Warning: Before you Start to Cut
“WARNING – Before you make that first cut remember: You will enjoy this. You will find the blood and pain release addictive. Even though you think you can make a few tiny cuts that aren’t deep and will heal easily, they will get deeper. They will scar. They will take sometimes months to heal. And years for the scars to fade. If you think you can limit the cutting to one area of your body, think again; it will spread when you run out of skin.
“Be prepared to withdraw from others and live in a constant state of shame. Even if you are the most honest person ever to live, you will find yourself lying to the people you love. You will jerk back from your friends when they touch you as if their hands were dipped in poison. You will be terrified that they will feel something under the cloth of your shirt or because it just plain hurts so much to be touched. Be prepared to get so out of control you fear your next cut because you don’t know how bad it will be. Just wait for 10 cuts to turn into 100.
“Be prepared for your entire life to revolve around thinking about cutting, cutting and covering up cutting. And just wait till that first time you cut “too deep.” And you freak out because the blood won’t stop, and you are gaping, and you feel yourself shaking all over. You are having a panic attack and you are terrified but you can’t tell anyone. So you sit there alone, praying it will be ok swearing you’ll never let it go this far again. But you will, and further.
“Don’t worry, you will learn how to take care of your cuts so that you can go deeper and deeper and avoid the ER. And the better you get at treating your cuts, the deeper they get. You will lie to yourself and justify it when you find yourself spending 20, 30 or 50 dollars every time you go the pharmacy. You will feel the flutter of your heartbeat every time you go to the counter to ring up your order. Butterfly strips, 3 or four different kinds of dressings, Betadine, antibiotic cream, medical tape, scar reducers. You will tap your foot impatiently, hoping the line will just move and no one will stare at you or wonder why you need all these things. And at the same time, secretly hope someone will notice; someone who is standing in line with an armful of the same supplies; someone who understands but of course that never happens.
“Medical supplies won’t be the only thing you spend all your money on. Be prepared to buy a new wardrobe; long-sleeve shirts in summer colours, bracelets, wristbands , boots, gloves, the list goes on and on. You will start looking at everyone in a different way, scanning their bodies for any signs of SI just hoping that you might meet someone like you so you don’t feel so terribly alone. You won’t even think about it as your eyes scan their wrists arms, hoping, just hoping, they will be like you. But they are not. You will see their clean arms and feel terribly ashamed and alone. You will start doing a lot of things alone.
“You will always have to wash your laundry in private so know one sees the blood stains on your clothes and towels. You will always be cleaning up the blood, scrubbing your bathroom floor, wiping the blood off your keyboard. You won’t be able to make it through a day without cutting.
“Next thing you know, you are in a public bathroom somewhere breaking open a scab with a sewing needle that you keep in your wallet for emergencies. When you get really desperate anything will be a cutting tool; scissors, a car key, a needle, a paperclip, even a pen. Doesn’t matter what it is if you need to cut badly enough, you will find something.
“Say goodbye to things you took for granted. Like wearing shorts or sandals, pedicures, sleeveless tops. A normal summer day at the beach or in a swimming pool will become a far off memory for you. Get ready to itch. Because you will itch and itch, “so much you will look like you have fleas or a skin disease.” You will become an expert on your body as you destroy it carefully. You will dream about cutting, you will dream about being exposed. It will haunt you day and night and take over your life. You will wish you never made that first cut because while you absolutely HATE cutting at the same time you love it and can not live with out it…”
If I had read this before I started cutting would it have made any difference? Probably not. Why? Because I wouldn’t have believed it; I don’t think many people do. The thing with cutting is that you never think you’ll be as bad as the next person. You’ll be able to stop yourself, you won’t cut too deep; you don’t have to rely on it. But soon those thoughts fade from your mind. You begin turning to cutting whenever things go wrong, be they big or small. You cut deeper and deeper, part horrified and part exhilarated by what you have done.
I first cut when I was eighteen and I don’t know why. I was at university, happy; happier than I was when I was younger, I had friends and I was having fun. One evening after going to the bar I walked up to the top of campus and stood looking at the stars. I pulled my pocket knife out and traced the blade over my hand, just above my thumb. I watched as the blood crept to the surface; it was only a small cut, and then I went back to halls and wondered what I had done.
After that it happened more often. When I was lonely, tired, stressed out, I would cut; it calmed me down. I don’t remember much of my first year in university. I remember becoming more depressed; something which I’d already dealt with for years by that point, more isolated. Even though I had plenty of friends I didn’t feel like I fitted in with them. I dreamed of running away, taking off and leaving my problems behind. I never really realised that I couldn’t run away from myself. I turned more to cutting to help me. As long as I could see the blood running down my arms I would be ok. The pain was never a factor; to me cutting didn’t hurt. It was the control I needed, the ability to focus on something that only I could do. While everything else was turning upside down I could at least do this.
