Please note, this story contains some graphic material and may upset/trigger some.
I’ve been a cutter since the age of 13. Officially my first foray into S-I was burning myself with my curling iron, but that only lasted about a year. I am reluctant to use the term “cutter,” as it’s worked its way into popular culture in such a way that conjures images of choppy-haired youth eager to transgress in a painful, deep fashion. But, that’s what I am, although calling myself a self-injurer sounds more official, I suppose .
I’ve decided to share my experiences with S-I for a few reasons. Most importantly, there are a lot of misconceptions about S-I; what it entails, what leads to the behavior and why/how it happens. In the past year Jezebel has posted a few items focusing on S-I, and it’s been fascinating to see some seemingly smart and compassionate people dismiss the problem as either a trend or a bid for attention.
Another key reason I am sharing is that my behavior landed me in the hospital last year.
The first week of January last year, David took me to the ER with a fairly serious self-inflicted injury. I can’t recall what happened exactly. I know that I had been drinking, I know that I was sad. I was on our bed when I started, eventually moving into the bathroom. It was dark, and I remember thinking one thing, “I should do this fast.” I can’t describe the fear that rushed through me when I saw, in the dark, the blood. I had seen a lot of blood before, but nothing like this, and I knew I was fucked. I grabbed a towel and stumbled into the living room where David was watching a movie. I was on the ground when he looked at the cut, raising my arm into the air to reduce the bleeding. I still don’t know how he handled it as he hates blood. I suppose his adrenaline took over; he was seriously amazing.
At the ER I saw a nurse in triage who determined that, while I needed stitches, I had just missed a vein (the cut was on my lower left arm, near the wrist) and would not need immediate attention. We waited for about 5 hours before we were taken to see the ER doctor. I hadn’t seen the injury and I had no desire to, but as he was examining my arm, the corner of my eye read a streak of buttery yellow and I promptly had a panic attack.
I ended up with 12 stitches. The doctors and nurses were wonderful, it blew my mind. After the procedure, the doctor examined me and while feeling my rib cage asked if I had an eating disorder history. My answer to that question is complicated, so I told him no. Because my injury was self-inflicted, I had to see a psychiatrist. We waited for a few more hours until he showed up.
If you’ve ever dealt with depression, you’ll know that it’s virtually impossible to explain in any real way. When I am in it, my entire mind is clouded to the point where any lucid thought is impossible. When I am out of it, I can try to remember the catalyst for the darkness, or how it felt, but it’s difficult to articulate. I recently found out that there is a name for this, Alexithymia.
“Alexithymia is a fairly recent psychological construct describing the state of not being able to describe the emotions one is feeling. Alexithymia was positively linked to self-injurious behavior in a 1996 study (Zlotnick, et el.) and is congruent with how people who self-injure often describe the emotional state before an injury; they frequently cannot pinpoint any particular feeling that was present. This is especially important in understanding the communicative function of self-injury: “Rather than use words to express feelings, an alexithymic’s communication is an act aimed at making others feel [those same feelings]” (Zlotnick et al., 1996).
– Palace Dot Net
I was told that I should consider medication and seek out a therapist. The next day I tried to locate a doctor to check on my stitches. This ended up a harder task than I had imagined and I ended up at my gynecologist’s office, which turned out to be a blessing. I’ve been seeing her for years and when I told her what happened she gave me a big hug and we had a long talk. She wrote me a prescription for Prozac. I took it willingly, after years of avoiding medication. I trusted her.
In the weeks following the incident I was pretty fucked up and confused. I dropped down to 105 pounds, I had a hard time sleeping and concentrating at work was impossible. I told my boss what had happened – luckily we are close – and slowly began to tell my friends. I didn’t tell my parents until months afterward. During those months after the incident, my biggest fear was the realization that I had the potential to seriously harm myself. My self-injury had always been a coping mechanism, not some kind of means to The End.
The first question I am usually asked about my S-I is when I started and why. I can answer the first question, but the second is infinitely more difficult. I don’t recall reading or hearing anything about S-I before it first happened, nor did I have friends who were self-injuring. Around the age of 13, in typical fashion, I morphed into the proverbial Moody Teen Girl. I was sulky, I didn’t talk much, I cried a lot, I always felt sad and I was fiercely shy. At 29 I still possess these qualities, although to a much lesser degree.
When I was young, I self-injured to cope with feelings I did not know how to express. This is, by in large, the main reason I continued to S-I into adulthood, although there were often other catalysts, such as feeling numb/emotionless and self punishment. I went through a period in my mid-twenties when I was using drugs consistently and was involved with a self-destructive addict who “accepted” my need to S-I and even fetishized the behavior. He was often the trigger when I cut or purged (another behavior that started up around the same time as S-I).
When I met David I was still engaged in the behavior and he was aware of my past. The need would flare up randomly, and I would usually satisfy it in any way I could. Once I had entered adulthood I had accepted S-I as part of my life. I needed it, and that was okay. I knew it was not healthy, but as I was not planning on killing myself (and did not want to) and was not harming anyone but myself, I figured it was okay. I realize this seems strange, but it is an attitude I still continue to battle.
Something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten a bit older is that I lack impulse control that sometimes leads to behaviors such as S-I. I’ve also had to acknowledge that anger that engulfs me sometimes, which has been very difficult for me because 1) I am not an angry person, nor do I feel like one and 2) it’s hard to shake the social-construct that “good girls don’t get angry.” 95% of the time, my anger is taken out on myself, but it’s anger nonetheless. I haven’t learned how to control these feelings completely. Therapy was difficult. For now, the medication helps, and David got rid of my blades the morning after the incident.
I do understand how it’s easy for some to dismiss the behavior as attention-seeking, most certainly with teens. But, it always saddens me that so many people jump to this conclusion straight away. And, even if it is some kind of bid for attention, it’s still something that should be addressed as the behavior is usually a manifestation of a more serious issue.
I recommend the Palace Dot Net site for researching S-I. And, of course, if any of you would like to ask me questions, please feel free.