John Galsworthy, the English novelist and playwright, said, “Beginnings are always messy.” Well, this is my beginning, and it is a bit messy.
I was never your typical teenage girl in high school. I didn’t care about boys (thought they were dumb), I didn’t care about fashion (I was this crazy neo-hippie-like character who went around in tie-dye and bell bottoms), I didn’t care about makeup (people should like me for what’s on the inside, right?), and I didn’t care about giggling on the phone for hours with my friends (school was about getting good grades so I could get a scholarship to college). I liked reading poetry and going for walks in the rain and being out with nature—one with nature. Though I eventually came to defy social conventions on purpose, at first I didn’t really understand it. I just knew that I was different. And that was hard. Lonely. It was so very, very lonely.
I started spending a lot of time sitting in the dark, listening to music, withdrawing from others. I felt as if there was no one else in the world like me and no one I could talk to about it. Darkness and loneliness ruled my life. I was so depressed, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
One day, when I was fifteen, I was putting away dishes out of the dishwasher. My thoughts were so crowded with how depressed I was and how bad life sucked, I barely paid attention to what I was doing. Then my fingers wrapped around the handle of a knife my dad used to carve up roasts. And suddenly, this idea came to me. I put the knife up to my chest and stuck the tip into my skin. I could plunge it into my heart and end my life. All my problems would be solved.
I stood there for what seemed like several minutes, though it was probably only a few seconds, considering the implications, weighing the pros and cons. Finally, I pulled the knife away and placed it in the drawer, realizing that I didn’t really want to end my life, I just wanted something to help ease the mental anguish I was going through.
Pain. In my chest. I suddenly became aware of a stinging pain where I had been poking the knife into my chest. And somehow, it clicked—this wild idea flying into my thoughts that if I physically hurt myself it would block some of that mental pain.
So I started searching for a weapon. I tried a knife at first and didn’t like the way it felt. Scissors seemed too dull. And then I found a razor blade—the box cutter kind—and I sliced it across my arm. It was sharp, precise, and it hurt. But it also felt good.
At first, I only hurt myself when I’d had a really bad day. I’d tell my parents I was going to bed, but instead, would sit up next to my stereo, headphones in, listening to depressing music, and I would race that blade across my skin—mostly on my upper arms and shoulders. It’s ironic—that I was trying to take pain away by giving myself another kind of pain. It didn’t work, of course. But I kept doing it, anyway. It became a sort of addiction, something I started doing even when I hadn’t had a bad day. It’s just what I did because I liked it, because it felt good.
All of this happened during the winter of my sophomore year in high school. I wore long sleeves, so no one could see the red marks and scars marring my arms and shoulders—except for in gym class. I sweat like a pig—or like a boy—so I still wore t-shirts and shorts in gym. People started asking about my arms, and I didn’t want to lie, so I told them I’d done it to myself. Most people looked at me as if I were crazy—one boy even told me to my face. “You know you’re insane, right?” he condescendingly asked me. And then people began to talk. That’s actually how I met my best friend—because she heard people talking in one of her classes about me and what I had done. Turns out she had been a masochist once, too. After that, I started meeting more people like me. More people who had depression and hurt themselves as a way to deal with it.
After five or six months of hurting myself I told my parents, which was a very tough conversation to have, but they were good at trying to get me the help I needed. For awhile I stopped hurting myself because I knew it was wrong, and it didn’t really help. Then I went back to it, and then I stopped again. But it’s like this addiction that’s always looming at the back of my mind. Even now, so many years later, any time I get really depressed or start to feel darkness closing in on me I think about hurting myself. I still believe it will feel good. I think the older you get the more self control you learn, so it’s easier to push the thought back down, to not give in, but it’s just another one of those hurdles people with mental illness have to try to jump over, dive under or go around.
Sharing this story is hard. It makes me feel so vulnerable, because I don’t know how people will react. Even now when I tell people about it—something I did over fifteen years ago—some of them still see a freak because anyone who purposefully hurts themselves is a freak, right? People look at me differently. But this is the beginning of my battle with depression, and I don’t want to sugar coat anything. That’s one of the reasons I believe mental illness is still so misunderstood—too much sugar has been sprinkled on something that is not sweet in any way. And the good news is that there is hope—always hope. It’s one of my favorite words.