A Surge of Urges

The urges rattle my bones as if there were an earthquake beneath my skin. Clenched fists hang at my sides as if the harder I press my fingernails into my palms, the easier it will be to win this fight. The thought consumes me: to cut or not to cut?

That is the only question. There is no alternative that rises in my mind despite the DBT skills that I’m supposed to apply at times like these. What’s the point? What’s one more scar? Or two? Or a smattering?

As usual, the trigger is food. Not the good food that I’m supposed to nourish my body with, my temple of a body, but the naughty, banned, bad foods that Ana forbids me to eat. Sugar coats my lips and fat sings as it touches my tastebuds.

I’m binging. I’ve binged.

I dissociate, and it’s over.

I sit on the floor, slumped, surrounded by crumbs and packaging. I don’t remember buying the bad foods, I avoid doing so for this exact reason, yet here we are anyway. I have failed.

And failure requires punishment.

I can hear the sharps vibrating nearby; they call to me. The stainless steel sings. I try not to listen, but these tools are like sirens and it is inevitable that I give in.

I do.

Red scatters across my skin, warm, but painless. I see beyond the first layer – that pesky epidermis – and I go further. I see the fat below the skin, and my hand lingers. My weapon lingers. Do I dare go a little deeper? It’s not good enough, she whispers. It’s not deep enough. You haven’t done it properly, you’ve just failed at something else. Do it again. 

I try not to listen but before I know it red has been flicked across the carpet and my sheets, and trickles down my thighs and my fingertips. I groan, and rest my head in my hands.

These pesky urges.

They just won’t leave me alone.

Learning German: The Bildungsroman

As most of you may or may not know, I’m currently in my third year of university (or college, if that’s your thing). This semester, I decided to give myself a break from science to look after myself and focused instead on the literature part of my degree. One of my courses is about a very specific genre: the bildungsroman.

That’s a fancy German way of saying a story about development. A journey through adolescence. A coming of age story.

We read a wide assortment of contemporary and classic novels, from Middlemarch by George Eliot (who is a woman FYI!) to the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (the reading of which will become another blog post, because day-um was it incredible, but also incredibly triggering).

Simultaneously, it’s important for you to know that I’ve been writing a book. I’m attempting to gather all the different chapters of my life into a single story. Not a cohesive one, more of a nomadic ramble down the garden path of my life, which is dead for long stretches, and fruitfully blossoming in others. It’s bringing me a lot of joy to collate my patchwork of experiences into something that lives and breathes of its own accord.

It’s becoming it’s very own bildungsroman.

Today, the sixteenth of April, is world semi-colon day. A semi-colon is used by an author when a sentence could have ended, but instead they allow it to continue on. My story isn’t over yet. My bildung is not complete. It rambles, it lapses, it exists in fits and starts. But it exists; between letters and punctuation marks.

Dear body, can we be friends?

It took a deep breath and sighed, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.

Slowly, slowly, I begin to reclaim my body. I reveal my scars in short sleeves and shorts, and I hide them beneath floral tattoos and deep quotes. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to define myself beyond my mental illness, beyond what others expect of me. I am learning to be me again.

It feels good.

i’m not who you think i am

I was never supposed to be the girl who gave up. The girl who struggled. The girl who was trapped in cycles of self-destructive behaviours. I wasn’t expected to be the one to end up in hospital, to end up with scars, to go from underweight to overweight and back again.

I was expected, for 90% of my life, to be the “wild child”. I was the one with good grades who never made mistakes. I was the one who was good at everything, who was carefree and bubbly, and could only be improved by interrupting teachers less.

And then I became good at starving myself. And then at cutting. And then suicide.

In the immortal words of Sylvia Plath: “Dying is an art, like everything else, I do it exceptionally well”.

These thoughts are just thoughts, but these thoughts are also my life, my constant battle, my minefield I must navigate daily.

You think you know me? Think again.

Scribing Life

I wrote a thing; a Virginia Woolf inspired thing. It’s for uni, but I’m super happy with how it’s turned out and wanted to share it with some other lovely people. If it’s italicised, then it’s quoted from VW. And it’s semi-autobiographical, but not entirely. 

Here’s my attempt at scribing life:

Several violent moments of being, always including a circle of the scene which they cut: and all surrounded by a vast space – that is a rough visual description of childhood – VW.

