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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been depressed for years, and at times I cut myself. My mother sent me to counseling, but it didn't help much.

For a while, I was more or less happy. I had my boyfriend, school wasn't too much of a problem, and I was having fun. But lately, I've felt really stressed and depressed, and I got back into my old habits.

Unfortunately, I cut myself in front of my boyfriend. He got mad and left. He said: "You act like a crazy person. You apologize, but you never change. You never mean anything you say. To heck with this!"

I seriously considered suicide. The urge was so strong it scared me, so I took my razors and threw them away. Then I called a friend who's having similar problems, and we talked. She helped me realize that maybe I hurt myself for attention or pity, and I can control acting like that. She said my boyfriend really loves me, and if I cut myself I'm cutting him -- and her. Later it occurred to me that I was a little mad at him, and maybe I do this to myself to get back at other people, too.

I don't want to lose anyone (myself included) over this stupid drama. I want to stop hurting everyone and deal with my feelings, whatever they are, in a healthier way. Psychologists haven't helped, but I need something to keep my head on straight. How can I change for good? How do I change my whole way of thinking? I know I need to -- I just don't know how. -- WANTS TO STOP IN DENVER

DEAR WANTS TO STOP: You are asking intelligent questions. To me, they indicate that you are ready to be completely honest and accept the help you so desperately need. When people hurt so badly inside that they inflict pain upon themselves to distract themselves, they need more help than a layperson can give them. It's time to consult a licensed medical professional.

I don't know why your sessions with the psychologist weren't helpful. Perhaps you weren't seeing the right person or you weren't ready. Now that you are, ask your doctor for a referral -- preferably to someone with experience with cutters. You may need medication to help maintain your chemical balance, but it's important to talk out your need to hurt others by turning your anger on yourself. Once you fully understand it, you'll have a better chance of controlling the impulse.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 23-year-old woman who needs advice on how to find female friends. My family moved a lot when I was a child. By the time we settled down, I was in high school and realized to my dismay that it was too late. The other girls already had friends and social groups and weren't looking for more.

The same was true when I went to college and met my roommates. I'm out of school now and haven't had a female friend in years. It can be very lonely. Where can I meet women my age who still want to make new friends? -- FRIEND-CHALLENGED IN GLENDALE, CALIF.

DEAR FRIEND-CHALLENGED: Select an activity you enjoy -- or think you would like to learn about -- and pursue that interest. Some suggestions that come to mind would be to join a gym where you'll meet other young women, or special-interest groups such as cooking, sewing, knitting, quilting or scrapbooking. And, of course, there is always that old standby: volunteering for a charity or cause. You will always find interesting women involved in volunteer work. Give it a try.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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