How I Wish I Responded When a Co-Worker Said People Self-Harm for Attention

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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.

Recently, something happened at work that really struck a chord with me. And when I say “struck a chord,” I mean it really pissed me off.

The other day the topic of cutting came up. A guy I work with was retelling a story about his ex-wife and how she used to cut herself. He said he divorced her because he couldn’t deal with her mental illness. But that wasn’t what made me mad. The comment of another co-worker is what really got to me. Because I’ve heard it before, and each time I do, I get upset.

“The people who cut across their arms are looking for attention and the ones who cut vertically are the ones who really mean it.”

To my surprise, no one laughed — a reaction I have witnessed before. The guy who made the comment then awkwardly said that it was a joke, but then another co-worker followed up with, “Well, it’s pretty true.”

My first reaction to the conversation was to call the guys ignorant, among other things. After a few deep breaths though, I held back those few choice words and just walked away without saying a word. But looking back, I wish I had the courage to say something constructive and insightful about the situation to educate these people on the topic of self-harm, something I struggle with. Although I have been harm-free for over a year and a half, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about doing it when things get tough.

See, when I used to cut myself, I assure you the last thing on my mind was getting attention. After an episode, it would take weeks for my cuts to heal and scar. During those weeks, I would spend hours of my life trying to hide my cuts and scars. Boxes of band aids were used to cover up the evidence. I wore long pants and long sleeves all the time and constantly had to remember to keep my sleeves down, even when I got hot and sweaty while working out. I tried to get the cuts to heal as fast as possible, using every remedy under the sun to make the scars fade. And I made terrible excuses when anyone did happen to see something. It was exhausting. So when someone thinks cutting is done for attention, they are truly mistaken and most likely misinformed about the underlying mental health condition.

If I had wanted attention, I wouldn’t have done any of those things to hide the fact I was hurting. The one time I did bring attention to it and asked for help, it seemed to make things worse. Thankfully things worked out in the end, as I have written about previously, but those experiences, when combined with some people’s ignorance around self-harm, make asking for help harder than ever. This is something I still struggle with today.

For those of you who have never self-harmed or can’t understand why someone would actually do it, the best way I can explain it is that it’s my form of emotional release. For some people, crying is enough; or maybe they scream into a pillow or punch something. Some people ask for help, or have someone to talk to. But for me, when things seemed hopeless, when crying wasn’t enough, when it seemed like I had no one or nothing — cutting provided that release. The emotional release it provides in the moment is no longer worth the guilt and distress that comes after.

Mental illness doesn’t just go away. It is just that — an illness. And unfortunately, that can be a common misconception among people. It’s so frustrating to hear and witness firsthand comments like the ones my co-workers made. But at the same time, it does give me the opportunity to educate others, to make them see the truth and to hopefully change their opinion on mental health and self-harm.

I always say that when I write, if my words touch one person, then I am a successful writer. I hope my words spark something in your mind, or make someone question their views. I want my words to help expand the horizons of others and help educate everyone in some way, shape or form so that one day, no one will make uninformed comments about others who struggle with mental illness.

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 kieferpix

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The Lies I Believe When I'm Struggling With Thoughts of 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.

With self-harm, it’s easy to focus on the physical consequences, and not the emotional toll. For me, the emotional consequences are worse. I feel like when I struggle with thoughts of self-harm or give into self-harm, I’m telling myself lies. And then maybe the solution is not stopping the physical action, but fighting the lies.

When I choose to harm myself, I might be saying, “It’s acceptable for me to cause pain and injury to my body in order to deal with my emotions.” When actually, I know I’m worth more than that. I need to find a way to deal with my emotions in a way that doesn’t harm me. I deserve to be healthy and free of pain.

When I harm myself, I might be saying, “I deserve to be punished for something I did wrong.” When actually, I know I don’t need to be punished. I’m human. I make mistakes. I don’t deserve pain.

When I harm myself, I might be saying, “Self-harm is the best way for me to deal with my feelings and anxiety. When actually, I know there are many ways to deal with anxiety and feelings — other ways that don’t cause pain and damage to my body.

When I harm myself, I might be saying, “After I harm myself, I will feel better. When actually, I might feel better for a moment, but then I will feel terrible for causing myself pain, and be angry with myself for doing this again.

