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Why You Shouldn't Minimize Self-Harm as an 'Adolescent Phase'

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 I was 18, a freshman in college and severely depressed, I began thinking seriously about suicide. Finally though, after I decided suicide wasn’t an option, I started cutting myself.

It scared me. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know there are other people who do the same thing. I thought I was the only person who did it, and I had no idea why I started, why it helped me feel better and why I couldn’t seem to stop. My friends kept trying to get me to go to the counseling center, but I was afraid the counselor would ask me, “Why are you doing this?”

I didn’t know why I was doing it — I couldn’t answer that. I was afraid he would say something was terribly wrong with me; I just wanted to be “normal.” I just wanted to feel better.

Now, 15 years later, I look back at that depressed, scared girl and I wish I could explain to her what was going on; I wish I could tell her counseling could help. I see now I was struggling with overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to deal with, depression that wouldn’t go away and perfectionism that made me hard on myself. I was angry with myself for not fitting in at school, for not “snapping out of” my depression. I felt completely alone and unwanted. Somehow when I cut myself, I felt better. I felt like I could control my emotions and deal with my depression without needing others.

My heart aches for that lost girl.

Now, 15 years later, I wish I could say I am over my struggle with self-injury. I wish I could say I struggled with it at 18 and then I found better ways to cope and now I am fine. But no, self-injury wasn’t an “adolescent phase” for me. It has been a lifelong struggle.

Now, as a mature adult in a happy marriage and a stable life, I still struggle with the temptation to self-injure all the time. I resist 99 percent of the time — I tell myself, “This is a bad choice.” I remind myself if I start up again, it will be harder to stop. I remind myself I know other ways to deal with my emotions and frustrations. I remind myself I don’t deserve to be hurt. I remind myself that when I self-harm it hurts the people who love me. I have lists of reasons why self-injury is always a bad choice. But 1 percent of the time, I injure myself anyway.

It is so frustrating. I feel like after 15 years, I should be “healed.” I feel ashamed that I still struggle. But now, when I relapse into self-injury, I try to tell myself, “You made a mistake. It’s OK. Sometimes we make bad choices.” I grieve that I fell back into a harmful pattern, but then I pick myself up and remind myself, “It’s a new day — tomorrow is a clean slate and you can begin again.”

I have talked to people who have struggled with addictions. They tell me how every day they are still tempted to smoke, to use drugs, to overeat. They resist the addiction every day but the thoughts are still there. I talk to people who believe self-injury is just a phase some young people go through, that some adolescents start cutting because other people are doing it, because they struggle with their emotions or for other reasons.

I want to tell people that self-injury is not always just a phase. For me, it has been a lifelong struggle. I will go years without doing it, and then have a relapse for weeks or months — or I just make a bad choice from time to time. Sometimes I feel ashamed I still struggle with these thoughts, but then other times I remind myself of my strength. Every day I struggle with thoughts of self-harm, and 99 percent of the time I say no.

I fight every day. I am strong. The struggle is there, but 99 percent of the time I win. Hopefully, in the future, it will be 99.5 percent or 99.8 percent. For now, it is 99 percent. I am fighting a good fight. I am proud of that.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via Kerkez

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