Warning: Potential triggers ahead. The account that follows is fairly explicit. It discusses self-injury and suicide attempts. Proceed at your own risk.
Time to own up. I have a history of being very self-destructive. Admitting to my past self-destructive behavior is purgative and cleansing, however, so this is detailed enough to make me wince.
My scars have faded over the last decade or so, but they will never go away. I haven’t done anything to intentionally injure myself in a dozen years, but I never stop worrying that I’ll someday feel compelled to do it again.
In the very beginning – and I’m very sheepish to admit this – it was imitative. It was around 1991, when I was in middle school. I was severely depressed and curious why other kids would cut themselves. As soon as I tried it, I knew why they did it. The external pain distracted me from the internal pain. It let me feel something that I controlled, instead of something that controlled me. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I wasn’t doing it for attention. I was doing it to relieve the pain.
I cut myself with a dulled razor blade, really just surface scratches at first, around my waist where the damage wouldn’t be seen. Since no one picked up on it, I got bolder and the behavior grew in frequency and severity. It started out such a minor thing. Eventually I would cut myself every day.
During a particularly bad episode in 1992 (still in middle school) when I was both depressed and extremely impulsive, I got it into my head to try to take out a vein – and myself. Fortunately the knife I chose was not all that sharp and sawing at the back of my hand under water took awhile. By the time I had actually nicked the vein and saw blood coming out in spurts with my heartbeat, the pain broke through the fog in my head and made me realize that I didn’t really want to die. That was the first attempt. I made up an excuse about a sharp knife falling while I was doing dishes. People bought it. I will see that scar all day, every single day, for the rest of my life. After 20 years, I am still not blind to it.
I made an explicit, premeditated suicide attempt around 1995, with a dulled razor blade across my wrist. The same thing happened as before. Using a not-so-sharp instrument gave me opportunity to wake the f*ck up and stop before it got lethal. I didn’t really want to die. I felt like I was backed into a corner and being eaten alive by depression, and I just wanted out.
I didn’t allow that wound to close for months. I hid it under a Mickey Mouse watch with a red leather band, which irritated the cut all the time. The physical pain crowded out the emotional pain, but at the same time kept it fresh and constantly close to the surface. All summer, I’d take the dog for a walk to the most beautiful and peaceful place in the neighborhood, and slice my wrist open again until it bled enough to drip. Right on the street. Almost every day. It was like the wound inside me that filled me with misery: it never healed, and so I kept the option to exit close at hand. No one ever noticed. I never said a word.
Then I had an “accident” in the theatre shop around 1996. This time the razor was fresh and sharp. The cut was deep. It gaped open and blood ran all the way down my arm and dripped off my fingers. There was a bit of a scene. I should have gotten stitches but I knew the hospital staff would see it for what it was and send me to a psych hospital. I fought against everyone’s concern and just used butterfly bandages; it took several months to fully close up. There’s so much scar tissue that it looks like a burn, 3″ long and over 1/4″ wide. It took 5 years before it faded from purple to red, and over 10 years to fade to flesh tone. People still ask me what happened; I started telling them the truth a few years ago.
That incident scared me. I backed off. Like I said, I didn’t really want to die. I just didn’t know how to cope with my overwhelming emotions. Nothing had ever prepared me for such extreme distress. And in fact, things improved for awhile.
Then I went to college and the bipolar mood swings kicked in. Lots of other self-destructive behaviors curbed the tendency toward self-mutilation, but it didn’t go away. One night in 1997 when I was particularly depressed, I got drunk alone, carved a rune into my shoulder, and filled it with India ink. The next day I pulled the scabs off, scrubbed as hard as I could, and got most of the ink out. You’d have to really look to see it, but it’s still there. Ironically, the rune is wunjo, meaning “joy”.
At some point I finally realized that I wanted to kill the horrible feelings, not myself. Getting drunk and high was enough to kill most of the emotion enough of the time to get by. I switched to burning: more pain, less mess, no risk of death. I have burn scars across the razor scars on my wrist. I have a scar on the inside of my left elbow where I repeatedly burned myself during the summer of 1999. I have burn scars on my hand from when I worked in a restaurant kitchen – a hazard of the trade and usually minor enough to be temporary – but I intentionally plunged my fist into a fry basket that had just come out of a 350° vat of oil. Now I have hash marks across my right ring finger and knuckle. Forever.
The self-mutilation ended not long after I met Mr. Chickadee at the turn of the century. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything that I knew would hurt him or make him disappointed in me. He kissed my scars. Kissed them. He really and truly loved me, as messed up as I was, so I figured I must have some value after all. Although the mood swings never left me alone, nothing ever got that bad again.
Love saved me. Mr. Chickadee saved me. I saved me.
I promise that if I ever feel the need to hurt myself, I’ll do something else. I’ll plunge my hands into ice water, snap my wrists with rubber bands, draw on myself with markers instead of razors. I’ll tell my husband. I’ll call my therapist. I’ll check into the psych ER. I won’t hurt myself again. I promise.