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?
There was a hollowness in her soul, an icy chill that ran through her veins when she hit this point. The bottom, again, a place she promised to stay away from, spun so quickly up to greet her. “Help me,” again she whispered, desperate.
The cold steel seemed to awaken in her hand. It was so strong, so faithful, and so delicate. She closed her eyes, tears falling hot and fast, such opposition to the cold running through her heart. One line, then another, cutting across her flesh.
“Help,” she whispered, partially to her ever trusty blade, partially to the blood now trickling down. It was warm like her tears, and safe, a reminder that she was real.
I didn’t mean to be – I just had a lot of pain inside and was too young to understand the connection between that and the reckless behavior I exhibited. You understood it and prayed for me, always hoping I would see the light.
It wasn’t that I was a trouble-maker as so many claimed. Yes, I vandalized an elementary school in my home town, thoughtlessly claiming the rooftop with my giant ‘My Name Was Here.’ Yes, I ran away once, all the way to Tennessee, and yes, I became a teenage mother at the age of sixteen.
Maybe I was a trouble maker.
I didn’t mean to be.
And then into my twenties, the bad choices and reckless behavior chose to continue itself. I’m sure you remember the destruction I left in my own life after post-partum depression led to the loss of my two children.
Years 23-29 are a blur – six years in a hellish nightmare that I had convinced myself I deserved. You screamed at me that I deserved better, that my children deserved better. I assured you that I believed you – and stayed in the nightmare anyway, because that’s what I deserved.
I lied to my friends and my family. I became a stranger even to myself.
I didn’t mean to.
The worst part was marrying my abuser on your birthday as if to honor you in some sort of way. ‘Look Mama. I did it. I married what I earned.’ I spent my entire twenties hating myself for my teen years – and so another decade was lost to my toxicity.
I didn’t mean to lose those years with myself and my children.
It wasn’t until my thirties that I started to feel like you know – maybe I gotta start forgiving myself in order to act right. I read all the mushy quotes, convinced myself I was beautiful inside and out, walked away from everything that caused me harm and for a while I was so happy.
I was so brilliantly happy and dazed by how very blessed my life was – I even found myself being loved by someone who never raised his voice or hands to me.
But now I’m almost 33.
But here I go again – unable to forgive myself and unable to stop the path of destruction. I can see it happening. I know I should stop it. But I can’t. Not until it’s all burned to the ground.
I’m not usually one to do stuff like this. I’m the creeper lurking in the corner wanting to make friends but never approaching anyone.
But I have a story, and I need to let it out.
I was your typical Midwest teen in 2006. I was 15, went to the movies with friends, spent all the time I could in the band room or wandering around the pastures surrounding our house. Life was pretty good. Then came that fateful day in February.
My half-brother got arrested for murder. My dad and I always knew he’d end up in an institution somewhere. He wasn’t raised in a good home like me and he had a hard life; we thought he’d get some time for burglary or car theft.
But never this.
After he was arrested, all these issues from the few years when he lived with us surfaced again, all the abuse he put me through before mom came home from work. My school never did Sex Ed, I didn’t know. For years they were buried…he hadn’t lived with us for awhile, but when he was arrested, the memories came back.
But I never told anyone, until now.
I failed my first class ever that year. I just didn’t see the point in doing any work when spring came around and my brother was in court and here I am in school while the people around me are complaining about how the school food sucks or how some teacher took their cells. On the outside I was the same as always, but inside I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I made it through the year, when my mom yelled at me about my D grade, I thought about ending it that night. Just swallowing a bottle of pills, but I was able to get online and talk over all the stresses with my internet. Life was stabilizing again.
Then came the day I can never forget, and I still have trouble talking about.
June 11th 2006, 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, I got a phone call from my best friend.
She told me that 3 students from our school and our Spanish teacher were lost in the ocean while swimming on a school trip to Costa Rica. The body of one of the students had been recovered already.
Sunday, they recovered the body of one of my closest friends. The third student was recovered Wednesday. Sr. C wasn’t recovered until Friday.
All I remember for those summer days was sitting in front of the computer refreshing news pages, hoping and praying that maybe Andrew, Jessica, and Sr. C were still alive, then it was Jessica and Sr. C, then just Sr. C. Finally it hit me. Four people I knew, went to school with, acted in plays with, sang in the choir with, played in the band with, learned from.
They lived in Kansas and they drowned in the goddamned ocean in Costa Rica.
It was 2 days before my 16th birthday and instead of going to a movie with friends or something on a Friday night I was sitting in a hot crowded auditorium with some friends and Andrew’s brother, crying, wishing it was all just a dream.
Saturday, I didn’t get out of bed. Sunday, my mother prepared all my favorite food for dinner, a beautiful cake, my sister was there, I didn’t eat anything. I got a car. I didn’t care.
