Scars of Yesterday: Battling the Stigma of Depression and Self-Injury
When I look back, it’s hard to imagine that I could cut into my own flesh. The cutting was both a release and a distraction from the emotional pain that I couldn’t handle. For most of my life, I was overwhelmed by my feelings. I was stuck in a cycle of depression that I couldn’t escape and it was slowly and painfully eating away at me.
Reminders of painful days in my life crisscross my arms. Fading tracks of where razors once danced across my arms draw the occasional second glance of strangers. Sometimes I forget all about them. But, in those moments when they burn under the glare of a stranger’s eyes, I become self-conscious. Although it’s too late, I tug at my sleeves hoping to rebury the memories of darker days.
Then a little voice tells me to look at them and notice how they fade a little more each day while I grow and stand taller with each passing moment.
In those days, I was lonely and afraid. I didn’t feel like I was worth anything to anyone. A cloud was always hanging over me, and I just couldn’t make myself happy. I couldn’t escape the bad thoughts floating around in my head — so the pressure just kept building up inside of me.
I remember my first time cutting so clearly.
I was alone in my apartment watching one of those behind-the-scene specials about a popular sitcom. Everything on the television screen seemed to be a direct contradiction to my life. Both the characters and the actors who portrayed them were happy and healthy and supported. It hit a nerve because it was everything I wanted.
I wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t fall. I felt like those tears were boiling inside of me, and the pressure was unbearable. And then, for some unknown reason, I picked up a pair of scissors and ran the blade across my forearm. I watched the blood trickle from the cut and let out a sigh. It was as if I had taken the lid off of the boiling pot and released the pressure.
I often look back at that moment and ask myself “Why?” To this day, I can’t explain what part of my brain led me to the conclusion that cutting myself was my best or only option. I’m a smart person. I knew that something wasn’t right and that I needed help, but I just couldn’t do it. When I share my story with people, they often ask what took me so long to seek therapy. Why did I choose to suffer both physically and mentally in silence?
Suffering seemed like the better alternative to going against my family and friends’ social norm. I grew up hearing that therapy was for white people. I was told that all I needed to do was “not think about it” and to pray.
How can you not think about the things that haunt you in your dreams? How can you not think about the sad reflection that greets you every time you step in front of a mirror?
And though prayer is wonderful, even the Bible says that faith without works is dead. My faith comforted me on many days, but a true shift in one’s situation comes from actively participating in making changes in one’s life.
For those of us who suffer from depression, therapy is how we need to participate. We need to stop being ashamed of seeking the help that we need. It’s hard, but we all have to get beyond these preconceived and, sometimes, ignorant notions about therapy and medication. Therapy itself is hard enough without having to worry about someone finding out and what would happen if they did. No one wants to be judged, especially about something we don’t always have complete control over.
I ended up being one of the lucky ones. I found myself in a new circle of friends who never judged me. They didn’t think I was crazy. They didn’t tell me to “get over it.” They helped me to heal the scars on my arms and in my heart.
So in those moments when I feel like my arms are at the center of attention and I want to tug at my sleeves and hide them, I tell myself and anyone who asks that they are battle scars.
Evidence of a battle that I fought and won.