“What’s on your arm? Georgi, what is that on your arm?! What did you do???”
My mother’s voice quavered as she pulled up the rest of the long sleeve I had so carelessly forgotten to tug down when washing the dishes.
41 cuts. 41 cleanly sliced lines, criss-crossing from my wrist all the way up to the inner side of my elbow. I had counted every last one of them. And I was equally ashamed of each one.
We both started crying in the kitchen. Hard. My mom turned away, refusing to believe what she had seen. I refused to believe that I had done this to her.
I was 13 years old when my parents found out I had been harming myself. But my road to self-hate had begun a year prior to that. It all started when we moved back to Romania. Let me rewind things for some context.
My early childhood was perfect.
You know how some kids have horrible childhoods, growing up in poverty, abusive families, and toxic environments?
That wasn’t the case for me. The trauma would come later on.
At the time, I was a privileged, loved, borderline spoiled child who was fortunate enough to grow up in America. My parents wanted to give me the life they never even could have dreamed of. So, in the early 90s, they packed up their own lives and left post-communist Romania to pursue the “American Dream” for our family.
My childhood was the stuff of movies. We lived in beautiful suburbs, in beautiful houses, with beautiful neighbors. I went to amazing schools, with amazing teachers, and had amazing friends. I was one of the popular kids, but the nice ones who got along with everyone (not the you-can’t-sit-with-us cheerleaders and jocks). At school, I took creative writing and drama classes and already figured out what I loved doing before I even finished the 6th grade.
It was perfect. Everything was perfect.
“We’re moving back to Romania.”
5 little words were enough to tear my picturesque universe into shreds. In 2003, we moved back to Romania, and everything started falling apart, piece by piece.
I had no idea how to speak the language. My parents had attempted to maintain some basic Romanian conversation at home, but it was in vain. Anything beyond “ce faci?” was hopeless.
Now, I crash-landed in a country that was utterly foreign to me, in which I would have to go to school and understand what the teachers were, well, teaching. Mind you, I was already a bookworm at the time, and I suddenly found myself having to copy all of my notes from classmates just to go home and memorize everything by heart.
When I worked up the courage to read my first ever book in Romanian, I grabbed a highlighter to underline the words I didn’t know so I could ask my mom or look them up in the dictionary. After the first page of the archaic novel, I realized I had highlighted more than half of the page.
I thought I wouldn’t graduate the 7th grade.
Eventually, I graduated with honors as the 2nd student of my class.
You have no idea what stubbornness, ambition, a good memory, and fear of failure can do to a kid.
I prided myself on being “adaptable”.
I was so foolishly convinced that I was such a badass at overcoming this whole culture shock thing.
I had transitioned from one world to another, completely oblivious of all the external factors that were slowly eating me alive. The country I wasn’t supposed to be in, the language barrier, the bullies in my class, my family’s slow descent into money problems, the boy that hit me until I fell in love with him.
My new class was littered with the richest kids in the city. The kind that, at age 14, drove themselves to the 8th grade school dance, behind the wheel of a Mercedes. Their dads were mafia heads who were on good terms with the police, so they obviously didn’t care. That’s how Romania works.
That wasn’t the problem though. The problem was that they picked on me at school, making me do their English homework because I was the “stupid American girl”.
But that was nothing compared to the boy.
Ah, the boy. There always has to be a boy in the middle of it all, right? This boy was the class clown that caught my attention on the very first day of school. He passed me a note in class and asked if I wanted to be his girlfriend. Of course I said yes. Of course he was making fun of me. Of course I fell for it.
For the next two years, he would go on shoving me onto walls in school hallways, hitting me, and laughing at me with every chance he got. In between, he would sweet talk me until my naïve brain would believe that I was irrevocably in love with him.
So “in love” that I eventually lost my virginity to him.
I hated it.
I did it to please him and to increase the chances that he wouldn’t leave me. I needed him. He was everything I had, the only thing I could cling to in this screwed up place I had somehow ended up in.
