www.whyville.net Aug 30, 2001 Weekly Issue

Painful Secrets

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Painful Secrets

Times Writer

This article is written from my experience with cutting and also the real facts.

My friend Ashley* (name changed) was acting really depressed and quiet...

Ashley's* Mom noticed the cuts on her daughter's arm when they were loading the dishwasher. "What happened to your arm?" she asked "I was playing with the dog and she scratched me," Ashley answered, looking away. Her Mom didn't know the Dog would scratch that hard, but she accepted what her daughter had told her and forgot about it.

At school, Ashley's friends noticed her strange behaviour. Even when the weather was hot, she always wore long sleeved tops, and she had become quieter and more secretive, like there was something she didn't want anyone else to know.

Ashley didn't know how to tell her friends or family that her marks on her arms were from cutting herself with a razor when she felt upset or depressed.

Why Do People Cut Themselves?

It can be hard to understand, but people who cut themselves sometimes do it because it actually makes them feel better. They are overflowing with emotions -- like sadness, depression, or anger -- that they have trouble expressing.

People who cut themselves are often full of intense emotional pain, but they have difficulty relieving the tension this causes in the usual ways. They may think that they have to be strong, and so they may not allow themselves to cry. They may have been taught as children that expressing emotions is wrong.

But the tension inside these people's bodies and their minds becomes almost unbearable, and they find that cutting themselves somehow relieves that tension. It actually calms them, at least for a short time. It helps them feel as if they are in control of their situation and their moods. Just like shouting, yelling or jumping might calm you.

Cutting isn't the only form of self-injury. People hurt themselves in other ways like burning themselves, hitting themselves with objects or their fists until they bruise themselves or break their bones, pulling out their hair, or picking at scabs and preventing sores on their bodies from healing. Cutting and other self-injurious behavior isn't confined to a particular group, either -- self-injurers can be male or female, any race, and any age (although most are in their teens, 20s, and 30s, and more girls than guys injure themselves).

No one knows for sure why some people injure themselves. Research suggests that it could be a combination of several factors. These include low levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain, which has also been linked to depression. Family background may play a role; people who self-abuse may have been discouraged from expressing their feelings as children. A history of physical and sexual abuse may also be associated with self-abuse.

Signs of Cutting

You may be wondering why your friend's dog has suddenly turned vicious and is "scratching" her all the time. You may have a friend who frequently has cuts on his legs, and when you ask him why, he just mumbles something. Both of these friends may be isolating themselves socially and may wear clothing that covers up their arms and legs, even in hot weather, like Ashley did. (Most self-cutters feel ashamed of what they're doing and try to hide it from their friends and families.) You may know someone who has a bad cut and is constantly picking at the scab or playing with it so much that it repeatedly reopens the wound.

Everyone gets hurt accidentally from time to time, but you should suspect self-cutting if your friend has a continuing pattern of unexplained (or poorly explained) cuts or scratches that never seem to heal. If you see this happening, you should seek help.

Hidden Dangers

Although self-cutters don't intend to hurt themselves permanently, they are at risk each time they injure themselves. They may misjudge the depth of a cut and require stitches (or, in extreme cases, hospitalization). Cuts can become infected because the person uses dirty cutting instruments (a self-cutter may use razors, scissors, pins, or even the sharp edge of the tab on a can of soda). If two people who are self-injurers cut themselves and share the cutting instrument, they risk spreading illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis.

Self-cutters often indicate that what they are doing makes suicide less likely because it relieves their depression. Sadly, though, those who cut themselves are more likely to commit suicide later if they don't get help with their underlying problems.

People who cut themselves often have other problems, too, like eating disorders, bipolar disorder, or drug or alcohol abuse. They're often trying to find ways of numbing their emotional pain and avoiding the problems that are behind their self-destructive behaviors.

Getting Help for Yourself or a Friend

If you have a friend who cuts herself, you can't force her to stop. But you can let her know that you're there to help. It can be tough to remain calm when talking about it because it's such an upsetting subject, but it's very important to let your friend know that you care about her and that you don't think she's a bad person for doing this.

Find an adult whom your friend can trust. If your friend can't speak directly to the adult, maybe she can write about what she's doing in a letter or a journal that the adult can read. The important thing is to encourage her to talk to someone who can help her to stop and deal with her problems. Ultimately, your friend will need to be assessed by a professional counselor or therapist who can recommend the best treatment plan for her. This may include a combination of behavioral therapy, medication such as Prozac or Zoloft, and specialized treatment of associated problems such as eating disorders.

Some people have also found that using other means of relieving stress -- like hypnosis, exercise, or art therapy -- helps them to fight the urge to injure themselves.

Although cutting can be difficult to stop, it is possible. Once the self-abuser gets help with solving the problems that are at the reason for the behavior, chances are good that she'll be able to stop hurting herself and lead a healthier, happier life.

We convinced Ashley to talk to our school counselor, and from then things got better, and now she's a normal healthy teenager.

I hope this helps you to understand more about cutting.

If you have any questions or comments, mail 'em.

This is Tech,

Signing out. . .



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