Hello. It’s me… I literally can’t write the word ‘hello’ now without singing that song in my head, damn you Adele. I’ll start again. Hi, I’m Nikki, down to earth, go to the gym less than I should but enough to make me feel like I’m trying, exhausted from chasing my 15 month old daughter around because she loves nothing more than to run away from me screaming in a never end game of chase. I work 4 days a week, I go for breakfast with friends and I love spending time with my family, drinking tea and eating all of my mums chocolate buttons. If I didn’t want you to know anything about my life, about what I’ve been through, what I’m still going through, then this is the intro I’d give you. But that’s not the whole story. I want to be honest and tell you why I’m here and why I feel the need to write this all down and let people see it, as difficult as this feels right now.
So here goes…
The last 6 months have been the most challenging of my life. In April 2016 I was in love, I was 8 months into my maternity leave and loving every minute of it. By the end of May I had become a single mum to a 9 month old baby with no money, no job and a broken heart. I struggled to cope with all the changes, moving into a new place, finding a job to support us both and putting my baby into nursery. To try and get myself back on track I found a counsellor online and made an appointment to go and see her that week. The thing about counselling, I’ve since learned, is that it’s a bloody massive can of worms, and since I stepped into that first appointment over 4 months ago a lot has come to light. Things that I had carefully packaged up and buried deep down in the dusty corners of my mind have been dragged out, unpacked and scrutinised. It’s been quite painful at times. I’ve felt totally vulnerable and I’ve resisted the process on a number of occasions (this involves me pretending I haven’t heard a question and looking out the window). But it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m still a work in progress, I’m on a journey to try to understand some of the thoughts and feelings I have about myself. But I want to share what I’ve learned so far, and tell you what else I learn along the way.
Lesson one: I did not deal with the emotional trauma of having two spinal surgeries at age eleven and twelve very well.
It makes sense to me now, but up until recently I was quite comfortable that my twelve year old self had managed to navigate this extremely traumatic and painful experience perfectly well on her own. It turns out this was not the case. Twelve year old me was an expert in over plucking her eyebrows, applying heather shimmer lipstick and reciting the live and kicking phone number (0181 811 8181) but it seems she was ill equipped to process a spinal fusion shortly followed by five-hour scoliosis corrective surgery, and the excruciating recovery process that follows.
I’ve talked about this period of time with my counsellor Oby, and every single time I cry my eyes out. The memories are just so vivid. I remember the smell of the nurses perfume, the feeling of the catheter which I hated more than anything in the world, the loneliness at night when I would miss my mum so badly, but mostly I remember the pain. Even with a morphine drip in my chest that kept me topped up every few hours, the pain was indescribable. I will never forget lying there late one night, absolutely still and flat on my back as I had been for days, and thinking to myself I wish someone could feel what I was feeling, just for one minute, so that they could understand. I felt completely and utterly alone in that hospital bed, disconnected from the world, from my family, my school friends, everyone.
After 3 days in intensive care and another 6 days in a separate room in the hospital I was allowed to go home. I had my whole body encased in plaster cast to prevent any damage being done while my body adjusted to the surgery. I’d gone in to hospital exactly 5 foot tall and came out 5 foot 2, which is the height that I’ve been ever since. I also weighed a tiny 5 stone and was extremely thin, I could barely eat because I felt so sick all the time. Recovering from the surgery seemed to take forever. I struggled to gain weight, the cast was uncomfortable and I felt weak and in pain most of the time. As part of the surgery I’d had sections of my ribs removed on my right hand side so that they could grow back together flatter, to try and reduce the appearance of the twist in my spine. Somehow one of my ribs had managed to push through my skin and caused an open wound in my back, which meant I had to have the cast taken off early to dress the wound and try to burn the flesh away that had built up around where the rib had come through. It sounds terrible but I honestly don’t remember it hurting. The only thing I remember being absolute torture was having the dressing removed each day. No matter how she did it, wetting it down or peeling it as quickly or slowly as she could, it would make me scream in pain.
After the cast was removed I prepared myself to look in the mirror to see what I was now going to look like for the rest of my life. I’d been so hopeful going in to the surgery, I was fed up of feeling different, of my shoulders and my hips jutting out and my ribcage looking uneven when I lent over. I was nervous but excited to see how straight I looked, how much more perfect I was after all the pain and the agony I’d gone through. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and being devastated. Yes it was better, but I was still so far from perfect, it was such a huge disappointment to me. Not only were my hips still completely over to the right and my ribcage twisted but I now had a scar all the way down my back, held together by 52 staples, and another scar that should never have happened where the rib had pushed through my skin. I didn’t cry though. I stood and looked at myself for about twenty minutes, and then I took everything that I was feeling and I shoved it to the back of my mind. The thoughts that I was a freak, that I would never be good enough, that I wasn’t worth anything and nobody would ever want me because of how I look, I boxed them all neatly up with my little twelve year old hands and threw them to the back of beyond where they stayed for twenty years. I realise now that I’ve never really dealt with any of it. I’ve lived my life up until this point with a little voice in my head that tells me I’m lucky if I get love, no matter how toxic it might be. That I’m not as good as everyone else so I have to try twice as hard to make people like me because I’m fundamentally flawed. It may sound extreme to some people, and it’s hard for me to even admit that’s how I’ve felt for my entire adult life, but it’s the truth. That’s what happens when you allow a hormonal adolescent girl with her head full of east 17 to handle yo’ business.
And so here we are…it’s taken my life falling apart at the seams for me to get here, but I’m grateful I’m here. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to revisit that time in my life and really look at it. To see the profound impact its had on almost every area of my life to this day. I know I still have a lot of work to do, I need to build up my self worth, the way I think and feel about myself and the way I look, and to get to a place where I truly accept and love myself just as I am. But I’m working on it.