Later that week, I was on a bus full of high schoolers heading down to Texas for Andrew’s funeral. Everyone thought I was okay, I acted normal for my friends. But when they played Amazing Grace at his funeral I lost it. Amazing Grace? What’s so amazing about a 17 year old losing his life?
The freshest memory of Andrew is sitting with him on the floor of the band room on the last day of school listening to Good Riddance by Green Day. Any time I hear that song, even now, 4 years later, I cry.
Then I went off to college, started smoking to get away from my crappy roommates, slept any free time I had. I didn’t have a social life outside of band and my dorm room.
Next year in college, I rented a house with a friend of mine, and I started cutting again. One night, I finally left scars. The next morning, I called the schools Mental Health Services, the next day I was talking to a therapist. I told her part of the story, how my brother was a murderer and my best friend drowned in the fucking ocean. How I almost scratched my arm raw on the first day of classes because I’m so nervous in new situations. How I’m always afraid that the worst is going to happen. She didn’t try and give me coping mechanisms or advice, she just gave me pills.
The pills made me feel nothing, I went through that semester feeling like a shadow. I tried to tell her that I didn’t want the pills, she said they were the best option for me. So I stopped. They weren’t helping the depression, the anxiety, or the suicidal thoughts. I was on my own again.
During spring break, my significant other of 4 months cheated on me with another friend. She had the dignity to tell me but it didn’t really help. I started drinking, and picked up smoking again. I failed all my classes.
But I am stronger now. I switched schools and I’m back to living with my parents. I don’t really see my friends much anymore, but I’m becoming who I need to be. I’m trying to learn to cope with my feelings in a good way instead of just bottling them up inside.
I’m 20 now, an age Andrew will never reach. I haven’t seen my brother in 4 years. I can’t trust anyone farther than I can throw them (read: at all) but I am becoming me. I’m changing the path of my life, some days are bad, some days are good, and some days I wish I could crawl under a rock. I just have to keep telling myself that everyday is worth it, that I am worth it, and that in the end I will be me.
And maybe in years to come when I look back at the last four years of my life I can smile and remember good things that happened instead of seeing this crater left by that summer.
Clench my teeth brief sensation of pain
Wait for it to come it takes a second
Bringing with it relief here it comes
Pain flows out trickling down my arm
In little red rivulets so warm and wet I have no problems
That cheery little poem is mine. Oh, it’s from many years ago. Back when I was still living with my parents, in fact. That last line? Is total crap. Yes, the blood brought relief of some feelings, but the guilt and anxiety that was left every time I looked at the scars….yeah, sometimes even THAT was enough of a trigger.
The urge to give in is there. It’s not my first reaction to bad news, anymore, but when I’m at my lowest, or most anxious, I still want to.
There are certain movies that I couldn’t watch all the way through for a long time, like Thirteen or Girl, Interrupted because they make me want to cut myself.
This is a big step for me. Other than my parents, one or two friends from way back then, and my husband and now half-the-freaking-internet, no one knows this. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I bother to tell my therapists. Yes, I know. I’m a horrible patient.
After I decided to stop, which wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first, AND it was totally selfish at first; too many doctor’s exams that required getting naked. I kept waiting to outgrow the feelings. You know, the way I outgrew angsty poetry, and emo-ish music? But I’m still waiting.
Mental Illnesses are prevalent in our world. They greatly affect not only the individual involved, but the people around them. In the month of April, we focus our spotlight on Mental Health, in order to heal together and break down stigmas.
We want your stories. How has your own, or someone else’s mental illness affected your life? How are you rising above stigmas?
Please share your stories with us during the month of April.
Today, well …really yesterday, I can’t sleep …my coworker stopped me to ask what was the matter. I suppose that it’s been pretty obvious for a long, long time that I haven’t been too happy.
So I laid it out for him.
“I don’t know how long I can keep doing this.” said I.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, just dragging myself through each day. You don’t understand if you haven’t felt it. There is literally nothing worse. It’s like thought-cancer. Every last good thing that you have done counts for nothing. Nothing is good. You don’t hope for anything because nothing works out, in the end. That’s the way it is when you’re a loser.”
“Hey, I think you’re pretty great. You’re a great employee. Nobody worries if you’re in charge of a project. They know it’ll be done. I can’t claim any understanding of what you’re feeling, but I do understand loneliness and doing the single dad thing. It’s really hard, but you’ll get through it.” he said. “Have you thought about getting any help?”
“Yeah, I’ve done therapy. I have to dredge up all these shit memories, some of which I had all but forgotten. It’s not easy or fun. The drive gets me too. When you’re feeling this way, two hours of driving becomes a HUGE obstacle.”
