Nicole's story: not recognising myself and my body

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

** Trigger warning. This post mentions scars from self-harm **

A note from my hospital room

The carpet is dark red, 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, 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, a chair. I even have an en-suite bathroom, with a tub 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:

  1.   A call button, located on the wall to the right side of the bed, just over the bed-side table.
  2. The mirrors are not made of glass. They are made of a plastic.
  3. The showerhead is fixed to the wall in the bathroom, no pipework is on display at all.
  4. There isn’t a plug in the bathtub.
  5. 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.
  6. The door handles aren’t typical door handles. They are the push/pull type handles, with no protruding bars.
  7. 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 I’m staring at myself in the plastic mirror. Well, I’m 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. That’s 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 onto 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.

My body holds clues to memories I don't recognise

This physical body is a map of memories. But they are not all my memories. I don’t recognise them, I don’t recall them, and I am terrified of them. This body holds clues and fragments of what’s been done, by someone. By someone that looks like me, in this body, but who certainly does not have my mind, my reasoning, my personality.

I wish I could meet this other, this someone. I wish I could understand what was going on. But I know that’s why I am here, in this room, staring at myself in a plastic mirror.

​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, and not what it looks like. I've started doing aerial hoop and I am finding that my body is capable of so much, it can bend and 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. 

Taking part in the China Trek 2019

I'm doing the China Trek 2019 for the Mental Health Foundation both to show that living with a mental illness doesn't limit me, and to feel connected to what my body can achieve. I'm excited for blisters, for feeling short of breath, for aching muscles, because these are things I'll get to experience as a whole person. I'm also taking part in this challenge to support such an important charity.

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 2/47 for free on 116 123, they are here to offer emotional support.

Practical tips to improve how you think and feel about your body

  1. Find the best way that works for you to stay active.

Read all 7 tips