Please note, this piece includes graphic imagery that some may find upsetting.
There are many lists, articles, conversations and every other form of communication about why you shouldn’t self-harm. If you’ve ever hurt yourself and someone found out, you’ve probably been subject to a litany of reasons.
Some people find the generic lists on the Internet extremely helpful, but I’ve never been particularly convinced when I’m in a bad place. That’s because most of these well-intentioned pieces make the assumption I believe in my own self-worth. When I want to hurt myself, I’m rarely in a state of mind that recognizes that. I suspect I’m not alone.
At this point, I’ve mostly kicked the habit of self-harm, and I want to share what’s worked for me. So here is my list — a real list — of honest to God reasons I’ve stopped.
1. Hiding scars
Dealing with mental illness is fairly exhausting, partly due to all the extra things you have to think about on a daily basis. When you cut yourself or hurt yourself in any other way, it tends to leave a mark or a scar. Generally, you’re going to have to cover up them up. Speaking from experience, this is a huge pain in the butt. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s scary. What if I reach up to get something at work and my shirt rides up? There are scars there. What if someone sees? Would my job be in jeopardy?
I find myself deeply worried about summertime. Can I ever wear clothes I’m actually cool enough in if I have to cover my legs? Can I ever go swimming again? What if I trigger someone else with my own body? I can’t wear many of the clothes I used to love, and it is expensive to buy a new wardrobe that covers all the potential danger sites. When you’re about to pull out the razor — think. One action could mean months of exhausting thought and careful covering to make sure you never expose yourself.
2. It’s a serious mess.
I’ll admit it’s a smaller reason, but this one sticks with me. While I can’t speak for other forms of self-harm, cutting is messy. Blood gets everywhere. It gets on everything. Unless you have a serious supply of bandages, it’s nearly impossible to get things to stop bleeding when you want to move on with your life and do other things. That means ruined clothing, ruined bedsheets, blood on your computer or blood on your books and notebooks. There is really no experience in my life that has felt more disgusting than going to bed on blood-stained sheets. When I’ve made it past the overwhelming emotion and my safe places have been literally stained with blood, it’s a special feeling of disgust I can’t shake. It’s fairly horrible. Your actions now do have effects later on.
3. The day after.
Speaking of residual effects, let’s talk about what it feels like to wake up the day after you’ve hurt yourself. When you’re in the moment, the pain is often the point. It serves a purpose. But the next morning you try to get out of bed and your body burns. You shower and the cuts hurt like hell. You go about your daily life, but little things remind you your body is mad at you. You try to work out and the cuts say “No, no, no!” The pain isn’t sexy anymore. It’s not doing anything. It’s just making you miserable.
4. Your loved ones.
Some time ago while I wasn’t doing well, my boyfriend did something I’ll never forget. We were talking about how my self-harm felt to him, and he went to the freezer and took out the ice. He filled a bowl with ice water and then stuck his hand in. If you’ve never done this, it hurts. I asked him what he was doing and he didn’t answer. He just left his hand there. I could see the pain on his face. I got agitated telling him to stop, asking why he was doing it, desperately trying to pull his hand out of the bowl of ice water as his face contorted further and further. I didn’t understand why he was doing something so pointless, and it was hurting me to watch him in pain.
Finally he pulled his hand out. I was on the verge of tears. He looked at me and said, “That’s what it feels like when you cut.”
Maybe it doesn’t make sense that it hurts other people when we hurt ourselves, but we can’t deny that it does. We may want to tell ourselves our self-harm is between us and the razor blade, but that’s simply false — it has an impact on other people, too. If you can’t prioritize your own health and safety, prioritize the people in your life you’re hurting.
5. So much wasted energy.
Self-harm takes a lot of emotional energy. It takes time. I often did it at night when I was feeling like crap or when I was finally alone. It cuts into time we could be rejuvenating ourselves, sleeping and resting. Lately when I feel emotionally overwhelmed or in a place where I might have cut in the past, I look at the razor blade and think of how exhausted I’ll be after I force myself through the whole production. I think of how miserable work will be the next day after having denied myself the opportunity to rest. Just the thought of dragging my drained body out of bed in the morning is sometimes enough to stop me.
6. It limits your life.
There are many things I’ve chosen not to do because of cutting, and there are many things I haven’t been able to do because of cutting. More often than not, they’re completely unrelated to my mental health. I love to swim, and I’ve had to cut it out of my life for decent chunks of time thanks to the open cuts I had. If the attire required for an activity is at all revealing, I’m out. I’ve avoided rock climbing because the harness bit into my cuts. You don’t think about all the little ways you’ll be limited when you’re hiding your body and hurting, but it will damage your life in unexpected ways.
7. It stops working.
No one self-harms for no reason. It does something for each of us. We wouldn’t do it otherwise. But, it’s not an effective long-term strategy. From my experience, after a while, you need to do more and more to get the same effects. And eventually, it stops working completely. No matter how long you endure it, it won’t make things right.
8. The itching.
Yes, one of my biggest reasons to stop cutting is that it itches like hell. I can’t explain it to people who don’t have scarring across their bodies, but every day I find myself trying to rip off my skin because it itches so badly. I have scars on my stomach, and sometimes I wish something would just break it open — crawl out alien-style — because even that would be better than the constant, almost painful itching. Seriously. Nothing is worth that. Some of the scars that make me itch like that are years old. I don’t know if the itching will ever stop. Imagine the rest of your life plagued by neverending itches. This is hell. Don’t do it to yourself. Choose the happier option. Don’t cut.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.