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

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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