I don’t have the scars anymore and my parents think it was just a plot for attention but I remember running from the ambulance. My friend saw the “cat scratches” on my wrist at youth group, which I’d put there in the first attempt to externally express the internal world I’d known for the length of my memory, but I was engulfed in bone-breaking fear of rejection and judgment as soon as someone saw them. She didn’t believe they were cat scratches and called her mom, who got in the car and called 911 on her way to the church. I had wanted attention… and it was outsourced all the way to the nurse practitioner at the regional hospital but what my 15-year-old self meant by attention was, “I need to know that I’m not invisible even if I don’t graduate top 10 in my class, can’t handle the social interaction of tutoring middle schoolers, and don’t ever change the world.” And what I had meant by running the scissors over my forearms was not exactly, “I want to die,” but more like, “I don’t want to hurt anymore and don’t see how that will happen without dying.” And what I had meant by running from the ambulance that showed up on the heels of my friend’s mother was, “How will taking me from people I do know to people I don’t know ever possibly fill the chasm of loneliness and fear of always being lonely when I have a hard enough time being okay around people I do know?”
What everyone else thought I meant by running from the ambulance was that I was paranoid, possibly hearing voices and willing to endanger others as well as myself, which they decided warranted the involvement of authorities. I was eventually caught, taken to the hospital and lightly examined by an ER doctor, who muttered, “Cuts, bilateral, superficial, no need for tetanus, one-night stay,” to the febrile nurse following him around. My parents were called but I don’t remember the ensuing conversation, outside the one in my own head between the version of me that wanted to be normal and was good at pretending and the version of me that had taken to fantasizing about overdosing on sleeping pills in order to simply get me through each day, beyond sinking back behind the veneer I’d painted pretty for the world. It wasn’t “aptitude” that was my problem, like I’d deeply feared given how good all my classmates were at everything, it was “attitude,” I was told by a teacher and by my parents. So I said, of course, that I was fine. It broke the rules to say you were in pain. To this day, I have a hard time even saying the word pain out loud, which makes making sense of my experiences as difficult as the experiences themselves.
My parents gave the impression that they interpreted this incident as a delayed reaction to the Columbine High School shooting, from which I was less than three miles away and for which I was in lockdown at my middle school until 7:00 p.m. Still, I was the one who asked to go to therapy. Ever the rule-follower, I thought that was what one did when one was failing to cope. The medication blunted the depression (and the colors and edges and cliffs of the world that traded off disturbing and delighting me right along with it) but didn’t touch the dread of never being good enough to justify my existence (the clinical word for this is anxiety). The anxiety of what felt like messing with brain chemistry ultimately won and I stopped taking the pills.
I marched in the band all four high-school years, holding first chair in the alto sax section the whole time and becoming section leader my senior year. I graduated in the top ten percent (not the top ten, mind you) and passed enough Advanced Placement classes to get a year of college credit. I was admitted into the National Honor Society. I traveled Western Europe on a national concert tour the summer before my senior year. During all of this, I was frequently too socially anxious to eat (I almost took a plane back home instead of to Germany the day the concert tour was supposed to leave from the college in Carlisle, PA where we had been rehearsing for four days), which those that did notice misunderstood as anorexia.
I staved off the smoldering aquifer of fear that everything was meaningless and the simultaneous fire of guilt for not doing something amazing so as to justify my existence by remaining busy; constantly making to-do lists and completing them, never finding the fulfillment I anticipated once these empty tasks were complete and never fully becoming able to connect to another human being. Because I believed that I could only be pitied and not loved, I engineered situations where I might get crumbs of intimacy – by despondently staring out a window at my friend’s house and then playing hard to get when she asked what was wrong, or not responding to phone calls or notes in my locker for long enough that my friends began to worry. I wanted to be asked because I wanted to know I wasn’t invisible but I didn’t want to answer because the shame of the truth (“I can’t stand me even when I’m alone, forget me feeling how I interact with other people.”) was too bright and loud for me to tolerate.
In 2009, I went to Europe for a summer by myself. I’d tried to keep following the rules and be dutiful, deferent, and diligent, but I couldn’t stand to be in my (new) home city, my college, or my church anymore. I traveled to London, Dublin, Belfast, Amsterdam, Bern, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Iona but the only cultural or historical icon I saw was Buckingham Palace. Why would I, who has done nothing for anyone and has no real use in this world, deserve to see any of these things? What would seeing them actually mean anyway? This endless noise of nothing was punctuated – and I was roundly seared – by wind-whistling peaks of angst so sharp I actually saw stars as if I’d been hit in a boxing match.
This minute-by-minute fear and pain (for me, anxiety and depression are inseparable) led me to a ledge in Bern, Switzerland. This bridge wasn’t high enough to be effective for my purposes – in fact, folks were jumping off for fun into the bathwater-warm Aare in summer jubilee. I rehearsed my own end. Three times. Each time, I took longer to resurface, nearly bursting a lung on the final rise. With the pins and needles still stinging my chest, I decided I was too afraid of the pain that would surely follow a self-administered mortal wound but I wouldn’t say that what I did for the next five years was fight. It was more like hide – from everyone, including attempting to do so from myself. And yet, I kept being drawn to stories of anguish, catastrophic agony, and seemingly unresolvable existential ache. These are my people and it’s time I truly, really, find them.
m.nicole.r.wildhood is a Colorado native who has been living in Seattle – and missing the sun – since 2006. She has been a saxophone player and registered scuba diver for over half her life. In addition to blogging at http://megan.thewildhoods.com, she writes poetry, fiction, and short nonfiction, which have appeared in magazines like The Sun, journals like Lodestone and Ballard: A Journal of Street Poetry and blogs likeditchpoetry.com and Café Aphra. She and her husband, who is gifted both as a structural engineer and as an artist, often collaborate on poetry/painting pieces. She seeks to be an advocate for those experiencing mental and emotional suffering and celebrates the misfits, the non-conventional, and the bold.