Cutting, and the "Total Collapse of a Man"
The author of Sharp, a new self-harm memoir, tells The Fix about his cutting compulsion and his recovery.
David Fitzpatrick, 46, spent almost half his life struggling with bipolar disorder, a battle that often resulted in self-harm. During childhood, he endured regular bullying from his older brother, and things only got worse when he got to college: his roommates delighted in frequently dumping liquids on his head. In his early 20s, Fitzpatrick began cutting himself. Despite years filled with stays in psychiatric hospitals, it took almost two decades before he could resist the compulsion to self-harm. His memoir, Sharp, which comes out today, describes his struggles and injuries in graphic detail: "...I sliced quickly into my skin, repeating two or three cuts along the arm," begins one of many harrowing passages. "I started to feel a rhythm, a nice pace as I watched the blood worm out of my wounds...I saw the white line of inner skin before the blood emerged." Such sections are hard to read. But the book's message is ultimately redemptive and hopeful.
“I wanted to show the total collapse of a man,” Fitzpatrick tells The Fix. “I saw it as a real, great writer challenge.” There was an addictive quality to his ordeal. “I had to see the blood,” he says. “There was a compulsion to see the blood. I had to leave a mark. I was so filled with self-loathing that I felt like I had to do it, like I was worthless.” After years of suffering, the support of his doctors, friends and family eventually got through to Fitzpatrick and helped lift his severe depression. And things started to get better quite suddenly: he earned his MFA, got a book deal and fell in love with the woman who is now his wife. “Part of me was like, maybe I don’t have a mental illness anymore,” he says. But when the dark thoughts returned, he realized he would likely be coping with the disease throughout his life: “It’s humbling to realize that you’re still susceptible, that I was kind-of tricking myself.” Fitzpatrick has talked to others who say they find every day a struggle, but that’s not now the case for him. “I don’t feel the constant temptation,” he tells us. “Maybe we’re just at different points of getting better.”
Most of all, Fitzpatrick hopes his story will help others struggling with self-injury. “Things can get better,” he says. “There are a lot of people around you who you might not think can help, but they can. Fixate on something like a favorite book, song, or band. It’s controllable and you can have a decent life. It doesn’t have to be blood and guts and darkness.”