What I Need Most When I'm Struggling With Self-Harm
Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) was actually the first day of March, and I only found out about it after the event via Twitter. It was from just the one tweet, so maybe a little more awareness wouldn’t go amiss.
I did learn one thing when I first set out to educate myself about SIAD. A user-led charity called LifeSIGNS (Self-injury Guidance and Network Support) has supported this day for several years, and is the number one resource for SIAD material. I was wondering how a day like this works and they pretty much answered my question in one succinct sentence: “Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.”
As most of my writing is from experience and not research, I thought I would give my tuppence worth of input (albeit a bit late for the day itself) for self-injury (self-harm) awareness.
I know from experience that the question most asked by people who don’t self-harm is: Why? Why do we injure ourselves? I also know, from experience, that this is one of the hardest questions to answer. It feels impossible to put into words how being so cruel and destructive to ourselves can possibly help an already dire situation.
For me, self-harm expelled feelings and expressed them. It made the feelings and the pain tangible and explicable. More often than not, I was unable to articulate the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing, and self-injury was me attempting to externalize all I had internalized. I was overpowered, and afraid. I needed a voice, but I could not speak.
Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.
I can’t speak for everyone who self-injures, but I know there have been certain things that have helped me in times of unbearable distress, and other things that absolutely didn’t help.
To be unaware or uneducated, with regards to self-injury is not, in itself, a bad thing — it is what it is. If you have never come across it, you have no need to learn and become aware. But being unaware can be terribly negative and unhelpful if you are suddenly faced with it and have no real clue what it is you are dealing with. I have come across some very well-meaning people — usually professionals — who have tried to help in ways that have only served to compound my sense of isolation, and reinforce my fears of forever being misunderstood.
I have been advised to count the number of red cars that drive past my window when I felt the urge to self-harm, in an attempt to distract myself. I have been told that my self-harming is “selfish” and “manipulative,” even though I had struggled for years without ever telling a soul. I have been told I am “weak-willed,” and even that I am “playing games” by self-injuring.
On the rare occasion that I have had to seek medical attention as a result of an episode of self-harm, I have been kept waiting for several hours, the explanation being that there were people much more important than me to see and I was at the bottom of the list. I have sat in a waiting room, listening to medical staff, feet away from me, talking about me as though I wasn’t there, telling their colleagues that there is “No point stitching her, she’s covered in scars. One more won’t make any difference.”
I give these examples as an idea of the damage that can be done if people are not aware of, or educated on, the issue of self-injury. I had, in each of these instances, trusted someone with the most vulnerable and frightened part of myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed to be where I was, and yet I needed help. My sense of self-worth was at rock bottom when I reached out for help, and it was, on these occasions, pretty much annihilated completely.
I didn’t ever need someone to “fix” me, “cure” me or rescue me. Of course, that would have been nice, but usually it was not what I needed. I didn’t even need someone to understand. In fact, I think it would be unreasonable of me to expect someone to understand something I cannot explain.
What I needed was someone to be with me in my pain and shame. I needed someone who didn’t judge, didn’t assume and didn’t reject me. Someone who kept loving me when I felt utterly unlovable. I needed someone who would care, without enabling, or colluding with, my destructive behaviors, and who would also be honest with me when they needed to – honest, but gentle with it; never condemning or critical.
If you want to help a self-harmer in their time of deepest darkness and greatest need, you don’t have to have any answers — you just have to care. And please don’t forget to care for yourself as well.
As frustrating or painful as it is to witness the impact of self-injury on someone you love or care for, please be as patient as you can. I do not know a single person who uses self-harm as a coping mechanism who isn’t desperate to find a different way to cope. Silence is often much more comforting than platitudes and promises you can’t keep, and being by somebody’s side when they need you most is more powerful and far-reaching than you may ever know.
I appreciate this may be a tough topic to read about for many people — it certainly is a tough topic to write about (despite my initial enthusiasm at feeling I had been handed a blog-topic on a plate). I have few answers or explanations to offer as an insight into self-injury, but I do know what has helped me and what hasn’t helped me in the past.
Whether you are a self-harmer or not, there is always hope. Sometimes the self-harmer needs a friend or carer to believe this for them, and sometimes the friend or carer needs someone to offer living proof that this is true. It is true.
If you or someone you know needs professional help, I urge you to seek it immediately, and in the meantime, the likes of me will do our utmost to raise awareness of self-injury within all walks of life.
Follow this journey here.
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 Grandfailure.