I was riding the subway recently and saw a family whom I assumed were tourists – they had that midwestern feel to them. A mother, father, and two teenage daughters made up the quartet. The shorter (and I assumed younger) daughter had that look about her that you knew guys would be fighting over her soon. (If they weren’t already.) The taller one was cute but there was something strange about her arm. Thin white lines like hash marks making their way up her arm, like a ladder without rails. I thought to myself “this is America in microcosm: two corn-fattened parents and two beautiful daughters, (at least) one of whom is a cutter.”
I am not entirely a stranger to cutters. One or two of the women in my life had been cutters at some point in their lives. I spoke with one of them about it once and her reasoning made sense. She said it was a way of exercising control in her life where most of the time she felt she had none. When she felt she was losing control she could open the safety pin she kept on her and stab or rake herself with it. It hurt, but it reminded her that at least in this one way – how/when/where she would experience this specific pain – she had control over her life.
I have a strong caretaking drive. (I assume due to my father taking care of my mother for most of her life.) Experience has taught me this is rarely healthy for me, but in my youth it drove me towards certain women. I believed these women were in trouble, but I could help them. I could save them.
Reading the zine Limbo brought back some of these thoughts. It is the story of a girl who becomes a ghost in her own family as everyone focuses on her older sister who is a cutter who has recently called a suicide hotline. Much of what I read rang true.
When you are part of a family where one member requires caretaking every other family member’s lives take a backseat. (Especially those who are providing the care.) In that world of constant crisis, people tend to lose themselves in something, whether it be the act of caretaking, work, or alcohol. A certain amount of guilt arises when you think about how your needs aren’t being met in the situation. You know this member of your family is struggling and suffering so much more than you are, and yet you feel that you are struggling and suffering too. You compare the two and see that the other person has it worse, so you feel guilty, but you still have to do something about this pain you have.
Some people just swallow and push the feelings deep down inside, thinking themselves stoic. Others self medicate with food or drink or sleep. A coping mechanism must be found there shouldn’t be any guilt attached to whatever is chosen.
Creative outlets are a constructive way to deal with these feelings. I think this is partially why Limbo exists. I am glad it does. I am glad zines can be a place where these subjects are discussed, that there is no stigma attached to producing something that airs what many might call “dirty laundry.” If you don’t get things like this out of your system, they can lead to bigger problems further down the line. Trust me on this one, I know of what I speak.