There is not much I remember, but I remember the violence. The violence itself, and the moments accompanied by violence, and other moments which only solidify in the presence of violence, as if that is the plaster withdrawing the splinter. I remember the sparks of pain, and the curled fists. I remember the blossoms of purple and grey bruises which adorned my arms and thighs, later to be joined by slivers of silver and red, like traces of a map leading nowhere. Surrounding the violence there is only vast space; a sort of visceral blackness, nihilistically disguising any and all other moments of being.

Between the space and the sensation of violence, there are of course images which threaten to throttle me. These images are not clear; more of a reflection, a mirror; as if another being occupied the space of my body and I was the observer looking down upon the scene, ashamed that I had too little courage to intervene at the opportune moment. That looking-glass shame has lasted all my life. It renders me a bystander, even when I am in the prime position to intervene. Much like children at the zoo, I can do nothing but helplessly watch on as events unfold around me, surrounded by a blanket of shame that smothers details into blurred irrelevance.

Apart from the bruises and the blood, I remember very little of my own life. There is mostly only an impenetrable void of subconscious, and the walls I’ve built to prevent memories escaping. This void mostly blurs from existence my childhood, my adolescence, and the beginnings of adulthood. Only particular pieces of the past remain, and for what reason my mind chose to retain them, I cannot say.

I’ve been encouraged to write what I remember, to bind it in a tome and send it out into the world into the open arms and eager eyes of others wanting to pity another human being. I understand the need to make oneself feel better by comparison with another lesser, weaker body; it’s at the core of humanity to seek refuge in another’s undeniable despair. Realistically, one can write anything at all and label it ‘memoir’. Because who would dare question that these events did not happen at all, or if they did, then to someone else? Does it matter if I write another’s story and claim it as my own? Are some of these not implanted memories, embedded into my own mind only after glancing at a photograph of the event? Perhaps these questions are ones of pure irrelevance. This I know: whether my life happened or not, I make it real by putting it into words.

I have never been able to label emotions, or thoughts either for that matter. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that all emotion was left scattered across the linoleum along with my childhood, and the shattering of feelings accompanied the shattering of my soul. I don’t know what happiness feels like. I don’t know what it is to experience. The closest I have ever gotten to such a thing is a sort of sad, lonely contentment. In this, I do not know how far I differ from other people; just that I do.

The night that my feet bled, my brother didn’t come home, and somebody was being attacked in the alley behind my house. I leaned out over the back fence, and cocked my head like the dog that I am (I hope you can appreciate my frail sense of self-deprecating humour in this wordplay – we’re in this together now, you and I). I leaned a little too far, and tumbled into the street – not, rather fortunately, the same street where the fighting was occurring. I don’t know who was winning. Punches were being thrown from all directions by the sound of things and there were several distinct flavours of groaning which leads me to believe it was a tie. Regardless, I did tumble into the street, and I started to run, because a caged animal will always run at the scent of freedom, and I kept on running until I reached the beach, and only then did I realise I was barefoot.

My feet bled into the sand, staining it red, and I watched it bloom, and after I walked home, I found the family sewing kit and a bucket and some ice, and suspended my foot in the cold until I couldn’t feel it anymore. Then, just as I had done on countless jeans and shirts, I carefully threaded a needle, and pretended the skin of my heel was just another item of clothing, except clothes don’t bleed as you patch them up. The line of black cotton turns into a crooked branch as it crosses towards my toes, because my hands shook as I stitched the edges close.

When I think of my brother, I trace that scar. Not because we found him, but because we didn’t. I said I don’t know feelings, but this was one even I could name: it was a feeling of hopeless sadness.

I next felt hopeless-sadness after one of these voids of indeterminable length. I know I was thirteen or so at the time of the first memory, but I cannot begin to guess the age I was when this second memory took place. Fifteen, sixteen, twenty-two? I certainly know which age I was not, but that’s all the indication I have of how this event is located in my life’s temporality.

If the first memory is defined by blood, then this second memory is defined by breath.

Not my breath, as you may have first suspected; but our breaths – the combined mechanics of our breathing. Hers were long and calming, mine were short and gasping; and as we pressed our lips together, I was struck by the music of life in all of its sensuous symphonies. Sound and sight seem to make equal parts of these first impressions: the colour of her minted shirt is as sharp to me as the luscious scrapings of tongues against teeth, and the cackle of cicadas outside the window serenading our virginity from our bodies. Our intertwined forms are foregrounded in this memory, and we roll over one another like playful children, but with deeply adult thoughts suspended between each other. Her face is blurred in this memory, but her taste, her sound; these retain the clarity of the curves a ripple takes across the glossy surface of a lake.

