Friday, April 3, 2015

My struggle with self-harm

This post received an Editor's Choice award on TeenInk. 

Last month, I sat in bed one night, having the usual symptoms of being a night owl. It was late at night and I was running out of things to do to stay awake. I walked as noiselessly as possible toward my bookshelf where I grabbed my freshman English class' publication of journal entries detailing events that "changed them," inspired by The Freedom Writer's Diary. I began paging through and suddenly, a small object slipped out from the book onto my pillow. I looked down and countless memories began flashing in my mind. It was my razor, long since forgotten, hidden from my family during some of my darkest days. It was one of the instruments that has literally left countless scars across my body. If you haven't guessed already, I'll confess that I have had a long history with the "phenomenon" of self-injury.

I began this traumatic journey at the age of eleven. It was the fall of 2007 and I had a shouting match with my mother. Out of anger, I had the idea to cut myself by using one of my pocketknives that I had stashed away for Boy Scouting events. I dragged the blade over my shin in several rows and watched tiny beads of scarlet liquid form at each small canyon in my skin. It was something that I thought I had invented, just another random impulse that I acted upon.

Months passed and I was living a dramatic life as an obnoxious and sensitive sixth-grade boy. I had gone through a bad breakup with my "girlfriend" of three months, whom I'll call Darcy. I was hurt that she had dumped me for some other boy in our class that she had little involvement with before he asked her out. The members of my posse of friends were polarized on which side to take on this ordeal. Some were angry with Darcy and others were angry with me for how I continued to harass my ex-girlfriend whom I thought I loved. The drama worsened to the point where I wanted to teach Darcy and her friends how much their words hurt me and I showed up to school one winter day wearing a short-sleeved shirt, exposing the various cuts in various stages of healing on my arms.

Things changed somewhat after this, as Darcy and some of her friends were upset about what I had done and I was sent straight to the guidance counselor's office. The woman assigned to work with sixth-graders was out of the office, so I was assigned to speak with the individual that interacted with seventh-grade students. Mrs. Poole hadn't come across as friendly when I had seen her before and she certainly didn't appear thrilled to be dealing with an angry four-foot-seven eleven-year-old. I answered her questions about why I had cut myself and even had to show her some places on my legs, which weren't visible. She asked me to take off some band-aids on my wrists, which I did grudgingly, to reveal nothing underneath. I had intended to give the impression that I had attempted suicide, along with cutting myself, to increase my chance to stop my constant conflict with Darcy and her friends.

I admit, I was looking for attention. I was going through a phase in my life where I craved sympathy from other people and would occasionally show up to school with cuts in order to restore the drama that had begun to settle. I know for a fact that everyone around me was tired of this, as I would always head down to the counselor's office to show my scarred arms and legs and my mother would have to drive fifteen minutes to bring me a long-sleeved shirt to cover my wounds.

The next year, I transferred to a nearby charter school to escape the trauma from the mainstream middle school. It was a new beginning, although one of my classmates whom had befriended me and did what she could to convince me to stop self-harm had also left the traditional school setting. I didn't relapse until the middle of my seventh-grade year. I had thrown away my last few months of "sobriety" after my depression returned. Surprisingly, I remember few details about this time, likely because of how insignificant my triggers were, such as getting yelled at by my teachers or having a squabble with my family members.

Eighth grade was a completely different story than my last two years of self-harm. By then, at the age of thirteen, I was beginning to struggle with my sexual orientation. Currently, I am living as an out-of-the-closet bisexual, yet at the time, I had the most difficult time to come to terms with myself. Every time I noticed I had desires toward other boys, I would cut, which eventually turned into a daily ritual. In the middle of the winter when my condition was at the worst, I was inflicting over fifty cuts across my body for each occasion that I felt was wrong to feel. I knew my family wouldn't be upset if I was to come out of the closet, yet I wasn't ready to accept myself for who I was. By late January, I made my first of six visits to a psychiatric hospital.

As usual, I would recover and stop cutting myself by spring and I soon began my freshman year of high school. My depression worsened to the point where I relapsed and spent every other week at the psychiatric hospital I had visited in early 2010. I eventually transferred in the middle of the semester from the charter school to the local high school, which was completely unfamiliar. Personally, I felt that I needed to move away from a learning environment that didn't quite work for me.

