Nowhere To Go But Up

My first tattoo was a reminder to love and to allow myself to be loved.

My first tattoo was a reminder to love and to allow myself to be loved.

I only went to one party when I was in high school and I always regretted it. Even at the time, I didn’t want to go, but my friends talked me into it. We caught the bus at a stop that sat across the road from a wide field, the sun still peeking out from behind the trees on the far side. The entire bus ride, my friends kept trying to convince me that the party would be great, as if I wasn’t already sitting next to them on the bus that was lurching, like my stomach, back and forth as we stopped and started again.

When we finally disembarked, the sun had hidden behind the houses, streaking the sky with the last shredded light of day. My friends stumbled down the street, pretending to be piss drunk from the bottle of Smirnoff Ice they’d shared earlier, pilfered from a parent’s booze cabinet. I was lagging behind, taking my all-sweet time, trying to delay the inevitable, my stomach in knots. Halfway down the road, we could hear the thudding of the music.

Inside, there were girls grinding up on guys, some people huddled in a corner, probably divvying up ecstasy, and a lot of shit-faced teens. I kept to the wall for most of the party, sipping my possibly-spiked Coke, my hand in the chip bowl. Eventually one of the girls I came with spotted me and stumbled her way over.

“I’m going home with my boyfriend; can you get rid of this for me?” She winked drunkenly and pressed a small white ring box into my hand. “He’ll flip shit if he finds them.”

“Sure,” I said, but she was already gone. I pocketed the box, resolving to satisfy my curiosity after the party.

My remaining friends found me later and we started home, lighting a joint along the way because there were no buses running and it would be a long walk.

Later, when I was at home in bed, after purging the snacks I had eaten at the party, I couldn’t hold my curiosity anymore. I cracked open the lid and peered inside. Razors. Shiny little silver blades, popped out of a shaving razor.

The girl that had pressed them into my hand so eagerly was one of those emo-types. She loved to garner attention in any way possible and everyone knew she cut. She was proud of it. She would wear neon-coloured arm warmers with holes in them, strategically placed to showcase her latest scars. I guess there’s a big difference between her boyfriend finding her scars and finding her blades.

I’ve always wondered if she would have given me that box if she knew what it was like inside my head.

The guidance counselors had a name for me: The Bounceback Kid. My resilience shocked them; I spent most of my life surrounded by mental illness in many forms, and yet I seemed to remain so untouched. I was a good daughter, a fantastic student, and no one could see through it. I had become depressed and anxious at a young age and more recently, I had developed anorexia and bulimia.

So there I sat, staring at the shiny blades in the little white box, and I began to wonder why people cut. Did it help? Did it stop the pain? I figured it must, or else why would people continue to do it?

I put the edge to the skin on the side of my wrist, below the thumb, and pushed down slightly. I felt the pressure and my heart jumped. I lifted the blade and stared at the spot I had laid it on, but I saw nothing but an indent.

I’ve always wondered if she would have given me that box if she knew what it was like inside my head.

I placed the edge back down on the same spot and slowly dragged it backward. Blotches of bright red bloomed up the side of the blade. The instant I saw the blood, I felt a flood of emotion that I had been devoid of for so long. The pressure in my chest released and I felt for the first time in forever.

I dragged the razor across my skin again and again, just to feel that rush, but it was waning. The more cuts I made, the more numb I felt, but I figured the numbness was better than the sadness that hung over me, so I kept cutting.

I never cut deep enough to leave a lasting scar. I didn’t want anyone to know, I didn’t want anyone to stop me, so I kept moving where I did it. My wrist, my ankle, my stomach, my inner thigh.

Eventually, it stopped being a release and started to become a self-inflicted punishment. If I ate, I would cut, if I got a less than satisfactory grade, I would cut, and every time I cut, I felt shameful. I fell down a dark pit so dizzyingly fast, it was like being shoved into a garbage can and kicked down a seemingly endless hill. But eventually the hill did end, and I hit rock bottom.

I sat on my bed, my walls plastered with magazine photos of models and print-outs of stick-thin women —my “thinspiration." I, myself, was no more than 90 pounds, but somehow still too fat. I disgusted myself. I hated how with every step, I felt like I jiggled. I hated the voices in my head screaming that I was a stupid, worthless, unlovable thing. I reached under my mattress and pulled out an envelope full of razors. I dumped the blades into a pillow and clutched one, holding it to the side of my wrist.

I paused and a something struck me: One good slice, one good, deep, slice down my wrist, would end the disgust, would end the voices, would end the pain.

I shifted the razor, positioning it on the thinnest part of my skin, but I couldn’t bring it down. Thoughts of gushing blood and my family crying hysterically, their faces puffy and tear-streaked but unable to stop, crossed my mind. How could I do that to them? This punishment is supposed to be mine, not theirs.

My hands fell apart and the razor slipped out of my fingers, tumbling to the floor. I looked up and in the mirror across the room, I saw a face staring back at me. A gaunt face with sunken, dark eyes, lips turning blue, skin as pale as paper, and dull, dark brown hair that hung limply, framing the tragic face. This is what I had become. Sick.

The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was, not stopping what I was doing, but admitting to the people I loved that I was doing it, admitting I needed help.

My eyes fell on a framed picture on my dresser of a young me, posing for a picture with a bunch of friends on a sunny playground. Our happiness was palpable. I looked back into the mirror. I no longer recognized my own reflection and I realized how lonely I had become. I was running myself ragged trying to be Superwoman despite my problems, but you can’t pour from an empty cup and mine had a hole in it. I wanted to be happy again, genuinely happy like in that photo, and this was not the way. I think I cried.

The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was not stopping what I was doing, but admitting to the people I loved that I was doing it, admitting I needed help. Their heartbroken looks when they realized I was suffering in such solitude. Their tears when they said that they should have seen the signs. It was the most difficult thing in my life but also the best thing. I got help, I got better. I began eating, cautiously at first, and nowadays I can scarf down a plate of nachos like a champ and it makes me happy. My doctor had me try some different meds until we found what worked, and after taking them for a while I’ve found that I don’t need them to get through the day anymore. Sure, there are days when I wake up and can barely muster the will to raise my hand and shut off the alarm, or when I can’t stand to see myself in the mirror, but those days are becoming fewer and farther between. I’m not yet where I want to be, but I am so far from where I’ve come and I am so proud of myself.

Today, I am studying to do what I love. I surround myself with people who genuinely care about me, and I’m not merely surviving—I’m living, and I’m doing it for me.

I know that I am far from being the only one with demons, and that there are so many people suffering in silence, as I did. My heart aches for them. There are people who understand; there are people who want nothing more than to see them smile—really smile— again.

If I have one piece of advice to give anyone who is struggling, it is this: It really is worth it. Life does get better, make sure you’re there to see it.

Gen Bio

Gennifer Taggart

Gen Taggart was born and raised in the city fun forgot. She has what's probably an unhealthy obsession with Doctor Who and is a hoarder of notebooks full of half-finished short stories and tattoo ideas. When not jotting down ideas for the next bestseller or trying to navigate the complexities of being single, she can often be found cuddling with her dogs and binging on Netflix.

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