Why We Need to Be Honest With Kids About Self-Harm

36
36
0

I started self-harming when I was around 19 for around a decade or so.

I stopped cutting regularly about six years ago and haven’t cut at all for over two years. And only twice at all in the last four years. At one point in my life I was cutting daily, as well as abusing my medication. I had therapy and I still take medication but I consider myself in recovery from the worst of my mental health problems.

I still struggle with anxiety and bouts of depression, but those days of daily self-harm and suicide attempts are long behind me. I am left with a lot of scars however. I stuck primarily to cutting my arms, but that does mean they are always visible because I no longer hide them. I’m not ashamed of my scars, my past or any aspect of my mental health.

It is who I am. I worked hard to be the person I am today and have the life I live.

The scars aren’t going anywhere.

People stare. I don’t mind. I’ve always had people stare at me for one reason or another. I’m fat, talk to myself, sing in the street, run around like a “loon,” whatever. People stare at other people. I stare at other people. It’s human nature.

Kids make comments. Ask questions.

OK, so adults do sometimes too. I’ve been derailed in the past by a few adults making comments about my cuts and scars, but nowadays I just take it all in my stride. I used to cut myself. It’s that simple. I’ve had questions at work, in the street, wherever. I try to be an advocate for awareness about self-harm.

It’s not that easy to explain to kids (and some adults), but I think it is worth explaining.

I used to lie to my nephew about my self-harm scars. I told him I was attacked by cats and that’s why I didn’t like them. Or I made it a joke and said it was bears. Or I had an accident. Whenever he asked, I didn’t tell him the truth until he was much older.

I don’t think it was the right thing to do, because now he’s 13 and he knows the truth he just questions why I lied to him and I don’t really have a very good answer.

At the time it was too hard to talk about, and then I just didn’t know how to answer or what to say until I was older and I had already managed to explain it to some adults. To myself. It’s not his fault he had to be part of my process of sorting out my explanation and my feelings towards talking about it. But he was, and now I have to help him understand the complexities of why I lied more than I have to explain the complexities of why I self-harmed.

When I was living in Leicester, I was in the middle of therapy, so I was still cutting sporadically. I was waiting for the bus one day and behind me a kid asked his mum why I had marks all over my arms. He must’ve been about 6 or 7. Without missing a beat, his mum explained that some people hurt themselves when they feel bad or instead of hurting other people.

She didn’t lie, she didn’t hesitate and he accepted it.

I nearly missed the bus. I was stunned that she was so open with him about something I was still struggling to get my head around. I’ve never forgotten that woman and her kid. I wanted to say something to her, but I didn’t. I just got on the bus and went home feeling something different in terms of talking to my nephew about it all.

Once I had lunch with my aunt and my two cousins, who were about 12 and 8 at this point. My 8-year-old cousin Scott asked me about the scars on my arm. I panicked for a moment, then turned to my aunt and asked her what she wanted me to say. She said I could tell them whatever I wanted.

So I told them the truth.

It was easier than I thought it was going to be. I told them I was when I was ill I used to hurt myself to make myself feel better, but it didn’t work very well (definitely the truth). They accepted it easily. And then we had lunch.

Since then, I’ve always been honest. With my niece, my nephew and I’ll be honest with my son when he asks me about it. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out what the best thing is to say. The best way to describe it to a kid. Hell, the best way to describe it to an adult. I think it depends on the child. I could tell my niece why I have scars quite easily — that I was ill and I hurt myself to feel better — and she would accept it, but I can’t say that for every kid.

I do think it’s best to be honest regardless though. I believe lies don’t get you anywhere. I could’ve given my nephew a fear of cats with my lies (he adores cats). Self-harm was a big part of my mental health illness and that is definitely something we need to be honest with our kids about.

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 sergio_kumer.

36
36
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What Happens When Someone Comments on My Self-Harm Scars

18
18
1

I gazed upon the shaky lines that plagued my thighs and wrists with an overwhelming sense of regret and pride.

