Why I Lie About Self-Harm (and What I Need From You)

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The cat did it.

We have a new puppy.

Playing hockey.

I fell over.

I was in a fight.

I don’t know.

Decorating.

Burned it on the oven.

Shark attack.

A few of the many excuses myself and other have used to explain away injuries — injuries caused by ourselves.

Some are perhaps plausible, others utterly ridiculous. The response from the person we tell? More often it’s enough for them to move on no matter how ridiculous — that or they make a sarcastic remark. A teacher once replied to me, “Must have been a sharp paintbrush”

Neither of these responses are truly helpful.

The first is, for us, helpful in the sense it allows us to continue our self-destruction without bother — but in the grand scheme of things just reinforces that people don’t really care and continues to drive the stigma and shame.

The second, although on reflection I feel that reaction came from the right place, means they knew what it really was and they were trying to let me know that, challenging my excuse. But it again just exacerbates the guilt and shame.

Sometimes I think we just need people to give us the opportunity to be honest. “Are you sure?” Personally I would have always continued with whatever excuse, but even so, just saying, “Well I’m here if you want to talk or write something down.”

I had one teacher who always allowed me to talk. I can’t say I ever really talked about what I had done, but it gave me a platform if I needed it, and it taught me some people do care.

It’s not easy asking for help. Especially for us. More often than not we use self-harm as our coping mechanism, which probably means we haven’t ever really been able to openly talk, so asking for help and talking is a massive difficulty. When someone asks if we are OK, 9.9 times out of 10 we will say yes, or fine… and “fine” has its own meaning in my circles! We do this for a few reasons.

1. It’s easier to say this.
2. We don’t want to “burden” anyone.
3. We have most likely had our trust broken, and thus we don’t believe anyone actually cares.

Here comes the great test. Most people accept your first answer. Only those who care will ask sincerely (we can tell the difference). “No really, are you ok?”
Now I’m not saying this is right, but that’s how it is sometimes.

Sometimes (a lot of the time) it takes someone opening that door for you and reminding you the door is open. We need you to do that so we know it’s OK. When you’re going through whatever it is and you’re self-harming I cannot even begin to explain how much less of a person you feel, how much of a burden you feel like, how much of a waste of everyone’s time you believe you are, how worthless you feel. When you feel like that, approaching someone for help, telling someone how you really feel is the hardest thing to do because you don’t believe you matter.

Social media and technology gets a lot of slack these days, but it can massively help. Yes, young people spend a lot of time on their phones, but we can use this to our advantage. We may have a number we can text — texting is so much easier than having to talk. We may just write it down. It makes it easier for us to start the conversation without starting it face to face.

Let’s embrace technology.

When I was a kid there was just Samaritans. Did I need them? Yes. Did I ever ring them? No. If I could have text a worker or a designated person at school would I? Yes. Or email. Either.

It took me over 10 years to say the words “I self-harm” out loud.

We need to make it easier to have these conversations.

And we need you to listen and ask questions and be told it will be OK.

I’m getting better, but I still find it hard to talk, but if someone else asks the questions I can answer them.

Please don’t ever tell us to “just stop.” If it was that easy, don’t you think we would? You could also ruin any chance of us talking to you again as that just makes us feel like you haven’t listened and you don’t understand, again reinforcing that people don’t understand, or care, and pushing us further into ourselves.

You can’t ask someone to stop their only way of coping without giving them another — and even then… it takes time to change how you cope.

We sometimes lie because saying I’ve self-harmed is an impossible sentence, even if we want you to know because we need help.

We feel so much shame that asking for help or simply talking is the hardest thing in the world. We don’t know if it’s OK to talk about it. We need you to open that door in as many ways as possible: talking, emailing,texting, instant messaging etc.

Be sincere, be honest, give us time.

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.

