Jessica says her therapist urged her to try group therapy for a couple of years before she agreed to it. “I was scared of having people look at me like I was crazy,” she says, “but I met other people my age who were going through similar things, and I felt like I was no longer alone.”
Christine also ended up in group therapy. “When you start group, you’re really afraid of being judged by others,” she says. “But once you create those bonds and share so much of yourself, and get so much in return, you share so much more than the story of a scar…. Even when we talked about superficial things, about how much homework we had, there was still that understanding.”
Christine eventually was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hospitalized in 2006. She saw several psychiatrists and tried various medications, including lithium. At 19, she has not cut for more than a year. “With me, it’s not even a day-to-day thing, it’s more hour to hour, but I’m getting there,” she says. “I feel pretty damn good now, for the most part.”
She attends junior college and has begun playing the harp again—an instrument she dropped during the chaos of her high school years. She also goes to yoga each day. She used to feel self-conscious about her scars, and tried over-the-counter creams to make them less noticeable. But now, “I don’t want to forget them, or what I’ve been through,” she says, “and I like seeing them slowly fade away.”
Max also stopped cutting and is studying for a master’s degree in education. He has a girlfriend and a circle of friends. Recently, he learned his father also suffers from clinical depression and has taken medication for years. Thinking back to his efforts to convince his parents of his depression, “I think they just didn’t want to believe their son would have this problem,” he says.
Last summer, after her third release from the hospital, Cecilia decided she wanted to stop cutting. “I knew it was bad and that I was hurting my parents,” she says with the same quiet nonchalance with which she described her first self-injury. “I knew I wanted to do something different.”
She has not cut since entering ninth grade, and says that high school is better than middle school. “You have a lot more freedom.” Only once has she run into another girl aware of her problem. “She looked at all the cuts on my arm and said, ‘You’re showing.’ I looked at her funny, but I knew what she meant. And she said, ‘It’s OK. I do it, too. I won’t tell anybody.’ ”
Asked what advice she would give parents of self-injurers, Cecilia doesn’t hesitate: “The first thing you should do is give your kid a hug.”
Linda, Jessica’s mom, joined a therapy group for mothers. “As a parent, it helps you to understand where your child is coming from,” she says. “There were times I couldn’t deal with her, and when my husband couldn’t deal with her, so we’d be like a tag-team. But I do think she knows we’ve tried. Once she said, ‘Mom, you’re really good at handling all this now.’ ”
Jessica recovered enough to feel ready to go away to college, but her first year was tough. “I still have my problems,” she says, “but I work through them without even thinking about cutting. I look down at my wrist and wonder why I ever did it. I will have my scars for the rest of my life.”
For more information, help or referrals:
Montgomery County Crisis Center
1301 Piccard Dr., Rockville
Mental Health Association of Montgomery County
1000 Twinbrook Parkway, Rockville
Montgomery County Youth Hotline
Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E.) Alternatives
Lists treatment agencies and therapists across the United States, books and other resources.
Adolescent Self Injury Foundation
Offers information, local resources and forums for teens and parents.
Kathleen Wheaton lives in Bethesda and writes frequently for Bethesda Magazine.