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On the Razor's Edge
When I was lonely and depressed, cutting relieved my pain
Anonymous
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I used to cut myself at times when I felt so lonely I could have died. I didn’t want to actually kill myself, though—I wanted to replace my emotional pain with the physical, and cutting worked for me.

My problems began when my father and I started growing apart. When I was little, we were almost inseparable. He bought me lots of gifts, and we were really affectionate. Although I was sometimes intimidated by his quick anger, I was very much in love with him.

Though my father and I were close, he wasn’t at home much. He’d go out on a Friday night and wouldn’t come back until the next day. We often wouldn’t know where he was. My parents fought a lot over this.

My father’s absences and my parents’ tension began to make me depressed. When I was small, I laughed easily and often, but when I was 10 and 11, I was sad more than I was happy. I felt that I wasn’t getting any attention, and I see now that I started acting out so my parents would respond to me. The first thing I did, when I was 12, was try to run away.

Felt Like Second Best

Instead of going home from school, I took a different route that led away from my house. I didn’t get far because a teacher spotted me and sent me home. My parents were upset. They asked why I tried to leave, but I just shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know how to tell them that they were making my house a place I didn’t want to be.

My attempt to run away strained my relationship with my father. Mom told me he didn’t sleep for days afterward. He began to say that I didn’t like him and that he favored my little sister over me. By the time I turned 14, I felt like second best.

Maybe I was looking for someone to replace my father when, a few months before my 15th birthday, I met a new boy on the block. John (not his real name) was 18. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was physically attracted to him because he reminded me of my father. He was a short, bow-legged Jamaican with a lopsided grin, deep dimples and the roundest butt I’d ever seen on a boy.

My sister and I weren’t allowed to date until we were 18. It was my mother’s mantra, though neither she nor my father told us how they’d punish us if we went out with boys.

I hadn’t thought about dating until then, but I wanted to be with John. I broke my parents’ rule and soon gave him my virginity. I didn’t regret it. The relationship made me feel independent. I was sneaking out of the house and making late night phone calls.

Though I was afraid I might get in trouble, I didn’t really think much about it because I was living for the moment. I didn’t love John, but he was a great listener and friend.

Comfort Never Came

A few weeks after we started dating, my grandfather passed away. We visited my grandfather seven or eight times a year, and my mother talked to him on the phone every Friday. Though we didn’t see him as much as we’d have liked, the love was there.

The night we found out that my grandfather died, my father wasn’t around. When he made it home the next afternoon, my sister and I told him what happened. He looked stunned. Then he walked away. I wanted his embrace and words of comfort, but they never came.

My mother was in shock over her father’s death. For days she would go without sleep. She scared me with her constant comments about how she didn’t want to live anymore. What could I do to soothe my mother’s pain?

The time when I felt I needed my father the most—when my mother was consumed by sorrow—he wasn’t there. He left me to deal with my grandfather’s death by myself. He never once asked if I was OK or if I needed to talk about it.

Hanging Out With My Boyfriend

After the funeral, my boyfriend was the only one who comforted me; my mother was too upset. The hole in my heart—where I used to feel my father’s love—was getting bigger.

Then, a few weeks after my grandfather’s funeral, my parents found out about John. One Sunday, I was supposed to meet my family at my aunt’s house. Instead of going straight there, I decided to hang out with John first.

Before I knew it, two hours had passed. When I finally got to my aunt’s house, my cousin (who knew about John) pulled me aside and told me that my mother was worried: “I said you were with a friend.” Another cousin told me that my father just left—he’d been there looking for me. That’s when I got scared.

When we were ready to leave, my mother said, “You and I are gonna have to have a talk.”

Afraid of My Father’s Temper

At home, my father was already in bed. My mother took me into the bathroom and closed the door. “I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be honest with me. Do you have a boyfriend?”

I sighed. After a long minute of silence, I said, “Yes.”

She looked at me with such intense anger that I thought she would hit me. “What did I tell you about not dating until you’re 18?” she demanded.

She got it out of me that we had been together that day and that he was 18. When she asked me if we were having sex, I lied and said no.

“You always talk to me about everything—why couldn’t you tell me this?” she said with hurt in her voice.

I couldn’t answer.

“Now I want you to go tell your father,” she said.

I thought that my mother would let the matter stay between us. She knew about my father’s temper. “No,” I whined. “Please don’t, Mommy.”

She didn’t relent.

‘Where Were You Tonight?’

I went into the bedroom. My father was asleep. I wrung my hands and called his name. His eyes opened. “What is it?”

I paused and sighed. Then my mother walked into the room. “Your daughter has something to tell you,” she announced with disgust before leaving us alone.

He frowned and told me to come to him. I walked over to the edge of his bed and knelt on the floor.

“Where were you tonight?” he asked.

I looked away from his sleep-reddened eyes and said in a low voice, “With a boy.”