“Well, do you mind if I help find you someone to see? I wear lots of hats and it really isn’t any trouble. We care about you, and it really tears me up personally to see you this way. I mean man, when you’re up, you’re up and going, smiling and happy, whistling tunes and singing.”
“Well, those times are becoming fewer and further between. Thank you. Yes you can look.”
We had our Christmas party tonight and it really was all I could do to get out the door. My kids and me. The only single person there. It wasn’t easy. The kids got some small presents, and we feasted on prime rib roast and ham, salad, and green beans with garlic and bacon, funeral potatoes, and cheesecake for dessert. I ended up smoking at least a dozen cigarettes in between playing cars and dollies with all the kids. I really do love playing with kids. They’re so much cooler than adults. Plus, they don’t mind when you’re a bit of a nerd. They think it’s funny. They’re not all caught up in being an “adult.”
Anyway, it was a fun night. At least as fun as being a depressed mess can be.
It struck me that my coworker noticed something that has only been slowly dawning on me the past few months. I may very well suffer from some kind of Bipolar Disorder. I noticed in this last year that I have periods of not exactly mania, but something akin to it, that precede my depressions. And indeed, thinking back, there were times that I was the one dragging a reluctant wife around to friends’ houses, staying up too late and drinking too much, laughing too loudly, smoking way too many cigarettes. Looking back, it’s like watching a slow sine wave …up and down, and up and down. But the peaks are flattening out, while the valleys are falling lower and lower, like some macabre emotional EKG readout, about to flatline.
In any case, this December is my crossroads. I really think that it’s my last chance, and that I WILL be a fool if I don’t follow through and take whatever help my company can give. Once again, I am struck at how selfless these people can be. I have often thought that my job was the single best thing that I have going for me, aside from the children. I am blessed that they care. I explained to my coworker that even getting out of bed is a HUGE accomplishment for me some days. What I didn’t mention was that most of the days that I don’t show up to work, I’m laying in bed wondering why I’m even breathing. Last month, I spent two working days and nearly all weekend in bed, leaving only to buy cigarettes. Another thing I didn’t say was that I am completely sure that I could CONQUER THE KNOWN UNIVERSE if I could get better. Another serving of hyperbole anyone?
But its true. I have managed this much in my fight against depression. I have a tiny nucleus of potential, waiting like the silence before the Big Bang, hidden away from the shadows. Indeed, somehow I have managed to keep this strange little grain alive through it all, shedding its light silently like the crystals from Final Fantasy. Maybe that’s what they call my god-spark, my soul or whatever. My true self. It’s a dim light, and a cold one, but at least I’ve managed that much.
I have been very reluctant to try medication. I must admit that I self medicate with marijuana. But….cannabis IS NOT A PANACEA! I have argued this point with people more than once. You can be depressed, get stoned, and yep, be stoned AND depressed. It does make things bearable in that I am freed for a while from the cyclical thoughts of self loathing. But it’s not a treatment. An old hippy once told me that pot should be the spice on an otherwise good life and that kids now wanted to feel stoned to improve their lives and end up being slaves to pot. It’s true. I’ve known people who will go without food in the cupboard in order to get weed. Food is the very first thing I buy, after paying my bills …after all, what will one eat when one has the munchies? Which, since I have a really bad habit of eating little to nothing for days at a time when depressed, is another benefit. It’s sad that so many who advocate for marijuana don’t just say that it’s like a glass of wine for people, and the governments should get over it. They push like it’s some kind of miracle thing, but its just a damned plant with psychoactive substances. Yes it has been shown to have medical uses, but I really don’t think that depression should be one of them.
I have been reluctant to try medication since my stint on a previous bipolar medication. Sure, I didn’t feel depressed any more. But it was a hollow sort of feeling, and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t get happy or sad. It was weird. Maybe it was working like some kind of chemical lobotomy. I’m becoming more and more convinced that there is something wrong in my brain chemistry. I don’t know if things went wrong because of the sexual abuse I suffered, or because of a genetic thing, or both, but I think that some kind of medicine is what I need. I will have to give up pot, to be sure, but I am not espoused to Mary Jane, and I don’t think that I’ll miss her to much.
I also have to get over my anxiety that the medicines will make me feel more suicidal. I began self-harming in 2014. I hit myself hard in the face and head. I already have a kind of cavalier view of pain. Physical pain is easy to bear, for me at least. This means that I could be one of those who just snap because of their medications and finish themselves off impulsively. I don’t want to die, no matter my suicidal thoughts. Not really. But it’s frightening when you can suddenly become your own worst enemy. No one has ever hit me as hard as I have hit myself. But the scariest part of it is that, for a while, I feel better. Yes. I hurt myself and feel better. Fucking A.
So December is my crossroads, and I hope I take a better path. Dare I hope that I’m going to get better? Tentatively, perhaps.