I was fifteen years old and this movement was going around in social media. It was a small and fairly unpopular movement, but some of us took it to heart. It was the butterfly movement. Don't know if that's actually what it was called but it's what I've come to call it. This movement was about self harm. You would draw a butterfly over the self harm scars of friends and family and tell them "you wouldn't want to hurt a butterfly, would you?" You would name the butterfly after yourself or another love one of theirs and it was supposed to be a reminder that the butterfly was there for you and so was the person who its named after. I believe there's also some symbolism of the butterfly being the loved one who would be crushed if something happened to the self harmer. Crushed and fragile, just like a butterfly.
Anyway, I participated in this movement. I drew butterflies on some friends who I knew struggled with self harming, depression and maybe even suicidal thoughts. Today I share a tattoo with my best friend and on that tattoo depicts two little butterflies, one for each of us. These butterflies represent us in a fragile way, because I know I'll never forget the day she came to me and told me she might not be here if I wasn't there for her.
I don't think I could possibly describe how that chills me to the bone. You'd think you'd be honored, you know? Proud of yourself that you're such a big influence in someone's life that you're enough to keep them from killing themselves. But what hurts is not knowing how close someone is to that ledge. I knew she was depressed and had so much going on in her life, but I didn't know it had gone that far. That it was so bad that she...wanted to kill herself. That it had crossed her mind, and I didn't see it.
I self harmed, but not in the way that was obvious. I dug my nails into the palms of my hand until the skin cracked and creased just enough to scab over a bit but not bleed terribly. I bit my lips til I tasted blood. I took safety pins and pushed them underneath the thin layer of dead skin that covers your finger tips and ripped it off. I did that until the only sensation on my finger tips was a numb tingling. I've never truly admitted these things to anyone. I believe I've dropped hints here and there, but never said it out loud like how it's written here. Maybe its because it's so much easier to write it down than to vocalize it. That written down I can pretend it's just another person. A character I came up with and she went through all of this and not me. That's..what all of this feels like. This whole story I'm going into. Writing it, I can imagine it's just some other character and confessing it all makes it easier.
At seventeen and eighteen I met a girl who was fourteen/fifteen. A sweet girl, but a troubled one. She self harmed a lot. She had an abusive home. She self harmed in front of people like she were just adjusting her hair or her cloths. It was second nature for her to pull back on her rubber band and snap her wrist...as if she didn't even think twice about it. Like the aggressive red lashes on her skin were just part of her routine, and it was. This girl...maybe she was also not a good person and did some things for wrong reasons, but no one deserved that level of comfort when it came to hurting themselves. Her arms were mutilated in scars and she came in with injuries all the time. My friends and I tried to help her. I can never unburn the memory that seems to play on repeat in the back of my head from the day she told us she wanted to kill herself. I'll never forget the defeated and triggered looks in my friends eyes. Both of them had been in times where they contemplated their own lifes worth. I'll never forget the way that I yelled at this girls. The way I told her to look at my friend and see what she was doing to them. How we all cared and she tossed our feeling around like they were meaningless. I remember making her promise that she wouldn't do it. That every day I would see her or speak to her in some way and when I said "see you tomorrow" she would say "see you tomorrow" too, and she would mean it.
At twenty, I make a friend who I met solely online, but who I cared for no less than any other friend I had met by traditional means. One night, I get into a call with him that last until three in the morning. A call that involves so many tears and so much begging. Just me trying to convince him to keep breathing. He does.
Some time later, I'm working and I get close with a coworker and she ask me why I had butterflies on one of my tattoos. I told her about the movement from years ago. Somewhere down the line, she becomes a great friend of mine. She opens up about her past and her abusive relationship and so much that's been piled on her and how it doesn't seem to be getting better. I offer the comfort I can and the listening ears I know she needs that won't judge her. One night, she called and told me that she really valued our friendship. She sounded so sad and I could feel my heart drop as I realized that she was talking in past tense and I tried to get her to just tell me if she needed help, but she said I already had. She admitted she had laid out what she would be using to kill herself and was ready to go through with it when she heard my voice at the last moment telling her "you wouldn't want to hurt a butterfly, would you?" She thanked me as I burst into tears.
