The well-intended, completely pointless TWLOHA movement

I just found out that March 1 is “Self-Injury Awareness Day.”  I thought that was interesting.  March 1st is my biological birthday, and I’ve got hundreds of scars across my arms and legs due to cutting.  I thought I could do an interesting tie-in for a new blog post.

While I was looking up information on “Self-Injury Awareness Day” I saw a link pop up to the “To Write Love On Her Arms” site.  I’ve seen this phrase all over the place.  I had no idea what it meant.  In fact, I thought it had something to do with “Twilight”.  It seemed like something Edward would say to Bella … “I love you SO much I’ll write LOVE on your arms!”  “I love YOU so much I’ll wear LOVE on my arms!”  *shudder*  So I didn’t really look into it.

This morning I followed my nose to the “TWLOHA” site.  The folks running this site seem like very nice people.  Here’s their mission statement:

“To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.  TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

Yes.  Very nice.  Pointless, but nice.

And yes, I really do know how that sounds.  So let me clarify – it isn’t pointless to those who wish to offer support.  I’m thrilled they are investing in treatment and recovery.  It’s desperately needed.  But let’s be very specific about what this, and movements like it are.  TWLOHA does not support people who suffer from “depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”

TWLOHATWLOHA is a support group for supporters.  It’s a place where well-meaning people can join together with like-minded souls to talk about how they want to help people.  And I’m all for that.  Those who suffer benefit from talking to their own kind.  People offering support suffer.   Their job is thankless and so difficult it seems next to impossible.  Talking to other care-givers will help them.

But does it help those who are diagnosed with Depression?  No.  At least, not initially.  Would it help me now?  Over 10 years into my recovery?  Maybe.  I’m seeing a lot of blog posts from people who, like me, used to cut.  I can see the benefit in that case, sharing your stories with others to help them learn, to help you grow.  But for someone actually going through it right now?  No.

Let’s look at the mission statement to see why.  They’re a movement “dedicated to presenting hope…”

STOP.  Right there.  That’s far enough.  If you’re “presenting hope” to care-givers, this is a good thing.  If you’re “presenting hope” to the diagnosed, it’s almost insulting.  I wrote about this before in a larger post.

“Under normal circumstances human beings occasionally suffer from “depression”.  Lower-case “d”.  They’ll get the blues or mope around for no good reason.  They feel sorry for themselves.  They have a bad day now and again. A person with depression can be cheered up by things around them.  If you tell them to “look on the bright side” it makes sense, even if they’re bummed out.

“Depression” (capital “D”), one half of bipolar,  is a non-negotiable chemical imbalance in the brain. It is not a “case of the blues”.  It isn’t a lack of perspective.  Rather, it is the absence of hope.  Depression is physically painful.  The only thing I’ve experienced similar in feel is a car accident.  It causes the entire body to ache, even blinking hurts.  Also, I found that everything seemed heavier, and in some cases I couldn’t lift everyday objects.  Even my own limbs were sometimes too heavy to manage.  Consequences be damned, there was no reason on earth to move, except to try to end the pain.”

The root cause of mental illness is a physical impairment, not a character flaw.

This cheerfully optimistic, determined, extremely well-intended group goes on to say:

“We live in a difficult world, a broken world. My friend Byron is very smart – he says that life is hard for most people most of the time. We believe that everyone can relate to pain, that all of us live with questions, and all of us get stuck in moments. You need to know that you’re not alone in the places you feel stuck.

We all wake to the human condition. We wake to mystery and beauty but also to tragedy and loss. Millions of people live with problems of pain. Millions of homes are filled with questions – moments and seasons and cycles that come as thieves and aim to stay. We know that pain is very real. It is our privilege to suggest that hope is real, and that help is real.

You need to know that rescue is possible, that freedom is possible, that God is still in the business of redemption…”

screamMust.  Control.  Primal.  Scream.

Note to readers – I just deleted my first three attempted responses to this “Vision Statement”.  It has taken me over an hour to write all this.  Please understand I’m REALLY trying here.

