PRELUDE: A HISTORY OF SCARS
I counted them. Forty-four. Forty-four scars. I left out the ones that were accidents. The number would be double, because let’s face it, I am one clumsy son of a bitch. And I’m not being silly and counting tattoos as scars, because I know that technically they are. There are forty-four scars intentionally made by my own hand on my arms, legs, chest, and various other areas of my flesh. And that’s just what’s visible. Hundreds more have been there, hundreds more have faded. Many of these will fade, too. Some are too deep to ever go away. But I like them. They’re reminders of just how fucked up things can get, and one day when I get better they will still be there, like little snapshots of a point in my life where I wasn’t doing so well, and they’ll remind me of just how far I have come.
But I’m not there yet. I’m far from there.
They all have their stories to tell. Let’s start with the oldest one.
The veins on the back of my left hand form a capital “H”. On the left-hand leg of the “H” is a little black dot. That is from when I was sixteen and my girlfriend was over a week late with her period. I was sitting in study hall with Mr. Black, the jackass of a teacher who I suppose enjoyed being there even less than we all did. I was talking with my best friend about the whole missed period ordeal, and how I was too young to be a father, when Mr. Black told us to shut up or we were going to get a detention. A detention from Mr. Black was no big deal; we got at least one of those every week, but this particular day I was angry. I put the tip of the slightly dulled pencil on the back of my hand and pushed hard and slow, until I felt the skin give way under the pencil’s blunt point. It didn’t really hurt, but I knew that there was something wrong immediately. When I looked down at my hand, it had swollen up like something you’d see in the movies, when someone gets a snakebite or a bee sting. Without trying I had punctured a vein. It wasn’t quite gushing, but it was bleeding pretty badly. I told Mr. Black I had to go to the bathroom, and he was about to say no when he saw my hand. His eyes bugged, his jaw dropped, and he excused me. So much for study hall.
There are three particular scars on my left forearm that I remember doing. Two slashes and one cross-slash. They spell out “IT”. I did them with a pair of Crayola scissors. They’re kids’ scissors- not supposed to be very sharp- but they can cut more than paper. The word wasn’t intentional, by the way. A complete coincidence, but appropriate nonetheless. That’s how I felt back then, as I feel now. Like an it.
I’ve used everything to cut myself up: knives, keys, that little thing on the nail clipper that digs the crud out from under your fingernails, staples, paperclips, corkscrews, pens and pencils, I’ve even used a sharp rock. That’s what the scars on my chest and some of the ones on my arm are from. I have one scar in particular on my right side that runs from my hipbone almost to my knee. That one’s permanent. I did it with a screw because it was on the nightstand by the bedside and there was nothing else to use. I just dug in and dragged it up as slowly as I could stand it until I started to feel pain, then I stopped. I have another scar on my upper left thigh, as tiny as the previous one is big, but still permanent. It was from when I stabbed myself with a paring knife. Just a quick jab, but it hurt like a bastard. And boy did it bleed.
The ones that fade the quickest are the ones done with kitchen knives. There were days I would wander into the kitchen, grab a knife, and make several slashes on both thighs. I’d bleed like a motherfucker, and my underwear would stick to my legs, but in a couple weeks they were completely gone.
And I don’t limit myself to cutting. I often punch myself in the legs. I’ve punched myself in the head so hard that I thought I would be brain-damaged. I’ve burned myself with lighters. I’ve rammed my head into walls and hardwood floors.
Those are all things I do out of anger and self-hatred. There are other things I do strictly out of anger. I tend to hit things. And I don’t go for things that are soft. People tell me to punch a pillow or a cardboard box. But that does not get any of my anger out. I need to punch something that’s going to make my hand hurt; that’s the only way I feel release. That’s why my knuckles are swollen like golf balls now. Not to mention the nice dent I have in the hood of my car.
And I remember the first time Elisa got a taste of my temper. We had been going out for maybe four or five months and I’d been living with her maybe two or three. We got into an argument, one that was so insignificant I don’t have the slightest memory of. But I do remember throwing her kitchen chair into her stove, shattering the glass in the front and spraying shards everywhere. I remember the feel of dread I had when it happened. She had never seen that side of me before and I didn’t know how she would react. She was upset, but she was much more understanding than she should have been.
And she only got to see that side of me because I felt comfortable around her. Only two people in my life had ever seen that side of me: Elisa and the long-term girlfriend I had before that. Nobody else even knew that there was anything wrong with me. And it’s strange, you’d think that if I could control myself when I was around other people that I would be able to practice that same control at home. But it gets tiring, holding up that front. Plus, something happens to me when I feel that comfortable around someone. I become myself. My guard comes down and I really have a hard time controlling my actions.
