By Damen Holmes
A few things that are close to my heart right now
I began self-harming when I was about 13. I’m not sure what put the idea in my head, but I started, and for a time it helped. At first I did my best to try and hide the cuts, but I was eventually found out at school.
What happened after that is honestly a bit of a blur. It was over 20 years ago now, but the one thing I remember is that I wasn’t offered further help.
I’m not sure what they thought
Whether they thought that I was doing it for attention, I don’t know. I can’t guess at what their understanding of self-harming was back then. However I do know that, for the most part, awareness of self-harming and the reasons and motivations behind it have come on by leaps and bounds these days, in the eyes of medical professionals at least. With friends and family members though, there’s still a huge amount of stigma around self-harming.
I want to make one thing clear: my motivations are real to me. Others may have different reasons. For those of you who do self-harm, please don’t take offence if friends and family assume the worst: that you’re suicidal. It’s only natural to assume the worst. By talking openly about it, you’ll help them understand.
I did it to quiet my mind
The reasons I would self-harm were because I couldn’t process what was going on my head, the pain I felt up there had no release, no way to heal, no outlet, at the time.
So I cut, and transferred that unmanageable pain to a more manageable one.
The blood I saw was transformed into those problems, and as it ran down my arm, so did my problems. As it scabbed and healed over, so did it quiet the problems in my mind.
I turned to unhealthy ways to cope
Like I said, this worked for a time, but the older I got, the more I came to realise that the effect was wearing off. So I found other outlets, some healthy, some not so healthy.
First the not so healthy: I turned to drink. I wasn’t an alcoholic by any means, but I would drink fairly regularly. Doing so served two very closely intertwined purposes. Firstly it would help me sleep, secondly it would help quieten my mind.
When going through a major depressive episode, I’d also have terrible insomnia. However, getting drunk would calm things down upstairs and allow me to shut down for a while and sleep.
The problem with this is that alcohol is an emotional enhancer. If you’re feeling good before you drink, you’ll feel good when drunk. However, if you’re feeling bad, you’ll feel worse.
Not to mention the problems caused by sending and saying things to other people. that make other aspects of your life worse. I’ve lost a lot of relationships because of this.
Nail biting is self-harm – who knew?
Over the years, I’ve realised that subconsciously I’ve been self-harming in a way I never realised. I have been excessive nail biting. Yup, it’s classed as a form of self-harm. Not so much the act of nail biting itself, but the excessive gnawing of the skin around the nails afterwards. This can be done to the point where you’re bleeding and typing brings a mild stab of pain.
In many ways this is worse than the actual cutting, because it’s so innocuous and half the time you don’t even realise you’re doing it.
I found healthier outlets
A healthier outlet I found was kickboxing, or karate. Anything that would give me a pad to work with. Also I found going to town on a punchbag was a serious release. Taking all that rage and frustration and letting it out on something like that was cathartic. It acted on me in a similar fashion to cutting, taking the things I couldn’t process in my head and giving me a target to vent them on. And again, it helped, for a while.
Drawing and writing helped as well, as ways to vent what was inside. I never showed anyone what I’d written, but sometimes it was stories, other times just stream-of-consciousness venting.
The healthiest way is to seek help. This is something I’ve had trouble doing for a long time.
It’s taken me to the point where I almost lost the ability to draw and had to work to be able to hold a pencil again, because of damage to my wrist.
Please, seek help!
So for anyone out there self-harming, please, speak to someone, anyone. I know it’s not always about suicide or attention, but there are healthier ways to deal with things.