You aren’t just another girl writing about “must know” bands; you’re also involved with the organization, To Write Love On Her Arms. Can you tell us about how you first became interested in collaborating with TWLOHA?
I’m a huge Switchfoot fan and it was through them that I first heard about TWLOHA. I can’t exactly remember if it was at a show, or seeing Jon Foreman wearing their T-shirt in photos, but I was curious about the organization and did some research. I really liked the idea behind TWLOHA, presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide, and wrote about them for a paper in college.
From interviewing three girls in college struggling with depression and self-injury, I realized this was an issue that needed to be talked about. I pitched my article to a few of my internships, but for one reason or another they never ran the article. I was brainstorming with my friend Monica of The Jew Spot (who is hosting the benefit show with me) over the summer and we wanted to celebrate our blog anniversaries, but also raise money for a good cause and I suggested TWLOHA. In a way, this benefit is getting word out about the organization where my unpublished article failed.
You can read the rest of the Planet Verge interview with me here.
As for my article, I will post it in it's entirety below. Submitted to my magazine writing class in December of 2006, I find it strikingly serendipitous that I was writing it just around this time three years ago, don't you? Read below as I interview three girls who have struggled with depression and self-mutilation as well as a counselor at Rutgers and former TWLOHA staffer.
December 20, 2006
The Dangerous Coping Mechanism
By Annie Reuter
By Annie Reuter
Paige* started cutting the summer of freshman year of high school. For Paige, cutting gave her control. While she typically used a razor, she said once she shattered a mirror and used that. “I hated myself. I liked cutting because I could control how much I bled,” she says.
Her depression began in middle school after her neighbor started raping her when she babysat for his little sister. In middle school Paige was depressed, stopped eating and had poor self esteem. She eventually went with a friend to her youth minister and told him about cutting and that she needed help. Paige’s youth minister accompanied her home to tell her parents, who were in shock. “No one really understands why you cut yourself. No one wants to say anything about it,” she said.
For many, cutting is a way to cope with inside pain or emotional pain, explained Marta Aizenman, a counselor with a practice in Princeton and director of the counseling and psychological services at the School of Environment and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.
“When a person does not know what to do or how to cope what they are experiencing, their body becomes the vehicle to experience that. It’s similar to how a painter experiences painting. A person uses their body to express what they are feeling and what they are feeling is a lot of negative emotion,” Aizenman said.
While cutting tends to start in adolescents or earlier, it’s also frequently seen in high school and college.
Eventually Paige started counseling, but was reluctant. “I didn’t want to go at first,” she says. “It’s like you’re admitting you have a problem and you want to fix it on your own, not go to counseling.”
Therapy is often a major way to combat cutting. “Therapy is very important here because the result is something the person is feeling and those feelings are a result of something that happened in their life. If they find ways to cope, or process ways to cut they feel better,” Aizeman said. She says cutters should take alternative routes to cutting, such as go for a walk or find other ways to release tension.
While even today cutting isn’t talked about completely, there are organizations reaching out to help others deal with depression. One such organization came about rather unexpectedly, from an article written in Relevant Magazine by Jamie Tworkowski. His story was about one girl, Renee, and five days of her life before she went to a clinic for cutting. Lauren Ranzino, director of counseling and organizations for To Write Love On Her Arms talked of how it all began.
“Basically someone brought Renee to treatment. She was addicted to cutting, attempted suicide and was so bad to the point that they said, ‘We can’t take you, and we don’t have the facilities to take you, come back in five days.’ Jaime asked her if he could write about it in Relevant Magazine and he wrote her story, called To Write Love On Her Arms,” Ranzino said.
A group of people, who now work for the organization, started selling shirts to raise money for Renee’s rehab, lead singer/guitarist Jon Foreman of Switchfoot being the first person to wear the shirt. Anberlin, Underoath, and Memoranda are some other bands that have also been wearing the shirts and involved in the Stop the Bleeding Tour, which brings music, counselors, and awareness to the issue of cutting. “The tour is more doing what we do everyday on the road so people can put a face to everything and talk to us in person and meet counselors in their area who come to the event,” Ranzino said.
