So here we are at the end of our third week in our series. So far I’ve mostly discussed the experience of mental illness, particularly depression. I haven’t so much mentioned the often self-defeating, self-destructive ways that most of us cope with mental illness and the factors in our lives that have contributed to it.
The vast majority of mental illness stems from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers; most commonly addiction, abuse, and/or trauma. Those experiences along with unstable families don’t allow for the development of self-esteem or healthy coping mechanisms, so a lot of us turn to things like drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, and self-harm to deal with unmanageable feelings. This was certainly what I did. In order to cope with growing up in a violent household, years of sexual and physical trauma via my father, a stranger rape at 16, my undiagnosed bipolar, and posttraumatic stress disorder, I did all of the above. I nearly died of anorexia and bulimia several times during my 16-year ordeal with the disease; I have scars in every place imaginable from all the cutting; I broke my own bones at times because I beat myself so hard with a ceramic curling iron; I abused vicodin, valium, klonipin, ambien, and other pills. Through most of the years I was doing these things, I really believed I could never live without them.
Thank God I was wrong.
I had a therapist who used to tell me, before you can give these behaviors up, you have to honor what they’ve done for you. Don’t get me wrong, they’re killing your body. But these behaviors are protecting your mind. Respect that, and thank them for that. And then let them go.
Places to Hide
Between the lines I carve in my skin
At the edge of a blade that gently glides in
Afloat on the streams of blood that will follow
Once filling me up, now leaving me hollow
I trace the path of my freshly split vein
Twining up to my heart, the center of pain
And just below there, my eternal friend
The stomach that’s empty, shriveled, sunken
The best place to rest and perhaps disappear
A place that I’ve turned to for so many years
One among many places I’ve found
To be safe on my constantly turbulent ground
And then there’s the throat, bloodied and bruised
From the battering in-and-out cycle of food
And my pill bottles carefully lined in a row
A disturbingly fun pharmaceutical show
So many places I created to hide
From a self that I simply cannot abide
© Sarah Henderson 2003