Maybe expanding on that idea will help people who are not diagnosed understand why statements like this are so infuriating.

roaring_lionMy hands are shaking.  My heart is pounding.  I feel a tightness in my chest and a sincere desire to physically lash out.  The Beast is clawing inside me, raging for a chance to speak, to howl until it IS heard.  I’m controlling it by an act of will, but I am grateful, so grateful, that my partner isn’t awake yet.  Because of the destruction of our apartment (thank you SO much HOA… that’s another blog post…) her desk is only inches from mine.  She would be very upset to see me so agitated.

But now The Beast within is calming.  He’ll have his chance to speak.  My heart is slowing, though my chest still aches from the attempt.  I don’t need to take my blood pressure, I know it’s still through the roof.  But it’s getting better.

Ok, folks.  You may not have understood that reaction, but rest assured it’s very real.  I will do my best to explain.

hulkThe fury within me is the definition of Bipolar.  When the fury lashes out I’m in manic phase, as I am right now.  When it turns inward, that’s Depression.  But, like the Hulk, the fury is always present.  And the best way to trigger it is to attempt to invalidate my struggle.  Especially by telling me that if I just see things from a different angle I’ll suddenly cheer up and understand the light at the end of the tunnel.

TWLOHA is the finest example of that I’ve seen in quite a while.

“You were created to love and be loved.”  Thank you.  I know that, you really don’t need to tell me.

“You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known.”  I know that too.  The fact that you put this in a vision statement tells me that you do not understand why a person suffering from Depression pulls away from the world.  If only you remind me that I should be in a relationship with others, I’ll suddenly say “ooooh, wow, I never thought of it like that before!”  Really.  No.  People with Depression pull away from the world because of the cataclysmic lack of understanding, combined with well-meaning people who try to offer us a “perspective check”.

“You need to know that your life matters”.  My eyebrow is starting to twitch.

“We live in a difficult world, a broken world.”  And?

“My friend Byron is very smart – he says that life is hard for most people most of the time.”  Good for Byron.  If I meet him I’ll give him a gold star and a cookie.

“We believe that everyone can relate to pain, that all of us live with questions, and all of us get stuck in moments.”  That’s nice.  In return, I believe that if you have never suffered from Depression (as opposed to “depression”) you can not relate to the pain I feel, as it is utterly irrational.  It is based on a chemical imbalance in the brain that does not allow me to operate as a typical human being would.  I do not suffer from a lack of perspective.  To say that Depression is similar to being “stuck in a moment” is like telling a blind person that they just need a fresh perspective and they’ll suddenly see the colors of the rainbow.

(I’ll skip the next paragraph – I’m sure you get it by now)

“You need to know that rescue is possible, that freedom is possible, that God is still in the business of redemption.”


sugar-addicts-total-recovery-program-kathleen-desmaisons-paperback-cover-artThis is NOT a 12-step program.  If I just cast my doubts aside, my worries to the wind and believe in a power greater than my own, I’ll somehow, suddenly understand hope?  That doesn’t even work for addicts, as most of them are also caused by a chemical imbalance – EXACTLY like mental illness.  Look up “sugar addiction“.  You’ll see what I mean.

Please try to understand.  Please.  I know you’re trying hard, members of TWLOHA.  I really appreciate the effort.  But… there’s a commercial out there that has a person stranded on the side of the road.  They call for a tow truck, a pizza delivery guy shows up.  Please try to understand I do not need pizza.  You can bake the most delicious pies all day long.  They’re lovely.  They’re yummy.  But I’ve still got a flat tire.  No matter how fabulous your pie is, what I really need is a mechanic.

I do not need a “Perspective check”.  I need a doctor.

Get it?

lovePS – My partner woke up as I was editing this post.  She asked what was going on.  When she saw me turning colors she patiently sat down and listened to me read the entire post aloud.  Then she nodded and offered thoughtful suggestions about how I could make it better.  That’s how you do it folks.  That’s how you make it through the day.  She is love.   No writing of arms required.