Elvis Mella is a systems engineer for an accounting firm in Miami, FL. We also went to high school together. He was 32 when I interviewed him on January 4, 2014.
TRIGGER WARNING: Self-injury
I moved down here to Miami in '92, which was pretty much the hardest part of my life. I moved down when I was 12, and it was pretty difficult because I didn't know anyone. Before I even hit high school, I was that one kid who was always sitting in a corner, just chilling. It was hard to make friends and whatnot, but I made a couple.
At the same time, it was kind of hard because my family wasn't understanding how I was. I wanted to move out and go back to New York because I just couldn't stand it. [I had] that going on, and I had some personal issues with my family. My father was a little bit on the abusive side—not a little, but a lot. I was dealing with that.
By the time I hit high school, it was easy to be that one guy who was always quiet and reserved, but I was the opposite. I was trying to be loud and obnoxious. I felt that was a way to get across, which is not that bad. I had a pretty good set of friends.
I've always been depressed, since I was little. As a matter of fact, I got diagnosed. I was diagnosed with manic depression when I was five. My father passed when I was five, and the doctor always said that's why I was quiet and reserved. I always got depression issues, so I've always been that one kid that's always been—it's easy for me to get sad about stuff.
I gotta admit, by the time I turned twelve and we did that move, it really took a toll. I left my first girlfriend and I left every single friend and my family, because the way my family worked was—we all lived together. My aunts and uncles, we all lived in the one spot. We lived in north Bergen, New Jersey. Where we lived, the best way to explain it, it was a neighborhood community where everybody knew who everyone was, so say, for instance, you got in trouble. You pretty much got beat by every single parent before you reached your parents.
By the time you got to your parents they looked at you like, "I'm not even going to bother touching you! You looked you've already took a whooping before we even got to you."
You were friends with everyone. That whole block you were friends with everyone.
It's different. Miami in ‘92 was not like that. I remember when I moved in, it took me almost a year before I made a friend. Then I made [a couple of friends] and that seemed to be really, really cool, but I've always been that loner, still sad and by myself.
I used to write a lot of poetry because, I mean, the first honest time things started really going down for me was probably when I first hit high school. At that point I really didn't know what to do. I came out of middle school with a couple of friends, but because of how we, I guess this is way Miami was segregating the schools…
Des: The zoning.
Elvis: The zoning. Most of the kids went to Sunset. My friends went to Sunset and I ended up going to Killian.
Des: Yeah, we all lost a lot of friends. It sucked.
Elvis: Right. The zone kind of threw everyone off, so I felt like I was restarting from scratch. Restarting's always tough.
Going through the problems of being a dad to my sister because my father—my step-father—didn't really try to be a parent. [How] he worked was, if his older son or daughter did something bad, since they lived in New York, he would just take it out on us. We'd get beat up just because he was already frantic. That was the easiest way to do it. You can't beat them up, they're too far away for him to do that. That made it harder for me to even want to speak my mind, because how are you going to go be open with anyone when you're afraid of the repercussions?
I remember I used to do a lot of pot back then because of it, just to numb it out. My mom honestly didn't know anything until I was 22. I got out of college and I told her that I used to do it. She didn't even know I cut myself until then. I didn't explain anything to her until after the fact.
I had amazing friends who kept it quiet. The ones who knew me knew I didn't want anyone to know, so I would get high tons with my friends... Before the day started, I used to meet up with them and get sparked up and things like that. That was my way of basically numbing out. You know, because I didn't want to deal with anything.
None of that was easy for me, even though I was such a tall, big kid. Being obese, you get picked on like there's no tomorrow—not to mention, let's add the insult to injury, I'm always in marching band, which is dorky for kids back then, so now I'm getting picked on twice. I'm getting picked on because I’m playing cheap marching band music and I happen to be tall and fat.
Des: And those kids in marching band were just as relentless as anyone else.
Elvis: Kids in marching band...
Des: Were evil!
