Pulling my hair out. Literally. My condition of trichotillomania started when I was just ten years old. I was born in Sheffield. My dad worked in a steel foundry producing components for Britain’s nuclear submarines, but he was made redundant when his firm went into administration. Thankfully, mum got a job at a hotel in Lincolnshire, so we moved to Barrowby, the village on the hill.
For the record, my name’s Harvey Hamberg — you might’ve heard of me — former film producer and the founder of Stargaze Studios. Now I know what you’re all thinking: why now? Well, why not? The fact of the matter is I feared for my own safety for a real long time. This thing went all the way to the top. The administration. The President of the United States. Nixon was in office at the time, but it was JFK who wanted to put a man on the moon. Well, let me tell ya, those kinds of dreams cost lives.
My bedroom was rocking like a freaky funhouse. I prayed for it to stop, but it never did, because life wasn’t that kind. Cruel, actually, as I suffered from disembarkment syndrome. It all started with a sin, of sorts, when I met a married woman named Bobbie. She wanted me to take her on a trip, so we boarded the ferry in Liverpool and crossed the Irish sea. On the way, the waves rocked the boat from side to side, and Bobbie sang that old nursery rhyme row, row, row your boat…
All I wanted was to be free. Not a tree. The technical term for my illness was epidermodysplasia verruciformis, better known as tree man syndrome. I grew up in the hamlet of Wickenby. My father worked at the Royal Air Force station where he designed light aircraft. My grandfather flew in the RAF. My great-great-grandfather, Ernest, was a carpenter. It was reported that Ernest Wood died due to complications associated with turning into a tree man. Through my genealogical research, I established that my rare and recessive disorder had skipped two generations.
I lost my head when my wife died. My dearly beloved Barbara. She was buried in All Saints Church in Saltfleetby, a village surrounded by defences from the second world war: shelters, pillboxes, minefields. I’ll have you know I served in the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment.
When I was born, both my big toes were deformed — they were short, bent, and curved inwards. This turned out to be an early sign of FOP: fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, commonly known as stone man syndrome. I never learned to crawl, I just sort of shuffled around on my bottom. Walking wasn’t easy, either, and I never got my gait quite right. My folks — God bless ‘em — thought I was lazy, when in fact, my bones were fusing together.
I always had a death wish, I just didn’t expect it to come true while I was still alive. Funny that. The condition was called Cotard’s Delusion, named after the neurologist Jules Cotard, who described the disease as a delirium. The denial of ones own self-existence. The feeling of being dead, basically.