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When Self-Harm Is Invisible

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

When many people hear the term “self-harm,” they may instantly think of cutting. They likely think of scars and bruises covering the body, signs that would unmistakably mark a person as a “self-harmer.”

But self-harm can come in all kinds of forms, and not nearly all of them are visible. It can mean starving yourself, refusing to give your body the nutrition it needs. Or exercising excessively until your whole body aches without giving it a much-needed break. It can also mean getting yourself in dangerous situations on purpose.

For me, it often means taking a walk through the beautiful, snow-covered neighborhood in deepest winter — without a jacket. And maybe pressing my skin against the snow until I can’t feel my fingers anymore and my whole body goes numb from the cold. Or sitting in the shower with icy cold water pouring down on me causing the same effect.

It can even be more subtle, not targeting your body but your mind, and eventually your soul. Sometimes it means cutting contact from your family and friends, not allowing yourself the company of your loved ones. Or backing out of things you looked forward to just to sit at home instead and tell yourself how worthless you are and that you don’t deserve to have fun.

The scars on my wrists only show an insignificantly small amount of the harm I have done to myself over years and years. I stopped cutting myself four years ago. And that is when people think I stopped self-harming. But I never did.

Just because someone doesn’t have scars, bruises or burns all over their body doesn’t mean they’re OK. And not everyone who harms him or herself may even know they’re doing it, because they may not be aware what they do is considered “self-harm.”

The truth is, everything you do that harms yourself, body or soul, no matter how subtle, is self-harm. Knowing and identifying that might be the first step in learning to stop.

Image via Contributor.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Why I'm Offering Myself Patience This Year as Someone Who Self-Harms

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Everyone tries to improve themselves in some way during the new year, right? I have made numerous New Year’s resolutions that just haven’t been successful at all. So this year I’ve decided to take a different approach.

My mental and physical illnesses have played havoc on my strength. This year I am offering myself patience, patience to learn how to properly manage my illness and triggers. I find when I relapse I become extremely frustrated and give up on getting any better.

In 2017, I will offer myself kindness and love whenever I experience a bad day or a self-harm relapse. I will remind myself that my experiences and illnesses have not made me weak, but rather stronger. Without my hardships, I wouldn’t have grown to become the person I am today. I will trust in the plans God has for me and understand when something bad happens or doesn’t work out.

I offer myself time to heal and to learn coping mechanisms that are healthy. I will remind myself small stressors are not worth too much energy. I will not be able to love myself fully, but I will learn to love myself, wholeheartedly, eventually. This is just the beginning of my journey.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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What It's Like to Battle the Urge to Self-Harm

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Please be warned that this piece is a raw and accurate account of what goes through my mind when I want to self-harm, and may be confronting for others who can relate.

For a while, I have been able to subside my craving to harm myself, but it is never easy. My cravings are just as strong as they used to be. I have just learned how to fight them, not always successfully, but for now, it gets me by.

I can feel my cravings start. It happens when I disappear into my mind and I find myself staring at my wrists or my legs, staring at my fading scars, remembering how much they were “deserved” and how satisfying it was.

It’s a burning sensation when you feel all of the blood in your veins heat up, and you feel like you need to release the pressure from underneath your skin. When the depressive thoughts slip into your mind, turning your world black, you need the distraction. So you focus on the feeling of what it would feel like. You can’t let yourself slip back into your darkness. So you find anything else you can focus your attention on. Anything other than the way you feel, the way you feel the need to be punished for all of the things you have done over your lifetime, for selfishly stealing the air you breathe.

Every vein in your body is screaming to be released. It’s itching for the pain your wrists once felt. They need it. You need it. Scratching and slapping just won’t satisfy. You end up hitting your temple with the ball of your pain, pleading for the burn to leave, for the light to come back in. You plead with the universe for someone to call or to just know. Though in this moment you know if anybody called, you would decline, knowing you don’t deserve to be able to complain.

You completely loose your mind and your logic. You need to see a visual of the pain you feel inside, to feel something that is real to the outside world. At this stage, your head feels about ready to implode from pressure. You want to break glasses, stab your entire body and throw yourself against walls because you have no way to release this feeling. You are screaming and pelting yourself against a windowless, doorless steel cell, but you sit there, silent and numb. No one can see the astounding amount of energy being consumed just to keep this destruction inside.

