dignity of risk

Because all you can see from the outside is what we show and what we say, people are very easily tricked into thinking we’re doing okay. When we do this ourselves, they call it lying; when they teach us to do it, they call it therapy. All they can see is the same: a smiling face. crossed legs. someone who speaks up just enough, articulate and intelligent but without needs or identity. They call it recovery.

*

They look at your body and all they can see is sadness and fear. You wrote it there, years ago, for yourself, to try to scream to the world: I am sad, I am afraid. This is not what they see. They do not see anything–they feel the emotions I broadcasted to the world. They feel the sadness, voices dripping with pity I never asked for. They feel the fear, shying away, groping eyes unsure. Never bothered to ask me what I think, what I feel about it, instead projecting their own views onto you: it must be so hard with a nightmare of a body, it’s really no wonder you think you’re ugly. Nevermind that I don’t think I’m ugly. Quiet, girl, don’t you know that it’s only what other people think you think that matters? won’t you just let us fix you? it’s for your own good, just let us help, let us give us your sympathy for those scars.

They see what they think is wrong with me and try to fix it. I tell them, no, you’re making it worse. I tell them I don’t care if I have a body made of monsters, I beg them to fix what’s underneath. I tell them, I’m not a girl, I thought you were going to teach me how not to be quiet, how to care what I think, how to be free. They don’t listen. They never do.

They recommend scar creams.

*

I am monitored. The eyes feel like they’re in the air, pressing in on you from every direction, an oppressive atmosphere heavier than the worst humidity. I do not know how to say this. I am not allowed rope or sharp objects; my pills are doled out in small packets, twice a day, so I can’t overdose. Fear and pity, fear and pity, permeate the atmosphere. Danger to herself is whispered in hushed voices. The unspoken question hangs in the air as everyone’s emotions vacillate: Is she the monster or is she the victim? When I shower, my mom knocks on the bathroom every five minutes, ear to the door to make sure I do not stick my fingers down my throat while the rushing water hides the gags. They ensure I do not get even the smallest of self-destructive comforts.

It is supposed to help. That is what everybody says, that this is supposed to help. It’s for my own good. I can’t hurt myself like this.

I am once again working very hard to be neither. My training to be perfect student, daughter, friend is shown off as I become the perfect client. Compliant, that’s always the highest compliment that can be given. Compliant, meaning yielding, bending, pliant, submissive. Not assertive, not strong, not honest, not authentic.

I untie the noose hidden in my room, as per the contract, but I keep my razor blades, even though I don’t use them. A small resilience. A statement: noncompliant.

*

It is always in absolutes: Don’t do that to yourself. You’re not allowed. You’re worth more. Abstinence-only.

I want to tell them: How did you decide this? How did you decide what counts and what doesn’t, what’s normal and what makes you crazy, what is enabled fully and what is stigmatized, driven underground? It sure as hell isn’t our feelings about it–I’ve seen too many people, quietly miserable, hurting themselves with exercise or smoking or high heels or diets or alcohol or working while sick or even compliance to believe that. It’s how it looks to the observers. It’s the sorrowful silence when they see my body, the disgust at the vomit trailing down my chin when I wash up. It is the extreme, the primal: drugs and sex, blood and bones. That’s what gets attention, what gets you the heralded label of crazy. There are the things that you are required to do, and there are the things you are forbidden to do, and some of it feels pretty goddamn arbitrary from the inside but I’m not allowed to notice that.

They declare their ultimatums, and they have guaranteed one thing: that we will not trust them with our freedom, that we will not go to them for help. If we do hurt ourselves, or have sex, or do drugs, we will not know how to do it safely. They do not give us condoms, or replace rusty razor blades with clean ones, or tell us to gargle baking soda instead of brushing our teeth after vomiting. They do not do needle exchange programs or buy us extra-large bandages and burn cream. They tell us, as if it were easy: Stop. Don’t. Say no.

There is the unspoken threat: We will do whatever we need to to make this happen. We will take away your privacy and your freedom as much as we need to, so that we can make sure you’re never a danger to yourself. It’s all for you, really. Nevermind that I am begging for my freedom. Don’t you know, they say, that you are our prisoner? Don’t you know that we are doing this all selflessly, for your own good?