To Write Love On Her Arms is mainly based out of their MySpace page, where people can leave comments and emails. “We don’t solicit people. We don’t go and try to find people necessarily. We’ll get emails written or messages on MySpace everyday. People come to us and don’t feel condemned or crazy. It’s a place to find hope, help and healing,” Ranzino says.
Ranzino feels part of the huge response to the organization is the anonymity of everything. “Remaining anonymous in the beginning is a very serene thing because they don’t need to be found out by their family. We want to know if they want to tell us, but we don’t force anything out of them.” In fact, in many instances, when Ranzino asks who else knows about the person’s cutting, no one else does. “It’s a very secretive thing and for anyone to come to us is an honor and a very unique place to be.”
To Write Love On Her Arms are not trained professionals or counselors and they make sure the people they’re reaching know this. “A lot of what I do is encourage them, tell them you’re not crazy if you go to a psychologist, they’re there to help us cope with things,” Ranzino said. While Ranzino says there are many different reasons as to why someone decides to cut themselves, she feels that at the core of it, people don’t have anyone to talk to about their problems.
This was the case for Emily.
While many events led Emily into experimenting with cutting, one of her reasons was a loss of feeling she had a confidant to tell things to. One of her friends was in treatment for nine months for cutting, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder and her close friends had been superficial and judgmental of that friend.
Emily began cutting when she was 15 years old and cut regularly, at least three or four times a week until July of her sophomore year when she was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and her parents found out about her cutting. She suffered from anorexia as well, and cutting became a common routine if she didn’t live up to her ideal daily calorie intake. Since then, Emily has gone back to cutting in instances when she’s feeling intense emotions or is upset about making a bad decision. "Basically, if I can’t verbalize, or feel as though the feelings I feel are wrong or inappropriate, I cut.”
Currently, Emily works at a psych hospital and says many of the adolescents and adults she’s come in contact with have problems with self-mutilation. “It’s like people are crying for help, showing that we’re in pain and we need something, anything, and no one wants to talk about what can help us get through it. There is very little research in the psychology literature and people are so ashamed.”
However, Emily is no longer ashamed of cutting. “I don’t want my family to know that I’ve relapsed right now, because I feel like I’ve let them down and it scares them, the whole idea of hurting your own body intentionally. But with friends that I truly trust and with my therapists I am totally open with the fact that I have this maladaptive coping mechanism. It’s what I do. I want help, I want to stop again, but right now, it’s how I deal.”
The years of adolescence are often a hard adjustment for many girls. Confusion of changing bodies, sexual identity, and uncertainty may lead some to cutting. This was the case of Michelle**, 20, who started cutting in eighth grade. “A lot of it is tied up with development and sexuality, but I had been feeling depressed and unsure about myself and where I was going in life independently of that.” Luckily for Michelle, in ninth grade she found a group of friends who helped her feel less depressed and her cutting decreased. “Cutting became a way for me to calm down from specific stressful situations instead of a gesture of depression.”
However, as her academic pressures built up throughout high school she became more dependent on cutting to focus and get through long nights of work. “I would feel lots of anxiety about starting a paper or being able to finish all my work on time, and cutting myself would help me feel calmer about it all,” she says. Once she entered college she continued cutting, with more intense periods around finals, but she has decided to stop cutting.
“Taking the semester off and admitting this is a real problem in my life has dedicated me to that course of action. My boyfriend and the friends who know I cut are proud of me for this, and their support has been incredibly helpful. I’ve realized I can’t keep dealing with my emotions in such an indirect, self-destructive manner, and that cutting is preventing me from achieving the happiness and confidence that I want in my life. I know I can stop; I have always known that once I decided to stop I would stop.”
In order to change any behavior, including cutting, the person doing harm to herself has to want to change. While it is proven that counseling can help, the person has to decide, like Michelle, on her own that it is time to stop. With organizations such as TWLOHA and more women speaking out about their experiences cutting, society may be able to get over its fear of self-mutilation through spreading awareness and understanding.
*Wishes to use first name only
**Name changed upon requestRelated Links:
• Two Year Blog Anniversary/Benefit Concert Saturday!
• You Sing, I Write + The Jew Spot Present A Benefit For TWLOHA
• You Sing, I Write Celebrates Two Years
• Why Benefit To Write Love On Her Arms?