Friday, February 29, 2008

Just doing my part for "awareness"

First, upbeat disclosure #1: I always like Leap Day because it's my half-birthday, and even though no one's supposed to pay attention to their age being whatever-and-a-half after age, say, 5, I still think it's cool.
Upbeat disclosure #2: A segment I was interviewed for is slated to air on ABC Ch. 7's "190 North" show this Sunday, March 2. (10:35 pm). More on that later.
Upbeat disclosure #3: Since I joined Flickr the day after my birthday, I've now been on there six months. It's changed my life in so many ways, cheesy as that sounds. And fixing my photo sizes makes it so much better. Flickr tells you what your top 200 photos are by # of views, # of comments, and # of favoritings, and as of last week 200 different photos of mine have been picked as favorites! (it's more now) This weekend also marks 6 months since I started MySpace, and restarted this blog (8/31/07, before I knew how to post pictures here). I'm feeling pretty good about all that.

The four photos here are the beautiful former theater, turned into stores, currently being demolished in Albany Park (Lawrence & Spaulding). This first shot managed to displace what for four months had been my "most interesting" photo on Flickr (don't ask, no one really knows how that's determined). If only this building could defend itself...I didn't go inside it, but easily could have.

So, the reason for this post: March 1st is Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD), and though I can be cynical about "awareness" campaigns for social problems, mental disorders, etc., I've wanted to take note of this one for years now, but as pointed out above, I didn't have much of an Internet presence until the past six months. SIAD comes at the end of Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I don't think that's on purpose, but these problems often overlap, and I wrote a zine about them a few years ago. I've never had an eating disorder, though I may have taken a few steps in that direction. But self-injury, in my case, cutting, is something I'm quite familiar with.

I wrote a lot about it in the past (2004-05), and I wrote about it with as much of an edgy sense of humor as I could muster, because I didn't want to be like all the stereotypical depressed goth or emo teens with their lurid websites about "crimson tears" and their sad poetry. If that's "therapeutic" for them, fine, but I wanted to be the bright, almost cheerful poster child for self-injury.

I don't want to say much about the details. I had my methods and my different supplies (some from dollar stores, some from art supply stores). Nothing I did ever required formal medical treatment, so I can say now it "wasn't that bad." It'd be scary if I was the type who really went out of control now and then and hurt myself terribly, but in a way it's even scarier that it was just an ordinary habit for me, for months, a daily routine, like brushing my teeth.

I didn't have any terrible trauma in my past, and though that's a major trigger for many self-injurers, it's not the only cause, and I wish the otherwise fine book A Bright Red Scream acknowledged that. I just had a lot of built-up misery and at the time didn't have enough people close to me to express it to, which of course made me feel even worse about myself, and...

I got better. Even though this habit can be very hard to break--and of course that sounds improbable to anyone who can't imagine doing it even once--it's possible to stop. I don't have any great triumphant story of recovery, I just found people to talk to, and started to feel weird (though never ashamed, exactly) about what I was doing, and realized it'd be good to stop. And I stopped. And I had relapses. But now it's been over three years since I cut myself, and about a year since I've done anything I'd define as self-injury. As for impulses to do it...more recent than you'd like to know. But this does feel like such a part of my past. You'd have to look at me really, really closely to know I used to do this.

Then why bring it up? I believe in the awareness campaign language of "breaking the silence" and "ending the shame" or whatever. I do think self-injury has gotten a decent amount of informed, sensitive media coverage. Unfortunately, the coverage is still focused almost entirely on teenagers who do it, possibly with a few adult self-injurers who started as teens thrown in. I never did this till I was 27. I felt even worse about doing it, thinking I was having my "troubled teen" years ten years late. So many problems and disorders are covered in a "what about the children?!" way in the media--it felt like once you're in your 20s or older, you're on your own. No one's watching out for you anymore. Happily, I eventually managed to find people who cared. I'm proud of the fact that I beat something that can be so addicting for so many. I'm proud of the fact that I did it without any help from the mental health system, too, but I don't want to sound like I'm "better" than those who do seek "official" help.

There's so much more I could discuss. The media's enduring love affair with self-destructive female celebrities (the novel here is from 1956)--back then, I had an unhealthy fixation on Mary-Kate Olsen's troubles (anorexia and possibly self-injury). Or the fact that the shooter at NIU had a history of self-injury and published a paper on self-injury among prisoners. I still check in on the excellent Self-Injury & Related Issues website now and then, mostly to look at recent news items about self-injury, which are nearly always about teens (there's a new documentary coming up); a good American resource on self-injury is here. I'm not sure what good this little consciousness-raising exercise did, whether it was anything other than "too much information" on a blog that's supposed to be about exploring Chicago, but I wanted to say my piece, and there it is.

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