A Complicated Normal: Riding the Wave of Mental Illness

by Vanessa Hazzard I thought I was well. It’s been over a year since I stopped cutting and almost two years since I’ve been released from...

by Vanessa Hazzard

I thought I was well. It’s been over a year since I stopped cutting and almost two years since I’ve been released from the hospital after being treated for borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and PTSD. Since then, I’ve held a steady job and re-enrolled in a Bachelors degree program. My life had been successfully recalibrated after years of trauma. That life was so far in the rear view mirror, so small, that it seemed just a blip on the radar compared to all the good things that lay before me.

I felt normal for the first time in my life. Not bland normal, just sane normal; a stable, healthy, functional normal. I should’ve known that my kind of normal is a bit more complicated when a seemingly innocent hug from behind triggered a rush of memories long forgotten. It wasn’t even so much the memories themselves that bothered me. It was the feelings of being dirty, used-up, and insignificant that accompanied them. I’m not lazy when it comes to my mental health. I do the work, as tiresome as it may be, and yet this occurrence sent me into a tailspin. How can some people shake off their woes, while others, like myself, are just left shaken?

That night, I tried to sleep it off, but to no avail. Through all the tossing and turning and tears, I couldn’t escape myself. I remembered that I had an expired bottle of Valium with a few pills left inside. Hoping they still had some potency; I washed down a pill with a sip of cheap wine and waited for my mind to settle but it wasn’t long before the psychosis began. This trance-like reality was a familiar place for me, just a few years prior when the symptoms of PTSD were at its peak. I was slow and heavy, yet deliberate when I grabbed the razor in my drawer and did as I’ve done many times before. I cranked up the classical music station I was listening to and began slicing my inner thighs. The razor slid across my skin like a bow on violin strings. I always want to be a violin when I’m in this state. It’s so beautiful, fine and delicate, attributes I always fell short of embodying.

At first, my slicing was a bit haphazard, a few cuts here and there. I just wanted to see my blood escape from the inside of my body. Then, as the music grew louder, I became increasingly more intentional with the cutting, as my need to be a violin intensified. I was focused and on a mission. By this point, my mind was completely fragmented yet a small part of me knew I was obsessed with an impossibility. But the orchestral violins, like a pied piper, led my other parts further and further away from the stable, healthy, functional normal that I worked so hard to achieve. I began cutting a musical staff in my leg. Then I sliced another. Then one more. I kept going until the violins released their hold and I was re-minded. I’m not sure how much time went by, but when I looked down, I had cuts that spanned the length of both my inner thighs. The drops of blood dripped out like notes in a messed up lullaby, as it was successful at putting me to sleep.

The days and nights that followed were more of the same. I’d put on a happy, pleasant face at work. I’d help my son with his homework, make dinner, and then head upstairs to cut while he was playing with his uncles. I was good at faking normalcy when all the while I was slipping deeper and deeper into depression. Truth is, I was battling a depressive episode for a few weeks, but was able to keep it at bay. Between medication, meditation, and working out, I knew I was able to work through it as I have done in the past. This trigger though…it snuck up on me and pulled me under. For days, I was a melancholy mass of flesh and shame drudging through what felt like molasses towards the mights at the end of the tunnel. I might be healthy one day. I might be successful. I might never have to take medication again. The thought of my son was like dangling a carrot in front of me to keep me running towards those mights, instead of succumbing to my current reality…my inner thighs were full of fresh, self-inflicted scars... the results of a poor and dangerous coping mechanism. One that I sadly and shamefully enjoyed.

When bedtime came, my son came upstairs crying for his dad. His dad and I have been divorced and living in separate households for a few years now. Even when I think that my son has processed our separation and accepted that he’ll see his dad only on weekends, by mid-week he usually begins to cry for him. I do as I always do. I put him on my lap and rock and embrace him. The weight of his, lanky, seven-year-old body stings my scars and I am immediately filled with hypocrisy. How can I console him when I can’t healthily attend to my own depression?
After his tears subside, he asks me to read him a book, Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. The little girl in the book is in search of something beautiful in her neighborhood and questions her neighbors on what they think is beautiful. In the end, the girl’s mother says that she is her something beautiful. I looked at my son and said, “…and you’re my something beautiful”. Without hesitation, he replied, “…and you are mine, mommy”. I couldn’t help but burst into tears while my son drifted off to sleep. This tainted, scarred body and complicated mind was his mommy…and he thought her beautiful. That was his normal and I hope that one day it becomes my own.

Photo: Shutterstock

Vanessa Hazzard is co-editor and contributor to The Color of Hope: People of Color Mental Health Narratives. She is a wellness professional in the Philadelphia, PA region. Find her on Twitter @NessaFromEarth.

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