A productive week finished, I left our college worship night with an earful of cliches concerning the Christian dilemma of being both needing to be disciplined by God while also being unconditionally loved by Him as His adopted child.
I lay on my bed, teeth brushed and naked, and found no inclination to sleep. I decided to watch a movie. I watched it. I put my computer away. I lay there some more. Finally, I pulled out my phone and Googled why people would ever cut themselves.
Intrigued at last, I pulled a fingernail along my lower right arm. A long pinkish streak appeared, and I made another. I watched my motions, trapped inside the bell jar of new sensations. I switched arms, and learned my right thumbnail had an edge better than the forefinger. I considered using something sharper, but I had no inclination to leave my horizontal position.
I observed my limbs under the yellow glow of my twinkle lights. Nothing here that would be permanent. Nothing I would regret. Or really? Because I had engaged in the dictionary definition of self harm, I understood, with a surreal stoicism, that an indelible stain had been left on my life, if not on my body. My body is a temple, but what have I done to it?
I’m trying to decide which I prefer – to be comfortably numb, or outshined, in the words of the song titles of two of my favorite artists. The next (or really, the same) day, I did the stereotypically Gloria things. I had Greek yogurt with granola, chocolate chips, and fruit for breakfast, posted on Instagram, promoted my newest blog post, read the autobiography of Bruce Springsteen. I worked on the funding app for my Org, and some labwork for two of my classes too. In the afternoon, I walked across campus to practice my violin. After scales – Eb major, nonetheless – and running through some Telemann, Wieniawski, je ne pourrais plus faire. I started to play the notes that came into my mind, and when I became too tired to stand, I sat down to the keys instead, which I hadn’t touched for months.
Walking across the quad, I remember seeing the sunlight stream through and stopping to sit underneath one of the trees. There were three other people doing the same thing as me. I thought, if I was in the mood to enjoy this right now, this could have been a very beautiful moment. I flicked a few spiders off my clothing and went on my way eventually.
But something fell through, and I felt my throat begin to swell. Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My” began to play through the headphones. I prayed for nobody to see me in this state on the way back, and switched my door sign to unavailable once I got there. I skimmed through articles describing the correlation between depression and music listening habits, depression and reading habits, depression, and intelligence, and realized there was nothing there that would help me, before I threw myself on the bed and slept so that I missed dinner.
After waking up, I walked through the dining hall in time to grab a butter knife before access disappeared altogether. In my room, I consumed a sleeve of Ritz crackers with about 2 oz. of cheddar. Then, nearly 3 months after the last session, I tried teaching myself guitar again. I was almost having fun. I took a shower for the first time since Thursday and deep conditioned my hair. I thought about my thoughts of self mutilation and believed it would rest as an experience I could speak about later. But not falling asleep a few hours later? That was not so fun.
I’m awake at 7 every morning almost without exception this semester. I put on Spotify and snooze the alarm until I become vertical. Most days last year I couldn’t have this luxury, so I would browse my phone until my mind was properly stimulated into consciousness. Once achieved, I lie in place for up to three hours, factoring in commitments, weather, and the like. Today I skipped church because I couldn’t pull myself together to get up, anticipating the social performance required. When I succeeded this morning, I rewarded myself like a dog with pb/cc bagels, coffee, chocolate, bananas, and cottage cheese.
My first semester at college I would go to the practice rooms to cry. I didn’t know I was doing exactly that again until after I was in there with the violin case closed, looking heavier than the world, not until I banged some ivory and dismissed my creations as noise, not until I noticed the crack in the F hole. I sent a panicked email to my teacher, and had I not sworn off curse words, I might have broken a world record with that toolkit. But immediately I noticed the parallel between the body of the instrument and the way I was treating mine.
I sat down, defeated. I stabbed and dragged my thumb into my wrist so that the skin broke, but I hardly felt a thing. I could see where this was going if I continued down this path. I tried it again on my leg. For the first time, I craved a paper clip. It’s supposed to work like a drug. My thoughts wandered to all the people who had found themselves at this point before me, and I sat very still. A tear fell first from my left eye, then my right. I watched myself in the mirror with indifference, as another pair joined the wetness on my cheeks. I thought how David Foster Wallace once wrote that “sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and like, hurt”. So that’s what I let myself do. I looked at myself in the crack of wood around my F hole and resolved to protect it, not to let it grow. Finally, I picked up the injured instrument and started on my scales.
Somehow, I feel that if I take care of myself, my violin will also be okay. This is still the worst possible thing to happen to a musician, but what’s a piece of wood next to human flesh and skin?
A crack surfaces because there was a flaw originally, exposed by sheer time and gradual pressure. Also if blunt force is applied. Self harm is an ugly melange of the two. But I also find the idea of it somewhat poetic, which I know is twisted and wrong. Must the artist suffer for their art? That too, is an unhealthy convention.
Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm
I know it’s been comin’ for some time
When it’s over so they say
It’ll rain a sunny day
I know shinin’ down like water
“Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
I am not so surprised that I’ve come to this. I’ve seen the rain on enough sunny days to expect a storm. I have the ability to throw on my best high-functioning depressive face, so that people wouldn’t suspect a thing. What’ I’d like to learn is the purpose of my suffering. Yes, out of hardship come the strongest wills, the most compassionate hearts, da-da-da…
The obvious passage to turn to of course, is Proverbs 3:11-12…
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;
For whom the Lord loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
Could it be that I am being chastened in a way that God is trying to show His enduring love for me?
As someone who firstly is trained in Mental Health First Aid, and who secondly is under obligation by my institute to refer other people to professional help under these same conditions, I still halt myself. Is it pride? Is that what we are trying to break down here, God? Pride sure goes hand in hand with fear.
Do you want me to share this with people, God? To make me vulnerable, and show that they are too? Am I a stigma fighter?
Should I keep silent? By writing this, I already am not. But to keep defying that devil in the mirror, to make my feet hit the ground each morning, to feed and clean myself, and heck, to laugh whenever the heck I want, for me is my way of declaring war against the silence, at least for today.