The Depression Series - You Used To What?
Even after knowing how destructive depression is, we still want it to be neat with only performative pain. You know, dismay theatrical enough to be real, but not deep enough to devastate. We want it to hurt, but not harm. We want it to be sad, but not cruel.
But mental health is messy. It is unpredictable. It is uncomfortable.
Trigger Warning: This will be uncomfortable.
“When was the first time you cut yourself?”
It was the end of 2007 and I had finally started seeing a therapist. It was my last-ditch effort to stay afloat. At this point, I was hardcore failing at life. I couldn't balance my emotions. Tears would come constantly. Anger would come fiercely. I wasn’t tired, but I was sleeping… All. The. Time. Basically, I was making bad decisions on top of bad decisions and I had finally had enough of myself.
This was a new level of depression far beyond being emotional, complicated, dramatic, or cursed.
“Sometime in freshman year of high school.”
It started off innocently enough. A poke here, a scratch there. Never breaking skin. I enjoyed feeling the pressure with just a hint of pain.
I don’t remember why I made the first gash. You would think that cutting is a big enough deal that I would remember what officially caused it. But there were so many triggers in my life during that time, pinpointing the why is almost impossible. Most of that time is now a defined blur. Meaning I glaze over it in my memories unless I absolutely need to recall a specific detail. It is too draining to navigate through that emotional space. So, I purposely forget as much as I can. However, I know when it happened, I was hurting, and knew the aching would never end.
So with an unfolded paperclip, I slowly scraped over my skin until the tiniest bit of blood appeared, then thought, that’s enough. That's enough.
After there was a gradual escalation. I didn’t cut daily, or even monthly, but when I did, I cut slower, longer, deeper. I would fill up with as much pain as I could handle, then I would find anything sharp, sit in a quiet place, and make my outside match my inside. Afterward I would feel empty, but free. Back to a more stable square one.
I’ve used a broken CD case, ink pen, safety pin, even a fork. I found scissors were to sharp. They broke skin too quickly. Cutting was about the build-up. It was deliberate. It was intentional. It required timing and patience. Scissors lacked finesse. They felt too dangerous.
I was always careful with where I would cut to ensure that they were hidden. But in 2005, I got lazy. I gave myself 3 fresh lines on my left outer thumb. I remember that time so vividly because these scars were different. They were rushed, ragged, sloppy even. It was the first time I thought to myself, maybe this isn’t healthy. I lost control for the first time and it scared me. Cutting was something I chose to do, this was the first time I felt i had to do it.
When someone asked what happened I told them I scratched myself with an industrial grater at work. Since I worked it food service, it was a reasonable enough excuse for them to not press further, but I’m not sure they were convinced.
A few people knew, others suspected, but I never knew why they didn’t ask more questions. Or why they didn’t intervene. Were they uncomfortable for me? Afraid of me? Confused by it?
Self-harm is usually something you only see on TV. It is something they show the protagonist in a movie doing before they overdose or attempt suicide and end up in the hospital. It isn’t something your best friend does before you go to a frat party. It isn’t something your sister does after an argument. It isn’t something you expect from your coworker that comes in the office with a bright smile and cheerful disposition. For most cutting doesn’t exist in their life, but it was a big part of mine.
“When was the last time you cut yourself?”
“I think early 2006.”
That was a rough year. School stress. Family troubles. Failed friendships. Fucked up relationships. I hadn’t cut since the hack job of 2005, but BAM! I hit a wall and couldn’t find my way around or over, and thought I might be able to slice through it. Suddenly, I was doing it frequently, almost in ritual instead of as a need. I didn’t even try to hide it. It was like Tylenol, my remedy for chronic pain.
“You say you don’t cut anymore. Why did you stop?”
“I cut because I couldn’t see the pain inside, I could only feel it. When I cut, I could see the trigger and response immediately. It was a pain I could understand. It was a pain I could manage.”
It may seem illogical, honestly there’s nothing logical about cutting yourself, but I never asked myself why I cut. I just knew it “worked.” Remember, I started when I was around thirteen. That age isn’t the height of self-awareness. By the time I was nearing my twenties, it was already an accepted habit. When I finally asked myself that question AND took the time to answer it, cutting didn’t feel good anymore. I went from maybe this isn’t healthy to maybe I’m not healthy. I didn’t see my emotions. I didn’t respect them. I blamed them, then I covered them up. I was depressed and I needed to accept it instead of thinking I could physically correct it.
I never had the urge to do it again after that clearing moment. When it came to self-soothing, it just didn’t CUT it. (A little pun because this post is super dark.)
I used to be cutter. I am not a cutter anymore. And while it was an extreme and dangerous practice, it was my coping mechanism. The physical scars looked bad, but the worst thing I was doing was not respecting myself internally or externally. For years, I didn't know how to grow through my pain.
This post isn’t just about cutting. That was only one of my reactions to my illness. This is about self-harm. Something we all have done and often not continue to do. Whether binging, purging, medicating or isolating, there are so many vices available to distract and deter you from addressing your mental health. Cutting could have easily been replaced with another addiction if I hadn’t begun the process of healing with purpose.
So, after the shock of what I’ve done wears off, after you've gone through all whys and I can’t belive its…
I want to you to ask the most important question: How are you cutting yourself?