Please Never Start: Too Young to Understand.
In 2014, Mrs. Burgher’s tenth-grade drama class performed a docudrama, which is theater for a play made up of skits based on things that actually happened.
We were allowed to pick any theme in the whole wide world, and without any conflict we collectively settled on mental illness, because we were 15, and we were sad, and we had no way of understanding why.
I had a monologue about anxiety (“When I went to college, things got a whole lot worse”) and a skit about depression (“If only someone would have helped him”) but my best friend Bryce chose to do his monologue on cutting, basing the content on a stranger’s YouTube video.
This was scary because he was my oldest friend, and he kept a cheerful façade, so watching him talk about slitting his wrists felt a bit too saddening for me to stomach as a thing of fiction. His blue eyes were icy and downcast, too ashamed to meet those of the audience, and his voice was hollow, as if someone had taken the dial that controlled Bryce and put it on a setting too low to function properly.
I thought, “Man, my friend is such a great actor.” Except I was 15, so there were many things about the sadness of others that I did not yet understand.
Finally, he looked at the audience and said, “If you don’t cut, please never start,” and I thought that of course, not cutting myself is an easy task, and no, I would never ever cut myself, but there was also a sickening feeling bubbling just under my innocent surface, a primal understanding that knew it would be nice to bleed a little bit, and no, I would not stop.
After the play, an audience of sixth graders asked us if we had any of these mental health problems, and for the first time in the history of high school drama, a room full of theater kids fell silent. These kids were young enough to recognize depression in us, but we were somehow too young to see it in ourselves.
I was still too young, six months later, when the idea of being late for a meeting or work would send me into panic attacks while I drove. Too young to understand that hating every part of myself that made me me — my singing voice, my ideas, my thoughts, my talents, my words — was not a normal and healthy part of the teenage experience.
I was too young to self-diagnose, too stupid to be diagnosed, and so every waking moment was ambushed by thoughts of how to best express my pain or escape my body, because I was barely 16 and I wanted out.
Then I was 17, running my fingernails down my arms. I learned that this helped me breathe, and once I could breathe I would marvel at the raised lines on my skin — how much more pressure until they break entirely? My fingernails were not sharp enough to know.
18, sitting on my bathroom floor, studying a box of razor heads, wondering if the blades would come out. I wasn’t going to do anything, no, I was just going to see what they looked like, see if I could get them to release, but they didn’t and neither did I.
So, I imagined other sharp objects like thumb tacks and paring knives and paper clips, mundane things that could draw blood if I wanted to, which of course I didn’t. It was having the power to know I could make that choice. Would my friends even notice? Would they care?
My friends. The late-night bonfires and movies, eating lunch together before choir, walking to the bus stop on cool autumn days. Gossiping at our lockers before class. Hanging out in the basement before first period drama.
I thought of Bryce. How we didn’t talk about this stuff with each other, but after years of friendship had developed a deeper level of understanding, and how four years earlier he stared at us in the audience — he stared at me — pleading, “If you don’t cut, please never start.”
I put the razors back.
Kendall Bistretzan is 20 years old and from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She currently resides in Calgary, AB, where she studies Journalism at Mount Royal University. She has previous publications in Windscript and Polar Expressions, and writes for the Calgary Journal. You can find her on Instagram, where she posts her writing, book reviews and other nerdy content.