Tag Archives: mental illness

Story of ‘the cut’

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.

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Filed under anxiety, bipolar II, depression, mental health, mental illness

Dating with a mental illness

I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family most will say that when it comes to timing I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Shit started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and ‘check please’ reaction but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I have spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know that not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

 

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Filed under bipolar II, dating, mental illness, rejection, relationships, vulnerability

6 ways to support a friend or family member with a mental illness

Friends and family play an important role in my recovery. For the most part, people want to help but may find that starting a conversation with me about my mental illness is hard to do. They may feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to do or say, which is normal. Over the last couple of months I’ve had a lot of interactions with friends and family related to my mental health and what I’ve learned is that it’s often the small things you do or say that make the biggest difference. Based on my own experiences, I’ve compiled six ways you can help a friend or family member with a mental illness (including me!):

Reach out and take the lead. Include them in everyday plans like going to the movies, dinner, or on a hike. If they resist ask again or offer to pick them up. When suffering from depression, I am more likely to isolate and alienate myself from friends. I end up spending more time alone than I do around other people. However, being around people and engaged in activities is important to recovery. Sometimes we just need a little push to get out the door.

Don’t just talk about their illness. Mental health is only one part of their life. Don’t define them by their illness by only talking about this one subject. Talk to them like you’ve always talked to them. While I need to talk about my mental health I also need to talk about everyday things like work, school, a funny story I heard, or the boy I like.

Educate yourself. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable or have no idea what to say, the best thing you can do is read about the mental illness. Not just medical information but books and articles by people who live with that mental illness. Doing so will provide understanding and insight and perhaps make you feel more comfortable talking about it to them. Two books that have helped me are The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon and Crazy by Amy Reed.

Don’t avoid the issue. If they come to talk to you about their mental health, don’t change the subject. If you ask someone how they are feeling the response may not always be “Good” or “Fine”. Sometimes it may be deeply depressing to listen to but doing just that, listening, can make them feel better. This is particularly true if they are in self-harm or crisis mode. In moments where I’ve been overwhelmed and tempted to self-harm again I’ve called or texted my friend Jesse to distract me. I know I can be honest with him and that he won’t avoid the issue, which helps me be open in the first place.

Be mindful about the comments you make as they can come off as insensitive,  particularly if they are in a vulnerable state of mind. A few comments that have hurt me are: “We all go through times like these,” and “You were depressing to be around; it brought me down,” and “I wish you would have told me so I didn’t feel alone,” and “My situation is more dire and important than yours.” It would have been more helpful to hear, “I may not fully understand how you’re feeling but I am here for you and I want to help,” or “I’m glad you’re getting the treatment you need,” or “You’re important to me. I love you. I’m here for you.” Some people may be in a more dire situation than others but everyone’s difficulties are relevant. Be careful not to belittle their situation.

Show support but don’t be intrusive. Ask what you can do to help them right now. This could be cooking meals, doing an activity together, or just letting them know you’re there to talk. Be patient if they don’t respond right away. If they want to talk they will. Sending a card or email to let them know you are thinking about them every once in a while is a gentle reminder you are there for them if they ever need you. Sometimes just knowing is enough.

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Filed under advice, bipolar II, mental health, mental illness, mindfulness, recovery