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What Goes Through the Mind of Someone Who Self-Harms

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Editor's Note

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.

When it comes to understanding self-harm, there are normally three groups of people. People who understand, people who don’t understand and people who don’t want to understand. I tend not to invest much time in teaching people who have no desire to learn, to understand. I’m happy to teach the people who don’t understand and are open to understanding, or at least, knowing.

The most common statement I hear is “I don’t understand what goes through someone’s mind that makes them want to do that.”

Well, let me tell you what goes through my mind. Imagine living your worst nightmare, whether it’s physical, sexual, mental or emotional abuse, the death of a loved one or any traumatic event that you’ve experienced. On loop. Without respite. Imagine having no respite from your worst nightmare, even when you sleep. When you sleep, you dream it. When you dream it, you feel the emotions. The panic. The fear. The loneliness. The loss. The pain. The despair. When you feel these emotions, you react physically, even in your sleep. You wake up exhausted, feeling as though you’ve run a marathon. You wake up sweating. Your heart racing. Your limbs shaking. You’re unable to focus your eyes. Your head is heavy and foggy. Waking from the dreams is no respite. You haven’t woken feeling rested. You’re not ready to start the day. You used all your energy in your sleep.

Regardless of the lack of sleep, you’ll continue to live your nightmare while you’re awake. And you’ll dream your nightmare again when you go back to sleep at night. There is no respite. You’re on loop. Forever. What if there was a way to make this stop? What if there was a way to experience a short reprieve? Would you take that opportunity? I would. I do. Self-harm stops this loop, temporarily. It gives me a “breather.” I’ll sleep a little easier. My thoughts will become a little quieter. My day will go a little smoother. Sure, it’s short lived, but every minute of reprieve is precious.

Imagine your mental reality and physical reality don’t match. Mentally, you’re a child and you’re still being abused. You are scared of everything and everyone. Physically, you’re an adult with responsibilities. You study, you have pets to look after and you’re caring for your elderly mother. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make your mental and physical reality match. You know they don’t match. You do everything within your power to make them match, but they don’t. That is a scary place to be. Scary. Confusing. Exhausting. What’s if there was a way to hit pause? What’s if you could “step out” for awhile? Would you? I would. I do. Self-harming is a way of pressing pause. A way to “step out” for a moment. Yeah, it’s only a moment, but it’s a moment I so desperately need.

Imagine feeling an emotional pain so severe, you could feel it in your heart. Imagine you could feel the ache move from your heart and down your arm. Imagine not having the words to express this pain. Imagine not having the ability to verbalize this pain. Imagine you have no family or friends who could listen to you, even if you had the words, even if you were able to verbalize your pain. You’re trapped, alone with your pain. What if there was another way to express your pain? What’s if you could express your pain without the need for words? Without the need to verbalize anything? What’s if you could express your pain alone, without the need for family or friends? Would you take that opportunity? Would you express your pain in a way that you know works? I would. I do. Self-harm releases my emotional pain. It sets me free. Sure, it’s only temporary, but it’s freedom nonetheless.

There are many, many things that go through the mind of someone who self-harms. Imagine the trauma, the darkness someone has gone through to be in that place. Self-harm is only a temporary “solution,” but for those of us in that darkness? We’ll take any reprieve we can get. We know it’s temporary, but every minute we get to spend away from the demon that is our mind, is worth it. These are just some of the things that go through my mind when I self-harm.

Getty image by Kateryna Kovarzh

Originally published: August 13, 2021
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