He said he loved me. I believed him.
I needed to believe him when I bit back tears as he fucked me when all I wanted was for him to stop.
My childhood was gone.
During this time, I gradually melted from a bright-eyed, studious kid with braces and a big smile to a girl who hated everything.
I hated my parents for bringing me to this terrible country. I hated that I couldn’t communicate with the few friends I had in any other way than in English. I hated the old-fashioned school system that was the polar opposite of the hands-on approach I had been accustomed to in America. I hated the snobs that were my classmates, and the teachers who didn’t give a fuck about their students, and the boy who took advantage of me.
I hated myself for never being good enough.
That’s when I discovered the relief that came with self-harm. There was nothing more calming than inflicting pain on yourself when you were in that state of mind.
I don’t think I ever really wanted to commit suicide. I just wanted to feel something. Anything. I wanted to half-punish, half-pity myself in the stupidest way possible.
So, I started to hurt myself. I would strangle myself with the belt of my bathrobe until I fainted. I would cut both of my arms until I had no space left. I did it at home in the bathroom when my parents were asleep, and I did it at school in the courtyard during the worst days.
I was never fully conscious of the disastrous consequences that could have resulted from my actions. Both of my parents have a history of mental health issues (bipolar disorder, depression, alcohol addiction). If my actions would have led to suicide – even accidentally –, I can’t even imagine what it would have done to them.
It was irresponsible, it was selfish, but it felt like the only way out.
You’d think that it would just be a phase. I did too. Kids crave attention and they always blow things out of proportion, right?
In countless alarming cases, the moody child becomes the suicidal teen that never even gets the chance to become an adult.
I was and am blessed enough to have an incredible support system, access to resources, and an intrinsic sense of resilience. All of these have been pushing me through crippling, consistent, multi-month cycles of depression for the past 16 years, which I will speak more about in stories to come.
But the same can’t be said for every kid going through similar battles. More often than not, children aren’t taken seriously when crying out for help, whether upfront or through their actions. Their verbal or silent pleas for support are dismissed as signs of age-specific neediness or blatant immaturity.
“You’ll get over it.”
“It’s not the end of the world.”
But it might be the end of their world, and not just metaphorically.
This is what you can do to prevent it, based on where you stand in the situation:
Listen. Don’t judge, don’t belittle, don’t dismiss. Provide a safe space for them to talk freely, without interrupting, without that do-what-I-say, I-know-better bullshit.
The more you try to enforce the deprecating authority you see as “responsible parenting”, the more they will feel misunderstood and drift away from you. With all due respect, just shut up and listen.
If your child needs the help of a medical professional, make it a priority to facilitate access to one.
Friend or classmate
Listen. Don’t judge. Provide a safe space for them to talk freely, without interrupting, with a genuine interest in what they have to say. This is what being a friend really means.
Reach out to a teacher, school counselor, or other trusted adult for help. To read more about what you can do to recognize and support a friend or classmate who might be going through depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder, click here.
Child or teen who needs help
I swear that you are never, ever, ever alone in this. No matter how much it hurts right now, I promise you that things are going to get better. I promise.
I know it’s hard to talk about it. Maybe you don’t even know what you’re feeling or why you’re feeling it. But you have no idea how many people love you and care about you and want to help you. They might not be good at showing it sometimes, so this is what you can do to ask them for help.
Tell your mom, dad, brother, sister, grandparent, teacher or best friend that you really need to talk to them. Tell that person you trust that you need them to listen to you and not say anything until you’re done talking or you ask them to.
If you’re scared to approach them and need help to do so or don’t have a trusted person to talk to, please send me an email at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do everything I can to support you.
If you need immediate emergency help, click here for a list of suicide crisis lines by country.
I repeat – I swear that you are never, ever, ever alone in this.
No matter how much it hurts right now, I promise you that things are going to get better.