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My Struggle With Self-Injury As An Adolescent, And How I Healed

I remember the day that I began cutting myself. The memory is vivid–still clear and crisp within my mind. At times the visual is haunting and grim. I ask myself so many questions, how did I end up in that space?  And why didn't I ask for help when I knew I was suffering?

Being 16 was not easy. I'm not sure how to describe the awkward phase I was in. I would say quiet and shy is an accurate description of my personality back then. I learned how to keep to myself from a very early age. It was a survival tactic. I did not feel safe developing new connections or friendships because I came from a past of bullying, mistrust, lack of loyalty and too many drama fueled interactions. So I kept my circle very small, and I often found myself enjoying solitude rather than solidarity.

Throughout primary school I was bullied about almost everything you could think of. My clothes, my height, my teeth, my everything. The outside world was a scary and threatening place for me. Even adults made comments about my appearance, and now as an adult myself it leaves me baffled to know that there are people out there who truly aren't mindful about the seeds they plant into the minds of little children. Words hurt. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will leave you wounded emotionally––nursery rhymes don't teach you that. And neither do people.

At home I felt safe. But at home I also recognized that so much was going on that it was easy to hide behind busyness, conversations, homework, studying, the constant get-togethers and all the different dynamics that made my family what it is.

I am the youngest of 13. And while growing up there had to be at least 8 to 9 of us living underneath one roof. So of course I hid. There were so many distractions and that gave me room to learn how to compartmentalize my feelings and disregard the things that hurt, because when I felt safe that was all that mattered to me. I didn't want to talk about the bad things. I didn't want to tell my parents what was going on at school. I didn't want to bring the outside mess into my sacred space. I just wanted to enjoy what I had. To feel at ease. And every morning I went through the dreaded routine of having to prepare myself for another day of what felt like going to hell. 

I feel like I traveled through hell for most of my life. I lived through a lot of mental and emotional suffering. I didn't know this back then, but it wasn't until I reached young adulthood that I learned to recognize that I had actually started struggling with depression since childhood, and I went my whole life untreated and living with many symptoms––including suicide ideation. 
One night while the house was asleep I had a moment of distress. I don't have recollection of what was going through my mind, I just know that I wasn't okay. I knew I needed something sharp. In my mind I thought I could cut the pain away and maybe the darkness and uneasiness would be released from my body. I just wanted to empty myself. At that moment all I wanted was death. 

I gravitated into the shower, grabbed my shaver, broke it open and in my hand I held what became my best friend and my enemy for the next few months. My arms and legs were bruised and wounded. I couldn't keep count of the scars. 

Shirts couldn't hide the maps that I drew on my wrists. And the summer heat gave me no choice but to walk around bearing my wounds hoping that no one would be giving me or my body attention. I was wrong. "What is that on your arms?" The young lady who I worked summer youth with noticed the discrepancies between an innocent cut and a self-inflicted scar. She reached out for me, and by the time I could pull away she was already touching me, holding my arm in her hands and examining my mutilation. 

I yanked myself from her quickly and fled from the scene–and when I returned the next day, our eyes caught each other, and though neither of us said anything, we both could feel the heaviness of what transpired the day before. My secret was now hers, and whether she ever did something with it I will never know. 

However, I became aware that this act of cutting was no longer mine. It was no longer a private ordeal. It wasn't my secret anymore. And the fact that someone became aware of what I had been doing in the dark made me embarrassed and shameful–this is when I realized how badly I needed help.

The healing began to happen when I started seeing my school counselor. Going to therapy was very frightening but there was something warming about my therapist and she made me feel very comfortable. We talked about my depression, and through processing my life experiences and the strong feelings that I constantly ignored, I found myself getting better.

For me self-injury was a coping mechanism that spiraled into an addiction. It was how I mended the pain. Cutting made me feel like I had control over my life and it was cathartic for me. Whenever things were unmanageable and brought forth negative feelings, my first response was to cut. I also had a very hard time with verbally expressing my emotions, which is why I never talked to friends or my parents about my issues,  instead I found cutting to be my way of dealing with the feelings that I couldn't put into words.

I had to learn and unlearn thinking patterns in order to learn and unlearn behaviors. I valued this part of my therapeutic experience because this portion of therapy is what actually saved my life. I had a negative mindset, I spoke low of myself, and because I felt like only bad things happened to me I also felt like I deserved to feel the pain that was associated with cutting.

I grasped onto knew concepts that helped with my depression and anxiety symptoms and I learned a lot of tools that helped with managing my unwanted thoughts and distressing emotions. Art therapy and journaling therapy played a huge part in my creative process and my ability to learn how to use my words to pinpoint my feelings.

Writing down my thoughts helped me to to put things into a different perspective. It took away the illusions I had of myself and my problems, and I was able to identify for the first time in a long time what was causing my distress because I built a habit of writing down the series of events that took place within my days.

Art therapy was satisfying for my soul. I created vision boards almost every single day. I gathered magazines and cut out words, ideas, inspiration and anything I felt like I could relate to-the good or bad, and I put them all on poster boards and hung them around my room. There was art everywhere. And I was finally living in a place where I was learning to absorb the positive that dwelled around me rather than the negative.

Now as an adult I have adopted tools like positive self-talk and daily affirmations that help me with managing those tricky feelings. I have learned that it is OK to not be OK. But it is NOT OK to inflict pain upon myself when I can't handle the heaviness of my stress, my thoughts, my problems and the things that I cannot control. There is always a healthy way to manage life stressors.

My faith life is also a factor I cannot override. Putting my trust and faith in Jesus and believing that I could be healed played a tremendous part in my growth and restoration. I am thankful that I had a community of believers who never demonized my mental illness nor did they treat my struggles as something only prayer could fix. We need more talk about mental illness in church, we really do.

My life has value, and I am deserving of being loved wholeheartedly even when my mind tells me the opposite. Living with shame is not going to help me with progressing forward, and I will do what I need to do such as therapy, meditation, journaling, etc to assist me with my goal of living a happy and meaningful life–shame and fear will not stand in the way of that. The opinions of others will not stand in the way of that-even if it's from my family or friends.

Cutting is an issue that affects roughly two million people in the US. You never know what others are going through underneath their painted on appearances. You can find help for yourself or a loved one by addressing the issue head on, by finding out what is driving them to harm themselves, and assist them with finding help and therapeutic uses to combat this negative coping skill. Understand that this has nothing to do with a lack of loving themselves but more so a misinformed way of how to tend to their distressing and painful feelings. 

Things will get better, trust me, healing always shows up.

Written By,
Minaa B.

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