Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why Would Anyone?


Author's Precaution: This post discusses sensitive material, and may contain triggers.  The author respects your choice to avoid this post, but would encourage you to read and share as a means of ending the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness.  Thanks!


“Mrs. Ryan, come here!” a young male requested.  “Look at this!” he then demanded, and turned his computer screen to show me an image of a slim white wrist that had obviously been cut by a razor blade.   
 
This image, undoubtedly disturbing to view, was prominently posted on a young woman’s facebook page, as though the injury were a point of great pride.  To seemingly boast about self-injurious behavior is a trend I understand only as a cry for help.  The student who shared this image could not comprehend the act itself. “God, that’s just gross! Why would anyone do that to themselves?”  
 
Many individuals may wonder this as well, and would likely be alarmed by the high prevalence of such dangerous behavior. According to Mental Health America, an estimated two million people in the U.S. injure themselves in some way, with rates highest for adolescent females. While cutting is the most common method of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), other behaviors include burning, punching, and drinking something harmful.
 
You are not alone.
Let love speak louder than self-doubt.
In recent years, I have observed many students treating SIB (self-injurious behavior) as a comical issue, rather than the complicated illness it genuinely is.  I have far too often heard the sarcastic jokes like, “Oh no! I’m so sad now.  I think I’m going to go home, listen to My Chemical Romance, and cut myself. Woe is me.”  
 
Certainly, self-harm is far from amusing, and is an issue that should be addressed with a sincere attempt at understanding.  Therefore, when the student inquired “Why would anyone do that?” I didn’t shrug or act sickened.  Rather, I provided him with my honest reply.
 
The truth is that SIB is a complicated illness that is challenging to understand, even for those individuals who perform such acts.  Without a doubt, SIB is an undesirable behavior.  However, it’s most frequently a symptom of a very valid mental illness.  Self-harm can be a symptom of a many major psychiatric illnesses, including anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
 
The “rationale” behind such behavior can be varied, but is most often related to either punishment or control.  Imagine that you suffer from bipolar disorder.  You feel like a disappointment to your friends and family.  You can’t seem to do anything right, and thus carry strong feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.  In short, you believe yourself to be a “fuck-up.”  In your mind, then, you deserve to be punished for your shitty, pathetic existence and cutting creates the pain you must suffer as penance for your perceived failures.
 
In that same scenario, because you suffer from manic-depression, your mood often swings violently between elation and deep depression.  You rush between assurance and anger – contentment and chaos – happiness and hopelessness.  This whirlwind of emotions leaves you feeling restless and unrestrained.  You hate feeling irrationally irritable, or weepy and woeful without cause.  You don’t want any of this; you just want calm and control. In the seconds or minutes you run the razor blade  across your soft, fleshy skin, you are fully responsible for the pain you’re  feeling and that kind of discipline is decidedly desirable. 
 
Upon presenting this information and these scenarios to the inquiring student he then asked just one more question: “Have you ever cut yourself?”
 
I had, so I knew why someone would all too well.
 
 
 
 
 
There were times in my life when my emotions were so out of control that I believed cutting was the only answer.  I was wrong, and there are far better means of coping.  If someone you know self-harms, please seek help.
 
 
 
 

32 comments:

  1. This post spoke to me. As someone with mental illness, I understand the compulsion to self harm. Through your words, people might know and develop empathy.

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    1. Thanks, Natalie! That is absolutely my hope that my words might create understanding and empathy.

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  2. Oh Angela, I'm sorry. But also glad you are using your blog to discuss this. This is one of your most exceptional posts.

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    1. Thanks, Stacie. No apologies necessary.

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  3. My son is in middle school, and it's hard to differentiate between the girls who really need and the rest of the school. The cut out of pride and they post it on Instagram. I've contacted the school in the past and said, "Please call her parents!!" only to see it over and over and over again. It's hard because we should believe them all, but it seems as though it IS them all.

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    1. Yes. It's shocking how many young girls cut, and it's so very sad that social media has made cutting seem glamorous. I hate how it's been romanticized, so I tried very hard to not do that here. I'm glad you are contacting the school. It's too bad nothing is really happening; I wish the parents were more involved in the first place so someone else's mother, like you, didn't have to get involved. I have seen some pretty disgusting images posted after my students told me how often kids share their self-harm pictures. I hid mine so that part of it is so hard for me to understand. The whole behavior is complicated. Stats are not always accurate either, and in some areas it is as many as one in three girls between the ages of 12 and 19. I think that probably depends on how it's handled.

