It’s been well over 10 years since I first saw what real life cutting scars looked like.
I hadn’t known her all that long, but the one thing I did know was my friend, like me, was smart, thoughtful, mature and had a lot going on inside – it’s what drew me to her. I remember being shocked and feeling completely at a loss for the right thing to say.
They say that self-harm is usually about control. Taking back, or regaining a sense of power. I imagine the same is probably true of most other destructive behaviours, from domestic abuse to workplace bullying.
It’s something I’ve never been able to fully grasp. One of those things I got the concept of, on an intellectual level, but didn’t understand on a human level.
And then one day, not so long ago, I found myself sobbing in the car as storm winds outside buffeted the car. Gazing out from the marina over the harbour, where the sea changed from green to blue, as vehicles whizzed over the bridge to the right. As the gusts agitated the choppy waters, I thought about what it might be like to float away. As I gasped for breath, I felt unbearably hollow inside, like there was an empty, endless well of blackness where a beating heart should have been. With nothing there to anchor me in that moment, I suddenly got it. Feeling so utterly helpless and so overwhelmed by emotion, it dawned on me that this was what the kind of thing that would drive a person to turn those feelings inward.
It’s not an epiphany I ever counted on having. Not one I can say I am especially glad I reached, either. It scared the hell out of me.
This is probably where I pause to reiterate that no, I did not seriously contemplate hurting myself. I’m a wuss, I’m squeamish, and I’m vain. I cried like a baby the other day when I slipped and hurt my knee (which was one enormous mass of bruises for at least a week). I find all bodily fluids pretty revolting. I’m still bummed that my legs never fully recovered from all those bug bites in Asia.
The other realisation I had was that maybe I’m not as emotionally resilient as I thought. Oh, I hold it together all right. I’m a hell of a lot better at being an adult than I am at anything else. I have my grownup shit together and I can maintain it pretty easily. But when things are turning to custard, if you crack my surface, you are tapping into an endless pit of tears and despair. It’s hard to judge, of course, but I feel a well-adjusted person would probably be a fair bit more … stable.
It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the years. Thinking back to other hard times, I was similarly able to cope day-to-day by withdrawing into myself, but when things really got to be too much, I crumbled like sandcastles. Today, those months are a blur – really, there’s nothing to redeem them, and so I prefer not to revisit those times. There’s no point. I survived, and moved on.
We tend to view the past with rose-tinted glasses. Who wants to look back on a long list of sad or horrifying memories? It’s a sanity mechanism, really; otherwise we’d probably never have more than one child by birth or go on to other relationships after a first heartbreak.
I don’t really think there is a way for me to not feel so acutely. It’s just how I’m wired. For this reason, I try not to dwell. It’s a tricky thing, giving yourself the space to acknowledge and just feel those big, heavy things – without letting them take over and succumbing to them. Generally they don’t tend to respect office hours – metaphorically speaking – so it’s about keeping them on a tight leash. Tucking them away into a little corner and ignoring them, for the most part. Occasionally it all bubbles to the top, and a proper meltdown is then required, but as a rule, fencing them off is what works for me. If I let them fly free all the time, I simply wouldn’t be able to function properly.
When it feels like you’ve hitched your wagon to a losing proposition and everything is coming up tails, there simply isn’t the time to roll over and be swallowed by the darkness.
Going through this in my 20s: hard enough. I simply can’t imagine dealing with this kind of thing at 11, 12, 13, like my friend must have. And my personal darkness is purely situational. The sources of my misery are beyond my control, but shouldn’t last forever. I know the same is not true for everyone else.
The one thing I do know is hurting yourself is not the best way to deal. When the chips are down, I write. Maybe for you, it’s talking to someone. Whatever your outlet is, find it.