Self-harm is not glamorous. It is not pretty, and it is not cool. It is a swirling pit of pain. Whether you are doing it currently or you are in recovery, it is a long road and it is always painful. It can be an excruciating topic to talk about, especially to others who can’t understand the need to purposely hurt yourself. We need to have the confidence to speak out about our self-harming experiences, to help ourselves put meaning to it and to help others understand it goes so much deeper than trying to seek their attention.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

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What I Want to Tell the Person Who Said I Only Cut Myself for Attention

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I get home from school and my best friend asks me how my day was.

“Oh you know, school was great, except I severed a tendon or something and my hand is numb.” I probably say it with a hint of a challenge in my voice. The questions I am really asking are: am I too scary for you now? Are you going to leave me because I am too destructive? Can you still love me even though I am damaged? I only said something because my therapist told me I needed to tell someone. I sounded flip because I did not know how else to say it.

“Well X says you’re only doing this for attention anyway,” he says. “Look at you, you’re proud of what you did.”

I am not proud of what I did. But I long ago lost the ability to use words to explain what is really going on. I cannot properly express my emotions, so I cannot explain the real reasons this is happening again. My best friend is tired.

My best friend has been told that cutting is only the manifestation of the deeper issue. My friend knows this, but his friend speaks with such confidence. Someone who barely knows me, who has never had more than a five-minute conversation with me, has succinctly and unequivocally decided my fate. I am a bad person who is behaving badly and will not be seen until I can behave properly.   

I wish that person had understood cutting can be a sign of a mental illness. Cutting releases endorphins in your brain. It takes away emotional pain. While physical can be healed, emotional pain lingers. I cannot always handle the emotional pain, so I deflect it to physical pain. Physical pain I can understand. Physical pain is something I can control.

I wish that person knew I am ashamed of being a “cutter.” I am ashamed of the way I look. Strangers ask me what happened if they see my scars. My college roommates teased me for always wearing long sleeves. I am constantly asked if I am hot or how I can wear that in the summer. When I don’t wear long sleeves children stare and sometimes even point at me. What I am saying is a get plenty of attention for cutting and I would prefer not to have any.

I want that person to know that if someone is seriously harming herself, the best thing is not to ignore her and assume that will motivate her to change. If I could change because someone else wanted me to, I would have changed a long time ago. It is not about love or respect or being a bad friend. Ignoring problems, especially mental illnesses, makes them grow, not go away.

I want that person to know it’s OK if your friends make you sad sometimes. If your friend is hurting, it’s OK to hurt, too. If your friend is struggling with an illness, including a mental illness, that causes pain, and it is natural to feel sad for them. Avoiding people who have sadness in their lives leaves everyone alone.

In fact, when this person goes through a difficult situation a year later, my friend cries because he is sad for her pain. I do not say, “Well if it makes you sad, just ignore her until she is happy.” And had I, people would have been appalled I would suggest something so insensitive.

I have not been able to forgive the person who told my best friend I only cut for attention. I realize it was a comment made of ignorance, not malice, and that I am responsible for not seeking medical treatment on my own. I realize I should not hold a grudge. However, to this day, this person does not feel she was wrong for what she said, and my best friend says she was only trying to help.

This shows how much people who cut are not accepted in society. They are not seen as deserving of help. They are seen as “bad” or “disobedient” or “attention seekers.” Punishment is seen as an appropriate response. Cutting is one of the most stigmatized behaviors because people do not even try to understand it. If we look at the history of addiction, we know blaming the individual does nothing and costs us more in the long run. We should learn from this.

The ignorance this person displayed can spill over into insurance companies that will not pay for treatment, funding taken away from mental health programs and research on treatment, and leaves families, friends and those who cut without somewhere to seek help. This attitude can stop people from asking for help and stop people who want to help from giving it. Ignoring a problem rarely makes it better. Usually, it just leaves everyone alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via contributor.

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When You 'Relapse' Back Into Self-Harm

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Let me start by saying I’ve been in therapy for four years now. I am not ashamed of that at all. In fact, it’s one of the few things I give myself credit for and I’m proud to talk about it (within the right company of course). I am proud of myself for having the courage to take action to change the things I didn’t like about myself: my thought processes, my reactions and impulses. I am proud to say I have worked hard with myself to dive into the deepest corners of my mind to overcome the challenges that go along with breaking down every past action and thought I’ve ever had that has shaped me into who I am today. I am a completely different person than I was four years ago but, I am by no means “cured.”

