to be alone with themselves, always some major "distraction" going on, some excessive behaviour.
    I speak from my own experience in that area. I would have used anything to distance myself from my own emotions, my own truth if you will.
    It took years of undoing.....
    And the behaviours you describe are all fear-based.
    I don't want to be alone, oh if I lose 10 lbs my life can begin, maybe the boss will recognise my good work, if my house is clean maybe he won't leave me, oh screw it, pour me another whiskey.
    Ah me, I'm not perfect by a long shot but working on myself continually :>)

  2. That's very perceptive, www, they are all fear-based aren't they? All based on fear of what might happen if you stop doing them and follow your real desires instead. How difficult it is to just be ourselves without taking fright and leaping into some more (supposedly) acceptable role.

  3. Congrats, you break out blogger!

    I lived like a nun in university city away from Mr. M for 2 years. That was about all I could take. My hovel had a futon, a desk, computer and chair and that was it. Well, books and clothes naturally. I lost so much weight.

    Glad to hear a woman talk sense into you.

  4. Yes indeed, a woman showed me the error of my ways. Not for the first time nor the last!

  5. Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my blog- exactly what I needed on day no.2 of the flu.
    Your description of what your spartan existence was like in your 20s is similar to the first part of Paul Auster's 'Moon Palace' which I'm reading right now. Have you ever read it?
    Well done on the nomination.

  6. Hi Red. No I haven't read that one, though I've read several other Auster titles. I loved the New York Trilogy in particular. Must put Moon Palace on my to-buy list. I just knew when I told Paul that story he was going to pinch it for one of his books, ha ha.