Dear Diary: Can we talk about self-injury without making fun of ourselves?

Dear Diary,

I have eighteen fresh scars on my arms, and I’m not sure why. What I do know is that I wanted to be invisible today, but I couldn’t, and maybe this was second best. I don’t have the guts to tell my friends, but I’ll tell you: cutting still helps me feel better. I’ve quit before. I’ve quit cutting so many times. But I can’t think of any good reasons to quit anymore; if cutting is actually hurting me, I can’t see it. The only reasons I can think of to quit are not based on my own needs and wants, but those of others; scars make other people feel uncomfortable, self-injury makes friends feel like they aren’t offering enough support, cutting is something sad teenagers do…

When I read Cutting & Self-Harm: The Stigma & The Aftermath on Gala Darling’s blog, I was glad she’d written about it, but was left feeling like something was missing. It occurred to me later that her story of self-injury was one of “overcoming” (a word I will always detest), and seemed to write off self-injury as something a bunch of us do as gothy, angsty teenagers, and then grow up and out of it. Okay, so I was a gothy, angsty teenager once upon a time, but I started self-injuring as a child, and have continued through my twenties. Cutting, and other forms of self-injury, are not something that started overnight for me, and not something I have come to feel distanced from. I’m not concerned with hiding my scars, nor am I concerned with learning how to accept them. While I can relate to the story she tells of being the weirdo who was obsessed with the Manson Family and other murderers and serial killers, to wanting to be seen as that tragic fucked-up figure sweetly & sadly destroying themselves, to thinking that my scars looked cool; and to, like Gala, having experienced being with friends who cut themselves, people who carved my name into their arm, carving “choice words” into my own flesh, and to using therapy only as a means of getting out of school early… I am also just so darn tired of that story. At least, I am tired of that being the dominant narrative of self-injury.

I still find it difficult to talk about self-injury without a) being self-deprecating, or b) censoring myself. (Secret: This is not really a diary entry! My family is going to read this! People I love are going to read this! And they might be tired of worrying about me.) I’ve been guilty of telling a story similar to Gala’s, but mine doesn’t have the same happy ending. There are a lot of stories I have trouble telling without making fun of myself, and I’m sick of it. Can we get past the story of teenage angst and low self-esteem and talk about why we’ve chosen to continue cutting ourselves throughout adulthood? Because I know I’m not the only one.

You know what? We don’t even have to discuss it right now. If we could just admit to it and not feel ashamed, that might be enough.

From Gala Darling’s blog: “I never thought to use Vitamin E oil on my scars, which is probably part of why my left arm still looks totally gnarly. I edit it in pictures, mostly because I don’t want to have to answer any questions about it, but also because I don’t want anyone — especially a young impressionable girl — looking at it & thinking it’s cool, or that I would encourage it. Writing about it is different, because it gives it context. A photo is too easy to misinterpret.”

While I understand hiding scars in situations where you don’t want to answer questions about it, this paragraph really upset me to read. I know it’s Gala’s decision and I should hardly have an opinion on it, but my first thought was that hiding the scars is not only an internalization of stigma, but perpetuates it as well. That she would feel images of herself might lead to others’ harming themselves is just sort of disappointing. I want to believe that, if anything at all, it would make her seem more human, more relateable, but maybe I am just naïve. And maybe it’s none of my business and I should let it go. It’s just that it all got me thinking about it so much, and I don’t really want to let it go just yet.

Despite my criticisms, I do think her entry about self-injury was beautiful and inspiring; it took a lot of guts to share it, and I’m grateful that she was able to. Some of her words, and the tales of others she included in the entry, were useful and encouraging. Just, you know. It felt like something was missing.

Dear Diary, I told you I cut myself yesterday. Someone on the outside might wonder why I would cut myself when I have so many good things happening in my life right now. (I hate to break it to you, but Good Things Happening does not turn off the crazy-switch in my brain.) I don’t think cutting is the worst thing in the world; I don’t even think it is necessarily unhealthy or problematic. It’s just that I can’t always define what led me down that path, or where I am trying to go.

