Garbage singer Shirley Manson has penned a new op-ed titled “The First Time I Cut Myself” for the New York Times. The deeply personal write-up recounts the first time she used a knife to cut herself as well as her recurring struggle with self-harm.
According to the alt-rock veteran, she was in her late teens, tangled up in an unhealthy relationship and dealing with depression when thoughts about cutting began to surface:
“I was acutely aware of the attention I attracted, but I was entirely uninterested in anyone who was ever interested in me. I wanted someone I couldn’t have and was otherwise completely paralyzed. I had a desire to speak but could not find my voice. I wanted to change the world for girls like me, girls who didn’t fit in or want to conform, but I didn’t know how or where to start.
And all of it drove me mad with rage.”
When Manson finally did take a penknife to her ankle, she described the aftermath as feeling “untouchable and powerful. I was a woman in charge.” She added: “More than that, I felt a warm surge of comfort and relief. Relief from the rage. A relief from the powerlessness. Something had happened that didn’t feel right, and here were lines of my blood to bear witness to it and speak of it on my behalf.”
Looking back on that first time, Manson recalled the dangerous position it put her in. “The problem of course with any practice of self-harm is that once you choose to indulge in it, you get better, more efficient, at it. I started to hurt myself more regularly. The cuts got deeper. I hid the scars under my stockings and never breathed a word about it to anyone,” she explained.
With the ending of her toxic relationship and the beginning of a more loving one, Manson said the thoughts of self-harm subsided temporarily. However, they eventually crept into her mind again around the release of Garbage’s second album, 1998’s Version 2.0, when she was thrust back into the public eye.
“I was suffering from extreme ‘impostor syndrome,’ constantly measuring myself against my peers, sincerely believing that they had gotten everything right and I had gotten everything so very wrong,” Manson said. She described the impulse to cut at that time “as compelling as it had ever been.”
“Mercifully”, Manson said, she was able to get through that period of time without cutting. “I managed to resist the compulsion to harm myself again. I muscled my way through the frustrations, the sick, unhealthy comparisons and the peculiar, destructive feelings that drove me to believe I wasn’t enough.”
Nowadays, she remains “vigilant” about those thought spirals that would lead her to self-harm. To keep herself in a healthy mindset, she said she holds fast to the following:
“I vow to hold my ground. I choose to speak up. I attempt to be kind, not only to myself but also to other people. I surround myself with those who treat me well. I strive to be creative and determine to do things that make me happy. I believe it is not what we look like that is important, but who we are. It is how we choose to move through this bewildering world of ours that truly matters.
Read her full op-ed here.
Garbage’s last album, Strange Little Birds, came out in 2016.
Revisit Manson’s recent appearance on This Must Be the Gig: