Thoughts

February 19, 2009 at 6:23 pm (Life, School) (, )

Somehow, we ended up talking about borderline disorder in Psychology today. I was reminded of why I could never work in the mental health field. Just talking about self-mutilation set me on edge in a way that was both achingly familiar and absolutely terrifying.

I generally try to be open about my issues. They are a part of me, they helped shape me. But, in class, in college, I can’t. I’ve heard some of my fellow students say some absolutely horrific things about those suffering mental illness. People actually laughed when Dr. W tried pinning down the thought processes of a self-mutilator, which were admittedly a bit feeble. No one who hasn’t been there can even begin to describe what goes on in your head.

I’ve suffered from depression since childhood; I can somewhat fuzzily recall visits to a psychiatrist’s office when I was about eight or nine. The reasons why I had to go are murky, I am afraid to ask my parents, but can only assume I already displayed early warning signs of what was to become more prominent during my teenage years. I almost feel like I suffer from bipolar disorder rather than unipolar – on some days, I am great. I am wonderful. I can take on the world. And then I will have episodes every few months or so where I just shut down and cannot even drag myself out of bed. I just want to die and I cry and I scream and it feels like I’m suffocating. These episodes are absolutely terrifying; those who lived with me in boarding school witnessed one and I’m not sure they ever viewed me as entirely sane afterward because of it. I had a terrible, raging, screaming fit for over an hour and I cried and very nearly turned violent. I am reluctant to self-diagnose myself on this matter, but the symptoms seem to coincide with typical bipolar behavior patterns. I also do not want to go back into therapy because I feel like I have myself under fairly good control on most days. Where my family was concerned, I most often got the impression my father especially just wanted someone to fix me and was surprised that it would take a long time and a lot of conviction and work on my behalf.

When the conversation in class turned to the fact that teenagers self-mutilate, I had to look away, anywhere but my professor. I got antsy. There was this achey, nostalgic feeling in my throat and suddenly I felt hyper-aware my left arm, most often the target of my anger and hatred for myself and the world around me when I was younger. It’s not that far back. The memory is still relatively fresh. It’s not excitement, it’s a sort of sickening feeling of realization that I would really like to do it again because I do believe I should be punished for some things I did. Cutting myself relieved me of a great burden that weighed me down.

I started fidgeting in my seat, pulling my sleeve down, and up, rubbing my arm. I couldn’t sit still anymore. It was as if something was swelling up inside me that needed to be let out. My throat closed up for a brief moment; it was a good thing because it meant I could concentrate on something other than hearing my classmates laugh at the described misery of teenagers who do suffer depression. I agree that many teenagers overdo it, but on the other hand, teens are going through major hormonal confusion and development. Their entire frontal cortex is being remodeled to suit a grown-up lifestyle.

After this class, I will not be taking a course in psychology again because just talking about such matters sets something off inside me that I don’t like very much. I experienced something similar when we watched a short video on depression, in which, during a voice-over, you could see a teenager talking to his therapist. The moment was brief and I don’t know if anyone else caught the significance of the boy making a cutting movement across his forearm. I very nearly died in my seat, right then and there. I wrestle my demons every day; each day that I do not reach for a sharp object is a small victory for me. It’s a matter of setting one foot in front of the next. It’s about working around and with them, if I have to. It takes a lot of willpower on some times to just get out of bed and look at myself in the mirror.

I am, however, not a coward. I refuse to let a genetic set-back sap my strength. That’s what many still have to learn and I’m glad that lesson was pounded into my head at a fairly early age.

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3 Comments

  1. Meg said,

    Depression is ugly. I suffer from depression and stress-related anxiety. It is not an easy thing.

    I also work with kids going through that torturous period called puberty. I have one student who has cut himself in the past. I don’t find it funny, I don’t think it’s “overdramatic teen behavior” as your classmates seem to. It’s a boy who is in a lot of pain.

    Keep working on yourself. I am relatively new to being on anti-depressants (only since my adult years) and am still learning that every once in a while, a setback occurs. This is not a failure, but just part of my life.

    Anyway, I admire your courage in dealing with this. It’s not an easy road at all.

  2. Nate D. said,

    My experience and understanding here might be totally different than yours..if so, bear with me. 🙂 (it also got a little rambly in there..)

    Speaking for men. (what with my being one and all), I’ve often felt that male angst seems centered around the total lack of rite of passage. Through puberty, we’re essentially only alienated. Puberty is sometimes treated as something ‘novel’ or a mere inevitability, but for most men it’s a period of a powerful awakening of sexual/hormonal/biological forces, and I really feel that, since these things are essentially disallowed, a lot of men go towards a. depression or b. hypermasculinity, neither of which is either healthy or pleasant…there’s nobody there to say, “you’re no longer a boy”, so we just flail for years not quite knowing where that line is, or just become apathetic to it- I’m not sure which is preferable..

    So, in occidental culture at least, we have: driver’s license, first sexual partner, ability to drink, etc., but none of it is actually very meaningful except in a passing superficial kind of way. I don’t really have any answers for this. I don’t think most boys necessarily want an everpresent male figure, because that wildness, and freedom, is essentially important (thus postmodern and hilariously self-conscious concepts as “man-caves”). I’m also not sure if there is any parallel or meaningfulness of this to you; if so, I apologize for hijacking your comments. =)

    Anyway, to respond at least a little to your story, and, without trying to sound dumb..it IS a very difficult road – If only feelings and parts of bodies were switches that could just be turned on or off. And, really, there are times when things should be allowed to be ugly. Sometimes suffering is suffering. I know I’ve used the kind of phrasing of ‘should be allowed’ more often, but I think it’s true..so many people get uncomfortable, or laugh, or shut it out, or otherwise don’t allow somebody else the decency and honesty of suffering. I can’t imagine anything more terrible.

  3. Britni said,

    I am appalled that people were laughing when a professor spoke about SI. Absolutely appalled and angry. It is not something to be taken lightly. My ex-girlfriend was borderline, and she described self-mutilation to me as something that she did so that she release the emotional pain that was too much for her. She said that she could cope with physical pain; that it was less painful for her than the emotional pain was. And putting a physicality to the pain made it real, and something she could cope with, as opposed to the abstractness and lack of control that you have over emotional pain.

    Thank you for sharing this. It take a lot to be able to. And the mental health field is not for everyone. I work as a therapist in a battered women’s shelter, and I hear horrifying things every day. Not everyone could do what I do. But I DO love it, even if it brings up issues for me sometimes.

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