Things were confusing in high school. I would have days when everything was fine, when I talked to people and life felt good. But sometimes the next day would be different. There were other days when I felt completely overwhelmed by my emotions. I would feel sadness or anxiety that was strong enough to pin me to my bed, but it wouldn’t have a source. It felt pointless to try to talk to someone about my feelings when I didn’t know why they had come. What could I say?
But the emotions were real, even if I didn’t know why, and they made me miserable. When I first started self-harming, it was out of a desire to do something with all the negative feelings I couldn’t get rid of. Since then, I’ve found healthier methods to deal with negative emotions, but in high school, self-harm was all I had. Now that I’ve left that stage of my life behind, I’ve compiled a list of things that I want people to understand. .
If you self-harm:
1. The first thing to know is that you aren’t crazy or damaged beyond repair. This was one of my primary fears when I struggled with self-harm. I wasn’t completely sure why I did what I did, or why it made me feel better. Because of this, I was convinced that something was wrong with me. This is not a helpful way to think about yourself. Since then, I have learned that self-harm is a coping mechanism, just like playing video games or talking to your friends can be a coping mechanism. Self-harm does not mean you are crazy. All it means is that you have found a way to deal with your negative feelings. The problem is that it is an unhealthy form of coping.
2. When I tried to stop self-harming, I went though a period where I didn’t understand why self-harming was bad. I’m only hurting myself, I reasoned, and it makes me feel better when nothing else does. I didn’t always scar myself, and even when I did, I didn’t mind. I kind of liked the scars. In a way it’s true that self-harm only hurts yourself, but the problem is right there in that sentence: you’re hurting yourself. There’s a physical danger—I once got an infection in one of my self-inflicted wounds that only got worse as I hid it from my family. But you’re also directing your negative feelings inwards, instead of releasing them. I can tell you now from experience that it feels much better to work your negative feelings out externally than it does to exhaust yourself into numbness by hurting yourself. I eventually learned that using my body as a punching bag was not sustainable in the long term if I also wanted to be happy.
3. The next step is to work towards understanding what can cause you to feel this way. For me, I noticed that I tended to want to self-harm when I was feeling isolated, or if I felt I hadn’t accomplished anything. I started trying to keep track when I began feeling this way, and I would try to head it off before it escalated into self-harm. I did this by implementing a different coping mechanism. When I could tell that I was going to a dark place, I found three key things that worked for me: exercise, art, and talking. Sometimes, I would feel too down to exercise. Sometimes I would try to draw or paint, it wouldn’t turn out, and I would feel worse. Sometimes I felt too unhappy to want to speak with anyone. They key is to start small. I learned that exercise doesn’t have to be breaking your PR in a run. It can be a walk, or stretching in your bedroom. I tried to look at art as a relaxing process, even if I didn’t create a masterpiece. When I focus on the actions of exercise or art instead of the outcome, it was much easier to distract myself from my negative feelings. As for talking to people, it can be very difficult to make small talk when you feel like this. In some cases, it’s better to be clear with people: tell them how you’re feeling. It can be daunting to tell someone that you feel depressed. It’s impossible to know how they will react. I can’t make any promises, but I can say that in my personal experience, people have been much more understanding than I ever expected them to be. Talking through my feelings often made them feel less important, while storing them inside of me made them swell until they were all I could think about.
4. Lastly, it’s important to recognize that self-harm and depression often—but not always—go together. This is a topic that deserves a post to itself, but if you think you might have depression, talk to someone. I spent years denying that I had depression, and those are years that I could have passed as a happier person. Even when I accepted that I had depression, I was convinced that I could battle through it alone. I was afraid that medication would turn me into a zombie, or change my personality, or prove that I was too weak to handle my own emotions. Medication may not be attainable or the answer for everyone, but I found that once I overcame my aversions and tried it, life became easier. I was still me (the medication didn’t erase or change any of my flaws, unfortunately) but my emotions became much easier to control. Before, it felt like my emotions were a gas can, and any stray spark could cause them to erupt, sending me into a miserable spiral. With medication, the gas can was gone. I was still aware of the sparks that would have ruined my day previously, but they no longer had the same effect on me. If you are considering medication, start with a mild dose. See if it changes anything. It has the potential to make your life easier.
Self-harm is a habit that can be hard to break. It’s a quick fix for feeling better, but only in the short term. As you work to overcome it, you will find new coping mechanisms that make you happier. Don’t go through this on your own. There is always someone there who will support and help you. Don’t hesitate away from reaching out if it means making your life better.