I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror yesterday: short hair, prominent ribcage, dark shadows beneath my eyes, defeat in the look on my face… And I thought, who are you? How did you end up like this? How did things go so wrong? And the reflection that stared back at me seemed to be asking itself the same questions. I wondered who it belonged to, because I couldn’t believe that it was mine. It was not the reflection of a promising young athlete, it didn’t wear a smile, it wasn’t dressed in a tracksuit and running shoes waiting to go out for a run. And I wondered how long it had been since it had worn those things and looked that way. Because in my mind it was only yesterday. In my mind I’m still the fourteen year old that looked back at me out of the mirror with a smile and a ponytail and just enough muscle to take away the angular shape of my bones. And every time that I look into a mirror I am reminded that I am not that person any more. I’ve grown, and in many more ways, I have diminished.
I stood there, and I looked at the face that I didn’t recognise, and I thought, what is wrong with you? You have everything you dreamed of – you have a shot at normality, you are climbing the first step on the long path to becoming a doctor… Why aren’t you smiling? Why are you falling apart? And again, the reflection seemed to ask itself the same questions, because I could see the thought in its eyes. And still, it didn’t feel like me. My face is not that thin, my cheekbones are not that visible, my collar bones don’t stick out like that… Do they? How could I miss things like that?
I looked her in the eyes, this person in the mirror, and I was startled at the sadness I saw. I wanted to tell her that everything would be alright, but I didn’t know that. I wondered where such sadness came from. I wondered why this person hadn’t let some of it out. And then I realised that she didn’t trust anybody enough to be open like that, not even herself.
I reached a hand up to touch my face, and the reflection did too. It was definitely mine. And I looked at myself then, I mean really looked at myself, and I didn’t need a set of scales to tell me that I’d lost weight. I didn’t need somebody to test my blood to tell me that the results would be way beyond normal. Because I could see it, and that meant that I could no longer ignore it. I looked at myself in the mirror, and finally I made the reflection speak. Together we said one sentence, more to the body that stood before us than to the soul within it, “You’re going again, aren’t you.” Nobody has noticed. In fact, when was the last time any of them spoke to you this weekend? When was the last time you spoke to them?
And then I saw the look that I know only too well – stubbornness. The person looking in that mirror was not going to admit that things were not alright. Not to anyone else, and apparently not even to themselves. She kept quiet because she couldn’t keep the emotion from her voice. She kept quiet because she felt like she had been forgotten. She felt like a burden, and for that reason part of her wished that the people around her would forget her. She could feel her health deteriorating again, and the thought of another hospital visit was so distressing she wouldn’t let her brain process it. Every minute, of every day, she could feel it – feel that she wasn’t well, feel her body calling for help, feel it floundering, running out of steam. And she knew what it meant. But the fact that she was stood in front of that mirror, washed and out of bed, meant one thing – she was still going. She felt defeated, but she wasn’t.
The person in my reflection starts university in less than a week now. It is a huge step in her life, and as a result it seems to invade almost every thought (and hence pretty much every blog post). I guess most big changes do that to people.
My family are so excited about me going to university. Neither of my parents, nor my grandparents went to university straight from school (my mum got a degree as a mature student a few years ago), so I seem to be living the life they wish they had. I’m going to live in a place I love (London), studying a subject I love, minutes away from several of my doctors should disaster strike, surrounded by like minded people, free to be my own person… And that’s so exciting. So exciting that everyone seems to have forgotten that it’s kind of scary too. When I tried to explain this, there was a great deal of confusion as to how someone can be unhappy when they have everything they’ve ever wanted. To be honest, it confused me too as I stood there staring myself in the face. What is your problem? I thought. And my reflection calmly watched me back until the wave of thoughts inside of my head swelled and broke on the shores of my denial.
