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Returning to the Old Habit

Depression runs in my family. I can recall long periods of time when my mother was adjusting to new medication in attempts to control her mood disorder. This was complicated by the addition of anxiety disorder, and so as drugs were substituted in and out in the hopes of finding some way of complimenting without interfering, it was expected that there would be wild mood swings and irrational emotional responses. It's always been a fact of life. My older sister has escaped the stigma of mental disorder, but only by adopting into the line of thought that mental illness is not something to be talked about but rather swept away under the rug. Suffering from depression my self, I tend to disagree.

What gets under my skin these days is the plethora of people who think that self-injury is the new black, as it were, that it's a new and different way of being unique. More than anything else, I want to let it be known that self-injury (and cutting in particular) is a serious issue in the underbelly of the world and to claim it as part of your oh-so-special uniqueness is insulting to those who have deep set reasons for participating in it.

I'd just come out of a long stretch of restraining myself from any cutting. It's not necessarily the healthiest way to deal with problems and I had been doing relatively fine. My depression comes and goes in waves that can be mild to crushing, and I had suddenly found myself being suppressed by a very strong wave that lasted for nearly a week. This was an entire week of sleeping and waking up just as sluggish and lethargic and uncaring as the night before. My eyes were red from crying and in desperation I had spent ten minutes bending over my knees, alone in my dorm room chair, hands in my hair, begging someone to take away the pain and keep me from cutting again.

Of course when your heart and body are really set on doing something, it's hard to get them to listen to reason, especially when your mind is just a tiny, tinny voice whimpering out rational thoughts. The weekend before, I had been at home, and to make myself feel more secure at school – just having it was reassuring – I had cleaned up a Swiss Army knife lite that my father had given to me years ago. Before this long stretch of not cutting, it had been my utensil of choice. Lite Swiss Army knives feature a blade that is about an inch long, a nail file, and a pair of uselessly dull scissors. The blade on mine was perfectly sharp and neatly pointed.

I had hydrogen peroxide leftover from when I had been using it to rinse my mouth after I'd had my wisdom teeth removed, and so first with hot water and soap, then with the peroxide, I had cleaned and disinfected the blade of the knife. Cleanliness is absolutely imperative in my ritual and it gave me a warm feeling in the bottom of my stomach to be taking part in the old rituals again. Obviously I have no means of getting antibiotics without it being noticed, thanks to being on my parents' health insurance plan, and so an infection from any of my work would be a disaster, as my family is completely unaware of my cutting.

So there in my dorm room, I took the knife out of my top desk drawer and turned it over in my hands. I ignored the conversation I'd been having online with my best friend and I felt my head go fuzzy. It was as if everything slowed down and ceased to have meaning and the only thing I could do was open my knife, which I did, slowly and dreamily. I would even go so far as to say that I did it in a worshipful manner – I adore my Swiss lite knife, and there's nothing I can really do to change that. I laid my finger over the top of the blade, at the base, and hesitantly pressed the point against the skin at the top of my wrist.

Clearly this is not the best place to be cutting yourself, as it is not only easily visible if your sleeves ride up on your arms, but due to the daily flexing of wrists, it makes it hard to bandage as well. At the time, however, my head felt very far away and I felt like I was watching my actions from just behind my own eyes. I pressed the point against the top of my wrist with more certainty, my eyes following past it, mapping out the area I would cut. I just wanted one mark, this time. I normally prefer to cut in threes or fives (I also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder), but it had been so long I wanted to let myself get acclimated again.

The cutting itself was over quickly. I pressed down and felt the sting, and I watched the blood well up. I never make deep cuts. The sting of the moment is enough, and it sent a ripple down my arms like it always does, warm and satisfying. I wish I had more scars to remember it by. It's the ritual that really reassures me, though, the stability of cleaning and purifying that makes sense when the rest of my life seems to be going absolutely nowhere fast. I washed the cut with soap and hot water, and with the bottle of peroxide I had been using at school I rinsed it clean as well. The cut wasn't quite deep enough for the peroxide to really sting and get going, but it felt good and reassuring anyway.

Neosporin with antibacterial protection was the last step, and after wiping down my knife again, I put it back into my top drawer. I returned to my conversation with my best friend as if nothing had happened, though until my cut healed, I continued to stroke it with a finger occasionally, to remind myself. I'm not perfect, and we all have relapses. The important thing to me is the ritual of the cleanliness – I don't know whether that's a metaphor for my subconscious need to clean away the badness I feel inside myself, but I don't go to a psychologist, so I can't tell you that, either. All I know is, as long as it's done safely and properly, it gives me strength and reassurance.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 23 Jan. 2007
in Ritual

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