Some lines are quite faded now, but many are still visible to the human eye. Meaning that I’m constantly reminded they are present and will always be present. The lines are a part of who I am. They do not define me, but they represent a long journey I have traveled.

They represent 3 a.m. self-loathing sessions, and 3 p.m. panic attacks. They are a direct reflection of how I treated myself and how I treated others.

I never mention the purplish red marks that rest distinctly on my pale body. It’s one thing when someone else hurts you. But it is a whole other story when you are the “bad guy.”

Some days, I forget they reside on my flesh. Other days, elongated glances remind me that to some, I am someone to be feared. I desperately wish I would not freeze so I could just plead with them that I am not a monster — I was only fighting the one in my head.

Then, on my least favorite days, someone decides to comment on the horizontal lines, usually in front of others. Immediately my face is flushed and my heart drops. My mind races and the urge comes flooding back. Those are the days when I am reminded I am unlike the others. I hide secrets and demons.

Those are the hard days. The days that usually fade swiftly into a pitch black night. Those are the nights I cuddle up next to shame and isolation. Those nights I binge watch the mistakes I have made. I dwell in the darkness I once crawled out of.

My past reminds me of the ocean. Dark. Deep. Unpredictable. Overwhelming. Consistent in all of the above.

I would helplessly watch as the waves crashed over me, as I gasped for untainted air until drowning became my oxygen and treading through hell became my hobby.

There I floated — young, exhausted, lifeless.

Yet to the outside world, I was anything but dead. I was very much alive. So much so that my overall well-being or safety was never a question. Why would the girl who has it all be a danger to herself?

I suppose we forget that we are our own worst enemies sometimes.

I do not resent conversing about my dark past, only if I believe the person truly cares about my bright future. I deeply despise telling my stories to those who are obnoxiously nosey, rather than genuinely intrigued about who I am.

The thing is, I may have horizontal lines from battles I have lost.

But the sweet victory I bask in is vertical.

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 Silmen.

18
18
1
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Story of My Self-Harm Scars

17
17
0

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.

He found a scar and asked if I did it to myself.

He has asked that before but man, I am a world class liar.

I could get anyone to believe it was a clumsy catch in the kitchen or a fall because I cannot walk without stumbling, or even say I just don’t remember a trip when I had too much to drink. I could tell him anything and get him to believe that scar was some silly accident and nothing more.

Explaining self-mutilation is one of the hardest parts when opening up about this illness.

Sometimes, I wonder to myself if people see the scars and think it was just a clumsy accident, or does it run through their minds that I harmed myself? I wonder if they silently have thought about trying it themselves, or if they already have.

How hard is it to understand the thought process of the disease if you’re thinking from a perfectly healthy mind?

Why would you physically harm yourself and cause permanent damage that is so visible?

Is it a cry for help?

Is it just to make sure you’re alive?

Is it to make the outside just as “ugly” as you feel the inside is?

I was once asked what the inside of my mind looks like.

It looks like dark, deep scratches on gray walls. It looks like a deep hole and you’re stuck at the bottom looking up at the clouds covering the light at the end of the long, long tunnel.

That’s what the inside of my head looks like when it gets bad.

When it gets good?

There are flowers over the deep scratches. The flowers are every lie I tell myself and everyone else. The flowers are the smiles I plant on my face when things start to go well because duh, I have to be happy when “great” things happen. The flowers represent everyone who loves me and rely on me in their life. They shine on my good days.

But after the good days, bad days always follow.

So why the self-harm? It starts with comparing physical pain to emotional and mental pain. It’s the feeling of being emotionally drained, like that after a loss of someone or the loss of a job. That emotional exhaustion that leaves your body feeling like it got hit by a truck right after you ran a marathon up a mountain in freezing rain.

Everything hurts for no reason at all.

You feel all this pain inside and out, but there is absolutely no sign of your pain.

So you harm yourself.

Whether it is because you feel like you cause so much pain to others that you must feel pain too, or you’re just trying to make the outside match the inside, you harm yourself.

And for a brief moment, there is relief. Just like drugs, it wears off. Then what?

