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What Channeling My Self-Harm Urges Made Me Realize About My Darkness

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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.

Today I had one of the worst days I’ve had in a long while.

Today I almost succumbed to the Darkness in my head for the first time in over five years.

This is not something I tell people often, not because I’m particularly ashamed of it, but mostly because when I do say something, I get this look. Those who struggle with any form of self-harm or mental illness know the look well. It’s this sort of tight-lipped, pitying look of disapproval, and it’s absolutely  unbearable.

I used to have a serious problem with self-harm. No one ever knew, because I hid it well. 

I knew what I was doing was not healthy, I just didn’t care. I watched myself do it with a sort of detached numbness. It hurt, but I reveled in the pain. It was a sign of something real. Something tangible. Something I could actually understand. Something that anchored me to this world.

Plus, I reasoned, I deserved it. Part of it was a desire to feel something, anything, and part of it was a form of self-punishment. The Darkness told me I deserved it. That I was worth less than nothing, and that this was my punishment for existing and being a burden to others.

I clearly remember one of the first times I intentionally self-harmed. I was still with my ex-husband, and his constant emotional abuse had worn me thin. The Darkness took this opportunity to latch on to my feelings of inadequacy and begin suffocating me.

“You’re not worth anything,” the Darkness sneered.


“No one cares about you in the slightest, why would they?”


“You have nothing.”


“You are nothing.”

And on and on it went.

I remember coming out of the bathroom after cleaning myself up, and hearing my ex say, “I know you were cutting yourself in there.”

I fumbled awkwardly for a second, trying to figure out what to say to save face, then he continued.

“I just didn’t care enough to stop it.”

His words were confirmation of everything I feared. I wasn’t worth it. He didn’t care. Nobody cared. Why would they?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember a whole lot from that time in my life. I don’t know if I’m blocking it out, or what, but it’s a blur from that point on, and the only things I really remember with any clarity were the gut-punchingly awful things he would say to me that would cause a resurgence of the Darkness, and another relapse into my self-harm.

It was only after the implosion of everything, and the spectacular fallout from the end of our “relationship” that things started to improve.

I flew through the stages of grief, latching on in particular to “Anger.” I used this anger to my advantage, unleashing my pent up frustration and fury on the Darkness, which quailed at the assault.

Because you see, the Darkness is cowardly. It relies on the seeds of self-doubt. Without my ex to sow those seeds, the Darkness lost its foothold and began to slowly crumble away.

Anger. It was a new feeling. Hell, it was a feeling. And any feeling was good after such a long time of nothing.

I clung to that feeling, and pushed stubbornly on. And things got better.

Things always do when you have the tenacity to fight.

The Darkness gradually receded, and so did the scars on my arms and thighs. They gradually faded away to almost nothing. My depression and my anxiety have been bad in the past few years, but my stubbornness kept the Darkness at bay.

Until today.

I had a panic-induced meltdown today. I won’t bore you with the details, but the basic gist of it is that I was caught up in the middle of a toxic situation, and the constant stream of negativity started to crack my carefully constructed façade. And the Darkness was right behind it, just waiting.

Dealing with depression and anxiety is exhausting. You can’t give the Darkness even the smallest foothold or it will overtake everything. It’s like English Ivy. Or Kudzu. Or God forbid, Trumpet Vine. Don’t let it take root at all, or it will quickly grow out of control, pushing everything else out, and strangling anything in its path.

The Darkness slowly began to invade, stretching out its greedy little tendrils and consuming everything.

You know that nasty, stretchy, sticky black ectoplasm that creeps down walls and over the floors in horror movies? It feels exactly like that. It’s a horrible, invasive, disgusting feeling. No matter how hard you scrub, you just can’t get the icky feeling off your skin.

I sat on the couch and just wallowed in it. The panic had mostly subsided, and now I was just tired. That’s when it started. That tiny voice inside my head, telling me to just do it. Just cut yourself. After all, it used to make me feel better, right? The tiny voice grew to a roar until it drowned out everything in my head. I hated it, but felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I just wanted everything to stop.

As I started to get off the couch, ready to just give in, I had a sudden moment of clarity. I remembered seeing a post online somewhere about a person whose therapist suggested using a marker to draw on herself whenever she felt the urge to self-harm. The tiny piece of me that had not been completely overtaken latched on to the idea.

So I I picked up a Sharpie. And I started to draw.

People, hear me. I can’t draw for shit. But as I watched the marker swoop and twirl over my skin, I became fascinated by the designs. It felt calming, and almost peaceful.

I drew on my arm until the feeling passed, and the Darkness was once again locked behind a wall deep in my mind. As a final act of defiance, I scrawled a simple phrase on my hand, right underneath the unconsciously inflicted wounds from my last panic attack.

“You matter.”

Arm arm with Sharpie drawings. On her wrist it says, You Matter.

black and white image of an art with drawings on it.

As I looked at the designs on my arm, I realized something. The intricate, beautiful marks I had made stood out in sharp contrast against the rawness of the scabbing and scarring on my hand.

Right there on my arm and hand, literally in black and white was a truth that I simply had not realized until then.

Life is equal parts beauty and mess. Pain and accomplishment. Failures and victories. All of these things tell a story. It’s up to you how that story ends.

Will you give in and let the Darkness win? Or will you take a stubborn, defiant stand against the lies it tells you, and emerge victorious on the other side?

We all have a story to tell. I hope mine can do some good in this sometimes cold and hostile world. Don’t believe the lies. Stand tall. Tell your story.

You are good enough.

You are loved.

You matter.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 19, 2016
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