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I met her in the park.  She didn’t know of me, but I hadn’t forgotten her.

We spoke for a while. I listened to her apologetic confessions of where her young mind was up to, as if it was the very first time anyone had asked her. There was a huge, hungry spirit in such a small skeletal body.  She looked like she was frozen, as if someone had pressed pause and she hadn’t quite figured out why yet. I hoped for her sake, that she would never lose whatever was the driving force, behind the diligent attempt to express the veracity of her being, even if for this moment, it was killing her.

Anorexia is such a visual thing.  Today, it seems as though so many of us are finding more and more creative ways to ignore, reject or numb out our shared pain, in an effort to avoid the perspective of it being an instructive, inevitable part of our existence. But in this instance, where pain is witnessed through the eyes, in the form of an emaciated child in your proximity, you’d think it would be a lot more difficult for ignorance to dominate the situation. Underestimating the subtle destructiveness of institutional care though, is like turning a blind eye to a self-harming adolescent Nazi fanatic.  It forgets about the people within its space. You can become an outcome, a project. Unintentionally or not, it happens and the consequences are, well… – documented.

I listened and agreed as she continued to explain how it was to be in that reality. How her age allowed people to believe she wasn’t yet a being. It was as if she was supposed to wait for a time when she would understand the world through eyes that could see beyond her naivety- and then, and only then, would she have the credibility to be heard.  She told me how she witnessed this type of ‘grown up’ vision, first hand within the boundaries of mental health provision and stood still in its presence with wide eyes and flared nostrils.

If at fifteen years old, you can see beyond the fog of statistics  how screwed a service provider’s system is, to the point where you can use them flaws to conspire with the aims of your addiction, something is very, very wrong.  This was an institutional body born of educated professionals, a place you come where the people there to help had mastered  their craft and who had all dedicated a huge amount of their lives to be a part of what she could only describe, as ” A place to go to learn how to fly a mental kamikaze.’’

She watched herself be able to disappear in a blink and knew no one there could see what was happening. She told me how the domineering part of her character smiled at how easy this was going to be. But the tiny part of her that had allowed herself to believe this might help was a curled up terrified child left to stay in the darkest part of her mind. If you found a way out before your body started to break down, surely there’ d be no other option but to question the world’s rationality and to walk the risky way ahead,  believing it had gone insane. What made it crazier, she explained was that the only reasonable way to combat the loneliness of this knowing was to develop an agreeable companion in her head. His name was Jimmy and she would regularly ask him what the hell was going on. Annoyingly, all he ever responded with was laughter.

Madness to counter Madness.

But, Thank God  for Love !

Before she left I asked her what she would say to the people in her life right now if she felt she could express herself.

To the institutions:  In your effort to get to the bottom of my pain.  You’ve forgotten me.  Connect to me, not the work, not the behaviour, not even to the solution.  See me. I’m disappearing. I’m using you.  You will only know when you involve me and I’ll only tell you if I feel you.  Look me in the eyes.  Open yours.  Speak heart before mind.

To anyone going through something similar:   You are not oversensitive. You are not weak.  You are trying to be awake and open to life in its most honest state.  Pain is nothing but love in a vise. Sometimes it’s the only route to freedom. Don’t get lost in it. Find yourself. Your joys, your fears your desires your gifts and observe them in kindness.  Find a space to be able to do that. Know you are loved. Know Forgiveness. Know you have something to contribute to this life.

To my family: Thank you.  I’m sorry.   I know no other way to give voice to the truth I hold in my heart. My pain is a very real part of me. It’s something I have always felt should be respected in a world that doesn’t seem to want to make it so. I’m confused. I don’t have the words, reasons or the environment to articulate what’s going on right now. I just know something big isn’t quite making sense… Don’t assume you know why or have to. Please have patience with me. I can’t be fought or reasoned better. You can only feed a starving spirit with love. Have faith in me. Mum- you are more important than you think. Don’t underestimate what’s inside you. It saved my life.

I asked her if she could try and trust this process. To know she is not alone and that I knew one day she would give purpose to what she was going through. It was harder than I thought it would be to let her walk away.

20/20 Hindsight has its limitations.

Advice to my fifteen year old self.

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Michelle Tierney

Kind, still, loving, generous, curious, open, hungry, expansive, brave, emotionally intelligent, empathetic, thought provoking, clever, vulnerable, remembers everything, sensitive, compassionate, funny, and beautiful though she will not thank you for saying so.

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