People seem to be marking the turn of the year from 2019 into 2020 as an opportunity to look back not just at the last year but the last decade. As such there’s a storm of people in social media posting comparisons of how they look now alongside a photo of themselves in 2010.
Nowadays I’m not really all that sensitive about photographs of me – and I tend to let them be taken (or take them myself) regardless of how I may look.
I’m easily found in Google image searches – so why hide any more? I can’t really put the genie back in the bottle…
It’s oddly liberating – and even when I’ve had my identity stolen (which has happened twice now) it still failed to deter me.
In 2010 things were different though and I wasn’t so keen on having pictures taken of me.
Consequently only a few exist in my computer’s photo album. Two of them were taken by other people and one is a selfie. I’m not yet at my heaviest weight of 35st in any of these – and I know this from the shirts I’m wearing in the pictures.
They are 7XL rather than the 8XL ones I finally ended up in.
It’s often the case that when others look at a photo of you they make their own judgements. If they see you smiling and happy – their assumption is that that’s how you felt in that moment. Photos can hide a lot though – and I’m sure we all look back at them and can think very differently about what they represent to us.
In 2002 I watched a film called one hour photo (link) with Robin Williams where a technician becomes obsessed with the pictures he’s developing. Over several years he works on images of what appears to be a perfect family unit which ultimately results in an unhealthy and obsessive need to get closer to them.
In doing so he learns that the idealised family life with them that he dreams he is part of is far from perfect. Their beaming smiles in the photos he processes belie the truth – and when he discovers an extra marital affair his world (and that of the family) begins to unravel in a very unsettling way.
The premise stuck with me after I watched it – and in a pre-social media world, before terms like ‘fakebook’ existed to describe our carefully crafted online profiles of perfect lives it left me thinking a lot about what really sat behind all of the photos that I had in albums.
I’m around 32-33st in the photo above.
Depressingly it was taken after I managed to lose 10st on the Cambridge diet, but not before I packed it all straight back on again (at the rate of 1st per month!) as well as a little bit more on top for good measure.
I chose the seat I was sitting on because it was the only place in the bar my friend and I had met in that didn’t have arms on the seats. It was a large padded fabric cube in front of a huge wooden table and it meant I didn’t struggle to get in or out of where I chose to have a drink.
In this second one from 2010 I’m proudly holding my friends new born daughter – who has turned into a lovely young girl as the years have passed.
This photo is happy because of this being the first baby I’d ever held – and I was amazed at how tiny all of her little features were. She was absolutely perfect and slept quietly as I held her.
I also remember though that (like the pub) there was only one place that I could comfortably sit in my friend’s house, and shortly after this I managed to break it – which meant he needed to repair the whole sofa.
I can’t look at this happy picture without the taint of that memory.
There were also more bizzare things to remember in 2010 – and for whatever reason around this time (her motivations were always opaque to me) my mother had begun to send me increasingly weird gifts in the post.
Periodically her texts and letters (all of which were corrosive and detrimental to my mental health) had caused me to withdraw, change my mobile number, not give her my new addresses when I moved – and gradually cut her further and further out of my life.
It didn’t stop her posting parcels to me via my dad however, and in one of these she saw fit to send me a jester’s hat.
I didn’t like it very much.
In another were some rings that she thought would appeal to me (modelled here by myself and my brother) but clearly would have looked more at home on the hand of Liberace.
I never understood why she thought I’d appreciate these things back then (her letters suggested that they were genuine presents rather than passive aggressive jabs) and I still haven’t figured it all out to this day – but it’s a reminder (sadly) that not having her in my life since she passed away is something that’s made things better rather than worse.
She passed away in 2016 and gradually at this point my life started to improve.
I don’t hold any ill will though and try to think kindly of her.
I don’t have much evidence of the types of food that I ate in 2010 but one photo reminded me that I used to regularly frequent The Racehorse pub in Warwick – where I ate the same types of meals over and over again.
I dread to think what the calorie content of my cheese topped garlic bread, chips, sausage, pork chop, gammon and lamb cutlet was but it was a staple part of my diet for quite a while.
The point is I guess that things are (in every conceivable respect) are better now than they were 10 years ago.
Admittedly I’m a teeny bit greyer now than I was 10 years ago – and I’m still an unapologetic geek (if anyone hasn’t seen The Mandalorian yet (link) I highly recommend it because it will help explain the beanie) but in almost every other respect my life is AMAZINGLY different.
For the first six months of 2019 I was still the Slimming World MOTY, and my photo is still plastered all over the wall at SWHQ – something that I still can’t quite get my head around.
It’s true to say though that although this was a major high point of my time so far on earth over half of the last decade is period that I’d prefer to forget.
Many years ago I was a care worker, and as part of the role I volunteered to help put together the life story of a man I looked after.
His early adulthood had been a vital and exciting one where he had been a bomb disposal expert in the RAF. He was stationed in Germany after the war and played a part in removing much ordnance from cities that the Allies has bombed.
He was also engaged to be marry to a lovely German girl with blonde hair and a pretty smile.
This was until he was involved in a horrific car accident. When this happened not only was he badly burned and physically broken but he also lost the capability to retain any long term memories from that point on.
After years of waiting for him to recover his fiancé moved on – but her Black and white oval photo remained by his bedside.
She sent him a letter folded up inside a Christmas card telling him about her family and grandchildren. He cried each time he saw it and then stopped when he forgot what it was that he held in his hand.
He remembered his childhood and things that he’d experienced until the day of the accident – but from that point onwards everything was lost. Burning bread was forgotten as soon as it went into the toaster and cup of tea after cup of tea went cold as it passed from conscious memory to oblivion whilst sitting just outside his direct line of sight.
His surviving relative (a very kindly uncle) was the only man that knew him and who had remained in his life from the day that he was born until the day I’d met him, and he was getting old.
I sat with him for a long time looking through yellowed photos until everything just stopped in the mid sixties at the time of the crash. From that point onwards he had moved from medical facility to medical facility and care home to care home where nothing had happened to him.
Not one solitary piece of information existed from the early sixties to the late 90’s to describe what he’d said, done, written, thought or enjoyed.
For over thirty years he became a gap in history, and in 2016 I realised that I too was becoming something similar. I created nothing – instead consuming everything from food and alcohol to media and video games.
My life was an empty vessel.
So – even if I wanted to remember it, a good chunk of the last decade is only explained my my rather epic xbox live achievement history – which details the myriad of digital distractions that I buried myself in whilst I drank or ate away my life.
I don’t think that the next ten years will be like this though.
I might have made mistakes in the past – but I feel like things are finally different.
Sure I still struggle – but I’m more in control than ever before and that’s a good feeling. The road to 2020 may have been rocky but I have love, good health and a future.
Isn’t that all anyone can ask for?
Hell – at least I won’t regret the last four years – even if I still excel at screwing up occasionally!