Still after all this time…

It’s Friday night. I’m watching Bridget Jones’s baby (again) after which I shall go to bed & continue re reading Persuasion. Probably a pretty nice cosy night in, but Bridget & Austen are red flags for me.

I always read Austen when I feel wobbly. I find the manners & gentle wit soothing. Whenever I read about Elliots or Dashwoods they seep into my dreams. Georgian heroines winning happy endings is a definite upgrade on what’s usually swilling around my subconscious. Bridget Jones offers a similar, but slightly more bittersweet comfort. Echoes of Austen, shadows of my own experience. Sadly, sans the fairy tale ending. They amount to my mixed media version of a junk food binge.

I love some good old fashioned romance, but my own Mr Darcy is not what I’m longing for. I don’t know that I’m actually cut out for the conventional vision of love. I’ve given it some good tries; satisfaction never abounds. Perhaps what I miss is just more innocent times. Younger me believed in things I can’t muster the faith for anymore. That is both freeing and, well, sad.

I feel like I’m standing on the edge. I can’t see what lies beneath. The uncertainty scares me. I’m grinding through the days. Fighting the urge to stay in bed. Backing thoughts of blood into corners. I’m teetering on the brink of that big blank something.

Maybe this is how you feel when you’re prone to crazy and about to turn 40. Or perhaps this is just always going to happen. Remission & Relapse. Almost sounds like a novel a 21st century Jane Austen would write. She’d probably find a way to lighten to the mood. Alas, I lack her talent.

Instead I’ll borrow some well-being from her work. Mansfield Park can follow Persuasion. I might even dig out the Bridget books too. I’ll take light relief where I can get. Hold my nerve. I’ve survived steeper falls than this. There’s always safe ground waiting.

You’ve got stuck in a moment…

You know how they say you can’t smell your own perfume, so you have to careful now to wear too much? I feel a bit like that about my body. Specifically, my scars.

I’ve lived with the damage for so long that I cannot judge how severe it is. Mostly, I don’t think about my scars at all. They’re not a consideration in dressing anymore. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of what they may signify. I usually find any rudeness engendered by my patchwork skin says more about the observer than the observed.

However, every once on a blue moon I have a moment. Often it’s my own doing. I catch sight of my reflection at an unusual angle or change under different lighting and I’m shocked. Horrified maybe. Not so much at my appearance as the fact that I did this to myself.

More rarely it’s as a result of another’s extreme reaction. A gasp or frightened look stirs much more than judgemental comments. When my battle scars scare others it stirs the old guilty feelings.

Sun shining through trees

In either case it is doubt that knocks my confidence. I find it impossible to determine if my body is hideous or merely slightly disfigured. Without a clear grasp of what I have done I feel adrift. It takes me back to my days in the self harm trenches; never knowing how serious a wound was. Unable to grasp onto any equilibrium.

Am I a dramatic fool over nothing or inflicting horror on innocent parties? And which would be worse? The uncertainty shakes me. I feel an imposter. For all my proclamations of body confidence there are times when my self inflicted seams run deep.

I’m stuck in a moment right now. I fight the urge to hide. Steal myself against thoughts of splitting those seams open. It’ll pass. In the meantime I’ll have the long sleeve weather to regain my surety.

Blurry lights through blinds

Look back in anger…

I’m angry. So angry that it’s hard to contain. The problem is there’s no specific target for my rage. It’s a generalised, tear everything down kind of fury. There’s no release. I can’t spew my anger over unsuspecting bystanders. Keeping it in doesn’t feel like a viable solution either. Where does one put all the free floating resentment that no one is actually to blame for?

Life isn’t fair. I came to terms with that fact a long time ago. I’ve accepted a lot of bullshit. Fought crazy & illness & disability & mistreatment & loss to build some sort of something. I’ve struggled, but I’ve rolled with the punches as best I could. There’s only ever been one thing that I’ve felt I couldn’t do without. One single imperative. When you’re willing to get by without so many things, it feels so desperately unfair to be denied the thing that would make it all ok.

