The internal monologue speaks. It says things like ‘you should, you should not’ and ‘you could, or you could not’. But it’s all irrelevant because in the end it simply decides ‘this is going to hurt’.
In one hot summer, in one hot toilet cubicle, underneath one hot, 90% polyester and only 10% cotton uniform, the itching of some 400 cuts was unbearable. I wanted to see if it was safe to remove the sweater, to at least reduce some discomfort-but the blood had leaked through the shirt beneath, white turned red from one particular injury. In truth, I was beginning to worry slightly about it. I undid the top few buttons, rearranged the razor stuck down the side of my bra for storage, did them up again. We never had actual pockets, so the alternative was to hide various contraband down the top half of our underwear, between the padding and the skin, and sometimes the elasticity of the underwire made it particularly easy to hold safe gum, phones, drugs, cigarettes, lighters and-in some cases-the blades from pencil sharpeners or old razors. A trick no one was ever taught but everybody knew, nonetheless.
It has taken years to explain, words unraveled end to end and still failing to articulate, in full, the ‘point’ of self harm. And yet ultimately, there is only one justification: It is not because we want to hurt, it is because we already hurt. And one day, there may be someone out there depending on you to understand. It is easy to assume, from the sideline, that those who cut with razors or burn with lighters are somehow sadists with an insatiable desire for the morbid, the violent, the downright grim. How could those who have never experienced anything similar, either first-hand or second-hand, begin to understand something that seems so counter-intuitive, so pointless and self destructive? The vast amount of people, from friends to supposedly ‘qualified’ therapists have stated ‘I just don’t see what it is that you’re trying to achieve’ and ‘it’s not exactly a logical solution’. Whilst it is all well and good to bring concepts of practicality and rational thought into questioning, they forget one major detail: mental illness is neither practical nor rational.
We hurt ourselves because we are ill.
Because the physical pain is more manageable, although somewhat more immediate, than the mental.
Because we believe we are bad.
Because we have bad thoughts.
Because we believe we have made bad choices and we need punishing.
Because we want to feel something, anything, to know that we are here on Earth, we are real, and we are grounded in our surroundings.
Because self harm is a better alternative to suicide and we are trying to hold onto life, despite the fact we may not want to.
Because, fundamentally, it is addictive-both neurochemically and as a trusted habit to rely upon.
But it is not because we are dangerous, weak, manipulative or ‘seeking attention’ (but if we are that desperate to use it as a cry for help, listen to it).
How deep, how ‘serious’ wounds appear to be from a spectator’s point of view is irrelevant. Minor abrasions can be carried out when someone is on the verge of taking their own life. Equally, those requiring hospital visits can be as a result of relapses, where judgement has been forgotten and blades have been sharper than expected. I have experienced both, but I can assure you that the driving cause behind some of the ‘insignificant’ cuts was far more overpowering than the deeper, more ‘dramatic’ incidents. With self harm, there is no ‘half pain’, no ‘easier’ moment of cutting compared to another. Hell is hell; if you’re in it, how far you’re in is irrelevant.
These things are the things I wish people had known so I didn’t have to walk the road alone. Not to fix, not to solve, not to be the ‘answer’ or the solution. Just to know, just to get it whilst walking by my side. It is not about asking someone to make the rain stop falling: it is about having a warm and dry place to shelter, occasionally. To say ‘I am stood here with you and I know’. I know you are hurt, I know you don’t want to hurt, I will be here until the storm passes. I can’t fix you but I can be here while you fix yourself.
These are the words we all need to hear at some point throughout our lives. Know that just because we hurt on the outside as well, we are not to be feared or avoided. It is difficult to say the wrong thing when, often, you really can’t make us feel any worse. As long as you don’t judge or belittle us, we’ll appreciate the fact that you’re just there.
We don’t need you to slay our demons: just hold our hand whilst we resist them.