This is something I’ve never talked about. Not on this blog, not to my wife, not to a therapist, nothing. So if you don’t want to deal with shit getting real, this is the time where you should probably go be somewhere else. Go buy Midsummer, the new Bubba the Monster Hunter novella. It’s funny as fuck, and my favorite piece in the series by a mile.
You’re still here? Alright, you were warned. But here’s another caveat – I’m not going to discuss this post. Not at a con, not over drinks, not on the phone. I might respond to comments here or on Facebook, but don’t hold your breath. I’m throwing this out here because it might help somebody, not because I have any real desire to dredge it up and talk it out. Got it? Okay, I guess I’ve danced around it all I can, let’s rip the bandage off, shall we?
I was a cutter through the latter half of high school and the first half of college. There wasn’t a term for it then, and I never knew that it was even a thing until decades later, when I heard about teenagers cutting themselves, usually as a coping mechanism or a cry for help. I didn’t talk about it with anyone, didn’t want to kill myself, didn’t have any great desire to mark myself in any way that anyone would ever see.
It was just the only way I could feel anything. I sat in my bedroom on more than one evening and drew lines in my flesh, usually on my left shoulder, with my pocketknife. It made the most sense to cut there – nobody could see it, and I’m right-handed. I didn’t do it every day, not even every week or every month. But on multiple occasions over a period of four or five years, I felt so numb inside that I cut myself just to see if there was a physical pain that I could inflict upon myself to prove that I was still alive, at least physically.
A lot of people who know me have heard me talk about the fact that I’ve dealt with depression for almost thirty years, starting when I was fourteen or fifteen. Until recently, I’d never been diagnosed with anything, and never been medicated for it. It was only through watching a YouTube video that Wil Wheaton posted about his depression and anxiety, and reading a blog post by Jim Hines about his struggles with depression that I got up the courage to go see a psychologist and get tested for some things. The results weren’t terribly surprising; bipolar 2 disorder with some ADHD. Nothing I couldn’t have told the doc myself, other than the plan for treatment. And we’re still working on that – the first antidepressant they tried was completely unacceptable, turned me into a vegetable for a couple days. Can’t have that, I’ve got shit to do. So I go back to the doc in a week or so and we’ll try something different.
But that’s not the point of this rambling post. The point is that while I was graduating in the top ten of my class (fourth or sixth, I don’t remember), getting a college scholarship, taking Honors classes at college and generally doing all the things that a successful student should do, I was doing it all through a mask. The face I showed the world had very little connection to the face I saw in the mirror. Outwardly I was a bright young man, an excellent student with some minor theatrical talent. But inside, there was nothing. I had girlfriends, and I even fell in love for the first time, as much as I could at the time. I had friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with.
But there was an emptiness inside, and overwhelming lack of anything, that I was looking for a way to fill. I guess I knew at the time that I was suffering from depression, but I’ve always been pretty good at compartmentalizing. When I was in school, I could tuck away the parts of me that I didn’t like, bury them under schoolwork or after-school activities. But when I was alone in my room, there was nothing to hide behind, no projects to use to distract myself. There was just me, and my edged friend.
I never did any lasting harm, and even the scars faded after a few years. Looking at my arm now, I can’t see any evidence of my previous self-inflicted wounds. I never wanted to kill myself, and I never wanted to attract attention. I knew what I needed out of the blade – pain. I needed to feel something, anything, and because I was in such a dark place mentally that I never thought I would feel real joy, I thought that pain was the answer. And it helped, to be honest. I’m sure it wasn’t a terribly healthy coping mechanism, but it gave me just enough to get through the night and not do anything more serious to myself, so I’ll take it.
I’ve heard recently about the concept of high-functioning depressives, which I suppose is what I’ve always been. “Bullshit artist” is another very good term for that, by the way. So I guess what I want out of writing this is to put a couple of ideas out there for people who might be feeling that kind of overwhelming darkness, the kind of numbness that just starts in your chest and goes outward to every inch of yourself until you really feel numb inside and out.
One – Whatever method of coping you have is fine. I don’t give a shit if you get tattoos, listen to music too loud, lift weights, run, bike, or listen to B.B. King and play tic-tac-toe on your upper thigh with an X-Acto knife. If it keeps you from making the deep cut with the vein, or taking a whole bottle of sleeping pills with a Jim Beam chaser, or running a hose from the exhaust pipe to the driver’s window, then fine. Cope however you need to cope, because you’re stronger than you think, and it gets better.
Two – It does get better. I stopped cutting myself in college. I don’t remember the last time I hurt myself on purpose, outside of drinking with Drew Hayes. And there was no sudden realization of “hey, I’m fine now” to mark the end of that darkness. There was just a general lack of need to see my own blood to prove that I wasn’t empty inside. I just didn’t need to do it anymore. I still haven’t gotten the treatment I probably need, and there are still weeks and months when I just don’t have the bandwidth, the energy, or whatever metaphor you want to use for the ability to get shit done. I fight the monster every single day, but it’s been a long time since I let the monster make me bleed.
Three – There are people that care. There are people that can help, and there are people who want to help. If the monster gets to be too much, then go find one. That’s what this #HoldOnToTheLight campaign is about – helping people find the resources and get better. Because we all fight the beast from time to time, and sometimes we need backup. Find your backup, and don’t be afraid to call on them.
Thanks for reading. I hope there’s someone out there who can find this helpful, because to be brutally honest, sharing this sucked and I don’t ever want to do it again. But I will. Because if I can help one other person realize that it’s worth keeping going, then it’s worth my discomfort. Take care of yourselves.