The next day, she calls me and she's apologizing over and over again. She tells me she wasn't strong enough to not cut herself. She's afraid I'm disappointed in her, and I tell her I'm not...I'm just relieved she's alive. The day after that, I bring in an ace bandage to wrap her arm with because she was embarrassed and didn't want anyone to see them if she needed to take off her jacket. The cuts span her entire forearm and I don't say anything. I just wrap her arm and we make light jokes like we always do, while tossing around a little workplace gossip. She thanks me, and we get back to work.
I know there is survivor's guilt for when you live through an accident that kills another, and the same goes for people who's love ones commit suicide. A survivor's guilt that makes you question thousands of "what if" and wonder what you didn't see or do or say. I don't know what kind of guilt I'm carrying around…
Everyday I worry about them slipping again. Everyday I worry about them ending up in that dark headspace again. My best friend I know is happy, but I can't help but think about what could happen if something breaks her down again. About trying to pull her up, and I would do it every time no question, but I worry about it more than I should. That girl who was so young and whose self harming was second nature, I don't get to see or even talk to much anymore because she's moved to another state. My only evidence that she's alive is her posts on Instagram, and I look for her posts. I make sure she's there through a picture of her and her brother or a selfie showing off her newest haircut. My coworker was one I saw coming in a way. I knew she wasn't in a good place, mentally or emotionally and possibly physically, but I didn't see it coming to suicide and now I wonder about what if it happens again? What if my cheesy butterfly obsession won't be enough to keep her off the ledge next time she slips so low? I was there once because I said the right thing once, but what if I don't say the right thing next time?
I know it hasn't helped that threats of self harm or suicide have been used against me. That an abusive ex kept me trapped and feeling guilty with these tools. He would beg for forgiveness when he did something wrong by claiming hurting me had hurt him so much that he'd cut himself. That he "wouldn't know what to do" if I were to ever leave. He would do this because he knew that I cared. That I didn't want anything to happen to him no matter how angry or hurt I was. It killed me to walk away.
I know I'm lucky. That I have helped people, but I'm still left shaking, scarred and afraid. The worry and the praying that someone won't fall victim to their own mind is suffocating. I walk around with these burdens, knowing they wouldn't want me too, but if I'm important to them don't they know they are to me? What will I do to make them see that trying and continuing is so much more rewarding than the alternative if they ever sink back down into their darkness again? What if I can't pull them up next time?
I keep my phone on at night so if it rings I will hear. I'm sensitive to my phone, I can wake up if vibrates from a text or an app notification. I see people who are hurt so often, and I am always wanting to reach out and offer my ears to listen and maybe keep them from doing something they can't take back. I never know what I can say that will touch someone just right to maybe stay alive, even if it's just for one more night…
Am I wrong to say that it hurts? That I hurt too doing this? That watching someone fall apart and trying to keep the pieces together is painful? After I hung up the phone with my coworker, I cried up until I had to pull myself together to go to work. That I texted people I knew would text back just so I could focus on something other than my panic.
I know I'm lucky. I know people have lost friends and family to suicide and they're left always wondering too. The "what if's." I think about the what if a lot. What if their demons come back? What if I sleep through a phone call? What if I don't get a text? What if I'm not enough? What if I don't say the right thing? What if I can't make them see this time?!
But I don't make them see. I don't make them do anything. I don't say the right things, they hear what they need or want to hear and I'm just lucky if it's something meaningful to them. I can't make them see that they are wonderful people and good things can happen even when it's so dark. That there is a way out and they can be happy and it's not temporary. I want to make them see it, even though I know in the end it's not up to me. That's the terrifying part. That even though I'm here and willing to stay up all night to talk to them and be there for them, in the end...it's not up to me. Its not. I can't fight their battles for them or take their demons no matter how much I wish I could. In the end, it's up to them to decide what's meaningful. It's up to them to grab onto my hand and let me help pull them out of those waters. I only have the power they give me.
That's what haunts me the most...I don't really have the power to save them. I'm just lucky.