A Reflection On Teenage Self-Harm


Trigger warning

It was in the March of the winter I turned seventeen
That I bought those pills I thought I would need.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard those words, how fast they took up space within my brain. How familiar this particular line seemed, in a song that could’ve been written entirely by me if not by Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst. I was probably 14 or 15. Time has erased my ability to pick and choose specific ages or dates out of the clouded haze my adolescence has become in the deep storage of my brain. But those words, that line, echoed an earlier me: 12, maybe 13.

It was in the seventh grade when I emptied the contents of a three-quarters’ full bottle of prescription pain medication into the zip pocket of my Old Navy coat. For some reason, I want to believe it was a different coat — one that we always joked smelled like pills — but that coat belonged to me in elementary school, a couple of years before the first thought of ending my life or hurting myself ever slithered its way into my mind. No. It was the pocket of my Old Navy coat, the one I couldn’t believe fit what I perceived as a grotesque, morbidly obese body when I tried it on in the store I usually avoided.

Through the winter of my seventh grade year, those pills stayed close. They’d been prescribed to me by a doctor for extreme menstrual pain. They were mine. I would put my hand in my pocket during times of stress or anger or sadness and finger those pills, feel the slight vibrations as they rattled against one another. Seventh grade was the year I started taking a couple of tylenol on my way to school every morning just to try and stay numb. Seventh grade was the year I started writing poetry to express my deep, dark sadness and loneliness. Seventh grade was the year I began having clenching, painful anxiety attacks as the bus pulled up to the middle school many mornings.

Seventh grade was the year I started breaking my skin with knives and safety pins, discovering with equal parts relief and trepidation that there WAS a way to release some of the pain.

The pills were a safety net. The pills were there just in case. I kept them in my coat pocket day after day, week after week. I hurt myself in my childhood home. I hurt myself more in the new home we moved to as the ball got rolling in my mother’s divorce from the man who used to be my stepfather. As the seasons changed, I graduated to using cheap plastic razors over knives and moved the pills from my no-longer-needed coat to a jewelry box. Just in case.

Thanks to the faux concern of an administrator, my mother became aware of what I’d been doing. She chastised me about being too smart to do something so stupid. I sobbed in our brand new dining room and promised to behave. Later, my no-longer stepfather took me on a rambling drive through the Ohio countryside and made promises of support and affection he’d never keep.

Never could I describe to you the circumstances under which I decided those little yellow pills had been waiting patiently long enough. I don’t even really know when. I do know I was thirteen the night that, for a moment, I gave up and gave in. I put one, then two, then three — and so on — until all dozen or so pills were in my mouth. I had no water, and as I tried to make myself swallow my throat closed up and unbidden tears came. I was always crying back then. And then I spit them all out, covering my dresser top with melted yellow dye and saliva. And then I threw them away.

I thought I would need them. And I guess perhaps I did. And maybe it was cowardice that stopped me, maybe a deep desire to see if things could get better. Mostly I think I just never wanted to die. Not even when I carried them around, day after day. Not even when I’d reach several even lower points at 16, 17, 18. It’s strange to say my lowest point wasn’t the night I almost attempted suicide. Even so, I never tried again.

Things didn’t get better. I didn’t see a light, I didn’t turn a tide and become happy or free. I languished in my own personal hell. Then I grew up and straightened my shit out. But pain never leaves you, and sometimes I get tired of holding myself together. Sometimes I feel like that girl again, looking for some way to become numb. Some kind of safety net. And on days like today, I listen to this song and remember that all I need to do is sleep.

We all get tired. I mean, eventually
There is nothing left to do but sleep.

featured image – Meghana Kulkarni