You’re gonna carry that weight a long time…

I had my bloods done this week. I have blood taken most weeks. This time I had a new nurse. She asked about my scars (nicely). I replied self harm. She exhaled sympathetically and said ‘it certainly left its mark’. Ain’t that the truth.

There’s the obvious scars all over my skin. The toll on my body that you can read about in my medical records and the indelible marks on my mind. Then the more I thought about it the clearer I saw that self harm has permeated throughout my life. I have so many habits, rules & thoughts that all loop back to a time when I was routinely hurting myself. The depth of it is both a revelation and strikingly obvious. Which is confusing, so I’m just going to unpack it here. Someone once told me they read my writing because it’s the best way to work out what I’m actually thinking. That’s often why I write it. So, excuse me if I explore my insides with an audience.

There are seemingly trivial things that at first glance appear to be just casual preferences. I only buy dark bedsheets. All my bedding is black or red or purple. Sure, I like those colours, but really I switched to exclusively dark tones because you can’t get blood stains out of the lighter ones. You also can’t see the stains between washing. I realise how gross that sounds, but when you always have open wounds, your sheets are continuously bloody. You get used to it. Ditto all of the above for dark coloured jammies. Along similar lines is my constant manicure. I’ve always liked to paint my nails. However, I didn’t need to keep my nails painted at all times until cutting came along. If you didn’t know, it can be really hard to get blood out from under finger nails. You can scrub for hours and still see red. Covering the tell tale crimson tinge became routine. My love of shiny black polish on my toes has the same origins. My toes don’t see a lot of blood these days, but necessity has grown into habit. My cardigan collection also has secrets origins. I have a million cardigans, shrugs etc. Whenever I buy any outfit I immediately run through what cover up I could match with it. I don’t even keep my scars covered anymore, but I still find myself buying items to hide under. Again, precaution has become ingrained.

Bed

The tentacles extend further. Years of self harm has skewed my perspective on a number of things. For instance, if you accidentally injure yourself I am the best and worst person to ask for help. I’ll definitely give top notch wound care advice. I know what dressing you need and how to clean every gash. I’ll also almost always think you’re making a fuss of nothing. I’ll probably think you can manage without medical assistance unless your leg is hanging off. When you cry or complain about the pain, I will be outwardly kind, but inside, I think you should cowboy up. Your call an ambulance is my stick a plaster on it. I know I’m wrong, but that’s how my mind works. Furthermore any accidental injury that anyone ever tells me about will arouse my suspicion. Same deal for most scars. I spent years lying about cuts and breaks and burns. I have concocted excuses of every kind. No matter how plausible your story I will have a moments doubt. It’s no reflection on you. I know you didn’t do it to yourself. It’s just that I also know that people lie. I lied. To everyone. Repeatedly. Habitually. For a very long time. It warped my thought process. Oh and if I have an accident I spend a lot of time carefully crafting how I will explain it. My head’s first assumption is that everyone shares my doubts. I’m always scared that someone will think I’ve fallen off the recovery wagon. Logic kicks in and throws the crazy out, but there’s a delay.

Black toe nails & tattoos

I never answer the door in short sleeves. Everyone knows they can’t just drop by my house. In the past I didn’t know if myself or my home would be fit for visitors. The anxiety of unexpected guests lives on even if the pools of blood do not. My first aid tin is always extensively stocked. I still can’t go anywhere without a cover up. My days of hiding every scar are gone, but my brain needs to know I have the option.

Blood transfusion

Watching cinematic portrayals of gore annoys the hell out me. I know that slash wouldn’t produce so much blood. Blood doesn’t stay wet that long. Cutting your wrists is nowhere as easy as films would have you believe. Cold water and salt is how you remove a blood stain. Rotting blood smells a bit fishy. A troponin test will determine if you’re having an actual heart attack. Stitches in the stomach don’t really hurt, don’t bother with local. The body takes 4-6 weeks to replace the red cells when blood is lost. Drs will usually insist on an transfusion when haemoglobin drops below 7 g/dl. Learning the topology of Langer’s lines allows for cuts to be made in the correct direction to reduce scarring. Inadine patches will prevent infection. Anti bacterial gel stops scars from itching. Scalpel blades can be bought in art stores. Ice can burn. Arterial blood pulses. My brain clings to all of this and more. Information, dictums & routines that no longer serve purpose, but retain a hold. That nurse was more right than she could ever imagine. Yup, self harm leaves one hell of a mark.

Most of the time…

I haven’t cut myself for a long time. Realistically speaking, I cannot ever cut myself again. They call this recovery. Apparently, I’m recovered. I just don’t always feel it.

Tonight I looked through my old self harm pictures. Yes, I have pictures. When I was in the thick of it I always took photographs. Firstly because I felt compelled to, it was part of my ritual. Also, because I couldn’t trust myself to judge the severity of my wounds. Those pictures gave me the tiny bit of distance required to see what level of medical intervention I could get away with. Now, they’re a stop gap.

They’re the thing I do when I want to cut so badly it hurts not to. I look at those images of gore & miss it.

I miss the blood. The hot, flowing, staining everything I own blood.

I miss the smell & that crackling sound my skin makes when I slice into scar tissue.

I want the pain. I want the deep, sharp trauma my blade inflicts & the hot throb of infected tissue. I long for the ache of putting a butchered arm into a sleeve.

I know that doesn’t make any sense. I know it’s sick & crazy. It is still true. There’s a reason I yearn for the carnage; it works. Only briefly and, sure, it also fucks up your life, but those moments of respite are everything. Physical pain is nothing compared to the relentless agony that can exist in my head. Most of the time it’s manageable. Most of the time I can make it sleep. Most of the time I’m in control. Control isn’t easy. It is work. Exhausting, consuming labour.

The blade is easier. In the short term it’s beautiful relief. All those horrific feelings pour out with the blood. I can slash through my anguish just as easy I hack through my flesh. That’s why we do it. In case you were wondering. The reason some us do insane things to ourselves is because it’s effective. We hurt ourselves to heal ourselves.

The calm just doesn’t last very long. The sickness comes back. It returns stronger every time. The crazy grows. You need bigger, deeper, scarier cuts to keep it quiet. Then the self harm becomes a crazy of its own. You need it. You find yourself listening to drs who say you’re going to die. And even though you really don’t want to die. It’s hard to care. Now the crazy is trying to destroy you & the cutting is competing to do you in first.

So, I don’t cut anymore. I can’t cut anymore because I cannot control it.

If I want to be in charge,

If I want a chance at living a life I love,

If I want to not hurt everyone who cares about me,

I can’t cut.

Sometimes, though, I desperately want to. The easy way out looks good. The horror movie in my head wants to come to life, but I can’t let it. I don’t cut.

I just look at old pictures

And

Write all the things I can’t bring myself to say out loud.

I don’t cut anymore & most of the time I’m glad.