Self. Harm.

**Trigger Warning**

At 7 years old, I got upset. My sister-in-law had false labor. The excitement of finally meeting my first niece had plummeted into a gut-wrenching anger mixed with that lump-in-my-throat sadness. I shut down, stopped talking, and went right to my room once we were home. I found a silly cartoon that I had colored in with my grandmother. I loved it. I tore it to shreds. The sadness and the anger didn’t dissipate until my nails dug into the soft flesh of my arm. Body tensed, eyes shut tight, nails digging deeper, I pulled my wrist angrily to my mouth and bit down as hard as I could, shaking. Like coming up from the bottom of the pool, a big gulp of air filled my lungs, and with a slow exhale, everything melted away. I stared down at the indentations quizzically.

At 9, I lost that bedroom. I lost my home. My family had broken, my mother remarried. For a time, my stepsister and I shared a room. I hid an old Pier One letter opener in the small half bathroom we also shared, up on a ledge underneath the sink. I locked myself in on hard nights after long days of pressure building and pressed the dull tip into my wrist to make the static inside my head quieter.

By 11, I had perfected my technique. If I got an answer wrong in class, my hand mechanically drifted up the other sleeve, nails sinking slowly into skin. When the boy in my keyboarding class sneered and asked if I knew what an orgasm was, when the girls asked if I knew who “Aunt Flo” was or if I knew how to shave my legs, when my uncle asked me if I was only going to pick at my food again; pinching and digging in those familiar places brought about a moment of relief. Bruises marked my left forearm and stomach. It refocused, regulated, letting off just enough steam to keep the pressure from redlining.

At 16, I spent another long summer night staring at the wall and ceiling. I felt more at home at my father’s house, but I had entered a time where things had begun to not feel real, and on nights like this, I didn’t feel real either. The noise in my head was less like static and more like a thriving hive of bees. Pinching and digging weren’t working anymore, and it felt as if my mind or spirit was trying leave the body sitting on the floor but was tethered to it. I floated around most days, numbed, exhausted, and unfocused. Whatever life I was living had become nothing more than a blur of waking up, going to school, watching TV, and staring at the wall as long as possible to avoid the sleep that would inevitably plague me with nightmares again.

My gaze settled on the wooden CD tower, themed like a tall bird house. I crawled across the room on my knees and opened the door to see Britney Spears and POD stacked together along with Creed and Nickelback. My fingers drifted to the little ceiling, gently prying off the front panel to reveal the little attic hiding place I had created a year or so ago. There was a small bird skull that I found beautiful and a Sunliner emblem from the old car we found in the woods. I’m not sure I knew that I was looking for anything in particular, but my body did. I pulled out the small razor blade, dulled with rust, and held it in my hands as I knelt there on the rough carpet. Taking Ashley’s blades had never stopped her from cutting, even though she had asked. I felt myself drifting farther, the noise getting louder.

I felt as if I was watching it all happen to someone else, maybe on a movie screen. The blade pressed against my forearm like my nails and the letter opener had so many times before. The small prick sent a shiver up the back of my neck. I held it there for a moment, unmoving. Then the person on the screen dragged the blade from left to right. The blade skipped across, catching skin as it did. For a brief moment, pain was a siren, pulling myself back from ether into my body. I held the razor in one hand, and watched as small, bright red specks bubbled up, and up. I sat there, transfixed, and watched them grow, connect, and then drip down the side of my arm. The world was silent. The noise was gone and every piece of me felt itself relax as a chill ran up my spine. I had never known a calm like this before.

For weeks, I allowed the cut to heal and scab before cutting it again. No one noticed that the cut never went away. I was prepared to blame it on the cat or a loose nail somewhere, but no one ever questioned. Months went by and the single cut wasn’t enough anymore, but I was too nervous to cut more than once where anyone might see. I moved to my upper arm, always covered by at least a t-shirt.

At 18, I was a Christian. I was getting ready to be baptized. Depression had overtaken me on and off for over a year, but I went to church now. I had people to reach out to, and I wanted so badly to learn how, to connect. I’d made plans to meet with someone from church, someone who I’d started to trust, to talk. I needed it that day. When I got the text that she needed to cancel, I was home alone. I went into my bathroom and turned the music up loud. It had become routine: same place, same blade, same space on my left upper arm. But, on this day, I was crying. That wasn’t like me. I was losing control and it made my anger burn even brighter. The cut didn’t feel any different, but the blood pouring from it was darker. It took nearly an hour to stop the bleeding. I had truly lost control and I hated myself for it.

I stopped cutting that day.

At 22, I was in my first year of marriage. It was a rough learning curve for both of us. We were so young and had really no idea what we were doing. I slipped up once, with just a scratch on my arm from a broken mason jar. I knew I needed something else, something safer to regulate the noise. I went to the garage late at night. With loud music ringing in my ears, I let my bare fists find their own rhythm. Knuckles swelled and bruised. Skin peeled away, leaving raw spots that would scab and scar. It was enough for the time, but it was exhausting, and some nights my energy ran out before the noise. Those nights were the hardest, the most tempting. Thin red lines called out to me as I lay there against the cool cement, heaving in breaths, the world spinning around me.

At 25, there were times when the noise seemed constant. Long drives were the only thing I could turn to in daylight hours. Distraction was key, I knew, to keep the temptation under control. I needed some semblance of control. As always, loud music wasn’t enough to drown out the bees. I slammed my head back and back against the seat. On the next drive, I slammed the heel of my hand into my forehead, repeatedly. It was a new discovery, a fine line between safe and dangerous. It felt safe, much safer than a razor blade or broken glass, but it was also more accessible. It didn’t require the energy of the punching bag, and it hadn’t left any of the obvious signs either.

At 32, I haven’t cut in years. I rarely resort to the punching bag. Yet, COVID life, changes in routine, the loss of relationships, isolation, has all left me quite vulnerable. My fuse feels shorter than ever, the noise more unbearable. On a particularly difficult workday last fall, after hours of screaming students, I was punched in nose and kicked in the chest. I was encouraged to take a break away from the classroom. As always, I retreated to the bathroom. Breathing techniques fell short. I started to cry. Trying to keep my sobbing quiet, under control, I leaned my forehead against the wall and tried breathing again. It came out stuttered and irregular. I pressed my forehead into the hard, cool tiles. I felt dizzy, short of breath, and started banging my head into the wall. Once. Twice. Three times.

My coworkers asked if the lump was from the student. I didn’t reply. I had dizzy spells on and off for days. Guilt and shame did more than just creep in. I woke up crying from a nightmare one morning. It was actually more of a flashback of the times we forced a student to wear a helmet for one minute each time he banged his head. I dreamt of their voices saying, “If you hit your head, you wear the helmet”. I dreamt of him crying.

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