According to Wikipedia, self-harm/self-injury is defined as “the intentional, direct injuring of body tissue, done without suicidal intentions. The most common form of self-harm is using a sharp object to cut one’s skin, but self-harm also covers a wide range of behaviors including burning, scratching, banging, or hitting body parts, interfering with wound healing (dermatillomania), hair-pulling (trichotillomania), and the ingestion of toxic substances or objects (not including those associated with eating disorders or substance abuse).” However, for those of us that have suffered or continue to suffer from self-harm, it’s so much more than that. There are a plethora of reasons we chose to injure ourselves, yet none of those reasons involve attention – at least not intentionally.
The first time I ever cut myself was in fourth grade. As I’ve mentioned before, my grade school experience was horrible. I cried myself to sleep roughly every single day of that school year. The cool girls hated me, teased me, told me all the reasons why I was a horrible human and needed to change who I was. I was put in a “class room trail” where I was mocked and judged by my peers during a brown-bag lunch period, guilty of being a loser and the worst. The boys in my class followed in suit of the cool girls, telling me I was ugly, a teachers pet, way too harry, and a dork. These comments made me cry in class, which in turn caused even more harassing. I was “Kelly the Crybaby” and I felt like I had no place being a kid on this earth.
Swallow that for a second. Most middle school experiences involve being upset about getting braces, anxiety about dancing with someone of the opposite sex at your first middle school dance, and awkward growth spurts. Middle school should be a renaissance time in one’s life. Finally old enough to start making decisions for yourself – reading real books, seeing real movies, developing a sense of style and self. Middle school should be full of creativity and experimentation. And while many of my peers had that, there was me, sitting alone at recess, reading while simultaneously trying to pull the hair out of my arms so I’d be “more of a girl” and maybe my peers would like me…or at least not hate me as much anymore.
I know I’m harping on this “hairy” comment, but it’s the reason I ever cut in the first place. I came home from school, in tears from another horrible day, another day of being made fun of and harassed. I don’t remember the exact details, but somehow, we began talking about monkeys in class. As we were talking about them and evolution, the boy sitting next to me said, “maybe Kelly’s more part monkey than the rest of us, her arms are as hairy as one.” I can laugh about it now, but when it happened, I was crushed, as any 10 year-old girl would be. That same evening, when I was home alone, I stole a razor from my mom’s toiletry closet. I went to take a shower and had made the decision I was going to shave my arms. I was fed up with being made fun of for having some Italian genes showing themselves in the coarseness and coloring on my arms. The process was relatively easy as you could imagine. Watching those stupid hairs make their way down to the drain brought the greatest sense of relief. I knew this wasn’t going to solve all of my problems. But it would be one less thing to be teased about. I sat on the side of my tub, warm water still running over me, admiring the smoothness of my new arms. I loved them. They seemed to empower me somehow…
That should have been the end of this story. I should have felt better, turned off the water, gotten out of the shower, and gone on with my evening. But that’s not what happened. That sudden sense of empowerment turned to devastation. I let these stupid kids torment me enough to want to change my physicality of being. Those other ten year olds had the power, not me. I was the one coming up with plans to change who I was, just to escape the constant torment. I began bawling, so upset that I was letting them get to me so much. That feeling of cowardice turned to a feeling of isolation, which turned into a "why bother anymore" mentality. I was becoming convinced that no one was ever going to like me no matter what I did. I could be super smooth and then the kids would start to make fun of me for that too. It was a lose –lose situation and I was going to be stuck being hated forever.
Those feelings eventually fleeted into nothingness. I was staring at the razor, but not actually seeing it, too preoccupied with the thoughts in my head. I pressed the razor to the side of my wrist, to feel the smooth blades against my now smooth skin. But I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t feel the hot water from the shower. I couldn’t feel the blades. I didn’t feel sad or angry anymore. I certainly wasn’t feeling happy. I felt nothing. I was nothing. Then I felt the sting and the burn. I had pressed a bit too hard, and now drops of my blood were also making their way to the shower drain to meet up with the hair and the weight associated with it.
And that’s the story of the first time I cut myself and unfortunately, it wasn’t the only time. I can only wish that were the case. I did it a few more times between then and high school. Making sure the cuts only barely nicked the surface. Hidden away so no one saw, wearing bracelets or bangles. Cutting only on the side of my wrist, like tallies, never trying to actually kill myself. Needing to feel something, anything, even if that meant pain, stinging, and burning. Even if it meant regret and self-hatred. It was something.
There are a few things I need to say as someone who has been looked at and judged for the red flags on my wrist. They were never created for attention. It wasn’t me wanting anyone to feel sorry for me. It wasn’t about anyone else. It didn’t concern anyone else. It was about me. It was the one selfish thing I did for myself. It was one of the only things I could control in my life. It helped me remember how to feel when I was numb. When I was alone. When I was scared. When I needed to be reminded to do and be better. While this sounds crazy, and remember, I kind of was crazy for a bit, it was the only things that I truly had for myself. Cutting my wrist, while extremely unhealthy, had gotten me through so many traumas in my life. It’s shitty. It’s something I would never want anyone else to go through. But for more than a decade, it’s the only thing I knew. The only thing that kept me going. When you don’t know how to express your feelings, or even feel them for that matter, you do terrible things to get yourself back to normal again.
The last time I cut myself was last year. And I’m proud to say that that will be the last time. That time of my life is over now. I’ve made so much progress with being able to express myself and my emotions. I’m able to communicate. I love myself enough to stop hurting the body that has given me so much. I know now that I will never be perfect. I know I can’t control everything. That life is going to get shitty. And that’s okay. I choose to believe that we are only given the challenges we are able to overcome. Most of us don't realize it at first, but we are capable of overcoming any obstacle. Yes, it takes it's toll. It can drain you, but with the support of friends and family, and most importantly, the strength inside all of us, we can overcome anything. No razor needed.