After moving to Florida when I was 13, I found myself slipping into a dark depression. I didn't realize that it was depression at the time. I just knew that I felt different. Growing up, I had a strong group of friends, I was involved in sports (even though I was terrible) and I was happy. But when we moved to Florida, something was...different. I lost all interested in the things I loved, I had no interest in making friends and I found myself feeling sad most of the time.
Back in those days, I had a LiveJournal account, and I blogged about everything and anything I was thinking about. While reading through other peoples' blogs, I learned about self-injury - more specifically, cutting. I had no idea that it was a "thing," but the more I read, the more I learned. And the more I learned, the more curious I became. One day when I was super depressed, I grabbed a scissor and made a small, shallow cut into my wrist. I instantly forgot about all of the emotional pain I was feeling and became fixated on the physical pain. So I did it again...and again. And from that moment on, I used cutting as a way to cope with my emotional pain.
Self-injury, also known as self-harm, is a way that many people suffering from mental illness cope with their problems and deal with their emotional pain. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1 in 10 people self-harm themselves at some point in their lives. However, since most people conceal their self-harm behaviors, the numbers are probably much higher (Healthy Place). Common forms of self-injury include cutting, burning, piercing, interfering with wound healing, punching and purposely bruising oneself. Self-injury is more prevalent in teenagers, women, gays and bisexuals. Self-injury is an incredibly taboo topic, and it's something that very few people fully understand. Over the years, I have read so many myths about self-injury, and being a former cutter, they annoy the hell out of me. Here are the 5 most common myths and the truth behind them:
I think I can speak for most cutters out there when I say that we do not do it for attention! Self-injury is a very private thing, and most people who self-harm go to great lengths to cover up their injuries. Any time I cut myself, I did everything I could to hide my cuts - bandaids, bracelets, makeup, etc. I never ever wanted people to see my cuts are scars, and the last thing I wanted was attention. I hated when people asked me why I was wearing long-sleeves in summer or why I had so many bracelets on. It was humiliating, and most people who self-harm feel the same way.
Some people who self-harm are suicidal, but not everyone is. Most people who self-harm aren't trying to kill themselves. They're trying to mask their emotional pain by replacing it with physical pain. They're trying to cope with the world around them and the insane amount of emotions that they're feeling. Although I was suicidal when I was cutting myself, I never used cutting as a way to die. I used it as a way to live, and a way to feel alive. Feeling the pain of a new cut made me feel something again, and it reminded me that I was alive.
In the five years I cut myself, I never made any super deep cuts. But that doesn't mean that my self-injury wasn't a serious issue because it definitely was. People who self-harm have very different pain tolerances and methods of self-injury. Whether someone's cuts require medical attention has very little to do with the severity of someone's issue. Just because someone makes shallow cuts as opposed to deep ones doesn't mean their struggle is any less severe or painful.
Stopping self-harm isn't as easy as it sounds. Self-injury is an addiction just like drugs, smoking and alcohol. Since self-injury is so taboo, many people blow it off and don't treat it like the serious addiction that it is. Coming from someone who used to cut themselves, I can tell you that it's very, very difficult to stop. It took me many years and failed attempts to finally quit, and it wasn't until a year ago when I finally felt like I found other - and better - coping mechanisms.
While it's true that self-injury is most common in adolescent and young women, self-injury doesn't discriminate. Research shows that self-injury affects all different types of people from high school students to middle-aged adults and prison inmates to business professionals.
On the surface, self-injury seems so simple. But I've never found it to be simple. In fact, I think it's one of the most complicated, misunderstood things out there. The next time you meet someone who engages in self-harm just remember: it's far more complicated than you think.
We're not doctors, therapists, counselors or mental health professionals. We didn't study psychology in school. But we are a group of people living with mental illness, navigating recovery and learning how to take care of ourselves in the process. And because we know what it's like to do it alone, we believe you shouldn't have to.
Fight for Better Tomorrows was built on the belief that tomorrow can be different. We're here to share our stories and help you navigate recovery so you can fight for better tomorrows, too.