Your hands grip the steering wheel as you angrily glare at the line of cars attempting to park in close proximity to the school. They wait like vultures ready to spring on a corpse. You finally acquire a suitable spot. You drift through the paths and corridors like a ghost. The swarm of parents makes you feel claustrophobic, yet utterly alone. You take a deep breath and take your place outside your son’s class. Then the others start to come; friends and acquaintances all take their places, many of them happily exclaiming, ‘Hey, had a good day? Did you get much done?’
‘Yep, good day. Got quite a bit done’, you smile back.
More blatant lies. Given effortlessly with smiles and niceties. Can they tell? Do they see it in your eyes? Do they know your world is crumbling from the inside out? Would they help you if they did?
Please let the bell go so you don’t have to pretend anymore. It is insufferable. The bell does go, and the kids start filing out. You give a genuine smile when you see your son. But there is also that shock you get every time you see him now – my god he is so white … what the hell is wrong with him?! You hide the momentary panic in a warm embrace. It feels so good to hold him. You ask him about his day as you move around to the playground behind his class. There is a routine to be upheld, no matter how shitty and incapable you feel. He will expect to play with his friends for at least twenty minutes. You pray that one of the mum’s you actually like will stay behind too; one of the rare few who you can let in just a little bit. But that is not the case today. You watch your son playing, reflecting that it’s probably for the best that no-one close to you is here, as you would likely fall into a pool of tears if anyone was kind or concerned.
Your son adequately sated with play, you get back into the car and make the journey to day-care to retrieve your daughter. You sing with them in the car, and enjoy that spontaneous element of joy. You are careful to thank the heavens for those moments, even though you are an atheist, because you know how quickly people can be taken from you. You know how quickly your entire world can change. You pride yourself on the fun you have with your kids. But even that won’t stop the darkness for long.
The kids play at home while you clean up, put the washing on and make dinner. Your productivity is, as always, sporadically broken by various demands from the kids. The more unreasonable ones are not accommodated, which leads to logical and then progressively heated arguments and tantrums. You begin to feel the crumbling inside. You are too tired to deal with this. It’s like you have a dam in you that is already full of emotion, so any small thing that gets added sends the waters right over the edge. You wish you had more patience and tolerance. You chastise yourself for your inability to be stronger and firmer. You wonder what effect your parenting will have on them in the long run. What will they say about you when they are adults? You hope it’s nothing like what you say to yourself. That thought is disturbing, and it makes you reach for the painkillers. How many is that today? Eleven maybe? Put addiction to painkillers on the things-I-need-to-address list.
You put your kids in the bath. After they are moderately clean you try to convince them to stop jumping on the bed nude and to get dressed. Now seems like a prudent time for that first glass of wine. You check the time. About one hour until bed-time. You feel guilty for counting it down. You should relish every single moment with them, not be anticipating them going to fucking bed!
When it is bed time you lay on the mattress on the floor of their room until they fall asleep. You wait for those familiar sleep sounds. You breathe a huge sigh of relief when they finally come. Silently you slip out. Now you are alone again. You have mixed feelings about this. The prospect of eating and watching crappy yet fantastic television programmes creates a feeling of temporary happiness. You do just that, and you enjoy it. Then you immediately feel sick. As soon as you finish eating the darkness starts to seep in through the walls.
You get a glass of wine and put your headphones on. The music swells in your being. You had every intention of writing something brilliant tonight. Now you are not so sure. You look out at the blackness of the night and suddenly feel hollow, and yet full … overwhelmingly full. You recall the paediatricians visit. You wonder what the blood tests will show. You think about your sons learning disability and feel helpless. Helpless and so very, very guilty. You cannot stand the guilt. It filters through your whole body, filling it with black tar. You don’t deserve to be happy. You deserve to be punished for even the possibility that your actions after your mum’s death may have had some impact on your child. It is an unbearable reality to live with. You must go and make yourself vomit.
In the bathroom you stand over the toilet, your heart pumping wildly, as you jam your fingers down your throat, again and again, until everything in you is gone. You get immense satisfaction and relief from the purging. You feel empty, like you have poured some of the guilt and pain out of your body. But you know it is only a temporary release. You hate yourself for needing to do it. And you choose to deal with that hatred by reaching for the wine and the painkillers.
You drink too much, and take too many painkillers, in an effort to numb the torrent of emotions. In an effort to change the reality you are stuck in. In an effort to not notice just how sick you are. In an effort to repent. In an effort to punish yourself for all your wrongs. Some nights it works. The wine and pills are enough, and you are able to think for a while, with less violent emotions, and then go to bed. But other nights it is nowhere near enough. This is one of those nights. The alcohol and pills make the pain spread and thicken. They strip you of your ability to reason your way to survival. It is on nights such as this that the urge to cut comes back.
You are what you like to call a ‘recovering self-harmer’. You first started cutting yourself when you were fourteen. You were a young, niave, and overly sensitive teenager who could not handle the sheer depth of her thoughts and emotions. They were always very small and superficial cuts back then. Most people will never understand why anyone would even contemplate doing such a thing, and you don’t expect them to. Cutting provides a release – like the temporary hit of a heroin shot. You cut yourself to try to get the pain out. The sight of the blood streaming out is cathartic. It makes you feel as though you can physically see all the hurt exiting your body. People do it because it works. But it is a temporary illusion. The next day you always feel awful and disappointed that you have succumb to weakness again. People claim it is attention seeking. But you know they couldn’t be more wrong. You don’t want attention for that. You are ashamed of it, and you hide it accordingly, every single time.
After school you went to uni and started drinking. There were many happy times. But on those occasions when the darkness returned, and you were inebriated, the urge to cut would come back. Except you had less control then. The cuts became deeper, and you experimented with different weapons – razors, knives, glass. You had a few scares. Not because you were ever suicidal – you weren’t – but simply because you don’t have the control you need when you’re drunk. The scares shook you awake, and you battled to stay on top of the darkness after that. For most of the time you were successful. But then there would come the break-up or heart-ache that would cause the black to sweep back in and overwhelm you. And you would try to cut it out. You did this sporadically, sometimes going years in between cutting episodes, for most of your twenties.
Once you had your first child you made a vow to never cut again. And you honoured that vow for six years. The problem is that a self-harmer will always have the urge to cut when they are desperately low. The instinct will always be there. It is whether or not you choose to act on it. You chose not to act upon it right up until last year … until your world started to collapse. There were a few episodes, the last of which landed you in hospital. You do not want to end up there again. You made a promise to your kids to not cut.
But tonight you feel that all too familiar urge to see your own blood. You sit there in the darkness with your wine, thinking about your life. You think too deeply. You think about your marriage. How did you let it come to this? You think about your son. You think about your mum. You think about the last six years, and feel that circumstance is to blame for the disintegration of your world. But you know that’s not true. You are all too aware of your role in it all. And it makes you freshly hate yourself; enough to need to cut the pain out. You want to punish yourself severely, in the hope that the suffering will stop if you hurt yourself enough.
It is so very, very tempting. But you must resist the urge. You cannot allow the darkness to have that power. You cannot live in it, no matter how alluring the surrender to madness is right now. Not matter how exhausted and incapable you are. You must push on and survive it. In this insurmountable mass of chaos, the only thing you know with certainty is that you must survive, no matter what happens. The pressure of that one single fact is completely overwhelming. It must be drowned out with painkillers. Then, and only then, will you be allowed enough reprieve to rest for the night. And you need the rest, because you have to get up at 6am tomorrow and do it all over again, except you have to try to do it better.