Memoir of a Hunger Strike

A Great Scene


“I think it was the bear’s voice deep inside, growling low in dark secret places…”
– One Stab, Legends of the Fall.

Legends of the Fall – 1994 Tristan – The Bear’s Voice


Initial Thoughts

I think Brad Pitt has been in the news recently for some wrong reasons, but I don’t care. I’ll always be an admirer of this guy’s acting ability. I think my mum said it best when we watching Legends of the Fall, “Brad Pitt is amazing, this is him at his best”. Perhaps he has done much better films recently and in the past, but once again, I think this one defined him because it’s over three hours long and mostly about him.

I don’t think it’s the best film ever but certainly the type of film we won’t see again, which can be said of a lot of movies made back then and also, quite a few Brad Pitt films. But hey, what about this blog post? Well, this is mainly along with the line of hallucinations again, and it’s in the spirit of Fight Club.

A long time ago, talking about hallucinations and similar things seemed like pure horror to me. The way I tackled this was to begin writing about it and show it to my carer to see what he would make of it. My writing began to get better.

Then I wrote a novel. The novel has a working title but has even more work to get through. The honesty in the memoir made it a lot better project. So I often do; because I have written about aspects like hallucinations and such so many times before, I’ll go back and take something from my mental health memoir and go over it with a fine edge.

There is always good substance; it just needs a little sprucing up here and there. So today, I want to give you the hunger strike monologue, which preludes into a recollection of when my dad and I briefly met a Brad Pitt lookalike.

Fuzzy World

When you don’t eat for a while, it hurts. I learnt this from my childhood after a few attempts to starve myself to death. Try getting punched in the face on a four-week empty stomach. You find out you can’t take a punch after all, and you cant defend yourself.  You haven’t eaten even a grub; you can’t think straight, and your world begins to get a bit fuzzy.

During the height of one of my starvation periods, I saw something strange and obscure to my brain. I thought I saw Brad Pitt twice in a row, once working at a McDonalds on the motorway and then at a small, low-key B&B in Bath near the Cathedral.

I was a lot young then, and I don’t think I even knew who the name Brad Pitt was, except the name was floated there, here and about, in a Shania Twain song, or whoever your sister fancied at that time. Even at this age, I had seen Fight Club briefly come onto TV, which sounded like an excellent movie. Still, when I saw Brad Pitt in the basement as I switched Channel Four, I thought he looked metrosexual and, possibly Fight Club, might have been a euphemism for some gay underground. Strangely from a merely humouristic point of view, this reasoning isn’t too far from the truth.

I got the film Legends of the Fall mixed up with a British film called the Secret Garden. I thought Tristan came back at the end of that film, with all the horses, you know, the scene where he is riding a horse and directing all those other wild horses to come back onto the ranch.

Well, I’m not sure, my unconscious mind, as it brings hallucinations into my perception -obviously thinks it can make far better storylines and alternative scenes than what is happening. Hmmm, I guess.

Yes, sometimes it is hard to put what you are thinking down on paper into practice. Remember the scene in the film, The Little Princess, where she is telling stories? Well, she always tells stories. When they read in the library at the boarding school, she goes off on an imaginative tangent to make the story far more exciting and capture her friend’s imagination. Yes, that is what my mind has done; it has fooled me into believing that these imaginations are real or at least a form of fuzzy reality.

In Search of a Miracles

Although I never suffered from multiple personalities, I was top of the list for numerous hallucinations.

I wanted to get more in touch with my spirituality and considered that the best way to do this was to go to Church.  Perhaps I’d be more comfortable if spirituality could be more rational and logical.

Then again, everything extraordinary or even what seems unbelievable can sometimes have a sensible explanation.  The words that follow are quote from words from Marianne Williamson book, Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles,” have truly inspired me and given me hope for the future:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,” Williamson writes in A Return to Love. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

There is something so profound in these words; it explains why young honestly believe they will be brilliant in all they choose to do – great celebrities or soccer players, religious leaders or politicians, or maybe even Jesus or God or the Antichrist.

The Diet and Pain

I couldn’t starve myself at first; I kept on failing on the first day or the second day. It felt hopeless, even pointless. I had it in my head to go forty days without eating.  I had a small red book, the new testament, which our junior school had handed out to each student. It was gold-leafed, so when you closed the book, the side of it looked solid gold. I prayed for guidance.

