six months before my wedding years after i started dating my husband. just over three months after my stepfather died.
my soon-to-be husband and i were about to move in with my mom and younger brother to help fix up the house and pay the bills. it was a good arrangement – i was living with my dad for the first time since my parent’s divorce, and it was not an ideal situation.
he didn’t know what to do when i would bang my head into the wall, lock myself into a closet, have to walk out of a room in the middle of a sentence. just because i haven’t cut, i don’t think that means i haven’t been involved in self injury, or si, self-harm, self-injurious behavior, as it is also referred to.
self-injury includes many types of injury or mutilation – cutting, burning, picking, biting. some people consider trichotillomania (self-pulling of hair) in the scope of si, even though it has it’s own diagnosis.
there is no fancy word for cutters. we cut. we burn. we bite. we scratch. we self injure. that’s it. i first identified myself as a cutter when i was 12.
i realized that physical pain of the cut almost released the emotional pain i felt. as i got older, i could look back and see even more instances of it. i remembered biting my fingers and hands until they bled when i was only 5. i can’t remember what made me want to do that, but i remember feelings of emptiness, even then. i remember pulling out my hair around the age of 7 or 8. i remember digging my fingernails into my palm hard enough to break skin. at those ages,
i do not consciously remember why i did what i was doing.
i only remember doing it, and that some how it made me feel better.
i don’t know where i got the idea. i hadn’t seen a television special, i didn’t have any friends cutting. many people think it’s a goth or emo thing, that girls do it to seem cool or special or mysterious. that they do it because their friends do, because it makes them hard or whatever the
fuck stupid people think. i didn’t know anyone who cut or self-harmed in any way.
i do remember taking a pen cap and scraping it back and forth across my arm hard enough and long enough that i drew scraggly lines of blood.
there was this initial release, like the darkness escaping, and then this delicious numbness spread through my body.
before the blood had even dried, i methodically started to clean up with tissues. this would become a ritualistic experience for me.
i stole a paring knife from the kitchen, hid it in a drawer, and knew i had an option at all times. i can’t explain why, but the ritual became almost as important as the cutting.
i would get my secret stash of hydrogen peroxide and gauze. i’d cut, i’d bleed, i’d revel in the numbness. then i’d clean up the blood, clean out the cut, wrap up in bandages. by the time i was around 15, it got worse.
i would enter almost a trancelike state, methodically cutting and bloodletting for hours at a time. i’d make small cuts, long cuts, perpendicular cuts.
instead of using the paper towels to clean up, i’d press them to my cuts so the blood would seep into it, then save them in my notebook. i know, it sounds horrifying. then i decided it would make more sense to do that on the actual paper – i would be able to keep them forever.
i still have them. i cannot get rid of them.
i was always afraid of being discovered.
my scars and cuts were not a badge to show my friends, they did not make me cool. i cut almost everywhere, and had ways to hide everything. i did not want to have to explain how it made me feel.
i cut my forearms rarely, although that is the only place i now have scars. i cut my thighs, my calves, my shoulders, my hips, my stomach, my breasts. i would cut, bleed, mark, clean, wrap. constantly.
i finally got caught out at 16. i had a fight with my boyfriend, went home, got high, and put on hole’s ‘live through this’. i don’t even remember getting my paring knife or other tools.
i do know that i spent almost five hours smoking pot and carving the lyrics from two songs into my legs. i didn’t do my own laundry at the time, and ended up throwing out the sheet i had on my bed at the time because of the blood. i didn’t want anyone to know. i was ashamed and afraid and addicted.
my boyfriend found out.
we were talking about our fight, sitting on his couch. i pulled my leg up under me, and my jeans leg rode up. he saw my calf and made me take off my pants. he then told me he wouldn’t see me anymore unless i told my mother.
i told my mother, she got me counseling. he did stay with me for a few more months. he tried. i continued cutting on a near-daily basis for years, until i was 20. i moved in with my dad after his second divorce. i still had my knife; i needed to have it. i went almost four years without cutting. i was helping my soon-to-be husband move into my mother’s house. i don’t know what set me off, but i needed my knife and couldn’t find it. this made it worse.
