When I wake up the next morning, the sun is just barely out. I know it is early but I cannot tell exactly what time it is. I am lying on my floor still wearing the clothes I wore out last night. I was doing so well, too. It’s been 127 days since the last time.
I can barely bend my fingers. When I finally manage to focus my eyes, I see what I have done. There is a hole in my wall from the screw that held my mirror in place. The mirror lies broken beside me. Its sharp, collapsed pieces still reveal my pale, sloppy complexion. My head is heavy with thick fog. My eyes are icy and raw and dead. What happened last night?
I remember it in fragments. I remember the walk home after detaching, after the long wait in the street, after not being able to fix it. I remember trying to call someone, to call my sister, to call home. It is two in the morning. No answer. My heartbeat is shallow and suppressed by the churn of my stomach. Halfway up the stairs to my room I feel like I cannot breathe. I tell myself I can. I push open my bedroom door and stare briefly into the mirror on the wall. There is nothing and no one to stop me. With one wide swing the glass shatters from its frame and lands at my feet. I kneel down and pile the sharper pieces one on top of another. Then, I took another swing. A brief moment of pain shoots through my bones and then I am numb again. I can see it what I have done, but I cannot feel it. I wait for a moment and listen for movement outside my room hoping no one has heard me. It is silent. I take a deep breath, and stack the pieces again for my last swing. I finally fall back onto my knees and start to feel lucid. I feel awake – like I exist here again. I grab a first aid kit already half used from the time before this and try to bandage it up. I cannot tell how far into cleaning I have gotten before sleep overcomes me.
When I stand to make my way to the shower, it is hard to keep balance. I peek my head into the hallway to be sure no one will see me, walk swiftly into the bathroom, and lock the door. I turn the water on to the hottest setting and lean into the sink until the air starts to blur with steam. It takes too much energy to stand up inside the stall, so I sit down. My knees are tucked into my chest and my arms are wrapped around them just below the gap where my head rests. The water is hot. It hurts. I can feel it now. Good. I rock back and forth, and try to breathe.
I know that shortly, I will have to walk out of here and explain this. I know I won’t be able to. I pick myself up off the ground, dress myself and clean up the mess from the night before. I have made another trip to hell and back and no one knows it.
Self-harm was part of my life for seven years before I was truly able to say that the frequency of it had significantly reduced.I had been in therapy for almost two years and transitioning into a different program. Anxiety and depression had been part of my life for thirteen years before I properly and effectively learned how to manage it.
A year before that relapse, in a similar situation, I stuck my arm repeatedly through a stack of glass I had broken out of a picture frame. When I woke up the next morning, I was so weak I could barely walk and so nauseous I couldn’t breathe. My roommate throughout all four years of college, Lainey, was still asleep while I spilled onto the hardwood floor just beside my bed and crawled into the bathroom. That morning was different from other times I had hurt myself because I needed stitches. I sat beside the toilet for some time before I was able to walk out. I remember being terrified of myself. I didn’t have a lot of time to think up a story to tell everyone else. I vaguely described that I lost my balance when I stumbled out of bed that morning and fell over a large stack of trash and cardboard piling in the foyer. Lainey was just opening her eyes when I worked up enough energy to move from the bathroom floor. I was on the phone with my father, calmly explaining to him that I needed to go to the hospital. Lainey sprung up in her bed and started listening to the conversation to make sense of what was going on and decide what she could do for me.
While we waited to leave, Lainey called her uncle who was a doctor, her mom who was a nurse, dipped my arm in salt water for me, cleaned it while I looked away and bandaged it while I flinched. She drove me to the urgent care where we met my father and the doctor took care of me. I had to lie about how it happened to everyone. We had to pay out of pocket to be seen.
