Friday, March 1, 2013

March 1st SI/SH Awareness Day!

No review tonight. We'll see about it in the morning. Instead, I'm going to do something I've wanted to do since I started the blog.

I'm going to talk about Self Injury. Because today (...well, by the time you read this, yesterday) is Self Injury/Self Harm awareness day.

I'm not going to talk about my cutting episodes. They are all in the past, and I don't need to revisit the thoughts and feelings I was dealing with at the time. Instead, we're going to talk about why talking is important.

My upbringing was...interesting and pretty contradictory. Christian, but we sure did pile on the fantasy novels. Strict, but we were just as likely to do our math lessons on the sidewalk with chalk as we were in the house with pencils and paper. My mother had misgivings about Harry Potter. She let me bring the Gap series home and read it when I was thirteen.

I'd say "She had no idea" but she'd read Lord Foul's Bane, and she really ought to have known better.

And the one thing we were really good at? Talking. Anything I wanted to know about, my parents would explain it to me. Or they'd find a good book on the subject. Or they'd introduce me to somebody who knew about it. Or they'd do all three. And because they ran a foster home for teenaged boys who were also recovering addicts, most of my questions at a very young age were about a great deal of fucked up things.

At thirteen, I knew what drugs were and what they did. As in I could explain how an addictive cycle works and what "baseline" means in terms of chemical brain function. I knew why some people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism and some aren't. I knew what anorexia and bulemia were. I knew what depression was. I knew what honest, true insanity was. We talked openly about these things, and it wasn't like some great mysterious shame. These were things that people had to live with. She's anorexic, he's got a problem with heroin, person X has to go back to detox. This was normal talk over dinner.

But we never talked about cutting.

Cutting was "that thing". It was something so bizzare, so crazy, that we never needed to bring it up. The resource websites on the subject call it "the secret shame" and that's exactly what it was. It was the secret, the subject discussed in whispers so the kids wouldn't hear. It's still that way. You can, for example, go up to your dad, or your boss, or your partner and say "I'm an alcoholic" and receive a smile, a nod, and (if the person you are talking to is a good human) a few words of encouragement (and if they are a better human, they won't order drinks around you). You can't do that if you're a cutter, because you know damn well they'll look at you and say, "are you crazy?"

The result of this openness in my family was, when my family fell apart and my head became a truely scary place to be, I had a defense against alcohol, because I'd talked about it. I had a defense against drugs. I knew better than to become anorexic. I didn't use sex as a drug, I didn't latch onto another human being and fall into a co-dependant cycle. I had walls against them. The discussions I'd had with my family became moats and barbed wire and a 24/7 patrol guard against me doing something stupid.

Except there was that one thing that nobody talked about, that I'd only ever read about once. If my psyche was Helm's Deep, and its defenses were the conversations I'd had with Mom and Dad during dinner, Self Injury was that sewage grate the orcs blew up. I had no defense for it, and for the better part of a year that became my go-to crutch when things got bad. And things were bad. My ankle is still pretty marked up. I remember once I scraped most of the skin off my neck, and another time I put so many shallow cuts on my knee it looked like I'd given myself a concrete burn. I remember the night I realized I had a problem, because it was the first night in a while that I hadn't had a fight with my relatives or overheard them talking about how stupid/ungreatful/emotional/awful I was as a person, and so it was the first night in a while that I hadn't cut. And I wanted to cut. The compulsion was so strong that I had to get up, go into the bathroom and spend ten minutes hurting myself before I could fall asleep.

I believe that's the definition of "fucked up". It's probably in a dictionary somewhere.

There is a big worry that talking about SI will normalize it. It will. The problem is that we say "normalization" like it's a bad thing. Alcoholism is normalized. And because it's a part of our vocabulary, we know how to ask for help, and where to go to get that help. Drug addiction is normalized. Anorexia is becoming normalized. Gambling addictions, behavioral issues...hell, we've turned depression into a multimillion dollar industry, and managed to give ourselves tools for beating it in the process. Normalization is not making the bad thing okay to do. Normalization is making the bad thing okay to talk about. Normalization is making it okay to ask for help, because you know nobody is going to call you crazy and that people are actually going to help you.

The best thing we can do to fight self injury and self harm is to talk about it.

When I was in the middle of self injury, I didn't really know what it was. I knew that there were jokes about it, but it was that thing that weird gothy kids did, and I felt like I was too old and too normal to justify what I was doing to my ankle almost every night. I didn't have a language for what was going on inside my head. I couldn't ask for help. I didn't know how. I had to watch a TV show on the subject (and GOD BLESS MY MOTHER for letting me watch it, instead of trying to shelter me) just to figure out what the hell was going on inside me. My mother had no one to ask for help, either, and she more or less stumbled into the one method that really does help people with SI (Like I said. God bless my Mom).

We need to talk about it. We need to talk loud about it. No matter how stupid it sounds, no matter how silly or ugly your story is, you need to tell it. Not to be special or to be understood, but so that it becomes something normal and familiar. So that it's something that parents can talk to kids about over dinner like it's no big deal.

So that when the next generation comes around, we've plugged up that hole in the wall.


  1. I really like when you take the little off-topic detours on the blog. Seriously, if I ever start writing for fun again, I'm definitely going to have a character who knits lace. I loved that post.

    But I really liked this one too. It's very, very brave to admit to something like this. And you're absolutely right--it isn't talked about enough. Which is really sad, because I think it happens a lot more than people realize. It doesn't mean someone is crazy, or an attention seeker. It means someone is going through an absolutely shitty time where they'd do ANYTHING to take their mind off what they're feeling.

    I went through a period of SI about 5 years ago. And yes, it is addicting. It started out as a way to cope with some very overwhelming personal situations. But then, it gradually took over and I fell back on it every time I was anxious. I knew it was a stupid thing to do, but on the other hand it provided instant relief/distraction and I was at such a low point that I didn't care about long-term consequences.

    I remember reading some science-y article a few years ago about it, and they thought it worked by either interfering with pain pathways (something like emotional pain is temporarily shut off during acute physical pain) or releasing endorphins somehow. Either way, the relief is real. Why should there be so much more stigma for this problem than alcohol or drug addiction? The bottom line is that people have to feel like they're going to get a compassionate response when they ask for help--otherwise they won't ask.

    Anyway, thanks for being so willing to talk about an uncomfortable subject and trying to raise awareness. I graduate as an RN in 2 months and really want to work somewhere in mental health, so I'm all about topics like this :)

    1. I know that sensations (Ie cold) can counteract severe pain (toothache), but I hadn't thought about pain counteracting emotional distress. But it makes sense. There was an article put out...somewhere, that argued that Tylenol can counter depression because pain is pain, I guess.

      I think the answer is normalization, like I said up there. Communication and education. It's a lot more common than people think, but because it's so stigmatized nobody's talking. And because nobody's talking, people think it's rare.

      And thanks for commenting. Good luck as an RN, I know that's one feild that is HARD work. Thanks for doing it.

  2. I had never heard about cutting before- of all things- watching the movie Secretary. I did psychology in college and it wasn't mentioned. I had no idea it was a thing many people did until I got on tumblr. I'm glad it's becoming something people talk about- as you say if it becomes something everyone knows about then people won't feel bad in asking for help.