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  4. I always admire the bravery of your posts, Angela, and this one is no exception. It really is disturbing that children would mock the actions of other kids who are obviously in deep emotional pain. Thank you for raising awareness with this post. Well done.

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  5. Only people who have walked in these shoes can empathise. And yes, that said, the "it's cool to cut myself" myth needs to be debunked.

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    1. Yes! The "cutting is cool" myth absolutely must end!

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  6. Angela, you always put yourself out there with bravery and honesty. This was an excellent post. I miss this when you aren't on the challenge grid and I haven't poked my nose in.

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad to be back because I miss so many great posts like yours, which I LOVED this week, too.

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  7. My granddaughter was a cutter. It's terrifying.

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    1. Terrifying indeed. I hope she's gotten help.

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  8. It's been six years since I started self injury. At first, I didn't quite understand it, just doing it when I was upset. This soon escalated after a stressful year in school, I remember having to wear long clothing well into the spring. Every year since, I've faced this problem. My junior year I was exposed to self-mutilation photos and posts on the internet. I learned I could use a pencil sharpener blade instead of a mere thumbtack or locker key, doing significant damage on my arms, stomach and legs. I will most likely have them for the rest of my life. since then, now in my senior year, the cutting has dwindled down to a rare occasion, since my medication was changed. SIB needs to be understood desperately and hopefully things will change. Stay strong, Mrs. Ryan!

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    1. Nick, Even though I'm no longer your teacher, you know you can still contact me any time you need to. You shouldn't be ashamed of the cutting, and understand it was a way to cope (with anxiety disorder and other difficult, past traumas in your life). Yes, it's not the most effective means of coping, but it doesn't mean that you're a bad person. I hope you don't post pictures or actively participate in the internet posts. I'm curious how you were introduced to the internet posts about cutting, and what your experience has been as a cutter in the social media age. Do you see the glamourizing aspect of it? You can reply here or PM me. I'm sorry for the scars. I'm glad to hear your new meds are helping. You, young man, stay strong. I'm proud of how much more comfortable you seem to have become with yourself, and wish I would have had more time with you, and the other students, at RHS. Love and hugs.

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  9. People need to talk about this to erase the stigma.
    Good to see you back on the grid.

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  10. This is such an important post. Mental illness is prevalent and our inability to handle it constructively sends the suffering even further into isolation. I was reminded of this today as I sat stopped at an intersection in DC, watching a woman kneel down in the crosswalk to talk to some object only she could see on the ground. Passersby milled past her. No one stopped. Your post is so courageous and helpful.

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    1. Thank you so much -- I think you got it right on that the suffering are sent even further into isolation based on the way society generally handles the illness. A positive support system is so important.

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  11. Well put. I would almost say that cutting is a form of self-stimulation. I don't always see it as a negative, and don't believe that it should be so stigmatized.

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    1. Yes. Mental illness, in general, should not be stigmatized the way it is. I kind of think of it as "emotional diabetes"; no one judges the diabetic or believe he can "just snap out of it."

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  12. I never comment but read your post with a great deal of admiration at both your writing and honesty. As a cutter, I can relate to your voice about this subject. I am older and yet no wiser, but the glorification of this is a new thing. When I began cutting in the 80s this was not a subject that was discussed. When I revert to old habits, I still as always hide the scars. This, my therapist tells me, is my coping mechanism, my way of both punishing myself for my perceived deficits and for coping with intolerable emotional anguish. It is a release and a penance, a gift and a curse. It is not, however, a Facebook moment. Thank you for writing about this.Your words are less triggering than enlightening.

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    1. Thank you for your compliments, and for sharing a bit of your own story here. I think the sharing helps to end the stigmatization. I wish I could say that I will never cut again either, but I just may. Mental illness is so unpredictable, but it shouldn't be such a source of shame. The glorification is new to me too. I actually didn't cut until age 19, and am now in my thirties.

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  13. This is a great post, Angela, honest and courageous. Kudos for touching such a sensitive subject.

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  14. What a brave, honest and important post. Well done Angela.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. These are the kind of posts I hope get more exposure. I could generally give two shits if my posts bitching about pop culture are widely read. These, however, I hope are shared so that I can feel, even if in some small way, I helped to educate and end stigmatization.

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  15. This is one of the bests posts you have ever written. You are strong and beautiful for writing such a brave piece.

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  16. Self-harm is not funny, and it's something I think a lot of us do. We may not cut ourselves, but we might overeat or undereat or smoke or drink. There's nothing comical about that.

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  17. A honest answer is the best one in these cases. Self-harm is something we all need a better, clearer perspective on-- so we can (as a society) address the problems with all the methods used to get the same feeling. Great post, :)

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