When I harm myself, I might be saying, “I’ll just deal with my feelings by harming myself, and not bother my friends or family with what I am feeling. It’s kinder to find my own solutions.” When actually, I know my friends and family would always rather I talk to them about how I am feeling rather than have me “deal with” my feelings by injuring myself. It hurts them to see me in pain. They love me.

When I harm myself, I might be saying, “Self-harm will help me control my emotions. It’s not that dangerous; I have control over it.” When actually, I know self-harm won’t fix my emotions, and it can be dangerous. There are other ways to feel in control of my mind and body.

After I harm myself, I feel so low. I feel completely broken. I feel like I am so messed up. I think to myself, What kind of person does this sort of thing? I cry. I feel incredible shame and am afraid people will find out. I’m afraid to tell people because I think they will judge me. I am scared I will develop scars or bruises. I feel empty inside. Everything feels dark.

For me, the emotional consequences of self-injury are worse than the physical ones. The physical consequences usually heal over time. But the self-destructive thoughts run deep.

When I am thinking of self-harm, I am experiencing overwhelming emotions of anxiety and anger. In that emotional state, somehow self-harm feels like an OK “solution.” But if I fight the lies that are behind my desire to harm myself, it helps me resist the addiction.

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 Grandfailure.

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My Journey With Self-Harm, and How I've Replaced It With Tattoos

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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.

Self-harm as a topic is mostly unspoken of, and it’s when we do not talk about things that stigma arises, which then brings us into an inevitable, sticky cycle of continuing not to talk about them further because of the unspeakable shame the stigma brings with it. But that’s what makes it so important to continue talking about it anyway. So here I am, openly and honestly talking.

I’m Shannon and I am a recovered self-harmer.

It has taken me four days of typing, deleting and re-typing to eventually tar my screen with that sentence. My post isn’t even yet published and I can feel my skin turning scarlet. The thing is, all it takes is a glance at any part of my body to give away my “secret,” yet saying the words still takes all the courage I possess.

Unless you’ve experienced self-harm, you will most likely have no idea of the mindset that leads a person to inflict such traumatic pain on themselves. The truth is that each self-harmer will injure themselves for a very different purpose. For many of us, that purpose may take a long time to be understood. In fact, it has taken a good nine years of continuous, increasingly graphic self-injury, leaving me with a body decorated in battle wounds, to understand it myself.

I cannot remember the first time I decided it would be a good idea to hurt myself. But I do now finally understand the two most significant reasons why.

As an individual with both depression and emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), also known as borderline personality disorder (BPD), I am often plagued with emotional pain for unknown reasons. In a matter of seconds, life can become entirely overwhelming as my emotions drown me. I can watch others going about their everyday lives whilst I am trapped in my own fear. Unbearable pain suffocates me; I can feel it in every part of my body, engulfing me like quicksand. I feel paralyzed from head to toe. Even shallow breathing becomes too much to tolerate. It hurts. Everything hurts.

Now, everybody experiences emotional pain at some point in their lives whether it be as a result of bereavement or breakdown of relationships. Emotional pain in response to an event can be really fucking awful, but emotional pain in response to absolutely no plausible trigger is in my experience a million times more distressing. My body’s automatic reaction to pain is to find a cause. Find a cause and I can cope because with a reason comes a resolution. As a result, since being a young child, my pain threshold to physical pain has always been really high. Fall off the top of a tall climbing frame? I’d pick myself back up, brush myself off and continue with my day without even a whimper. I know what hurts so I can let go. But throw unexplainable, unimaginable volumes of emotional pain at me and my body shuts down. I need a cause or I stop functioning. Stop tolerating.

That is what self-harm provided me with. This emotional trauma is transferred into physical pain and thus I can tolerate it again. I have a reason to hurt, making the pain easier to accept and to fix. But the issue here lies in the fact that such transference is only temporary so as the physical wounds heal, the emotional wounds do not and this is what feeds the vicious cycle in hurting myself over and over again, each time to a graver degree.

