A Complicated Normal: Riding the Wave of Mental Illness10/29/2015
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?
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?
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.