A photo of me in 2010, which illustrates my feelings at the time perfectly

Once I left, I had little to no friends and I kept to myself for the majority of the year. I appeared to be the average shy kid that nobody ever thought twice about, yet inside, I was screaming. I was stressed over a large workload of homework assignments and some harassment from bullies that had nothing better to do. I started pleading to return with a resounding "no" from my parents. I had already relapsed for the umpteenth time and there were new wounds every night. At several different times, I had attempted to take my life, thankfully by trying to cut my veins the wrong direction, as I was unaware of the lethal way to do so. Unfortunately, many weren't able to take my situation as seriously, as they believed I was simply a habitual cutter instead of a suicidal freshman.

The year passed and I eventually moved on with my depression and reduced my self-harming greatly. I was now a sophomore who was now used to the life of a high-schooler. There were still days where I cut, yet my mood began to improve once I began to show promise in my schoolwork. By the end of the semester, I had an excellent grade-point-average and my problems seemed to decrease as my grades got higher. I'd have to admit, my change for the better was by far helped by some encouraging new teachers, one of which was my open-minded English teacher, Mrs. Ryan.

Immediately after I wrote my first essay, I was complimented for my writing, which made me want to learn and do better. I'm proud to say that I aced every major essay for the two semesters that I had with her. Without having such a person as an instructor, I'm not sure if it would have been possible for me to change,

My junior year was more like my freshman year. Mrs. Ryan, along with another of my favorite teachers, Mrs. LaGreu, had been laid off due to budget cuts, which left me frustrated with less faith in the high school I had learned to love. I first noticed that this year was different once I ended up with a C in my chemistry class. I was used to getting mostly A's, and B's. My self esteem subsequently crumbled further when my grade deteriorated and I was soon slacking off in my other classes because my depression had returned with a vengeance. This was the year that fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd from British Columbia, Canada. The thought of suicide resurfaced and I soon became obsessed with "bullycides," which consisted of teenagers who were bullied to the point where they decided to end their lives. The case of Jamey Rodemeyer hit me the hardest, as he was a person in the same situation as I was, growing up as an LGBTQ student, although he was out of the closet some time before I would eventually have the courage to do. Jamey had a history of cutting and was open about his sexuality with his classmates, which resulted harassment that ended with him hanging himself in September 2011. I began expressing my feelings on an online blogging platform known as Tumblr. Surprisingly, there was a tremendous amount of other teens that suffered from depression, many of which I befriended.
My Tumblr picture (censored)

Self-harm is a very popular topic on Tumblr. Many have posted photos, videos and gifs (moving pictures) of self-inflicted injuries. It was then that I discovered new items to use for my own cutting; ones that would go deeper and draw more blood. Soon, I became like many others on the website. I started posting my own photos.

Cutting was my escape from reality. Scientific study shows that it released endorphins ("happy" chemicals) in the brain, similar to crying. It was my way to let my problems bleed out of the gashes on my legs and arms, some of which left puddles on my floor that were larger than my feet.

On a day in late 2012 or early 2013, I decided to post a self-portrait of myself with my cuts  and to write about my history with cutting. I was then overwhelmed by the amount of people who "rebloged" or reposted this insignificant-seeming image. As of two years and two months, the post has  had 3,600 reblogs and likes. There was so much popularity that even some of my peers at school saw. 

I deleted my Tumblr within months after my story was published. I decided that the only way I was to get better was to leave all of the negativity that I could in my environment. This choice may have even saved my life, as I still wonder if there would eventually come a day where drowning in my own and other people's sorrow would have been too much. However, I returned in late 2014 with a vow to refrain from getting involved in what had unknowingly caused me so much pain. Currently, all I post about includes Orange is the New Black, Jennifer Lawrence and various other popular topics in the young adult world.

As of my second semester in my first year of college, I am proud to say I have gone over a year without relapsing. The temptation still exists, yet I continue to remember that I owe it to myself, and potentially my children, to stay "clean" and live life to the fullest. It's not easy, I must admit, as there are always times where my depression overwhelms me and I am constantly looking for ways to relieve my stress.

My advice to current or recovering cutters: cry. It's easy to become numb when you've resorted to hurting yourself to feel better. I've found that one of the best ways for me to release my pain is to simply go to a quiet, locked room and to allow myself to deflate into a mass of tears. As I mentioned before, tears release endorphins, just as the pain inflicted from a blade will do. Another method? Draw on yourself with a pen or marker. By feeling the pressure of something or by moving something across where you would cut could somewhat simulate cutting without doing bodily harm. If it works for recovering smokers to hold straws or pencils between their fingers, it may help for a cutter to approach their problem in a similar manner, Recovering isn't easy, obviously, but it is definitely more realistic than it may seem.