One year ago, I was covered with bruises and cuts that never seemed to heal.
One year ago, I was living off of one hundred calories maximum per day.
One year ago, I was weak, cold, tired, sore, and sad every moment of every day.
One year ago, I decided to finally start to turn my life around.
I started down a path of self-harm when I was seven years old. I remember the day I made the first cut: my classmates had been teasing me for various reasons throughout the day – my clothing, my love of reading, even the lack of glitter on my art project in class. At the end of the day, I felt so frustrated, so sad, so irreparably “other” from my peers, and I translated these emotions to mean that I was a bad person in some way and that I needed punishment.
Thus began my long journey of self-harm.
A Difficult Childhood
Throughout elementary school, I continued to engage in self-harm behaviors of various forms, never understanding that it was a problem that I constantly thought of suicide. Having taken on suicidal ideation at such a young age, I felt like it was just another regular emotion. I assumed that such feelings are a part of the human experience and therefore not something worth trying to fix. I continued to fall into a pit of depression, constantly hating myself and viewing myself as a failure.
In middle school, I began to realize I was different. I noticed the way that people around me laughed with no shadows of depression holding them down, and I saw that none of them had any marks of self-harm. I began to realize that, while suicidal ideation and self-harm felt like my normal, that by no means made them okay. However, I was not sure how to begin to fix this problem that had embedded itself into my life so many years ago. How do I change a part of my life that has become such a central aspect of who I am? Where do I begin with trying to fix this? Who am I without self-harm? Do I want to be that person? Can I even be that person? Does she even exist?
Searching For Answers
I spent high school contemplating these questions, feeling more and more hopeless and useless every day. High school became an even deeper time of depression and feeling like I could never be worth anything. I spent those four years constantly suicidal, constantly hurting myself or thinking of hurting myself, always wishing I was worth saving, or even wishing I was possible to save at all.
Last year, in my first year out of high school, I no longer had the structure that schooling had given me. I was enjoying college, but the dark cloud was not going away. Instead, it kept getting darker and thicker, with no school functions to pull me back to the world.
What only deepened the problem was the way I felt every time I looked in the mirror. For years, I had played team sports. Growing up, when I felt self-conscious about my appearance, I would often restrict calories, but my desire to perform well in athletics prevented me from restricting too much for too long. In the absence of sports, however, every time I looked in the mirror, I felt fat. As superficial as I felt for believing this, being fat was something I was truly afraid of, and no competitive trait could save me. To prevent gaining body weight, I gave myself a rigorous workout regiment that included several miles of running per day, as well as other exercises for other parts of my body, and I took to restricting my calories, usually having a calorie intake of about one hundred calories per day but never more than three hundred.
The Night Everything Changed
Every day, I would look in the mirror, frightened of seeing any fat on my body, and I would always be able to find something wrong with my appearance. I began to believe that this meant I was a bad person. I took greater and greater pride in the dizziness I felt as I walked to class, the coldness that seeped into my bones, even on hot days. These sensations told me I was winning – but the only person I was beating was my own self.
On December 5th, 2017, my classes ended at seven o’clock at night, and I went back to my dorm room, planning to go for a run, as I had done every day for several months prior. However, upon entering my room, I broke down into sobs, so dizzy from hunger and exhaustion that I instantly crumpled onto my bed. After so much time letting myself be numb, the despair at what I was doing to myself poured out all at once. After hours of crying, I told myself I needed to save my own life – before it was too late. I realized that it could not go on this way forever.
The Road to Recovery
My self-implemented recovery was not easy. I slowly began making sure to eat when I was hungry and to resist self-harm, even when every fiber of my being told me that was what the situation at hand called for.
When I got over my ego and was able to seek professional help, I found a therapist to guide me in the process. I was originally unsure of how this would help, but she helped me through many difficult times towards the beginning.
I also turned to my friends for support and trusted that they would accept me and be there for me throughout my journey. I am fortunate in the fact that most of my friends were more than willing to stand by me, rather than being scared away by the stigmas surrounding my struggle. I would be lying if I said I did not have people leave my life when I told them about what I was dealing with, but I learned early on that anyone who can not stick around for their friends in difficult situations is not someone who was ever truly there for them in the first place.
One week passed.
Two weeks passed.
One month passed.
Six months passed.
I counted the days I was able to resist self-harm and confront my eating disorder, feeling my strength return to my body as my cuts faded.
Twelve Years Later
After twelve years of self-harm, I am finally one year clean. It has been far from easy, but the challenge is one I know I need to face. One year clean is a small step, but I am hoping it is only one of many. I do not know if I have conquered my war with self-harm forever, but now I am learning that I have a chance.
I am getting to know the woman I can be without self-harm, suicidal ideation, and anorexia clouding my view of myself.
I think I am going to like her a lot.
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