Obvious massive trigger warning for self harm.
There are many, many lists and articles and comments and emails and conversations and every other form of interaction out there about why you shouldn’t self harm. If you have ever hurt yourself and anyone has ever found out, you’ve been subject to a litany of reasons. There are many good reasons to not self harm and lots of really stupid reasons to not self harm. Some people find the generic lists on the internet extremely helpful, but I have never been particularly convinced when I’m in a bad place. They come from a place that assumes I believe in my own worth, and when I want to hurt myself I’m rarely in a state of mind that recognizes that. At a guess, I would suspect that I’m not alone.
At this point, I’ve mostly kicked the habit of self-harm, and I think it can be really helpful for those who have been there to share what helped for them. So here is my list of real, honest to god reasons that I have stopped. Not all of them will make sense for you, but I hope some will.
10. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde
The personal is political. It’s hard to think about yourself in the context of larger world currents when you’re about to cut, but especially if you are someone who is female, of color, not straight, not neurotypical, or really not privileged in any way, your well being and your ability to survive and care for yourself in this world is a statement. Bodies that aren’t white, bodies that aren’t cis are considered wrong by many people. They are battlegrounds on which society tries to kill any individuality and joy you might have and replace it with constant feelings of inadequacy in order to sell you things. When you hurt yourself, you are surrendering to the voices that tell you you suck. Don’t listen to those voices, especially because every time you give in you contribute to the voices that tell others they suck. Be strong, if not for yourself, then for everyone else who looks or feels or thinks like you.
9. The Hospital
I know you’ve all heard it before, but every time you hurt yourself you have the potential to accidentally do more than you intended. Your hand can slip and suddenly there’s blood everywhere. Now if you happen to do more damage than you meant to you have approximately two options: you can try to patch it up yourself and potentially do some real damage to your body or end up dead, or you can take yourself to the hospital. More often than not this means outing yourself to at least one person (which sucks), and it means spending time in the psych ward (which really sucks). I’m going to spend some time talking about why going to the hospital is a good reason to avoid hurting yourself because I think we can all figure out for ourselves why accidental death is a bad thing.
Note: this is my personal experience with an ER. If you have seriously injured yourself, please do get medical attention. But if you can avoid it, I’d suggest it.
Going to the hospital for self harm is one of the worst medical experiences I can think of. It’s incredibly dehumanizing. You’re grilled about what your intentions were, your body is examined (probably without your consent), and if they deem the damage bad enough you may be put on a 72 hour hold. Psych wards are not nice places to be. In fact if I were to point to the location that did the most damage to my mental health, the psych ward would be right up there (and I was only there for a night). They take away all your stuff, they act like you’re totally unhinged and utterly incapable of thinking clearly, they treat you like a child. It’s bad. The mental health system as a whole seems to be set up to infantilize individuals with mental illness, control them, and really just paint them as out of control and dangerous. Psych wards from all I can tell are the worst perpetrators of these types of behaviors.
If you as an individual want to work for better treatment of people with mental health, one of the best things you can do is avoid psych wards and hospitals, and one good way to do that is not to hurt yourself.
8. Hiding Scars
Dealing with mental illness is fairly exhausting. I’ve posted about it before, and part of what makes mental illness so difficult is all the extra things you have to think about on a day to day basis. When you cut yourself or hurt yourself in any other way, it tends to leave a mark or a scar of some kind. Generally these marks freak the hell out of other people. This means that unless you’re far braver than I, you’re going to have to cover up those cuts and scars. Speaking from experience, this is a huge pain in the ass, it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and it’s scary. What if I reach up to get something at work and my shirt rides up? There are scars there. What if someone sees? Would my job be in jeopardy?
I find myself deeply worried about summertime. Will I never be able to wear clothes that I’m actually cool enough in because I’m having to cover my legs? Can I ever go swimming again? What if I trigger someone else with my own body? I can’t wear many of the clothes that I used to love, and it is EXPENSIVE to buy a new wardrobe that covers all the potential danger sites. When you’re about to pull out the razor think about the fact that one action could mean months of exhausting thought and careful covering to make sure that you never expose those dirty little secrets.