Whereas the human mind is capable of many different emotions, I am only capable of two: Anger and sadness. I have varying degrees of “okay” in between, but “okay” really isn’t an emotion. “Okay” is a blank state for me. A nothing state, where I am purely functional and robotic and am capable of nothing more than eating, breathing and various other necessities of everyday life. I can go through the motions as far as working and talking and moving my arms and legs about, but there is no thought process at all. My mouth speaks but it sounds to my own ears like it’s someone else talking. I move my hands and they feel like someone else’s hands. I do not like this state. I would much rather be angry or sad.
I’ve covered anger. Let me talk about the sadness. The sadness is so bad at times that I will cry for hours and hours. The sadness is so bad that this morning I poured myself a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, sat down, and cried into them so much that there was no way that I could eat them.
And all for no apparent reason. People don’t get it. There are times when I am sad that I get asked why I’m upset. And I say I don’t know. I get weird looks, as though they’re thinking you must know; nobody cries for no reason. It’s hard for them to believe. But I think of it this way: Would a person ever ask another person why they were happy? No. Why, then? I guess it’s just understood that the natural state of the human being is happy, so there’s no explanation needed. My natural state is sad. No explanation is needed.
There are subtle differences in someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), like myself, and someone who is bipolar. The one major difference is the stability of mood. We all know that there is little stability in a bipolar person. Believe it or not, there is a disorder that is more volatile and unpredictable than bipolar. That’s BPD. Not to belittle bipolar disorder in any way. A bipolar person’s mood swings typically last days to weeks. A borderline person’s mood swings may last that long, but sometimes they are shorter- hours, even minutes. I had one episode where I was so freaked out from the idea of going shopping at Target that I was having a panic attack. My heart was racing, I was fidgeting like a junkie, all because the idea of being in a crowd full of people scared the living shit out of me. I thought there is no way in hell I am going in there today. I was so scared I was crying. And then, just like somebody had thrown a switch, my tears stopped and I felt okay to go in.
I could go on and on listing the symptoms of BPD, but I think the rest of this book will say enough.
I began this with the tales of my scars, as though they were the most important things about me. They’re not. I was trying for symbolism, but I believe I’ve failed. (I’m not a writer; I’m a psychologist. You want me to write a case study or a long-winded explanation on some stupid experiment, I’m your man.) No, my whole life stems from and revolves around other scars. Ones that aren’t visible. Ones that can only be seen through my behavior. These are the important ones as they influence everything I do, think, and feel.
My father died when I was thirteen. He was an unhealthy man, who had a heart condition from birth. He was on medication his entire life. He smoked like a chimney, drank like a trout, and ate like a grizzly bear. He had high blood pressure and high cholesterol and was overweight. Toward the end of his life he quit smoking, cut his drinking way back, and lost a lot of weight. Even though the doctors were aware he had lost that much weight, they never adjusted his heart medication. He died of a massive heart attack shortly thereafter. And I was there to witness the whole thing. It was extremely scary for a thirteen-year-old to see his father die in a matter of minutes, and I don’t want to go into the gory details of it really; I’ve replayed the images so much in my head they wallpaper my brain. This book isn’t about him. Let’s just say I went into shock and until this day I don’t believe I’ve ever grieved properly. And let’s just say my father was a man with a heart of gold, even if it wasn’t working well.
When I was sixteen, my mother, whom I was extremely close to, took a job a hundred miles away, and left me at home alone, only coming home on the weekends, so I had to deal with loneliness and sort of brought myself up the last couple years at home. That’s about all I have to say on that subject. We have since come to terms with that and this book isn’t about her.
No, this book isn’t about him, her, or anyone else. But it’s about all of them. All of that didn’t make me who I am today, but it gave me a start. People in our childhood give us the clay, and it’s up to us to mold it into something. It may be shitty clay, it may be stale and cracked, but you can still make it into something good. Michelangelo’s David was made out of stale shitty clay. (Actually, it was marble, but you get my point.)
Some people may think that someone in my condition has no business being psychologist. But that’s like saying a doctor with cancer or diabetes has no business treating someone with cancer or diabetes. Who better to treat them than someone that knows firsthand?
Anyway, here’s the book. It’s compiled from journal entries, my notes on one particular client, as well as my own additional commentary and filler, all put together in some semblance of an order. My apologies ahead of time for some overlaps and gaps. I did the best I could. My mind hasn’t really been with it lately.
Thanks for reading.
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