The Dragon lunged. Tar Beast attacked, cracking a tentacle like a whip that sent me rolling off the bed and onto the floor. I curled up into the foetal position, clutching my weapon near my chest, as the two battled above.

A sense of peace came over me as I quietly pushed up the sleeves of my flannel pyjamas. I brushed the cool metal along my arm, watching as my flesh broke out in raised bumps. Back and forth, I ran it, as I studied my arm, considering. I stopped at the fleshy part of my forearm, just before the elbow. I pressed the thin blade down, watching curiously as the skin parted. A small sting. Nothing much. Then a thin red line appeared, beading like tiny, ruby dewdrops on a spider web.

Relief poured through me, even as the sting intensified. I’d been doing this for two years – sometimes on my arms, sometimes on my thighs – and I was pretty sure nobody had noticed. Nor did I want them to know. They’d be horrified. Even Connie, who was pretty chilled about almost everything, would freak out and I couldn’t handle that. Not that we’re exactly friends, but she’s the closet to one that I have.

I wished I could be like Connie. She isn’t lazy, nor is she immune to feelings. Sure, she smiles a lot, but there are times she cries, has a bad day, gets mad at a teacher or her mom occasionally. I mean, she’s human. But when her last set of marks came out, there was only one seven. The rest were sixes and one five. I could never bring home marks like that. But she’d only shrugged. “Not like I’m going to have a career in Afrikaans, hey? The rest are good enough to go to varsity, so no worries.”

No worries. Imagine having a life like that?

I couldn’t.

My parents were the first in their families to go to university. They’re lawyers, just like Nelson Mandela was, before he went to prison then became president. Now they dream of a doctor, somebody who can work overseas and help people. “An occupation with a real purpose,” they’ve said. Then they’ll know we – as a family – have finally broken the cycle of poverty. A doctor – and this time, with me, no ‘Madam’ paid for it. Nope, it would be thanks to my parents earning their own way.

I understood.

But I can’t stand the sight of blood, unless it is my own. The thought of confessing that to my parents – impossible. The anxiety, the fear – these emotions are sweet perfume to the Tar Beast, beckoning it out of the deep muck.

There are only two things that help fight my Tar Beast: my dragon, and cutting.

The action of cutting always releases something inside me that raises my mood, as if there is a magical string connecting the pain in my soul and the pain I create in my skin. As my skin is pierced, the hurts I cannot describe are soothed. These sensations make the physical discomfort worth it.

I welcome it. I yearn for it. I had reached a point where cutting brought me more comfort than any hug. Addicting. Those red, red, beads, those thin, thin, lines. Seductive. But I know it isn’t good.

“What are you doing?” my dragon roared. Its tail snapped, sending my weapon skittering across the room.

A long black tentacle cracked, and my weapon slid back, stopping at my feet.

“Pick it up,” Tar Beast soothed.

“Don’t!” my dragon pleaded.

I reached for it.

***

Tell us: If you had a friend suffering from anxiety and depression, like Hope, would you be able to help? What could you do?