Well, then you get professional help or you do it again.

But the thing is, no matter how many times I harm myself, I found myself back at square one. 

I also found myself lying to my therapist about it. I was terrified that, if she knew, she would lock me up in a hospital or worse, tell someone else. An act that feels so natural to me, disgusts others.  

But it is all part of my story. I’ve made peace with my scars and now they mix with the beautiful art that is also forever inked into my skin.

Soon, the scars will be completely covered by ink in the shape of flowers, vines and birds.   

The scars will be part of the past. 

Just adding to the story that is my life.

Follow this journey on Loving Jaimie

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

17
17
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What I Need Most When I'm Struggling With Self-Harm

26
26
0

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 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.

26
26
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How I Answer the Questions People Have About My Self-Harm

11
11
1

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.

Author’s noteSelf-harm is a complex issue that is different for each individual. The following is my experience only and will not be the same for everyone.

I know a lot of people are curious about self-harm, why people do it, what it feels like and a whole host of other questions. I know people have wanted to ask me more about my personal self-harm and have been too scared to ask (Yes, I can see you looking and I can tell you have questions). So I’m going to try explain as best I can about my self-harm and try and answer any common questions people may have.

The first time I ever harmed myself, I was 16 years old. I don’t even know exactly why I did it, or at least I don’t remember why I did it. It wasn’t a “serious” injury — it barely even left a mark. I think I did it because I wanted help with feelings I couldn’t explain, yet at the same time I didn’t want anyone to know. I went to great lengths to hide what I had done from other students, my teachers and my family. There were a lot of conflicting arguments going around in my head that didn’t make a lot of sense.

Gradually my self-harm increased. Slowly the wounds got worse. I still I wasn’t sure exactly why I was doing it. All I knew is that it made me feel better for a brief moment. So why does inflicting injury upon oneself sometimes make someone feel better? I didn’t know why then, and I still don’t. But for me, it does. I can’t explain it.

I think the hardest part for people to wrap their heads around is that when I self-harm, most of the time it doesn’t hurt in the moment (though after it does). For me it isn’t about the pain, it’s about seeing the blood. I know how messed up that sounds and I can’t explain it any more than just saying it’s soothing to me. It reminds me that I’m real, that this life is real and what I’m experiencing is real. My reasons for self-harm vary, and there is never just one reason I do it. Sometimes I self-harm when I’m feeling highly anxious and I need the calming effect. Sometimes I self-harm when I’m really upset about something and need something else to focus on. Sometimes I self-harm when I start zoning out, feel like I’m there but I’m not there, and I need grounding. Sometimes, I don’t have any reason for doing it at all and that’s the hardest one to deal with. I have learned that self-harm can become addictive and even when you don’t want to do it, sometimes you just can’t stop yourself.

Although cutting is my main form of self-harm, it also takes other forms from time to time. Burning, scratching and banging to cause bruising. I’m also a bit of a compulsive picker. My wounds can take a while to heal because I pick at them. I’ve found the best way to stop this is to make sure they are completely covered until they are just about healed. If I can’t see it, I’m less likely to pick at it.

Unless I voluntarily give up my tools for self-harm, please do not try and forcibly take them off me, because I will go and find more. If I do voluntarily give up my tools, it doesn’t always mean I won’t go and find more. What it means is at that moment I’m fighting the urge to self-harm and am doing my best to stop it by removing access to my methods. It takes a lot for me to do this.

I’ve learned wound care is important. Keeping the wound clean is important to prevent infection and further complications, which let’s face it, we just don’t need on top of other things we are dealing with. As I mentioned before, keeping a wound covered is important for me even if it’s not strictly necessary, as it stops me picking and reopening cuts.

The best thing I can do though is avoid self-harm and I attempt to do this through distraction techniques. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I keep a list of things I can try first. Some of the things on my list are:

1. Going for a walk

2. Adult coloring books

3. iPad games and puzzles

4. Writing

5. Photography

6. Housework (boring I know)

7. Sitting outside in the sun

8. Netflix

I started self-harming at 16 and have struggled on and off since. At my worst, I can be self-harming every day. At best, there are months or even years in between episodes. As it’s been over 15 years of dealing with self-harm, you can imagine I now have quite a collection of scars, the majority of which are on my arms.