The Diet

Let us consider the starvation period for a second. Moses allegedly went months without food and water. No big deal, folks, though; you die without water after three days or so. It’s not necessarily true, though. Buddha claims to last for very long periods, and it does depend on the circumstances; for example, are you in the cool shade or the burning heat of the desert? Have you got food? Because it contains water.

Didn’t the illusionist David Blaine survive for forty days without food, losing one-quarter of his body weight, but kept a healthy body mass index? No mention of water, my friend.  Although most physicians will tell you, anyone without water will run into problems pretty quickly. Their blood volume will shrink, and their water and electrolyte balance will be upset. Eventually, the body will go into shock.

There was no cheating that, no way of bending The Calvin Klein Conspiracy around these issues.
The fact of the matter is, it never occurred to me to go without water. I had to have something, and when you are deliberately starving yourself, the water tasted magnificent. I became more and more manic about fasting and fighting the urge to sleep.

I had little idea I was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. I had an inkling that I was because I had heard of it on the web. Kids always think a person with schizophrenia is a split personality; it’s not true, though, that would be multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder.

Images of maniacs conjured in films like the Boston Strangler and Sybil reinforced these beliefs. In some places in Scotland, they’re not even calling it schizophrenia anymore. Perhaps due to the stigma and false connotations linked with the word? They’re calling it something else, ‘psychosis disorder,’ I believe. Although they still lobotomise people in Scotland, don’t they? So maybe we shouldn’t call it ‘psychosis disorder’ after all.

I was twelve, and I wasn’t eating. I haven’t got a clue how long I stopped eating for this time, close to forty days, I think. It is incredible what you can do when you are just a kid. To clarify, I don’t have an eating disorder, and this is something I would be able to put myself through now or even a couple of years later after this starvation occurred.

The only trouble was that I started drinking lots and lots of fluid. Madness, I know now,  but very accurate. I would take a two-litre bottle of water and chug it down instead of eating breakfast. Eventually, I replaced all of my daily meals in this way, the perfect diet, or so I thought. Sometimes I felt thirsty outside of regular meal times, so I started guzzling down even more water between meals. It felt strangely unique not eating for so long and then drinking lots of water. It was like it kicked a few brain cells around, and I got a buzz out of it.

When I stood on the old fashioned mechanical scales in our bathroom, I expected to see a massive drop in my weight; after all, water contains zero calories.  To my horror, the scale just went all the way to the right, the fat mark. Impossible eh? I’d given up food and got even heavier. There was no way I could have drunk that much water. I felt full and tight. Maybe the belly was bloated with excess water.

I learned many years later that a faulty spring had caused the scales to indicate the excessive weight on the scales when indeed I had lost several stones. This simply reinforced the fuzzy nature of my hallucinations because surely I only needed to look in the mirror.

Pretty soon, I started heaving uncontrollable gushes of water down the toilet. It surprised me that the human body could hold so much water and that I didn’t die. Then, a splitting headache hit me like an anvil on the frontal lobe; this was self-inflicted agony.

After throwing up so much water, the problem was that it was necessary to drink more to replace the lost fluid, but this, in turn, would cause me to hurl more. After a while, I retreated to my bedroom and tried to hide underneath the covers. The pain inside my head was unbearable. It felt like an eagle had its claws inside my brain and was digging it out through my ears. Every time I thought that I had got the pain under control, it returned with a vengeance. I will never be able to describe how bad this pain got; it was beyond words.

The only worse pain I can think of is when I had my fractured arm in a cast, and my best friend convinced me to use it as a blunt object to hit him over the head. I fractured it again, and it bloody well hurt. I was trying to talk to the teacher to explain what had happened, but all she could say was that she already knew that I had broken my arm. I ended up screaming until my lungs were raw. The headteacher arrived and got me to the hospital so that the doctor could recast the broken arm. Goddamnit, that hurt.

What I learned was that this was the worst pain I had ever conceived, worse than the heavy water bloating in my stomach, ready to explode; I thought I was going to die. I groaned and writhed in pain for hours. It was agony. Later, I lay numb in bed, quiet for a moment, the pain had eased, and I thought to myself quite clearly, ‘I’m still here.’…as in, ‘I’m still here. I’m Calvin Klein, and I’m still here,’ but I mean I’m not really, but that was my thoughts at the time, and those thoughts during the crisis were loud and concise.

After arriving at the adolescent unit, they took me to the treatment room and gave me an injection to ease the pain. They didn’t keep me in for long, though. This trip to Marlborough isn’t even in my notes.