I watch everyone around me do the thing I cannot. Some with such ease it leaves me breathless. For others it’s a harder journey, but they reach their destination. I love those people and I love their babies, but it’s so hard to be the only one stranded.

I’m angry that I have to do this again. I’ve been tricked into hoping. Now I have to deal with the fall out. I am mad at myself for being stupid enough to believe. I resent having to submit to medical interventions. I didn’t ever want to hear someone say they can’t find a heartbeat again or look at another bloody speculum. I’m furious that I’m still bleeding and that I have to cope with all that triggers. It’s agony to be constantly reminded that my body has failed again. It’s exhausting to face the nightmares and flashbacks of all other blood. I don’t want to relive each of the worst moments of my life whilst trying to get through this one. I’m sick of blood tests and transfusions and putting on a brave face. I hate that I don’t get to opt out. I’m not strong, I just don’t have option of walking away because it’s too hard.

I don’t understand why it has to be me. Why my babies keep dying when I want them so much. Why does the universe give life to those who can’t or won’t love their children? Every time I read a horror story of abuse it feels like a personal attack. I think of all those terrified pregnant teens, the adult women who can’t feed another mouth or just never wanted to parent and I wonder why it couldn’t be me instead. I’m not angry at the individuals; everyone should have the right to choose. I’m furious at whoever or whatever makes decisions. What could I possibly have done that disqualifies me?

I see people smoking as they hold their child and I have to restrain my scream. Each impatient, inappropriate or lazy exchange between a parent & child kills me. Even the standard complaints about bring tired and tantrums make me feel like punching someone. I know I’m not being fair, but it’s like bitching about your diet to the starving. Don’t they know what a miracle they’ve created? How can they forget how much that little person needs them to do the right thing. I know it isn’t easy. Kids are exhausting and all consuming, but they’re worth it. The joy outweighs the sacrifice.

I’ve had enough therapy to know that burying your feelings is never helpful. I know I can’t dig a deep enough hole for this much emotion, but I have no idea where else to put it. I can’t lose it with every person who is rude or mildly inconveniences me. I have no desire or intention of venting on the people I love. I used to work this shit out with a scalpel. That’s no longer an option. What do I do?

The dog days are done…

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Extra illness, extra stress & very little sleep have taken a toll. My mood has taken a nose dive. I’m battling a fairly substantial wave of anxiety & the urge to just hole up at home.

I am fighting, though. One of the things keeping me going is how far I’ve come. These lows will probably always hit, but it helps to know things are not as bad as they once were. On days like this reading my own dark words shine a tiny light through today’s depressive fog.

The blood jet is poetry, ly h Kerr

I’m hoping some sleep & resolving some of the stress inducers will alleviate this bout of blue. In the mean time I’ll be digging deep in my chest of resources to keep myself focused on the light.

Bronan Kerr

Rest assured this boy is always looking after me.

You’re gonna carry that weight a long time…

I had my bloods done this week. I have blood taken most weeks. This time I had a new nurse. She asked about my scars (nicely). I replied self harm. She exhaled sympathetically and said ‘it certainly left its mark’. Ain’t that the truth.

There’s the obvious scars all over my skin. The toll on my body that you can read about in my medical records and the indelible marks on my mind. Then the more I thought about it the clearer I saw that self harm has permeated throughout my life. I have so many habits, rules & thoughts that all loop back to a time when I was routinely hurting myself. The depth of it is both a revelation and strikingly obvious. Which is confusing, so I’m just going to unpack it here. Someone once told me they read my writing because it’s the best way to work out what I’m actually thinking. That’s often why I write it. So, excuse me if I explore my insides with an audience.

