Sometimes, I feel like I’m grieving the ‘me’ I could have been. Others grieve her too. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever be her again because often, I know I won’t. And that’s okay.
At school, they told me the world was my oyster. They told me to aim high. They told me I’d have an impressive career. In essence, they had high hopes for me. And I had high hopes for myself, too. I was House Captain, peer mentor, and public speaker. I had “good grades” and went to a Russell Group University. My dream had always been to go to law school. I bumbled along in the haze of academic success and shiny career goals. Perhaps, I was naïve or too eager. Maybe I was too desperately trying to buy into the narrative of success that everyone had associated with me for so long. I wanted that life. I wanted that stable success, the praise. And more than anything, I longed for the disguise it provided: success equalled okayness, happiness, and wellness.
I miss that disguise. And I miss the girl who hid behind that disguise.
When I focused on giving speeches and writing essays, and when I told everyone my ten-year plan, I was able to wear the disguise of “functioning.” It was easier to deflect questions of how well I was doing, and it was a pre-written answer to the question of my existence. How did I spend my time? In the library, reading, researching, writing, studying… What did I contribute to society? Well, I was completing a degree, I was going to be successful, I was going to earn good money, I was going to make my family proud… When was I going to leave home for good, move city, get a Real Life Proper Job? When I graduated, of course. It was the perfect, time-buying buffer. And I miss it.
Hidden behind the shiny labels and titles, and big hopes and dreams, the reality was more fragile. A scared, struggling, self-destructive me. And I didn’t want the world to see that. I didn’t want to have to expose that as my reality.
I didn’t want to cause worry or pity… Moreover, I didn’t want people to say, “but she could have been so much,” because that would have underlined my self-diagnosed failure. It’s because I miss the ‘me’ I could have been. Furthermore, I miss the pre-diagnosis, pre-sickness me. I miss the “what if” me. What if I hadn’t lost years of my life to anorexia, depression, anxiety, and general poor mental health?
Who would I have been? Who could I have become if not for my anorexia? Then, there’s the crux, the sense of failure that hits me over and over each day: am I weak for letting my illness take away the ‘me’ I could have been? I miss the ‘me’ that made people proud. For, in reality, my days are just about keeping myself alive, drifting in and out of hospitals, lost in an illness thick fog… just existing.
And I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’m not the ‘me’ I could have been. There are times when family and friends remind me that time is ticking on. That, by now, I should have a career. That I need to “just get on with it.” Because I know that they too are grieving the ‘me’ they thought I should/could/would have been. And I know sometimes they are angry… at me, at the illness, at the anorexia, as well as at how things panned out. For what it’s worth: I miss her as too.
I’ll never know quite who I could have been had the illness not bowled itself into my life all those years ago. I can only hope that one day my days will be about more than survival.
Those grades and degrees are safely in the rucksack of life – they can wait. I have to believe that the world can still be my oyster — an oyster I’ve shaped, an oyster I’ve learned to live within and from. That’s the real goal. After all, success comes in many forms, and just because it is less newsworthy, to be alive, truly alive, will always be my truest and most important “success.” For, I do miss her too. I miss the girl who ate cake for breakfast, and who joined in family dinners – no my anorexia controls it. I miss the carefree laughter, and guilt-free happiness – I miss that more than I miss the potential and visible success. And I hope that one day, those glimmers of past me or could-be future me can become a little more “present me.”
Because I miss her too.