Life in First Person: Kenidra Woods
*Content warning: This essay is about recovery from self-mutilation and contains references to sexual abuse.
Text: Kenidra Woods
In life we never know what paths we may cross or the storms we may encounter. I certainly never thought that at 18 years old I would be a voice for suicide and self-harm prevention, and ending the stigmas surrounding mental health. I consider myself a courageous leader not only because I give so much of myself to the world, but because I made a decision to turn my pain into power. Through that power I found my God-given purpose. Most importantly, I kept hope alive!
From age 7 to about 9 years old, I was sexually abused by my step dad and a family friend. The thought of my family being destroyed hit me like a ton of bricks, so I remained silent for eight whole years. It was a painful silence. But in sixth grade, I began to harm myself in odd ways, such as poking stick tacks and staples into my skin, banging my head on whatever I could, burning myself, or giving myself a black eye. I'd bust my lip purposely, and sometimes I would even whip myself with belts. Harming myself was the only time I could focus on physical pain and not having to deal with the seemingly endless flashbacks of the horrific abuse that haunted me daily. In seventh grade, I began to use razors to cut myself. It started with the front of my wrist. It progressed rapidly to the other side of my wrist, then my neck, and eventually my ankles. It became an addiction. I craved it 24/7. The more I did it, the less I felt human. That's how I wanted to feel. I became a fragile living statue. My heart was cold and blue, my mind was gone, and my soul felt like it had been tarnished. But somehow I was still alive.
After a while, self -harm wasn't enough. I wanted to rid myself completely of the pain I was feeling. I planned and attempted suicide many times. I felt embarrassed and unwilling to seek help because society had taught me that young black women are strong and they can't show any signs of weakness. In the black community, mental health is prohibited and a Band-Aid is put on the real issue by using religion. I've heard most black people tell me to pray about it, as if they knew the extent of my pain. But by this time, I'd been hospitalized, and after months of evaluation, I was diagnosed with mood disorder and depression. I went home still feeling like a psycho, miserable, bitter, and defeated.
My last suicide attempt changed my life forever. I was 15, and I'd written a suicide letter which read, "Today is the day that I'm going to take my life by splitting my wrist and drinking bleach. I'll finally be at peace and so will the world...are you guys happy now?" Immediately after writing that letter I put it under my pillow, and I remember taking the razor apart as fast I could to hurry up and end my life before anyone could come into my room. I began to cut my wrist, but there was no satisfaction. In frustration, I began cutting deep into both of my thighs. Suddenly I felt weak and faint, and my vision began to blur. The bleeding seemed unstoppable. I looked down at the floor and all I could see was the pool of blood around me. The red pool left me in shock, the smell of iron sickened me. I leaned up against the wall, my energy level dropped so much that I couldn’t crawl out of the room to get the bleach.
Suddenly my twin sister came into the room to start a conversation with me. She saw my legs covered in blood and the red pool that followed. I took a quick look up at her, and hung my head down in shame. She opened her mouth in awe and ran out of the room as fast as she could to get my mom, "MAMA!!!!" she screamed. That scream was a different kind of scream. It was a scream of worry and trepidation. My mom ran into my room as quickly as she could, and was terrified. Not just by the bloody scene, but the fact that it was her child covered in an unbelievable amount of blood. "Why, Kenidra baby, why???" she said, pained. I couldn't really say anything because I felt embarrassed that I didn't complete the attempt. I'd forgotten the bleach beforehand. The rest of my siblings had come into my room to see what all the loud noise was about. The looks of worry, shock, and hurt on their faces left me heartbroken. At that moment something came over me. It was a spirit of peace. My mom cleaned me up and stopped the bleeding from the deepest cut, which was closest to an artery. I soon found out that was where most of the blood was coming from. I'd lost a lot of blood that day, but I was still alive.
That day changed my whole perspective on life. It was a wake-up call and a turning point. I realized that it wasn't my time to go. There were still missions that I had to accomplish. I didn't want to leave the people I truly loved and cared about. I just wanted to be at peace. I also realized that my family meant more to me than my wanting to die. If it weren’t for my twin sister and mom taking action the way they did, I don't know if I would've survived. From that day on, I knew in my heart that I was going to put self-harm and self-doubt behind me. I didn't know exactly who I was and my true value and worth at that moment, but I did know that I was more than what I had gone through.
Recovery seemed so slow and uncertain. I had a therapist and counselor who helped me through a lot and were always patient— recovery wasn't going to happen overnight. They were there until I got through the 'rough patch.' At school I couldn't attend regular classes. I had to stay in the office where everyone could see me. Self-harm was so frequent and it was vital that I not be alone.
Now that I am on medication, I feel more balanced out and at ease mentally. Some days are more challenging than others, but I get through it because I know that my mental diagnoses are a part of me but they don't define me.
Through this tough milestone in life is where I began the C.H.E.E.T.A.H Movement, which stands for Confidence, Harmony, Enlightenment, Encouragement, Tranquility, Awareness, and Hope. The overall mission is to inspire, save and change lives. It helped to show that I am not alone, and neither are others who are sharing their stories of suffering. It has helped me realize my own strength and that there's more to life than self-harm and wanting to die.
If you feel you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text STEVE to 741741, the Crisis Text Line, to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.