A doctor’s advice on how to stop cutting

By Karina Onofre, 16, The Linden Center
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Karina is excited about her new job, writing for a music zine called It’s All Gravy.

My life got bad gradually. It started in the seventh grade when I began to rebel against my family’s religion, Jehovah’s Witness. It just wasn’t me. I would fight with my parents because they didn’t want me to wear dark make-up and black clothing. They said I looked as if I was ready for a funeral.

Then in eighth grade, things got a little worse. At school kids made fun of me because I wore only red and black, which they said was "weird." But what separated me most from kids was that I would have really weird mood swings. I would get along with teachers, then a few days later I would get in fights with them about my attitude. I stopped paying attention in class. My grades became Cs and Ds after being all As. I felt like I would never fit in, not even on another planet.

At home, I wanted to do my own thing and not follow my parents’ religion and rules. I went to ska, indie and punk shows even though they told me no. When I got home at 2 a.m. my parents would say, "We’ve been worried about you" and "Girls your age should not be doing that." But I didn’t listen to them.

That year my older sister, who was 27, moved home and I had another person to rule over me. She was always on my case about the way I dressed, the music I listened to, and how I made my parents worry like hell when I went out. I tried to say something to my mom, but she would tell me, "She says that because she cares about you."

I felt alone because everything I did was wrong. I would come home from school, lock the door to my room, get dressed and leave. I would go to a show or hang out at Venice Beach or Melrose. There I met people who were just like me—they also wanted independence. I felt like they understood me and I could be myself around them.

Then one day at school I saw my boyfriend holding hands with a little missy and kissing her. I was so mad. He was my first boyfriend. We had been dating for two months and I liked having someone to call my own. I ran to the other side of the building and cried until my eyes got puffy. I thought, "Am I not good enough for anybody?" My friend saw me and asked what was wrong. She told me she was going through similar situations. She said cutting took her away from her problems and she showed me her cuts.

It was like a high

Illustration by Jing Jin, 18, University HS (Los Angeles)

I was desperate for a getaway from my problems. In class a day or two later, I took a large safety pin, stuck it down hard on my arm and dragged it until it bled. The pain was soothing. Feeling the blood run down my arm took me to a natural high. It hurt, but it didn’t hurt compared to what I was going through.

Cutting quickly became addicting. It felt like the only way to get help with my problems, not from other people but from myself. I finally had something in my control. When things were bad at home, I cut in the back of my science class by the Bunsen burners, where nobody could see. When I saw the blood drip, I would cool down. I liked seeing red, my favorite color. I liked knowing that I was an inch closer to death.

I tried to hide the cuts from my mother, but after a few weeks she saw them. She grabbed my arm and said "¿Qué es eso?" (What’s that?) I told her I cut myself on a splinter on my desk at school but she did not believe me. She asked "¿Porque?" (Why?) I told her, "My life feels like a living hell." My mother was too mad to say anything else.

My science teacher, Ms. Dumlao, found out too because my friends told her. She told me after class one day that I have a lot of talent and I should not waste it. But I was too depressed to believe her.

Two weeks later my mom saw new cuts on my arm. My family took me to a psychiatric hospital because they thought I was going to kill myself. I left after three days, but I didn’t change. I felt like the doctors and my parents had never been in my shoes and would never know how I felt. I felt like my mind was somewhere that nobody could reach.

One night, like always, I was fighting with my parents over something stupid. I got so mad that I ran to the kitchen and got a steak knife. I ran to my room and looked at the knife. It was all shiny. I wanted to kill myself. But before I could even touch my veins with it, my parents broke the door and took the knife. They called the police and the police took me to another psychiatric hospital.

The doctor told my parents that I was showing signs of bipolar disorder, which is when you have a chemical imbalance in your brain that causes severe mood swings. I was diagnosed and prescribed anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

The pills stabilized my mood and made me happier for a few hours. But then I would become more unpredictable and emotional. Every little thing that someone told me could make me feel like a piece of trash.

By the beginning of ninth grade I hated life. One day I got in a fight with my sister and she told my family, "Don’t listen to her," like I was a little kid. I felt paranoid, like people were going after me. So I decided to take drastic measures. While my family was eating dinner, I got a whole bunch of pills like Zoloft, Paxil, Respidol and other anti-depressants, and took them all at the same time. But in about five minutes I did not feel good. I told my mom what I did but my family did not believe me. My oldest sister just said, "Oh, you want attention." So I had to call 911 myself.

At the hospital they stuck a tube down my throat and I threw up everything! I could see the plastic part of the pills on my hospital robe. I saw my mother crying like I had never seen her cry before. That made me think, "I cannot die, people need me." I said to myself, "What am I doing? I want to live. I want to go places and chill. I want to do so many things."

If only I could stop

I decided to stop cutting even though I knew it would be hard. At home everything was getting worse, but at school I was ditching and having fun with my friends. Getting away from my family helped relieve some of my stress. I stopped cutting for eight months.

Then one day I found out at school that another guy had cheated on me. I went home from school, locked my room and started to cut with a razor. But I thought, "How stupid can I get? I’m cutting over a guy." My friends had told me guys come and go. So I stopped.

At the end of ninth grade, my mother sent me to live in a group home because my family could not handle me. I had to live with five other girls. I was mad at my mom for throwing me in there. The group home felt like being in an easy jail as punishment for all the things I had done. I felt like my whole family hated me.

I cut again to deal with my problems with my family and the stress and anxiety of living in a place where people didn’t know me. But every time I did, I got in trouble. I got "room restriction" for a day, which is when you can’t talk to the other girls, you have to stay in your room and you don’t have privileges like going to the mall.

Every time I cut, I would think, "Why am I doing this?" But I still wanted to because I hated the feelings inside me. I hated myself because I was cutting, but I loved myself because I was hopeful about all the things that would happen to me in the future, like having a family, being successful and stuff like that.

I was in therapy with my family at the group home. It was cool because I could tell my family things and I was not scared of being grounded. I told my mom that the family was giving all their attention to my nephew, Isaiah. The fact that my parents took the time to go to therapy made me think they did care.

I was getting help from friends, too. My friend Sarah would search my arms every time I went to a club to kick it with her. If she and my friend Stephanie saw cuts, they would smack my arm and say, "Don’t do that."

I realized I was actually hurting myself and that cutting wasn’t solving my problems. It actually made them worse because I would get in trouble. I stopped cutting for several months. Then in April, a whole lot of madness was happening. I had just gone through a tough relationship and I was in a new one when I went to a punk show. I found out that the guy I was going out with had slept with another girl. I got mad and punched him in the nuts!

That night, I got home late. I knew my parents were going to tell the group home that I missed my curfew and I would get in trouble. I could not handle it anymore. I felt like everything in my life was going wrong. In my room, I sharpened my nails and began to cut my stomach. But then I thought about my family and how they care about me. I also did not want any more consequences at the group home. That Monday, I told the staff what I did. Because I told them, I didn’t get in trouble.

The group home told my school therapist and I talked to her about it. She told me that my skin and my life are important. That made my self-esteem go up. Plus, I was tired of getting in trouble.

I learned to like who I am

In May, at the end of ninth grade, a friend also told me that I have a lot of talent. I was telling him how I was upset because this guy at school called me fat, and I wanted to cut. Later he asked me if I could sing while he played the guitar. He said, "You have a beautiful voice. You see, you are worth living for." It really meant something to hear that I had a great quality. I thought, "Hey, people think I’m good at something." That helped me see how far I could go without cutting and that there are other things that are cooler, like singing and listening to music.

I left the group home in August and moved back home. The staff said I was no longer suicidal, and most importantly my self-esteem had gone way up. Before I left, all five girls cried and told me something that I had contributed to the house. Each of them mentioned that I was funny.

I know I won’t cut again. I have learned to deal with my problems in a way that will not hurt me. I write songs and sing. I also write for this newspaper. Through therapy, I’ve learned to talk to my parents about how I can live my life in a way that is different from theirs, but is not wrong. Like in September they let me stay at the Punx Unite tour until 3 a.m. because I was with my responsible friend, Stephanie.

I still have the scars on my stomach and some on my arms. They will help remind me of the terrible life I once had. But I went through it and survived. The group home, my family and my friends taught me how to love myself because I saw that I am special to them. I know there is a better life coming.