Editor’s Note: You can only conquer what you confront, and you can only confront what you are able to identify.
Kelly had the self-awareness to recognise she had a problem, and found the courage to confront it. Because she received non-judgemental support and care from her close friends, she was able to discover healthier ways of coping. We are touched that she chose to share this difficult story with us, and hope this sheds light on self-harming behaviours.
Oftentimes, mass media depicts people who self-harm or self-mutilate as social deviants of some sort – rebellious goth-loving teens with multiple tattoos or piercings, or “emo-looking” people with weird vibes who might be simply attention-seekers. It is all too easy to explain away such behaviours by either labelling people as “the depressed one” or the “attention-seeking one”.
But there are various reasons why people inflict hurt on themselves, be it emotionally or physically.
One common explanation is that it provides physical relief to an emotional pain – a pain that is so strong that it is simply unbearable on the inside.
The truth is: People who self-harm don’t want others to know. They often hide their injuries or scars.
Perhaps it is out of fear of being labelled. Or that it reveals how vulnerable the person is, and how poorly they’re coping with problems.
It took me a very long while (almost ten years) before I finally told people that I do, in some way, hurt myself. It started when I was trying to cope with the stress of ‘A’ levels.
I have a history of panic attacks. Throughout primary and secondary school, I’ve always been able to cope with them and still excelled in my studies.
Despite its name, panic attacks appear often when you’re no longer in that stressful situation. Which makes it more bizarre because one moment you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, then suddenly your adrenaline rushes, your heart rate increases, you start having difficulty breathing, and you start to have this persistent thought that you are going to die from asphyxiation. Which in turn, aggravates the panic.
Prone to these attacks, coping with stress was a challenge for me. So when I kept failing my exams, things started to fall apart.
I became so emotionally and mentally exhausted, and frustrated. Then one day, I decided to hit my arm with a ruler. I felt instantly relieved. It progressed to the use of needles to prick myself – all so that I can get some emotional relief. No one realised that I was hurting myself.
Things ran quite smoothly during my later years. That is until I started work as a helping professional in a hospital. The nature of the job, poor work-life balance, my slipping into depression – it was my darkest year. I had hit rock-bottom.
I worked with people who have attempted suicide. I knew the warning signs. I saw self-harm and suicidal attempts as their cry for help (consciously or not) in situations they are unable to cope with. Most of them agreed that indeed it was because they were too overwhelmed at that moment of crisis and, while they thought that ending it all will be good, they were simply desperate for a way to cope with that gigantic ball of depressive emotions.
I recognise that self-harm behaviours are extremely dangerous because not only is it addictive, it merely provides temporary relief to a problem that needs immediate attention – be it depression or any other form of mental illness.
Not all who self-harm are trying to kill themselves. They are just trying to cope.
It is actually an alarm, signalling that one is no longer able to cope, and who knows, one day the idea of suicidal attempt may just be around the corner.
I felt like a hypocrite whenever I persuaded others to take up healthy habits of coping, while I was actually having crying fits and resorted to scratching myself with my fingernails to get that emotional relief, to get through the day.
Some people found out and called me crazy. That made me feel even more ashamed of myself. It was a vicious downward spiral. I could see how this was dysfunctional from a professional standpoint, but I simply did not have the mental energy to handle it.
It was only when I took the courage to confide in others – close friends who just hugged me and cried together, that I gained the strength to do something about my problem.
It has been a few years since I have “recovered”. I used inverted commas because whenever I’m extremely stressed, the idea of self-harm still creeps into my mind like a recurring poison.
The thing about maintaining good mental health is, that you must treat it like handling your physical health. You must find out what works best for you – and if you have no idea where to start, talk to someone who does.
Even after all these years, typing this post took courage. I still feel ashamed of myself as I type them out. But to be able to face your weakness head-on is a healthy habit. It gives you the strength to share with your loved ones rather than hide it. You need all the support you can get.
And if you ever meet someone who took the courage to tell you about their self-harming behaviours, please don’t judge, just hug them and cry ok?
Kelly is a 28–year-old former allied health professional with an old soul. An advocate for quality of life for the elderly, she is currently enjoying the process of learning music as well as appreciating art in all forms.
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