Why do you self-harm?

I have scars on my body.  Proof of the things I sometimes wish weren’t true about me;  constant reminders of the many times I’ve slipped up and let my demons take the reigns.

I have scars on my legs, my arms and my torso.  Some are tiny, faint little lines.  Some are big and texturised.  Some were made with a knife.  Others with a razor blade.  Some with broken glass.  One, with a broken hair clip.  Some of them bled a lot. Some of them barely bled at all. 

All of them were self-inflicted.  None of them were meant to kill me.

I used to hide my scars at all costs.  I didn’t want people to know I had cut myself.  I had a story for each scar; a made up explanation for how it got there. 

The one on my wrist? I was climbing a tree and scratched it on a branch.
The one on my hand? I didn’t realise there was a knife in the soapy dish water.
The one on my side? I scraped it on a rock while swimming in the river.

After a while, though, there were too many scars and not enough stories to pair them with.  And, eventually I grew to accept the scars – and myself – and the potential whispers stopped bothering me.  I stopped hiding. 

When I started this blog, I decided to take every possible opportunity to talk about mental health issues.  What better way to get people talking than to expose the evidence?

Sometimes I catch people looking and I know they want to ask, but are afraid to.  Sometimes I get supportive comments, or people share their own stories with me.   Sometimes, I get questions.

Not everyone understands the concept of physical self-harm. I’ve noticed that some people even have a hard time differentiating between self-harm and attempted suicide.  For example, after discussing the scars on my legs being from self-inflicted cuts, one person said, “Why would you cut yourself there? That’s not going to kill you.”

When we take part in something and know it very well, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has those same experiences.  So when that person indirectly told me I was bad at suicide, I was just surprised they didn’t realise suicide had never been my plan in the first place. When I drew the knife across my thigh; when I cut my wrist with that broken hair clip; when I sliced my side open with a razor blade – I wasn’t doing it to end my life.

But why on earth would a person intentionally hurt themselves?  Being a person who has self-harmed since I was a young teenager, this is a question I never really even considered – it’s just what I have always done.  However, I realise there are several people in the world who – thankfully – simply never had to know the answer.

  While I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself.  And to me, the answer seems simple.  Why do I hurt myself?  To feel the pain.

“But why do you want to feel pain? Do you like the pain?”
No. I hate it.  It hurts. And most of the time it leaves an ugly scar.

“If you know it’s going to leave an ugly scar, then why do you still do it?”
When I’m in a state of mind poor enough to self-harm, the thought of a lasting scar doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I feel like scarred skin represents me better than flawless skin in these moments – the skin should match the mind.

“Are you trying to kill yourself?”
No.

“Then I don’t understand.”

The best explanation I have is this: 
Self-harm translates the confusing, sad, angry feelings I’m unable to disect into a physical, tangible and understandable pain.  I can look at it.  I can control it.  I can understand why it hurts.

Not everyone who self-harms is suicidal.  Sometimes, it’s just a release.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed and angry and upset and I don’t know why and I can’t calm myself down, cutting brings me back to reality.  I see the blood and I’m reminded that my heart is still beating; that I’m still breathing; that I’m still living. 

Suicide ends your story, while self-harm just leaves a mark. 

I’m not condoning cutting, or any other form of self-harm.  As much as I understand how “helpful” it can feel, I realise it is in no way a good thing.  Unfortunately, though, it can be addictive. Self-harm is something that I’m still fighting with; it’s something I always revert back to when I fall down the tunnel.  It’s a battle I’ve yet to win, but one I won’t give up on.

The cuts I make will soon stop bleeding and close up – the skin will scab, then toughen with a scar.  The crippling thoughts lodged in my mind are just as temporary – they will change, and I will be okay.  When I forget that, the scars are my reminder.

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