What I Would Say to My 12-Year-Old Self Struggling With Self-Harm
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 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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Unsplash photo via Dominik Martin.