And suddenly, she becomes still. The motion of two lovers ceases, and the ebb and flow of movement is replaced by the haphazard lust of a lone individual – of me. She says, I might be dying, before rolling out from beneath me. She says, my heart wants to stay on earth here with you, but my head can only see the infinite blackness of the background, and refuses to see the stars that light the sky.

She rolls away from me completely then, and a sense of horror held me powerless as she stepped towards the window, threw the curtains back, and gracefully stepped from the house to the ground, where her crumpled body lay until morning, because she looked so beautiful lying there at the intersection of grass and brick path, and I couldn’t bear the burden of moving her.

The night my lover died, my breaths changed, and were never quite the same again. Before, they billowed out of my lungs through my oesophagus and reached freedom at the open orifice of my mouth, tickling the enamel of my teeth before rushing into the world. But now, my breaths remained stuck. They refused to exit my body and blossom out into the universe. They remained short, sharp, and shallow, the same kind of breaths that marked our night together, and they refused to dissipate, just like this memory, and my feelings towards her.

After that, the void recedes, and is slowly replaced by events in my life, but my individual memories remain blurred like smudges across a polaroid, with exceptional moments such as the pair I have written about here at length embedded in a kind of nondescript cotton wool. The moments gain vividness only as I scribe them into existence. I don’t know if these memories are true or false; if they happened, or are a fantasy I constructed for myself for comfort. But this I know, even if this is the only truth in my life, then this can be the truth I live by: I make it real by putting it into words.

Slides and Steps*

*pretend it says snakes and ladders, okay?

In the town where I grew up, the playground I frequented most often had a deathly metal slide. One of those really old-school, stainless-steel terrors with a ladder at the back and a field of prickles at the base. It was horror in summer, but epic nonetheless.

I feel like many years of my life are analogous with this slide. I started the journey expecting to leap off the bottom, collect my belongings, and run free across the dangerous grass, dodging the painful minefields of clover that dominated the park.

But, instead, this happened:

My life has been a scramble down the slide, where I constantly get stuck halfway because things have never been perfectly polished the way one expects, and I get trapped at the bottom trying to climb back up. I have struggled and thrashed in the pit at the base, desperately trying to claw my way back to the surface to no avail.

And this was where I resided, for many, many years.

Until recently. When, much like something out of an evil villain’s lair in a sci-fi movie, the hidden stairs popped out of the slide, and I was able to get my hands over the edge, and stand up for the first time.

Slowly, slowly, I am climbing the steps. And now, when things come crashing down, instead of slipping to rock-bottom, I stumble down only a few steps, recover, and begin to climb my way back up again.

The stairs are infinite, and I don’t know what’s awaits at the top, but I know that life has evolved from a constant slippery slope into a staircase that I can conquer, over and over and over again.

And that, my friends, makes my life a game of snakes and ladders.

Lessons

Just because they say they understand, doesn’t mean they do.

Just because they texts emojis, and kind words, doesn’t mean those sentiments are actually reciprocated.

Just because you’re good at your job, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk of being fired.

I lost my job. This isn’t to say that I’m unemployed, but I lost my consistent
“real” job (I’m still a tutor, after all). I lost my job because I spent time in hospital to ensure I wouldn’t kill myself. And when I returned to work, they told me that my “situation” (i.e. my mental health) made me unreliable, and I was fired, despite being a pretty great employee.

They said they understood; they provided a long sleeve shirt to cover my self-harm scars, they let me take extra breaks if I felt too anxious to continue. But when it came down to the real hard truths of my life with mental illness, they didn’t understand at all.

The first time I called in sick was two days after a suicide attempt. I was an involuntary patient, and couldn’t make my usual Saturday shift. The next time, the time that led to me losing my job, a friend had me admitted so I wouldn’t hurt myself. And I begged her not to take me. Because I just knew that I was going to get fired. She – and the hospital staff – convinced me that my anxious mind was pounding my with impossibilities, and I believed them, and allowed myself to spend time in a safe space.

And then I returned, and my world crashed down around me, and my sense of security and self-confidence were torn away, and I was left crushed and jobless and contemplating death. Work kept me alive. Sometimes, a shift was the reason I woke up the next day.

Even though I could, I’m not going to fight the fact that I lost my job. It’s an unfortunate fact. And even if I could somehow get my job back, why would I want to return to an environment that only provides false understanding?

No; instead I’ll treat this like the lesson that it is.

Some people will insist they understand, when really, they don’t at all.