Thinkstock photo by Patricia Enciso

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To the Nurse Who Saved Me When I Was Self-Harming

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To the nurse who saved me,

I first met you when I was 18 years old. Scared and lonely, I was trapped in a vicious cycle of self-harm and self-hate. I was the youngest person on an adult psychiatric unit. I felt like a child lost in a swarm of older patients, nurses and doctors. It was my first stay here, and I was petrified.

Your kind face and loud personality drew me to you. I ended up staying there for four months, and each time you spoke with me you chipped away at my hard shell. I was hiding behind my self-harm, cutting myself instead of talking about my feelings. Still, you never gave up. You took me to A&E and held my hand as I got stitches. You made jokes and made me smile on our long wait for transport back to the ward at 3 a.m. You removed countless stitches from my arms so gently and with so much care.

Eventually, after two years of coming and going from the ward, I talked. I talked about what I saw, the trauma that filled my nightmares and made me terrified to leave the house. Trauma and grief all mixed and muddled around so much that I struggled to tell the difference.

You held me as I cried, and you sat patiently as I cried until I had no tears left. You made sure I got into bed safely and got some rest. It calmed me to know you were around somewhere as I slept. You built me back up. You never once gave up on me. You made sure I knew you believed I could beat this, that life wouldn’t always leave me searching for a way out. I wouldn’t always want to die.

You told me things about you. You let me see into your life and what brought you to this point. You gave me so much hope, so much inspiration. You made me want to fight.

You left this ward. You moved onto bigger and better things, as I knew you always would. We met again a few years ago, and we both cried as I told you what I had achieved since you left. You were proud of me, and I was too.

I’m writing this to tell you what you told me I would feel some day: I’m OK. I survived. I’m almost 25 now, and I haven’t cut myself in four months. I’m fighting with a strength I didn’t know I had — one you knew was inside of me all this time. I have my own home, a small one-bedroom flat where me and my little kitten are happy. I’ve been in a relationship with the sweetest girl for two and a half years. She knows everything there is to know about me, and she’s still here, right by my side. I volunteer with a charity who work with teenagers with mental illness. I am who I am today because of you. I owe it all to you. I will be forever grateful. Because of you, I am OK.

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.

Thinkstock photo by Hemera Technologies

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How My Tattoos Help 'Heal' My Scars

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Today is a loophole of sorts. It’s like I’m breaking, but I’m really not. It feels the same. But instead of ugly scars, I’m creating something beautiful I’ll proudly wear. Well, he is. We are.

I’m in this chair, my right arm stretched to the side of me and I am happy. Content. Anxious (always). And I find myself kind of pouring my heart out to the man beside me. More or less a stranger, tattooed exterior, black gloves and a tattoo gun in hand. It’s a different kind of therapy. And he keeps it light, doesn’t take everything too seriously and it’s nice. It’s nice in the comfort of this chair, needle and ink etching my arm, to just have a quiet laugh in our corner as he comments on my recent life story, my mental health journey. He jokes and challenges me, but it’s all in good fun. Makes me kind of question everything, which would be frustrating with just about anyone else but him.

This makes sense.

Working on my right, we talk about a future coverup on my left arm. New ink over old that will actually mean something. And it’s right there, out in the open — exposed. I know he’s had to have noticed, but he says nothing about it, about them. Because it wasn’t that long ago I relapsed and broke. The scars are still a dark reddish purple, just an inch or so away from where the coverup will be. A noticeable, tragic shade against my skin.

“Sounds like you’ve had a rough go of things,” he does say at one point. Not a question, just a fact.

These two and a half hours are the most relaxed and content I’ve been in a long while. And he says it was nice getting to know me a little. I say likewise. I tell him we’ll bond again over more ink and cherry blossoms.

In a way, it feels like I broke today, fresh ink needled into my right arm. But I didn’t. Instead of fresh scars I get to proudly wear something beautiful. It’s a tattoo I’ve wanted since I was just 11 years old, not long before my descent into self-harm began.