There are seemingly trivial things that at first glance appear to be just casual preferences. I only buy dark bedsheets. All my bedding is black or red or purple. Sure, I like those colours, but really I switched to exclusively dark tones because you can’t get blood stains out of the lighter ones. You also can’t see the stains between washing. I realise how gross that sounds, but when you always have open wounds, your sheets are continuously bloody. You get used to it. Ditto all of the above for dark coloured jammies. Along similar lines is my constant manicure. I’ve always liked to paint my nails. However, I didn’t need to keep my nails painted at all times until cutting came along. If you didn’t know, it can be really hard to get blood out from under finger nails. You can scrub for hours and still see red. Covering the tell tale crimson tinge became routine. My love of shiny black polish on my toes has the same origins. My toes don’t see a lot of blood these days, but necessity has grown into habit. My cardigan collection also has secrets origins. I have a million cardigans, shrugs etc. Whenever I buy any outfit I immediately run through what cover up I could match with it. I don’t even keep my scars covered anymore, but I still find myself buying items to hide under. Again, precaution has become ingrained.

Bed

The tentacles extend further. Years of self harm has skewed my perspective on a number of things. For instance, if you accidentally injure yourself I am the best and worst person to ask for help. I’ll definitely give top notch wound care advice. I know what dressing you need and how to clean every gash. I’ll also almost always think you’re making a fuss of nothing. I’ll probably think you can manage without medical assistance unless your leg is hanging off. When you cry or complain about the pain, I will be outwardly kind, but inside, I think you should cowboy up. Your call an ambulance is my stick a plaster on it. I know I’m wrong, but that’s how my mind works. Furthermore any accidental injury that anyone ever tells me about will arouse my suspicion. Same deal for most scars. I spent years lying about cuts and breaks and burns. I have concocted excuses of every kind. No matter how plausible your story I will have a moments doubt. It’s no reflection on you. I know you didn’t do it to yourself. It’s just that I also know that people lie. I lied. To everyone. Repeatedly. Habitually. For a very long time. It warped my thought process. Oh and if I have an accident I spend a lot of time carefully crafting how I will explain it. My head’s first assumption is that everyone shares my doubts. I’m always scared that someone will think I’ve fallen off the recovery wagon. Logic kicks in and throws the crazy out, but there’s a delay.

Black toe nails & tattoos

I never answer the door in short sleeves. Everyone knows they can’t just drop by my house. In the past I didn’t know if myself or my home would be fit for visitors. The anxiety of unexpected guests lives on even if the pools of blood do not. My first aid tin is always extensively stocked. I still can’t go anywhere without a cover up. My days of hiding every scar are gone, but my brain needs to know I have the option.

Blood transfusion

Watching cinematic portrayals of gore annoys the hell out me. I know that slash wouldn’t produce so much blood. Blood doesn’t stay wet that long. Cutting your wrists is nowhere as easy as films would have you believe. Cold water and salt is how you remove a blood stain. Rotting blood smells a bit fishy. A troponin test will determine if you’re having an actual heart attack. Stitches in the stomach don’t really hurt, don’t bother with local. The body takes 4-6 weeks to replace the red cells when blood is lost. Drs will usually insist on an transfusion when haemoglobin drops below 7 g/dl. Learning the topology of Langer’s lines allows for cuts to be made in the correct direction to reduce scarring. Inadine patches will prevent infection. Anti bacterial gel stops scars from itching. Scalpel blades can be bought in art stores. Ice can burn. Arterial blood pulses. My brain clings to all of this and more. Information, dictums & routines that no longer serve purpose, but retain a hold. That nurse was more right than she could ever imagine. Yup, self harm leaves one hell of a mark.

Most of the time…

I haven’t cut myself for a long time. Realistically speaking, I cannot ever cut myself again. They call this recovery. Apparently, I’m recovered. I just don’t always feel it.

Tonight I looked through my old self harm pictures. Yes, I have pictures. When I was in the thick of it I always took photographs. Firstly because I felt compelled to, it was part of my ritual. Also, because I couldn’t trust myself to judge the severity of my wounds. Those pictures gave me the tiny bit of distance required to see what level of medical intervention I could get away with. Now, they’re a stop gap.

