Project Title: The Health Issue
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By: darq3f

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By Emma Fullerton

How selfish can you be? That used to be my first thought when I heard of somebody self-injuring or attempting suicide. I’d be out-of-my-mind crazy to try something like that, right? 


Though I didn't realize the full extent of it, I’ve been depressed almost all my life — not the normal occasional sadness, but being submerged in a desolation from which I couldn’t escape.

Last year I started meeting with a therapist once a week, and I was recently diagnosed with major depression, a treatable problem. Apparently I don’t have enough of the brain chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps relay messages to the brain to control moods, which leads to unnaturally long periods of deep sadness and apathy.

I knew I had some problems, but I never would’ve thought that they would lead me to self-injury or thoughts of suicide.

Self-injurious thoughts or actions are not new killers: self-deprecating thoughts have existed as long as humanity has, and they’ve always been pushed to the back of society’s mind.

Two years ago, I thought I didn’t know anyone who had injured themself.  But the problem is more prevalent than people realize. In 2007; more than 34,000 people attempted suicide and, in 2008, 376,306 people intentionally injured themselves nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

This means that in approximately the time it takes you to read this story, there will have been one report of attempted suicide and ten reports of self-injury — which is an understatement, considering the majority of incidents are unreported.

Now after staying at a rehabilitation center and group therapy, I personally know 19 adolescents who have self-injured.

Self-injury is as addictive as it is harmful and can be as difficult to give up as substance abuse. Many people use workaholism, alcoholism, and substance, food or cigarette abuse for the same reason people self-injury: it works. It's a fix. For a little while, at least.

Self-injury reduces physiological and psychological tension rapidly, according to the American Self-Harm Information Clearinghouse. It also releases endorphins (natural pain killers) into the body. Odd as it sounds, hurting yourself can actually make you feel better. I held in my emotions until I had to express them, or explode. I used to release tension by putting on boxing gloves and punching the family punching bag.

But when I got into high school, that was no longer enough. I started punching the rough bag without gloves until my hands were scraped. Gradually, over months, my punching sessions lasted longer and longer, until I broke the skin on my knuckles and started to bleed. The longer I punched, the better I felt.  To me it wasn’t a big deal, and I was surprised how easy it was to explain the scabs on my knuckles (I told most people I had taken up gardening).  I just had to let off some steam. Didn’t everybody?

But soon that wasn’t enough either. The first time I cut myself was on April 27, 2010. My hand was shaking, and I broke into a hot sweat the first time I touched a pair of scissors to my leg. I didn’t draw blood the first time; it was barely a scratch. I didn’t cut again until August 25, 2010, when I drew blood from one long cut.

 It hurt. Badly. The cuts and scabs always hurt; the release and satisfaction was all in my head, and that’s what fed my addiction.

At first, a short cutting session at the end of a hard week relaxed me completely; for the next week, I was fine — happy and relaxed. But soon one cut wasn’t enough to get me through every week; I needed two, or three. Every day, whether it was a bad day or not, I was in the habit of cutting myself with those scissors. I didn’t know it then, but I was addicted.

Soon I was finding other ways to self-injure. I broke an old chain necklace and slapped it — lightly at first — across my legs and back. Gradually I whipped harder — careful not to leave any marks that couldn’t be covered by clothing.

One morning after hiding the chain in my room, covering the red welts across my back and scrubbing blood off the punching bag, it finally stuck me that I needed to make a change, or I’d end up doing something much worse.

I had thought about suicide before, but I told myself I would never act on it. Suicide didn’t affect just me; it affected everyone around me. But over time, the reasons to not kill myself slowly seemed less and less important. My family and friends were strong; they’d be sad, but they would persevere.

After using the chain three times, I confessed to my mom about the cutting, then I told my therapist about my self-injury and suicidal plan. So my therapist sent me to Seton Hospital, where I was admitted on the children’s floor of the rehabilitation wing.

At first it was really scary. Everything was a constant reminder of why I was there; they took our belts, shoelaces and jewelry. The doors had special hinges, and we weren’t even allowed pens — only golf pencils.

But soon I began to relax, I started taking Zoloft (a medication to help regulate my brain chemistry), and was in the least stressful environment I’d ever been in — no school, no work, no pressure to do anything but relax and get better at my own pace.

My motto became, “This will pass.” Whether it was a panic attack, being confined to the hospital or depression, I told myself, “Soon this day will be over. This week will be over. This difficulty will be over. I can make it through.”

My family and friends have been incredibly supportive — I was terrified they’d be mad at me for thinking about suicide, but they all said that it was okay, that the important thing was that I was safe now. I’m very thankful for all the support and love my friends and family gave me.

I was released from the hospital after six days, then had adolescent intensive outpatient program — two to three hours a night, five nights a week — for three weeks. My teachers were very understanding about my limited time to do homework, and the school has shown me nothing but support.

I was lucky to be born into such an understanding family. Other students, such as senior Adriana Richard*, are not so lucky. Richard said her family really freaked out and, “[my friends] thought I was stupid, so that didn’t help.”

If you know, or even think you might know, somebody who needs help you need to talk to that person supportively and without judgment. Being judgmental will only worsen the problem by reinforcing isolationist feelings.

A caring friend will be supportive through thick and thin. Having a serious physical illness, like diabetes, is similar to self-injury or depression: it’s an illness, just of the mind. A difficult patch in life but nothing that can’t be cured with love and support.

Richard and I both still have urges to cut, but for me friends and family are the biggest reason I haven’t cut again. Just being in the same room with a friend or family member, even when all I do is sit in silence while they talk or work, makes me relax and feel better.

I take hot baths until I feel drained and too tired to cut, or read books and watch TV—just to escape for a moment.

“I listen to music, go for a walk or hang out with friends,” Richard* said.

Richard and I are doing much better now—I still see my therapist and am on medication, and I haven’t self-injured or acted on suicidal impulses since the hospital. I keep a calendar to track my depression, and every day I write down my depression and apathy level, impulses for suicide and self-injury and how much I ate and slept that day.

I still don’t think that what I did was wrong, but I’m hopeful that one day I’ll understand. Until then, I just have to trust the people that love me, and give this life my best try. This depression will pass.



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