Get the Blade
Battling The Inner Voices That Encourage Self Harm
BY MA ELIZA CALIOLIO
“How long has it been?” my therapist asks while I stare at the photo canvas that almost covers the entire wall. It shows an old bridge made of wood with ropes tying it together. It reaches the other side of the river where my sight meets a gigantic tree, generous in leaves, while a veil of fog covers the entire canvas. It calms me down.
“Ten years since the last one,” I reply, continuously staring at the wall. She turns around and looks at the wall acknowledging the photo and smiles. She turns around to look at me.
What made you do it this time?” she asks with an almost mothering, disappointed look on her face. “I don’t know. I’m not so sure. I mean, I know, but I don’t know why I did it.”
It always seems to be my answer. “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”–because 90 percent of the time people who have mental disorders like me do not know why it happens. Hell, no one knows how to approach someone who has cutting tendencies, let alone figure out if the person has depression. There’s a stigma to mental disorders comparable to the Black Plague. No one wants to go near it and they don’t take the time to understand it.
Many I know are afraid to ask, “Are you okay?” because sometimes my answers can take them by surprise and the follow up conversations can be awkward. It’s just like how I react when meeting someone like me, someone who has depression with cutting tendencies. I’ve walked in both sets of shoes.
I’ve joined online groups with names like “Cutters Anonymous,” “Self Harmers and Cutters,” “Self Mutilators” and many more that flood Facebook. I try to be careful since I’m going through the same dark episode they are. When I try to interact with someone who posts something like “I feel like cutting myself and I want to die,” I think, “What the hell do I say? What do I do now?”
Acknowledging someone with a mental disorder makes a difference. Sometimes all it takes is asking, “What can I do to help?” I’ve met many who told me, “I don’t know what to say” and I tell them, “Ask anyway!” Even if the answer is a stern “Nothing!” having someone there makes everything bearable. No judgments, just love.
I’m always walking on eggshells and living on edge. I don’t know what might set off my depressive state which leads to cutting. These days it seems anything can set me off. I chose to stop taking medication because it was changing me physically. I would have jerking movements and my dreams were nightmares. My family and friends don’t know how to deal with it, and often times they will just get mad, or they’ll be quiet–even though the evidence is painfully obvious. When I cut myself, I see an enormous psychedelic-colored, out-of-control elephant in the room throwing itself against the wall. An elephant who brought along a unicorn on acid. Those two combined make for a hell of an extraterrestrial storm.
“How does it make you feel when you cut yourself?” asks my ever-so-nice, and calm, therapist.
I want to get fixed and I want it to happen fast. I didn’t think she could help me in the beginning. She started a session once by asking what I did over the weekend. I bluntly responded by asking her why she asks me stupid questions. She told me, “I love how you’re so direct. You ask for what you want.” She then told me that therapy is not an instant fix. My issues have been happening for two decades. “It will take some time,” she said. She was growing on me.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” I finally respond. I stare into space while I touch the welts on my arm where I made permanent reminders of my pain ten years before. I look back at the enormous photo canvass on the wall, and I imagine myself walking on that bridge, the wood panels rotting and the ropes frayed. Even while I sit on her couch, I find myself escaping the moment.
“Did I tell you how I enjoy your imagination?” she asks.
My therapist, she’s sweet. I give her a slight acknowledgement and smile.
“Well, you can describe it to me,” she says.
I figured, “I’m here. I’m paying for this time, and I better make the most of it.” If only she knew.
“Well?” she says, trying to retrieve me from imagination land.
“I find respite in a blade, the feel of my burned skin, a bottle of hard liquor, and a box of bandages,” I tell her. “There for a fraction of a moment my thoughts are empty. They’ve been purged. Compared to a smoggy Beijing on a good day in another corner of the world, they’ve been purified. For that fraction of a moment I don’t feel anything. There’s no longer any shame. I no longer hide the welts.” I look down at my left forearm and for a split second I see my past. I sit there wondering if it really was my past.
I opened the floodgates of description. I did my best to show her.
It’s not about killing, hurting, or wanting to die, at least for me. If I wanted to kill myself, I would do something more drastic than slicing skin. It’s about the relief after the cut. It’s not the feeling of the blade pressed against my skin, the slicing motion in making sure I make a clean cut, the after burn from the blade, and the beads of blood trickling from my wound. It’s making the need to feel depressed and hopeless go away.
I do mental exercises that my therapist taught me in the very beginning. She taught me to picture a creek with leaves going along the direction of the water or the sky with clouds passing by. She taught me to think of any and every negative thought or feeling as a thing that I can put in the leaves or the clouds and watch them pass by.
I do these exercises and they work until they don’t. When I’m already cornered in that frame of thought, I can’t do anything else. It’s an invisible pressure from inside, coming from a hollow, empty, dark universe. When it becomes overwhelming, all I can hear is “get the blade,” and like a zombie I look for one. I usually have one with me at all times. I’m glad I haven’t evolved to using knives.
When I have the blade in my hand, I hold my breath and I make that first slice on my skin. It burns. Afterwards, I feel relieved, relaxed, calm, and victorious with the help of the sharp blade. It’s an awful, terrible victory, but a victory nonetheless. I cut continuously and when I think I’ve done enough, I take one deep breath, slice one more time, and I let go.
When I do, my mind opens. It’s no longer foggy, confused, hazed, dazed, and dreaming. It feels like I’m hovering above the Earth, weightless. I have no anchor and I drift aimlessly. I see the Earth and I marvel at its beauty. I feel like an astronaut, thousands of miles high above Earth.
I foolishly believe I’m safe–until my marveling snaps. I’m alone and I realize I’m scared to death. I try hard thinking I can hold on, and I can come down to Earth gracefully. Sadly, nothing has changed.
It’s a monster. It’s a cycle. It’s ugly. And the only way I’m going to wake up is if I cut.
Ma Eliza Caliolio is a college student in Sacramento, California and works as a student assistant for a mental health commission.
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