High school, I had thought, was a time to reinvent myself. The first day of classes, I woke up at 5:30 to make sure I had plenty of time to get ready. My fingernails matched my sunglasses (which I wore as a hair band, thinking I looked cool), my outfit was great, I was ready to go. Plus, I finally had a boyfriend, so I thought this would be my year.
My mom always said that most people have a pretty miserable freshman year. Mine was more miserable than most*. Things got off to a decent start, but quickly turned sour. My boyfriend - we'll call him First, since he was my first real boyfriend - and I broke up about 2 months in to the first semester because I had been flirting with another guy. The other guy and I "dated" for six days before I was back with First.
Things went fine until right around winter break. I had been putting up with quite a bit of verbal and emotional abuse from First in those few months. One example that always comes to mind is the time he offered me some of his fries. I turned them down because I knew he hadn't been eating much lately and I didn't want to take away from his lunch. Another friend (a guy, of course) offered me some of his fries, and I took a few. First started yelling at me, asking me why his fries weren't good enough for me, calling me a bitch/slut/etc. I ran away crying, and when he came after me, he apologized profusely, begging me to forgive him and telling me how much he loved me. Incidents like this had become our norm (thus earning me the nickname of "Biggest Crybaby at East"), and I put up with it.
Until the time he used physical force. I was running away crying one of the times, when he caught up to me, grabbed my arm and yanked me toward the wall. Fortunately, a few upperclassmen were passing by and told him to let go of me. It only resulted in a bruise on my arm, but I knew it could get worse, and I knew I had to break things off.
I worked up the courage to do it. I'll never forget that day. He was wearing a jacket designed like the American flag and I had dressed up to boost my confidence a little. When I told him I wanted to break up, he begged me not to. I stood my ground and the next thing I knew he was walking away from me, telling me he was going home to kill himself. I cried out to him, told him we could keep dating, and he came back. I told him we'd talk later. All day we did this dance. I'd try to break things off gently, and he'd threaten suicide. I was frantic, and eventually wound up having my first panic attack.
Panic attacks are insanely scary. Your heart races, you start breathing heavy and sweating. The world around you feels surreal, almost fuzzy. Everything's a bit tingly (probably because of the breathing), and in my case, I wound up hyperventilating myself into an asthma attack. Friends got me to the nurse and I had my first nebulizer (sp?) treatment. While sitting there, trying to relax, they sent in one of the school's social workers, as my friends had tried to explain the circumstances to the nurse. When I was able, I told her what was going on. They managed to find First, call his dad and get him home safe, and I thought maybe things would be OK.
In January, when school started up after break, I started dating a new guy. First caught wind of this and was having none of it. At first, he just kept trying to give me presents to win me back, including a ring (to this day I don't know where he got it, but it wasn't from a store), but I kept turning him down. Then he began confronting New Guy. New Guy and I tried ignoring him and his threats, but things just got worse. At some point, the three of us ended up in a mediation session (New Guy thought it was a good idea to get everything out in the air with an adult present). It was actually going well until the mediator stepped out of the room for a minute. First pulled out a knife, made a few threatening remarks (about New Guy, and about taking his own life again) and ran out of the room. We told the mediator what happened, and they managed to find him before he really got anywhere (it's a big school; no quick escape routes).
For months, things like this would come up, and I didn't know how to deal with it. I'd have more panic attacks (and resulting asthma attacks) and wind up at the social worker's office or in the school psychologist's office. New Guy and I broke up, and I felt more alone than I ever had. I felt this intense pain that came from so deep inside of me, but never physically came out, and I was frustrated. I was mad because there wasn't a way to fix the pain, to make it stop. And so, like too many others, I started cutting.
It was never anything life-threatening. Just shallow cuts up and down my arm. After I'd made the cuts, I'd pour rubbing alcohol on my arms and I'd cry while it burned. It was a release for me, a pain I could control. It was a pain that went away. So much easier to explain than the pain inside. Eventually, First found out about this, and told some staff member at school. Word got home to my parents, but the most that ever came up was a brief conversation in which my dad told me they knew and that I was to stop doing it. They checked my arms at school for a few weeks, but eventually I was off the hook again.
*Due to some feedback, I feel it's necessary to say that I assume my freshman year was more miserable than most (relative to my peers, anyway). I certainly know that people had worse years than I did (at 14 or 15, life can really suck), but I also know a lot of people who had much better years. I'm not saying that my life was so totally awful, blah blah, wah wah. I'm just saying that it wasn't so grand.