I didn’t mean to write this post. I was popping onto WordPress to write a piece about how Ireland treats a certain group of people. But that’s been shelved.
Because today, Twitter informs me, is Self Harm Awareness Day. Or Self Injury Awareness Day – I’ve seen it referred to as both.
So I thought I’d write about that instead.
Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this post – I’m just doing it off the top of my head and on the fly. I have no statistics, I have no ‘hard facts’. I just have what I know. I just know what I know. And that is this:
Self harm, self injury, self mutilation, cutting…it has a number of names. But at least it is named. When I was busy cutting lumps out of myself, there was no name for what I was doing. At least none that I was aware of. Now there is awareness that people – young people predominantly, but not exclusively – hurt themselves physically in a number of ways. Given that I hold the belief that the more people who talk about something (like mental health), the more people will talk about it. So here goes.
I can’t speak for the entire cohort of people who hurt themselves, but I do know why I did it. There were times when the pain inside me was so intense, so overwhelming that I had to get it out of me. I had to externalise what was internal in order to feel that I could cope. This isn’t the awareness of retrospect – I was acutely aware of what I was doing and why at the time.
I used to dream of being able to hack open my own chest and have all the pain and suffering that was festering away inside me expel itself in a huge gust. It was a powerful desire. I could nearly feel it happening. Nearly. But not quite.
So I had to find another way.
As someone who has experienced both suicidal ideation and has self-harmed, I can confirm that they are different things. People who injure themselves aren’t always suicidal. They don’t necessarily want to end their lives. Paradoxically, self-harm can be a way – a desperate measure – to keep oneself alive. Almost like a form of bloodletting.
The point of self harm – for me, at least – was to have a valid reason for hurting. I couldn’t explain the pain I was in. I knew what I was feeling, but I had nowhere to take it. I didn’t have the words to explain the feelings. I didn’t have anyone who wanted to hear. I didn’t know anyone who would care. I had no one to take my pain to. I felt I was being corroded from the inside out and there was no one to share that with. No one cared. It’s not that I thought no one cared, but – really, actually – that no one cared.
So, because there was all this pain that I couldn’t really understand, I felt I needed to create a pain that I could understand. I needed to be able to point at something and say (even though only to myself) ‘There! That is why it hurts.’
If I am bleeding, then I am allowed to hurt. Then my pain is valid. The idea that my pain was valid simply because it was there, was one that never presented itself to me.
I wasn’t allowed to be in pain. Emotional, psychological, mental pain and anguish were simply not ‘allowed’ to exist. Only physical pain was allowed to exist. Even if no one else ever saw it.
Hurting myself brought tremendous relief. It externalised the pain. It meant that sleep came easier. It meant that I could look at the wounds I had inflicted on myself and say ‘There – that’s what hurts. That’s why you’re in pain.’
Even though I knew, even then, that the source was something else entirely.
But I shouldn’t have been in a position where the only relief my teenage self could get was sawing away at myself in the middle of the night. Thankfully, people in a similar situation today have places to go and people who will listen. If you are tempted to injure yourself, if you have injured yourself, or if you know – or suspect – that someone else is hurting themselves, why don’t you contact Pieta House?