Self-Injury Awareness Day
My name is Tia, and I have depression. This weekly column will discuss the little bumps in the road, the lows, the highs, and the mundane existence of living with depression. ‘Insane in the Membrane’ will not pretend to have all, if any, answers to mental health. But it will use real situations that I have experienced in the attempt to chip away at the stigma of mental illness. Or, at least, the stigma that I see.
“I think everyone has scars
maybe not on their wrists
or on their inner thigh
or on their knees
on their hearts,
and between the cracks and crevices
of the little universes
It’s not quite a sadness. But when I’m low, it’s almost as if nothing in the world could make me happy. I recognise that there have been beautiful and happy times. But in this moment, everything is dulled, like a grey blanket has settled and everything is slightly hazy. You can make out the figures, but their features are blurred.
And overall, there is this deep pit, in your chest, of emptiness. That emptiness is the saddest thing of all. No matter how much you want to be ok, the ache hammers at your ribs, forcing you to notice that nothing is there. It’s blank and hollow and vast and never-ending. A black hole of nothingness.
I’ve never wanted to feel more than when I’m in the midst of this pit. It’s in these moments that feeling something becomes so important. Any kind of emotion. Just to feel human and alive and worthy. And if the emotions are dulled, then feeling has to come through different methods. So, you turn to something you know will make you feel. This is when the tunnel vision kicks in. You recognise it’s bad and you know it’ll hurt and you’ll feel worse after but it’s the only thing that can convince you that you are real and you can feel. When you’re not convinced it is the loneliest thing in the world.
This is how I feel when I’m gearing up to self-harm.
We all need to talk more about self-harm. It happens too often to too many people for it be a taboo. This is the first time I’ve spoken so openly about it, and it’s been quite a challenge to write. It’s not just the discussion of something incredibly personal, but also an admittance to many who know me. Recently, I found out that self-harm is most common in people between the ages of 12 and 24. I first started to resort to self-harm when I was 16 and yet the idea of a child self-inflicting pain jolts me. How ironic.
I always thought that the only form of self-harm was cutting yourself with something sharp. Only satisfied when you saw blood. But that’s not the case. Burning yourself, banging your head against a wall, self-neglecting, interfering with wounds, self-poisoning; they are all methods of self-harm that aren’t always recognised or noticed.
People need self-harm for many different reasons, and while there are too many to list here I have used it as a temporary relief from intense feelings and, as a reassurance that I can feel something. It was my form of coping with a tidal wave of emotions, or lack thereof.
Self-harm can be a conscious negligence of your own mind. Not believing that you can love and are loved is self-harm. Not accepting that everyone has flaws and that yours don’t define you, is self-harm. Not accepting that you deserve to be in this world is self-harm. The digital world that we live in disseminates these insecurities; constant comparison to each other, to models or moguls, is harmful. Our hypersexualised culture that adversely idolises self-image can easily create situations in which one would turn to self-harm as a form of control or to cope. Pressures that are forced on us by societal norms, class inequality, gender-based violence, these are just some of the triggers of self-harm. The younger generations have it tougher than ever before and not conversing about it openly can only propagate their anxieties.
The most difficult part of my self-harm experience is the aftermath, the shame. Ashamed at myself for doing it, ashamed that I have to cover up my scars, ashamed to admit that I’ve relied on pain to help me and not those closest to me. It was always an act that I did alone, and usually in the dark – as if it wasn’t quite real with the lights off. I’d creep around the flat simultaneously desperately wanting someone to wake up and stop me and hoping that no one finds me.
In prisons, the culture of self-harm is predominant in solitary confinement – so that sense of being alone and isolated is more defined than ever. But it’s also used as subterfuge, a tactic to convince other inmates of their lack of sanity or resilience to pain. Deception is a large part of mental illness. When you’re a frequent self-harmer deception becomes second nature, through fictitious stories regarding the origins of the scars, or sneaky ways of covering them up. Seeing friends react to them would facilitate those feelings of shame and despondency. Their shock at what I had done to myself was heartbreaking, and I found it hard to explain why I needed to do this. That I needed it to be in control, to soothe myself, no matter how morose. Every summer an inordinate amount of time would be spent sweltering in long sleeved tops and trousers. At University I would wear thick silver bracelets to cover the bandages on my arms. A friend of mine once saw a bandage after I drunkenly took off my bracelet and it took him a few minutes to understand what it was. I don’t blame him for not knowing what to do, it isn’t easy knowing what to say, but there was a definite change in the way he spoke to me after that; ever-so-slightly worried, cautious and shocked.
It is shocking. And it can worm it’s way into all parts of your life. In the months after a particularly bad period of self-harm at University, I found it quite hard to be around knives. I wouldn’t use or touch them and I’d even panic if I even saw one. It wasn’t that I became uncontrollable around them, but they had become a part of my life that didn’t quite include reality. If I was chatting in the kitchen with friends and noticed a knife, I would be immediately reminded that I self-harm, that I consciously injure myself to control my emotions.
It is only recently that I have started hiding my scars less. People still notice (sometimes they stare and become visibly uncomfortable) but being open about something that has been a source and a solution of much emotional pain in the past has been important to my destigmatisation of self-harm. I am lucky. I was able to confide in my friends and, after much resistance, I now try and call them when I’m feeling the urge to self-harm. But it took me a long time to get there. Confiding in people, no matter how close, is always challenging, but people can surprise you with their patience and willingness to discuss difficult topics.
Although I would never encourage self-injury, LifeSigns offers safe advice on how to practise first aid for those who need it as a coping mechanism. They also feature on our charity of the week, check them out. Self-Injury Awareness Day is today (1st March), have a look out for orange ribbons, or a little butterfly on peoples’ wrists, and be extra sensitive if you can.
Rehab 4 Addiction offers a free helpline dedicated to assisting people suffering from drug, alcohol and mental health problems. Founded in 2011 by people who overcame addition themselves, you can reach them on 0800 140 4690.
Mental health always needs more support, socially and fiscally. Mind, Heads Together and Rethink offer easy ways to get involved/fundraise/donate/campaign. The Arch2Arch run, London Marathon and Tough Mudder can all be done in the name of mental health. Or, if you’re like me and not a natural athlete, you can use easy ways to recycle to raise awareness and donations alike. Petitions like Time to Change and the Survey of Mental Illness in the Workplace are a click away from de-stigmatising mental illness.
Sofa Activism is easy ways to give, and possibly the easiest of them is Savoo Search, just use it as your default search engine and it’ll donate 1p every time you search something to the charity of your choice (I would recommend through Rethink).
SAMH and Action Mental Health are aimed at Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, targeting mental health stigma on a more regional scale. Mind Cymru and Mental Health Wales focus on Welsh Mental Health.
Art by Julia Veldmanc