Before I go on and explain or expose this to you, I want to first explain that this is what happened to me in my life. The thoughts and feelings I express are mine. I cannot say this is the same for everyone else or if others felt this same way, but I can say that throughout my years of recovery and while speaking with others who have been through similar struggles or acted out with similar behaviors, in several conversations, much of what I express was commonly relatable and understood. Therefore, I expose my history of cutting for others whowould like to gain a different perspective as well as expose this for those who cannot or could not find the right language to describe the reasons behind their actions. And be advised, I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an authority on this subject. My role in this fight against mental illness, depression, or on whichever label I might have been given at one point in my life is personal to me. And going forward in an effort to understand me and my past, I have reached out to others in a successful attempt to gain information and understanding about this subject. I do not claim to be a professional; however I can say that I am a professional when it comes to who I am. Basically, I know me. I know who I am and I know about my behavior and my reasoning. I know about the cognitive thoughts that were in my head and the struggles, the anxieties, the emotional dilemmas, and my lacking ability to discuss or express anything I thought, believed or felt. I also know what the voices of insecurity sound like and even at a whisper, I know full and well how crippling that tiny whisper can be. Also, before moving forward, I would like to clearly state there are so many misconceptions out there. I am not weak nor sad nor pitiful. At one point, however, I was struggling and the following message is simply a detail of the hows and whys. Please do not make assumptions about parenting or wonder if this was a problem in my home. This is not intended to discuss my place in the family tree. No, this is intended to inform you of what I thought, how felt, and how I reacted
I struggled with the understanding between thought and feeling. I thought I was alone. I felt lonesome, even in crowds, and I believed with all my heart that I was somehow defective. I saw myself as a burden to those around me. I was frustrated with my inability to communicate my emotion, and at minimum, I was frustrated with my inability to define my problems as well as understand why I felt the way I did. In truth, I thought there had to be something wrong with me. In fact, I knew there was something wrong with me, —there was something different about me that made me unlike anybody and everybody else. And in this feeling of oddity or misshapen existence, my feelings of confusion had no way to manifest themselves.
There was something inside me is the best I could explain. There was something inside me that I could not define or describe. I didn’t know what it is or why it was there but whatever this was; it was something that made me painfully different from everybody else.
As this applies to me, emotional pain, which to me seemed tragic at the time, was this invisible thing, —it wasn’t something I could touch or see, but I knew it was there like some incredible deformity that seemed obvious to me. It was something I could feel. I knew I could feel it; I knew there was some kind of defect inside of me; however, the pain had no way to bleed or escape nor did I have the words to describe them. And I think it started with a scratch. I think it started with an intentional scratch from a red thumbtack. I think it was a small red line I scratched into my arm. I don’t recall the scratch being painful, —least of all; it wasn’t painful as far as pain goes. No, there was something about this that made sense to me. There was a physical transfer of energy, which spoke like an interpreter that was able to translate my feelings. I was seldom around anyone when this happened. Although, I do remember a few occasions where I dared the edge of a blade in a young drunken teenage stupor to speak out and prove myself in front of others, be advised, most of my controlled cuts and scratches were done in a quiet setting, alone, and at personal times.
I recall one night after experimenting with a psychedelic drug that need not be mentioned; my body was numb and impervious to pain. It was interesting enough to me to heat up a Bic cigarette lighter until the metal tip heated up nice and hot before turning it against my skin and feeling absolutely nothing.
Sometimes, it was enough to bleed to calm me down and settle the nonsense that continued in my head. This was my coping mechanism. It was personal, private, and intimate thing. This was as equally punishing as it was self-serving because there was sense to my pain. At least, at minimum, when it came to physical pain, I was able to identify and understand it, —whereas, emotional struggle was invisible to me, the slice in my skin was visible understandable to me. I saw this as a voice that had no voice. I saw this as an action, —or should I say I used this as a reaction to make sense of the things I couldn’t understand.
