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The Part of My Job That Affected Me as Someone in Self-Harm Recovery

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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. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

This past week, I participated in a simulation about self-injury at one of my part-time jobs. I played someone who was hurting herself, and trainees practiced responding in helpful ways.

As someone who has intentionally injured myself, I wanted to play this character in order to create a non-stigmatizing portrayal of why someone might do this (although people’s reasons for self-injury vary). The training went well; however, it also brought up intense, unexpected feelings.

I felt deeply unseen, because I was portraying something so much a part of my own story, and everyone thought I was acting. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my personal experience because I didn’t want my supervisors to think this role was too triggering and that I should be protected from similar tasks in the future. (Something like this happened to me in a former job when I disclosed I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).)

The character I played injured herself in a way that attracted notice from others. Her struggling was very seen (although not necessarily well understood). Portraying her while feeling so unseen brought up my own desire to communicate my pain through self-injury — an impulse I have very mixed feelings about.

For the most part, I’ve hurt myself as a way to cope with overwhelming inner states, and other people often haven’t known about it. However, I have occasionally harmed myself in visible ways because I wanted other people to see my struggling. I feel embarrassed when I think about the most extreme things I’ve done. I’m not an evil person who enjoys other people’s discomfort, but I have, at times, made people uncomfortable.

Throughout my childhood, I witnessed and experienced violence, yet I was told everything was fine and my strong reactions to it were a sign of something wrong with me. “You’re over-reacting.” “You’re too f***ing sensitive.” “Go to bed and you’ll feel better in the morning.” Being told that what was happening wasn’t really happening was absolutely “crazy-making.” I had all this pain, yet believed I had no right to it. Hurting myself has been a way to contradict this lie, to tell myself my distress is legitimate. In fact, I want to show other people my anguish because I hope if they believe me, maybe I can finally believe myself.

Although it’s less compelling than it used to be, there is still a part of me that wants to use self-injury to communicate pain. I struggle to hold this part alongside the many sometimes contradictory parts of myself — the self who nurtures, the self who is calm in crisis, the self who doesn’t want to hurt any living being. How can I give voice to all these things? How can I make my struggle known while also living as the compassionate person I want to be?

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 m-gucci

Originally published: August 29, 2017
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