Content Warning: This post contains information about depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, which may be triggering to some survivors.
"inhale love, exhale hate," anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
Growing up I was a happy child. I played sports, did well in school and had all the friends I could ever need. Fast forward to the summer going into middle school:
"What're those on your arms?" I asked my good friend at the time,
"Oh, I use scissors when I'm angry at my parents"
"It makes me feel good."
I was never bullied in middle school, in fact most people liked me. I played on the soccer team and was an active member of my school system. But as school rolled through and certain subjects started to challenge me, I found myself feeling in ways I never thought I could. I'd come home and be angry, how did I get a C on that test? I studied for days.
one cut for the C
one cut for the goal I missed my last game
one cut for my parents' disappointment as my grades slipped
one cut for each friend who turned on me as they noticed my arms
one cut because I needed it
one cut because I needed it
two cuts because I needed it
ten cuts because I couldn't sleep at night
switch arms because the other was full
I was thirteen years old when I started self harming; thirteen years old was the age I lost my first friend to suicide.
Fourteen was when I started wanting to die, calling every contact in my phone at night hoping someone would pick up because I would be in the bathroom with a kitchen knife in my hand.
Fifteen was when I first attempted suicide, three times in one week.
Fifteen was when I was admitted to a psychiatric ward for people like me.
Fifteen was when I witnessed other people dealing with the same problems as me.
Fifteen was when a boy was admitted and told me through the window he watched the girl on suicide watch, sleep.
Fifteen was when the girl heard him say it and locked herself in the bathroom, tore up the tiles and ripped her arms open to wide they could barely stop the blood.
Fifteen was when they finally allowed me to leave, deeming me "no longer a threat to myself."
Sixteen, I changed schools.
Sixteen, I made friends.
Sixteen, I still hurt myself every night to sleep.
Seventeen, I met a boy who bullied me relentlessly.
Seventeen, I hated my body.
Seventeen, I still wanted to die but felt guilt for those around me.
Seventeen, I met the love of my life.
Seventeen, I survived Junior year of high school.
Eighteen, I started cutting my shoulders.
Eighteen, I started cutting my waist.
Eighteen, I threw up in the bathroom from not eating during school.
Eighteen, I got an A on a Thesis paper.
Eighteen, I graduated high school, a feat I never thought I'd live to do.
Nineteen, I was accepted to Lesley University.
Nineteen, I started to accept my body.
Nineteen, I stopped my medication.
Nineteen, I had a nervous breakdown for the first time in years.
Nineteen, I relapsed and harmed myself again.
Nineteen, I gained 40 pounds in two semesters.
Nineteen, I survived freshman year of college.
20, I still have difficulties getting out of bed each morning.
20, I still forget to take my medicine from time to time.
20, I still want to harm myself but understand that I am getting better.
20, I am breathing in love and exhaling hate.
20, I am alive and hope to be so for as long as I can.
About the art:
I identify a great deal with this survivor's story. The self-harm, the ideations, the feelings of inadequacy, the body image struggles. So when I finished reading this piece, I wiped away a few tears and knew I needed to create a piece for this survivor.
The survivor chose the colors for this piece, and I added the black lines going up to correspond one line with each cut referenced in the first poetic stanza. 18 in all.
The quote I chose comes directly from their penultimate line, "20, I am breathing in love and exhaling hate." When I heard it, I knew it had to be on the painting. That's also how we chose the title for this story. It's just a perfectly dynamic title that almost anyone who has lived a life of self-harm may understand.
The feeling that each time you harm, there is a relief. But it's fleeting, so you need more and more. But once you distance yourself from harming, you begin to be able to love yourself more than you hate yourself. So inhaling the love instead of hate is a much space to be in even if, as the survivor notes, there are still moments of fear and anxiety that still creep into your experience.
It's all a part of survival. And I'm so glad this survivor was willing to share their story.