Live Through This

Secret Wounds

Admitting that you need help is the most powerful thing you can do.

Illustration by Sonja

In the spring of seventh grade, I had a terrible falling out with my friend Becky.* I can’t even remember how it started—she spread a rumor about me or maybe blabbed one of my secrets—but it came to a head when she had her mom call our principal to tell him that I was going to kill myself.

The principal called my parents on a Friday night when I was sleeping over at another friend’s house. My mom, knowing that I was having problems with Becky and not wanting to embarrass me in front of my other friends, managed to remain calm and waited until I got home the next morning to ask me about it. Still, I felt completely humiliated by the looks of concern my parents were giving me. Whatever I might have said to Becky that made her believe I was suicidal had been lost in a fog of anger and depression, so when they asked why she would say such I thing, I blamed it on my mostly black wardrobe. My one vivid memory of the whole debacle is of the meeting I had the following Monday with the principal, my parents, Becky, and her parents. After rehashing the phone call he’d gotten, the principal yelled, “And as it turned out, Stephanie was at a slumber party probably enjoying some fresh-baked blueberry muffins!” (Fresh-baked blueberry muffins? WTF? I thought.)

The principal forced me to have a few sessions with the school guidance counselor anyway. Those consisted of a lot of fake smiling and insisting that really I was fine, just having a dumb argument with a dumb friend. She also had me decorate T-shirts with puffy paint. Seriously. And the school put me on suicide watch.

In truth, though I wasn’t suicidal, I did hate my life. I’d endured three years of bullying at the hands of girls at my elementary school, because I wore the wrong clothes and got good grades. In junior high, the boys joined in, taunting me for being flat-chested and ugly. I’d also just found out that I was losing the one person who’d helped me survive all of that by joining me to laugh at Garfield comics, watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, and be weird and totally proud of it—my best friend, Juliet. Her grandmother and legal guardian was dying of lung cancer, so Juliet was being sent to live with her aunt. I floated around my junior high like a dark cloud, always on the verge of either bursting into tears or lashing out in anger. Which didn’t really help with my suicide-watch status.

One afternoon at stage crew, I was too busy stewing about my various problems to pay attention to what I was doing, and I snagged my arm on a nail that stuck out of the wall in the tool room. I almost screamed, but I gritted my teeth and stopped myself. Then I realized that I felt strangely calm. I hurt so much inside that hurting myself on the outside was like opening up a pressure valve. Instead of telling one of the supervisors, who would make a big deal out of it, I put a flannel shirt on to hide the little cut. Later that week when I was feeling crappy again, I went back to the nail and accidentally-on-purpose ran my arm across it.

So from the end of seventh grade on, I continued to cut whenever I was feeling anxious, angry, or sad. I cut in secret, locking the door to my bedroom or the bathroom, carefully hiding the evidence, and feeling fortunate that it was the early ’90s, and I wasn’t the only one who had a flannel or a beat-up army jacket on at all times.

I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing for a long time. I was a perfectionist; I felt like any problems I had were flaws that I didn’t want my parents to see any more than I wanted to get a B on my report card. I wouldn’t confide in any adults at school for the same reason. As for friends, I was so stung by Juliet’s moving and Becky’s betrayal that I stopped confiding in anyone I might consider a peer.

I knew that most people wouldn’t understand my method of coping and would label me “suicidal” again. This lasted until sophomore year, when I made friends at a local park who “got it.” My new best friend, Acacia, kept a razor blade in the wallet she wore chained to her jeans. I don’t remember her telling me this or talking about the cuts on her arms, but I know I took off my long sleeves around her and started carrying a razor blade in my chain wallet, too. My sort-of-not-really boyfriend, Brandon, discovered my cuts when were making out. My face got hot, but then he said, “That’s cool,” and showed me his.

