Friday, July 17, 2009

What I've Learned So Far

I can't stand when people generalize, but I also know it's human nature. I try not to generalize. So when people say to me, "How's the book about the cutters going?" and roll their eyes, I usually say something teacher-y like, "It's just about kids. A girl who cuts. I'm not writing non fiction."

The book is giving me a lot of trouble. Or it was until I woke up the other night and realized I was trying to make the book too normal sounding. Normal sounding to me is dull; I don't write typical YA -- OMG!!! Is that a zit???? kind of YA. And I think I was doing something like trying to make it NORMAL to show that folks who cut are not so much different from say folks who are addicted to tv or food or booze.

I woke up and wrote the first page over, for the seventh time, and I finally think this one is a keeper.

And I do have one generalization about folks who cut (one woman is 52 and has been cutting since she was 15, so it's not just teens). They seem so willing to share their stories, particularly the painful parts. It could be that the Internet makes them able to do this, the anonymity, the sense of confession, all that -- but when I spoke to a friend who is writing about teen alcoholism, she told me she has not found that to be true. She says it's difficult to get teens to open up about their experiences. And teen alcoholism has been "done" (covered by schools, the media) a lot more than cutting.

Maybe I shouldn't make any sweeping statements, but I have found that the people who wrote to me shared experiences that I would have difficulty sharing. It was kind of an amazing deluge.

Is there a common thread? I'm not a psychologist, but there does seem to be early pain, pain that took place sometime in childhood. And of course, there is the sense of shame for their SH behavior. Maybe sharing these experiences is a way out of shame. That's what I am hoping.


Stewart Sternberg said...

I've worked with a lot of cutters, although I would never have called them that. Obviously cutting is a symptom of something else going on, and it's not unusual, once you probe, to find an extremely dysfunctional family lurking in the background. I always look at reasons for behavior. People may not know why they do things, but there is always a reason, no matter how deeply buried.

Once I sat on a porch with a teen. He was suicidal. We talked for a bit. He smoked a cigarette and without warning, put it out in his palm. No expression of pain. He was that disassociated from his feelings.

When I meet a kid, I always glance quickly at their wrists or arms, looking for evidence of eraser burns, ciagarette and lighter burns, and cutting. Sometimes it's a matter of being observant.

Anne Spollen said...

I find myself glancing at my boys' friends arms (or legs in the summer) to see if there is any evidence of SH.

There is a new trend around here called "embedding" -- not only do they cut, they embed small objects beneath their skin such as combs or earrings and let the skin heal over.

The families strangely pretend they don't know what's going on...