Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cutting Out Self-Injury

Another special anniversary has come about - I've reached one year of not cutting today. I have lots of dates special to me personally (such as the five year anniversary of my coming out that I posted about a month ago), but rarely do I feel compelled to share what I call my "Christi holidays" with the rest of the world. This warrants exception, as my journey overcoming Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression are not yet over.

Those of you who have read my post "Neurotic No More" know that my cutting began at age fifteen, when my sense of individuality was emerging. I began to realize I was "different" when I adopted a vegetarian diet, came to terms with being an atheist, and when my sexuality awakened. I hated these parts of me and wanted to literally cut them out. I honestly believed at the time that my peers' disapproval meant I was a failure. I wondered incessantly why these struggles chose me because I felt incapable of handling the social stigmas. I cut myself as punishment for allowing these "defective" qualities to stay, though I tried my hardest to ignore them. It didn't matter that I was old enough to know that problems simply don't just go away. I thought cutting would teach me a lesson until I effectively got rid of these parts of me.

I see my most prominent scars on a daily basis, especially the deep 1" stab wound I inflicted on my wrist with scissors when I was 16. I never went more than a few months without relapsing. Any time I felt overwhelmed with stress or insecurity, I'd pull out the scissors, knife, or razor. I refused to talk to friends, fearing they'd tell on me. I didn't think they'd understand.

The mental breakdown that occurred on August 25th of last year resulted in my being escorted of my dorm by campus police for a mental evaluation. I'd cut myself due to an increasingly rough week, an argument I got into with former friend (who by the way no longer associates with me due to this cutting incident) being the final straw. I was starting a new school after spending two years at a school I loved. I didn't want to transfer, but my family couldn't the foot the bill to continue my education out-of-state. The stress of being in a new place took a toll on my social anxiety, as I'm not exactly a social butterfly. Someone loosened the handlebars on my bike, my financial aid came in late, and I was slapped with a $45 charge for losing my keys. Nothing went right that week. I had no idea what to do except punish myself for my incompetence. Out came the steak knife.

My former friend, resident adviser, the campus police, the counseling center, and the Dean of Students office were all involved in assisting me. It didn't matter to them that my injuries were hardly worth attending to (they didn't give me enough time to do much more, thankfully). I basically went through the process listed here. I was deemed fit enough to return to classes after a day off.

They recommended "behavioral therapy," which essentially means attending more than the typical ten counseling sessions a year most students can't exceed. My guess is I received around twenty-five sessions from August 2011 to May 2012. Those sessions really inspired me to make serious changes. I started by apologizing to my body for hurting it. I now view it much more respectfully, grateful for all it does for me. The hardest mindset to change was not asking for help. I always knew there were people who loved me; my stubbornness and fear of wasting their time kept getting in my way. To my surprise, quite a few friends were going through similar ideals. We bonded over our pain and kept each other strong.

 I dedicated myself to attending every appointment with the counselor and psychiatrist, being honest about where I stood on my progress. My goal was to eliminate cutting as a legitimate coping mechanism. I slowly started to see change. I learned to say NO, STOP and keep my word even though cutting was my first instinct. Couple months later, cutting popped up as an option...but it was no longer my first idea. Then I ended up the point where I am now. I'd be lying if I said I didn't still think about it. The difference is I'm able to completely dismiss it without a second thought. One look at my scars tells me that much. I realize now that blaming myself for matters beyond my control would kill me eventually. A year ago, I'd have said I deserved to.

So here we are, August 25, 2012. I am one year strong and I couldn't feel better. I found things in my life to love. I engage in regular exercise. I live a healthy lifestyle. I surround myself with loving people. I involve myself in my university's atheist club and its events to be the change I want to see. I've developed hobbies such as Gensei-Ryu karate to keep me strong. I became more open about my life in the hopes that other people in my situation wouldn't feel so alone.

I'm not out of the woods yet, but I can see the end. Excessive anxiety bothers me frequently, enough to interfere with my daily life. Out of all the stupid things that run through my head on a daily basis (mostly about insignificant worries), I'm FINALLY able to say cutting is no longer one of them. Accomplishing this much gives me the determination to keep going. I've done what I used to think was impossible. Taking things one step at a time, I know I'll reach my final destination someday.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Write on Target

I'm only days away from starting my fourth year of college. These past few years have taught me more about myself than any subject I've learned while there. I started out as a nutrition major, inspired by my loss of thirty-five pounds when I was thirteen years old. I knew it would require a heavy math and science curriculum, two subjects I'm not crazy about. I pushed forward anyway, knowing I'd likely struggle with my typically average performance in both subjects. My family gently reminded me on a regular basis that I needed to make money when I graduated, so studying English, my best subject by far, was not encouraged even though they truly wanted me to be happy. It didn't matter that I never got less than a 90 in an English class in my life; I was convinced that it wasn't a viable career path. Even my English teachers told me it was a hard road.

I figured I could live with making English my minor. I knew deep down that wasn't true. I wanted it to be my main course of study. I kept trying to concentrate on nutrition, but the thought lingered in my mind. My dream was to become a librarian, which not many people understood. Why be a "boring" librarian who writes on the side when I could make good money as a dietitian? I kept this state of mind until I discovered some pretty good answers to my own question throughout my first semester.

Based on a college placement test known as the ACT, my score on the English section placed me into the freshman honors English class. It was the only honors class I was taking. As part of the class' requirement, I had to bring one piece of my work to the library's writing center, a place for undergraduate students to receive help and/or feedback from graduate students. The graduate student helping me that day read it halfway through before asking, "Are you an English major?" I answered no and she exclaimed, "well, why not? You're a talented writer!"