*

Because that’s what looks good. It looks like you’re not allowing dangerous behavior. Not, god forbid, enabling. It signals to the world: no scars here, no messy and imperfect freaks, no outbursts. Just a quiet, intelligent girl who doesn’t know how to say I want anymore. Doesn’t matter that you feel worse. You look better. No more behaviors. So you’re doing better.

(This is how they tell you, insidious as love, “your feelings don’t matter.”)

Dangerous behavior is everywhere. Humans invented roller coasters and skydiving and extreme sports. To control me with concerns for my own safety is to push things under the surface, to let them fester in the silence and distance that seems like it stretches on and on. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I have no choice to say no, to recover and grow and be kind to myself. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I cannot own my desires unashamed, cannot fight for my autonomy and rights. My own desires and boundaries are overwritten–too crazy to think for herself, to know what she wants, got to think for her (“not a her,” i say, quieter this time. barely audible). The ultimate control. Strip me of my personhood, my individuality, my bad decisions and the pieces of my identity that are jagged and sharp and inconvenient, and fill in the blank pieces with compliance.

*

It’ll make you better. The first step towards recovery is just following directions. Don’t be so hesitant–don’t you want help? You’re lucky. You’ll be grateful someday.

I know. I know. I should’ve known better than to think you’d listen.

*

I wish I could be free from the fear of this essay being used against me. Of a therapist reading it, getting on me about the razor blades. Of it being used as evidence of my insanity, as proof that I don’t deserve freedom.
I’m not. I’m so, so afraid. Fear and sadness. Fear and sadness. But this time it’s not because of what things look like–no. If it happens it will be cloaked in sugar and kindness. I will be the one in the wrong: bad girl. if you’d have just let us do what was best for you, this never would have happened. if you’d have just been more quiet.

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a failed martyr

I do not know how to start this post except for this:

I have been suicidal for most of my life.

I still am, some days.

When I was younger than I am now, I saw this as beautiful. Before I was even legally old enough to be on tumblr, I ran one of those tumblr depression blogs, black-and-white, sad quotes, pictures of my cuts, the whole nine yards. It’s been deleted, so don’t ask me for it. I dreamed about death being as soft and gentle as sleep. I fantasized about slowly wasting away until I disappeared. I wasn’t going to grow up; I was going to be Tragically Beautiful, Died Young, eternally a shy twelve-year-old with a messy ponytail and good grades and a sad backstory. A fairy, a waif, a whisper of a tragic yet inspirational story. Of course, being this way took a lot of work; but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that it had to look effortless, or else the illusion would be dropped. And I did know, on some level, that it was an illusion (why else would I have the crippling sense of inadequacy that I did at failing to live up to this image? why else would i not shower for a month until i was looking decidedly un-beautiful? more to the point, why else would I still have a pulse?), and I learned a few years later that it was impossible, but it is only in recent months that I have begun to give it up as an ideal.

See, the ideal of martyrdom is beautiful. You are single-minded, radiant, giving yourself up fully, saying: here i am, do as you will, set me on fire or tear my heart from my chest or drape me on a cross, and i will be a saint forevermore. It is a transformation from the altogether messy and wretchedly human plane to the elevation of idea, symbol, archetype. You are strong, content, brave. It is forever. Yours is not a life; it is a story, and this is its ending, the narrative resolving with you as the selfless tragic heroine.

But it doesn’t quite work that way. Your burn gets infected, and you ask your therapist for a bandage and neosporin, and the pus is decidedly not romantic, even with a capital R. It is so easy, so tempting to idealize wasting away to nothing; harder to glamorize half-digested cookie dough clinging to your fingertips while skype calling your best friend. Sometimes “I want to die” is less a dramatic climax and more just a part of a life that also involves things like “laughing with friends” and “not wanting to die” and “doing homework” and “kissing girls” and “watching mythbusters”. Sometimes life is just… life.

Of course, at the time this would have seemed unbearably ordinary. I didn’t want to live to be normal. I wanted my life to be Dramatic, a Grand Epic. I kept trying to shove my life into stories and narratives, even when it didn’t fit, and I blamed my life for that (just have to end it before you can mess it up too much) instead of blaming the boxes. I didn’t want a small-scale life with a few friends when instead I could be worrying about grander things like ‘philosophy’ and ‘what a sad story it is of Corrupted Innocence that a 12-year-old is writing funeral plans’.