I had a hard time leaving the house yesterday. Lately, I have had difficulty going out when I am alone, and I’ve finally traced this current anxiety & fear & craving for invisibility back to yet another gender identity crisis. I don’t like to admit when my gender is becoming a problem again because I’m sick of talking about it, but I am in a place where I am so extremely aware of being perceived as a girl that sometimes I just want to hide. It took me at least an hour to decide what to wear yesterday, and I don’t want to admit that the seemingly simple act of getting dressed is still so difficult for me, but it is. It reminds me of being eleven and hiding/swimming in my mom’s t-shirts, of being thirteen and screaming & screaming & screaming that I can’t go to school today because I have nothing to wear (the real reason I couldn’t go to school being, of course, the fact that I was unable to make myself invisible, though I could not articulate that particular anxiety at the time).

I finally forced myself to go out, wearing black skinny jeans and a grey- and black-striped sweater which unsuccessfully hid what my body tries to pass off as breasts and hips. I went to the post office and mailed a gift to my nana and poppa for their 60th wedding anniversary and then I went to the art supply store to buy pens. I got unexpectedly, maybe even trivially, triggered at both locations, and seriously wondered why I don’t just keep a razorblade in my pocket like I used to. My mood flew through various extremes throughout the rest of the afternoon, and when I got home, the need to cut myself hadn’t passed, so there you go. That’s what happened.

Right now, I can only compare it to those kinds of days where I wish I could start over, so I take a nap and then drink more coffee and pretend it’s a different day and I am doing all these wonderful things; cutting sometimes gives me a second chance the way a second pot of coffee does, only it tends to reduce my symptoms of anxiety rather than elevate them. All those silly alternatives suggested by books and doctors and therapists have never done a darn thing for me.

Scarringly Yours,

P.S.: LOLZ at Tumblr and Pinterest banning “behaviour that encourages self-harm,” am I right? I don’t even have the energy to deal with that one right now.

P.P.S.: Along with the links posted on Gala Darling’s blog, you might find The Icarus Project useful as well.

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21 Responses to Dear Diary: Can we talk about self-injury without making fun of ourselves?

  1. That was pretty awesomely empowering. Cool post. It’s always interesting hearing the different narratives of other self-harmers, especially those who view self-harm in a non-normative way. :)

  2. clara bee says:

    Maranda, thanks very much for being tough enough to share this.

    A friend of mine were talking about this very topic years and years ago in her basement apartment, and what I really think it boils down to is harm reduction. Have you ever read Kate Bornstein’s book “Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws”? To be honest, I haven’t, but it was the book that my friend brought up. She took it off her shelf and showed me: the book really is just a list of things you can do that *aren’t killing yourself*. They’re accompanied by a brief description and a “danger rating”.

    So I flipped through it. Tonnes of good suggestions. Bake a cake. Write a letter. And then I saw one suggestion that made me burst into tears: Cutting.

    These tears were tears of relief. Relief that this was presented as an option – a potentially dangerous one, true – but something real that is A LEGITIMATE ALTERNATIVE.

    I 100% support the amazing clinics here in Toronto that offer safer drug use kits and all the places that offer safer drug injection sites, and I think that understanding that cutting sometimes has to be an option isn’t that far of a stretch from there.

  3. D. says:

    You’re my hero. I’m serious.

  4. You’re right, you’re not the only adult who continues that behaviour. And it has nothing to do with who or what we were as teenagers. Some teenagers did self harm and it WAS a phase they grew out of, but there are others of us who continue it decades later. I think the later category are more heavily stigmatized for it. As adults we should “know better” and “grow up already”.

    “I hate to break it to you, but Good Things Happening does not turn off the crazy-switch in my brain.” – loved that line!

