Today I stand in front of the mirror of the ladies’ toilet at work, and I stare at the face I see. This week, this month, I don’t recognise it as my own. The hair is the same blonde mess it always is; my face is still carefully painted on. But that hair and face and smile is who I am for eleven months of each year. Now it is the first day of October, and I am the girl I was 6 years ago.
I’m sitting on the toilet having a wee. As I feel the liquid trickle out, I am picturing the fading scars inside me, those pock marks and lines and swells that must linger on my flesh. They will be less obvious than they were last October. But they’re still there.
I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the supermarket. Last week I pushed a trolley down the table sauces aisle, gripping the handle tightly, pleading with myself not to lose it. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, counted to ten. Rushing past the broccoli and the toothpaste and the liquid detergent, I smiled blandly at the checkout girl and made it to my car, breath ragged. My hands were shaking so much I knew I couldn’t drive home. So I sat outside and tried to calm down by appealing to nicotine. I sat and smoked a rare cigarette, and miraculously it worked. The anxiety attack I had expected to arrive full tilt was held back, and I was pleased about that.
And yet, the panic is still there, threatening me. Six years have gone by and, these days, the trauma of the past is lying just slightly out of reach. I know I should be proud that it does not dominate me any more. But instead I feel it hovering out of sight, threatening this life I have painstakingly built, and I know I have only a slender white and gold cylinder, leaving a foul taste in my mouth, to help keep it at bay.
This is the confirmation I dread every year. It is the first of October, and I’m still not fine.