Elvis: You had it split. It was kind of weird. You had jocks in marching band, and that made no sense to me. How do you pick on kids inside that whole entire element? A group of marching band kids that were [also] part of jazz band just thought they were the coolest ever, so they picked on everybody else. I was part of the jazz band and I never picked on anyone. I was the one that was getting picked on because I was hanging out with those ones that were always getting picked on that weren't in jazz band. I remember when that happened to me, I sat there confused. It doesn't make any sense.
I finally met [another friend] and we started—he asked me to join the ska band, and we did that. When he finally asked me to do that, we were playing ska music, I was getting picked on even more then. Now I’m part of the punk group that sounds like fun, you know? I can't even win anymore.
When I first actually started cutting was because I really couldn't... besides taking all that anguish and shit, I came back from New York and I had skipped grades because I guess the school system here was bad, worse than up there? So, they skipped me a couple of grades and then I started to fail because I wasn't that bright to handle that. I actually got diagnosed with ADHD around 22 so, at that time, my parents didn't believe in ADHD.
To them, they were like, "You're just stupid! Get your act together or I'm gonna hit you in the back of your head!"
So, failing and everything, I started really just... it was my only way to numb myself out, because I had to sit there and take care of my sister. I was her dad, so I interviewed her boyfriends.
Imagine being sixteen and you barely are dating anyone and you're going, "If you touch her, I'll kill you!"
They look at you like, "Fuck, you're not serious!"
I'm serious. I felt like I was growing up so damned fast, while everyone else was able to take their time.
I think the worst moment for me—when I realized things were getting bad—was when I got into an argument with my father, and he just freaking beat me and then tossed me out of the house. At that point, I had this hiding spot across the street from the middle school, and that's where I'd spend my time. My manic depression was really kicking in. I don't know if you're ever seen someone get bad when they're in their depression stage. You've experienced "the huddle," right? It's what I like to call "the huddle." You’re sitting there, cross-legged, rocking back and forth, and shaking. From that point, I actually tried to cut my arm... I remember when I did that, it was like I didn't give a flying fuck anymore, I just wanted out. I’d realized that between that and smoking too much pot, I just didn't give a shit. I was finally getting to that point where I was just numbing it and I was trying to take any way I could do it, whether it be being pain-free from it by putting pain in me, or smoking and laughing around, it was the only way around it.
Most of the shit that I did—like lyric writing and everything, when we wrote that album, we wrote a couple of songs and everything—for me, that was my only escape. By the time we started playing shows, I used that as more of an escape then. Then also when we did Warped Tour, we did a couple major gigs, and I was drunk through all of them. I don’t remember any of them. Just because I was numbing. I remember them by pictures of them.
I got a lot of the photos and I'm looking at myself like, "Whoa, I look sort of fat and sloshed!"
I have a photo that literally looks like I’m completely effed up. You can just see it. I had this whole set—there's a video tape of the last band that I was with and I was still massively drinking at that time—and you can even see it. I was just gone. I was completely wasted.
Des: When was your first attempt?
Elvis: First attempt was when I was thirteen. It was actually in my room back then. I was really depressed and I had just gotten into a scuffle with my parents. I had actually gotten into a fight with somebody, so I got beat for it. I hated everything, especially since I didn't start the fight, I just finished it. I actually just was going through so much. I had literally failed like four tests that week and things were just getting so bad. I didn't even fully attempt, I cut myself on my knee, but it felt good. This thing felt good, so I did it again and again. I always used my left knee as my main spot. That's the place where I still have the scar because, of course, when you keep doing it...
Des: Over the course of however many years...
Elvis: Exactly. You keep adding to them, and they just keep growing. It was really the first time I started to cut. Then, when I was fourteen, that was my first attempt, you know, like really trying. I had had it. I don't know what possesses people to be dicks. I forgave my father, but I'll never understand his positioning as to why he did it.
My mom was like, "Oh it's because when he was young he used to get... that happened."
I was thrown down a flight of stairs. I'm thinking to myself, “Did his father throw him down a flight of stairs?” That flight of stairs had to have sucked because I know it sucked for me.
