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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Get the Blade
Faint yet very visable self inflicted wonds on the arms of Ma Eliza Caliolio. Photo by Brittan Dodd [email protected]

Ma Eliza Caliolio | Contributing Writer

A battle against self-harm

“How long has it been?” my therapist asks while I stare at the photo canvas that almost covers the entire wall. It shows an old bridge made of wood with ropes tying it together. It reaches the other side of the river where my eyes meet a gigantic tree, generous in leaves, while a veil of fog covers the entire canvas. It calms me down.

“Ten years since the last one,” I reply, still staring at the wall.

She looks behind me, acknowledging the photo, and smiles. She turns around to look at me.

“What made you do it this  time?” she asks with an almost motherly, disappointed look.

“I don’t know. I’m not so sure. I mean, I know, but I don’t know why I did it.”

It always seems to be my answer — “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” — because 90 percent of the time people who have mental disorders like me do not know why it happens. Hell, no one knows how to approach someone who is depressed with cutting tendencies, let alone figure out if the person has depression unless it is overtly said or the person gets aggressive or starts being indifferent.

There is a stigma to mental disorders comparable to the plague. No one wants to go near it, and they don’t take the time to understand it.

Many I know are afraid to ask, “Are you OK?” because sometimes my answers take them by surprise, and the follow-up statement would be awkward. It’s how I think when I imagine meeting someone like me, someone who has depression with cutting tendencies.

I have walked in both shoes. I join online groups with names like “Cutters Anonymous,” “Self Harmers and Cutters,” “Self Mutilators” and many more that flood Facebook. I try to be careful since I’m going through the same dark episode they are, and when I try to interact with someone who posts something similar to “I feel like cutting myself. I want to die,” I think, “What the hell do I say? What do I do now?”

Acknowledging someone with a mental disorder makes a difference. Sometimes all it takes is asking, “What can I do to help?” I have met many who told me, “I don’t know what to say,” and I tell them, “Ask anyway!” Even if the answer is a stern “no!” having someone there makes everything bearable. No judgments, just love.

I’m always walking on eggshells and living on edge. I don’t know what could set off my depressive state that leads to cutting. These days it seems anything can set me off . I chose to stop taking medication because it was changing me
physically. I would have jerking movements and my dreams were nightmares.

My family and friends don’t know how to deal with it, and often they just get mad, or they’re quiet, even though the evidence is painfully obvious. When I cut myself, I see an enormous psychedelic-colored, out-of-control elephant in the room throwing itself against the wall that brought along a unicorn on acid. Those two combined make for a hell
of an extraterrestrial storm. Just ask planet Jupiter, an extraterrestrial storm has been going on there for approximately 340 years.

“How does it make you feel when you cut yourself?” asked my ever-so-nice and calm therapist.

I wanted to get fixed, and I wanted it to happen fast. I didn’t think she could help me in the beginning. She wanted to know what I had done over the weekend.

Th is reminded me of a time I bluntly asked her why she asked me stupid questions. She told me, “I love how you’re so direct. You ask for what you want.” She then told me that therapy is not an instant fix. I had just started, and my  issues had been happening for two decades. “It will take some time,” she said. She was growing on me.

“I do not know how to describe it.”

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“Did I tell you how I enjoy your imagination?”

My therapist, she’s sweet, but I was not falling for it. I gave her a slight acknowledgement and smiled.

“Well, you can describe it to me,” she said.

I gave up after a moment. I figured, I’m here. I’m paying for this time, and I better make the most of it. Inside me there was a part that was resistant, and in my mind I told myself, So shoot me. I’m paying the amount Wells Fargo charges on overdraft fees, so shut up, negative Ma!

“Well?” my therapist asked, trying to retrieve me from imagination land.

If only she knew.

“I find respite in a blade, the feel of my burned skin, a bottle of hard liquor, and a box of bandages,” I told her. “Thre for a fraction of a moment my thoughts are empty. It’s been purged. Compared to a smoggy Beijing on a good day in some other corner of the world, it’s been purified. For that fraction of a moment I don’t feel anything. There’s no longer any shame. I no longer hide the welts.”

I looked down at my left forearm and for a split second I saw my past. I sat there wondering if it really was my past. I had opened the floodgates of description. I did my best to show her.

It’s not about killing, hurting, or wanting to die, at least for me. If I wanted to kill myself, I would do something
more drastic than slicing skin. It’s about the relief after the cut. It’s not the feeling of the blade pressed against my skin, the slicing motion in making sure I make a clean cut, the after burn from the blade, and the beads of blood trickling from my wound. It’s making the need to feel depressed and hopeless go away.

I do mental exercises my therapist taught me in the very beginning. She taught me the creek with leaves going along the direction of the water or the sky with clouds passing by. She taught me to think of any and every negative thought or feeling as a thing that I can put in the leaves or the clouds and watch them pass by.

I do these exercises, and they work until they don’t. When it becomes overwhelming, all I can hear is “get the blade,” and like a zombie I look for one. I usually have one with me at all times. I am glad I haven’t evolved to using knives.

When I have the blade in my hand, I hold my breath, and I make that first slice on my skin. It burns. I cut continuously, and when I think I’ve done enough, I take one deep breath, slice one more time, and I let go.  Everything is gone until the next urge comes.

I do my best to take my attention away from the urges. But when I’m already cornered in that frame of thought, I can’t do anything else but entertain and eventually do the performance.

After, I feel relieved, relaxed, calm, victorious with the help of a sharp blade. It is an awful, terrible victory, but a victory nonetheless. It is an invisible pressure from inside coming from a hollow, empty, dark universe. There are no stars. It feels like hovering above the Earth, weightless. I have no anchor and I drift aimlessly. I see the Earth, and I marvel at its beauty. I feel like an astronaut, thousands of miles high above Earth. I foolishly believe I’m anchored and safe until my marveling snaps. It reminds me I’m alone, and I realize I’m scared to death. No one is coming to save me. I try hard, thinking I can hold on, that it’s real, and I can come down to Earth gracefully. Sadly, it hasn’t changed. I am still drifting aimlessly. The only way I am going to wake up is if I cut.

When I do, my mind opens. It’s no longer foggy, confused, hazed, dazed, dreaming. It’s clear with perfect weather. Afterward, I realize what I’ve done until the next episode where I cannot control it, when the only way to make it stop is if I cut.

It’s a monster. It’s a cycle. It’s ugly. It’s also beautiful because it brings me relief.

Editor’s Note: this article first appeared on December 8, 2014 in the fall 2014 issue of Mainline magazine.

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