As a child, I used to cut my own hair.
If you look at the photographs taken on my very first flip-phone, amongst the chunks of too-big pixels you’ll see that, together with my too-short fringe, I embraced all the great 00’s beauty trends.
Chalky, sky-blue eyeshadow, concealer-smothered lips, and a thin sprinkling of eyebrows like little bird’s feet hopping above my eyes. I had glittery butterfly clips in my hair; pink, green, and orange; the kind you couldn’t lie down on because their wings would always snap and break. At bedtime, I would take off my makeup with cucumber cleanser pressed onto a wad of cotton-wool. It smelt like a medicine cupboard, but made me feel like I was a real grown-up adult doing real grown-up adult things.
If you look at the photographs, you would think I looked like a normal girl. I did the things all the other girls did. I went to school like them. I took exams like them. I wore the same hideous sky-blue eyeshadow. I was normal for a while, I think.
I don’t know why it changed.
When I was a little girl of 12, with a Polly Pocket tucked neatly beneath my neckline, I started to meet people with jobs I couldn’t spell.
My blue eyeshadow wore off, my pale lips were nibbled pink, and I couldn’t grow out of my old clothes. I bit my fingers until they bled, and stopped wearing light colours so that the stains wouldn’t show through. My eyes stopped wrinkling with laughter and started to fill with warm tears.
I stopped using my cucumber cleanser.
Instead of playing with my friends and making up games; I met with psychiatrists and was told exactly how to think. I didn’t go to birthday parties and blow out candles; I met with dietitians in my bedroom and was told if I didn’t eat I would be admitted to hospital. Instead of sucking sticky lollipops and blowing bubbles in wads of chewed-up gum; I had little pills popped under my tongue and viscous liquids prickled through my veins.
I didn’t play kiss-chase; I swapped saliva with cotton swabs instead.
At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
Over the years, I have tried to blank out my childhood. Instead of memories, I have a pile of doctor’s notes to fill in the empty years. I didn’t scribble them into a top-secret Groovy Chick diary with scented gel pens at 9pm under the covers by the dim glow of a torch. Instead, my childhood is dictated back to me by someone I don’t know. Someone I don’t remember anything about; her face, her hair, her age - I don’t even know her name.
But the notes do. It was Kate.
And Kate knew me, “Her height was 156 cm,” but I don’t remember her ever looking at me “it’s clear that Lucy has not yet started her periods.” I don’t remember her face, “Lucy was unable to describe her difficulties articulately as she was tearful at the beginning of the session, and hid her face throughout,“ so it’s not surprising that I can’t even place the room, the colours, even the town I was in. I remember struggling to swallow, “Lucy denied feeling concerned regarding her weight,“ and I remember the thick milkshakes they sent me home with that felt like sand in my mouth “Lucy was 4st 6lb at the beginning of summer.“
Even though I can see the words on the pages, and my name repeated thirty-four times, it still feels like someone else’s story.
Sometimes I wish it was someone else’s story.
Kate wasn’t a friend; she was a stranger. She was employed to find the holes in my head and fill them up with therapy. She was brought in to mend me, like I was a torn pair of jeans that needed a new patch and some stitching. She was my Clinical Psychologist.
And I don’t remember much, but I know that at the time I absolutely hated her.
I hated her for exposing me. I didn’t want to tell her anything. I thought that by talking about my fears, by her writing them down on her glossy notepad and drawing them into her flamboyant diagrams on A3 paper that every single one would come true. She didn’t understand what was happening inside my mind, she couldn’t. No-one did. It was mine and I wanted to keep it that way, even though I think I knew deep down that each thought was quietly killing me from the inside-out.
I know that the 12-year-old Lucy thought her obsessive thoughts controlled what happened in the world. That if she didn’t check something, something bad would happen. If she didn’t touch something in a particular way, something bad would happen. That she couldn’t let anyone else know what she was thinking, because something bad would happen.
I didn’t realise it at the time. But by doing everything I thought protected me, something bad was already happening. Except it wasn’t to the world. It was to me.
I was literally destroying myself.
A lot has happened between then and now.
I’m no longer the little girl with the blue eyeshadow and the bitten fingers, with fears in my mind that make me sick the moment an idea floods my mind. I have some parts of my life under control, some parts that I’m still working on. I still have panic attacks. They are something I can’t fix, medication can’t fix, and doctors can’t stop. I have accepted them as a part of me. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about them. I’m not embarrassed for myself anymore.
I still cut my hair myself. I still wear blue eyeshadow, but have learnt that concealer doesn’t belong on my lips. I threw away the cucumber cleanser that smelt like medicine. I don’t hide anymore. I let people know how I feel, what’s going on inside, and I’m not afraid to talk about the irrational fears I still get from time to time.
I know that nothing bad will happen if I talk.
I will never be free from fear or worry, but I can stop my thoughts controlling me. I respect Kate for what she did, for what she maybe still does. She broke me, but helped to rebuild me too. I spoke to her about my obsessive thoughts for the first time, and without that, I don’t think I would have made it this far.
We are all still learning, still growing, still adjusting to the world we live in. Our thoughts will ebb and flow, they will panic us and make us scared, but we can talk about them and rationalise every single one. Nothing is worth losing years of your life to. I wish I could tell the 12-year-old me that what I was worrying about was absolutely superfluous. I wish I could tell myself that I wasn’t crazy. I wish I could have told myself that you will get better, you will always get better.
Most of all, I wish I could live those childhood years again without fear.
I know thoughts can seem as real as anything, as natural as a heartbeat. But they aren’t. We can’t let obsessive thoughts win. We can’t let them take months, days, even minutes of our lives away. Time is precious. Too precious to spend it worrying about things that aren’t real.
Talk. Stop being afraid. Nothing bad will happen if you just ask for help. Someone will always be ready to listen as soon as you are ready to speak.
We have nothing to be afraid of.