Self-injury awareness day falls on the 1st of March. Conversations about self-injury can be triggering for many of us, so why raise awareness and encourage people to talk about it?
Because whether it's talked about or not, self-injury exists. In fact it's an unfortunately common misconception that self-harming has anything to do with other people. In many cases, not talking about it causes more problems than talking about it.
If you had told me six years ago that today I would be writing this blog, I wouldn't even have known what self-injury was. I had no idea that self-injury was a term, or that millions of other people also found relief from inexpressible emotions by channeling them into physical pain. It was not something I "tried" because my friends were doing it, or because I had been exposed to it through the media.
From my experience, it is a difficult concept for people who don't engage in self-injury to understand. I have often been asked "why would you do that to yourself?" or "what's so good about it?"
The truth is I wish I could tell you why. Believe me I wish I knew what drives this compulsive behaviour in some people and not others. All I can tell you is having the urge to hurt yourself is by no means a choice.
As for how it helps, any self-injurer will tell you that it has a calming effect when angry, makes you feel in control when unbearably depressed, and even makes you feel alive when numb. They will also tell you that it's addictive.
You become so reliant on the immediate release of endorphins to quell your emotional pain that the urges only come back stronger. Something that starts out as a way to release incredibly intense emotions also becomes your go-to habit when something doesn't go quite right. It quickly becomes the only thing you can depend on.
This in turn leads to more days of wearing long sleeves, making up accidents and being called "emo" as a joke. Contrary to popular belief, someone finding out that you hurt yourself is most people's biggest fear. I can remember many surges of panic when asked what happened to my wrist, looking down to see that my sleeve had slid up my arm.
Often people don't want anyone to find out because they don't realise that it's normal. In my case, I was a confused and desperate 13-year-old girl. When adults in my life found out it was treated like something I had done wrong, something that needed to stop. It was even once referred to as "walking around with blood all over my hands".
This kind of stigmatisation needs to stop. Yes self-injury is a short-term and potentially dangerous coping mechanism. But it is by no means easy to resist. I haven't hurt myself in three years, but I still get urges almost every day.
It may be necessary to prevent people from causing physical damage to themselves, but it is important to note that this doesn't tackle any of the psychological pain behind it. Just because you can't see physical evidence does not mean that somebody isn't hurting.