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When Self-Injury Shames You Into Silence

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Actions speak louder than words, or at least that’s what I used to think.

Growing up wasn’t always easy. I experienced several painful events at different points of my life. One particularly difficult period stemmed from being bullied as a young adolescent. I can vividly recall the throbbing in my arms from being hit so hard it hurt to raise them over my head. Worse than any punch, however, were the words spewed to me on a daily basis: you’re worthless… pathetic… you should just kill yourself. The more I heard these messages, the more they became deeply entrenched in my mind. Eventually, I began looking at myself in the mirror and loathing the person staring back at me. Unsurprisingly, this culminated into repeated bouts with depression.

In a desperate attempt to feel anything but the unbearable pain I felt inside, I began to self-injure. As irrational as it may sound, self-injury gave voice to what I could not. It communicated the agony I felt each day. Self-injury screamed the hatred I harbored toward myself; it validated the anguish I thought I deserved. Beyond what it expressed, self-injury also provided needed yet temporary relief from the despair that marred so many of my days.

Ironically, as much as it seemed to say, self-injury silenced me. As a young man who self-injured and who was severely depressed, I felt incredibly ashamed and utterly alone. I became accustomed to masking my emotional pain and covering my scars. I hid behind the veil of long-sleeves and fake smiles. Becoming adept at secrecy, I conveyed a sense that I was “OK” when below the surface a storm was brewing. As each day dragged on, my sense of hope waned. I became acutely suicidal and made plans and even took actions to end my life.

As bad as things became, my story ends well.

It started by asking for help and not just asking it, accepting it. This was by no means easy. At the time I saw help seeking as a sign of weakness; just another flaw in what I already deemed an awful character. What changed was a realization that perhaps it was OK to seek help. This didn’t happen overnight. It took time. It took encouragement and support from others, especially my parents and close friends.

What also helped was hearing about others’ experiences — others who had been down a similar path. I read people’s stories in books and interacted with countless people online, who shared experiences with self-injury and depression. Some were young men, just like me. The more stories I heard, the more I recognized I was not alone. It was a simple yet powerful realization. I began to think that maybe — just maybe — there was a chance to climb out of the gulf of misery I inhabited. It was a small glimmer of hope but to was one I so desperately needed. It was a chance to get out of hell.

Over the course of recovery I developed new ways to cope with the pain to which I had become accustomed. I found a voice for what I thought could not be expressed without self-injury. This took time and patience. Recovery is a process. It is not quick nor is it easy. And, it is definitely not straightforward. It had its ups and downs and I had moments of relapse during which I self-injured again. However, these incidents became less frequent. I found myself increasingly more able to resist the urges to self-injure. Soon the urges were just that — urges. I developed what I never thought was possible: a voice over self-injury.

Actions do not necessarily speak louder than words. Self-injury is shrouded in myths, misconceptions, stigma and undue shame. In my experience, self-injury muted my voice while depression took away my vitality. Hence, I believe we need to foster open conversations about self-injury and related mental health difficulties — especially for the sake of those who remain silent.

Sharing one’s experience is a deeply personal decision. It’s certainly easier said than done. It has to come at a time of readiness. At least this was the case for me. Not everyone’s circumstances are identical. There may be concerns about how partners, friends, family or co-workers may respond or react. Accordingly, there is a dual need to increase society’s awareness and understanding of self-injury. With more awareness comes more understanding. With more understanding comes greater acceptance.

There is nothing wrong with you if you have self-injured or if you struggle. It’s OK to talk about it. It’s okay to ask for help and accept it. You deserve that. Recovery is possible.

When you’re ready, let your voice be heard. Make your words louder than your actions.

Until then, remember this simple message: You are not alone.

For more resources about self-injury, visit Self-injury Outreach and Support.

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.

Originally published: April 15, 2016
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