Written by: Kaitrin Higbee
Content warning: self-harm/self-injury
I have a confession to make: I have a problem with self-harm. So today, I’d like to talk about why I did it, how it made me feel, and what I do now that I have these scars from this difficult time in my life.
I first cut myself when I was in 8th grade. I was frustrated and angry after an argument with my stepfather, so I went up to my room and found a knife (sadly, it was really dull, and at the time I wanted something sharper), and sliced at my ankle. At first, I was really relieved. It was like I was a champagne bottle and someone popped the cork after shaking it a bunch. Yet, I was also ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to see what I had done, and on my ankle, cuts were easily covered up with a sock.
Fast forward through high school, because throughout high school, I didn’t cut again. I certainly got frustrated and angry, but self-harm didn’t really pop into my brain during that time. I have no idea why. Perhaps I was so busy with extracurriculars and avoiding my stepsisters who hated me, that self-harm didn’t occur to me.
In college, I got through my first year just fine. However, in my sophomore year, things started to go awry. I had trouble with a required class for my major at the time (physics) and switched majors to psychology, which was definitely not in the plan that I had made for my college career. I had extracurriculars, yes, but my migraines were getting worse, my professors for the most part were not understanding about the pain I was in, and I simply lacked the tools to cope with my situation.
Additionally, I craved the relief that cutting brought. For me, it brought endorphins and a certain sense of calm and control. It was a lie, but in the moment it felt right.
My triggers were frustration and anger. I hadn’t been allowed to express anger at my situation at home, where I had abusive stepsisters, was isolated from all my friends, and was frequently blamed for the abuse that I suffered. Furthermore, I wasn’t allowed to talk about it to the people I felt I needed to: my mom and my stepdad. So, I buried the anger and despite my best attempts, it took root in me.
By this point, I had been enrolled in martial arts classes for about a year. Based on the morals instilled in me by my martial arts instructor, I knew taking that anger and pain out on another soul was wrong. It was not the martial way and it went against my own morals as well, meager as they were at the time.
But I had to do something about the anger. It was overwhelming. The urge to hurt someone or something was very, very strong. So, in my frustration and anger, I took that urge out on myself.
"It wasn’t noble. It wasn’t right, but neither was it wrong. It was the act of someone who was desperately hurting, and desperate people do stupid things."
It wasn’t noble. It wasn’t right, but neither was it wrong. It was the act of someone who was desperately hurting, and desperate people do stupid things.
This cycle continued for years. I would get frustrated by something, or angry, and I would self-harm. I’d feel relief at first, but then shame, and then panic at how I was going to cover up the cuts and if people were going ask about them or think I was weird.
As for how I covered up the cuts, what I did was a bit stupid. Okay, a lot stupid. At first, I was able to simply wrap a scarf or something around the area to mask what I had done. However, that becomes difficult if the wound is on your foot, or in an awkward spot. So, I would take liquid bandage, put it over the cut, and then put makeup over it. When that wasn’t an option, I would put “glitter henna” (basically glue and glitter, there was nothing to do with henna in the box) on the area. When I was bored with that, I used face paint.
I never sterilized my brushes, however, I did work to keep the cuts clean before I covered them up. But I wasn’t perfect by any means. There were times when I was in a rush and I just put the glue and glitter straight on the cut. Once, I mixed up a vial of liquid bandage and wart remover.
Looking back, I’m utterly amazed that I didn’t get an infection. Simply stunned.
The one thing that did scare me during my self-harm episodes is how frenzied I was. In one such frenzy, I came very close to cutting too deep, deep enough to need stitches. The sad thing about that is that doing that didn’t wake me up. I would go on to be hospitalized twice for depression and my related self-harm.
Resisting the urge to cut and learning better coping mechanisms have been the main things that have helped me. At first, the urge to cut was always very strong, but now, that urge has weakened. There are times when I’m very upset, very angry, or very frustrated and the urge becomes very strong, but I’m able to resist those urges now.
Today, it’s been 9 months and 13 days since I have self-harmed. It amazes me that I got this far. It wasn’t easy. The frustration and anger were still there, but I learned to deal with those feelings in a more constructive way. I learned that what happened to me was not my fault, could never be my fault. I’m still angry. Maybe I’ll always be angry to some level.
"Your happiness doesn’t counteract the fact that you have depression. You can be happy for a moment or seem happy for a time, but if you’re depressed, it’s bigger than that moment or that day or the 9-5 job where you put on a smile because you’re paid to do so."
I still have the scars from what I did. I’m pretty self-conscious of them. Most of the times, I wear leggings and a long shirt underneath whichever dress I’m wearing, partially because of the scars. Despite that, if someone asks about them, I usually tell the truth. Sometimes this isn’t really a productive thing to do, for example when people ask “What do you have to depressed about?” or “What could depress you?” Well, I have plenty of things to be depressed about, but that’s not really how depression works. Your happiness doesn’t counteract the fact that you have depression. You can be happy for a moment or seem happy for a time, but if you’re depressed, it’s bigger than that moment or that day or the 9-5 job where you put on a smile because you’re paid to do so.
I’ve been thinking about getting the really bad ones on my left arm covered up with a tattoo. I’m very pale, so any scars I have, be they from chicken pox or otherwise, stand out. Most of the scars on my body are white, but the one on my left arm, left over from when I cut too deep, is raised and light pink. I can’t decide on what to cover it up with. I just know I want something beautiful.