I’ve wanted to write about this for a little while now, but have always turned back before publishing. The reason for this is because what I’m about to discuss has so much stigma surrounding it, so many misconceptions, and it’s just plain awkward to talk about. But I’m tired of the stigma. I’m tired of the misconceptions. I’m tired of it being like a dirty word.
Oh no, you think. Not that subject. Don’t wanna hear it. I’m closing out this tab and going back to watching cat videos. No, no, no. Well, if you want to watch cat videos, I can’t stop you. I can’t stop you if you want to live in denial of the existence of a serious problem. If you want to live ignorantly, if you want to shy away from knowledge of a problem that you’ll have to hear about one day, close this tab and do something else. Watch those cat videos and have a nice day. Seriously. Now’s your chance.
Still with me? Good. I can return to regularly-scheduled programming.
In January 2012, I first tried self-harm. It was probably one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. Even though I only did it once or twice, it settled in the back of my mind as a “last resort” sort of thing. I told myself it wouldn’t happen again, and it didn’t for awhile. That while lasted about eleven months.
As you may have read in my earlier post, “You aren’t the only one,” I became very anxious that summer. I couldn’t talk to people, look people in the eye, eat in public without feeling frightened…yeah, I couldn’t really do anything involving others (as much as I really wanted to help people. It was a bit of an oxymoron). The more scared I became, the sadder I became. As I spiraled downward, I looked for an emotional release. In early December 2012, I unleashed the monster I’d been keeping in a little box toward the back of my brain. I told myself that I’d do it a few times, wait for life to get better, then put it away just like I had earlier in the year.
Well, things didn’t go according to plan. Self-harm doesn’t work like that. I’d tell myself to stop, but it became harder and harder to withstand the urges. Each time I’d do it, I’d have to hurt myself more to have the same effect. That’s the thing with self-harm: at least for me, it never seemed enough. The emotional release was never real. It was like corn syrup–indulge, then feel the crash and craving for more. That’s exactly how it was. I’d promise myself “just this one time, then I’ll stop,” do it, then feel horrible until I did it again.
Then I went numb. Sounds great, right? Nope. It wasn’t. I’d started out feeling sad and dreadful all the time, so I used self-harm to numb myself. It soon became a way for me to attempt feeling. Feeling something, anything, even pain. Feelings were few and far between. Imagine being in a dark hole for a long time, and once in a while having a firefly buzz past your head. What is this? Is this a feeling? What’s happening? Then I’d just go back to the same old monotonous haze. Self-harm pretty much consumed my life. When I wasn’t doing it, I was thinking about it.
I think I started realizing it was getting really bad around early February. I was attempting to write some sort of story (it wasn’t successful, especially with how apathetic I’d become). I remember very clearly making a conscious decision not to have my main character cut herself. She’s going to be different, I thought. She will inspire me. Only a little bit into the story, my main character revealed that she was, in fact, harming herself. That’s when I realized that my problem was so bad that I couldn’t write a single piece of literature about anything but the problem. Not one single piece of literature.
I made an apathetic attempt to get help. I think my attempt was sort of like trying to lift weights while being sick. Imagine that–laying in bed, grasping a barbell, lifting it halfway off the ground, then dropping it with a kaplunk. Eventually, I started lying to the few people I’d told, telling them it was getting better. I honestly couldn’t really imagine my life without it–I mean, how else was anything supposed to be dealt with? I’d forgotten how.
So, what do you tell this spiraling girl? How do you react to this? The best thing to do is to just be there. Listen. Try to understand. Here is how NOT to react:
- “Oh, I’ve seen worse.” When I’d hear that said to me, whether about the self-harm or another issue, it was basically the same as being told that none of my problems mattered and I had no reason to feel the way I was feeling. Besides, a common misconception is that the severity of the wound reflects the depth of the problem. The two really have no correlation. The fact that someone is to the point of inflicting harm on themselves is serious enough, isn’t it? The severity of the wound is irrelevant, in my opinion.
- “Just don’t do it again.” In general, never use this phrase, whether with self-harm or anything. Hurting oneself isn’t like drawing on the wall with crayon or making a mess in the kitchen. It’s not something you can absolutely promise all at once to never do again.
- “Your life is fine, and there’s no reason to be doing this.” Is there always a reason for feeling depressed? No. Just because someone is rich, privileged, has an intact family, or all of the above doesn’t mean they can’t be going through a difficult time. Everyone goes through difficult times.
- “Stop trying to get attention.” This one really angers me. That’s not what self-harm is. Attention-seeking would be walking around screaming “hey, I cut myself! My life is horrible!” Self-harm isn’t something people really want to talk about.
- “Cover them up!” That’s telling the person that they’re to be ashamed of themselves. If that person is choosing to wear short sleeves, short pants, or short whatevers, I say good on them! That is their decision, and if it makes them feel more comfortable or more accepting of themselves, I’m all for it.
- “Show me the scars!” This one is just plain silly. Never say this. Someone once told me this, and it only made me feel more shame and anxiety over the issue.
Please, if you’re considering starting self-harm, don’t. Turn back. You don’t want to go there, trust me. While I believe that there’s hope for everyone, you don’t want to have to go through that struggle.
If you already are, I’m sorry that you’re going through that struggle. I understand how much it sucks, how hard it seems to stop. I won’t tell you to just “believe in yourself and stay strong,” but I will tell you this:
Things were pretty bad for me. It sucked…a lot. I had completely given up on everything. Hope, love, everything. One day, however, somebody in my family found out about my problem and was very hurt that I hadn’t told them. At first I was defensive, trying to justify myself, when I gave up trying to justify. I’d had enough of the lies, the numbness, and everything. That day, I was given a little ray of hope as I cried my eyes out in my living room, letting teardrops fall in puddles on a pack of colored pencils. I was crying, but it was good. It was good to feel something. Each day after that, I had to make a conscious decision every day not to hurt myself. It was hell, in a way–but a beneficial hell, a necessary hell. I was so close some days, but I forced myself not to. I’d dig my nails into a pillow, throw rocks in a stream, and often just lay on my bedroom floor and scream. Like I said, hell. But I walked through the hell, and I can go to bed proud of my accomplishment. It’s a hell that I believe everyone can walk through. Don’t ever think you’re too weak or too far gone. Don’t ever think that. You are battered and worn-out, you are hurt, but you are not a lost cause. I challenge you to go the rest of the day without harming yourself. Just try one day and focus on that day alone. Then try another. And another. If you stumble, get back up and just try another day. That’s what I had to do–just take it day by day by day by day. Tedious, hard, frustrating, even stupid-sounding at times, but so worth it.
I leave my scars uncovered now–to accept myself, to rebel against the stigma, to remind myself that if I had the determination to recover, I have the determination for anything. I hope that all of you can one day find some of the same determination within yourselves, whatever you’re struggling with.