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When Your Childhood Memories Are in a Pile of Doctor’s Notes

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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 I embraced all the great beauty trends of the 2000s.

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 cotton ball. It smelled 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 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 12-year-old girl — 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 colors 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. Instead I met with dietitians in my bedroom and was told if I didn’t eat I would be admitted to the 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 prickling through my veins.

At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

Over the years, I have tried to erase my childhood from my memories. 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 9 p.m. under the covers. Instead my childhood is dictated back to me by someone I don’t know. Someone I don’t remember anything about. 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 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 I can’t even place the room, the colors or 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

Even though I can see the words on the pages and see my name repeated 34 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.

I don’t remember much, but I know at the time I absolutely hated her.

I hated her for exposing me. I didn’t want to tell her anything. I thought by talking about my fears and her writing them down on her glossy notepad 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 each thought was quietly killing me.

I know 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 realize 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, bitten fingers and fears in my mind that make me sick the moment an idea floods my mind. I have some parts of my life under control and some parts 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 learned concealer doesn’t belong on my lips. I threw away the cucumber cleanser that smells like medicine. I don’t hide anymore. I let people know how I feel, what’s going on inside and that I’m not afraid to talk about the irrational fears I still get from time to time.

I know nothing bad will happen if I talk.

I will never be free from fear or worry, but I can stop my thoughts from 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 this, 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 can panic us and make us scared, but we can talk about them and rationalize every single one. None of these thoughts are worth losing years of my life. I wish I could tell the 12-year-old me that my worrying was absolutely superfluous. I wish I could tell myself  I wasn’t crazy. I wish I could have told myself I would 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 or 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. It’s OK to ask for help.

Someone will always be ready to listen as soon as you are ready to speak.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 31, 2017
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