i took out my keychain-sized swiss army knife and dug into my upper arm until i bled.
i haven’t cut since then. but i haven’t stopped self injuring.
i have scratched my face until it bled. i have banged my head on a tile floor hard enough to concuss myself. i have pulled hunks of hair out in frustration. i bite my tongue until it is raw and bleeding at times. i pick and pinch at myself more than i care to admit. i have gone to get a tattoo in desperation to feel something (incidentally, not the right reason for ink).
the worst part is, and i think any cutter will agree with this. the worst part is that we do what we do TO FEEL SOMETHING. but the problem is we already feel too much. we have so much (fill in the emotion) inside us, that we need to feel something else.
is it that we need to feel something we can control?
like eating disorders, is it about having control over something in our lives when it feels like everything else is out of control?
do i cut or self harm so that I AM IN CHARGE OF MY PAIN… at least for a few minutes?
At the age of 9, both my mother and father went to rehab for alcoholism.
At the age of 10, I finally knew what it was like to have a home after living in over 200 houses, more than 100 cities, fifteen states, and two countries.
At the age of 14, I was raped by a classmate my freshman year of high school.
At the age of 15, I started working two full-time jobs and single-handedly supporting my family because my parents flat-out refused to work.
At the age of 16, my parents decided to start drinking again. I took on a third job to support their alcoholism.
At the age of 18 I graduated high school at nearly the top of my class.
After my first year of college, I was told that I was not allowed to continue even though I had scholarships because “I wasn’t raised to think I was better than anyone else.”
At the age of 21, I was rapedagain … by the man who had betrayed me seven years before. My parents told me I deserved it, and was lucky that a man had paid that much attention to me since I was worth nothing. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My birth certificate says that I was born on April 2nd, 1987 at 1:25 p.m.
I was born on March 30th, 2009 at roughly 9:45 p.m. when, at nearly 22 years old, I decided I had been through enough.
My father suffers from Bipolar Disorder and severe Anxiety. My mother is a Paranoid Schizophrenic. Neither one has any sense of reality beyond their immediate perception of the world, and both are Compulsive Liars.
The man who raped me intimidated and frightened me into a silence I would not break for almost ten years. When I ran into him again, he introduced me to his wife and child as if we were old high school friends.
He contacted me after getting my information through old mutual friends and asked if we could meet to reconcile and so that he could apologize for what he had done. He never had any intention of doing so and in my own foolishness, I met with him and he forced me into the back of a car and raped me … again.
My parents told me I had to be lying, and that if I had been raped then I should consider myself lucky because that was more than I deserved from anyone. When I insisted that I was not lying and needed their help, my father smacked me across the face and broke a chair over my back.
I was almost twenty-two years old at the time and the only thing I remember after that was my youngest sister’s face. She was staring in horror and fear trying to figure out what to do.
I had stayed for years thinking that I was protecting them. In that moment, I realized that if I showed them that all you could do was take the abuse and not actually do anything about it … then one day my little sister was going to be in my position … and no one would be around to help her either.
I didn’t have anywhere to go. I had nowhere to stay that night. I called up a friend and grabbed a ride, and crashed on a couch while struggling to find somewhere to live.
I went through months of endless torture and doubt while going through the trail that put my rapist in jail for what will be a very long time. I changed my address, my phone number, and all of my information so that I could cut ties with the life I didn’t deserve and start living a life that was not filled with fear, or doubt, or regret, or abuse.
Today, I am 23 years old.
I have a home of my own for the very first time.
I have sought counseling for the traumas I have been through in my life.
I have struggled with body image, self-esteem, guilt, and an intense lack of trust in people I care about.
I have cut all ties with my family, stopped supporting them financially, and moved on to start a life of my own.
I have found love in a man who is the best thing to ever happen to me. A man who would never raise a hand to me, who loves me in spite of my demons, and who has already supported and seen me at my absolute worst.
I have found peace.
I am not sharing my story to shock, horrify, or scare people. I am not sharing my story seeking sympathy although it is graciously received.