The second purpose that my self-injurious behaviors provided is a sense of control over my body. As it is now publicly accepted, restrictive eating disorders such as the one I am diagnosed with are often triggered by an overwhelming desire to take control in a world where so much is unpredictable. For me, as I went through puberty, my body went through changes I could not control and I lost that sense of belonging. So whilst governing my weight allowed me to take back some control of my body, as my self-injury became more severe in an attempt to cause more physical pain, I also found that the scarring, as a result, satisfied my desire to take control. So long as my body was covered in marks I had self-illustrated, it belonged to me again and this provided me with a strange, incomprehensible sense of relief. I know this sounds bizarre considering I have previously described the energy and bravery it takes to display my scars to the world, but add this imbalance to the already existing emotional distress and cue the vicious cycle of confusion and further self-injury.
Although I still struggle with intrusive thoughts to harm myself on a regular basis, having insight into the cognition behind these thoughts allows me to be strong in beating the behavior.

floral tattoos covering self-harm scars

Instead of decorating my body with scars, I have learned to instead decorate it with artwork created by an incredibly talented artist, allowing me to own my body in a less harmful way. By no means am I attempting to remove my scars, because I strongly believe that they are proof that although I may have lost a few battles, I won the ultimate war. However, what I do aim to do is become more comfortable with them and all they represent. I cannot wait to go on holiday this year and for the first time be able to believe that passers-by are staring at my arms and legs for the captivating artwork tattooed on them, and not purely in judgment at my scars.

Overcoming self-harm has not been an easy process and I will not punish myself if I have slip ups along the way. Every journey has its potholes, but already I am so proud of how much I have achieved.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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 contributor

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Why I Won’t Apologize for My Self-Harm Scars Anymore

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I do not apologize for my scars anymore. I refuse to.

Most of them are small, discreet. Some you would have to look for to find, but I have one set on my arm that is easily spotted by those I come into contact with every day. I have agonized over these small white lines for almost two years.

I was not mentally “present” in my body when I made those marks, yet the first thing I said to my mom was, “I’m sorry.” I tried every possible means to hide them that I could think of from makeup, to different kinds of bandages, to long sleeved clothing.

I hid them out of shame and embarrassment. I hid them out of fear. I was afraid of the negative reactions that would come with having scars on my body. But hiding is difficult. Some days I forgot the Band-Aid, some days they just wouldn’t stick. Slowly, as I grew confident in myself, I began covering my arm less and less.

This is when I really had to learn to fight for myself. I had to be ready to accept negative feedback when it came in. And boy did it come in.

From most people it was just a small look, or maybe a whisper that wasn’t quiet enough. Other times people would take it upon themselves, whether I knew them or not, to tell me their opinion on the matter. As if they had all of the answers I lacked. I look back at certain encounters and wish I could run a do-over with all the information I know today. I wish I could have stayed cool under pressure when I was berated at Walmart by a mom I had never seen before. I wish I could have stood up to the mean girls at camp who spoke not far enough behind my back, or who told me I was going to hell and that I had a devil inside of me. I wish I would have educated and informed, instead of running away. But there is no use dwelling in what could have been.

I prefer to celebrate the now. On June 16, 2017, I will celebrate one year free of self-harm. If I were running the AA program it would be considered my first birthday. So now I do what I could not a year ago and stand unashamed.

Do not misunderstand; I do not condone injuring one’s self in any way. But I will never apologize for my scars.

I view them as a part of me and my story. I have sustained many injuries to my body that cannot be seen, these just happen to be on the outside. They tell the story of the girl I used to be. More importantly, my scars show me the person I am now. They show the healed white lines of an old mark that has been aged with time. They show the battle I fought and survived. They show the girl who has left them behind.

I go through the majority of my days without noticing them anymore. Only sometimes will they catch my eye and I’ll find myself thinking of a world I used to live in. Then I take a breath I remind myself of the strength the healing shows.

There was a time I would have become angry when someone stared a little too long or asked a probing question. But now I am confident in my answer: “They are from another lifetime.”

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 AntonioGuillem

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Why I Don't Hide My Self-Harm Scars in the Summer

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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 live with chronic major depressive disorder (MDD), social anxiety and complex trauma. These conditions sometimes lead to me using the ineffective coping skill of self-harm. I have some scars because of that behavior and a lot of times I feel insecure about them when they’re more easily visible.

