Dear Self Harm,

TRIGGER WARNING: SELF HARM, CUTTING

I’ve been thinking about this post, writing it in my head, for weeks. I know how it starts; I know what I want to talk about. I know the stories I want to tell. I just can’t seem to get the words out of my brain and on the screen.

I never considered what I did self harm.

I witnessed self harm in high school, which seems so long ago now. She was the punked-out, goth kid in my theater class. I’m friendly to everyone, so while I wasn’t her bestie or even a member of her tribe, she told me things.

People do. I used to think it was something super special about me, something magical that only I, and perhaps a few others, had. But that magic is my willingness to listen, offer no judgement, and care enough to help. Perhaps that’s a kind of magic all its own.

Theater-class girl had problems, which she addressed and added to by huffing spray starch and cutting on her legs. She explained that the little red lines, the little raised scars that trailed above them so neatly, gave her release. When her emotions boiled and roiled past what her body could contain, one blade and a few careful bloody cuts let enough pain escape her body, giving her something to focus on besides the original chaos and its attendant emotions.

I never put together what I did with what she did. Perhaps because her perfect red lines were so organized, so neat and orderly. My response to that overwhelming feeling of internal combustion was far more violent.

I kicked walls, bed frames, whatever. I kicked until my toes broke. I scratched at any imperfections on my skin until they bled, never letting them heal. I pounded at myself until I had bruises. Today my toes curl under from the breakage, and my skin has white, raised scarring. Only the bruises are gone.

I think, looking back, I had symptoms of manic depression. Lord knows it ran in our family. I’m not bipolar now, so … ? But then, in those teenage years, emotions were so hot and angry and all encompassing. Maybe they are for all teenagers.

Those uncontrollable emotions filled me with a bubbling, spitting brew of hate and upset and powerlessness. The only way to spew the hate, release the tears, and gain a sense of power was to kick and pound and scratch.

Cutting, self-harm … it wasn’t a thing in the 1990s, when I was a teen. People did it, but the psychobabble to explain and identify it wouldn’t trickle from the professionals to the mainstream for another ten years. Even then, what I did was never equated to cutting. When boys punch walls, do we call it self-harm today? I don’t know the answer.

I’m having a lot of trouble with depression. Getting out of bed is a struggle. Taking care of myself is a struggle. Caring about those facts is a struggle.

A few weeks ago, I found a small lump on my elbow. It bugged me, so I made the obvious decision to take a knife and slice it open. I had taken some painkillers that evening for my migraines, but I was still hurting.

The knife I used was new and sharp, but the angle to my elbow was awkward at best. It took several tries to open the bump, which then proved to be quite unsatisfying.

But by that time, I had scored several lines into the skin on my elbow. And while it hurt, the pain was so different from my migraine. It was sharp, and clean, and bright. The migraine was dull. and achy, and constant. And that new pain was a sharp punch through the miasma of my depression.

I was fascinated by it.

It hurt, dragging the knife through layers of my skin. But that difference in the pain kept me transfixed. How hard did I have to press to draw blood? How hard did I have to press to draw a long line? I criss-crossed my elbow, cutting lines over and over, a few deep but mostly shallow.

It took an external jostle to make me realize what I’d been doing. Luckily, I hadn’t caused any real damage, not then. A few napkins, some direct pressure, and all was fine.

But over the next weeks, I picked at those lines. Absently, I’d scratch the scabs off, noticing only when the raw wound started to sting or when my fingers came back bloody. And now I have scars, new lines that weave a web of white lines across my elbow.

I can’t see the new scars, which is a shame. Could they have served as a reminder not to hurt myself again?

Probably not. My old scars write large across my body, but I’ve yet to read the message.

Blind to my own braille but still,

Payne.