Mostly I live my life in the present and try to avoid dwelling too much on what has gone before. But some days the past weighs heavy on me and my mind lingers in all the days that have been. We often talk about people having skeletons in their closet. But I don’t think my closet contains anything as solid or silent as skeletons. I have ghosts.
They are the pale reflections of the people I used to be. My Anorexic self, the girl who thrived off control and lived for emptiness. I feel her draw near sometimes, in the careless words of a friend, in the images on my television screen or the feel of my bones through my skin. She whispers that I will never be good enough. That no one can ever accept me with the baggage I carry. She promises freedom in her embrace, a way to control the uncontrollable. She reminds me of the seeming simplicity of the days that went before, when the only goal was seeing the number on the scale decrease, when your happiness depended only on the next dress size down.
Or the ghost of my depressed self. The girl who could not see beyond her own pain, beyond the gaping hole at the centre of herself. She visits when the days seem dark and the future stretches vast and uncertain. She whispers that there can be no solutions, no coping strategies, no victories. She believes one of the few certainties of life is that there will be pain. She reminds me how easy it is to forget that life is worth living.
And it’s strange. Few of the people I see every day knew these versions of me. I fumble for the words to speak of this haunting, but I am too afraid they won’t understand. And I wonder if it’s possible to understand the present me without understanding my ghosts. Will you understand why I hate targets if you didn’t know the hell on earth my perfectionism took me to? Will you get my sarcasm if you don’t know the scars it’s covering up? But then can one human being ever fully understand another?
And maybe recovery from mental illness is like this. Getting better doesn’t mean you forget what has gone before. You still look in the mirror and see different versions of yourself. You can’t flick through a photo album without being transported back to who you were on those days.
Underneath everything aren’t we all haunted by something? The bad decision we made when we were young, the words we wish had never left our mouths, or the person we let slip through our fingers? When you look in the mirror do you see only the person in front of you? Or all the other faces you have been, the masks you have worn and discarded? Can you ever forget the things your eyes have seen or your hands have touched? Is freedom found in embracing your past or denying it?
I don’t believe I am defined by my past but I also don’t believe it is possible to escape it entirely. I’m not sure you can have walked these roads and not be reminded of them every once in a while.
I am trying not to be afraid of my ghosts. They are a part of me, the hurting and scared parts of my past. I will not run away from them. Their influence threads through my history into my present. They fought for me, maybe in the wrong direction, and with an arsenal that they never should have chosen for the battle. But they kept fighting. It’s too late to punish or forget them. Perhaps the only way to quiet their voices is to forgive and comfort them, each time they make an appearance.
Breath in, breathe out. Feeling the air fill my lungs, the slow rise and fall of my chest. I am alive, full of life in this very moment. The past may throw up it’s spectres like dreams in the night. But they cannot hold me. Each day is a new page to be written. And those ghost girls pass the pen to me, waiting for me to write a different story.