I am sharing my story because somewhere out there is a man, woman, or child who has faced demons that linger in shadows all around them. They may not feel that they are able to overcome them and they are utterly alone.
I am telling you my story to tell you this:
You are not alone. Ever.
No one is ever alone. There were moments when I wanted to give up and give in. Just tune out and wait for the worst to come so that nothing else as bad could happen. I figured there was nothing that could help or save me. I have been there.
I made it out and I am waiting for you with open arms on the other side. There’s plenty of room here.
I have to say that all of that is true. I hate to use the word depression (I think most people do), but things have been rough since my daughter died. I’ve scraped for words to express the isolation, pain, persistent sadness, discouragement, lethargy, roller coaster days, rage, sullenness, futility… but every time those words fall short.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot of things not to do, and a few things to try.
Most important is that a quick fix is a myth. So often I’ve woken up feeling OK, moved through the day’s activities relatively well, actually enjoyed some of the day’s moments, and thought to myself, “Hurray! I’m better!” Only I woke up the next day back in the swamp, feeling worse than before because I was wrong. I hadn’t actually left it behind.
Here are a few ways that have helped me, along with a few things I recommend avoiding.
If you are struggling with depression:
1. If you are a spiritual person, pray and tell God about how you feel and ask for help. Don’t shut God off just because you don’t feel God’s presence anymore. Feelings are fickle things, affected by lack of sleep, poor eating habits, hormones, illness, grief, and more.
I found that praying in the shower was a good place because
1) I could usually count on not being interrupted by my children, and
2) if I cried my heart out, the water washed my tears and snot away (I’m not a pretty cryer.)
2. Talk yourself through the day. I don’t mean talk out loud to yourself – that’s the fast-lane to crazytown. What I mean is this: if you catch yourself possibly over-reacting or taking the actions or words of another person personally, try to stop long enough to remind yourself that you are predisposed to assume the worst right now. Tell yourself, “I need to take my own emotional/mental/physical state into account when I’m reading other people and cut everyone, including this jerkwad, some slack.”
When I remind myself of this, I’m more likely to step back and wait to see if what I am jumping to conclusions and being paranoid (and usually I am). This helps preserve those relationships, and heaven knows we need as many healthy relationships as we can get.
3. Talk to someone about your struggle. Be selective. Keep your circle small, at least at first. Look for someone who is strong because they have struggled through some hard things themselves (not because he or she is a know-it-all). Find someone you can trust. Don’t talk to that girl who starts every story with, “Don’t tell anyone else, but so-and-so told me …” If they tell stories about other people, don’t give them any dirt on you. The right person will listen well, try to understand you, and give realistic counsel. They will be flexible but also persistent, drawing you out even when you withdraw or hide what’s inside.
4. Remain engaged with your family and friends. Make yourself go to birthday parties, cook-outs, ball games… whatever it is that you and your friends and family do together. Go even when every cell in your body wants to hole up in bed. We need people, and you have never experienced encouragement quite like spending time with people who care about you and who love to have fun.
I am so thankful for my husband and friends who have dragged me out of the house. No matter how many times it happens, I’m always surprised at how much better I feel when I go, even when it’s The Last Thing I want to do that day.
5. Give yourself time. This one has been hard for me. I want to be done with this depression. I want to move on, move forward, leave it behind, get better. I’m tired of dragging it around every day. But my counsellor keeps reminding me that there is no timetable on grieving. And if I try to stuff it all away and hide it, that actually makes the whole process longer. I need to feel those feelings and work through my grief, not run away from it.
6. Go see your doctor. Ask him or her to check for any physical problems and talk about how you are doing. It is very common for an illness or untreated condition to affect every part of you, including your energy level and outlook on life in general. They will collect some labs to look for things like low iron, an out-of-whack thyroid, or abnormally high white cell count (indicates that your body is fighting an infection somewhere). The doctor should be able to work with you to identify ways for you to improve your physical health, and present some options for improving your emotional and mental health.
7. Do your homework before trying supplements and/or prescription medications. Talk with your doctor about this. They will help you select the best things to try and often have non-prescription options as well. Taking a pill, whether it is an antidepressant or an herbal remedy, is not going to make you happy. These treatments are designed to give enough of a boost to do the hard work of recovery.
