(Content warning: depression, suicide, self harm, scars)
This is the first part of a series on mental health by the author. Through this series they seek to raise awareness about mental illness by speaking about their own personal experience. Subscribe by filling in the form on the right to be notified when future parts are added.
As I write this I have my forearms resting on my small, yet highly cluttered desk. All I have to do is gaze slightly down and to the left to be reminded of my past: I will be treated to the sight of my scars. Why the left? That’s simple; I’m right handed so that’s the hand I held the razor with.
I first started self-harming so young that I have no memory of a time when I was not using it as a release from the pain in my head and the sense of nothingness that plagued my emotions for so long, but it was probably most notable around the age of seven when I figured out if I hit my temple then the outer pain would numb that which was on the inside. It would haunt me for many years, becoming more extreme as it stopped having an effect. I have thrown myself down stairs, squeezed pins in class, choked myself, electrocuted myself, and slashed at my arm. That’s right, slashed. I learnt that a slash would cut far deeper than a slice and believed at the time that I deserved no less.
Possibly the most common question I have been asked on this topic is, “why?”
This is probably also the most difficult question anyone has ever asked me, and I have been asked some pretty difficult questions! To ask me why I self-harmed is like asking me why I breathe. It is such a constant part of my existence that I have no answer other than, I just do. This however, as I have learned first-hand, is not considered a valid answer, not even by professionals. Of course, it is possible that this simple denial of my experience is what could have caused it to persist.
A common misconception with self-harm is that it stems from a wish to die. I admit that I have a history of suicidal tendencies but they are not the reason I harmed myself; they are two separate things that just happened to be going on at the same time in my life.
Now, suicide is the true taboo of mental health that no one talks about unless it is in a conversation that includes the words “I just wish we could have done something to prevent it” and even then we are treated to euphemisms designed to sugar coat the subject for neurotypicals. A potential reason why the notion of suicide is considered so forbidden in Western society is that we live in a culture that on some level still latches on to Christian ideology. Christianity teaches that suicide is a great sin only God has the right to choose when we die. Consequently, to make the decision ourselves is considered stealing his right.
This school of thought dominated, in Britain at least, until the Suicide Act of 1961 when the law was changed to decriminalise suicide. Upon hearing that prior to this suicide was punishable, most ask the obvious question of how can someone be arrested if they are dead but the law was actually there to punish those who attempted suicide. Imagine this, you are at the worst possible point of your life, you attempt to end everything as you see no other way out, but as life slips away from you, you change your mind and begin to panic. This draws attention and you are saved. Unfortunately you also end up with a court appearance. Sounds stupid right? To punish the most vulnerable in their hour of need? Well, legally this no longer happens but we still face prejudice on a day to day basis; we are accused of selfishness, self-centeredness and, worst of all, attention seeking. In all truth though, if someone is willing to risk their very life to seek attention then maybe you should pay them some fucking attention!
Throughout my entire teens I went through phases where I saw suicide as the only answer; I survived. Of course this has put me in a unique situation where I find myself in a world I never expected to be part of. As those I went to school with pursue their new careers, start families, move out of town I am in a rut where I don’t know what to do. So what now? Well, now I’m focusing all of my energy onto campaigning to bring more attention to mental health awareness.