Rock singer Shirley Manson wrote a deeply revealing personal essay this week for The New York Times in which she confronted her history of self-harm. Manson, 51, is the lead singer for the alternative rock band Garbage, which shot to prominence in the 1990s and has just reissued its iconic 1998 album Version 2.0.
She sets the scene in the mid-’80s, Edinburgh, Scotland, and describes the perfect storm of depression, drug and alcohol use and a poisonous relationship that manifested in her resorting to cutting herself. Back then, she points out, there was virtually nothing to help her understand the “secret that was mine to keep.” Manson was in her late teens, and didn’t even have the proper terminology to describe that secret had she wanted to share it.
“There were no support groups for people like me or any progressive, sympathetic op-ed pieces about the practice of cutting in my local newspaper,” she writes. “It was something I came to naturally, privately, covertly. I didn’t tell a soul about it.”
The origins of her cutting, she writes, can be traced back to a bad relationship she was in at the time with a misogynistic man. “He was tall and handsome and harbored some serious, unresolved anger issues toward women,” Manson recalls. “I should have run for the hills, but I didn’t.”
“I grew to loathe him for his selfish sexism, but I continued to sleep with him anyway,” she writes, revealing that he refused to wear a condom simply because, as a male, he knew he was unable to become pregnant. He left it to Manson to figure out birth control. This was just a microcosm of the disposable way in which he treated her. He cheated on her, repeatedly. Yet she stayed with him, turning the rage that grew out of his coldness inward.
Eventually, a fight the two had that dragged on and escalated led to her first cutting experience.
“In a moment of utter exasperation, I reached across for my little silver penknife, pulled it from the lace of my shoe and ran the tiny blade across the skin of one ankle.
It didn’t hurt.
I did it again.
And then I did it again.
I looked dispassionately at the three thin red lines I had made and watched as tiny little bubbles of my blood oozed to the surface,” Manson writes.
She goes on detail how the cutting worsened: “The cuts got deeper. I hid the scars under my stockings and never breathed a word about it to anyone.” But, she noted, after finally escaping the toxic relationship, a later relationship that was loving and healthy gave her the space to leave the cutting behind. That’s not to say she doesn’t struggle with the urge to harm herself all these years later. Even as her band was touring to support its hit 1998 album, Version 2.0, she found herself struggling again.
But now when the urges bubble to the surface, Manson writes that she has some tools at her disposal to ward them off. Part of keeping those old thought patterns at bay involves repeating a mantra to herself, and another part involves consulting the lyrics to one of her favorite poems.
Read the full essay at The New York Times.