Thursday, April 2, 2015

Because I was a cutter, and now everything is okay.

I feel like I've become a one-woman campaign for mental health awareness...and hey, why stop now? More than anything I just want to give light to something that people don't talk about, that people don't want to talk about. There is such a stigma around mental illness, a shame that follows you, that makes a lonely world even more lonely. I remember after my first hospitalization for my eating disorder, I came back to school after being gone for nearly 3 weeks, and when a cute boy from my swim team asked me where I had been I told him the truth. The look on his face and the awkwardness that descended were enough to make me not want to tell anyone the truth about my extended absences ever again. Although over time my invisible problems became painfully visible to all those around me.

I will be honest, I do not regret much of what I have done. I do not think there was much I could have done differently with the mental and emotional problems I had at the time. What I do regret are the things that scarred me, literally. My left arm is a visible testament to the painful things I have endured. More than a hundred thin parallel scars from my wrist to my upper arm. I have similar scars on my legs and stomach, although much fewer in those places. I do not hide them, I will not live my life in long-sleeves. I don't know how many people notice them, or recognize what they are. A few people have asked. I am never embarressed and I'm always willing to tell them what they are.  The simplest explanation is that they are scars from where I cut myself when I was depressed. To explain them more thoroughly, cutting was at outward expression of my internal feelings. Sometimes it was a release. Sometimes it was the only way to distract from everything happening around and inside me. It was being able to control something, when I couldn't control how I felt. It was my way of coping, my only way of coping with the overwhelming and intense emotions of hopelessness, fear, despair, anger, guilt.

"Sarah's Secret" is a story a wrote for a writing contest at the community college I went to. I won the contest with it. It's called "Sarah's Secret", but it's mine. It is an autobiographical account of a shameful secret I had for years. Although, it wasn't too much of a secret, 100+ scars are hard to hide. I hope you read this, and if you know someone who cuts, I hope it will give you insight into why they do what they do. I never did it to try and kill myself, it was only a distraction to help me cope. It's hard to be on the outside and look in and wonder why people do this. Why intelligent people intentionally mutilate their bodies.You may never understand, you will always want them to stop. They need love, they need support, they do not need another reason to feel ashamed of themselves. They do not need another reason to withdraw from people they love, and lie to those they are closest with. Be open, be honest, be calm, be loving. This is a brief period of time in their life. This does not define who they are. This too shall pass.

Sarah's Secret

         There was a spilled bottle of pills on the counter. Green ones shaped like tiny bullets. A few of them had found themselves on the floor, most were on the cream tile of the counter. Her clumsy movements had knocked the open bottle over. It was like slow motion: she saw the bottle tip over, then she heard the plastic clink. She saw the rush of green color, then heard a few drop to the linoleum kitchen floor. The whole time she stood motionless, just watching it all happen. This was just one more thing to add to her bad day. It may not seem like much, but she she really did not want to deal with those little anit-depressants right now. She did not want to round up all those little green Prozacs into their bottle. She did not want to do anything right now. Well, except for one thing.
          Sarah made her way to the bathroom. She left the spilled pills where they were. She walked in a trance through her kitchen. Past the dining room table covered in today's newspaper. Past the family shoe rack, past the cook book shelf, and the china cabinet. Her feet finally stepped onto the hallway's worn carpet. The carpet felt distant beneath her feet, she was hardly able to feel it. She walked past the linen closet and the wall covered in smiling family portraits to her destination, her favorite room in the house. The stark white door called her in. It was half open, just waiting for her to step in. She slipped past the door and immediately shut it, and made sure it was shut tight. What she was about to do was not allowed in this house, it was not allowed anywhere. It did not matter where she was, every place became the same when she shut out the world and was safe and secure with herself.
         There was no need to turn the light on; it was early enough in the day to use the sun's light instead. Two more steps and Sarah would have what she was looking for, her most prized possession. She hid it in a basket of miscellaneous toiletries on the back of the toilet. Buried under it all was a Ziploc bag full of toilet paper. Not just any toilet paper, Sarah's Secret. Some were stained brown. The blood had dried since she had used it last, leaving the paper hard and stiff. The other toilet paper was a neat little package, that was the true treasure. Opening the toilet paper package, she held it at one end and let it drop like a scroll unraveling. She caught the other end with her hand. And there it was, the means to getting the comfort and control she desperately needed, the razor.
         It was familiar, it gave pain, it gave control, and that is what Sarah wanted. She looked at the thin metal blade in her palm for only a second before she picked it up. She loved the way it felt in her fingers. More dainty that holding a pencil, but the same position. Now came the hard part, finding a place to cut. She pushed up her left sleeve half way up her bicep. Sarah saw the previous encounters with this blade. Over twenty in all, some only faint scars, some still red and swollen.
        Her heart sank a little just looking at them; they were signs of shame and must be hidden at all costs. Now it was time to add one more, one more secret, one more lie to the enormous pile. She picked a spot high on the inside of her arm. "Easier to hide," she thought to herself.
       She raised the razor to her arm, closed her eyes and anticipated the pain. Slowly she drew the cold steel two inches across her flesh. Sarah barely felt the motion; the blade was so sharp it cut with ease. It lasted less than a second and then the razor was once again unattached from her arm. For that brief moment Sarah felt as though she was connected to this inanimate object. She opened her eyes and looked at her newest injury.
       The blood slowly rose, seeping through the thin line. It formed little red beads till it started to run down her arm. Sarah picked up the extra toilet paper to clean away the blood. She could not describe the feeling all this gave to her, she could not even describe it to herself.

This is a hard story to read, but this is my story. I want to share it because I was a cutter, and now everything is okay.