*Trigger warning: This post may raise issues for readers who have experience with self-harm, depression or suicide.
by CAITLIN DACEY
The saying ‘your body is a canvas’ has become a startlingly accurate description for many teens, as they paint themselves red with blood, slashing and slicing into themselves to gain some form of emotional release. It’s called self-harm, a self-deprecating, harmful, emotionally and physically scarring problem, which has become startlingly commonplace in today’s society.
It’s not a new problem, nor is it an issue with a quick fix. It’s emotional turmoil, bubbling to the surface and having a vastly detrimental impact for many teens. Self-harm isn’t limited just to teens; it has a far reaching effect and can mark anyone. Short, tall, slim, curvy, black, white, male, female, young, old, poor, rich- the list goes on and on, and absolutely anybody can be affected. However, it is teens, with their melodramatic tendencies and raging hormones, which have become particularly susceptible to the terrors of self-harm.
Six months ago, self-harm was a thing of fiction for me. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it existed, and I knew it was affecting many people; it’s just that it wasn’t affecting me. And then it started. It was my best friend Charlotte. It was small at first, a nick or scratch here or there, able to be passed off as a collateral damage from working at Macca’s, but then it got worse. Dark moods. Brooding expressions. Constant crying. Then the cuts turned from small and seemingly harmless to large and deliberate, tainting her skin red. Sure enough, my darling best friend was cutting. She was a mess.
Each morning she would text me to ask me to bring a Band-Aid to school, and each day my heart sank as I pulled the Band-Aid box out of the cupboard, knowing I would never deny her, in an effort to try and keep her as safe as I could. Eventually, I went and bought a first aid kit, and each morning I would take her down to my locker, clean her wounds and dress them as best as I could. And each day I would go home and worry about her, praying for her to get better, begging her to go and talk to a professional. She was caught up in a complicated life, and she was spiralling downwards, fast.
But then came the worst thing of all, and it wasn’t from her; it was another close friend, one of my nearest and dearest, who said his goodbyes. Only, nobody realised they were goodbyes at the time. My friends and I had gone home from school, just like any other day. That night we logged on to Facebook and checked our phones, just like any other night. Only, on that particular night, there was a message for each of us. A message from our wonderful Dean, telling us that he loved us, how much we meant to him, and finally, goodbye. Each of us thought it was just Dean being Dean, spewing garbled niceties whilst in a particularly whimsical mood.
But it was the next morning, when he didn’t show up to school that we thought ‘that’s odd, he usually texts someone when he’s away’. Then came an offhand comment from someone; ‘Dean said the nicest thing to me last night, just out of nowhere!’ and the pieces began to fall into place. We re-read all of our messages, and my heart shattered. We finally realised that he was saying goodbye. It was a God-damned farewell, and none of us had seen the signs. We were just a bunch of seventeen year old kids, with a sad friend and a bunch of final goodbyes. And in that moment, I realised that we had to do something. I couldn’t roll over and let him die.
So we got in contact with his family, and they assured us that he was alive, but deathly sick. Then the next day, Dean made a confession. He’d swallowed pills. He’d been so consumed with self-hate, so ashamed of himself that he felt like his only option left was to end it. None of us had seen the signs. He was just a sad, lonely, confused teenager, who had nowhere to turn and was so desperate that he did the worst possible thing he could. He was struggling with being gay with trigger-happy parents who hate homosexuals, the pressure to amount to something more than a struggling, yet brilliantly talented actor, and the social pressures that were put on him to be ‘normal’. It’s a terrible thing, for someone to resort to that. Especially when you’re just a seventeen year old, trying to find yourself in a world full of expectations.
Which brings us back to Charlotte. After that, she got worse, so much worse. There were more cuts, heavier tears, deeper depressions. And I couldn’t do it anymore; I couldn’t patch her up and sit with her in the bathrooms while she sobbed, trying to comfort her, day after painful day. I couldn’t wait for her to realise that she desperately needed support; I was the only one in the position to take her to someone, to get her help. And that’s exactly what I did. I convinced her to talk to our favourite teacher, knowing full-well that she would demand that Charlotte talk to the school counsellor. And demand she did. That day, she went to him and told him all about her terrible situation. Abusive parents, an alcoholic mother, dreadful self-hate, detrimental thoughts of herself. But she didn’t mention the cutting, and I realised that she would never be the one to initiate that conversation. So I did.
The next day, I went to the counsellor, told him everything and begged him to help her. That afternoon, he spoke with her again and ‘happened to notice’ the marks on her arms. She had no idea I’d told him. Actually, she still doesn’t know I spoke to him. After that, a pattern began to form. Charlotte would see the counsellor; she wouldn’t tell him all of the information, so I would. I would make the decisions for her, and I would live with the guilt when things got worse because of it. I thought it was helping, and I thought things were getting better. Then I realised, it doesn’t matter what I think, it only matters what she thinks. Even if things were getting better, if she still thought they were getting worse, then that’s what she would react to. The battle was all in her head.
It was – is – a monstrous battle. An internal fight which culminated in her preparing to slit her own throat. It was only a beautifully-timed phone call from her boyfriend which stopped her in the end; a call that I am thankful for, each and every day. My beautiful best friend is still with me, struggling to get better, and I only wish that she could deal with her inner demons in another way.
Charlotte and Dean are just two of hundreds of Australian teens who attempt suicide each year. It’s a shocking reality, and it’s one that I have to live with every day. The story of the victim’s closest friends is not one often told, and many people don’t realise the ripple effect self’-harm has. How much it affects friends and family. And so, if anyone out there is me, or Charlotte or Dean, I beg you to take something away from my story; talk to someone. See a professional. I guarantee that it’s better than doing nothing. Because your body is not an object to display your self-hate, it’s a temple, which needs to be protected, and the life inside needs to be saved, no matter what. Death is never the solution, and your body is not its canvas.
Caitlin Dacey is a student, doughnut lover and soon-to-be journalism major. She loves writing, reading and photos, and can be found on tumblr here.