I Was a Teenage Cutter — and Nobody Noticed

Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.

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The idea came from a stand-alone Ann M. Martin novel. At some point in the story, a character runs a warm bath, finds a razor, and slits her wrists. I pictured the pink water ribboning out from her arms, and then the baby-blue safety razor I use to shave my legs. The novel was careful to point out that the hot water dulled the pain. The character slipped off, and drifted away — gently.

This was not an angry suicide. This suicide was one of tragic sadness; it was art.

From that point on, the image of this beautiful suicide never left me. And a few months later, at age 15, when my depression had hit rock-bottom, I pictured the razor on my own wrist. So, while sitting in 8th period French class, I drew a red, 6-inch, plastic ruler to my right wrist. Hard. It didn’t hurt, so I did it again. Only this time harder. By the end of the class, I had sores on both wrists — nothing like the neat slits I’d imagined — but they hurt, and they were ugly.

When my friends saw, they told me I was stupid. Maybe they were just too scared to process what they were actually seeing. Eventually, the school nurse found out and called my parents. They took me home, sat me down at the kitchen table, and screamed at me for about an hour or two. I don’t remember what they said, though the word “stupid” definitely did come up. What didn’t come up was any mention of taking me to see a psychiatrist.

I remember walking up to my room and feeling more alone than when I’d cut myself.

The next time, I used a straight razor. I cut a little higher on my wrists, just high enough that my uniform cuffs could cover the marks. The razor gave me the neat, straight lines that I craved. And the satisfying blood. The physical pain magically took me away from any emotional pain that I was feeling for a brief time. And as 5 percent of cutters claim, “It helped me relieve tension or stress, and relax.” I always slept afterwards.

Through that particular bout of depression, I cut up my arms pretty badly. And yet, no one noticed.

Depression had a tight hold on me … I cut when things got so emotionally bad that I needed to release the pain.
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I have treatment-resistant depression. I did at the time, and I do now. When my depression would surface, I would cut. Usually, I’d just cut my wrists. But I would also cut the back of my arms, and my thighs. By college, I was a committed cutter. I would leave home packing up my brand-new quilt, South Park poster, and trusty razor. Depression had a tight hold on me, and I became an “event cutter” — I cut when things got so emotionally bad that I needed to release the pain.

My freshman year, I cut my wrists after I cheated on my boyfriend with my best friend … again, and again, and again.

You’d think I would have had the sense to date him long before I actually did. After all, my best friend was the one who pushed me into therapy (which I quit once they wanted me to join a group of cutters at the local mental hospital).

No one followed up.

I got a concussion once, from a pillow fight of all things (yes, seriously). When I went to the ER, the doctor made me hold out my arms. I remember my sleeves riding up, but when he looked down at my wrists he continued what he was doing — as if he’d seen nothing.

I had a tumultuous relationship with one of my subsequent boyfriends. In one instance, well after we’d broken up, he threw a glass bottle at my head. I ducked, and it shattered. Yet, when my new boyfriend at the time arrived home and saw me covered in blood — both from the broken glass I’d stepped on barefoot, and the deep cuts I’d administered to my thigh — he silently bandaged them all, as though they’d all been part of the same accident.

He didn’t try to intervene.

The truth is, I never wanted to kill myself. Surprisingly, only about 10 percent of cutters are suicidal.

Eventually, the cutting tapered off. For one, I didn’t want anyone to see it. But also, as I moved into adulthood, it seemed less soothing and more pathological. I would still do it if I felt incredibly stressed, but I was less likely to use a razor — I’d use my fingernails instead.

When I became pregnant with my first son, I finally sought out treatment for my depression and stopped cutting all together.

OK, so maybe there has been a time or two (during adjustments in my medication) when my stress became so overwhelming that I cut. But, only once with a razor. And, by and large, I have not cut myself in almost a decade. And, if I had, my husband would have noticed and urged me to call my psychiatrist.

Looking back, though, I can’t help but think that all of this could have been dealt with much sooner. After the first time I cut myself, my parents should have sat me down and asked, “Why did you do this?” in a gentle and caring voice. They should have held me in their loving arms and recognized the pain that I was going through at the time. Every time I did seek help, it was because somebody noticed and showed their concern. They did not judge me, or my pain and suffering. They understood that cutting was a way to find relief from the crushing emotional distress that I was feeling through physical pain.

If your teen is one of the .5 percent who cuts, please don’t do what my parents did (they are already suffering enough). Be gentle, and say things like, “You must be hurting a lot inside if you’re hurting yourself this way.” Ask your child where they got the idea to cut — cutting can be an epidemic, and your child’s circle of friends might also be doing it. But, most importantly, find a competent psychiatrist for your child — one who will give them coping skills to deal with the underlying issues.

And above all, please hold your child. Holding alone won’t take the pain away, but it can sit with the pain. And your love is what they truly need right now.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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