The Mighty Logo

When I Found Out My Sister Had Self-Harmed

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s sister.

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Article updated August 19, 2019.


I remember reaching over and trying to rub off the words she had carved into her leg. I’ve seen people read books, magazines and newspapers, but never the skin of a girl too young for even a tattoo.

I watched as her tears fell from her eyes to the fresh scar seven inches north of her knee and felt myself hoping they would wash it away. But they were just fresh, damp, desperate pain, saturating the lines that were already there. None of it would be simple to erase. She finally lifted her gaze to meet mine, and saw my eyes cry for help the way her skin did. “I’m so sorry,” she weeped.

My mind became as empty as the razors in this house without their blades. I wondered if she had all my words hidden in a box beneath her bed too. I swear the sight of her helplessness cut all of the connections in my brain loose, all but the one that told me to lean in and rest my forehead on hers. The world ceased to exist and, in that moment, I realized my heart had to become strong enough to beat for both of us. Strong enough though this night had rendered it shattered. The first things that swelled to my consciousness like bubbles to the surface were questions. “How many more are there? I thought you stopped doing this? “Why? Why? Why?” But I dare not ask while her head which once fit in the nook of my arm now lay shaking with sobs in my lap.

I brought her to her feet and walked her to the bathroom where she showed me. I wanted to be angry that she’d made her body a canvas for her paintbrush of pain. Instead, I traced each scar with fingers covered in ointment. I wished that I could read the bumps like brail so they could tell me why they are on my baby sister’s body.

This one for the day she failed a math test, that one for the boy who called her “stupid,” and this one because her sister didn’t want to hear about her drama. I’m so sorry. Six bandaids applied just the way I would have done when she fell off of her scooter all those years ago. But now the difference is that she is not the only one crying.

Determined to keep her demons away, I didn’t let her out of my sight, my hand held hers through the night as she slept beside me, only ever letting go when separated by the help behind hospital doors.

Unsplash via Roberto Nickson

Originally published: December 5, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home