And it didn’t stop here for me. Self-harm in my case was not only limited to cutting. No it surfaced in my behavior. It surfaced in the way I spoke with others, how I acted towards others, and my acts of self-harm also manifested in the situations I landed in. In truth, all of my actions and reactions were a scream that I couldn’t scream. And even if I did scream them and even of someone asked me why I behaved as I did, I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain myself nor did I think anyone else could understand. And while stuck in my unique lonesomeness, I believed this was my fault. There was something wrong with me. There had to be something wrong with me and had I dared to express myself, or if I dared to even think about honestly expressing myself the fear of exposure was more painful to me than the drag of a razor blade. So why bother to explain when at least I had this physical transfer? I was too afraid of feeling alone and too afraid of feeling exposed. I was afraid I would be regarded as a freak, as if something was wrong with me, which I knew there had to be. I was afraid to speak out because God forbid, someone else found out about me; then I would be exposed further and be afraid all the time that someone would come along and pull the covers from me. And if this happened, there I’d be, naked in a sense, vulnerable, exposed, and weak. What would the world think of me if they knew what was behind my eyes?
I couldn’t tell anyone, no matter what. Even if I wanted to speak with someone, I couldn’t tell anyone because I was afraid of being in trouble. I was afraid my parents would be mad at me. Put simply, I was ashamed and silenced by my shame; whether my scratches or cuts were delicate and controlled or perhaps more deliberate and deeper to dare the edge of life and challenging suicide, at least I understood this interaction. Anything else was too petrifying for me to comprehend.
Although my actions were surface level and outward; this was not attention seeking behavior. I mention this because self-harm and cutting is often and inaccurately considered to be attention seeking. Yes, it was a cry for help. And yes, there were other aspects of my life where I sought attention, but this was not something I wanted exposed.
I mention below some of my struggles in bullet points. These were just a few on a very long list of frustrations that ranted in my heart
- I was too small
- I was too thin
- I looked too young
- I was weak and couldn’t fight or defend myself, which left me feeling frightened all the time, and unlikable
- I wasn’t athletic. I was pathetic
- Every time I tried to say the right thing it came out wrong
- Each time I wanted to stand out for the right reasons, it always seemed that I stood out for the wrong ones.
- I always wanted to fit in, but I never felt like I could
- I always tried to be a part but I never felt invited
- I was always afraid to be the punchline of someone’s joke. And this was painful for me because I was always too afraid to laugh because I was afraid I’d look foolish.
I struggled with my value system. In my heart, I believed that I was worth much less than everyone else. I was essentially defective. No matter what I had, materially speaking or otherwise, I always felt as if I had less than everyone else.
My self-harming behavior ran the gamut between suicidal and non-suicidal harm. I never mentioned this to anyone. I never thought I could and why would I have spoken about this; I felt diseased. I thought there was something so inherently wrong with me that exposing or discussing this would do more damage than harm. Sometimes, I wondered if I was brave enough to make the real slice. Sometimes, I wondered if I would be able to pull it off and other times, I was afraid of being a suicidal failure, waking up in a hospital room living someplace in institutional-style living with people that talk to themselves or smear shit on the walls.
I have spoken with several teenagers after some of my presentations. Some of them were inconsolable at the time. And it’s not that this pain was new to them, —it’s more that someone finally put their indescribable feelings into words.
I have learned one thing. We are all relatable regardless to our age. I have learned and seen proof that our children are tired of being told, “You’re just a kid….” They’re tired of being minimized and feeling belittled by comments like, “You’ll understand more when you get older.”
Wouldn’t it be better for the wellness of our children if they understood they had an open line of communication? Perhaps, if I felt nurtured or comforted and assured, maybe I would have felt more comfortable speaking about the crazy thoughts in my head. Maybe if I had someone to talk to without the intimidation of a doctor’s office or sitting on a coach while speaking with a man that had several diploma’s scattered on the wall, —perhaps, this would have saved me a lot of pain had I felt I was talking to someone that cared instead of someone who spoke from a position of authority.
The truth of the matter is there needs to be a change in the dynamic of treatment. There needs to be relaxation or pride and a leash put around those whose intellectual and educational snobbery prevent someone like me whose only goal is to relate and be helpful.
I spoke with a young girl about this in one of my last middle school presentations. She came forward to me and spoke openly and honestly. Instead of leaving after my presentation and leaving the girl to shrug her shoulders while asking the “Now what?” questions, I helped formulate a plan with school staff, counselors and psychologist. Since then, I have received emails on a daily basis from this girl. Sometimes, just hearing that someone out there gets it can be lifesaving!
Understand something, I always wished I felt like someone understood. I always wished I knew someone who could relate to me. Folks, we cannot dictate our terms to our children when it comes to their heart. We need to reach it. We need to nurture it. And without judgement, we need to work alongside them so they feel empowered instead of alone. Perhaps, some of my friends who lost their life by their own hands would still be around had they had someone like us to talk to.