www.whyville.net Nov 28, 2007 Weekly Issue

Guest Writer

Self Injury: A Face Behind The Blade

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I found my kindergarten Easter picture a few days ago. I'm wearing a pink dress with a wide lace collar embroidered with butterflies, and I'm smiling so fiercely that my entire face is distorted. My tiny wrists are crossed in my lap, I have huge bruises on both of them.

My parents thought I just played too roughly. They were wrong. The bruises were self inflicted. I was horribly afraid of the dark, and, to get through the night, I would hit my wrist against the side of the bed as hard as I could, over and over again. The steady thump-thump-thump soothed me, and the spreading pain dulled my fear.

I have hurt myself for as long as I can remember. I bit my hands, smacked my face, pinched my neck, pulled my hair and scratched my chest. In sixth grade, I started to cut myself. I started to burn myself in eighth. It's a coping mechanism, and one that's so ingrained in me that I cannot imagine stopping. It's just a part of my life, I guess.

I understand when to stop. I don't want attention, I cut shallow so it doesn't scar and I never let my burns blister. I disinfect my cuts and keep my blades clean.

I want you to understand that I am not depressed. Many people who indulge in self injury are, but, though often it's cause, depression is not its hallmark. That's what makes it so hard to understand: every case is different, and the reasons behind self injury vary so widely.

It's a release. You're stressed, you're upset, you're sad, and then it all just fades: you're in pain. Emotional pain is confusing, physical pain is simple.

Some people cut for attention. Saying this always gets people angry, but it's absolutely true. People will worry about you if you show up with fresh cuts on your arm, and, whether consciously or not, some self injurers thrive on this.

Some are horribly depressed. Self harm can be a signal of something deeply serious, an outward manifestation of incredible psychological distress.

And, sometimes, it's just what you do. My parents yell when they're upset, my sister cries, one of my friends eats, another cleans, I bite myself until I bruise. I'm not going to pretend like it's particularly healthy, but it's also not the end of the world. Self injury scares people. When your friend's sleeve slips back an inch too far and reveals those cuts lined up like railroad tracks down her arm, I'm sure your first instinct isn't to quietly wonder about her specific reasons.

But the only way you can hope to help is to first understand it. No matter what someone may believe, the answer may not always be to go running to the nearest adult.

First, what you need to do is to be supportive. Tell them you noticed, and tell them that you care. And then think about their reasons. If you believe that they truly are incredibly depressed, by all means, go tell someone. But if you just think that it's an unhealthy coping mechanism, think before you do.

It's not something that can be stopped on demand. It can be worked on, of course, but quitting is like quitting smoking -- it seems impossibly big, impossibly difficult, and it's incredibly hard to to alone.

Talk to your friend, see if they want to stop. If they do, try to help. Don't pop up every day and ask if they're doing OK, don't check their arms to see if any new cuts have appeared. Instead, make them realize how much it upsets you, offer to talk if they ever need anything.

And accept that it will be hard. They probably won't get it the first time, if they manage at all. I've tried and tried to stop, and, for months at a time, I have.

But I keep coming back. Because it's just so reassuring to watch it bleed.

And, for those of you wondering, if you looked at me you'd never know.



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