Today is self injury awareness day. I’ll be honest I’m fairly jaded about awareness days. Especially those of the mental health variety. Too often they seem to me to be highlighting the wrong things. Today hasn’t broken the mold. Almost everything I have read in relation to self injury awareness day (SIAD) has focused on the usual stereotypes. Some have just missed the point entirely. So, I have decided to share a little of what goes on in the head of a person who is hurting themselves Specifically, this person.
I don’t fit the stereotypes. I didn’t hurt myself as a teen. I wasn’t bullied & had a picture perfect childhood. I was never desirous of attention or seeking care in the form of dressings & kind medical professionals (ha!). I’m not stupid or dangerous or crazy. I have fought this battle as an articulate, independent adult. I’ve hidden wounds & scars through university & work alike. I kept a secret shrouded in stigma. Constantly confronted with the idea that my problem was one that should only face little girls. Shamed by the opinion that I am an incompetent drama queen.
I am none of the above. Rather, I am woman who suffered trauma that altered my life. In the depths of anguish I stumbled upon a solution; a maladaptive survival technique. An act sought out to gain control when I felt powerless. Lamentably, my source of control rapidly overtook me & established dominion. Self harm is so complicated. It’s scope is different for each individual. For me, it become all encompassing. My daily thoughts circled around if/when I would cut. Being proficient was paramount. Every cut had to be ‘better’ than the last; I sought deeper wounds, more blood, more damage, more more. Self harm entangled itself into my identity.
Admitting that & asking for help felt like relinquishing part of my self. Not only was I facing the loss of self harm, but also the strong, capable parts of myself that made me feel worthy. Admitting that I could no longer cope was the most vulnerable I have ever been. Believe me when I say that to face stigma & prejudice in that state is crushing. To gather all your courage to tell a therapist the ugly truth & be faced with a ‘just stop’ attitude is soul destroying. Equally dragging your blood soaked self to a&e only to be treated with disgust can break a person. That the is the problem I & many others most need addressed.
I believe SIAD should be about acknowledging the complexity of the issue. We should be focusing on changing the attitudes within the medical profession. Yes, let’s educate our communities about mental illness, but let’s also change the entrenched attitudes within the institutions that have the power to destroy lives. The worst stigma I have faced has been from dr’s & nurses who ought to have known better. Stigma is never positive, but I’ll take a hundred ignorant strangers over one cruel dr. Being unable to safely access treatment can kill. We need to take the fight to that front line.