Not only that, just dealing with people in general. I think it's cool that people are trying to protect kids from being bullied now even though I still also have a belief that the bullying has to be... there are some people that are getting bullied that are not actually getting bullied [but whose experiences are being reflected in the stats]. We're being overly sensitive.
There's certain bullying that I can say, “Yes, that's right, I can understand that feeling,” but then there's certain bullying where even the kid looks at the situation and doesn't feel they're really getting bullied, but their parents just take it to the extreme.
Des: Right. Bullying is trendy right now. [ed. note: in the media]
Elvis: Exactly. That's exactly the best way to put it. It's trendy. So we have to be PC and go over the top with it. Oh boy. The things that I went through, getting pushed around and being insulted all the time, I can see kids getting protected from that. Can you imagine if we had Twitter back then? I don't even want to think about it.
Des: Those poor children.
Elvis: I look at it now... if I would have had Twitter and if I would have seen the shit written about me then? I would have been ...
Des: It's a totally different culture now, and anonymity makes it even worse.
Elvis: Yeah, 'cause you can completely hide and just bully someone to death because of it.
Des: It's terrible.
Elvis: That's why, honestly, it kind of makes [my experiences] just seem ignorant, you know? My bullying issues and the way I attempted suicide, makes it seems ignorant.
I remember, when I was 16, we went to a party and I was taking every single type of pill that was given to me, I was just trying to go. I literally had popped like way over my amount, and all I got was my stomach pumped and me throwing up. And I did it over the most... now it seems to me like the most asinine thing. A girl cheated on me with like two other people, and it just happened that I found out that day. We had played a show at a house party. It was her birthday, so now you're adding more fuel to the fire, and here I am trying to bawl my tears out in a freaking bathroom. I realize I have pills and shit, just pop 'em in.
That's what happens every single time when I've done it. I feel like I'm so alone. I'm in this place where nobody can fucking hear me. I think that's where your biggest problem is when you do do it. At least for me. Every time I've done it, I just feel like I'm trapped in this box and nobody can say a fucking word to me about it.
That's why I think [my experiences are] so asinine. To see these kids doing it now, the first thing I think is that they have more reason to, even though they shouldn't [do it]... I can actually try to reason with [why] they do it.
Especially knowing, I'm like, "Fuck, I don't want to do them to do it..." I sit there and I can definitely see why [they would think about it].
Des: Absolutely. You can see why, but they're just kids. If they had a little more support...
Elvis: Yeah but, at the same time, what's the level of support? A parent almost has to be monitoring and trying to block them from that whole scenario before it even happens.
Des: Yeah. I have two teenage brothers and my parents know all of their passwords. I don't know how you can protect it. We were bullied, but it wasn't the same.
Elvis: It wasn't like that.
Des: Then, that was as awful as it could get. It's just a different culture now.
Elvis: Yeah. The furthest it would even get is you got punched in the face and people spit on you and things like that. Now they actually can get psychological with you. It's like psychological warfare. [They] get on Twitter and just start cussing someone out.
Des: They still did that then. I remember notes left in my lockers by band kids. All of my bullying was from band kids.
Elvis: You got bullied by band kids? Really?
Elvis: I didn't know that.
Des: It sucked. One time, one of those kids told me I should just go kill myself. [It was] the fact that I was gay, or figuring it out, and I guess people started to notice, because I was dating another girl from band. It was this constant, "You can't be gay," or, "You're wrong, blah blah blah." When her mom finally did find out at her graduation party, she threatened to kill me. It was terrible.
Elvis: I had that happen, people tell me to go kill myself.
Des: Yeah! It's like, "Why would you say something like that?"
Elvis: You know what? It honestly didn't affect me, but maybe it's because I was high. It didn't! This is how bad it really was. I was depressed as shit, and it got so bad for me that I started to, literally, pot was basically my safety valve. It was that one space that kept me numb. I was smoking, I was getting high in drivers ed. People would be driving and I'd be the one kid in the corner with my friend, fucking sparking it.
I think there was only one teacher that really did save me a lot... who knew I was cutting, and that was Coach Barnett. He was my history teacher.