(This is to be distinguished from the definition of “normal” which is, like, “neurotypical cishet vs weird freak”; I have, if anything, I have moved farther away from “normal” in the sense of “neurotypical cishet”, mostly because “coming out and figuring out the gritty details of family and school as a queer-ass crazy” is one of those things that don’t fit well into most Grand Stories out there. Also, it is very sad that I was writing funeral plans at twelve; however, the fact that I was focusing on “wow this is such a tragic story, it’s going to be so beautiful when I die” instead of “hey maybe instead of doing this I could talk to my friends or accept my mom’s offers of getting me help” is kind of fucked.)

Here are the facts: While other kids dreamed of being a veterinarian or a fashion designer or a teacher, I dreamed of being dead. And there is a very real sadness to that, a wistfulness, a tragedy, even a grandeur in a way (stories about death: generally considered more deep and meaningful than stories about life as a chef), and when you are eight years old and suicidally depressed and you read far too many fantasy stories because nobody will talk to you, it is not exactly like you should be blamed for any of this, and doing so only adds into the And Society Rejected Me angle of your tragedy. And now you are fifteen and trying to choose a college and your brain short-circuits because you are still having difficulty seeing yourself as a person with a future and you are trying to unlearn this disaster of a life you have forced yourself into but it feels like losing the only purpose or dream you have ever had, and you sit down and you start to write.

There is a sort of appeal to stories like Amanda Todd, Leelah Alcorn, Phoebe Prince. A save-the-world story and a tragedy, all wrapped into one. It is really no wonder teen suicides are so contagious–one is publicized and several follow in their stead–because they are kids, canonized by society by their death, and which sad kid on the other side of the screen doesn’t want to be a saint?

There are things that you think you cannot live through. Cliff Pervocacy calls it, on his blog, The Worst Thing In The World. You do anything you can to avoid it. It is terribly melodramatic and incredibly terrifying, because you honestly believe that you will not survive if it happens. It’s not quite that rational, though; it’s more a feeling than a thought. A desperation, a need. An “I will do anything it takes.” It might be the end of a relationship. It might be falling into a pit of snakes. For me, almost everything is like The Worst Thing In The World; when I’m depressed, even just surviving another day can be The Worst Thing In The World.

So, my point is, I’ve had a lot of practice with trying to avoid things I think I cannot live through. I’ve also had a lot of practice with living through things I think I cannot live through. And by this point, I’ve discovered that life is, in fact, livable. The Worst Thing In The World happens, and you do not know how to deal with it so you cut or puke or have sex or cry yourself to sleep or scream at your best friend, and “the next morning I woke up and had to pee.” Life carries on, and not just the grand and glamorous and romantic parts of it. Because those aren’t the important parts of it. The important parts are the parts that show that you’re alive, goddamnit.

There is an important distinction, to me, between two kinds of self-harm. One is “it makes me feel better, and that’s good.” The other is “it makes me feel worse, and that’s good.” The first is a last-ditch survival attempt, even in the most ironic and contradictory way, using self-destruction as self-preservation. The second is self-flagellation, the idea that There Is A Correct World Out There And It Is The One Where I Am In Pain.

Of course, both can be melodramatic, both can be awful and confusing and crushing and just plain painful. But in my life, at least, I slowly morphed from holding onto my own destruction as a lifeline, to idealizing it as simply being, not the lifeline of a terrified child, but as the Correct Thing (aesthetically, morally, instinctually, intellectually, whatever, doesn’t matter).

I am learning this distinction, today. I celebrate the first–play with matches if you think you have to play with matches, just stay alive–while at the same time trying to destroy the second, trying to teach myself that no, in fact, there is no correct world out there, there is no right thing to do or grand plan to follow, there is just your life. Go out and live it (whether that means eating too much candy on halloween or cutting deep between your ribs or both).

One is a grasp upwards, trying to survive when you want to die; the other is an intentional fall, trying to survive when you want to live. Stay alive, keep staying alive, and keep going when you can.

