Life writing: Medical records and memories as a winter landscape

Colour photograph of bare branches against a grey winter sky

Seeing your own medical records feels surprisingly impersonal. Maybe it’s because some details fell off the edge when you moved from one part of town to another and had to register with a different doctor because you were no longer in the right catchment area for your previous one. Maybe it’s because there was a clear severing of your past from your current life when you moved from one country to another and notes from doctors and hospitals didn’t travel with you. Maybe it’s the small inaccuracies, the moment when one eating disorder became labelled as another because of a typing error or a missed word somewhere along the way and ED-NOS with features of both bulimia and anorexia became bulimia-on-its-own, which you never actually had. Even now the concept of binging makes your heart thud against your ribs because your purging in a past life took the form of an attempt to rid yourself of what you actually were, not what you had consumed.

Or maybe it’s the sensation of seeing, in black and white, the progression from an observation of symptoms to a diagnosis to a chronic primary something-or-other as the confusion of your body overtook the confusion of your mind before your mind eventually followed suit and you were given an opportunity to learn new acronyms for your self-destructive coping mechanisms. Maybe it’s because when you were handed sheets of paper that contained this information, it was easier to believe that you were reading about someone else instead of feeling guilty for the body that survived everything you put it through but when you finally decided to give it freedom, it chose instead to exist in a perpetual state of dysfunction. It’s so easy to give in to the misconception that your body did this as an act of revenge, to spite you, rather than to accept the mundane truth that there is only so much damage that can be caused by injuries and viruses before the situation goes from “When you get better” to “If you get better” to the alternative that doesn’t bear thinking about.

You remember your last session with the one good therapist when you were twenty or twenty-one and he read out loud his notes from your first session and asked how you felt about that person. You said, “That’s not me. That’s someone else”, and he thought you meant it because you had become so much stronger but you actually meant it because you had never been able to relate other people’s explanations of what you were and how you might have become those things. You meant it because for all your self-awareness you had never wanted to believe how far you had fallen. You still don’t.

Now the fractures and blunt force traumas of your past life and the details of the times you lost yourself have been erased and you are left with only a few short years of history to comprehend. It still shakes you to your core, a place you once believed was populated with strength above all else. You tell yourself stories of things that are more beautiful for having been broken but you don’t believe a word you say. You have learned to accept the scars on the outside, even as new ones have appeared, even as you have put them there yourself, but you cannot forgive the scars on the inside and what they have turned you into. You do not hate yourself. Instead, you are disgusted. You start to list the ways in which you are still strong, still determined, but it turns into a list of ways that this is somehow all your fault and you can never build high enough walls to contain yourself.

You remember the physiotherapist who told you that you had to learn to stop because your body couldn’t handle what you were doing to it in the name of making miracles happen and you remember being so scared of stopping in case you were never able to start again. You also remember the ex-professional boxer you met at the physio centre who strapped your hands into gloves then put on boxing pads and told you to hit him until you felt better. Even though you could hardly stand up, you punched and punched until he was taking steps backwards to lessen the force of your rage. When you were doubled over, gasping for breath and the world became dark around the edges, you finally felt better. He said, “You’re very angry”. You said, “I know”. It didn’t cross your mind that this wasn’t a positive thing but it surprised you that, for once, someone else noticed. It also didn’t cross your mind that angry was something you had every reason to be, because anger is hot and loud and you are ice and silence.

You slide another copy of your medical records into another envelope to send to another government office and welcome the familiar freeze that creeps in around your edges, the brittle frost that allows you not to feel. Now the memories of how your body and mind were twisted and warped have become a cold garden of bare trees that you stumble through, arms wrapped around yourself in apology as you try not to take up space. You stare at the ground and still your breath as a dead branch cracks underfoot and the sound splits the air like a gunshot.

2 thoughts on “Life writing: Medical records and memories as a winter landscape

  1. Something in me sings to this piece. Or perhaps I mean this piece calls like a siren to something, to some piece of never-yet-peace, inside me.

    Either way, I’m glad to hear it’s being published. It deserves readers. Congrats.

    Liked by 1 person

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