obsessed with mental health
Occasionally I post writings that come from a time when I was unwell, if I feel like they express something I could not convey as well today. Today I enjoy being well, but I still want to raise awareness for what it is like to be unwell.
This post is about self-harm, and contains injury descriptions. If you have never self-harmed and feel tempted, please read this note, and seek help.
April 2012: My cutter identity
There is something about cutting that makes it unspeakable. There are three labels I have at some point attached to myself. PTSD, depression, and self-harm. Usually when I have to reveal to someone that there is something dodgy about my mental health, the easiest thing is to say that I have PTSD. Because it has the smallest degree of agency. It tells people that trauma happened to me. I didn’t cause it, I didn’t look for it. It wasn’t my fault, not my responsibility.
Telling someone that you have depression has a bit more agency. It is me who is depressed. It is unclear how that happened, but usually people don’t assume that depression just happens to people. If I am depressed, I’m in a deep dark hole, and it’s my job to climb out of it. But some people will get that I can’t just do that. That it’s not that easy.
Telling someone that you are a cutter is a whole other level. It gives you agency. No one is forcing the knife into your hand and against your skin. You pick up the knife. You draw the blood. It implies a choice. This is how you choose to deal with whatever pain you have. I can’t tell people because I am scared that they will judge me for making this choice. That they will not understand.
They all know about teenagers who cut. Typically they listen to goth metal and wear black clothes. They are moody, flashing their scars as constant reminders of their suffering. Their parents either don’t know, or they do and ignore it, as they are being told that their child just wants to attract attention. Lets not feed into that. They are also repulsed, helpless, in denial. These teenagers stick together. They gather in internet support forums, exchange techniques of how to deal with wounds and find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. For in their life offline, they are.
I know about these teenagers because I once was one like them. Around the age of 16, being a cutter was my identity. My close friends knew. My therapist knew. It wasn’t a great time, but I found some comfort in knowing who I was. It was me, and I didn’t exactly hide it. I looked the part. I played the part 24/7.
It’s a little bit different now that I’m 24. I am torn between thinking that it is exactly the same, or that it is completely different. I used to cut then and I cut now. But I’m not a teenager anymore. I don’t wear my black velvet clothes any more. I don’t tell my friends. Being a cutter can’t be my identity. I’m a grown-up. I’m a successful student. I’m old enough to apply for jobs that require me looking after teenagers. No one is looking after me anymore.
I’ve become much more efficient at cutting. I remember back in the day I used to scratch myself with scissors. The area around the scratch would look slightly bruised, but this would fade after a few days. There was rarely much blood. I knew when cuts would scar, and I tried not to go that deep. Thus I only have three visible scars from the time. Two of them were accidents, were I used a serrated knife and underestimated how easily it would cut me. I remember being scared at the sight of the bleeding cut.
At 24, I want blood every time. I don’t know what happened, but once I reached that level, there was no going back. There had to be blood. Preferable enough to trickle down my arm. I cut every day. Three, seven, ten cuts a day. I run out of space on my arm. I have to put dressings on my cuts so the blood won’t stain my clothes. But it means the wounds don’t heal up as quickly.
I think it’s because I cut so much in a short amount of time that I didn’t know or think about what the consequences would be. I didn’t cut once and waited to see how it would heal, what the scar would be look. Soon I had fifty cuts. My GP told me, this will scar. I told her I didn’t care.
Fool. My God do I care. And worst of all, I’m no longer that teenager. Being a cutter is incompatible with my current identity. There is no room for it, even though it takes up so much space in my life. I spend my life locked in public toilets, comparing prices of different dressings, buying antiseptic, nursing wounds. But I do all this in secret. In between I hang out with my friends, I laugh, I am witty, I convince my professors that I am still a highly capable student.
I think the hidden cuts on my arm, beneath the colourful, flowery clothes, are a symbol of how split I’ve become. I am two. Outside me and inside me. And I think both are true. Both are real. But I want to be one.
I’ve stopped cutting, maybe about a month ago. Even if I stick to my resolve to never do it again, I can’t erase what’s already been done. My scars are still there. I’ve told some of my close friends about the depression. I could do that once it got better. I couldn’t while I was stuck down in the well. But I can’t tell any of them about the cutting. People like me become depressed. It happens. But people like me don’t choose to mutilate their own body. People like me are too smart to do that sort of thing.
I want to make something very clear. Anyone can become a cutter. People like me, or people unlike me.