By Molly Liford
When most people see those words they think of an asylum, with padded rooms and drugged up, disheveled freaks sitting around, staring blankly off into the distance and mumbling incoherently. You never think that some of those “freaks” could be neighbors, classmates, or even friends.
Mental illnesses affect 25 percent of the nation’s population. I happen to be one of them. I’ve been to the hospitals; I’ve heard all the slurs and insults out there. I’ve probably said them to myself too. I’ve heard every degrading and not-funny-joke that exists.
Mental illness is pretty much a catch-all label for anything dealing with the brain, its chemicals and how they affect one’s choices. It’s rare for someone to have just one; many meld and move from one to another with overlaps and a rare, blessed gap full of only calmness.
I am not ashamed of the fact that I have mood disorders, I’m not ashamed I’ve been to a mental hospital (the preferred term is mental health facility) and I’m definitely not ashamed of the fact that I can say I have gone 365 days without any acts of self-harm, which is the longest I’ve gone, by far, since I started to cut and burn myself in the seventh grade.
My story starts pretty early. In third grade a group of girls got together and wrote me a list of why I should go kill myself and why I was useless. I didn’t tell anyone but that was the first time I made a noose, but it wasn’t the last.
No one takes an elementary student seriously when they say they wish they’d never been born. No one listens to a middle schooler begging to stay home because “Everyone hates me!” But when you’re in high school and say, “I hope someone shoots me so I don’t have to.” People notice. They don’t do anything, but they notice.
By the beginning of sophomore year I was cutting every night: on my arms, on my legs, on my stomach. Anything and anywhere that I could reach and hide was subject to my knife’s blade.
A lot of people don’t seem to understand motives for self-harm, which include scratching, burning, cutting and self-induced vomiting. It can vary for everyone; it can be a mixture of reasons. For me it was self-punishment because I knew no matter what I did I wasn’t good enough. Anger because I saw all these people around me happy and normal and well-adjusted, and I was furious with myself that I couldn’t have that. And I felt numb in my core. And some people say they wish they could feel numb, but I wouldn’t wish the black hole that takes over your heart on my worst enemy.
Trust me. It’s terrifying and you burn your arms and fingers just to prove you can still feel something. It was like my brain was at war with my body. I wanted to hurt me, and I wanted to die because when people would say “Think if all the amazing things out there,” I was just reminded of all the reasons why I didn’t deserve to see them. And the sharp, precise bite of a slicing blade that turns into just blindly aiming at whatever you can became my way of dealing with that.
Others don’t understand the sense of relief you get because to most people pain is pain, no matter how you look at it. But it becomes an addiction, you just need one more hit, one more cut. But that sweet relief is tainted by the burn of my tears falling on my cuts and knowing that I was disappointing everyone. But I didn’t care because I never saw myself living past 20. I never could.
When people would ask me what I wanted to become, I’d make something up because I knew that I wasn’t going to make it that far into life. And even with all of that going on inside, we have to worry about triggers from the outside world. It can be as simple as sharpening your pencil, seeing a certain color, or hearing a specific song because they can all trigger memories to flood in and there never seems to be a dam strong enough to hold it all back.
And so I started planning. I had a wire and I was on sleep medication, and for about a month I’d take one or two extra and put them in a box under my bed until I had finished everything. I made sure to tell people who I’d never told before how much they meant to me, and I made sure my note made it clear it was no one’s fault but mine.
Then one night, after a really bad fight with my mom, I made my choice. I was ending it. I wasn’t going to make a fuss. I was just going to fall asleep with a wire noose as backup, but my mom heard my sobbing and walked in. She saw the pills, wire and note on my table and the next day we went to the ER, where they sent me to a place called Pine Rest. I felt safer than I had for a really long time. There wasn’t any way to hurt myself or OD, but mostly I felt safe because no one judged.
They all knew you were suffering like they were. You formed bonds fast and strong. In total I’ve spent more than 40 days there, spread out between three different visits and each time I’ve met vibrant, beautiful people from every niche, class and background. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of them. We support each other and we talk and understand the disease AND recovery aspect.
Technically, we shouldn’t have been able to, and I never saw anything wrong with it until I lost my friend Alex K. to suicide. My heart broke. I knew him for 7 days in a mental ward, but he’d left a mark on my soul. He never deserved to have the fear and hopelessness that it takes to commit. They call it the coward’s way out and it is because you are terrified and scared and you don’t have any hope left. When you are at the edge with the blade, rope or pills all you have in you is fear. It’s like a black hole replaced your heart, and it sucks everything in but the tears and pain.
And so when people see my scars or hear about my issues and judge me or tell me to “snap out of it” I want to scream in their faces until I turn blue. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes that if they just change how they think then they wouldn’t need those insulin shots, so why would you tell someone with general anxiety disorder that if they just calm down then they wouldn’t need their meds?
Long story short: Be kind. Everyone has a battle, everyone has battle scars. Some are visible, some are not, but they’re there. So just be nice.