He started questioning me. I told him little by little about John, getting more and more scared.

“Did you have sex with him?” he asked. He gave me a hard stare, as if he were willing me to tell him the truth.

“Yes,” I said in a low voice.

He glared at me and said nothing. After what felt like 10 minutes of silence, he told me flatly, “Get out of my face.”

I Wished He’d Hit Me

My body froze up. I thought he was going to slap me, but when he didn’t, I became more afraid. It meant that he was too angry even to put his hands on me.

But at that moment I wish he had just slapped me instead. The fact that he kept his anger in made me wonder what would happen to me tomorrow, and the days after.

He didn’t speak to me for about two weeks. Then one afternoon, he called me to have a talk, so he said. It wasn’t a talk at all. He just hurled names at me, names that should never be said from father to daughter. They were names I’d expect to hear from a stranger on the street, not from any kind of father.

When I’d been with John, I wasn’t ashamed of having sex. To me it was fun, a decision I’d made for myself, a learning experience.

But I did feel ashamed when my father said those words to me. I felt dirty and guilty. I was upset because through it all, none of the names he called was “daughter.” His tone and the look on his face made me feel worthless, as if he could just disown me that very moment. I felt completely alone.

The First Cut

Determined to erase those horrible names from my mind, I took a razor blade from the kitchen, went into my bedroom and began slicing into my arm, until I couldn’t cry anymore, until I couldn’t take the pain anymore, until I felt clean again.

I honestly don’t remember why I used a razor that night. But as soon as I made the first cut, I loved the feeling when the blood seeped out and the cold air rushed onto the open wound and the pain was so fresh. I wanted that feeling over and over again until the pain was too much to bear.

I remember thinking that I wanted to die, that no one loved or cared about me, and that maybe if I died, they’d feel guilty. I wanted everyone else to be in pain, too. Pills or anything else might’ve been too quick. If I died, I wanted to suffer first.

That same night I broke up with John. Now that my parents knew about us, I wouldn’t be able to sneak out. And if I continued to see him, my mother would press statutory rape charges. I’d liked John’s emotional support and the physical attention, but I wasn’t heartbroken by losing him. I was more heartbroken about my parents.

Punishing Myself

For the next few months, when I was alone in my bedroom, I continued cutting my wrist—only my right wrist because I’m left-handed—not even caring if someone noticed the open wounds.

image by Anna Jakimiuk

After letting my parents down by having sex, it was almost as if I had to punish myself. When I cut, it was from frustration, anger, hurt and loneliness all mixed into one, boiling over and causing me to break.

I wasn’t afraid of piercing a vein. I felt that if I did, it was just meant to happen. The only thing I was afraid of was not cutting; I thought that if I didn’t cut, I’d hurt someone I loved instead. That was the scariest part.

Mom and Dad Got Angry

Then my mom saw my wrist for the first time. She was by the stove when I was opening a cabinet. She asked, “What happened?” and my heart started beating fast.

I shrugged and mumbled, “I don’t know.”

She grabbed my hand and stretched out my arm and repeated, “What happened?”

I mumbled, “I cut my wrist.”

She looked at me hard, and I could see the anger in her eyes. She took me straight to my father and showed him my arm. He, too, asked me what happened and gave me the same response—anger.

They removed sharp objects from my reach, and a couple of days later, they sat me down for a long discussion. I told them about all the things I’d been feeling over the previous few years, about problems in my life I’d felt unable to talk to them about.

They’d Noticed I’d Changed

I told them how their constant fighting had made me feel alone. I told them that I felt I was partly to blame. Once I said that, they assured me that I had nothing to do with their differences.

They said they’d noticed a change in me. They’d known me as a happy child, and they saw that I’d stopped hanging out with friends, I stayed in my room with the door closed, and I looked sad.

My mother said that the only thing she could do was get me help. My father was silent, but I could tell by his facial expression and body language that he was uncomfortable with what I was revealing.

Therapy with My Parents

After that, I went to therapy every week for an hour. Counseling helped lift my depression a bit because I now had someone who would listen to me.

Since my counselor felt that my depression and anger mostly stemmed from my father, she suggested that he sit in for a few sessions so we could talk through my problems. He came once. He never came back because he felt I was blaming everything on him. That made our interactions at home even more tense.

My mother, though, sat in on almost all of my therapy sessions. Sometimes I was too uncomfortable to talk in front of her, but counseling did make us closer. Because of the way we talked in therapy, she no longer approaches me with anger if she has a problem with me. Counseling also helped me stop blaming myself for my parents’ relationship troubles.

But the fact that my parents were still hurting each other made me feel sad. Therapy didn’t make that go away. And because the conflict between my father and me was so intense, I still felt worthless and filthy. I continued to cut.

Got High on Pain

When I felt depressed, it was really hard to resist cutting. I substituted the physical pain for the emotional. As crazy as this sounds, I felt a little happier after I cut. I got high. Then usually I’d fall right to sleep.