The Need to Know

Dad arranges for a friend called Alex to come round. I noticed that Alex was slightly wary of me. Sometimes, the lasting effect of not eating or sleeping for long periods can massively affect how I behave and how my brain works. It was clear to all that I was losing control of my senses. No wonder Alex looked weary. My right hand and arm began to shake uncontrollably, and I pressed my arms firmly against my sides in the hope that Alex wouldn’t notice. Neither Alex nor I spoke to each other that day. He was silent, surprised at how much weight I had lost.

Without warning, I lost control and swung a punch that hits this Alex kid in the face. That was the end of that, and Alex went home with a swollen cheek. I didn’t mean to hit him. It was just the starvation and lack of sleep. I can barely explain this, but I had no control over my arms and fist. It just happened as if someone had momentarily taken over my body. Damn it.

My father and I headed off to Bath. It wasn’t a case of starvation anymore. I was in a lot of pain, so it was likely I would eat at some point. First, he let me go to a corner shop to buy one of those cheap drinks. Pretty soon, we were heading to Bath. We stopped at a motorway service station near Chippenham and ate a McDonald’s pound saver burger. I think dad was worried about all the meals I’d missed and was always trying to feed me. He didn’t have to try hard because I didn’t want to go through those agonising hunger pangs again, at least not for a while.  Behind the counter, I saw Brad Pitt smiling at me; then, he went back to tossing burgers in the kitchen. I could still see him in a gap with his good looks and blond hair.

In terms of the mental health side, I genuinely thought that my dad and I had met Brad Pitt working in McDonald’s on the way to Bath for a long time. I was still standing in a half-empty McDonald’s when I noticed a guy behind the counter grinning from ear to ear. He was wearing a McDonald’s uniform. I know this sounds weird, but it looked just like him. ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘Look who it is,’ my dad was equally amazed. This Brad Pitt lookalike was even wearing a McDonald’s hat. But this was no ordinary lookalike. I’m not talking about those lookalikes you see online that look nothing like the celebrity at all. Nah, this looked more like a clone of Pitt. Or it was Pitt. Or his double. A doppelganger.

So once again, my dad, a sane man, could also see this Brad Pitt feller behind the counter, with tan and dimples and that classic all-American smile.
We thought he was the manager. Besides, what the hell would Pitt being doing in a McDonalds near Bath on the M4? If this was hallucinatory, then how come I made my dad hallucinate as well and seemingly dragged him into this bizarre world of mine?

We sat down to eat a burger, and the music in the restaurant was playing: James Blunt – You’re beautiful. I was still in quite a stressed mood, and the headaches were coming and going, not to mention a twinge of pins and needles.

My mood began to change, and Blunt’s song began to drive me up the wall. It was irritating, mainly when he said, ‘But I will lose no sleep on that…’ Indeed this guy was taking the piss. When the song finished, I shouted an obscenity about the singer that rhymed with his last name.

The manager came out. He was a skinny, pale guy with a black French quiff and rectangular glasses. He said bluntly, ‘Any more vulgar language, and I’m going to have to ask you to leave, so please keep it down.’

It seemed my dad had forgotten about the Brad Pitt guy already. ‘We’d better go, son,’ he said and nudged me toward the exit. I couldn’t believe him, dad or not, how could he do this to me? He had seen Pitt with his own damn eyes only moments ago. Now he denied the whole thing because the manager came out and told us to go. As we left, dad said sarcastically, ‘The guy that just told us to leave wasn’t John Wayne either, mind you, he looked a bit like him.’

Although you can ask my dad about the Brad Pitt lookalike in McDonald’s, he will remember and tell you it was just a convincing lookalike. What happened next, though, when I went to a B&B and met Brad Pitt again was, in hindsight, caused by my mental illness, a freaky hallucination.   These jagged memories seemed so natural at the time, like the FBI or just gun shootouts in general and shit like, but which no one would remember and couldn’t possibly have happened. Still, no matter how much I improve in this life, my brain, mind, or both, I have to accept the stark reality that neither hallucinations nor jagged memories are real.

I’m not going into any more detail about my meeting Brad Pitt at the B&B or any place else he might have popped up. In many ways, I do understand it didn’t happen. Fuck Brad Pitt.  In the past, I asked my dad if he still worked for the intelligence services, and he just frowned at me and said, “It’s on a need to know basis, son.  And you don’t need to know!”  In some ways, I wish my life was on a need to know basis.

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