I am writing this series as an account of my own history with depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. My intention is, in part, to reach a sense of catharsis, but also to help raise awareness about a serious and often misunderstood mental illness. Depression and self-injury are real and painful. Some of the words and images in these posts may be triggering to some people, especially those with similar behavioral tendencies or a history of depression or self-injury. Please proceed with caution if that applies to you and if you haven’t already, I urge you to reach out for help.
This is part two of four of a story that I keep very close to me. I began with the intention to keep this to three parts, but it turns out that there is more to say than I initially thought. This particular section is probably the one that I talk about the least. It is very difficult to talk about this part in detail and only slightly easier to write about it, so I just ask that you bear with me through the possibility that some of this may not make as much sense as I want it to. I encourage discussion and questions throughout these posts and I will respond to the point that I remain comfortable.
After meeting with Shirley and my psychiatrist and going through my experiences on Prozac we all agreed that it was best for me to change medication. Enter Effexor XR. This is a medication that needs to be introduced slowly to the body. Even then it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings ever. It felt like my body was trying to get out of my skin, like I was a manifestation of restless energy and my body was my cage. It was difficult to sleep or even to lie still. It was hard to focus my attention on anything other than trying to escape my body. Eventually, though, I got more used to the dose… and then it went up and the cycle started over again.
The trouble with adjusting to Effexor was that, like I said before, antidepressants don’t magically make you feel happier. They aren’t meant to do anything but to help numb the sadness (which in turn numbs the happiness too.*) This takes time. Time that was constantly working against me as I found less comfort in art and music and dark rooms. Time that more and more occupied by imagining creative ways to step out into the street in front of vehicles or lie down on the cold train tracks on the edge of campus.
Time passed. I couldn’t tell you anything about what happened between Thanksgiving break and the end of the semester because it’s all a blur. Friends have recounted conversations that we had during that time, but I have almost no memory of anything that happened during that period other than one series of events.
I began to spend more and more time with a girl who lived in the same house who was also coming away from the end of a serious relationship, #2. She was in a similar depressed state, which allowed us to connect on a level that was endlessly comforting. I know now that much of the relationship she and I built was harmful and dangerous, but at the time it was exactly what we each needed.
Here is where my timeline falls apart, and for that I apologize
The problem with spending time with #2 was that, despite how comforting it was to be with somebody who was experiencing similar pain and someone who could share my emotions, my entire world was still cold and consumed by suffering and anger. The emotional pain began to reach a point where I no longer knew how to handle it. The medicine only made me go through my days in a fog.
One day, before heading to a final exam, I sat at my desk. I stared at my computer and let anger envelope me. I let a few tears drop (that’s all I can ever get out when I cry) and I tried to will myself to get better.
I looked at the plastic knife I had sitting on my desk. I don’t know why it was there, but I remember being glad that it was. I picked it up and dug the hardly-serrated edge into the palm of my hand. I could barely feel it. I moved to the outside of my left arm and tried so hard to make myself feel something. My skin barely broke, but I was feeling. I wasn’t numb. I wasn’t focused on anger. I was in the moment and I felt alive.
I quickly covered the nearly invisible scratch with a sweater and headed off to my final.
It wasn’t until I was home for winter break that I began to feel completely numb again. The only emotions I could recognize were hopelessness and despair. I could laugh a little, but never for long and never enough to hold a smile for more than a few minutes.
One afternoon I was in my room drawing when my friend Dimples texted me and asked if I wanted to go to the mall.
I continued drawing until about 30 minutes later when he informed me that #1 was also going to be going with us. And then he apologized.
I said it was okay and told myself I could handle it. As each minute passed, though, and I waited to get picked up I completely lost myself.
I realized that in the box where I kept my art supplies was a pencil sharpener. In fact, it looked remarkably similar to this one.
Do you see what I saw that day?
There is a single screw that holds the blade to the base.
It just so happened that I also owned a small screw driver that could undo that screw. I could get rid of the screw and have the blade be free of the pencil sharpener.
I held the blade between my fingers feeling how sharp it was.
And then, without thinking, I brought it to the outside of my left arm. I pressed firmly against my skin. I pulled the blade along my arm creating a thin, faint red line. The line quickly grew darker as blood tried to ooze out.
It hurt. It felt amazing. It was exhilarating. I felt alive. I was proud and happy for a split second.
I retraced the same line. Harder this time. Blood dripped out of the cut and down my arm. I couldn’t just keep retracing the one line, though. That would be foolish.
I crossed it with another line, creating an “X” at the top of my forearm.
It was the best I’d felt in months. Even more, it was beginning to look beautiful. It was art.
I completed the piece with a total of 9 cuts, mostly in “X” formations, across the outside of my left forearm. Each time I made a new cut I pressed harder. Each new line felt better. I no longer had to cope with sadness; I could engross myself in the physical feeling. It was the only thing that managed to distract my mind entirely.
As I finished the 9 lines, I realized that I was bleeding all over myself. Somehow I came to the conclusion that if I cleaned up the blood nobody would see the cuts.
I was wrong.
I wiped the blood down and managed to slow the bleeding enough that I could walk around without blood dripping down my arm.
And off to the mall I went…
…In a short sleeved shirt.
To Be Continued…
*”You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
Crisis Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE