Habits

Content warning: mental illness; eating disorders

Due to the nature of this piece, the writer would like to remain anonymous.

The room felt heavy.

It felt dismal and grey, despite the hideously uplifting posters of yellow smiling cartoon faces and words like family and love on the walls.

I sat alone, wrapped in my green parka like I had been since September. Even when the summer weather had been thick, when the sun had been sticky and everyone else had been in shorts, I’d been wrapped in my parka.

I had this technique. The coat was massive on me. It always had been but recent times had made it bigger so I’d developed this way of pulling it under one armpit, holding it tight there with one arm and wrapping the other wall of the coat around the rest of me. It felt like walking in a duvet. It felt safe, like someone was holding me. I had this habit too, of tilting my face down so my cheek brushed the wool on the collar.

It felt like stroking a cat. Maybe I was the cat, brushing my face up against someone’s leg. Or maybe I was the girl who always felt cold, who always felt empty.

There was a sandbox in the corner. I hadn’t seen a sandbox in years. It was one of those horrendously colourful things with dappled plastic in all the primary colours. There were toys and Lego pieces and broken crayons discarded in the sand. I gathered that a lot of younger children used this room.

I wondered how a child might need this place. I didn’t know a lot about mental illness but I’d heard the stereotypes about teenage girls. People blame it on magazines and Hollywood and the modelling industry. I didn’t know what I blamed it on yet. Blame requires some level of self worth, the belief that someone can do wrong to you. I was silent and, for a change, so was my mind.

The window behind me was the only light entering the room. The meagre autumnal afternoon cast a white river across the floor up to the closed door, behind which had been silent for an uncomfortably long time. Until it opened.

I don’t remember the man’s name. I was sixteen but I felt younger. Smaller. He was broad-shouldered, with a beard and a tattoo sleeve that poked out from the rolled up edge of his white shirt. He wore jeans which felt too informal, and held a dark blue clipboard, with a pen attached under the clip. He didn’t smile, or even really look at me. He pulled a chair across. A child’s chair, plastic and multi-coloured to match the sandbox. He placed it in front of me and sat down. He flipped over a page on the clipboard and seemed to read a line or two.

He murmured my name, far too indifferently.

I didn’t say anything but I moved my left hand over the knuckles of my right hand and began scratching at a spot in between the knuckles of my index and my middle finger. My knees were bouncing. That was a habit I’d developed. The movements were tiny and jagged, like I was a kid hopping across the floor in that lava game where you jump from sofa to sofa but sometimes you have to accept that your foot falls into the lava so you hop quickly and hope nobody noticed. It also burnt calories. That’s why I’d started doing it, but now it was just another habit. Like smoking or my silence. He looked up.

He said my name again.

He was looking at me, asking me to respond. I looked at him out from under my eyebrows. Head down, not wanting to let him see my face. He kept looking at me. I kept staring. There was silence and the room felt heavy. He leant towards me with his elbows on his knees.

“Do you want to tell me how you’re feeling?”

Photo courtesy of Hans Eiskonen

Categories: Short Stories

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