Since inspiration struck a few weeks ago I’ve been working on my book diligently, spending at least a couple of hours writing each day. I just finished the Prologue and have made considerable progress in the first section of the book entitled Love is a Motherfucker (ain’t that the truth!). Writing a book is challenging and laborious and at times immensely frustrating but it is also fun and rewarding and has provided me with the gift of insight and perspective.
I recently adapted one of these chapters to be a short, personal essay for a site I write for that focuses on fighting stigma around mental illness. It will be published in the coming weeks but I was given permission to share this story on my personal blog.
The essay I wrote is the story of the first time I cut myself. I’m not afraid to write about taboo subjects and I like pushing people to the edge of their comfort zones when they read my work. I will preface this post with the fact that this is a story that will certainly make you feel uncomfortable and squeamish (and for some could even be a trigger) so proceed with caution.
Something in me is broken and unfixable. The level of self-loathing and hatred I have for myself has left me emotionally empty, unable to feel anything. At times the numbness and silence is so deep that my desire to feel something, anything really, leads me to moments like these. The ones where I find myself sitting cross-legged on the bathroom floor of my Madison apartment, 26 years old, with a knife pressed against my wrist, poised and ready to cut.
I look up and see that two of the three light bulbs are burnt out in the light fixture above the sink creating an illumination of ambient lighting. The faucet is leaky, making a drip-drip-drip sound and the fan above me is humming softly. There are no windows, just boring white walls and one framed photo of Lava Lake in Big Sky, Montana hanging above the toilet. There is nothing special about this room except that it lacked life – the perfect backdrop to my lonely existence.
Every night for the last six months I have laid face-down on the cold hard-wood floor of my apartment, sobbing. And I’m talking about the worst kind of crying – the kind no one actually ever sees – when your soul weeps profusely and it just goes on and on and on. The emptiness, numbness, and loneliness I had felt for months were so profound I thought I might explode at any moment.
This must have been what led to my sudden uncontrollable desire to cut that day. Sitting there – sentenced to being stuck in my drab, uninviting cubicle, boxed in by dull gray modular panels and even more boring industrial carpet in a tiny space devoid of any natural sunlight – I wanted to feel something, anything, other than the emotional pain I had been harboring inside me for so long. Even if cutting was physically painful it had to be better than feeling dead on the inside. So without telling anyone where I was going, I grabbed my coat, purse, and keys and walked out of the office building towards my car.
It was a frigid, ice-kissed winter day in Wisconsin and the gush of air as I opened the door made my teeth chatter and the cold seep into my gloves. I half-ran, half-walked to my car, heart racing and chest pounding. I was having difficulty catching my breath and hysterically I unlocked the car door, put the keys in the ignition, and peeled out of the parking lot towards my apartment a mere five minutes away.
By the time I pulled into the parking lot outside my apartment building I was hyperventilating. I felt like something was squeezing me so tight that my ribs would crack. In my panic I ran from my car to the building and climbed the stairs two at a time. I unlocked the front door and all but threw myself at the kitchen counter, rummaging through the drawer where I kept the knives. I picked the sharpest one I could find, hurried to the bathroom down the hall, and slammed the door shut before sliding down on the floor next to the bathtub.
I sat there cross-legged, breathing heavily with my back against the side of the tub, looking down at the shiny knife I was holding in my right hand. I ran my fingers over the smooth blade, lightly pricking the tip of my left pointer finger. A small droplet of blood oozed out, running down my finger. I wiped the blood on my black dress pants then closed my right hand over the bottom black handle of the knife and rested it against my right leg.
Sitting there staring at the dull, white walls I wondered what it would feel like cutting myself with the tip of a blade. I knew I would be crossing the line into dangerous territory and potentially creating a habit that would be hard to break. It was then that the darkness interrupted my thoughts: It’s not such a big deal. A lot of people do it. It feels good, I promise. You’ll feel relieved. Go ahead and give it a try.
His argument seemed convincing yet there was a part of me still trying to reason her way through this – sort of like a sliver of light peeking through the darkness making a last-ditch effort to get my attention. She was jumping up and down in the corner, maniacally waving her hands above her head yelling: Hey! Hey! Over here! Look at me! DUDE, IT WILL NOT FEEL GOOD. IT WILL FUCKING HURT. Don’t listen to him. You don’t have to do this. You are so much stronger than this.
To which darkness responded: And why should she listen to you? Just ignore her, Lindsay. She doesn’t know anything. Let go. You’ll feel so much better. You can trust me. I am your most faithful friend.
I looked over at darkness, finding comfort in those two words faithful friend, and reached towards him to take hold of his hand. Just like that the thing I feared most – losing control over my mind – became a reality.
I rolled up my sleeve, placing the tip of the shiny knife against my left wrist. I hesitated slightly but then slowly drew the blade over the veins, careful not to hit the artery and careful not to go too deep. As much as I would have liked to disappear (and as much time as I spent thinking about death) death was not actually on my mind at that moment. I just didn’t have the energy to carry out all the suicide scenarios I’d dreamed up.
After the first cut I sat there in awe watching as small droplets of blood trickled down my forearm and wrapped around the side of my wrist. It was a vibrant, rich red and I was dazzled by its brightness. I closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief as my heartbeat slowed and the muscles in my body relaxed. The noise in my head retreated back into its hiding place and I was relieved of the pressure and racing thoughts darkness had crushed me with in recent days. I sat there another minute then I made another cut and another and another. Each time the blade dug into my skin it stung but it was a feeling that made me ache in both pleasure and pain.
I could feel the warmth of the blood as it trickled out of each of the wounds. I could feel it tickling my skin. I could smell the iron too and I found myself savoring the metallic taste it left in my mouth. Here was the proof I had been searching for – evidence of my existence. If I was bleeding then that meant I was alive. Dead people don’t bleed.
The relief I felt was momentary, though, because when I opened my eyes to look down at my wrist that sense of satisfaction was replaced with a sense of embarrassment and dread. What had I done? Why did I do that?
I frantically reached for the towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door, wrapped it firmly around my wrist, and held it up until the bleeding stopped. Through misty eyes I saw that the cuts weren’t deep. I didn’t need stitches.
While I was both pleased and appalled at my behavior I was afraid even more. Afraid of myself. Afraid of what I might do if I was left alone a minute longer. Afraid at the realization that I was no longer in control of my mind. Afraid of how my family and friends would react if they knew.
I collapsed into a ball on the floor, curling up inside this swelling depression. With the side of my face pressed against the cold, gray tile I wept tears of sorrow and whispered a plea for someone – anyone – to save me.