Journey of Self-Discovery
by Palaces P.
I see those articles called, “Alternatives to Self-Harm,” and I think, there is no alternative
When the need cries for attention, I usually spoil it.
I’ve retreated into public stalls to feed it.
I see the question: “Does Motherhood Take Away from the Writing Practice?”
and I want to say this thing’s kept me awake for years,
even still before it was born.
One might say, for whom is writing not Kafkaesque?
but I hate all of the praise for my ethic.
I know how much of myself I’ve bled, chiseled away, and
then onto my pages.
I tried to express this piece in short essay form, several years ago now, and yet I came to find it at once too glaring and too subdued. For one, the subject matter is harder to take in without the pretty filter of abstraction provided by poetry—and at the same time, I was trying to force a sense of hope, of a happy ending that was still yet to come. I’d been caught up in the insidious idea that things could improve if I had enough optimism.
No matter, though, how much I was told to “just stop”, or that it wasn’t “the answer”, I couldn’t ever fight the compulsion to cut myself away. The act was distinct, too, from self-harm in response to emotional distress—something I’ve done only a few times. Those urges still rage when I’m upset, but the difference is that they’re resistible.
My worst habit was always another beast: totally undiscriminating of mood, and time, and place. I can only describe it as an unending self-awareness, a constant sense that my body is wrong and will only be less so if I discipline it. Part of me wonders whether I’d have been less accustomed to the feeling—if I’d suspected much earlier in life that I was mentally ill—if I weren’t female-bodied. Nearly all women and girls, to differing degrees, have accepted our many rituals of self-grooming as unquestionable. We share that almost-instinct to cut ourselves down, to sculpt ourselves into the statuesque perfection demanded of us: poreless, hairless, thin, quiet.
Despite suffering since my mid-teens, I was only recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, plus an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder most responsible for all of the constant cutting. I didn’t know much about OCD in general before then, aside from the mainstream depictions of repeated cleaning (and I suspect that that symptom is poorly recognized in women, too, since we’re so expected to be cleaning anyway).
I was frustrated and ashamed for too long by my debilitated brain, by its struggle to keep up with my hard need to write. My recent diagnoses, however, have helped me to appreciate my artistic drive as likely stemming from my more general OCD (though that has its own challenges, of course). My experiences with illness have stirred, too, the best chunk of my recent work (this poem included)—and while I still have much recovering left to do, I can say with a lovely sureness that hope is now mine.
Palaces is an emerging writer with works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction featured in various literary publications. She has a BAH from Queen’s University, and she is working on a budding book series. You can read more about her at @pascalepalaces on Twitter.