7. It is a serious mess.
So some of these reasons are big and some of them are small, but I’m going to be honest: the small ones are the ones that stick with me the most. And this is one of those little but impossible to shake reasons. Now I can’t speak for other forms of self harm, but cutting is messy. Blood gets everywhere. It gets on everything. Unless you have a serious supply of bandages, it’s nearly impossible to get things to stop bleeding before you want to move on with your life and do other things. That means ruined clothing or ruined bedsheets or blood on your computer or blood on your books and notebooks. There is really no experience in my life that has felt more disgusting than going to bed on blood stained sheets. When you’ve made it past the overwhelming emotion and you find that your safe spaces have been literally stained with blood, there’s a special feeling of disgust that you can’t shake. It’s fairly horrible. Your actions now do have effects later on.
6. The day after.
Speaking of residual effects, let’s talk about what it feels like to wake up the day after you’ve hurt yourself. When you’re in the moment, the pain is often the point. It’s kind of romantic, kind of sexy. It serves a purpose. It makes you feel better or it gives you a release or something. But the next morning you try to get out of bed and your body burns. You shower and the cuts hurt like hell, they sear, and they scream. You go about your daily life, but little things remind you that your body is pissed. You try to work out and the cuts say nonono. The pain isn’t sexy anymore. It’s not doing anything. It’s just making you miserable. It’s reminding you that you screwed up, that something is wrong with you. Cuts reopen. They make a whole new mess. They scab and they become absolutely disgusting. The pain you’re causing yourself isn’t just the pain of this moment, it’s the pain of the whole time it takes for your harm to heal.
5. Your loved ones.
Some time ago when I was in the midst of a very bad period, my boyfriend did something that freaked the hell out of me and drove this point home. We were talking about how my self harm felt to him, so he went to the freezer and took out the ice. He filled a bowl with ice water and then stuck his hand in. If you’ve never done this, it HURTS. I asked him what he was doing and he didn’t answer, just leaving his hand there. I could see the pain on his face. I got agitated telling him to stop, asking why he was doing it, desperately trying to pull his hand out of the bowl of ice water as his face contorted further and further. I didn’t understand why he was doing something so pointless and it was hurting me to watch him in pain.
Finally he pulled his hand out. I was on the verge of tears asking him what on earth he was doing. He looked at me and said “that’s what it feels like when you cut”.
It doesn’t make sense that it hurts other people when we hurt ourselves, and it’s not fair, but we can’t deny it. We may want to tell ourselves that our self harm is between us and the razor blade, but that’s simply false: it impacts other people and it makes the people who care about us hurt. If you can’t prioritize your own health and safety, prioritize the people in your life you’re hurting.
4. So much wasted energy.
Self harm takes a lot of emotional energy. It takes time. It’s often done at night when we feel like crap or when we’re finally alone. It cuts into the time we could have to rejuvenate ourselves, to sleep, to rest. Oftentimes lately when I feel emotionally overwhelmed or in the place where I might have cut in the past, I look at the razor blade and think of how exhausted I’ll be after I force myself through the whole production of it. I think of how miserable work will be the next day after having denied myself the opportunity to rest. Just the thought of dragging my drained body out of bed in the morning is sometimes enough for me to just put down the razor and get into bed.
3. It limits your life.
There are many things I have chosen not to do because of cutting. There are many things I just haven’t been able to do because of cutting. More often than not, they’re completely unrelated to my mental health, and are simply parts of my life that I have had to deny because of the marks on my body or the pain that I’m in or the open wounds. I love to swim, and I’ve had to cut it out of my life for decent chunks of time thanks to the open cuts I had. If the attire required for an activity is at all revealing, I’m out. I’ve avoided rock climbing because the harness bit into my cuts. You don’t think about all the little ways that you will be limited when you’re hiding your body and hurting, but it will damage your life in unexpected ways.
2. It stops working.
No one self harms for no reason. It does something for each of us, whether it is relief or communicating our distress or numbing or calming. We wouldn’t do it otherwise. Unfortunately, it is not an effective long term strategy. After a while you need to do more and more to get the same effects. And eventually, it stops working completely. You run out of skin to cut, you run out of pain you can endure, and it hasn’t made things right. This feels even more miserable than you did before you starting self harming.
1.DEAR SWEET JESUS THE ITCHING.
Yes my number one reason to stop cutting is because it itches like hell. I can’t explain it to people who don’t have scarring across their bodies, but every day I find myself trying to rip off my skin because it itches so badly. I have scars on my stomach and there are times I wish I could just pull it apart and have something come crawling out alien style because anything would be better than the constant, almost painful itching. Seriously. Ain’t nothing worth that shit. Some of the scars that do this to me are years old. I don’t know if the itching will ever stop. Imagine the rest of your life plagued by neverending itches. This is hell. Don’t do it to yourself. Choose the happier option. Don’t cut.