I remember the first time I cut myself very clearly. It is a memory that you never forget, much like a great day with a cherished friend, or the best scene in your favorite movie. I was 12 years old and incredibly awkward. Frightened that nobody would ever love me, I panicked into a dark, downward spiral that would later turn into Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Going through my days, I experienced a mix of emotions that was inexplicable. I felt sadness, anger, guilt and pity all blended into one bitter smoothie. I didn't know how to properly process any of these emotions and became a shaking time-bomb for my own psychopathology to control me.
One night, I couldn't take it anymore. I had tried everything I could think of to solve my sadness. Family members had constantly told me, "But, Sam, you have everything you could ever want. You shouldn't be sad! Plenty of people would die to be in your position." That was just it, I didn't know why I was sad, so I had no idea how to stop it. I let my guilt tear me apart limb by limb. I was only in the 7th grade and already the maggots of mental illness and self-hatred began to burrow their way beneath my skin. In a futile attempt to find answers, I let the maggots live inside me. I allowed them to thrive on my flesh, and even encouraged them sometimes. Knowing they were there was my validation. It allowed me to give myself a reason to be sad. I wasn't being selfish, greedy, or a brat. I was sad because I was infested. Eventually, the maggots fattened and grew. This is when I first decided to pick up a pair of scissors. I sat on the cold tile of my bathroom floor and looked at the blue scissors in my hands. I wasn’t entirely sure where I got the idea from in the first place, but I was certain that this is what must be done. I took the edge of my school scissors and dug it into my forearm. I winced in a moment of pain and then relaxed. No blood had been drawn, but it left a long burn mark along my skin. I felt like I could finally breathe again. I had been drowning in a swimming pool of my own thoughts for years, and I was just now poking my head up to the surface for a breath of fresh air.
After that first night of cutting myself, I remember being ecstatic for the next week. I thought to myself, “Wow. This is it. I’ve found it, the end all be all. Finally, I can be a normal person.” As most stories of addiction go, I thought I had it all under control. I was only cutting when I was upset, and it made me feel really, really good. Eventually, the high wore off. In high school I was cutting myself just because I felt that I had to. My emotions were out of control and I never learned how to properly combat them. I had found straight razors and would lie to my parents for money so I could buy them and some gauze. I had begun to do irreparable damage to my body with these, slicing myself open a few times a week just to have the courage to get up in the morning and face the world. Walking through the hallways in high school would give me crippling panic attacks. Anytime anyone would even glance in my direction, all the muscles in my body would tense up. My mind would go into a frenzy, telling me that these strangers absolutely hated me and that they were only looking at me because of how ugly I looked or how stupid I was. Not many people knew of my crippling anxiety as I hid it relatively well, so I never reached out for help. I felt I was beyond fixing. The maggots wriggling between my cells were now part of my identity. If I didn’t have them, what else did I have? I simultaneously hated every morsel of my being, but loved the little babies that lived inside of me. I egged them on; I told the maggots to grow. Maybe when they had eaten enough of me away I would be worthy for help. My case didn’t feel serious enough to stop, plenty of other people self-harmed here and there. They functioned well and didn’t seem to have as many issues as I did, so maybe if I continued down this pathway I could stitch myself back together too.
After multiple suicide notes and half-serious attempts to off myself, I somehow made it to being an adult. To this day, it still amazes me that I made it this far. I never thought I would make it past high school. Despite my accomplishments and even getting into my first-choice college, I hated myself. I was still cutting and finding other ways to destroy myself. I had tried to quit cutting a few times, but I only replaced it with other maladaptive behaviors, like eating disorders. Once I moved away to college, I thought I was healed. I was in a new environment and all my old stressors were gone. I had shed my old skin and left it at home with my parents. Slowly but surely, the same maggot-riddled pelt grew on me and I was facing the same issues as I had when I was 12. I no longer needed to lie for money to get supplies to harm myself, so I always had an abundant supply and didn’t need to limit my resources. None of my new college friends knew about my self-harm issue. I was a big grown up adult now, and responsible people like us don’t do childish things like cutting. I was ashamed of my bad habit, but couldn’t stop. I convinced myself that cutting wasn’t a maladaptive behavior at all. I had never had an infection from a wound and knew where all the major veins and arteries were, so I wouldn’t accidentally kill myself. Some people get black-out drunk on the weekends, some have compulsive sex, and I cut myself. I had told myself that it was the better of the evils. The only thing that I didn’t account for was the escalation of the severity.
One night recently, I let myself plunge head-first into a bad episode. I had a jarring panic attack, crippling depression, and felt nothing all at the same time. I was alone in my room at this moment, so I did what I knew best, and that was cutting. I got out my tools and cleaned the area on my legs that I usually harmed with an alcohol swab. It stung since there were still open wounds from previous bad days engraved into me. As I sliced open myself, I felt inspired to write something down. I often have memory loss during my episodes, so I had gotten into the habit of writing down my thoughts. I hurriedly scribbled my feelings of self-hatred, confusion and hopelessness onto a piece of blood-stained notebook paper. Suddenly, I began to write to my best friends. I was thanking them for the wonderful times we had spent together. I was reminiscing over the jokes we used to share, and how much I loved them. I didn’t think I deserved their friendship. I thought of my relatives and wondered how they would react to another suicide within the family.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, I passed out after finishing my impromptu suicide note. I had written dozens of these. More times than not, they were for attention. When I told someone I was hurting, I had something to back it up with. I could pull out the note and tell them, “No, look, I tried to kill myself.” All while mentally begging them “Please, please help me. I don’t know how else to ask for this. This should be a big enough red flag, somebody has to notice this.” I managed to slip through the cracks and never got a serious intervention, despite my many serious and non-serious attempts. This one was different, though. After I woke up the next day, I almost felt worse. I felt like a different person. As I was going about my daily routine, I felt the compulsion to be extra nice to my friends as a last thank you to them. I couldn’t pay attention in class because I didn’t see the point since I wouldn’t be on this earth much longer. When debating on whether to have a brownie for lunch, my mind whispered to me “Go ahead and have it anyway, might as well make your last meal a good one.” I have been passively suicidal for what feels like half of my life. It had never been this bad before. A maggot crawled its way into my brain and was eating what was left of me. Even if I tried to ignore it, it would keep popping its grimy head into my thoughts.
That same day, I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. I knew that if I went home and was alone, I would seriously harm myself and may actually succeed in committing suicide. It was a scary thought that after all these years of wanting to die, now I actually wanted to die. Checking myself into a psychiatric inpatient unit didn’t magically cure my addiction of 9 years, but it gave me a really good kick in the butt. I got a much needed dose of reality and finally faced the consequences of my actions. I still deal with thoughts of suicidality and self-harm almost every day, but now I am more confident in facing them. I have made the decision to reclaim my body from the maggots that once used to call me their home.