I have a feeling “tattoo therapy” will play a big part in my recovery.

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.

Thinkstock photo via dimid_86.

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What I'll Say When My Future Children Ask About My Self-Harm Scars

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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.

I worry about if/when I have kids. I worry about what I’ll tell them when they see my self-harm scars and are old enough to know a bit more of the truth. I worry about when they will ask about them. I worry I won’t choose the right age to tell them. I worry whatever I say, it won’t be enough. I know no matter what, I can’t guarantee they’ll never harm themselves. I hope when the time is right, I’ll have the right words and I’ll start the conversation. It won’t be just a one-time talk, it will be a conversation with the door to it always open.

I’ll say…

“Sometimes the world is a very dark place, and unfortunately, your mom had to endure a lot of darkness a long time ago. I had to find a way to survive in a cruel world. I tried to numb out, hide, run and ignore every single emotion that roared inside of me like a raging waterfall. I pushed it down because I was convinced I couldn’t handle it. Convinced I had no one to tell. Remember, you can always tell me anything. Remember, you can never run from your feelings in the long run. 

I’ll say…

“A long time ago, I was in a war against my body. I was at war against this thing I felt betrayed by each and every day. You know mommy has bad hips, right? Well a long time ago they didn’t know why my hips caused me so much pain and back then, before I had my first surgery, the war started. My body hurt so much, and no one believed me. I couldn’t tell anyone how much pain I was in because I was afraid of the judgments. Remember, I will always believe you.

I’ll say…

“Shame is an emotion when we feel embarrassed or distressed by the thought or truth we have done something others will see as wrong. If we don’t talk about the things that make us feel this way, we’ll stay silent and trapped until the feeling grows and grows, becoming unbearable. Feeling like this for a long time can lead someone to feeling unworthy of care. My war with my body got me stuck in a cycle of shame: actions that caused shame, shame that caused more actions that caused more shame. I got trapped. Remember, you can always talk to me when you feel shame. Remember, you will always be worthy of care, no matter what.” 

I’ll say…

“My battles with demons happened when I felt I didn’t have the words to convey the immense amount of pain I was in. I didn’t have the words to explain it so I tried to show it by any means possible. I played out my pain on my body in the hopes I wouldn’t have to speak. I played out my pain so there would be visible evidence. I thought I needed something to point to to say, ‘see here, look I’m in pain, believe me.’ Remember, you don’t have to have words, I’ll believe you when you say you’re in pain. You don’t need to try and prove it.”  

I’ll say… 

“Sometimes, you feel as though you’re alone in the world. Sometimes you don’t know there are plenty of people who’ll listen or help when you feel like you’re drowning in plain sight. You just have to speak a single word, and they’ll be at your side: help. Remember, I will always be here to listen.” 

I’ll say…

“If you ever, ever, ever feel something so terrible you feel as though you need to harm yourself, please instead run straight to me. Text, call, tell, run, get to me as fast as you can. I will hold you in my arms no matter how old you are. I will hold you as you cry and tell me what’s wrong, or don’t. Whatever you need, I’ll be there till the urge goes away. I’ll do whatever I can to help you find another way to process what you’re going through. Remember, I am always here for you.” 

I’ll say…

“Scars are not a sign of weakness. Scars are symbols of battles, and I fought my fair share. You, my child, are the sign I won all my battles and made it to the other side. Remember, even if you emerge from something with a scar, physical or emotional, it’s proof that you’re strong enough to survive.” 

I’ll say…

“I really wish I hadn’t done it. I wish I could explain how dark of a place I was in and how alone I felt. I wish I had known or realized then just how many people loved me and would’ve been at my side to help. I hope you never know pain like that. I hope you never feel that alone. Remember, I love you.

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.

Thinkstock photo via Ryan McVay.

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For Those Who Wonder Why I 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.