I use to hide my scars with long sleeves, but in the summer time that can get quite hot. I don’t do that anymore. I wear what’s comfortable now and try to ignore the stares and not worry about what other people think. It took me a long time to get to a place where I was feeling OK to do that. It doesn’t mean I like my scars, it just means I have accepted them. They are a part of me as much as my eye color is. Remember, it is OK to cover up though if you do not feel comfortable yet. Sometimes it can be easier than dealing with the stares and insensitive remarks some people will make. Some people will wear long sleeves, some will wear makeup and some will even consult a plastic surgeon. Whether to cover up or not is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong answer. The important thing is to get help when you are struggling.

Sometimes people will have questions about my scars and want to know what happened. What I tell people depends on the audience. I usually try and be truthful though. For adults, I might tell them that they are self-inflicted and that I was going though rough time, or I might brush it off and change the subject. Most people don’t push the issue if you do that. For children, it’s different and it depends on the age of the child and your relationship with them. Kids are not shy about saying what’s on their mind and asking rather direct questions. I did some research on the best way of approaching this issue with children and this is the best explanation I have come up with. I tell them when some people get sick, they might get a cough or a rash, when I get sick, I get these marks on my arm. Usually that’s enough to satisfy them and they move on to something else.

I feel like my scars tell a story. My story. It’s a story of a battle with myself. A battle with the conflicting and often irrational thoughts in my head that I struggle to gain control over. I might have war wounds, but I’m still here to tell you about it, so it’s a battle I’m winning. It’s a battle I intend to keep on winning, even through the bad days, as I fight for better days ahead.

I think it’s also important to recognize that self-harm can affect anyone from the young to the old, from the unemployed to highly skilled professionals, male or female. It doesn’t care who you are or what social class you fit into. I believe no one is immune and it can happen to anyone. It is nothing to be ashamed of and is definitely something you can get help for. The best place to start would be to visit your doctor and consult a psychologist.

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 Brooke Cagle.

11
11
1
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When Asking for Help for Self-Harm Brings Fear of Shame and Judgment

110
110
0

“Help this to not be a game for her, Lord. Help her to seek you with her whole heart.”

My eyes popped open to see my small group leader’s face tilted up toward heaven, eyes tightly closed, hand heavy on my shoulder. Heavy like the words of the confession I had just murmured in her ear at the front of the church during a call for healing — “I struggle with cutting.”

To me, games include softball, soccer and pinball.

Self-harm was not a game to me. The scars. The box cutters I bought, hid and threw away in a hopeless cycle. The fear I felt when I broke my promises to never do it again.

I wasn’t having fun, and if this was a game, the only thing I wanted to do was figure out how to win — to never hurt myself again.

When her eyes opened, I saw how she gazed at me warily. The same way my family member’s eyes had clouded when I whispered that I needed help. Then she asked, “Why would you destroy yourself like that?”

I didn’t know. But it seemed like asking for help brought shame and judgment. It was like if I couldn’t get better, I could at least keep my problem from skewing the way other people saw me. Silently, I watched my scars accumulate under layers of clothing and a smile.

And my story could have continued in silence. I could have been too ashamed to speak — too scared to ask for help — but I’m grateful every day that it didn’t. I’m grateful to the therapist who waited out my silence, for being the first person who did not cringe when I finally admitted my struggle.

I’m also grateful for the people who share their stories. Stories I read on support websites before I could muster the courage to share my own. I hope if you’re reading this and struggling, you know that you deserve healing and hope. You might not find the support you need the first time you ask, but that doesn’t mean you should stop asking. It means the people you asked were not equipped to help you.

Asking for help is an act of bravery, the best way to love yourself, the first step in your journey toward healing.

You deserve that.

So ask. Ask until you find what you need.

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 Maria Kuznetsova

110
110
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.