I have been a girl in the shape of a body. A smileless notion of what it means to exist outside yourself but in your symptoms, with an NHS page my go-to resource, Whitechapel my broken home. I grew up on the District line, Mile End, Stepney Green, come out the station, cross the road and there you can breathe. Wear all cotton, long sleeves, keep your hair out of your face, live in the dark, socks on your hands, scabs on your face, disintegrate in your bed.
I had three mothers. Say hello to Jean, crane your neck as far as it can go but your skin will split is anything new? Your only kind face is in scrubs but you don’t feel sorry for yourself until much later. Mile End, Stepney Green, waste your time again and again, tears in your throat but someone else’s face. My mum is a woman in the shape of a mother, her anger not her own but of some caretaking machine. Children and their guardians exist on the fringes. It is the two of you in your bubble but you are alone in never having known anything else. You, and a girl from the village navigating great Britain for her blood.
When I was 9 we went to McDonalds and I got a toy in my Happy Meal. Drooled on my mum’s shoulder back to the tube and stepped dozily out of the pill, cursory glance back as is custom and there he is on the seat, abandoned. I cried all the way home.
My dear, you were deprived of something you never had the time to know.
I dream nearly every night of losing control. One night I am unable to get off the bus in time, weighed down by a school bag. Maybe I should do my homework. Freud says that the most obvious things in your dreams are usually the least important things in real life, but he is full of wank. When I go to school, I study King Lear in the library and I am safe in bed before my lesson starts. Madness and blindness made everything clear. I’m your gifted and talented kid, the pride of primary, until burnout left me bedridden and empty. A smileless body, a girl in the shape of a vessel, illness scratching at my bones until I am on the pavement, crying, ash scattered all over my jeans. I opened my eyes and saw the baby fox in the yellow light. Can you share my grief?
Denial. I was born on the second of March two thousand and two and did not feel small until I was big. I grew normally, one hundred and ten centimetres at age six, number one in my class, fifty per cent scholarships and my next appointment scheduled every six weeks. Two arms, two legs, one tub of cream a week, Cetraben, steroids twice a day, five diaries, four best friends, zero fights, two parents. One child, mind happy, mind healthy.
Anger. I am not in my body, so how has it hurt me? I cannot care the way I have learnt to; Neptune rules me but on holiday I feel godless, shielded from sea and sun, my swimming costume a just-in-case, a maybe-if-you’re-well-enough. The same summer he is soft, drunk, swimming, and how can I explain that I can’t get in without marking myself as other? Even then I was too blind to see that he had already pieced me together. I read old diaries, from 10, 11, 12, the beginnings of realising I did not fit. Rage scrawled in every shape that I forgot I had found. I couldn’t see myself so I escaped, pushed myself into some inaccessible corner. Most days it is God himself who has pushed me aside. Why do you hate me? How can I not hate you?
Bargaining. I see you but I still don’t see what it is to be myself. To be able to move through purples and reds, haze, smoke, bass in ya chest. Rhythm, stability, Please mind the gap, another life outside my own but one that I chose. Rave for the raving mad. Funerals are a celebration of life. You can undo my death if you eat mung beans and papaya and find the strength to survive.
Depression. Two years before adulthood, I found my voice on a phone line and cried, yellow light moving into black, into grey, streaks of red and white on the side of the motorway I don’t want to be me there is too much to it there is no easy way around it I lost my voice it isn’t pretty anymore I’m not a kid anymore I don’t want to be me I can’t. My chest found itself empty. You ran out of tears. I ran out of reach.
Acceptance. My third mother came in parts and made me whole. I exist I exist I exist but more than that, I am seen, along with you. We meld together because my memory, I realise, is your trauma. We do the work together, so it is you that wakes up but it is me that convinces you to get out of bed, that it can’t hurt, that your safety lies with me. We learn because it is you that takes your meds but me who is mindful, returns you to the weight of water on your tongue, the ache in your back. We perform together; my breathing and your palms planted in the mat, push through your fingers, move into downwards dog. My open mind and your open hips. Healing felt like a deluge but recently I have been crawling on my hands and knees towards an oasis, the touch of god always a glimpse out of reach. We are inching forwards.
What do we look like to you? Which parts do you see us in? I am your body and I have shaped you into a woman. In 2018, we ate at Ceviche on Old Street, yellow dye from Moorfields tinting salmon orange. Weeks later, a one-off manic episode left me awake for three days, and God took me out of myself. I played Howard Beale in a diary entry. I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. I escaped school with all A*s and large-text exams, A3 pages that fell apart on my desk, and fell apart shortly after. We can regain Paradise every night in our dreams, says Freud. Madness and blindness made everything clear. I will not fight you anymore.
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