Be sure to ask your doctor and pharmacy about how various things interact. Tell them everything you are taking, including herbals and home remedies, because some things are very dangerous when combined. And if you think you need to change something because it isn’t working, don’t just stop cold-turkey! Call your doctor or pharmacist to see if you need to wean yourself off or if it is safe to just stop.
The best advice I was given about trying meds? Try one thing at a time, and give it at least a month before changing anything. Otherwise you won’t know what helped and what didn’t.
8. Build in some cushion. During the worst of my depression, I realized that my weeks were so tightly-scheduled that I had no slack at all for bad days. You know the kind: it’s all you can do to get the kids fed, dressed, and to school, and when you finish that, you collapse. Forget work, laundry, paying bills, washing dishes, cleaning house, grocery shopping. I got radical, backing out of commitments, canceling activities, and taking a leave of absence from work to build in some slack. It gave me the time I needed to rest and recover.
I hope these tips are helpful. I offer them up as ideas picked up along my own struggle in hopes that they encourage you to keep going, keep trying, and most importantly, get help.
Watching your children struggle is hard on a parent.
This is her story:
I sometimes say that I won the craptastic mental health lottery. I’ve had my share of minor struggles. My children, on the other hand, have dealt with much more than I did.
My daughter is twelve, and has just returned home on Wednesday from her second hospital stay in four months. I am confident really believe hope like hell that we’ve gotten to the heart of identifying her disorder so we can do the right things to treat it. She’s smart and creative and beautiful, and I want everyone to know that about her, not focus on her anxiety or her awkwardness or her peculiar outbursts.
My nine year old son was the one who pulled us kicking and screaming into the world of mood disorders. I’ve done lots reading (books, websites, you name it) about kids like him and the myriad of Disorders (the conditions are often too big to be suited to a lowercase “d”) that could have caused his behavior. Always one to resist a label, Hoss does not fit neatly into any of the diagnoses that generally cause the behaviors as they manifested themselves in him. Welcome to “mood disorder- Not Otherwise Specified.”
He’s witty and brilliant and is such a computer whiz that I could see him as the next Bill Gates.
My baby boy, who is seven years old and therefore long past being a baby, is the hardest to pin down. He may be quirky. He may be something more serious. His stubborn streak and need for routine may not be OCD or Aspergers, but no one has ruled it out yet either. Little Joe, he of the unbelievable memory and soothing routines, is still a wild card.
Most mental illnesses have some genetic link, although there are always families with no history who have a child with some issues rising to the surface. What would be the odds of having not one, not two, but three kids with these disorders?
I am in love with a person who is so possessive I feel as though I am being tortured.
Our relationship was physically abusive three years ago, but that has stopped. The mental and verbal torture is almost worse.
I can’t stop loving him. When he was sober, he was my best friend. I never dreamed so many dreams, accomplished so many things, laughed so much in those short years. Now he is a monster. His possessiveness knows no bounds. He threatens to kill himself when I say I’m leaving the relationship. I am afraid for the little dog he owns, whom I love.
I must release him to the world. To someone else. To himself. Only, he doesn’t want his life.
It reminds me of the old Ana NG lyrics, “I don’t want the world, I just want your half.”
If I stay late at work, he is mad. If I stay home at night with my cat, I apparently don’t love him anymore …the list goes on.
I cannot do this anymore.
I am finally getting back into enjoying my life. I see a future possibly for myself. I don’t feel broken every single day, like I have all my life.
I was raised in an abusive, violent, alcoholic-ridden family. I am not the greatest person. I am a failure and I don’t know how to have a normal relationship either. I am no good most of the time. I have a mood disorder and trichotillomania and am afraid of being alone forever.
I don’t want to lose my best friend, but it is killing me to be tortured every single day. I can’t be with this person. I want to, but cannot imagine living with him and being trapped in the same home with all the manipulation and possessiveness.
I’m not making much sense.
I just need to know how to release him to a better place then where we are now.