21 October 2014


I want you to hear me
I want you to find me

Over the years, I've talked pretty freely about my depression. But until now I've never talked about anxiety. Because until just a few weeks ago, I wasn't quite able to name it as a component of the way my life apparently functions. I know. You're shocked. Me? Anxious? The woman so high-strung she could solve the fossil fuel crisis if only you could find an extension cord long enough to plug her in? In some ways over the years it's gotten better, although people who know me now in my forties are probably appalled to learn that I've actually unwound a few good turns in the past twenty years.

So why now? Well, in some ways—possibly because my depression is so much better managed that it doesn't mask everything else I'm also already feeling—it's also gotten worse.

First. This is not a cry for help. I am not currently in crisis, nor am I in any way suicidal. I promise (you know who you are). Regardless. Several forces have recently converged, leading me to the decision to blog about this. And in true FireCat fashion, I fought it every step of the way. Some of it is my means of processing this. But the hard part of it is the understanding that removing the stigma of mental illness includes removing the judgement I have against myself for being this way. And that maybe, just maybe, it will come to include forgiving myself for being my own worst enemy when I needed love the most, especially my own.

Folks, I have to name it. So here goes. On and off over the years, in order to try to tame my unruly emotions, I have been a cutter. It's not a daily thing, or even a monthly thing. It's a crisis management thing. And it sucks, and I don't like it. Sometimes I go years without even thinking about it. At the worst of times, over a period of maybe a few weeks or so I will contemplate it as often as I suspect smokers think about their next butt, and spend most of my emotional, and physical, energy trying to talk myself either into or out of it, just to make the urge go away. And it's only recently that I've come to accept that at my very lowest points, I may always have that urge, just the way an addict does, and it's not the urge that defines me but what I do in response to it.

A few people—the five or six closest to me—already know this about me, because they have lived through it with me. Some of them get fairly banal text updates because they are on my first line of defense, because I love them and trust them enough that I've promised to tell them if I'm even thinking about it. These are also, by and large, the people who will respond to Yeah hi, sorry I couldn't talk, I was in line at the grocery store, I needed cat food, and oh yeah I've been feeling really triggered today. How did class go? with Kitties thank you. Class was boring. I know, because they really do know me well enough (and talk to me often enough) that they usually know that something has triggered me before I am able to name it. Some of them have called me in the middle of the night and stayed with me on speakerphone while I stood at my kitchen counter drinking increasingly tepid tea and cried my heart out with anxiety and self-loathing until I agreed to put away first the bigger knife, then the smaller one, and until finally I left the kitchen altogether.

And so we have learned. The same man who fifteen years ago screamed at me in anger that even then I knew masked fear before he called 911 and had me admitted was recently able to have a rational and helpful, if somewhat emotionally misspelled, text conversation about whether I'd taken my antidepressant and other potential coping strategies—without either of us losing our shit. It was one of the best conversations I can ever recall having, even though it was painful and frightening for us both.

The other reason, ironically, that I've realised for a few weeks now that I need to write publicly about this, is that I have finally started to understand—less than a month ago at that kitchen counter in the midst of that anguish I wouldn't wish on anybody, even myself—what lies behind that urge. And what lies behind that urge is silence. There is no way to hurt me more deeply than to tell me my voice does not matter and to try to prevent me from being heard. I've heard the psychology about wanting a physical pain that matches what a cutter is feeling emotionally, a pain that "makes sense." As I wrote several years ago now, that's why my response to getting divorced was to decide to train for a marathon. But it never entirely settled right, that reason for my most personal, most intimate desire for self-harm when the urges came. I didn't even make the connection the night eight years ago I wrote a letter to my husband in my journal and then dropped it into his lap while the blood ran down my arm.

Oh god. I'm really telling you all this.

But two and a half weeks ago before my phone rang, I realised that as I made three quick motions across my arm with the blade, I wasn't just crying with voiceless pain. I was speaking out loud. I love you. I am angry. You hurt me. These words were spoken aloud to someone who refused to hear them, someone who did everything he could to keep from hearing them. Who might never hear them. Who probably knows them deep down and feels as awful about them as I do, which is probably why he tried so hard to avoid hearing them from me. But I'm not saying them here to blame this person. I'm only saying them because there are words I need to learn to speak out loud. With my voice, not my body. Without using them as a weapon against my own sweet self.

Someday maybe I will learn that the truth doesn't have to cut to the bone.