Nicole's story: not recognising myself and my body

This content mentions self-harm. Please read with care. There are details of where to find help at the bottom of this page.

Once past the Nurse’s Station, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a two or three-star hotel. 

A note from my hospital room 

The carpet is dark red, and the rooms along the corridors have numbers on them. Two of the rooms have windows in the doors. Those are for the more at-risk people, and my door is solid wood. The facilities we get in our rooms are pretty decent, too. I have a TV, a double bed, a desk, a lamp, and a chair. I even have an ensuite bathroom with a bath and a shower. Not bad for a hospital. 

There are a few clues, though, if you look carefully enough, to suggest that this isn’t a typical room: 

  •  A call button is located on the wall to the right side of the bed, just over the bedside table
  • The mirrors are plastic, not glass. The showerhead is fixed to the wall in the bathroom, with no pipework on display. 
  • There isn’t a plug in the bathtub
  • The door doesn’t lock. Well, it does, but every staff member has a key that unlocks every room, so there’s really no point in even pretending you have privacy
  • The door handles aren’t typical door handles. They are the push/pull type handles with no protruding bars
  • Oh yes, and someone knocks on the door every fifteen minutes, so there really is no such thing as a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign

Staring in the mirror and not knowing who I am 

Back in my room after lunch, I’ve taken my clothes off and am staring at myself in the plastic mirror. Well, staring into the mirror. I have no idea who this person is. 

The skin is so scarred. The pale skin on which they sit makes them all the more noticeable. The biceps are defined, though - these are arms that have carried weight and built resilience. Thighs. Thick thighs for the frame of this body. Thighs that have run, squatted, danced. Thighs that have clearly suffered. There are some barely defined abs that I can see if the light is just so, and the torso tilts slightly forward.  

My body is a map of memories 

This is a body of contrast. Well looked after. Toned. I look at my abs and the muscle in my arms. Evidence of an active life. That’s me, that’s running and yoga and carrying heavy boxes around when we moved house. Memories of ‘plank’ competitions with my partner and trying to learn headstands with friends. It’s Jiu-Jitsu and living on the third floor, with no lifts, in my first year of university. My body, how it looks, is a map of memories, memories I own, memories that built me, mentally and physically. Proof. 

My body is also scarred 

But it’s a mess. This body has been punished, allowed to scar. I don’t know how they happened or who did them. I can’t recall the motivation or the emotion. There’s nothing there when I see these scars. Like someone else has outsourced their experience to me. Someone else is clearly suffering, unable to express themselves. Someone else is self-harming. Someone else is hurting. But this body, my body, ends up with the evidence. 

​Journal entry from hospital 

Ways I help myself with how I think and feel about my body. I still battle with not recognising myself. With focusing on that and getting quite overwhelmed by the feelings. When this happens, I try to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. I've started doing aerial hoops, and I am finding that my body is capable of so much. It can bend, contort, and feel graceful, energised, and sore from the exercise. When I think about what this body can do and how that makes me feel as a whole person, I feel empowered and more 'okay' with the parts of me I don't recognise.  

Following inspiring social media accounts 

I've also found social media to be a force for good in the body positivity movement. Especially Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared on Instagram) and the I Weigh campaign.  

If Nicole's story resonates with you and you want to find support, then visit Self Harm UK. Remember that Samaritans have a support line available 24/7 for free on 116 123, they are there to offer emotional support.

If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.