The conversation about self-harm we're not having
My name is Jess Krista Merighi. I’m 27 years old, and I used to cut myself.
I was nine years old the first time I got the idea. There were marshes and a river across the street from the house I grew up in, and the paperboy —who just so happened to be the coolest kid in my fourth grade class— would meet up with me after his route to go crab fishing there. I was new to the school after a nasty custody battle planted me at my dad’s house, and while this boy hardly talked to me during the day, it was nice to have someone to be simple with for a while afterwards. I didn’t tell anyone about this because part of me believed he would lie about it, and that saddened me.
But one day, I got caught. My dad laughed at the innocence of it, but an adult relative who was close with the family took it a step further.
“Isn’t Danny the most popular boy in your school?” They asked.
I agreed. They prodded, asking if I had a crush on him, which I did.
“Well then, I don’t think you should waste your time with him. He would never go for someone like you, even if you guys were old enough to date.”
I felt profoundly ashamed for someone so young. My head spun out and my thoughts raced. How could I have been so stupid? There must be something wrong with me if a grown up was talking to me like that. I wanted to shrink until I was so small, no one could see me. I wanted to punish myself for thinking that someone like Danny would even enjoy playing with me. If adults could see it, why couldn’t I?
I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from, but when I rushed back to my room, I dragged my nails from the start of my wrist to the elbow, watching as my skin swelled and tiny pearls of red formed up my arm. I took a deep breath, and for a moment, I felt better. It would be my coping mechanism for all the static going on at home until I discovered cutting in high school. A friend who was having similar issues with coping noticed the marks one day and asked me,
“Why don’t you just cut?”
The concept was easy. I didn’t want to cut deep, but just enough to feel the sting and let a little blood out. I would use my shaving razors and create hash marks on my arms, ankles, and on the insides of my thighs. When my dad got a new knife set, I stole one of the older ones and kept it hidden in a sock in my top drawer in case I needed it.
While in college, I was diagnosed with a situational form of depression with symptoms similar to PTSD brought on from a turbulent upbringing. My head wasn’t sick; my life was. I was told that until I had the means to get out, I would struggle with the anxiety that made me want to hurt myself. In the meantime, I had to at least stop cutting.
A close friend of mine who went through something similar told me to switch to wearing a rubber band around my wrist. Every time I would feel the need to cut, I would snap the band. I’d still get the sting without the scar. I wore that rubber band around my wrist until a significant death in my family motivated me to harness all my mental strength. Then, I finally got out.
The scariest part of self-injury is that of the three hundred plus million people in this country, nearly two million engage in this behavior in some form and to some degree, and yet hardly anyone talks about it. Even with the non-profit organization, To Write Love on Her Arms, making great strides in bringing awareness to depression and self-injury, the topic remains taboo in mainstream communities. People usually lump it in with symptoms of depression, which it is. But to be fair, not all depressed people cut themselves, but almost all people who cut themselves are depressed. That in mind, with self-injury being such a blatant indicator that there is a problem, why are we not treating it as such?
Why can’t we talk about it as it’s happening, and why can’t we talk about it after it’s over? Often times, the quick fix type of coping mechanism in our adolescence manifests in another form. For example how many of us borderline on abusive levels of alcoholism because while getting drunk doesn’t make us feel better, it helps us forget —which can be a beautiful thing when you just don’t want to handle the route of your agony
On the same thought, I can say “I got hurricane drunk like 5 nights this week because my boyfriend broke up with me,” and while it ‘s not seen as healthy, most people would accept it as a logical response. If I were to say, “My boyfriend broke up with me and I spun out and cut myself,” people would think I was crazy. In reality, it comes from the same place of grief doesn’t it?
The most effective way we can remove the stigma is by having a conversation about it. After being years removed from the last time I did it, I don’t feel like it’s imperative to disclose it upon meeting people for the first time, but I, at the same time, am tired of skirting around the topic whenever someone notices my scars. I’m sick of having to assure people that I’m not crazy when I do feel comfortable talking about it.
So lets talk about it. If you haven’t cut, show kindness, not judgement, to those that do and have. Even if you can’t empathize, you can at least show compassion. Understand that you are a vital part in removing the stigma.
If you cut, or have cut, know that it’s okay. Know that you are more than the lines you put on your body, and even if you can’t see it now, it gets better. But you have to put in a little effort to get there.
Above all else, know that you are not alone.