#MHYALit: The Truth I Forgot to Remember, a guest post by Sashi Kaufman

I’ve been in therapy since I was seventeen years old. My mother is a therapist and growing up, going to therapy just wasn’t that big of a deal. It was kind of like going to the dentist -something you could do preventatively or when plaque started to build up on your feelings. I worked with […]

MHYALitlogoofficfialI’ve been in therapy since I was seventeen years old. My mother is a therapist and growing up, going to therapy just wasn’t that big of a deal. It was kind of like going to the dentist -something you could do preventatively or when plaque started to build up on your feelings.

I worked with a therapist in my late twenties and early thirties as I struggled with how to be an adult -the kind that wasn’t afraid of the dark or my heart stopping suddenly and inexplicably. Anxiety. But I didn’t know that then.

After my first child was born I went back into therapy as I limped out of the crushing depths of postpartum depression. I finally went on medication. And even though up to that point I had lived a pretty successful and fulfilling life by anyone’s standards, until I went on medication for anxiety, I had no idea how much I had been managing.  Managing is a funny word. Managing means you’re coping, you’re dealing. But at what cost?

I’m a grown up now. I’m almost forty so I’d say it’s about time. But really, growing up has no set parameters. I like to think better late than never. And once you know enough adults you know that for some people it’s never. So as my adult self I was talking to my mother on the phone one day and I asked her, “Mom, why did I start going to therapy? It was because I was overwhelmed and confused about picking a college right?”

There was silence.

“No,” my mom said cautiously.

That was the story I told myself. That was what I remembered.

“It was because you were threatening to cut yourself.”

“I did?” How could I not remember? But as soon as she said it, it sounded right. How could this have gotten pushed so far back in my memory?

“Yes. You painted on yourself.”

I remembered the paint. Bright red streaks of it up and down my forearms.

There was paint in my room. I was working on a mural. There was a black angel and  a cloud of poison -something I think even I recognized at the time as incredibly angsty and overdone. But there was paint in my room. And I remember feeling so miserable, so lonely and miserable. I remember going downstairs and staring at the knives in knife rack. I could picture the beads of blood that the serrated knife would create and the sharp line that the paring knife would draw if I pressed it into the soft flesh of my inner arm.

I wanted them to know. My parents. I wanted them to know how much I hurt and how miserable I was. I don’t even remember why -but I remember thinking they needed to know and I didn’t know how to make them take me seriously.

I walked away from the knives in the kitchen. I went upstairs and picked up a paintbrush instead.

It wasn’t until postpartum depression, almost 17 years later, that I felt that desire to cut again. When I told my therapist about it she told me something about cutting that resonated with me. She said that cutting has a biochemical trigger. That it’s the brain’s way of preventing you from doing something worse to yourself. There are as many reasons to cut as there are people who do it. But that made sense to me. After all, I never ever wanted to end my life. I simply wanted to do something so that my outside would reflect the emotional hemorrhage that was taking place inside. So that the people who loved me would see and help me do something about it.

God am I lucky they did. I am so lucky that my parents helped me find someone I could talk to. I am blessed that my husband, my family and friends helped me find the way forward when those knives began to sing their sweet seductive song to me again.

I am glad I know now that their song, for me, does not mean I want to die. For me it means that something is out of balance, that I am feeling overwhelmed in a way that is not healthy, that I need a release and I’m struggling to find it.

I had a story I told myself about why I started therapy. And it’s possible that my anxiety and fear about leaving home played into why I was so miserable in the first place. But I’m glad my mother reminded me about the other part. Because that’s the part people don’t talk about too much. That’s the part that most of my friends and family would be surprised by. I’m funny and loud and extroverted, calm and capable and communicative. Even I was surprised to remember the truth about myself. But if I’ve learned nothing else, and I’ve learned plenty, from living through anxiety and depression it’s that when you talk about it, everyone talks about it. All of a sudden, people you may not even know that well are telling you about their favorite meds or their latest diagnosis.

And the more we talk, the less lonely we feel. The less attached we are to the idea that any kind of normal exists and that we are somehow on the outside of that group.

————

You can find Sashi at wwww.sashikaufman.com . Her next book, Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature, comes out this September.

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