by Margaret Sava
April 2010

There is a girl that lives down the hall from you. It is late at night and she is sitting in the cold, gray box of the bathroom stall staring at her arm. Colors of bright red, as red as a solo cup, begin to emerge from the pasty white. Her head spins and her hands move practically on their own. The red turns dark as it spills over the sides. She can’t look away as she follows a drop to the ugly tile floor, like a tear falling from someone’s eye. But not hers. Her stare is fixated on the crimson colors. She looks at her feet, past her arm and under the stall, and sees someone enter the bathroom. She swallows slowly as she speaks. “Hey, um. Could you please go get my friend? She’s down the hall. Tell her I need her. Please.” The girl on the outside peeks through the crack between the stall door, but she hears the hurt in the girl’s voice and asks no questions. “Yea, sure. I’ll go grab her for you.”

If a friend is cutting…Your support will be important.
Ask your friend about it.
Listen if he or she wants to talk.
Avoid judging. Don’t dismiss the cutting as a way to get attention.
Let your friend know you care.
Understand that he or she is feeling pain.
Help your friend find resources
that can help.
In an emergency, get help.
Call 911 if you need to.1

The cool water from the bathroom sink hits her like a slap in the face. The red is so easily washed away, but it leaves something ugly behind. She stares at herself in the mirror, expressionless. A voice snaps her out of it. “Come on, let’s go to bed.” She walks with her friend out of the dorm bathroom, down the hall and into her room. “Goodnight.” But the friend pushes the door open, “No, I’m sleeping here.” A pillow and blanket plop on the floor and the two fall asleep, exhausted. The next morning, the girl runs her fingers over her tender arm. The peroxide pools in the gashes as it bubbles and stings the cuts. She finds herself lost in the marks on her arm, angry that her sleep did not wash them away. The door swings open, as her friend walks in with a business card in her hand. “Here. You need to go. I’m not going to make you do anything, but please, consider it. You need help.”

WELCOME TO THE COUNSELING CENTER!

Privacy information– As a student, your use of Counseling Center services does not become part of your academic record. Your use of Counseling Center services is strictly confidential. However, there are limits to confidentiality as required by law. In rare circumstances, such as the following, information may be released: (a) when you sign a written request to have information released; (b) if you disclose intention to harm yourself or others.2

She stops reading the homepage of the Counseling Center and begins to get angry. (b) if you disclose intention to harm yourself, or others. She sneers at this line and glances at her patchwork wrist. How funny. There goes my privacy. Funny. But it isn’t the laugh-till-you-cry kind of funny, more of the pain-so-deep-down-inside-of-you, you’re not sure if you could even call it the pit of your stomach, and the only noise that comes from the hurt is a short snort of air that others may classify as a laugh. She is smiling, but doesn’t know why. The business card sits on her desk, staring her down, judging her. “Fuck you,” she says to the card as she picks it up, gets on the elevator, and finds herself walking directly into the nurse’s office.

What is cutting?

Cutting is when a person makes cuts on his or her body on purpose.

The cuts might be small or large, shallow or deep. They may cause a little bleeding or a lot.
The person cuts to try to feel better. Cutting isn’t a suicide attempt.
Some people who cut, hurt themselves in other ways too. They may burn, scratch, or hit themselves.

While you are in algebra class, she is sitting in a cold room with a big, annoying red couch. Two ladies are sitting across from her with notepads on their laps, waiting. She pulls her sleeve down to cover her wrist and begins to play with a ring on her finger as she looks down at her awkward feet. Their eyes and the silence in the room are suffocating her. The bright red couch is screaming at the girl, and she almost can’t stand it. It’s known. They are just waiting patiently for her to come out with it. All the girl can think about was the couch. They probe her with questions about her family, friends, life at home. Nothing is wrong. Her family loves her. She gets straight A’s. She has best friends. Nope. It’s fine. It’s all picture perfect. After a half hour dancing around the questions and avoiding eye contact with the two strangers across from her, the lady with the big hair grabs her attention. “It’s hard to talk about, but we know why you’re down here. You’re friend told us and she’s worried about you. We want to help you, but first you must admit it. It’s hard to talk about, we know, but we need to start somewhere.”

The girl squirms where she sits, awkward in her own body, being sucked into that damn red couch. She takes a deep breath and comes up short, sputtering the word “Okay” and reaches for her sleeve. She scrunches her eyes closed to hide the judgment and hopefully prevent the sobs that she feels coming in her throat. There. It was out. It was a start.

Therapy can help.

People can learn to:

Plan for and understand strong feelings to make them less overwhelming.

Stay present in the “here and now.”

Handle stress, anger, and other strong feelings better.

Address past abuse or other painful events.

Succeed in friendships and family relationships

Medicines can sometimes help people manage the urge to cut while they learn new ways to cope.

At 10 a.m. every Tuesday, while you are watching TV after breakfast, the girl down the hall is still in bed, just turning off her alarm. She doesn’t have class until later in the afternoon, but it is time to go to the counseling center. She winces at the thought of it, torn against the two voices inside of her. What am I going to tell her today? You need to tell her the truth. The truth is the last thing I want to tell her. Stupid, you decided to do this; you need it to get better. Forget it, I don’t want to get better, I’d rather sleep. Try, just try. I really just don’t want to. Then why do you hide your wrist? …Shit. She rolls to her side, and pulls herself out of bed, down the creaky ladder and off the top bunk. She touches her arm and feels the scars, and shakes her head. Each day, she is getting closer to being better, whatever that means. But still, every Tuesday morning is a struggle within itself.

Learn new ways to cope.

A person who is cutting may think things can’t change. Someone with a friend who cuts may worry that this person is always going to be in danger. Cutting is serious. But people can and do change. People can learn healthier ways to deal with pain, loss, anger and other strong feelings. With the right support, people who are cutting can find other ways to cope.

The girl continues on with her life as normally as possible, not addressing her problem to anyone but the lady in the room with the big red couch. Actually, she thinks of her problem less and less and feels a weight begin to lift off her shoulders, just a little bit. Except when she sits on the toilet in that same stall, as she does now. The gray stall will be forever stained with the memory of that night. She shudders and moves quickly to the sink to wash her hands. As she rubs the soap in and the suds form, her scars taunt her. When she looks at her wrist, it hits her every time, like a low blow to the stomach, knocking the breath clear out of her. She darts her eyes from the marks that tell the world her story, and catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her eyes tell more of a story than her ugly wrist. The hazel eyes look tired, but hopeful. She lifts her dripping wet hand into the reflection of the mirror and waves. The purplish scratch marks scream back. The girl clenches her fist at her reflection; her trying eyes. She swallows hard and walks out, away from the judgment of the bathroom.

Perhaps you just passed her in the hall.

Notes

1 Unless otherwise noted, all information taken from the brochure Cutting distributed by Marymount University Counseling Center.

2 Taken from Marymount University Counseling Center Website <www.marymount.edu/studentlife/counselingcenter>.

Works Cited

Cutting. Arlington, VA: Marymount University Counseling Center, 2009. Print.

Marymount University Counseling Center. Marymount University. Nov. 20, 2009. Web.