At first it was like I was sick again. I wouldn’t tell many people about my struggles. This especially occurred around dating, as all the women would eventually ask, “What are those scars on your arm about?”
I remember how ashamed I used to be of my illness, and how confusing it was to not know what precisely my diagnosis was. Initially I was classified as bipolar II with hypomania, but today I’m packed in there beside schizoaffective with a general mood disorder.
The Dating Scene
When you’re male and you’re depressed, there’s a definite stigma, and that’s definitely true for male self-injury as well. I feel much of it grows out of how society discourages males from showing their emotions or wounds. It also grows of one’s own perceptions and assumptions. I finally left my nearly two-decade long struggle with self-injury behind, and learned to cope better with the ups and downs of life. I moved out of a group home after ten long years.
I tried full disclosure and openness with a few dates, saying, “I used to cut myself.” I found the ladies would almost uniformly pull back, skew their heads a little to the side, and find a way to disentangle themselves and disengage from the relationship. This happened maybe three or four times in a row. I was right around forty-one years of age, and I felt great. The world seemed brand new to me again, but I felt personally and romantically quite stuck.
The next woman I dated was different – unique. Not only did she wear Batman Band-Aids on her finger, she was Pagan, worked in a corporate office, and was moving up in the company. She wanted to take it slow between us, so we only communicated by emails on e-Harmony for two weeks. We didn’t talk on the phone at all, until we came face to face. Amy Holmes had both a BA in Liberal Arts, and also a BS in Animal Science from UConn. While I loved dramas and artsy films, she preferred sci-fi and shoot-em-up movies and liked to read fantasy and write novels – yes, she wrote novels, too – about princesses saving dashing young princes on white horses, and sorcery and magic.
After our first date, which we spent at the local zoo, Amy pointed to the scars on my forearms and wrists and asked, “What are those?”
The rest is history. Amy was accepting when I told her I used to cut myself. She did check with a psychiatrist to better understand my illness, but by then we were pretty enthralled with one another. Still, though, I was cautious. I had her promise not too tell her family or co-workers what exactly I struggled with, for fear they would talk her out of being with me. Even as I pursued a master’s degree, I was still afraid. Then I got a book contract by Harper Collins to write my memoir, Sharp: My Story of Madness, Cutting and How I Reclaimed My Life. and I’ve been flapping my mouth about it ever since.
David Fitzpatrick grew up in Guilford, Connecticut and, graduated from Skidmore College with an English degree, and got his MFA from Fairfield University in 2011. His memoir, Sharp: My Story of Madness, Cutting and How I Reclaimed My Life was published in 2012 by Harper Collins. His essays have appeared in New Haven Review and The Perch. He lives in Middlefield, Connecticut with his wife, Amy, a writer, photographer, and real estate investment analyst. David is currently coming down the homestretch on a novel.
Nowadays, Amy and David travel throughout New England, and as a couple they give talks about mental illness and stigma. Amy typically does the introduction, but also talks about her angle. David reads two or three portions from his memoir, and then gives a talk entitled, “Hope, Faith and the Power of the Broken.”
Neither is doing trigonometry or highly sophisticated surgery. They’re just two peers offering welcome doses of hope. Being real is what clicks and feels so right with a lot of the audiences they address – whether NAMI groups, mental health conferences, or Grand Rounds at leading psychiatric hospitals in the area.