Living with just Lainey for that year made it tricky for her to address the suspicions she had about my behavior. Although the morning of the stitches may have been the most serious, it was not the first time she had noticed. Some mornings, I would wake up with with unexplained marks of self-harm. Sometimes, I would be so detached from reality I could barely hold a conversation with her. I was a master at hiding my destructive behavior in middle school and high school because of the fact I was not around my friends at all times of the day. I learned how to wear a mask for a certain number of hours during the school day and then let it fall off as soon as I stepped foot into my own house where no one could see me. I didn’t have that option in college but especially not when I lived with Lainey. Our beds were in the same room, we shared a bathroom and we did every activity of the day together. She saw and felt everything that people otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to see or feel. We didn’t talk about it all at once. Instead, I let her in a little bit at a time. I’m not sure there is ever a “right” way to react to any given situation, but I do know the way she handled it was genuine, and that made me trust her.
On more than one occasion, I remember her holding me so tightly it felt like all my broken pieces were sticking together again. She never tiptoed around the subject. Instead, she often brought it to the forefront of the conversation. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about it that openly, but then I realized how helpful it was. She blindly stated her willingness to create a safe space for me to talk. Sometimes, when she would see articles about new ways to manage anxiety or depression, she would print them for me. She introduced me to exercising, to yoga, to meditation, to boxing, and to eating right. In a way I felt she put me on training wheels into recovery until she could let go and I was able to maintain a healthy routine on my own. Since she was the first person I had ever had a real conversation about it with, she let me take my time telling other people. It was not her story to tell, and she knew that. I could hear her voice in my head when it felt like I was never going to feel better. You have no idea how important you are. I need you here. Everything you feel is valid and you are so loved. You are more than enough.
For a while I thought I would be able to figure everything out in therapy and leave there a new person without having to let anyone in my life in far enough to actually experience any of it. I wanted to get the help I needed and then be done with it forever. Although I was working towards convincing myself I could not handle all things on my own, I didn’t think I wanted any help. Then, as I opened up to Lainey, the idea of opening up fully became less scary. The weight on my shoulders shifted a bit and my perception of the Hell I was living it started to change. She found ways to bring me back when I started feeling disconnected. I remember the first time she grabbed my two cheeks when she noticed my eyes going blank and when she butted her head into mine. Where are you, Jack? Come back to me. It forced an instant smile on my face. Sometimes when she would pick up on it at a party or a bar, she would dart at me from across the room, pile into my lap and swing her arms around me. If you’re feeling weird, we can walk back. More than once, she did walk me back and never made me feel guilty about it. Whatever you need to do, we’ll do. You don’t have to go or stay anywhere that makes you feel uncomfortable. I will always understand that. Her acceptance of me was so consistent that I had no choice but to believe it. She was good with words, sure, but her actions kept me moving.
Often when I tell the story about my relapses with self-harm in front of a crowd, people wonder how it is possible for me to stand before them and be so vulnerable. I’ve thought about the answer to that question over and over. I can’t stress enough how much easier it became to accept my experiences once I began opening up about them. I wasn’t familiar with the power of communication and how it could change and unlock every piece of pain I stowed away. Self-harm was initially my all purpose solution for everything that went wrong in my life, but as it escalated, it became clear that I had to find another way. Waging a war on myself never fixed any of the pain something or someone else caused me. I know that now.
When I became a speaker for Minding Your Mind, I didn’t realize how drastically my life would change. I didn’t realize how many people are out there struggling just like me. I also didn’t realize how many strangers I would connect with based solely on familiarity with each other’s pain. I was not alone, although I was under the impression that I was for several years. Lainey was the first person who helped me to find my voice and soon after, when I let other friends and my family in, my voice became stronger than I ever knew it to be. I did not ever plan on telling my story to the people in my life, and definitely not to crowds of thousands of people. I’ve found that I do not have to feel any way I do not want to feel, and that I have the ability at any given moment to change it. I’ve found that unconditional love does exist, even when we think it doesn’t. Most of all, through the power of words, I’ve found out what it feels like to be a whole person. I no longer have to live as a perfectionist or as the girl who has her entire life together. I am thriving although I am imperfect. Minding Your Mind reiterates that for me each day. If nothing else, I hope my story will encourage others to come forward about theirs. The stereotypes are often so far from the truth, and I set out to explain that to our our society each and every day. There is help, there is hope and there is still time for each and every one of you.