I thought I was, as much as a person could be. I still recognized I had things to work on and, demons to fight, some of which I’m still too scared to tackle, but I thought the hardest part was over. I thought I had a handle on how to manage my anger and anxiety; how to control my urges to self-harm and talk myself down and be rational when I could sense old habits coming back.

I’ve been dealing with self-harm since I was 13. For me personally, I see self-harm as an addiction – a quick fix. An easy way to snap out of a “neutral,” unknown void-like feeling and focus on something real. A solution for when I’m so angry and can’t scream and shout, but can subject myself to pain as a distraction. A way to punish myself for feeling guilty, defeated, naive — a way to give myself what I deserve for having been so. A way to have a constant reminder (through my scars) of how I’m not good enough, crazy and most of all – ugly. 

But that’s not true. No matter what any one has done in their life, they do not deserve the pain or the scars; there is no plan etched into the universe that deems someone worthy of self-inflicted pain, but that’s really hard to see when that pain is so deeply engraved as your resolution to a plethora of scenarios. Being able to just simply sit with my feelings of worthlessness or shame while resisting the urge to self-harm is the thing I am most proud of. I see myself as tackling my addiction, sitting with the weight of hating myself for whatever reason, “knowing” or believing I should take it out on myself, but choosing not to — that’s not easy, and I’m proud to say I’m able to do that.

At least, I thought I was. I had resisted the urge before; I hadn’t self-harmed for over a year and I was so excited. I had learned to accept my scars as they were and wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed (which in itself was no cake walk); to expect the stares and questions and side-ways looks. I figured out how to wear my scars proudly. Not as a reminder of how “fucked up” or how ugly I am, but as a testament to my mental strength and how far I’ve come in the journey of learning to love myself.

But I hadn’t come as far as I thought I had. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. I wasn’t able to deal with the consistent, yet sudden wave of this heavy feeling I can’t even put into words and, still resist the urge to indulge in old habits and distract myself from the uncomfortable, unknown feeling; and now I’m scared this will trigger a downward spiral and, spark the fuse in me that now sees self-harm as my only solution again.

So what happens when someone relapses? What am I supposed to think when after a year, I slip up and go back to square one, back to hiding my cuts, making excuses, picking at scabs so they’ll scar as a permanent reminder?

I don’t know… but I have a pretty good idea of where to start. Start by telling yourself that it’s OK. Whether you believe it or not, it’s OK. You may have let yourself indulge in old habits, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person or means you deserve it. It doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress or challenged yourself. It doesn’t mean you are ugly or stupid or deserving. It doesn’t mean you are still who you were before you started to work on yourself. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean all of the hard work you put into healing yourself was wasted. You start by tackling the rush of (possibly regressive) thoughts in the way you would have before you “relapsed” – in an insightful, constructive, healthy way. By not picking at the scars and telling yourself you’ve failed; by allowing yourself be scared of the possibility of a downward spiral, but knowing you want to get better enough and that you are strong enough to not let that happen.

Being able to fall down after you’ve climbed so high, scrape off the dirt, bandage up the cuts and bruises and, begin climbing again — that’s true strength. Knowing that even if you fall, you won’t roll all the way to the bottom and, having it in you to get up and try again, is a testament to how strong you are – start by giving yourself credit for standing back up.

I look at how far I’ve come in the past four years and want to pay it forward; to show people it’ll be OK. That it’s really really hard sometimes to get out of bed, fake a smile, play nice and amuse small talk when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and go back to bed. It’s OK to be fed up and let the stress overtake you for a minute; to let yourself cry. It’s OK to show emotion, to let your walls down, to be vulnerable sometimes – that does not make you weak.

I may have taken a few steps back but, I will not hate myself for that. I will not discredit the progress I have made. I will continue to move forward and work on improving myself. I will get back up, I will climb that mountain and I will reach the top; no amount of scraped knees will stop me.

Some days are amazing. Other days are incredibly hard. Reminding yourself that although you may have taken a few steps back, you have miles ahead of you still. You will pave your own way. There will be hard miles, filled with challenges and bad days and rain clouds, but you’ll persevere. The world is a big place, full of new experiences and people who will open your eyes; who will love and welcome you with open arms. Trust yourself and, love yourself – bruises and all – you are not what has happened to you, you are what you choose to become.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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