Saturday, August 3, 2013

Because it Works - Guest Post by S.

I'm S. I'm a young adult with asperger's and anxiety and I blog at

Before I developed a near crippling sense of embarrassment and shame, I did a lot of spinning, hopping, rocking, and “dancing” of my fingers directly in front eyes for fun, out of boredom or excitement, or to keep myself calm. This, of course, was before I realized how  others perceived me when I did these things.
I was eight years old when I began to self harm. No, that is not entirely accurate. To rephrase, I was eight years old when I moved from mostly harmless methods of self harm to potentially deadly methods.  I don't think I was depressed. Not yet. I think I was more likely very overwhelmed and struggling to find any “acceptable” means of expressing how I was feeling. Being angry or sad were generally frowned upon in my various households. I was in third grade. I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and a myriad of toys in my closet and scattered about my room. What did I have to feel upset about?  So...I took up cutting. It seemed a logical answer to my problem.  Quiet, easily hidden and , usually, painless. In the beginning it was just...fascinating and a distraction from my thoughts.

And that is how it began.

I spent a rather awful fourth grade year with my grandparents (to be clear, said awfulness had nothing to do with them) enduring a class that hated my guts. I, at that point, was very very easy to “set off” so to speak. I was, for many years, a crier. Unfortunately. My peers knew exactly what to do to get me to completely fall apart in the middle of class. And to be honest, it took very little. They only had to move my things around a bit...”borrow” a pen or pencil. Graze the middle of my back while I was not looking. Small things, really. It was entertaining, I suppose. The “zenith” of their fun occurred one day when I completely flipped my shit and started throwing chairs. This allotted me a break from their "games" for about a week or so, before they completely forgot the incident. I didn't self harm that year. I mostly kept everything bottled up inside. The following summer, I moved back in with my mother and picked the habit up once more.

I used to,  I get these sensations in my body that are not quite painful, but are concurrently excruciating. It is difficult to explain with any degree of coherence. I have probably written about this before. Badly.

Ok, so imagine for a moment that in your head resides the constant high-pitched whine of a pneumatic drill. Now imagine that the drilling persists for hours at a time. It would be mildly annoying at first; nothing you couldn't handle. But the longer it carried on the more you would wish for it to just shut up for two God damned seconds. After a prolonged period you would be begging for the noise to stop.
Now imagine that you are supposed to go about your day as per usual while this is happening. That you have to go to school with all of its screaming children, loud bells, fire drills, chairs getting knocked over, metallic things clanging in the already far too noisy cafeteria...etc. All of this in the midst of the drilling. . Sometimes it gets better while you are doing something you enjoy (like band). Sometimes, though,  it gets worse(and band becomes your hell on earth). Sometimes you can't hear it at all, and that is a truly wonderful occasion,  but it always comes back.
Now imagine that while all of this is going on it feels like someone is rubbing their fingertips on your neck, arms, legs, and spine. Lightly. It makes you feel creepy all over and you are near constantly reprimanded for not sitting still. And your uniform is far too stiff. The collar of your shirt is choking you. It feels like there are tiny rocks in your shoes so you take them off every few minutes to search for the culprits and find none each time while the class protests at the non existent smell of your feet because they think it is funny to watch you become upset because “they don't smell bad! Really! They don't! If they did I would never take my shoes off! I'm not a sadist, you know!”.
And this is the year after you realized that you were the strange kid in class. And you notice the way your classmates stare when they think you are not looking. You can hear, quite well, the whispered remarks. And they yell at you for returning their stare, calling you weird. And annoying, you are definitely that. Every time you open your mouth you are greeted by laughter, blank stares, or anger. You are interested in all of the wrong things. You never know what to say. Teachers are apt to tell you that “Well, maybe if you weren't so...” or “If you didn't always...” or “If you would just...” [insert whatever here] “then maybe they would like you.” or “maybe they would want to play with you.” or “they wouldn't have to pick on you.”. Because the way they treat you is ultimately your fault, of course.

You have stomachaches because you are always so scared.  You have “stomachaches” because the prospect of going to school today is absolutely out of the question. You have migraines from the noise and bright lights. And speaking of those lights, they are fluorescent and the buzz buzz buzz all through class and it makes you feel crazy. You cover your ears and the teacher yells. You close your eyes, the teacher yells. Hum to your self? The teacher yells. Rock a bit? "Be still!"