I looked at the person in the mirror and I knew that she had spent most of the weekend trying not to cry. She was nervous about leaving home, she felt invisible, and seemed to have mastered the art of infuriating my mum (who I hate upsetting, because she means the world to me). There are so many people in our house at the moment, it is chaos, and nobody had time to listen to her. She shut everyone else out because she didn’t want them to get even more stressed about her leaving home, and cried on my grandparents multiple times. There were multiple reasons (talking about the man who made me, wished he hadn’t, and then disappeared from my life when I was born, generally tends to make me cry for days afterwards). I knew that she felt stupid for every single reason and every single tear that was cried, but my grandparents are very understanding people, so eventually, like I had done, she had regressed back to a child, snuggled between both of them on the sofa, and talked and cried and talked and cried. Eventually, on Sunday night, my grandma cried on me.
As I continued to search my reflection to try and find a glimmer of myself hiding within this imposter, I saw worry in her eyes. The person who stared back at me learned recently that money makes the world go round, but it is also responsible for tearing it apart. Going to university is expensive. She knew that I can’t afford any books, but my parents have done their best to pay for everything else. She too knew how hard they work for their money, that there isn’t that much to go around at the moment. She, like me, knew the money that her parents are spending was meant for me to pay my rent with for the next year, and that they are going to have to replace it. And I could see my guilt in the look on her face, because she too felt so bad watching them spend it on me. My grandparents chipped in a little bit this weekend and bought me some stuff, and I felt awful. I could see that in the shame that looked back at me. But now we have almost everything on the list, including a new laptop, which should be arriving later today, so hopefully the person I stood looking at won’t have to ask anyone for anything else, and her guilt will go back to sleep.
So what did I do as guilt washed through my brain and dragged behind it a little self loathing? I walked away, and I promised myself that the person I’d just met would not be in that mirror the next morning. I didn’t like that version of myself. I had wanted to reach into the mirror and shake her and tell her to let go, to pick herself up from wherever she may land, and to just keep moving forward. I wanted to remould the contours of her body, hide her skeleton beneath a thin layer of fat, pull her hair until it hung by her shoulders, wipe away the dark circles under her eyes and stick a smile on her face. I wanted to fix her. I wanted to see her sail again. I wanted to magic her rebellious organs into cooperating. I wanted to wipe away the thoughts and feelings that were eroding her from the inside. And I was angry at her for not making the most of everything that she has, for not thanking people enough, for not being happy even though somewhere within her I knew she was excited about starting university next weekend.
I started a new writing project. For a while it ate up my thoughts, and then I went back to worrying about my health, and worrying about money, and wanting so desperately to feel like I fit in… Because right now if my family were a helium balloon, I would imagine myself to be the rock keeping them grounded. I am ruining them. And it’s hard to watch.
I hugged my dog, but that is turning into a pretty emotional experience, because I think about how I have a few days left and then I won’t see him until Christmas. And he doesn’t understand that. He currently freaks out if he can’t find me for a few minutes, so I dread to think about how he will cope when I’m away. He has heard things I would never dare tell to human ears. His fur has mopped up more tears than any person has ever seen me cry. When I’m ill he refuses to leave my side. We sat up late last night. I was thinking about my health, giving in over and over again, and refusing to let it get to me in between. It was like being on an emotional trampoline.
This morning when I looked in the mirror I saw a person who hadn’t had much sleep. But she wasn’t wearing defeat today. I wanted to ask her how she had shaken it off. Neither of us really knew. But the person in my mirror is the only person who really gets me. My reflection. Me. My life is a single player game.
Step 21 to getting out of a rut in life:
There are going to be moments where you suddenly see yourself in a way you haven’t before, and wonder who on earth you have become; moments where your reflection is a stranger, moments where you feel like the only person who will ever understand you is the person who lives in your mirror. Those moments make you realise who you are, NOT all that you will ever be. The thing about the person in your mirror is that you can change them, you can remould them, see their progress in the look on their face… They are not set in stone. You are not set in stone.
“After all, tomorrow is another day” – Margaret Mitchell