Of course, this is terrifying. The idea that there is no One Right World, that there is no path out there for you to follow, no guide, no judge, no grand epic or destined plan, there is just you, and you are 15 and alone in a giant world and you don’t exactly have a great track record at the whole existence thing.

But terrifying things happen, and then you wake up the next morning in a terrifying world, and you are still alive, and you still have to pee. Life goes on. It is not good, not yet, not for me, but it is so much better, and that matters.

I may be a failed martyr, but I’m getting better at being a person.

everything in this forest

Jupiter ♃: I want to touch.

Jupiter ♃: I want to be touched.

Jupiter ♃: I want to hurt.

Jupiter ♃: I want to be hurt.

Jupiter ♃: And if you feel the same way, you’re as bad as me.

 

 

Josie–her name was Josie, and we were four years old.

 

And she was my second friend, the first one I chose, and she humiliated me, and that’s how it was. That’s how I would be allowed to be her friend. And I was okay with it, and I told my mom over and over again, she is my best friend, and I want her.

 

Friendship is hurt, closeness is hurt, intimacy is vulnerability, love is pain. I learned these lessons in my bones. From as far back as I can remember I knew them.

 

Some people, when learning these lessons, decide to make themselves invulnerable, isolated, strong; I did the opposite. I decided that the love was worth it, every single damn time.

 

 

My memories after that are fragmented into bits, shattered glass pieces of my life that dig into me when I try to get too close. I wasn’t with Josie anymore, but I was with–I don’t know. I was with more people, more girls who are like her. Girls who are in my fifth period, now, who I stare at all period with tunnel vision and fear until the bell rings, and I am late in my homework because I am distracted and my breath stutters whenever she looks back at me because what if it starts again, and she was my friend.

 

 

The friend I talk about most on this blog tried to kill me, once, and I talk about that a lot. I don’t know if she meant to do that, but she did, and she did a lot more, too.

 

But what hurt me the most, what I remember the most, what made me truly, unbearably suicidal, it wasn’t that pain–physical and mental–she inflicted on me every day. It was the loneliness that came with her leaving and taking all of my friends with her, the whispers she spread through the school: don’t touch her, don’t be friends with her, don’t talk to her, ever… That was what broke me. I would go up to her and beg–you can do whatever you want with me, I promise, I’ll do anything, just be friends with me again. Love me. Come back.

 

And she said, “What do you mean? I’m not doing anything to you,” and she rolled her eyes at me and tossed her hair and turned her head away, and she would laugh at me and everyone would laugh with her, and that cut deeper than every lie, every fist thrown, every time she implied that I was ugly and worthless.

 

(And I couldn’t talk about that, for a long time, because, well. Not talking to someone–that’s not abuse. It’s normal. It’s fine. Attempting to kill someone, that’s bad, but bullying? exclusion? No. Of course not. Use whatever words you want, but make sure to shut me up. That’s just elementary school drama, no big deal. I’m making inappropriate comparisons. I’m trivializing things. I’m not supposed to have this experience, these feelings. I’m inconvenient. I’m not supposed to exist.)

 

 

I learned to love pain in seventh grade. Sure, I felt it before then, banging my head against walls in elementary school, scratching at my arm to try and draw blood, finally cutting myself with scissors and safety pins in sixth grade. But I didn’t love it until seventh grade: in the bathroom of my room, with a pink disposable razor, cutting it up until I could get the blades out. Waiting, baited breath, and then–slice–and then I could feel calm, and happy, and safe, and okay, my brain sparkling with light, and I fell in love. I cut myself almost every night; I do not regret it. I don’t cut anymore, but it made me happy, and kept me alive, and my scars are one of the only parts of my body that feel like me.

 

 

I remember being in kindergarten, dreaming–during the day and at night–of gore, of torturing my best friend, of betrayal, of deadly diseases and parasites that eat you from the inside out, and feeling the dread and bile rising in my throat and playing pretend with Maddie and playing the villains every time, feeling the sick want together to torture, to take apart, to take over.