 That right there was the first time I'd seriously considered taking up English. My second biggest indication was completing the class with a 98 while getting a C in math and failing chemistry (re-took it later and received a B-). I knew what I had to do. Yes, nutrition was interesting to me...but it wasn't my passion, nor did I perform well enough in the math and science fields to be considered competitive. Only one subject could evoke such strong enthusiasm. I switched to English and said to hell with money. My battle was not yet over, however. Let's fast forward to one year ago, once I transferred univerisities.

I again became worried about the massive debt I'd accumulated from spending two years at an out-of-state university, plus the debt that was yet to come from finishing my education here in North Carolina. I called my mother in the middle of September 2011 to inform her that I'd be a nutrition and English double-major in the Spring. I convinced myself I'd given up too easily on nutrition. I thought I could try again without abandoning English. HORRIBLE MISTAKE.

I scraped by in the next level of chemistry with a C and had to drop out of physiology mid-semester because I was failing. My graduation date was bumped from 2013 to 2015. Whereas English offered flexibility in what classes you needed and when you could take them, nutrition required a specific set of classes that were only offered certain semesters. Nutrition's strict scheduling wouldn't allow me to fit in an English class for two years. I decided yet again that the suffering was not worth it. In April, I officially re-declared English as my sole major with nutrition as my minor. As it turns out, I'm great at the actual nutrition classes. With nutrition as my minor now, I can still enjoy the healthy living aspect of the field without all the tough science classes.

The combination of being a transfer student whose credits didn't all transfer and making the mistake of double-majoring now puts my graduation date as Spring 2014, pending I don't mess anything up. It's a year later than expected, but it's better than the two years later (at minimum) it would've been had I continued balancing two majors!

I'm a writer at heart. I will spend hours upon hours on a paper without complaint, whereas doing chemistry homework for five minutes causes my brain to scream in agony. Writing ignites such a fire in me that nothing else is capable of causing. I know damn well I might end up poor. My loans continue to pile up, but selling my dreams to pay them off won't happen. I'm in the field where I belong. :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Neurotic No More

I'm going to tell you from the beginning that this isn't a post on one of my general topics. It's about a subject I rarely discuss, my battle with anxiety. Like my struggles with accepting my atheism and sexuality, my disorder has long inhibited the development of a positive outlook on life. I won't detail everything here, but it's a rundown of how I've been at my worst vs. my best (right here and now)!

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) has been the bane of my existence. I started showing signs of serious issues when I was eleven (my sixth grade year), although I wasn't diagnosed with it until I began cutting in high school. My extreme shyness led me to do things such as fake illness when running late for class - not because I wanted to avoid infractions for tardiness, but because I couldn't stomach the thought of my classmates turning around for half a second to see who walked in the door. Being stared at terrified me.

 During that year, I became a top pick for the bullies' cruelty. My weight, short stature, lack of athleticism, and introverted personality made me a perfect target for ridicule. On top of that, I was new. I'd attended an elementary school on the other side of the county until that year. Though no one ever beat me up, boys and girls alike would mistreat me in class, on the bus, anywhere they could. My books were shoved off lunch tables I wasn't welcome at. Anytime I'd receive praise from a teacher, it was met with snickers and "who cares about her, anyway." Shoes were chucked at my head in gym class. I could go on and on.

One of the worst days of my life was exam day at the end of the school year. I felt incredibly nervous because the tests were to be taken in homeroom, the place where some my worst tormentors were. Everyone seemed too busy to bully me that day, but that didn't stop me from having my first major panic attack. All eyes were on the shaking, sweating girl that I'd become after completing my tests. The stress of the staring resulted in incontinence. The nickname Pissti followed me for the next year.

My cutting problem started my sophomore year of high school. My identities as a nonbeliever and bisexual were emerging, met with much resistance. I tried to literally cut these parts out of me by slashing up my arms, leading to the beginning of what was to be years of counseling. I never experienced any serious breakdowns during these years, but I lived in a constant state of unease that blocked my ability to pay attention to anything other than what people must think of me. I had no moment free of my exaggerated paranoia. This unrelenting anxiety and self-injuring continued into college.

My most serious panic attack was last year - August 25th, 2011 to be exact. My first week of school was not yet over. A junior in college then, I had to transfer schools due to monetary issues. My self-esteem had improved a bunch, although my ability to manage stress left much to be desired. In that first week, my bike was vandalized,  I lost my keys to my dorm and room, I got into an argument with my first friend there, and knew no one else to turn to. I broke down and cut up my arm, causing my friend to tell the resident adviser, who was required to call the police. The police coaxed me out of my room for a mandatory mental evaluation. I was a sobbing, bloody mess. The woman who assessed me "heavily suggested" counseling with medical supplementation.

Here we are almost a year later. August 25th will mark one year free of self-injury. It'll be the longest I've abstained since first attempting to stop. I am taking fluoxetine (generic Prozac) and receiving behavioral therapy during the school year. My treatment has progressed so well that the frequency of my therapy is being decreased to half the visits I required last year, an accomplishment of which I am proud. Don't get me wrong - I need to work on not letting little insults ruin my day and not looking around nervously all the time when I wear politically charged t-shirts...Still, knowing these are the most serious issues I have to work on as compared to controlling the urge to hurt myself speaks volumes about my success.

I don't know what the future brings other than an end to my disorder. When will it be? I have no idea. And you know what? I won't worry about it. ;)