I purposefully cut myself for the first time the summer after high school graduation. I had been suffering from feelings of depression for over a year, was in a severely unhealthy relationship, and one day all of the pain and confusion suddenly became unbearable. I needed a release. I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could talk to who would really understand every angle of my life, so going to my parents or a friend wasn’t an appealing option. And to be honest there was something about cutting that felt tragically romantic. So that’s what I did. And it’s true, I did feel something like relief afterwards. But it didn’t last long.
I moved to college that August and the busyness and excitement of that new adventure was enough to keep destructive behaviors at bay for a while. But soon circumstances stacked against me, due both to my own choices and the choices of others, and I spiraled into a deeper depression than I had known before, despite being on anti-depressant medication. In addition to other self-medicating behaviors (that actually only do the self more harm), I began cutting my arms on a regular basis.
I’ve heard about other people who cut themselves going to great lengths to cover up the evidence: always wearing long sleeves, never letting anyone see their skin. I never felt much need for that. It was almost like I wanted people to see the marks. Maybe, in a way, it was my cry for help. Several friends asked me about it, but didn’t know what to do. One weekend, on a visit home, my mom saw my arm. She immediately set up an appointment for me with a faith-based counselor on campus, and I started visiting this woman weekly. I had talked with a psychiatrist before and never felt truly understood, so I wasn’t expecting much. But this counselor was different. She listened well, gave understanding feedback, and seemed to really care about me.
Through counseling, I came to understand myself better. I realized that I am someone who thinks and feels deeply, but who has a hard time verbally expressing myself to other people. So the result is that eventually all of my intense thoughts and feelings come to feel like a volcano inside of me that needs to erupt. If I’m not prepared for it, it will happen in unhealthy ways. So having scheduled, regular visits with a counselor (who was trained and skilled in the kind of conversation I needed) was an important key at that time in my life.
The urge to hurt myself didn’t magically go away overnight, but I was able to acknowledge that it wasn’t good for me and that I needed to exercise my will and make the choice. With my counselor’s help, I made a brief list of things I could do when I felt the desire to cut. These were things like, call a friend or my mom to talk, write a poem or journal entry, or take a walk around a pond that I loved. None of these felt particularly powerful in the moment, but little by little I was able to replace my old negative behaviors with more positive ones.
Looking back on this time of my life, I still feel a deep sense of sadness over it. But at the same time I’m thankful that there were people in my life available to help me so that it never got worse. I know I’m lucky, and I hope that I can be one of those people to someone else who needs it.
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