Rebecca @ Vicariously! has been absolutely amazing writing all these guest posts for us. These posts have been bold, brave, personal, but still informative. Her last post is about her experiences with self-harm.
TRIGGER WARNING: self-harm/self-mutilation
What I’m going to talk about is going to make me and you uncomfortable. At the current moment my cat is under my arm, cuddling me, and nudging me with his nose. I’m actually going to get him certified for ESA because he’s done wonders for my anxiety. But he’s telling me I can do this, so I am.
You can be addicted to anything. Anything. The Merriam Webster’s simple definition for addiction is as follows: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)
And I, Reader, have been addicted to self-mutilation since I was fourteen.
I’ve written two articles/pieces for this event and this is hard for me. Much like my description of PTSD, this letter (I have found it easier to write this in epistolary form) is going to be graphic and possibly triggering. Please do not read on if you cannot handle this. I don’t want to cause anyone to relapse.
The first time I did it I was staring at a match. As the flame flickered on the fourth or fifth match I’d lit, I had an idea. I was being bullied at school, things were rough at home, and I just couldn’t seem to do anything right. I was in constant emotional pain, I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, and dear GOD I just wanted control. So I blew the match out and pressed it into my skin.
Reader, I would like to stress that I’m not condoning or condemning anyone. I’m not looking for validation or sympathy. I’m writing about something that I fight with every day.
I don’t like physical pain. However, when that match touched my skin? I didn’t feel pain. I felt relief. I felt like, for the first time in months, I had some sort of control over how much pain I was going to feel and when it would stop. I couldn’t control anything else, but this? This I could. I proceeded to light several more matches.
I wasn’t good at hiding them at first. My mom accidentally saw them one day and saw through my excuses and asked me not to do it again. I promised her I wouldn’t.
I don’t know if any of you have a family member, friend, or person in your life who has an addiction problem or have one yourself, however there is one things all addicts have in common: They lie.
And I lied to my mom.
A friend taught me how to cut. I started cutting my wrists and arms. I felt powerful and I felt vindicated. I had all these emotional scars, these things people didn’t see, things that hurt me to this day that I’m still working on in therapy and not only was I controlling my pain, but there were physical reminders. It became like artwork. From my elbows to my wrists I would cut in different directions, watching the blood well up and wiping it away. I was in control.
Over the next two years, from fifteen to the end sixteen. I got away with it. Long sleeved shirts and bracelets covered my war wounds. No one noticed. Until they did. I broke a lot of promises and they never found my blades. To this day my mother will readily tell you that if I don’t want something found it won’t be found.
I tried to slit my wrists when my childhood best friend was killed in a drunk driving accident. That was my first institutionalization. I was seventeen.
They taught me about maladaptive coping mechanisms and that I’d done myself a disservice by self-medicating with matches and razor blades. I abstained for three years. I relapsed at twenty, twenty one, twenty four, and this year I’ve struggled with abstaining after my relapse in March.
My legs are riddled with scars I used to be ashamed of. This year I wore shorts without tights under them. I didn’t care who saw, I didn’t care who saw them. I fought a fucking war and I’m still fucking fighting. I still struggle with it, like tonight when things were especially stressful and felt entirely out of control. I still have razors hidden in my room. I’m not ready to get rid of them, but I’m still abstaining.
Reader when was the last time you read about someone who self-mutilated? Cutting and burning are only two things people do. There’s tons more. But let’s get back to this person. When you read about them or encountered them or discovered their secrets? Did you judge them? Did you think they were doing it for attention? Did you call them crazy and move on with your life?
While these reactions are often the norms they come from people who aren’t informed about the complexity of self-mutilation. Sometimes it is a cry for help, sometimes it’s for control, sometimes people do need attention, and sometimes it’s a way of coping. Is it healthy? No. But it’s not there for your judgement.
I’m not saying you should try to involve yourself, but before you judge someone or write them off? Before you make them feel ashamed of what they’ve done? Educate yourself. Addiction is a mental illness too and self-mutilation is often a comorbidity (the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient) to a bigger problem. And, frankly, it is not anyone’s place to judge.
As stated above I did it because it gave me control. I’m twenty six. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder with a comorbidity of Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and PTSD. My life is rarely in my control. I’m not saying I obtained it in a healthy way, I obtained it in the only way I could.
I’m not going to cover my scars. I’m not going to apologize for what I did to survive.
However, I wrote this because one of you may be struggling. Someone reading this may be doing exactly what I did, maybe worse than what I did. Someone reading this may be struggling with the fact that the first thing they want to reach for is that razor blade or whatever their vice is.
This is me telling you that hurting yourself isn’t the answer. This is me not judging you. This is me saying there are people who can help, there are organizations like NAMI who will help you get help.
It’s hard to quit. It’s okay if you relapse. Just remember, every scar you didn’t die from? That is a war wound that you have survived in spite of what you’ve been through. But you don’t have to fight alone. There are lots of people out there who care, there are organizations that care, and are fighting like hell to protect people with mental illness and educate the ignorant public that’s been giving uneducated information making us look “crazy.”
Mental illness is invisible, but you aren’t. There is only one you and don’t you ever let anyone tell you different. Ever. I tell myself everyday as I look at the pictures on my wall of all the people who love me that I can and will keep going. So if you’re reading this and you’re hurting too, fuck stigma. Ask for help. Please.