Sharp: A Story Of Psychosis, Self-Mutilation & Brave Reemergence

An interview with David Fitzpatrick about his memoir.

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David Fitzpatrick
David Fitzpatrick will appear at RJ Julia in Madison, Conn. on Wednesday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. Photo:Chion Wolf
Sharp: A Story Of Psychosis, Self-Mutilation & Brave Reemergence
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Sharp: A Story Of Psychosis, Self-Mutilation & Brave Reemergence

“The clean cuts looked beautiful and weird. Endorphins sped through me. I spun around, growing dizzy, frantic, and silly … ‘I thought, I’ve found my new pharmaceutical deep inside.' I giggled fearlessly, manically at this and looked down at myself; hands, arms, chest, and belly covered in crimson … ‘I can do this,’ I whispered. ‘I can keep this secret to myself.’" - David Fitzpatrick, "Sharp: A Memoir"

We're all obsessed with something. I'm a little obsessed with the Green Bay Packers.

David Fitzpatrick's obsession was different. He was obsessed with cutting himself, with self-injury. His twenties and thirties were a series of hospitalizations punctuated by trips to the outside world, which were in turn punctuated with self-lacerations that sent him repeatedly to emergency rooms. 
 
Most of this happened in a corridor that runs from Hartford, where I sit, to New Haven and Guilford. Reading his book, I found myself wondering if I had brushed past him in Bushnell Park and, in turn, how many other souls, bleeding on the inside and out , we all brush past, unknowing, during the years of our lives.
 
Today, David came to our studio and, joined by others, told the story of being what we call a cutter.
 
Leave your comments below, e-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.
 
This episode originally aired Aug. 17, 2012.

  

Comments

E-mail from Liz

I am a big fan of your show, but today's episode was especially meaningful to me. Thanks for having Mr. Fitzpatrick on your show. I have struggled with self-injury and a number of psychiatric issues. I appreciated hearing a man's story about his struggle with cutting and mental health issues. While I feel that these things are so hard to talk about for anyone--regardless of gender--I have met very few men who have been willing to admit to hurting themselves. This might sound a bit corny, but I hope that learning about Mr. Fitzpatrick's story will help others--especially men--seek help for their pain and suffering.

Mental health care is pathetic in this country right now. I have been a patient at the Institute of Living, as well as at many other facilities, but so few people have access to the sort of quality treatment that I have been fortunate to receive. Even in places like Connecticut, where we have access to top-notch facilities like IOL, there are so many barriers to treatment. I have friends who live in other parts of the country and they say that the lack of resources in their areas is awful.

I hope that access to affordable, high-quality mental healthcare improves. It's so sad to think of how many people are suffering, and treatment shouldn't be a luxury! Psychiatric illnesses are real illnesses--but they are different than a number of other medical conditions because medication alone is rarely enough to "fix" things. It is certainly an important tool, but I think psychotherapy has been essential for me!

I wouldn't call myself "recovered." I feel like that term sounds like it's a finalized thing…but I don't know how else to describe where I stand with self-injury right now. I know it could come back. I don't want it to, but the urges are still there. For me, I often substitute self-destructive behaviors. I used to compulsively pick my skin, which to me is related to cutting and was a much harder behavior to stop, but the self-destructive behavior I have had the most trouble giving up is bingeing and purging. I feel like I need to have "something"…like healthy coping mechanisms never do the same thing. I have had intensive therapy--including Institute of Living's amazing DBT program (ooh, you should have Marsha Linehan on when her new book is released!), but it is so hard. I know Dr. Linehan recently came out about her struggles with borderline personality disorder and related self-injurious behavior. Maybe she has ideas on how to improve access to mental healthcare?)

Sorry this was kind of long and rambling. I didn't actually set out to request a show featuring Dr. Linehan, but I would absolutely love to hear an interview with her. Apparently her memoir isn't set to be released until the fall of 2013, but I don't think it would be necessary to wait until then to have her as a guest!

Also, thanks again for covering such an important topic.

E-mail from Susan

Colin,

I am a 26-year-old female who has been struggling with self-injury since I was 17. I had my first stint in IOL this past December and am proud to say yesterday was marked eight months since I last cut myself.

First off, thank you very much for your guest and content of todays show on mental illness and self-injury. You recognized the stigma surrounding cutters, while not glorifying or validating that stigma. You showed compassion for the illness/impulse while not conveying pity, ignorance, or indifference.

I appreciated you letting your guest honestly voice stories about the unconscious "fear about getting better," the fine line of when an impulse transitions into an addictive behavior, how confiningly small your world becomes when yourself and the people around you fail to see past the illness, and the importance of treatment, hope, and support. I think those were all stories your audience needed to hear.

I also appreciated the caller near the end of the show who touched on the fine line between self-injury and suicide. From my experience in treatment, it is true that 99% of the time, SI is just a maladaptive coping mechanism. It very much functions as a way to survive--as an effective (in the mind of the cutter) way to immediately manage emotional pain and transfer it onto something very tangible--a way to transfer focus....But I agree with the caller and am glad his point was not minimized--there is a fine line between SI and suicide--and while most cutters do not want to cross that line, when in the throws of depressive episodes, it is almost impossible to distinguish when that line has been crossed, figure out how to reach out for help, and how to separate yourself from that "dark passenger" that rides along with you.

All that said, I very much appreciated the show and wanted to pass word along. This isn't something that is talked about in society, and overcoming the shame of engaging in it is a painfully long process. I hope the program was eye-opening to your audience, I hope you continue to touch upon sensitve-themes, and I hope to read David's book soon.

E-mail from Diane

I have known two cutters (girls) and both have stopped but both are now very much into tattoos. I always wonder if this is a socially acceptable form of causing pain, something that helps them get what they are looking for but without doing it themselves. Or, is it just to cover up cutting scars? Any thoughts?