To someone who doesn’t self-harm, the thought of purposely causing yourself physical pain for the purpose of ridding yourself of emotional pain seems backwards, scary and quite frankly, weird. For me, when I’m feeling the urge to cut, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

The first time I cut myself I was 13, and I remember feeling warm, calm and, for the first time in a while, my mind was quiet. I didn’t have racing, intrusive thoughts. I wasn’t crying anymore. I was still. The only thing I could feel was pain in my right wrist. From then on, whenever I felt any overwhelmingly negative feeling, I felt like I had to cut. I felt like I needed to cut to quiet my mind, to stop my crying, to keep me from going “insane.”

The best way I can explain it to people is like a balloon that’s overinflated. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it just has to pop. Cutting myself is like the pop. The final blow that stops the inflation and finally lets the air out.

I’ve been in therapy for most of the last eight years. I know how to talk about my depression and anxiety, and I know coping skills like the back of my hand. I know what I can do when I’m starting to feel depressed, anxious, defeated, overwhelmed, stressed and even suicidal. Most of the time, I can manage those feelings. Sometimes, however, it’s too much. I can’t talk about it. I can’t find the words. I feel like there is too much going on inside and I need a way to release it. This is when I want to cut. It feels like I’m going a million miles an hour and then suddenly, I stop.

That feeling never lasts, though. It is always followed by intense feelings of guilt and shame. After the cathartic post-cut feeling fades, I’m left with a mess to clean up and I need to think about what story I’m going to tell this time.

Eventually, I did stop. For now anyway. At 26, I’ve been self-injury free for eight months, and before that for about a year. I’ve had a few other long stretches of being “clean” and eventually relapsed, but I’m trying to focus on the present. For now, cutting is not something I do regularly, although that doesn’t mean the urges aren’t there. I have about 15 scars on various parts of my body, most of which will probably always be there. I used to be ashamed of them, but now I don’t mind. They are part of me and part of my story.

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.

Thinkstock photo via ipopba

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To the Boy Who Made Me Smile in Math Class on My Darkest Days

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

You probably don’t remember it, or maybe you do. Back in math class, all those years ago. We sat the back of the class in the “clever” row. We were trusted to understand and get on with our work. And we did, to an extent. We did chat an awful lot to be fair, though. But not on bad days. You knew when I was having a bad day, I’d be awfully quiet and keep my head down. Little jokes or a smile my way were much more appreciated than you thought. Sometimes they even took suicidal thoughts out of my mind.

You’d noticed my scars on my arms. You never said anything, but I caught you looking at them once. You looked confused but I think you knew they were from self-harm. You were the only one of your group of friends who didn’t make fun of me. I knew it was intended as all friendly and “a laugh,” but you never did it. You were different.

I will always remember the day I returned to school after a week or so of being ill. Everyone knew, it was common knowledge. All of the teachers were tiptoeing around me and our math teacher wasn’t an exception. She came over to our two person desk. She whispered a few sentences, making sure I was doing OK and such, looked your way and disappeared back over to her desk.

We then had a conversation I’d never had with anyone before that point. You spoke honestly and I appreciated that. We spoke about why I had been off school. Your reaction made me relax. You were slightly shocked but you remained open-minded and honest. We spoke about how I had seemed so fine — happy even — and about how it was all an act, a front, a mask. We spoke about mental illness. I don’t think you’d ever spoken about it before. You tried your best to understand as much as you could. I respected you for that. I loved that conversation. Listening to the content, you wouldn’t think so, but I did. It was the first time someone just tried to understand. Not pity me, not make me feel guilty — just understand. And I’ve always wanted to thank you but never found a chance.

So thank you. Thank you for smiling. Thank you for joking around. Thank you for not making fun. Thank you for having that conversation with me. Thank you for asking questions. Thank you for not pitying or guilt tripping me. Thank you for being honest. Thank you for trying to understand.

Thank you for being you, from a girl whose life you once saved with a simple smile in math class.

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.

Thinkstock photo via recep-bg.

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