I didn’t think it was cool, though. After spending much of my life feeling like a freak for various reasons, I was relieved to find a group of friends who understood me so well that I didn’t even have to hide my scars from them, but there’s a line between that and craving rebellion just to be trendy, like a Dateline-type special on “teens in trouble” would seem to imply. In fact, when a film crew from some outlet or another came to our park to talk about just that, Acacia and I scrammed. We weren’t about to trot out our scars for the camera, because we weren’t proud of them any more than a junkie is proud of their habit. To us, cutting went along with smoking cigarettes in terms of stress relief: deep down, you know it’s not good for you, but it calms you down in the moment, and once you start, quitting is hard. Late at night on the phone, or maybe one-on-one outside of Denny’s after someone noticed someone else’s fresh cut, there were whispered conversations that started, “I wish you would stop…and I wish I could stop, too.” Sometimes we even talked about the reasons behind the cutting, but a lot of times there weren’t words for that black pit of depression or anger that lived in your gut and threatened to swallow you whole. On top of that, we were dealing with things that we had no clue how to handle on our own, and we distrusted the rest of the world too much to seek help for our problems—like Acacia’s violent situation at home or the stuff I was going through when my cutting got really bad the summer between sophomore and junior year.

I’d just broken up with Greg, who was the first guy I slept with. During the six months we dated, he’d isolated me from my friends and forced me to let him read my journal. When I talked to the wrong person, wore something he deemed “slutty,” or refused his sexual advances, he punished me with the silent treatment and other psychological tactics like destroying my things, threatening suicide, and threatening to tell my parents how crazy I was. It took me several months to realize that this behavior was not normal—it was abusive. It took me years to realize that I didn’t deserve it.

He’d basically rewired my brain so I blamed myself for all the things he did to me. Cutting became both relief and punishment. I was going to the bathroom at school and running out on my friends at Denny’s to do it. It scared some of them. One begged me to stop with tears in his eyes. I started to realize that cutting was a dangerous addiction that had spiraled out of control, but I was too stressed to stop.

Then, one night in early November, I got into a car accident. It wasn’t really a big deal. I made a left turn, miscalculating how fast the guy coming up the street was going, and he clipped the back corner of my car, ripping the bumper off. No one besides Jezebel, my ’91 Civic, got hurt—a lucky break, since my two passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts.

My parents didn’t even raise their voices at me, but I had never been angrier at myself. The rage and self-loathing festered while I sat in the living room waiting for them to finish inspecting the car, and when they came inside I completely lost control and ripped away the thin shield that had kept my deepest secret hidden for almost four years. I threw my army jacket on the floor and displayed my arms, which were crisscrossed with bright red cuts, fading pink scabs, and tons of little white scars.

“I cannot handle any of this anymore. I am fucking crazy. You need to check me into Riveredge right now,” I told them, referring to the mental institution that some of my friends had been sent to when their parents were sick of their behavior. Still rather obsessed with The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted, I thought it might be a nice little break. In fact I kind of hoped I was crazy enough to stay forever, just so that I would never have to deal with real life again. Even though I knew institutions were sad and frightening places, I imagined that a padded white room would be like a safe little cocoon compared with the outside world.

I honestly don’t remember much of our conversation that night. I know that my parents went very pale after seeing my arms. I assume that my mother cried. No one yelled, except for me as I begged them to commit me so my problems would go away.

It was decided that I would see my mother’s therapist instead. Mom also insisted that I stay home from school the next day. She told me that whenever I didn’t feel like I could handle things, I could call her and she would pick me up from school and we’d talk about it or watch soap operas or read or do whatever I needed to do. She helped me begin to find healthy releases.

Frightening as it had been to reveal my secret to my parents, in the end, it was incredibly liberating. Oddly enough, the sense of release that I got from it was quite similar to how I’d felt back when I’d first snagged my arm on that nail, but it was better because I was actually taking control. It wasn’t until I let go of my secret that I realized how all-consuming it had been: hiding my cuts from my parents and the friends that didn’t know, worrying that a sleeve might come up or someone would grab my arm and I’d flinch, revealing all of my vulnerabilities. Not to mention, cutting had become the only way I knew how to deal with any sort of stress. If something upsetting happened and I wasn’t able to sneak away with something sharp, I felt completely powerless. Like with many addictions, what had initially seemed helpful ended up becoming such a crutch that I forgot how to be resourceful, how to take care of myself and find real ways of working on my problems.

