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

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