People tend to stare at my arms, especially in the summer because I’ll wear shorter sleeves. I can feel their eyes and I can see people turn their heads for a second glance. No one has ever said anything to me and I’m happier with them keeping their thoughts to themselves. I’ll assume in my head that they might be judging me and then I remind myself that, even if they are, there’s nothing I could do to keep others from judging. Sometimes I’ll remind myself that some might be empathetic, while others may be judging me negatively and that’s most likely because they don’t understand. I did what I did and I have to live with the consequences. I’ve accepted that I used the behavior to get through some tough times and I know the truth behind each scar. I don’t need to share my story with every single, random stranger who sees my arms. I’ll wait for when someone asks me how I walk around showing my arms or tells me they understand. I’ll share my story with those who it might help.

For those who may have some self-harm scars also, I would like to tell you that they don’t define who you are. It’s OK that they’re there. You don’t need to be ashamed of your scars, even though there’s stigma behind the behavior. It was a negative coping skill used to help you through something; it’s OK. It means you actually lived through whatever dark moment was there. You still matter.

I still feel insecure in the summer about my scars. I still choose to wear shorter sleeves and let my arms feel the sun because that is what I want for myself. I don’t need to shame myself into hiding just because there is a stigma around self-harm. In fact, maybe one day I can educate others about the behavior.

 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 littlehenrabi

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What I Would Say to My 12-Year-Old Self Struggling With Self-Harm

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Four years ago, I posted a self-harm awareness picture on my Instagram and I’m sure no one took a second glance at it. No one could have suspected that I myself had self-inflicted scars on my own body, that I wanted people to understand me, that I wanted somebody to help me.

My high school health curriculum covered a lot of important topics: sex ed, nutrition, physical health. We even had a unit about mental health, a unit that included a plethora of necessary information for teenagers, but barely anything at all about the secretive epidemic of self-injury. I knew one thing for sure: there were students all around me, silently struggling and covering up their pain with long clothes, bright smiles and makeup.

So to anyone struggling right now, I know right now it may seem like you are trapped in a tidal wave of emotions, jostling every last stable piece of your life. And if you are anything like I was, you might be thinking no one cares, maybe they won’t love you if they find out or maybe they’ll never be able to look at you the same. Consider this: maybe they’ll love you for who you are and maybe they’ll be there to help.

If I could say anything to my 12-year-old self, it would be this:

I know right now, you can’t see the horizon. You might be in a forest, on a beach, in a field. Your view is blocked by treetops, by dark clouds, by tall grasses. You’re running, unseeing towards where you think this elusive horizon might be, expecting it to relieve you of your pain upon arrival. Sometimes you run slowly, tripping over rocks or branches and sometimes you run swiftly, your footsteps leaving clean prints on the ground. You catch glimpses of that horizon line, but just as soon as you see it, trees, clouds, grass blocks it from your sight. You run and you run and you run and with each step, your heart grows heavier. But then one day you finally see it. You break into the clearing, a vibrant sunset with violet, rose, fuchsia, right there in front of you. Your friends and family are there too, waiting with open arms. The pain doesn’t go away, at least not at first. But soon enough you’ll be standing under that sunset too, waiting to embrace others as they come running into that clearing.

The most important thing is that you keep going, keep breathing, keep living. It won’t be easy, but it’s not supposed to be. Sometimes the things that are the hardest are the most worthwhile. You think you’re alone, but you’re not. There are hands all around you, outstretched, ready to lift you up whenever that horizon seems too far away. The people you know will be there for you in ways you never could have expected. All you have to do is ask.

A good friend once told me that nothing is permanent, not even how we feel. The way you feel is valid, but it is so important to understand you won’t always feel this way. One day your life will be different. Hope is real. It is as real as your future is.

And now, four years later, my scars have healed. I have learned to open up to those around me, and I did find help.

The stigma and personal nature of self-harm unfortunately lends itself to a dangerous lack of widespread awareness, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all do our part, no matter how big or small. Donate to a mental health charity, start conversations, step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to your friends to see how they’re doing, smile at people you’ve never talked to before, ask how someone is and genuinely listen to what they have to say. We never know who is struggling. If you’ve already reached the horizon, stretch out your arms waiting to embrace those who are on their way. And if you’re still trudging through that forest or beach or field, take a deep breath and then keeping going. Always keep going.

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.

Unsplash photo via Dominik Martin.

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