Behind That Smile

I was your average middle school girl – human, just like everyone else. I was friendly, smart, musical, creative and bashful. None of that mattered though, what did matter was what was on the outside. My hair was styled at a medium length, I wore glasses, everything Aeropostale and was considered overweight on that daunting BMI chart you learn about in health class. I didn’t naturally fall into a clique and I quickly learned how the treatment from others is dependent on social status. The pressure was on. I wasn’t a fighter, I hated confrontation, and I wanted school to be a safe place for me. So I leaned on some familiar faces from elementary school, they called themselves the Six Pack (3 girls and 3 guys). I felt acknowledged by them, but never included. I just felt – there. I remember asking permission to join the Six Pack – as if the title would make me feel like I mattered. I was told that I could only join if I found a guy to join too, making them the Eight Pack. I felt hopeless and like any efforts in finding a guy would be wasted. I began to question my worth. When I think back I understand that they were not genuine friends of mine and that it was not my fault, but back then, I always questioned what I did wrong.

I took advantage of my parents’ trust by frequently pretending I was ill in order to stay home. Those days were the best. I could hang out in my room and enjoy myself without having to worry about anyone else. I could be alone. My room quickly became my safe haven and I would spend more and more time there. I didn’t have strong relationships with my parents or older siblings, it felt like we all simply existed under one roof. My brothers were in a completely different phase of life. They were in high school together, had similar friends, and were your typical teenagers – troublemakers. I was considered a goody two shoes and held that title with pride, so my brothers tended to draw my parents’ attention. I was the child they didn’t need to worry about. I never left the house,  I received good grades and I obeyed all rules. My parents were my role models and on paper our life seemed normal. They didn’t know I was miserable inside.

Isolation at home and the struggle to make friends at school left me feeling alone 24/7. It was easy to think that no one cared about me. Luckily, I found a group of classmates that did. The best thing about this group was that they didn’t care what other people thought of them, so I was able to see their true selves and I was able to express myself as well. We had a different sense of style, but otherwise we were very similar. We bonded over our differences and tried our best to make school enjoyable. As you could expect, life wasn’t always peachy.  I remember one day I came into school and we huddled around one another while our friend revealed a fresh cut to us. I asked what had happened out of curiosity. They explained that it was self-harm. It was a coping mechanism for the pain that they felt on the inside. Out of care, we were upset when one of our friends would do it, but comforted, related and completely understood the seriousness of their emotions. I began to realize that school became a distraction from my true feelings. I had repressed my hatred towards myself and the intensity continued to build. I felt like a waste of space and needed to do something about it. I came home and per my usual routine, went straight to my bedroom for the evening. I searched my room for something sharp and found an open pack of thumb tacks. I sat on my lounge chair and began to cut. At first, I barely scratched the surface. It stung a little, but as blood began to drip, it became pleasurable and I cut deeper and deeper. I hated everything about myself and for the first time, it felt like I did something right. It felt like I deserved the pain.

When I went to school the next day, I wore my open wounds with pride. I was even excited to show my friends, but when I did they became concerned. Since I had deeply carved actual lettering (I Hate Myself) rather than straight cuts, they were worried that it would scar me forever. And they were right. I can still see the scar tissue and sometimes make out the words. At this point I felt embarrassed and saddened that I couldn’t even cut myself correctly. I couldn’t do anything right. From then on, I monitored my appearance to assure that my arms remained covered. As time passed, I noticed it fading into my skin so I put in less effort. However, my family was more attentive than I thought. I slumbered over my grandmother’s house occasionally over the weekends and she’d always give me a comfortable nightgown to wear. One time, she happened to give me a sleeveless gown. She noticed my arm and began running her fingers across my scars. She questioned what happened and I honestly don’t remember my reasoning, but it was clear that I was lying. She questioned further pointing out that it appears to be words. As she drew out the impression with her finger, I began to cry. What followed was the help and love that I had needed for so long, but was too afraid to ask.

I wanted to hug you and make your pain go away. But that wouldn’t help. I told you ways I use to help me with anxiety attacks. To count down 4-3-2-1 over and over thinking of things you can see, hear, feel and smell. To close your eyes and think of walking in the woods, the sounds you hear, the smells and the breeze. – Sharon D.

Still I struggle with self-worth and admittedly I do think of self-harm, but haven’t cut since then and that’s something I’m very proud of. It reminds me of how low I have been and how strong I have since become. For anyone in need of help, I want to recommend TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms), a nonprofit organization. It began without intention, only a true inspirational story of recovery and hope being brought to someone in need. The website has over 1000 blog posts by people with a story to share, donation opportunities, and a clothing line of positive reminders. I recommend this organization because they believe in helping and they believe in hope. They have an entire list of resources broken down by city/state/country – BECAUSE PAIN IS WORLDWIDE – including 24/7 hotlines.

Mental illness is real, your feelings are real, and you are real.

You deserve love and you deserve life.

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