Now, throughout all this mess you are expected to behave in a manner that is considered to be "normal". Riiiight. This is the point where I would come home and bludgeon myself with an encyclopedia, punch the walls, punch myself...whatever. This is not considered acceptable behavior, just to be clear. Too noisy and obviously, visibly, weird.

That is also the point I was at when my self injury crossed the threshold of weird to pretty serious stuff. It was made very clear that my current methods of coping were not at all okay. They were an embarrassment to the family and, clearly, merely a ploy for attention. I didn't want to be an embarrassment and I didn't want anyone to think that I enjoyed attention of any kind, lest they give it to me. Attention would be more a punishment than anything for someone with my level of social anxiety. So...I just stopped. Everything. I stopped talking about how I felt. I stopped talking in school unless absolutely necessary. I stopped self harming in any way that could seen, or heard, and determined to be a source of embarrassment. I locked myself in my room, or in bathrooms, or any place that I could be hidden, and internalized everything.

Around this time, my anxiety increased dramatically. I would shake in the car on the way to school and beg to be taken back home. When I did make it to school, I felt agitated and  sick to my stomach. My heart would pound and I'd hyperventilate and that would eventually lead to a full blown panic attack and then I would have to find somewhere to hide or walk home and stay outside until it was a reasonable time to be home.

My mom, very briefly, took me to a shrink when I finally screwed up and what I had been doing to myself became obvious to her. The shrink told me that she didn't know what was wrong with me, though something was clearly very wrong, and that she could not help me. The school counselor listened but did not really listen to, or understand,  what I said.  I found it very difficult to talk to people and she was no exception. She used the "tough love" approach without knowing exactly what I was trying to say. A good lady, but completely oblivious to those of us that do not communicate in a typical fashion.

Most of the time it felt like I was going to dissolve into hysterics when I tried to explain things. Cry and never stop...scream until I blacked out. So, I would generally give up and walk away. Smile, nod, agree that yes, I did feel better now, thanks.

Somewhere, in the back of my mind I was sure that I was crazy and that there was nothing that could be done to fix it. On the other hand, people had , for years, drilled it into my head that I was doing it all on purpose and if I REALLY wanted to be like everyone else I would be. So maybe that too. Crazy because, subconsciously, I wanted to be.

I still hit myself and punched walls in an attempt to release some of tension. I just made sure I was home alone. And I felt like a complete moron when I did it. I needed something other than the sadness and the anxiety and the feelings I couldn't, and still can't, even accurately categorize to focus on. Or I did it as punishment for freaking out and making myself look like a freak.  Or to feel override the feelings swirling around in my head and crashing into the walls. I did it because it seemed to be the only thing I could get away with. I did it because it worked. However briefly, it still WORKED.

Self injury works,  amazingly enough.

But not forever...not even for long. Just long enough to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. Long enough for the lunch bell to ring so that I can hide in the counselor's office and read a book or draw a picture. Long enough to finish that test...or at least bubble in some random letters and ask to be excused while I go get a drink of water.

But that brief, quiet, socially acceptable relief did not come without a price. I felt like a failure. None of my peers, as far as I knew,  were cutting themselves to bits over a bad day. And I hid all of the scars because people ask questions and I couldn't exactly blame the nonexistent cat forever. I was miserable because, even though I felt kind of proud that I had found a quiet and private way to cope, I still knew that I had merely lost control in an attempt to gain it back.

Umm...I don't really know where I am going with this. I would like to say that I magically got better one day  and am now a happy, well-adjusted member of society. I would like to say that I “out grew” my depression and stopped internalizing everything and developed a host of excellent coping skills. The most that I can say is that I usually opt for a dark room and loud music. That the self harm, while still fairly prevalent, is not quite as severe as it once was. That I am slowly accepting that I am a human being with feelings, that these feelings are not always going to be “happy”, and that this is okay.

1 comment:

  1. Loud music helps me too, as does increasing acceptance. The head bashing and putting holes in the wall stopped working as well for me when I got older and the needs changed and also I think when I got my own space and gear to make the music as really loud as I needed it to be, which is considerable. My headphones are the best of the best and my car has the heaven sound system. Your description is right on. You are an awesome writer. I also did the head bashing as a way to try to deal with cluster headaches and sometimes I still do that when the painkillers do not work at all. And I never put holes in walls these days because everyone hates that out of proportion to the amount of good it does me, which matters to me in the opposite way as it did in my teens. It is excellent to talk about these things and also the fact that we learn ways to do other things. I think it is a fine and interesting coincidence that we who do not know each other turned to the same workaround of loud music!