Self-harm is a touchy subject. But chances are, whether you realize it or not, you know someone who self-harms. It's far too common. At least half my friends have tried it at some point, and I know people who still do.
A lot of people, especially those in generations older than my own, think that self-harm is for those too weak to get through the tough times in life. Those people look down on the ones who self-harm and see them as less than, see them as dumb kids who are incapable of handling themselves. That self-harm is for privileged white girls who don't realize how good they have it (these people should know that self-harm has no race or gender). Either that, or they see it as attention seeking behavior.
But perhaps worse than those people are the ones who think of self-harm the way it's portrayed on internet sites such as Tumblr, it's suddenly this romantic idea. A sad girl with long hair and cuts on her wrists… they make it seem like it's this great thing, this beautifully tragic thing.
Oh, and it's not. Self-harm is horribly misunderstood. Maybe that's why it's still so common. Maybe that's why people who self-harm feel so alone in their struggle.
I'm coming to you as someone who used to think self-harm was the answer. It wasn't even that long ago, really. My eighth grade year was all kinds of messed up. One day, it just got to the point that I couldn't handle it anymore.
And maybe that's why self-harm is so misunderstood. Because nobody understands how easy it is to get addicted. How easy it is to get obsessed. How easy it gets to suddenly need it like you need to breathe.
Here's the science behind it: self-harm is normally a product of depression, anxiety or both. I myself have bipolar II and anxiety. The reason for this is because when the skin gets cut, burned, scratched, etc. the brain releases endorphins to deal with the pain. The endorphins give a sense of immediate calm and relief from emotional pain. Self-harm becomes an addiction because the brain craves the relief endorphins give whenever it experiences emotional pain.
Now, you may be reading this thinking, "why in the world would someone hurt themselves and think that it would fix anything?" I used to wonder that too. There's actually a lot of reasons why people do it. Some think that they deserve the pain. Others find that they enjoy the pain. They liked the way the cuts looked. Or maybe they felt it kept them sane. Maybe they were angry at themselves. The girl I used to do therapy with said that she couldn't find any reason not to.
Most people I know who self-harm or used to did it out of self-hatred. Most of them hated their own bodies. To this I ask, what good does it do for your self-image to make your body less perfect than you already see it as being? Who thinks that a body with scars looks better than one without them?
For me, a big reason I did it was that I felt my life was out of my own control, and the self-harm was something I could control. I couldn't control what meds I took, whether or not I went to therapy, I couldn't control how I handled my problems, I couldn't control what I worried about, I couldn't even control my own thoughts.
Thing is, I didn't control the self-harm. It controlled me.
It's an addiction, no different than drugs or alcohol. The really insane part is that I'm straightedge (an alternative lifestyle in which you don't drink, smoke, or do drugs. It's essentially against addictions.) It's one of my core life principles. I couldn't see what was right in front of me: I was addicted. But, at the time, self-harm was the only thing that made me feel alright again.
Self-harm is a coping skill, it's just a really bad one.
But by the time I figured that out for myself, I had already been a mental patient, gone on a ton of different medications, undertaken months of therapy and my quality of life had gone off the deep end. Not to mention, I already had over 500 scars on my body. And now, nearly two years after I finally made the decision to end my self-destructive behavior, I still have to look at those scars every day.
This coming Saturday marks two years without self-harm. Two years. I never thought I'd get this far. It's huge, it's cause for celebration. I mean, two years ago I wanted to die and now I'm living a full and happy life. But this war is never over for me.
And, I mean, that's fine with me. I've only become a better person because of this. But I still wish I'd never picked up that razor.
So yeah, I guess I won my battle against self-harm. Does that make my scars battle scars? I've come to terms with them, but for a while they represented all of my failures. They proved that I would always be a failure. I got past that. I hold myself up and love my scars. Because they show where I've been, not where I'm going. They show what I went through, but they show that I got through it and came out the other side even stronger.
But I still think about it. Two years later, and there's times I consider going back to it. I recently talked to someone who's been clean for nine years, and she told me she still gets urges. It's not easy to quit. It's really hard. And it's nearly impossible to do alone. But yet so many people think that alone is the only way to do it. Maybe that's why they can't find the motivation to get clean. Because they think they have to do it all by themselves.
Maybe I see them as battle scars, but they brand me. When people see them, they see a psycho, a crazy girl, someone who doesn't know how to handle her own emotions. Because what sane person hurts themselves and thinks that'll improve their quality of life? It sounds crazy.
No, I'm not crazy. But I can feel people stare at them. This summer is the first summer I'll have ever worn a bikini, because my stomach, my thighs, my wrists, my biceps, all covered in scars. It's ugly. It's not "tragically beautiful." It's distracting, it makes people make assumptions about me, it brings judgment from strangers who don't even know me. It's not fun. I wish I could take it back. But I can't, so I'm doing what I can to make this work for me.
To me, the biggest way I can make this work to my advantage is to stop you from messing your life up the way I messed up mine.
Self-harm brands you for life. Reach out to the people you care about, and tell them that they're never alone. Please don't make my mistakes, or let anyone else make them.