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

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.

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