Written by Michelle Borth…
Two years ago, with my sleeves gripped tightly in my hands, I walked into Dr. Alexander Rivkinʼs office with very little feeling of hope. As an aesthetic specialist, he fills lines for a living. Only my lines were very different, and whether or not he would be able to help me was weighing heavily on my mind. For the first time, I was going to ask for professional help to diminish the scars on my left wrist from self-inflicted wounds. As I anxiously sat in the chair, I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves, and asked “what can you do about these?”
Iʼve struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. It started in my very early teen years and I began to slowly withdraw from family, social activities, and school. I didnʼt understand, nor could I articulate, why I was feeling so reclusive and angry. Iʼm sure that most adults, my mother included, saw me as just another angsty teenager. I quickly found drugs helped me escape feelings of despair and offered momentary relief from overwhelming emotions and the brief mediation of cutting and self-injury followed. Maybe needless to say, I very quickly spiraled into a destructive and dangerous cycle. By 17- years old I morphed from an incredibly bright, straight-A student and competitive athlete into a drug addict on the verge of failing out of my second high school. And then, I found myself in the position no one, not even myself could have predicted. Suicide.
This was not a cry for help. I carefully planned and prepared to great length. I rented a hotel room far from my home, purchased every item on a thorough checklist, and wrote a seven-page goodbye letter to my family and friends. I was careful to go to different drug stores to buy boxes of sleep aids, a box cutter, and extra razors so as not to raise any suspicion. I made the reservation under a different name so I could hide my identity.
This was a decision I already had come to terms with and saw to it nothing could go wrong. Thankfully, something did. I woke up. After sleeping for about 17hrs my eyes slowly opened to a surreal scene, covered in my own vomit and blood, I was astonished. The room looked as though it was ransacked and I started to have brief flashes of images in my mind playing out the night. The empty sleep aid boxes were scattered around the room as were water bottles, stains of red on the sheets and my nightgown, a razor blade laying next to head, and my left arm aching. I looked at the desk. the letter I had written was still there and the door into the room was still locked. Somehow, I had failed. No one had any idea of what had transpired the night before, and I had planned to keep it that way.
Mental Illness was not something discussed in my house. I come from the school of thought that if thereʼs a problem, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and deal with it.
As a competitive gymnast, I learned how to fight through pain and persevere, weakness was not an option. Everything I was taught went against everything I was feeling, so I didnʼt know how to ask for help and I didnʼt want to ask for help. All I felt was shame, embarrassment, and that I was “less then.” I didnʼt want to burden anyone with my problems because “there are starving kids in Africa who really have something to cry about,” as I was often reminded as a child. I truly believed I could fix “it” on my own. Then, I wasnʼt aware that like [diabetes, cancer, alcoholism, e.g.] depression is a disease and like any other disease, if not treated, it can take your life. It took me years, longer than I care to admit, to finally come to the understanding that I indeed needed help, and many of the attempts I made on my own were fleeting.
There isnʼt a magic pill that makes everything better. It takes the will and want for a better life, a lot of hard work, and itʼs a marathon, not a sprint. Once, I made the choice to take control of my life, I decided to do whatever it would take to live a happy, productive life again. From inpatient hospital stays to therapy, rehab and group meetings to medication and spiritual work, I did it all. And slowly I started to see the light again. It doesnʼt happen overnight, but that pinhole size light eventually grew bigger and bigger, until I chose to walk through it. It wasnʼt until my 30ʼs that I was able to walk through and receive what was on the other side. A new way of thinking and understanding myself was finally gifted to me. What was deafening darkness was now bright. Iʼm not cured. Mental illness is a disease. I will always have to manage it. Some days are easier than others, but I can say with absolute certainty that I now have the tools, recourses, and wisdom to weather the inevitable storms of life. So as I sat in Dr. Rivkinʼs office, I had a lifetime of memories race through my brain that played out like a movie, but how would this act end?
After staring at my wrists for what seemed like an eternity, in reality, was a couple of minutes. Dr. Rivkin got up and said, “Iʼll be right back”. I sat with anticipation. He came back with some syringes and he started to explain how light creates shadows and they are what cause my scars to be so visible. He said there isnʼt a laser in the world that can erase shadows, but that he could fill the deeply indented scars, making them flat and therefore, almost invisible. I had nothing to lose, so I agreed and he went to work. He worked on my wrist like a skilled sculptor, pushing and moving this filler around my wrist like an artist with his clay.
I remember thinking about what he must be thinking and to break the silence, I jokingly asked him how many of these procedures did he do every day, especially in this town? To my shock, he responded, “Never.” I found that so difficult to believe. I was the first. My wheels starting spinning and before I realized it, he was done. I looked down for the first time and couldnʼt believe what I saw. In only a matter of minutes, and with virtually no pain, Dr. Rivkin was able to transform the physical reminders of decades of pain and self-destruction, rendered almost obsolete.
As we both stared at the transformation of my wrist, a discussion of mental health came to surface. I realized Dr. Rivkin had never asked me about how the scars got there, So I began to tell him the story of these “war wounds” from my battle with depression. We delved into my mental health healing journey and just how many people like myself who are also left emotionally healing or healed yet physically still scarred. I blurted out, “Iʼve met so many people who could use your help!”. Before I could blink, he responded “how can I help?”
In that moment a purpose was born. It was palpable, you could feel the excitement in the air as we bounced around ideas like an effortless game of volleyball. He validated every statement and feeling I had about the disappointing state of mental health treatment today, and we agreed we must do better. We need to talk more about it. We need to help bring more awareness, create a dialogue, and start chipping away at the stigma of this disease that affects millions of people around the world.
This month is dedicated to talking about mental health. Itʼs not an easy thing to talk about, this I understand. Itʼs always been my belief that we are scared of what we donʼt understand. So we brush all the unpleasant under the carpet, and keep up appearances, while millions walk around suffering in silence every single day. Ignoring it doesnʼt make it go away or mean it doesnʼt exist. We live in progressive times, itʼs time to bring mental health out of the darkness and start educating ourselves so we canʼt fear the unknown any longer. Iʼm not a doctor. Iʼm not an expert of any kind. Iʼm simply someone who suffers from mental illness. But I am a survivor. If telling my story helps one person, then I have succeeded in my mission. My hope is that this story will inspire others to find the courage to tell their stories and we can start talking more openly and honestly without shame or guilt. Just as HIV/AIDS transformed from a taboo subject into an accepted part of our lexicon, so may depression one day soon.
Two years ago, with my sleeves gripped tightly in my hands I walked into Dr. Alexander Rivkinʼs office with little feeling of hope. Today I roll up my sleeves. Proudly. “Roll Up Your Sleeves” is a campaign dedicated to helping those survivors with similar stories help put there past behind them, to feel confident and hopeful again.
~ Michelle Borth