Wearing Pain

Warning: Before clicking on any link in this blog post, please know that there may be photographs in the linked articles that could be triggering or disturbing in nature for anyone who self-harms (cuts, self-injures). This post in and of itself could be potentially triggering to anyone who self-harms.

Sometimes I find it almost humorous, in my sort of morbid way of thinking, how so often I read about health topics and I can say, “Oh yeah, I’ve had that too”, or “I deal with that issue, also.” Sometimes my list of health issues includes a topic that just isn’t even okay to make a bad joke about. This is one of them…

Every day I see it. Some days I try my best not to look. It’s a visible scar. It’s tangible, I can feel it. Perhaps a bit more like a tattoo I wish I had not gotten, this scar sits on my right lower leg. I feel a sickening, an awful uneasiness just thinking about it and about telling others, but I think it’s important for people to know about this issue and to raise awareness. In the past I’ve hid it, I’ve dismissed it, I’ve even lied about it. But no more.

The scar on my leg represents a time in my life when I was so tormented inside, so filled with pain that I inflicted pain on myself externally. It’s called “self-harm” and there are a variety of ways one can harm themselves. In this particular instance I was cutting. Cutting myself. It seems so ridiculous as I spell it out clearly for the world to see. It feels embarrassing and shameful to admit it. But I cut my leg, badly, repeatedly and with a very sharp object as, from what I now understand, a way to release the emotional pain I was feeling.

Memories flood me of the pain, the indescribable and intense anguish that I felt at that time in my life, tortured by a will to live and a desire to end the seemingly endless cycle of emotional and physical torture I was experiencing.

I feel it with me, I can sense the spot where my leg will never be the same. I run my fingers over it and I can’t believe what I did to myself. I think of the shame I feel about this one scar on my leg and my heart goes out to those who are in such a state that they feel they are unable to stop. Their only coping mechanism may be self-harm and as odd as it sounds, as horrific as it may seem, it is simply an effort to stop pain.

I can understand the “addictiveness” of it too, as it became a bit of an obsession for me for a short time. Finding ways to harm myself as I was an inpatient in a trauma unit became a daily preoccupation and then after I came home, focusing my efforts on this one wound on my leg…it is like a nightmare I can recall all too vividly.

Many readers won’t be able to even imagine what would cause a person to do this to themselves, yet the statistics are clear, people do this. Teens are at the greatest risk of beginning this bad habit, and in truth, that is when I first cut myself.

“The best available research indicates that in the United States up to 4% of adults self-harm with approximately 1% of the population engaging in chronic or severe self-harm. [61] Current research suggests that the rates of self-harm are much higher among young people[5] with the average age of onset between 14 and 24 [1][5][6][16][17] The earliest reported incidents of self-harm are in children between five and seven years old.[5] In the UK in 2008 rates of self-harm in young people could be as high as 33%.[62] In addition there appears to be an increased risk of self-harm in college students than among the general population.[27][61] In a study of undergraduate students in the United States, 9.8% of the students surveyed indicated that they had purposefully cut or burned themselves on at least one occasion in the past. When the definition of self-harm was expanded to include head-banging, scratching oneself, and hitting oneself along with cutting and burning, 32% of the sample said they had done this.”  (via Wikipedia)

Another source shares this interesting information about cutting:

  • 90% of self-injury individuals begin harming themselves during their teen years or younger.
  • Cutting and other self-injury behavior crosses all cultures and socio-economic norms.
  • Cutting and self-injury is a method used by individuals to take care of themselves, their feelings and actions.
  • 40% of all individuals who commit self-injury type behaviors are males.
    Almost 50% of cutters or self-injury individuals have reported being sexually abused.
  • Almost 50% of self-abusers begin at the age of 14 and continue into their 20’s.
  • Some studies indicate that cutting and other self-injury behavior is learned from friends or peers.

Bringing light to this dark subject is hard to do. I hesitate to click the publish button, and I may not do it tonight. Of all of the things I have revealed through my blog and online, this feels to me to be the most difficult.

I have seen others far worse off than me. Rather than one scar, they have a whole body or limbs marred by pain, cutting or harming themselves in ways I can’t even fathom, despite my own experience with it. Those who suffer with SI (self-injury) are beautiful people. They are beautiful souls just like you and I, but not as lucky as some, they have only found this way to cope with life’s pain and tragedy that has often been inflicted on them. People who self-injure or self-harm often find themselves facing great stigma and unequal treatment by physicians and emergency room staff. It is not okay for any human to be treated as less than or not as good as, for any reason, and therefore it is for this reason I write this post.

I share these vulnerabilities in my effort to say abnormal may be different from you, but it really may be more normal than you think. Showing kindness is what it’s all about, treating others with understanding and care, even if you don’t “get it”. I was greatly inspired tonight by this piece of writing: “Let’s shout about mental illness” by Scott McKeen of the Edmonton Journal. It truly moved me and I invite you to read it.

We can’t be quiet any longer. Sometimes we must shout it out, or in my case, write it out loud!

You can virtually wear the orange ribbon in support of Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD), which is held on March 1st. Feel free to copy and past the image from here. Show your support year round on your blog, or save it for a blog post for next year’s event!

Need help? Call 1.800.DONTCUT.

Visit S.A.F.E. (Self Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives at http://selfinjury.com.