Des: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember him.
Elvis: The good part was he never verbalized it, he left it alone. But if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have gotten through high school because literally I went to him. It was just easy. I was failing class. I'd go to him because he was gonna chill me out.
Des: You were 13 when you started cutting. What made you think of it? How did the idea to hurt yourself in that way come to you?
Elvis: I didn't even think about it. I just wanted to hurt myself... I was so young and I remember I couldn't figure out why, you know, what to do. I wanted to stop crying. That really was when things were getting like that. I sat there and I was crying that night, and I couldn’t stop, and I mean, couldn't. I was in a complete panic attack moment. I remember I went to the kitchen and I grabbed the knife and closed the door. The way my room was back then, I wasn't able to lock the door because my parents were smart about it. They reversed it. I took the knife and I locked the door like that. That's when—the door was locked—I was just holding the knife there and sitting down crying, and just started picking at my knee. When I saw that I had sliced it a little bit, I kept doing it some more. I realized I stopped crying and I was more concentrating on that. I probably would have done the exact same thing if I was writing or something, but I wasn't thinking, I was just doing what came first to mind.
Des: Do you consider cutting to be a suicidal act?
Elvis: No, I think it's like just a pain escape. I think there's cutting because you're really trying to attempt, and then there's cutting because you're just in so much pain that you don't know what to do with it. But I also believe that they're kind of linked because, if you don't stop, there's a chance that you'll get to there. I think that's where the problem is. When people who do cut don't think about it that way. I'm not sure if I’m the only one who treats it that way. At least, that's my opinion. I feel like it's not a suicidal act until you've actually gone to that point where you take it to the artery that you know will cause the damage.
Des: People don’t really talk about guys cutting themselves. What do you think that's about?
Elvis: Masculinity. Guys and girls are completely different.
My father used to call me a girl so many times because I cried or whatever. I didn't take to certain things that he liked. It's just a masculine thing. Guys don't want to talk about cutting. It's the same reason why it might be harder for a man to come out to a father than a woman to come out. I'm not sure. The only reason I'm not sure is that I'm not gay and can't make that statement.
Des: I would believe that.
Elvis: Fathers believe you gotta man up! Here's the best way to explain it: Men are not allowed to be vulnerable... It's okay for a woman to show vulnerability, right? One of my favorite authors, Brené Brown—which is why I'm learning a lot about it, about vulnerability—one of her statements was that even women don't want to see men as vulnerable because, God forbid, you're supposed to be the caretaker, the provider. If he shows vulnerability, then that shows there's a weak side in him. I think that's why people don't talk about it with men. That's why it's harder for men to come out, and say, “I did this,” or “I did that,” because what are we doing? We're opening our floodgate. We're not protecting our masculinity, we're dropping it.
Des: I've heard people say that it's easier to hide the fact that they self-injure in things like fighting, or…
Elvis: Oh, because they got into a fight or something like that?
Des: Yeah, but intentionally starting fights because they wanted to hurt themselves.
Elvis: I could see that. I was never the person to fight, that's one thing. I always got beat up. If I got into a fight, it was because I was trying to protect myself, but I could see somebody wanting to hurt themselves by getting into a fight. Picking a bigger person—"I'll pick a fight with them and get beat up in response, so I don't feel any more pain."
I think it's because it could be two psychological reasons. One, because they see it as the easiest way out, and hope, "Okay, if I get beat up it'll just go away."
Or, two, if they cut themselves or do something else physically to themselves, they're showing a sign of weakness that they can't even handle if faced with themselves.
Des: Why did you decide to do the project?
Elvis: I decided to do the project because I thought it was cool idea. I like the idea of people knowing that they're not the only one. There's a lot of people out there that have been through this, you know? My friend's son [has been feeling suicidal, and] I want him to be able to see that there's a group of people that understand your pain. You're not the only one. I think that's the reason why we did it in the first place. Felt we're alone and nobody could understand us and nobody freaking cares to even bother to take a look at us, so that's why we did it. I know that's why I thought I did it.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
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