Why I Cut Myself

Why I Cut Myself

I was asked by Ariane Zurcher of Emma’s Hope Book to contribute my thoughts about SIBs… This is what I wrote in a comment on that blog:

I went through a spell in my early 20s where I would cut myself. I was living away from home for the first time, attending university, and I was not coping well. I was feeling lonely and out of my depth: I was awkward socially and didn’t feel that I fit in, and what I now know to be executive function deficits made living independently a huge challenge. It also made the degree of independence expected of university undergraduates with respect to managing their studies a big challenge: for me the rigid structure of school education where every day was filled with lesson after lesson was perfect, although I always had issues getting homework done when left to my own devices.

To cut what could be a long story short — I’ll write about it in detail one day but not right now — I was failing my courses: missing lectures, lab time and supervisions (what they call tutorials outside Cambridge, England). I had begun to drink heavily — my first means of harming myself — as a coping mechanism more than anything else. I was depressed, had problems with anxiety that I still suffer from, and hated myself for being unable to cope, for failing, for getting drunk every night, for not being able to make the kind of close friendships I saw all around me.

In my state of mind I considered killing myself. No, it was more than consideration: I calmly sharpened a knife, sat down, removed my watch from my left wrist and made a small cut. I’m uncomfortable admitting that it felt good. It felt really good, as if I was releasing the pain of my feelings. It wasn’t painful so much as a feeling of sharp clarity bringing my mind into focus. I did it again, just a short cut of about an inch, through the skin but not into my veins. And again, then on the other wrist. I was enjoying the feeling: I felt that I was in control for once.

That was the first occasion. There were others. I believe it was a reaction to overload, to more stress than I could handle, to feelings of failure and low self-esteem. I can’t say whether I felt anger — internalized anger. I can say that I was self-destructive and that I have always internalized my feelings, at least until I explode into a violent meltdown. And I can also say that the cutting helped. It brought a relief from the intensity of my emotions, a distraction from my troubles.

It also brought shame later on. It was sign of weakness, another sign of failure. The marks on my wrists were a visible reminder. And I was ashamed that I wanted to do it. I believed — because that was what I had been told — that it was wrong. That “normal” people didn’t do things like that. And I wanted to be normal, to fit in. Even my coping mechanisms were causing me additional stress.

I don’t cut myself any more. That behavior stopped after I left university — dropped out. I was away from the cause of my distress and no longer needed to escape from it. I was back in control, back home in a safe environment. But sometimes I still become tempted to go fetch a sharp knife when I’m feeling overloaded and away from any place I feel safe. There is a desire to feel that release again.

I hope this explains my experience of self-harming, how it started and why it stopped. And why I am never that far from it even today.

13 thoughts on “Why I Cut Myself

  1. My source of stress, a couple years ago, was being pressured to go to college or get a job. I tried and tried, but just couldn’t find a job for a long time, and I was treated like I wasn’t trying hard enough. Like it was my fault none of the 200+ places I applied to even gave me an interview. I got a job shortly after I developed severe panic attacks, but the damage was done and the job would often overload my senses, so the stress continued and I eventually started cutting.

    A while later, after I stopped cutting, something really traumatic happened and I very nearly did it again, but I managed to stop thinking about it and beat the desire. Then I told someone I cared about that I hadn’t given in to the desire, and all they said was that it was stupid to want to cut myself in the first place.

    I ended up cutting after all, almost feeling like I had no control over it. Like my brain could not function normally until I had hurt myself. That was the last time I did it, hopefully there won’t be more. I have enough scars already.

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    1. The biggest obstacle to stopping cutting for me was that it *worked*. In the end all the only reason I stopped was that I moved from the environment that was causing me such stress. I’m fortunate that my scars are in the creases of my wrists — the choice to cut there was deliberate — and not easy even for me to see. Plus they were slow, shallow cuts from a sharp blade so have not caused much scarring in any case.

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  2. First of all, I probably need to say that I don’t have much experience with self-injury. I only did so for a very short while when I’d just started university and was in an unhealthy relationship. My then boyfriend practically encouraged me into self-harm because that meant he could take care of me. It only lasted for a few months, I think. Memories aren’t very clear.

    But nevertheless, I have sympathy with those who self-injure. I can’t really explain it. It’s the same kind of sympathy I have for eating disorders, even though I’ve never had one. I recognise it as a coping mechanism, I think, a way to get back some control over emotions and feelings and situations and your own body, or to gain some control that everyone tells you you’re supposed to have but it’s always just out of your reach.

    Something like that.

    On another blog, I read a really interesting take on SIBs. Because it seems like such a last resort, this woman said she would *not* make a promise never to cut again. She would try to find other coping mechanisms and try to use them sooner, instead of postponing and delaying until the only option left would be self-injury because of the intensity of feeling. But if the option of self-injury was no longer there, there would be no last resort and that would make things even worse. I’m telling it wrong, I think. I will try to find the link.

    Thank you for talking about this openly, by the way.

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    1. As far as my own experience goes, yes, it was about coping and regaining some feeling of control over my life. I hope you can find that link: I’d be really interested to read about someone else’s experience.

      I must admit to a little nervousness about the next time I bump into people I know IRL because I’ve never talked much about this. But I’ve thought about the possible effects — not catastrophizing — and believe it’s better to be open. It helps make a subject feel less shameful.

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      1. This may not actually help you feel better, but since I started posting my blog posts to my Facebook feed, I’ve only gotten comments (both on FB and in person) from people who were either genuinely interested or wanted to share similar experiences. I think this might be a neurotypical defence mechanism: if a post seems emotionally significant and open and honest, and they feel uncomfortable with it or disagree with it, THEY SIMPLY WILL PRETEND YOU NEVER SAID ANYTHING. It’s amazing. They really seem to think that ignoring it will make it not real. So, you don’t have to feel nervous of people bringing it up in an uncomfortable or embarrassing way, I think. And it also makes you the better person for being honest. Win.

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        1. *Like* — since we’re talking about FB 😉

          You’re right. That has been my experience with previous touchy subjects which is one reason I’m not so worried by the possibility. (In fact I can count on both hands the number of FB friends who have ever commented about one of my posts.)

          And finally, *blush* (my ears have gone red, I swear).

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          1. I’m really glad you wrote about this. It’s another one of those topics that make people feel uncomfortable. Some, I think, may identify, but aren’t comfortable “outing” themselves and others who may not identify don’t know what to say. The posts I’ve written where I’ve talked about being bulimic and having an eating disorder are the ones with the fewest comments.
            Anyway, I read this and was nodding my head, though I never cut myself, as I wrote, I was bulimic for more than 22 years. Your description of the first time you cut was exactly how I felt too. Relief. Tremendous relief until it no longer was and then it became something I HAD to do, though there was no relief at all and then I wanted to stop, but couldn’t and at that point I knew this was as much an addiction for me as heroin is to a junkie. But that’s a whole other comment!

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            1. I had a similar response from a RL friend who is bulimic. Now that they have been pointed out to me the parallels are clear to see — I’d never have guessed from the usual descriptions of bulimia that there was such a connexion. I understand my friend much better now and I’m grateful for that: I can be more supportive.

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