  5. courtney says:

    **possibly triggering comment**

    “I hate to break it to you, but Good Things Happening does not turn off the crazy-switch in my brain.” <– THIS. SO MUCH THIS.

    but also where you talk about reasons not to cut mostly being other people’s reasons for you not to cut (at least that’s how i interpreted it). because i have this issue that i run up against as a (former) self injurer. i have had therapists and friends give me all these reasons about not cutting and other ways to channel that energy/anxiety. but the truth is, sometimes, even though i am about 7 or 8 years along as being in recovery from self injury, i have very intense bouts of debate with myself where i want to do it so badly. so very badly. i remember the release and how actually fucking therapeutic it was for me to engage myself in some action that would take away the actual psychic pain i was in.

    it seems like i should be able to cut myself if i want to (sure that sounds terrible to some people), but when i think about all the shit that, for instance, my partner will give me for relapsing, it makes me angry. or when i think about when i told my mom in a moment of weakness many years ago and she said, “don’t ever tell your father this, it would kill him.” i mean, FUCK. like i somehow owe it to other people not to cut?

    in the past year, i cannot tell you how many times i have come close, only to not do it (when it may have made me feel better) because i didn’t want to hear what other people think about my personal decisions on what i do with my body. because it’s one thing when you go and get a new tattoo or piercing, but when instead of body mod, it is YOU cutting YOURSELF, support for your autonomous decisions seem to take a fucking nosedive.

    sorry if this sounds ranty and angry, this post just made me realize some things that before today i have found very difficult to articulate and felt that i could not share these feelings with anyone who would in any way sympathize or not find these feelings completely inappropriate. whatever that means.

    • Don’t apologize for rants and anger! I’m glad I was able to write & share this, and that it’s helping you and others articulate & validate your feelings. I’m tired of defining recovery by other people’s standards. ♥

  6. While I believe that self-injury is an important topic to discuss, there needs to be control around triggering others. Not making others want to copy to be cool or whatever, but certain language and imagery can be like putting a loaded gun into a suicidal person’s hand. I actually contacted “we heart it” once because of an image I found on there. A girl had cut “daddy fucked me and i liked it” into her arm.

    For me I’ve realized that I’m reinforcing ALL negative and painful events and ideas in my head every time I cut. It’s trying to remove pain with pain, and it works sometimes, but not in the way I need to heal.

    I found this post SUPER triggering, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to censor yourself. Maybe a trigger warning at the beginning would help people like me.

  7. I also wanted to add that there have been clinical studies about the effects of violent imagery online, especially how it influences youth. Pinterest and Tumblr aren’t just banning what makes them uncomfortable. I see self-harm photos as terrible as photos of murdering someone.

  8. davecave says:

    hey! it’s funny because sometimes I tell my cutting story to others like it’s this big dramatic thing I have to tell them only after knowing something for a while, instead of just this off-hand fact, and I know that not being upfront about it still furthers the STIGMA. And I’ll admit that sometimes when they treat me like the Big Misunderstood Weirdo, a part of me likes the attention, which is FUCKED. But I’m a performer, and love attention. Oh god that sounds like I cut for the attention.

    I didn’t!

    This might be long….. I remember when I started cutting, it was AFTER my first hospitalization, and I remember thinking, “well, cutting is what fucked-up mental people do.” So I was cutting just because I didn’t know how to act under my label as Crazy Person, but I knew crazy suicidal people cut themselves, so why not start….?

    I think self-injury needs to be seen as something beyond cutting. Like, you can just scrape your knee on a brick on purpose, or you can run your fingers over a candle, or you can spend hours on tumblr, or you can sleep in till 2:00 or you can or you can…. Everyone self-injures, or self-hinders to some extent, I think cutting is just the most well known example. Also i blame degrassi. Kind of not kidding!

    P.S. When you said “swimming in my mom’s t-shirts” i pictured a giant pool filled with shirts and not water, and you alone, just having a hell of a time ….swimming IN your mom’s shirts.

