The first time I cut myself was senior year of high school.
I used a plain straight razor from my moms medicine cabinet that she kept for shaping up her eyebrows. I remember opening up the door with an eerie determination, driven by a ball of violent and erratic energy. My body ached from emotion, exhausted from rising tension that felt like it could only be relieved by peeling back my own flesh. I sat down on the edge of my parents bath tub and pulled the blade across my forearm…and everything inside of my body went soft. My mind went quiet for a moment and I began to cry. Partly because I was actually feeling physical and emotional relief, partly out of astonishment at what just transpired.
That was the year when I first began battling depression. The last nine years have been marked with academic and personal milestones, but for the longest time, my depression seemed to be the only part of my life that was lacking in evolution. Even right now, as I type this, I doubt that I’ve come very far with my depression. In my reading, I’ve come across statistical evidence showing that African-American women suffer from depression at higher rates than their White counterparts. This absolutely blows my mind, because everything that I know about depression I’ve had to learn on my own. My natural interest in health and healthcare was the initial inspiration to decode. Over time my understanding of the disorder has deepened…meaning that I see it more vividly in every part of my life now, for better or worse. I don’t connect correctly in friendships or family relationships. I’m restless. I’m fickle. Unable to envision myself living a long life. I don’t remember 65% of my childhood. I frequently isolate myself only to detest the loneliness that comes with it. The only time I’m truly eager to reciprocate conversation is if a love interest engages it…someone who can show me affection. This all stems from the broken part of me. The part that I have hesitantly tip-toed around until I could no longer manage to avoid it a few years ago.
When I was five I was a victim of sexual misconduct. I specifically call it misconduct because the perpetrator was just as much a victim as I was. Babies hurting babies. My family didn’t really know how best to handle the ordeal…so it laid there and collected dust in my memory. It remained there, untouched, until many years later. My parents didn’t know about the self harming or changes in my mood in high school, but I think my mother noticed the turn in my demeanor. I think she figured that I was a smart girl and would figure my way out through the growing pains. But otherwise, my depression was as unnoticed by the outside world, just as my trauma was. Undergrad shifted my balance dramatically, and I went into crisis several times. I actually visited a counselor on campus once, but didn’t return for fear of unsettling the dust. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to verbalize my experience. It was shameful, and the last person I wanted to share with was a stranger inside of an awkward office. So I did what I could to maintain and things eventually got better. I survived another six years without any major crises, just some fatigue, impromptu piercings and tattoos (one of my coping mechanisms) and minimally violent mood swings. But then I went back to school and I hit a wall….hard.
The spring and summer of 2014 almost claimed me. Between March and May, I lost my maternal grandmother, suffered through a break up, Came out to my family and close friends, began preparing to return to school full-time, convinced myself to keep a part-time work schedule, and began seeing my current girlfriend. Somehow, I was able to keep all the parts were balancing well until around June, when things became rocky in my romantic relationship. My grasp on all the moving pieces started to slip and I slipped back into crisis. I barely ate, losing 12 pounds. I cut my hair. I cried sporadically throughout the day, both in class and at home. I didn’t see my period for at least two months. And I wanted to cut…I wanted to cut so badly. There was an avalanche raging inside of my chest. By then the scars on my arm were barely noticeable, it had been that long since I placed a blade to my skin. But something about this instance of desire to open my flesh pushed me to seek someone.
In June I began seeing a counselor regularly.
I was so afraid when I started speaking and everything tumbled out. It was probably one of the most surreal experiences of my life. For all of these years, I’d been ignoring this hateful part of myself and here I was just spilling the beans to this person whom I was meeting for the first time. But it felt so fucking great. Like that first heavy exhale in my mothers bathroom while watching blood come weep from my arm. As we talked more, I began to realize just how much my trauma had been expressed in my life. From my fragmented memories, to my fear of abandonment. I started to relearn my trauma from an adult perspective. Learn how to fight its aftershocks by being direct with it. Some progress was made, but I was referred to a therapist. I was diagnosed with clinical depression with some manic behaviors.
The thing about trauma is that there is no “fixing” it. It’s engrained in you. The only thing you can really do is learnt to cope with its effects as healthily as possible. You have to learn to develop a kind of love for your trauma because like it or not, it’s played a large part of who you are. With the growing spotlight of mental health awareness in our community, I hope that this becomes better understood. Survivors are not weaker because of their trauma, but stronger. Linking my sexuality or temperaments (which has been done before) to my trauma is just as disrespectful to me as it would be to say that what happened to me was my fault. Those who don’t understand will often try to rationalize by equating the dirty thing that happened to me, or to others, with “dirty” parts of my life. Commentators will rush to urge “victims” to persecute their perpetrators, never really understanding the complexity of the dynamic. Those on the outside will try to explain who I am…who we are, away. They don’t get to.
So for those of you reading who are working through mental illness, trauma, pain, suffering…there isn’t a “perfect” way to manage the lives that we live. Sometimes the best we can do is literally just getting out of the bed in the morning (or afternoon). For those of you who sometimes question whether living is worth the emotional fatigue, there are better days.
There is hope.
There’s infinite beauty in the broken.
For the uninsured and seeking resources or those in crisis, the following link is to a site featuring hotline numbers and affordable/free health services: