For the month of May, Defying Shadows will be joining the Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing a post daily on a different type of Mental Illness or “Shadow” that people commonly struggle with. Join us in creating awareness and working to end the stigma that goes with these topics! Today we have Melanie sharing on Self-Harm. ~ Defying Shadows Team.
I never thought I would write this story. It’s something I never wanted to be made public. But I’ve recently been thinking about my journey and decided it’s time to confess to something I no longer do.
I am a former cutter. I used to self-mutilate. (As I type this, my chest tightens with tension and anxiety.)
The key word here is not “cutter” but “former.” I didn’t realize until just this moment that it is completely in my past.
When I was 15, I started showing signs of depression. I felt it in everything I did. I was aching with pain from the inside out but had no coping skills to help me handle all the awful emotions I was feeling. I thought I was fat, ugly, a failure, you name it. I was emotionally abusive to myself and didn’t know how to stop.
Then, after a particularly harrowing day of fighting off my personal demons, I had a stray thought pop into my head; one I had never had before nor heard anyone ever even talk about. “What if I grabbed those scissors and swiped the sharp edge against my arm? I deserve it. I’m an idiot. I wonder what it would feel like.” I went for it.
As a teenager in the grips of a deep depression, it was like nothing I’d ever felt before. All the pain and angst that had been building inside me finally seemed to have a place to go. The aggressive stinging that came from my angry swipe was oddly comforting. But now I had a problem.
“What am I doing?! Am I crazy?!” I was absolutely sure I was crazy. All of a sudden, the burden of pain had been lifted, only to be immediately followed by a more pressing problem. I never felt more alone or afraid in my life.
Now, this was the year 2000. Mental health stigmas were in full force back then so nothing was talked about. Living in a town of only 500 residents, I’d never even heard the words “self-mutilation.” I did not know (nor would I have even guessed) that other people actually cut themselves on purpose as a coping mechanism. Or that through talking with a physician about medication and regular therapy, people were able to overcome it.
I just didn’t know. The only thing I knew was that I had to be crazy because no logical person would want to do that to themselves. From then on out, I had a go-to when things got tough. I got good at hiding it, keeping it in unnoticeable places, but I knew I couldn’t keep up the “My Friend’s Cat Scratched Me” facade for long.
Luckily, I have amazing parents who wouldn’t give up on me, whether I liked it or not. They eventually convinced me to take Prozac about a year after my first “incident.” When I finally started to feel “normal” again, I could hardly believe the change in my emotions. I wasn’t crying as much, I could think more clearly, and I had a generally happy outlook on life. I’d wonder to myself, “How did I ever do that to my body?” It was an amazing feeling.
I haven’t looked back since. I’ve had some bad days over the years, but as long as I stay on my anti-depressant, I don’t feel the urge to cut. I’m now taking one specifically for Major Depressive Disorder (which I was diagnosed with about a year and a half ago) and my life has never been better.
It’s been more years than I can even remember since the last time I cut, and that is an amazing accomplishment for me. I struggled with using it as a coping mechanism for years but finally figured out the right balance of therapy and medication. And once I found out I was not the only person who felt the way I did, I was so relieved.
Being able to talk about my issues and feeling like I had a support system were the keys to me getting completely mentally healthy again. I’m hope by telling my story I can reach someone who might feel like they’re crazy, too, realize they’re not, and get the help they need.
Melanie McKinnon is a wife, mother of 3 plus 1 in heaven, and a barre fitness instructor. She loves writing, Diet Pepsi, hugging her kids and dating her husband. On her blog, Melanie Meditates, you will find subscription box reviews, her experience with anxiety, depression and loss, stories about her life as a mother, and some tips for maintaining sanity. She hopes to encourage and inspire anyone fighting a daily battle.