  9. tino says:

    hey queerdo, big hugs to you from out west! You’re awesome for being so honest and digging deep, and then putting it out in a public space like this. I realize this is so not the point of your entry here, but this has helped me understand some things I’ve had to deal with before (which was, worrying about friends who self-injured, and not knowing what I could do to help, if anything – mostly my own highly-analytical brain mulling things over and not getting anywhere.) thank you for that. I’m thinking of you lots and missing you! check yr mailbox next time you feel like goin’ out < 3

  10. Sarah says:

    I agree with you about cutting. I don’t see it as a bad thing yet everyone around me does. When I cut and I have been doing it since I was 13 and am now 37, everyone really gets upset but it just really really helps. A doctor, not mine, at the hospital I go to sometimes, actually condones self harm as an alternative to suicide. He said that if someone felt awful and their anxiety was that high, it was better for them to self harm, than to do worse. A lot of the psychologists and psychiatrists don’t agree with him but I do and my husband does. He says if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it, you may as well do and not feel bad about it. He often adds though, please do it where other’s can’t see it well and please don’t go to far. I am still to this day amazed at how much my anxiety and avoidant behaviour goes away with cutting. I think you were very brave and good on you for writing this post.

  11. emmamulligan says:

    What an amazing post! I’ve always felt weird about posts beginning with warning, may be triggering! I mean, if I don’t already feel like self-harming, I’ll probably just have a hearty cry at its content if I have any reaction at all. Are we really so delicate, like addicts held against our will? Can’t I choose to reframe it (as my years of CBT have taught me) as something positive?

    Thanks so much for this post.

  12. neelybat says:

    oh. yeah. i don’t often cut/hurt myself anymore, but it’s something that i will not “give up” or try to explain anymore. so most of the time it doesn’t happen, just because i don’t want to talk about it. that doesn’t mean i don’t do other things to hurt my body. like… umm… what ever. i don’t often look for broken glass on the ground when i am sad or upset, but sometimes i do other stuff. anyway.. i think what you wrote is a lot like how i feel/think. xo

  13. Maybe this is like how some people can be ‘normal’ drinkers and some people fall into a black hole of despair when they drink. Maybe some people can be ‘normal’ cutters and others can’t. I have a theory about alcohol that anyone who drinks is taking a shortcut to a feeling. That’s fine for ‘normal’ drinkers but alcoholics need to learn how to reach those feelings a different way. I’m one of those annoying people who can eat an entire chocolate mousse pie and not gain a pound or feel the least bit guilty. What about people for whom food is an addiction? It’s not the pie eating that’s the problem. It’s the emotions tied to it and the inability to live a full life because of addictive behavior. Maybe for you, cutting is an acceptable shortcut to releasing an emotion and isn’t particularly unhealthy. If there are ‘normal’ drinkers, there’s no reason why there can’t be ‘normal’ cutters. We seem to be a society of coping mechanisms. There’s something missing for me in that. I don’t have the answers but for me, I want to do more than cope.

  14. This post also made me think of Hello Cruel World.
    My friend was telling me this week that her therapist understands that suicide ideation, while not idea in their opinion, can be a coping mechanism.
    I personally need it to live.

    Also, I really feel you on this:
    “I don’t like to admit when my gender is becoming a problem again because I’m sick of talking about it,”

  15. agingriotgrrrl says:

    yo. i can relate to this SO MUCH but i don’t necessarily want to say why in such a public forum. maybe i’ll write you a letter. i gotta say, i too have written a kinda stupid overcoming-self-injury-and-wanting-to-hide-outdated-scars thing in my zine, as recently as less than a year ago, and have had to face the fact that it’s not true anymore. so, i’m sorry to have contributed to that narrative. i, too, think there’s nothing wrong with cutting and mainly minimize my actions because of other peoples’ concerns, not because i think i need to stop.
    thank you so much for writing this courageous and well-said post. xoxo ocean

  16. Pingback: The Icarus Project « And then I woke up.

  17. Laura Kearney says:

    Hi, I just wanted to thank you for this post. For not making me feel like I’m immature or like I should be guilty for finding a calmness in self-harm. I’ve got some very vivid scars that I hid for a long time due to a stranger asking if I had been mauled by a dog, but don’t anymore. I’ve also quit many times, in the treatment center I went to they even had me say my “clean” days out loud. I don’t count days anymore, and I strive not to feel guilty for doing it occasionally when it helps me feel more calm.

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