Disclaimer: This post contains references to self-harm. If this bothers you or is triggering for you, please do not read.
I have my fair share of scars. After all, I have five brothers. There are a few scars from my years of horseback riding, some that are evidence of Tucker's early days, and a jagged beauty that snakes up my right index finger from the car accident. Through some combination of youth, luck, and genetics, my skin hides the scars well. Indeed, my freckles alone have rendered most of the marks near invisible. Except for four. On my left thigh, exactly halfway between my knee and my hip, lie four wide, white bands that, even healed, look angry and frightening. These are not the calm, orderly scars left behind after neat stitches have sealed a surgical incision. Nor are they the barely perceptible lines left behind by cat claws or wood splinters. These are disorderly, angled against each other as if fighting for space. They are uncommonly wide, the sure evidence that they required stitches that never came. The skin puckers faintly around them and they've barely faded in almost three years' time. When I sat on the floor of my dorm room's closet my junior year of college, and dug a razor blade deep into the flesh and waited for blood to appear - I wasn't thinking about the scars I'd have someday. At that moment, I was pretty damn sure I wasn't going to be around for breakfast the next day, let alone for a future that featured healed wounds. I shook with silent, quaking sobs - my tears had dried up days ago. I watched the blood bubble to the surface and trickle down my pale flesh before dripping to the floor. I don't remember how long I sat there, wedged into my closet, willing my pain and anguish to rush out of the wounds I'd made for it. Eventually, the trickle slowed, and then stopped. Exhausted and numb, I uncurled myself from the floor, dropped the sticky blade into the trash, and collapsed into bed. The pain inside me was still there. Now I had an aching leg to go with it.
When I was admitted to the hospital only a few days later, I answered the intake questions honestly, too broken to defend myself and convinced there was nothing worth defending anyway. Self-harm? Yes, here. I mechanically pulled up my sweatpants to show my still tender cuts. Were you trying to kill yourself? No. Really? Yes, really. Why did you do it? I stared fixedly at the floor, trying to find the words. Because, I said, I just don't want to be...like this...anymore. Don't want to be like what anymore? Me, I said simply. I don't want to be me anymore.
It turned out that the me I was living with at the time was an undiagnosed - and thus untreated - manic depressive. I can say with a great deal of certainty that I don't ever want to be that version of me, ever again. The right medications, therapy, and ultimately time have given me another chance to learn to live, often stumbling and flailing along, but living nonetheless. It's not perfect, by any means, but I'm not giving myself any new scars.
I wonder, though, if there will come a time in my life when I feel something other than revulsion, fear, and hatred for the body I inhabit. My body is the canvas against which I scrawl my pain and anguish, cutting, starving, and punishing it for the demons I wrestle with daily. As a child, I kept my body at arms' reach, avoiding mirrors and clothes, burying my mind in my books and fantasy worlds. As an adolescent, shocked and horrified by its unwillingness to remain unchanged, I proffered my body up to person after person, desperately seeking the validation I could not give myself. Now, the objective is simple - if there is less of it, then there will be less pain because of it.
More than anything, I want to protect and treasure what my body is capable of doing. I have cradled countless babies against my chest, shushing them and circling them close in my arms. I have been an athlete, have grown strong and swift in pursuit of first place. I want the demons, the sicknesses, the pain I carry with me every day from now until forever to find a different canvas. I'm still trying to find a way to etch some distance between the demons inside me and the flesh they inhabit. For now, I can no more separate them than I can trust myself to drop the razor blade, eat a meal, or pull my head out of the toilet. Some days, there are moments when grace intervenes and I manage to do it. After all, I hold down a full-time job, I have great friends, an evil cat, an apartment, and a nursing school application in the works. But just because everything looks okay from the outside doesn’t mean the inside isn’t disintegrating before your very eyes. I know that one of my greatest strengths is to be able to put the hold switch on my symptoms with the stubbornness that only comes through genetics. But oh, is it hard when the job is done. When I can turn off the smile and take down the “I’ve got all my shit together” façade and actually fall apart. You might not think it, but sometimes that fall is the biggest relief there is. Here’s the catch: the higher you go, the stronger your fight, the longer you hold out – the faster and harder and scarier the fall.
All I know is this: we don’t get to choose the demons that we fight, but we can certainly choose to fight them. And the harder we fight, the more we allow others to fight their own demons too. There will always be battles to be fought. But there are also songs to be sung, babies to be held, and art to be made. And that - that is worth fighting for.