In the morning I’d wake up, and the burning feeling in my arm would make me remember why I had to cut. My erratic emotions would return.

During counseling, I did stop cutting for a short while, but then my wrists began to itch. It was as if I had to do it, and I went back to cutting.

In truth, I really didn’t want to be helped. I wanted to be stuck where I was. I was too far gone into depression. I couldn’t see past the next day. I felt that the sadness would take over my whole body and swallow me and I’d die.

Writing and Music Helped

My counselor suggested other ways I could take out my frustrations. Some of her advice didn’t help, like “Chew some gum.” She also advised me to think about anything other than how I was feeling. But my emotions were so overwhelming that positive thoughts were too hard to conjure.

Some of her other ideas were more helpful. She knew I loved writing, so she told me to use pen and paper to release my feelings. I also enjoy music, so I’d sit in my room with the door locked and the sound down low.

Even so, I found myself actually needing to feel the physical pain, my only true relief. Writing and playing music didn’t lift my emotional pain all the way like a razor did.

The Hardest Advice

“Find someone to talk to,” my counselor told me. Listening to that advice was the hardest of all. It had always been difficult for me to share my feelings, but now it felt like the people in my house were against me.

My sister was too young to understand. My father avoided me altogether. We kept it civil, only saying, “Good morning,” “Good afternoon” and “Good night.” I didn’t hate my father, but I really didn’t like him, either.

My mother and I were starting to have a close relationship again, but I didn’t want to be a bother to her. She and my father were finally splitting up, and I felt selfish that my ordeal was happening at a time when she needed my support and I couldn’t give it to her.

I began to see stress taking a physical toll on her. She was losing hair, and lines were becoming a part of her once-smooth skin.

‘You’re Really Sick’

Then, one morning when my father and I ended up in the bathroom at the same time, he noticed my arm. I rarely made an effort to cover up my wrists, but this time they were right in his face.

He said, “You’re really sick, you know that?”

I felt a big pang in my chest, but I only rolled my eyes at him and kept on brushing my teeth. He told my mother and she started screaming about sending me to a mental hospital.

I knew my mother was reacting out of frustration with how I was hurting myself. But I also knew she just didn’t get it. She didn’t understand why I still had to cut.

Immediately my mother told my therapist that I was cutting, and my therapist told her to take me to a psychiatrist in case I needed antidepressants.

The psychiatrist didn’t put me on medication, but he did diagnose me with a form of depression. And he gave me a warning: “If you don’t want to end up in a straitjacket, you better stop hurting yourself.”

Fear of Being Alone

I pictured myself sitting in a white padded room with my arms in a straitjacket to prevent me from cutting. I didn’t want to be put away in a mental hospital. I have a big fear of being alone, of feeling like I have no one in the world to turn to. I feel as if I need to have support and someone to talk to always.

Loneliness is one of the feelings that makes me cut. Since I couldn’t let myself be sent to a mental hospital, I had to get better, for my sake.

In 2002, I stopped therapy because I felt better about myself. The need to cut wasn’t as overwhelming as it once was, so I wasn’t cutting as much. But then I had a rough time over the summer of 2003, and in September 2003, I returned to therapy.

Haven’t Cut in Six Months

Now I’m 17. I’ve grown in spirit since I first started cutting three years ago. I haven’t cut since August 2003.

The main reason is that I have moved out of my old house—a few months ago, my mother, my sister and I left my father. Now home is just the three of us, and it feels OK to be myself.

Since we moved away, my father and I have had less tension and fewer things to argue about. We’ve had some nice moments. I know he loves me and I do love him. But the trust isn’t there—I find it hard to speak with him about anything.

I really want a father-daughter relationship where I can talk to him as a friend and ask for advice. I hope we can make that happen. But I worry that he still has the ability to make me feel worthless, filthy and alone.

My mother wants more for me than depression and cutting. She envisions me as a happy woman with the career as a writer that I’ve always dreamed of. I share her hopes.

Trying to Rely on Myself

Although my life has gotten so much better since I moved, I’m terrified that someday I’ll feel sad again, like last summer.

But I’m not scared of going back to cutting. In my mind cutting isn’t wrong; it’s a release, a relief. It helps when loneliness comes, when depression sets in, and when I feel ashamed of myself. It’s helped me get through.

The thing that’s wrong with cutting is that my therapist and my parents believe it’s not mentally healthy. I don’t want them or anyone else to send me away to a mental hospital.

So I’m trying to work through my emotions better. One thing I’m trying to do is let go of my anger. I tend to hold onto things, especially hurtful memories.

Now I feel that I have to rely on myself for support, because there is going to be a time when I can’t turn to my mother. Slowly I’m learning to count on myself; I am still trying to find other ways to keep myself from cutting.

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(NYC-2004-03-03)



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