Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Piling the Awesome and Not-Awesome (Or, Stop Invalidating the Experiences of People Who Self-Injure)

Trigger Warning: This will deal with the subjects of depression, emotional abuse, and self-injury, or SI.

I'm twenty-one years old and it's taken about a decade of this time for me to actually realize my life's balance between things that are awesome and things that are not-awesome.

At the moment, my life has a large amount of awesome. I mean, it's a pretty exciting point in time to be a person, in general. I saw The Avengers three times, without having to pay! I absolutely adored it! It's pretty much summertime, so college students are done with classes at this point and high schoolers are finishing up pretty soon, as well. Also, there is such thing as mint chocolate chip Klondike bars. I still can't figure out how to eat them like an adult, but they are delicious.

The thing is, my life has (and will probably always have) an undercurrent of not-awesome. Many of the things that are not-awesome in my life are things that I can't exactly control. I am prone to depressive episodes, intense anxiety, and self destructive tendencies. These experiences have obviously shaded my experiences as a human being. I have extremely low self esteem, I can't stand being in cars, and I have had a lengthy relationship with self-injury. All of these not-awesome behaviors take place while I am having pretty awesome experiences. So my life is mooching my way through the Avengers, even though I would like to just curl up and sleep forever, finishing classes for the semester, which means that I'm home alone a lot and typically getting anxious over it, and eating Klondike bars, which can be pretty productive sometimes, because it distracts my fingers from picking/scratching/cutting/whatever that can mangle my skin in some way.

My relationship with SI developed when I was twelve years old. My grandmother, who essentially raised me for a large part of my life, was dying from cancer. I have been emotionally abused my entire life by my family. I have struggled with sexuality and gender issues for as long as I can remember, as well. So many factors led up to this inevitable thought process that "OH HEY, YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BE A GREAT IDEA? HURTING MYSELF, BECAUSE EVERYTHING ELSE HAS HURT ME." Was it a "good" decision? I mean, not exactly. There's nothing inherently wrong with changing your skin. I mean, scarification, tattoos, and other forms of body modification are examples of beautiful, positive alterations of skin. Inflicting pain on oneself is also an entirely valid expression, as well. There are many sexual kinks that are based around pain and utilize it for pleasure. But as a coping device, SI is not a great one, but sometimes all someone has to really come to terms with the anger, frustration, and depression that stems from losing loved ones, being abused emotionally and/or physically, or coming to terms with being a queer person in a home full of people who don't accept it.

The other issue that has to be factored in people's struggles with SI is that there are so many misconceptions associated with it, typically from, you know. Mostly everywhere. One of the most uncomfortable moments I ever had as a person who SIs was when I went to see Black Swan. As the audience watched the lead character fall apart, people decided to cackle and dismiss her actions as another example of a "bitch going crazy." The movie will forever be known by many people as "the movie that Natalie Portman went psycho and had sex with Mila Kunis." The markers of this behavior is her self abuse.

SI commonly gets dismissed as a symptom of bored teenagers in need of attention. Which, okay. Many people who SI probably need attention. But their need for attention is typically a pile up of the not-awesome in their life as opposed to the stereotypical association that teenagers crave attention that is connected to poor life decisions and the ability to purchase food for dates, cars, and clothes. The idea of teen angst is considered a temporary state that can be ignored constantly reoccurs in many adult interactions with them. It's why things like the It Gets Better Project become successful. They depend on waiting out the teenage years, as opposed to facilitating safe spaces for teenagers going through valid emotional distress.

The thing about SI, which isn't discussed, because it's apparently a thing that only happens in attention-seeking teenage years, is that it doesn't really go away. One of the only somewhat accurate depictions of SI I've seen articulated it in a way that I always reference to when I try to explain this to other people. Degrassi: The Next Generation (yes, the Canadian teen drama) had a character, Ellie, who cut herself. While she had an episode entirely about it, her need to SI reoccured in various episodes afterwards. She shows her cuts to a future boyfriend and finds herself surprised when he doesn't run away (which, let me tell you from experience: It is a scary, surreal, and liberating moment that I know not enough people get in their lifetime). She also references it in an important speech she makes to a friend, Craig, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The scene plays out like this: Craig is invited to attend a group therapy session, because of his bipolar disorder as well as his pretty shitty life situation. When he sees that Ellie is in the group, he becomes deterred from attending. Ellie approaches him about it, and explains quite simply that she needs to go, because she's a cutter and she will always be a cutter, even if she hasn't hurt herself in awhile.

Though a little convoluted, what I'm getting at is that people who SI will more likely than not always struggle with it. It's like the other things I go through in my life- the not-awesome that interferes with my awesome. I will always have it in the back of my head, even if I haven't done it in a long time. I live with markers all over my body about it. The fact that I need to be constantly told by the media and general opinion that my behavior is a part of the temporary state of teen angst hurts. A lot. And I guess the entire point of this post is to allow myself to vent about it and hopefully provide a perspective on a subject that is constantly mangled by outside forces.

Complementing this demand to reconfigure the present visualization of SI by the general public is the demand to establish spaces that are safe for people who SI. Dismissive use of words such as "crazy", "cutter", and "psycho" much be gotten rid of to better the treatment of people who SI/people recovering from SI and people who don't, but still struggle with mental disorders. People also need to understand that spaces must be created to make sure that people don't get triggered by things. I used a trigger warning at the beginning of the post. It's a rating system of sorts (except it's way more specific than most rating systems). It can either point out that content that can make someone anxious/want to relapse/be reminded of traumatizing experiences and tell them to avoid the post, or it can also prepare a person that the content will occur. It can make people's lives a lot better. This isn't censoring things. This is just making some people's lives more bearable or prevent them from performing a destructive behavior. Better discussion of the topic of SI can obviously make this easier to create warning or sensitivity to the subject, as well.

This post has been pretty much a therapeutic experiment of sorts for me. I don't know how much of this is actually compelling commentary. But if you have read it all, well. Thanks a lot! And I hope that we can, as readers, writers, and people, begin to have the not-awesome pile in people who SI's lives a little smaller.