- Mental Health
Understanding the self-harm addiction
I cut myself to feel better
I knew about various ways to commit suicide. In seventh grade my friends and I created a list of '101 ways to kill yourself'. It started with:
Leave in a tampon and developing Toxic Shock Syndrome
Eat Jane's mum's cooking
At the age of fourteen, my understanding of people cutting their wrists was as an attempt to commit suicide. I didn't have a clue what 'self-harm' really meant until I was sitting in front of a psychologist showing him my scabbed wrists.
As I began to sink into a depression in October 2002, I started to feel a pressure on my wrists; as if something needed to get out. It was an uncomfortable sensation so one day I used my fingernails to start to remove skin. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I began to see traces of blood coming through the red and inflamed wrist. As strange as it sounds, the pain was enjoyable and the blood brought a sense of calm over me.
I discovered a new sensation that would calm my body. I didn't understand what I was doing or the logic behind it, but soon a pair of scissors became my aid. The physical pain I inflicted on myself temporarily removed the emotional pain I was going though. The fact my father died three months earlier barely impacted the bullying I faced at school. The more emotionally fragile I became, the more it seemed to of gotten worse; so each insult, painful remark or act of exclusion started to show-up on my wrists. For a long time I tried my best to hide the cuts with my school jumper, but after a while rumours were already spreading around about their presence and the approaching Summer heat made wearing a jumper unbearable. I made the decision not to hide my wrists any longer – I wanted my wrists to scream at the bullies “Can't you see what you are doing to me!?” What the other students heard was: “Attention seeker!” I did need attention – I needed help.
The six week Christmas holiday break barely halted the progression of my depression and the intensity of my self-harm. I entered into the new year with my arms and wrists covered in slits and cuts; now deep enough to leave scar tissue. At the end of January 2003 I returned to school to start the beginning of tenth grade.
Self-harm had become an addiction. I constantly longed for the rush that came over me when I inflicted the pain upon myself. Each day at school boys told me I was 'ugly', a 'rat' and 'fowl'. I can't even describe how disgusting I felt on the inside. At times I didn't even want to be touched. My mind became flooded with guilt for some major social mistakes I had made and I wanted to punish myself. I wanted to externalise the ugliness I felt on the inside. Self-harm seemed like the best option and it no longer was limited to just my wrists:
Ugly on the inside
I feel so alone
I cut across my face
never once I moan.
‘The blade is my friend’, I say
A pain I do deserve.
I’ve screwed up everyone’s life
What gives me the nerve?
Punishment for my actions
Punishment for the way I think.
The cut makes me happy
and the blood I could drink.
I want to show the world
how ugly I feel
A tortured face and body
My ugliness does reveal.
Yet nobody wants to see
they don’t want it to exist.
Until the day they do
the blade stays to my wrist.
As the weather cooled in March I began to wear my school jumper again; this time I would be hiding my wrists when they would bleed. I could barely stay in class for an entire lesson without asking to be excused to use the bathroom. I would accumulate around an hour of class time a day to spend in a locked toilet cubicle trying to get my next blood fix. I took to carrying scissors or a razor blade on me so I could roll up my sleeve and make my next cuts. I would make temporary bandages out of toilet paper and pull down my jumper to cover it.
School became a more and more aweful place and I found myself desperate for an urgent 'fix'. I was in drama class and I felt an overwhelming craving to hurt myself. By this time everyone knew about the damage I was causing my body, but majority of the students saw it as a pathetic way to seek attention. I wanted them to see the effects of what they were doing to me. I am unsure why I didn't have my scissors on me that day, but I searched through my pencil case, pulled out a compass and dug it into my skin to get the rush I wanted.
Later in the day I was called down to the Vice-Principal's office and had my pockets emptied and bag searched by two teachers. They confiscated anything they believed I could hurt myself with. Without realising, they gave me ideas. The school had many resources available to help me, but chose to ignore them. In the months after my dad died the school counselor would use 'Angel cards' (kind of like tarot cards) in our sessions and would dominate the conversations. In late November 2002 I told her I wanted to kill myself – she finally shut up, placed me in the 'too-hard basket' and referred me on to another service whose solution to everything was to medicate me. At one point, instead of seeking proper help for my behavioural problems they sent me to the school nun, with disastrous consequences at the end.
Up until then I had been labeled as a 'good student'. I received good grades, behaved well in class, was involved in every charity the school was involved with – I was president of the St Mary's St Vincent De Paul Society and was in charge of organising fundraisers. I had never once received a detention and my punishments were limited to picking-up rubbish because I was talking in class. But there I was standing in front of the Vice Principal and my Year Coordinator, feeling humiliated as they searched for weapons in my private toiletry bag containing tampons and sanitary napkins. I was given my first and final warning that if I did 'one more thing' I would be expelled.
I was not a bad student – I was a sick student whom they did not understand, nor try to.
I did not try to cut myself to kill myself. I had other plans on how to do that – and I tried for the first time in early April 2003. It took months of hospitalisation to help me break my self-harm addiction. I would sneak razors into the ward in my underwear or try and find sharp objects such as nails to hurt myself with. I learn that even a small butter container could be turned into a self-harming instrument. For the first time I met other teenagers who self-harmed. The adolescent psychiatric ward was still new, but the staff began to pick-up on all our tricks and hiding places.
Eventually after many months there came a time when I couldn't self-harm. I still remember the frustration of not being able to get the rush of endorphins and how irritable I would become. I remember the first time I couldn't harm when I 'needed' to: the nurses gave me a mild sedative to swallow. When that didn't work I ended up with five nurses pinning me to my bed while my skirt was being pulled down to inject a sedative into the muscle in my bum. I fell asleep for ten hours.
Self-harm is a serious issue and can be highly addictive. The time I spent in hospital helped me break the addiction at the time, but I don't think self-harm will ever stop being an issue I struggle with. I don't think there is a cure for the addiction. It has been seven years since I fell into a depression and many times over the years I have relapsed. Just like with any addiction, I learnt ways to hide it. My body is covered in scars, from my breasts, wrists, thighs to the soles of my feel. I learnt to turn everyday objects into tools for self-harm and how to do the most damage leaving minimal markings. It has been a year since my addiction got the better of me. I love life and I love myself. I have so much to live for and I do not want to bring anymore damage to my body. Despite the joy I experience with living life, the throbbing in my wrists returned when I am feeling sad, stressed or anxious. I have learnt how to deal with those feelings when they come and how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way – I live a wonderful life without depression.
I decided to open up about this issue and its personal effect on my life because self-harm is very poorly understood, even sometimes by the person who is harming themselves. Actions such as cutting can externalise internal pain, create calmness for the endorphin rush and the pain of the harming can be a relief to people when they feel numb.
If you know someone who is
self-harming, or if you are yourself, seek help. It can develop into
a serious issue. I would plead with anyone who wants to experiment
with it, or who may get something like my throbbing sensation to STOP
before they start. If you have any questions please ask, either through comment or private message.