 

I remember sometime in middle school: crying, screaming it can’t be THAT bad; and no, it’s worse; seriously, what did you do? i promise it’s not as bad as you think; i slapped him–i slapped a kindergartener–i slapped maddie’s little brother. And it was as bad as I thought, and all of my worst fears came true, and I almost killed myself that night, and my mom stayed up all night to lecture me but also to make sure I didn’t die.

 

I remember learning what sex was in sixth grade, and immediately, vivid thoughts paralyzed me, dreams and dreams and dreams, of gore and torture and betrayal and parasites and mutilation and then sexuality was added into the picture and getting aroused by it and concluding that I was irreparably, irredeemably evil.

 

I remember asking to hold my girlfriend’s hand, and she wasn’t ready, and she had been sexually abused by three different people by that time, and I asked as gently as I could if I could hold her hand, told her that I knew she didn’t want to be kissed and that I would never ever kiss her because of that but that I thought she was beautiful and I kind of wanted to kiss her for that, and she had a panic attack. And if that was enough to hurt someone–then my true self must be an unspeakable sort of evil.

 

I remember hearing that my existence is a trigger to one of my internet friends and relapsing. I remember reading about Scott Aaronson, and crying, and crying, and crying, and having a screaming panic attack where my mom tried to hold me down to keep me from hurting myself.

 

I remember hurting myself to punish myself for the fact that people out there are hurting worse.

 

I remember being a crazy, self-hating child. I remember being a queer freak, an outcast in a world that didn’t want me. I was raised on stories in which I was the monster, and I was at once afraid of that and sure of its truth. I was lonely, and I was reaching out, begging for love in the only language I knew: pain. Look, I cried, look at me, I can hurt you, or I can hurt myself, and won’t you see me then? won’t you love me?

 

But I stayed invisible, and I stayed alone.

 

 

I have feelings that I’m not supposed to have. When my close friend confessed to being a cutter, I wasn’t horrified–I was joyful (and my conscious guilt and horror over that secret joy was what propelled me into a year-long unhealthy relationship with her). I get aroused or find solace in things I’m told are degrading or disgusting.

 

 

In group therapy, a girl confides about her experiences with street harassment and sexual violence, and my first thought is: Why can’t that happen to me?

 

I have never been afraid of rape and I have never been harassed on the street for one simple reason: I’m unlovable, psycho, an ugly not-girl not-boy monster. And I would take that pain, the anguish, the soul-crushing trauma, over this–over being alone, unwanted, unloved.

 

 

Hurting someone, or being close to someone, involves closeness. Intimacy. And often I mean this in the physical sense–to choke someone, to rape them, to break their bones one by one, you have to touch them. As someone who spent their childhood undesirable, the children scattering, running away, nobody willing to spend recess with the weird girl, I took friends who punched me, who drowned me, who threw me to the ground, who twisted my wrist, because at least they would touch me. And sometimes I don’t–rape also goes hand-in-hand with sex, seen by many as an expression of love; psychological torture requires a knowledge of the most intimate workings of the victim’s mind; betrayal requires an initial trust and closeness. And I took friends who lied to me, who betrayed me, who gaslit me and insulted me, because at least they would talk to me.

 

 

As someone who spent a childhood being hurt and an adolescence hurting myself in fear of hurting someone else and a lifetime of not knowing that love and pain are even different things, of course I’m in love with pain. Of course I see it and love as so overlapping to be almost indistinguishable. Of course I want to say to someone I love “please, hurt me, love me and touch me, cut me and kiss me and let my brain sparkle with endorphins.” Of course I want to be able to take the power back, to be the one to hurt other people, and to be in control of it–for it to be something they like, instead of it being something that hurts them (a stupid decision or an accident or irrefutable proof that I’m a monster). Of course I want to be able to control the way other people hurt me–to say “please, touch me, hurt me”, and to have them listen, but also to say “stop hurting me, please, leave me alone” and to have them listen.

 

But I shouldn’t feel these things. I know. I know.

 

So I apologize for existing again. I make myself a little bit smaller, a little bit more ignored, a little bit less seen.

 

But I can’t stop myself from feeling, from wanting.

 

 

Jupiter ♃: But if it’s only what I feel inside that matters, what am I supposed to do?

Jupiter ♃: I can’t stop that kind of touch.