At the end of my first year I returned home, taking care to cover my arms so that no one would see what I had been doing. My stepfather guessed, after he saw the scratches one morning, but I told him it was the cat’s fault, and he never mentioned it again. It was while I was home that I found Scar Tissue; a self help message board. I discovered that I wasn’t alone and that other people felt the same way that I did. I belonged to a community desperately trying to figure themselves out.
The return to university for my second year succeeded in deepening my problems. I was becoming more depressed and withdrawn; I would have panic attacks if I was at the bar with only another ten people in the room. I shut myself away from the people I lived with and listened to music, staring out of the window and wishing that I was someone else; somewhere else. My cutting grew worse; I went deeper and deeper, cutting my upper and lower arms, both left and right. I kept wearing long shirts even though my friends knew what I was doing. An unsuccessful relationship made me doubt myself, and my self image, even more. Never one to like myself this grew into an intense hatred. I wanted to be dead; I wanted to have never been born. And it felt like I had no one to turn to.
My third year in university proved to be the worst. At this point I started burning as well as cutting; sitting in the bathroom in pubs holding a lighter to my wrist, surprising myself at the intensity of the pain, the tingling of my wrist and arms until I couldn’t feel my skin anymore. I carved up my arms and legs while sitting in my darkened room, watching the sun set over the city. There was such a deep sadness within me and cutting was the only way I knew to make it go away. One day during that time sticks in my memory. I was sitting on my bed in my attic room, a towel spread over the duvet and my box of supplies next to me; the Swiss army knife I had used those three years ago, antiseptic wipes, bandages, tape. Everything to make sure the wound was properly looked after. I sat on my bed and with tears coursing down my face hacked at my left arm. I cut deep; deeper than I had before. It took a while for the blood to flow to the surface of my arm and I sat looking at the gaping wound; the layers of white skin and fat, then I made more; three or four deep cuts and numerous shallower ones. I couldn’t believe what I had done; I was shocked and sickened, but also intrigued. This more than anything had made me feel: more alive, less numb – anything. After sitting on my bed for a few minutes I became scared. The cut needed stitches and I needed comfort. I ran downstairs and sat curled by the radiator in the kitchen, rocking back and for, gripping my arms around my knees and sobbing. A friend of mine walked in and seeing what I had done sat next to me and held me while I cried.
That was two years ago and I wish I could still cut that deep.
Four months after I graduated I saw my GP and was put on antidepressants. Two months after that I took an overdose of Citalopram tablets. I was kept in hospital overnight, and for a few weeks I didn’t need to cut; the overdose had done what the knife used to. But that didn’t last long and soon I was cutting and burning again, wishing that I could make the wounds worse, wanting to cover myself with scars so that the way I looked on the outside matched the way I felt on the inside. Six months after that first overdose I took another; Prozac mixed with alcohol, but it didn’t work. It didn’t even give me a headache. I felt like I was a failure; I couldn’t cut as deeply as I wanted to; I couldn’t even overdose properly. My friends had moved to other places and I felt alone. I was working in a job I hated; my writing wasn’t going anywhere and I was still full of the sadness that had been with me years earlier. At that stage all I wanted to do was to fade away. Nothing seemed to be working for me and I hated myself more than I had before. I despised myself; couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I felt I deserved to be punished.
A year onwards and not much has changed. I am back on antidepressants, have a job that I enjoy now, and a boyfriend, but inside I still feel the same way. I can’t stand to look at myself and continually beat myself up for being stupid, fat or ugly. My arms and legs are scarred beyond belief and I have lost some of the sensation in my arms where I have created so many scars. I have ‘hate’ scarred across my left breast and ‘failure’ and ‘stupid’ on my thighs. My latest scars are purpley-red and my older scars will take a long time to fade. I am cutting less than I used to, but because it doesn’t have the same effect anymore, not because I want to stop. I carry two razors from a craft knife around in my purse in case I need to use them when I am away from home. When I was at work once, before I started carrying razors, I cut my arms with a plastic fork; another time with a pen top; another with the edge of a video box.
I have experienced a lot of things through cutting and self injury, but I have not yet found out how to accept myself. I have a feeling that will take a lot of time. All of the things mentioned in the above quote I have done, or felt, or thought and looking back on 5 years of deliberate self injury I can tell you that quote is right. But you won’t believe it until you’ve become a cutter yourself, and then it will be too late.