They’re the thing I do when I want to cut so badly it hurts not to. I look at those images of gore & miss it.

I miss the blood. The hot, flowing, staining everything I own blood.

I miss the smell & that crackling sound my skin makes when I slice into scar tissue.

I want the pain. I want the deep, sharp trauma my blade inflicts & the hot throb of infected tissue. I long for the ache of putting a butchered arm into a sleeve.

I know that doesn’t make any sense. I know it’s sick & crazy. It is still true. There’s a reason I yearn for the carnage; it works. Only briefly and, sure, it also fucks up your life, but those moments of respite are everything. Physical pain is nothing compared to the relentless agony that can exist in my head. Most of the time it’s manageable. Most of the time I can make it sleep. Most of the time I’m in control. Control isn’t easy. It is work. Exhausting, consuming labour.

The blade is easier. In the short term it’s beautiful relief. All those horrific feelings pour out with the blood. I can slash through my anguish just as easy I hack through my flesh. That’s why we do it. In case you were wondering. The reason some us do insane things to ourselves is because it’s effective. We hurt ourselves to heal ourselves.

The calm just doesn’t last very long. The sickness comes back. It returns stronger every time. The crazy grows. You need bigger, deeper, scarier cuts to keep it quiet. Then the self harm becomes a crazy of its own. You need it. You find yourself listening to drs who say you’re going to die. And even though you really don’t want to die. It’s hard to care. Now the crazy is trying to destroy you & the cutting is competing to do you in first.

So, I don’t cut anymore. I can’t cut anymore because I cannot control it.

If I want to be in charge,

If I want a chance at living a life I love,

If I want to not hurt everyone who cares about me,

I can’t cut.

Sometimes, though, I desperately want to. The easy way out looks good. The horror movie in my head wants to come to life, but I can’t let it. I don’t cut.

I just look at old pictures

And

Write all the things I can’t bring myself to say out loud.

I don’t cut anymore & most of the time I’m glad.

Why don’t you mind your own business?

I had an interesting twitter conversation this week. Some people wanted to know how I deal with strangers asking questions about my scars. Unfortunately this is a thing that happens & one the reasons many people feel they must conceal their scars. Fortunately it is not an everyday occurrence & you can learn to handle it. I wanted to quickly share some tips that I hope will help you do just that.

First of all I feel it’s essential that you realise that no one has the right to ask you these questions. It is rude & intrusive. You do not owe these people answers, you don’t even owe them a polite response.

I totally understand that depending on a variety of factors unexpected questions about your scars can strike different chords. Sometimes I feel enraged, other days I panic & sometimes I’m just over it. Thus, my responses can differ. That’s ok. You are entitled to feel however you feel. You are not obligated to be nice or to hide those emotions from ill mannered strangers.

I tend to have ready made responses for the most common comments. They range from just shutting someone down to embarrassing them the way they tried to embarrass me. (Note : most people who ask already know what your scars are. They know their questions are akward & unkind).

So, let’s get to it. I’m going to give my to go to answer to my most often asked questions.

Q/ What happened to your arms/legs/body part?

A/ What happened to your manners?

A/ Shark attack.

A/ Me.

A/ Exactly what you think.

Q/ Why did you do that?

A/ Why do you think it’s your business?

A/ Why are you a nosey bitch?

Q/ Why don’t you cover those up?

A/ Why don’t you mind your own business?

A/ Why don’t you cover up your horrible personality?

A/ Why don’t you fuck off?

All of these responses are blunt & let nosey people know you are not all impressed with their questions. I refuse to pander to other people’s rudeness, but I know there are times when you don’t feel confident or just want to avoid a possible confrontation. I find the perfect answer in those instances is ‘it’s a long story’. It’s vague, but it is also obvious that you have no interest in pursuing the topic.

Whatever you say the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to reveal details to anyone unless you want to. It’s not your responsibility to make strangers feel comfortable & it’s certainly not your job to safeguard the feelings of people who don’t care about hurting yours. Shut them down & live your life.