When I was three years old my hair started falling out. Perhaps a humorous foreshadowmnet of the events that would entangle my family in several years time – but more medically correct, it was due to stress. If that wasn’t a warning flag to my mental instability, then who knows what was. I mean three years old? Even for me, that’s pretty intense. I know I’m approaching this with a more lighthearted perspective, but the story behind the stress is actually something that has deeply rooted its way into my mind, even if I didn’t realise it. It was a colossal of events, and these were magnified from the point of view from the perspective of an infant – my sisters were born, who I love and cherish with all my heart, but for two randoms to suddenly appear in your house must be strange for anybody – but we live far away from our family so, as would be rightly expected, the twins were the main focus of everyday life. At first glance, I seemed to love the big sister role, taking it in my stride – but I guess I wasn’t the best at vocalising my thoughts all those years ago either, because my health deteriorated and my hair started shedding. I can’t really remember it because I was three years old when my sisters were born, but it’s something that scares me slightly, knowing I was struggling even then. And I was struggling with something that so many people go through – can you imagine the stress for my Mum? But, somehow, I wasn’t able to deal with it, when so may people can, and do, deal with it.
When I was five I started school and cried and cried when I realised that the parents weren’t allowed to stay all day. This is strange to say, but looking back, the familiar anxiety symptoms were there, even then. The sick feeling that clawed at my throat and the ache in my stomach, that was mistaken by everybody for childhood worry.
When I was seven, I hated my legs. Hated isn’t enough, I despised them. It breaks my heart to remember how I would pinch the skin, watching them shake like jelly. They were pale and had blue and purple veins running all across them, to the point where they were practically transparent. I dreaded PE, and the shorts that it required. I remember starting in the mirror and using my hands as scissors and imagining how amazing my legs would look, if I could just get rid of that skin. You know the skin that protects your muscles and insulates your body (that, may I remind you, already struggles to maintain a good body temperature) – yeah who needs that?
When I was ten, I cried a lot. I hated school, and would wake up with bile clogging my throat, because of the fear that would shoot through my body the minute I heard the alarm. I remember lots of talks with Mum and Dad, desperate to work out what was happening. I remember being just as perplexed by my own behaviour – I thought I was just being childish and I’d grow out of it – but the terror that gripped me was much more than a childhood phase.
When I was twelve, I started skipping lunch, because I needed more time to study. There was no stereotypical pretty-girl-looks-in-the-mirror-and-decides-she-wants-to-look-like-the-models-she-sees-in-Vogue. There was just my schoolwork and I, and a need to keep everything in check. A need to maintain authority over any aspect of my life, and with everything else being a total mess, I somehow ended up scribbling numbers in notebooks and counting how many pieces I cut a carrot into.
When I was thirteen, I was unhealthy, both mentally and physically, and was slowly starting to fade out, but I never realised. I was trapped by that fear that I wasn’t perfect, that my work wasn’t perfect, and I was a failure – OCD arrived. Essays printed out fifteen times, homework written out again and again. I could never shake the feeling that I was doing something badly, and messing up. I wasn’t me, not anymore. I was a shell of the girl I used to be, screaming in the mornings and having to be physically forced out the door. Brittle nails and grey skin were never clear at the time, but are far too prominent in photo albums.
When I was fourteen, I left school, and went to hospital, where I lay, with a body which was slowly giving up, and a mind that followed. I was pricked with pins and had tubes stuck in my veins – a canvas of wires and machines. I didn’t have enough energy to walk to the toilet. I didn’t have enough energy to string together sentences and thoughts. I was a hollow shell.
And now I’m sixteen, and my body is still sick, my mind still bruised and battered – but, I’m healing. Who knows if I’ll ever be fully recovered, a life free of the thoughts that crowd my mind every day. Who knows if it was preventable, if there were warning signs that were ignored, by me, my family, my friends. All I know is it’s been really, really difficult – and really, really shit. But I’m still here, and despite a lot of crap, I’m blossoming.
To the girl I was then – we survive.