People say that our scars tell a story. Some scars are funny anecdotes – the time I fell into a barbed wire fence, it WAS funny, honest, or when my pet hamster sank it’s evil little fangs into the fleshy pad of my thumb. Others are accidents; when the knife slipped, the grater grazed your knuckles, a burn from the oven. And then there’s the scars that you’re left with, that you gave yourself.
I call them my zebra stripes. All along my left arm, and down my thighs. I barely notice them anymore, but I know they’re there.
Self harm is never something I set out to do, it wasn’t a decision I made or planned. Y’know, “Right, I feel like cutting and gauging myself. I’ll do a bit of that after I’ve made dinner.” Nah. None of that. A good ten years ago or so, I’d find myself in so much pain, such a degree of completely blinding pain, which all seemed to be resonating somewhere deep within my chest. Nothing seemed real at that point, everything felt like a sickening monochrome nightmare in slow motion. The hurt was too unbearable, the tears so violent that without realising what I was doing, I’d claw at my arms, sink my nails into the backs of my hands and scour them desperately, maybe subconsciously trying to release whatever it was inside that I genuinely thought was killing me. I’d awake the next day, to discover these horribly crude scratches carved all over my hand and forearm, almost as if for the first time, as I was completely unaware of doing it at the night before. And they bloody hurt. Like, really bloody hurt. I’d find myself cradling my arm with the other, to protect it, I’d wince when I’d use it, my skin taut and paper-thin.
But I felt better.
Sounds awful. I know. But focusing on that physical pain and concentrating on my tender flesh, averted my thoughts from the stuff inside that was really fucking hurting.
And that’s where it began. I self-harmed for about 5 years, to varying degrees. From several times a day, to only occasionally. It wasn’t ever planned, but I knew when I had to do it. Under the cover of my phone, I’d carry a razor-sharp blade, just so I knew it was there. When I was still living at home with my family, all offending items were hidden from me; razors, scissors, knives, nail trimmers, whatever you can think of, was confiscated. The unadulterated panic that this brought, was unlike anything I’ve ever known, the fear that the dark, numbing pain would soon grasp its unbreakable hold around me and I’d never be able to be free of it again was horrifying.
So I’d smash lightbulbs, and use the glass. And when they too were taken I’d break mirrors and picture frames, I no longer cared, I just needed to feel that relief once more.
The need to self-harm seemed to die out by itself. It wasn’t ever a status symbol, to be in with the cool kids. The angry red lines were always hidden, I’d wear long sleeves and jeans on the hottest days of the year to disguise them.
But there were times, when someone caught a glimpse. When a flippant “Oh, my cat did it,” just wasn’t enough. I didn’t even HAVE a cat then FFS. And the anger and total bewilderment I’d see written all over my loved ones faces simply made me want to lock myself in the bathroom and do it again.
When your agony is beyond the point of comprehension, you’ll turn to anything to ease it somewhat, even if it’s just for a moment of peace. Drinking, drugs, screwing around, gambling, eating, not eating and indeed cutting yourself are all harmful in one way or another. Self-harm seems to carry a taboo as it’s seen as barbaric and even inhuman to want to hurt yourself, but it shouldn’t. It’s not always a “cry for help” as it’s often described, or attention seeking. It’s a need. A simple desperate need just to switch off that pain that’s numbing you within, with something more tangible and easier to understand.
I haven’t self-harmed for over 5 years. But the desire to do it remains with me every single day. Really and truly I hope that self-harm is soon recognised for what it’s for, and is no longer met with anger and disgust, or cast aside as a childish want for attention. In the majority of cases, it really isn’t. And like drinking to excess, drug abuse and eating disorders, the only way to stop it is to treat the catalyst; the mental illnesses, the depression and stress disorders, not keeping the scissors hidden from sight and keeping your fingers crossed that it won’t happen again.