Life Out on the Street: To Write Love on Her Arms


This set-up might be familiar for some people- I did a photo like this back around spring this year. There are some major notable differences, though: there’s daylight and the avatar is not a fantasy creation. As part of “To Write Love on Her Arms” Day, I’m sharing a story I’ve avoided publicly presenting for fear of criticism and write-offs.

This is my real life story of depression, self-harm, addiction, and – yes – suicide.


Long before the incident in April ’09, I was writing on my arm. Not “love” or anything like that:

Life’s just a blast
Movin’ really fast-
Better stay on top
Or life will kick you in the ass.

And there ain’t nothin’ I can do,
‘Cause life is a lesson-
You learn it when you’re through.

These were all the lyrics I remember of Limp Bizkit’s “Take a Look Around” as I dragged a black ball point pin across my skin in my Advanced Placement English class after being scolded randomly for drawing in my notebook. Until that class and that teacher, I had always been an exemplary student; until that class and that teacher, no one had a problem with me doodling. After that student teacher scolded me, saying that I wasn’t paying attention – despite me being able to clearly remember what was being said – I… I guess you could say I fell.

The school counselors were fairly close to me, however, and took me under there care; my high school’s career counselor kept me out of that class while still doing work. My mother, however, had a lot harder time taking the news, initially being in disbelief and that I was somehow looking for attention. I don’t blame her- I always seemed to present myself as happy and successful, never complained about the harassment from my peers, and I was going through those ‘angsty’ teenage years. And understandably, she didn’t want another family member so close to her to go through that trauma again.

She eventually accepted the diagnosis, the ink washed off, and I began therapy treatment. I remained in a clinically low demeanor through January, aggravated in part by the History Channel’s Apocalypse Week around my birthday (I have a self-imposed rule about not watching anything about the end of the world now). With the acceptance phone call to my first choice college, a rush of euphoria picked me up and carried me to graduation.


The second major depressive episode I experienced occurred the spring of my freshman year. Through J-term, I began to develop an addiction to Second Life, with it’s open opportunity for free-form roleplay and expansive avatar customization in a three dimensional, multi-player realm.

And then along came Julia.

I honestly don’t care if her or any of her friends find this and read it- she made my life a living nightmare. She transformed our shared dorm room into her personal landfill- literally. There was dry macroni spilled across the floor and never cleaned up, garbage stacked and overflowing in the bins, and everyday I felt like I had less and less of my own space to live. I threw myself into my imaginary world, seeking comfort from the pain of reality I had no control over. I stopped going to class, stopped communicating with college friends… stopped washing… stopped eating…

When my mother picked me up that one weekend, I just wanted to be held. I think she still has the photos of the waste that… monstrosity of a human created. I tried to say something to the Residential Director of the hall of what the problems were, but Rudyard Kipling put it best: “Also, badly-treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of a prison-house before they are clear of it” (Kipling, Something of myself, 1935). Julia had “friends”, and after what I experienced through public schooling, the social damage she could have caused at the time might have been far worse (at least, in my mind at the time) than what I was living through then.

Once more, I went into therapy, going through two women before I found one old-school counselor that had the balls to not only shake me out of my addiction but also give me hope for the future.


Sometime after the mess with the first evil room mate (I’ve had two, and now happily pay the extra for a single room), I connected with someone that would be my real life and Second Life partner for three years. Those three years ended abruptly on March 18th; I’m not sure how he’s reasoned away things, but from reflection and the benefit of my psychological education, I’m placing my money on a severe mental and emotional break-down caused by an inability to handle stress and re-imaging how he saw himself. He persisted in remaining friends and weaving together some magical story for his new reality… And it ended up doing more harm than good.

Despite having a number of supportive individuals around me, I still felt terribly alone and absolutely worthless. I was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, and anxiety disorder in January ’09, and the ability to control my thoughts kept the spiral going. To give you an idea, consider how you can get a song stuck in your head and just seem unable to get it out. Change the song to a series of persistent thoughts that override any consciously-driven thoughts; they also occur at any time and cannot be easily controlled. This is how I live day-to-day, and that one night in April, all I could think of was how exhausted I was of everything- tired of trying, tired of going on. What was the point? What difference would my life make? I just wanted to go to sleep… for good…

I had prescription sleeping pills in my room. They were given to me back in March during the break-up when I my mind would whirl all through the night hours; when I considered myself depressed but not to the point I would kill myself. Suicide was for selfish individuals that didn’t think about how they affected other people… right?

As I looked at the bottle, I wavered in my seat. I felt amiss, uncomfortable with my surroundings. I had to get out of my room and get the pills away from me. For all the marks against the all-girl hall, it saved me that night- the hall RD took the medication away, and a number of tender-hearted souls took care of me.

I lived.

I won’t be scraping angry lyrics on my arm today; instead, I will be writing the world “love” on my arm and talking to people who ask me about it. People might not believe me, of what I’ve been through; other people may not think it’s that ‘intense’.

But it’s my story, and it’s shaped who I am. If there’s a chance I’ll reach someone, to give them at least insight, then I’ll have made an impact on the world.

~ by Terry Toland on November 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “Life Out on the Street: To Write Love on Her Arms”

  1. […] Lifestyles of the Broke and Notorious […]

  2. Thanks for Sharing TWLOHA!!!

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