Additional Resources

S.A.F.E. Alternatives
1-800-DONTCUT (1-800-366-8288)

To Write Love on Her Arms
A nonprofit dedicated to finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens Who Cut & Self-Injure by Lawrence E. Shapiro

The Anxiety Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal With Anxiety & Worry by Lisa M. Schab

It still took me a while to give up that crutch. I don’t have a last cutting memory like I have a first cutting memory, because quitting was a process that lasted until I was 24 or 25. After I told my parents my secret, I stopped viewing cutting as helpful. I felt guilty every time I did it, which sometimes led to more cutting, but more often than not, it led to me reaching out to my mom or to friends who were making a serious effort to kick the habit. This healing period was the emotional equivalent of those bootcamp-style workouts. It was intense, incredibly difficult, and there were setbacks. I had a drama-filled relationship with a guy and every time we fought, I was tempted to cut, but when I managed to put down something sharp and either pick up the phone to call someone or a pen to write in my journal, I’d never felt stronger or more proud. It taught me who I really was and what I needed to keep myself balanced in the world—namely, to give my feelings words.

Writing has always been my healthiest form of catharsis. The desire to cut lessened a great deal after I went back to college at 21 to pursue a creative writing degree and started finally opening up to my therapist. For me, cutting never was the “cry for help” that I’ve heard it called, but rather a way to suffer in silence. I couldn’t begin to heal until I cried out loud. ♦

* All names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

75 Comments

  • rosiesayrelax June 18th, 2012 3:09 PM

    i know two people who self harm, and i don’t know what to do. their scars are visible, but people just seem to ignore it, even teachers. i think this article would be a great help for them. thanks Stephanie for being so open.

    Rosie Say Relax

    • Cadi June 18th, 2012 5:33 PM

      For me, visible scars are a good sign. It means I’m not ashamed or guilty for having cut to cope, not hiding anything and am happy to talk about it to folks if they ask. Talking about it and why really helps. Can’t say if that’s the same/similar for the folks that you know, but it could be :) The best you can do is be open for talking to if either needed someone to vent to (so long as you were comfortable with that ofc!).

    • dianeisnotmyname June 18th, 2012 8:11 PM

      I had some visible cuts and I assumed people ignored them and didn’t care… it never even really crossed my mind to cover them up. Someone actually did notice though, and I ended up going to the counselor. I don’t know these girls or their situation, but telling a counselor could really help them. You never know, the school might know about these girls or they might already be getting help, but telling an adult in situations like this can be crucial.

  • mayaautumn June 18th, 2012 3:32 PM

    this is amazing…i love you for writing about this serious topic so well and interestingly(is that a word?!)
    i really fancy a ‘fresh baked blueberry muffin’ now!;)

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • Majel June 18th, 2012 3:39 PM

    - Rookie has changed and improved my sense of style and my perception of people, they all seem so beautiful to me nowadays
    - it has introduced me to some culture that I love and would never have known about otherwise
    - it has gotten me into feminism and thinking about and changing some things that go on in my surroundings
    - it has given me touching and inspiring stories of wonderful girls and women
    - it has given me more courage to be who I want to be again
    - it helps me with difficult parts of life, sometimes better than a good friend could, with articles like this one.

    Greetings from Germany, I LOVE YOU GUYS!

    • Abby June 19th, 2012 9:22 AM

      Me too, Majel, me too. Rookie is like a best friend to me. Thank you guys at Rookie for all you do, and thank you readers, for all the support we all give each other.

    • all-art-is-quite-useless June 19th, 2012 12:32 PM

      Me too, Rookie has changed my life. Thank you so much, to the contributors and the readers.

      • Tavi June 19th, 2012 12:53 PM

        Thank you all for helping to make it so awesome and awesome for us.

    • Anaheed June 20th, 2012 12:21 AM

      WE LOVE YOU TOOOOOOO

  • Sweet-Pea June 18th, 2012 3:40 PM

    Thank you for this….

    Its made me realize again, that I cannot ignore what I’m doing to myself, but this time I don’t feel like I’m an utter failure.
    and that the world wont end if I ask for help.
    (I might ask a fellow rookie reading friend if she’s read this, and find a way to talk to her about it)

    • lorobird June 19th, 2012 8:39 AM

      You will feel so much better after reaching out! Depression doesn’t just keep you down, it isolates you and fogs the mind. It’s an awful place to be, but we can all get out of it. You’d be surprised to find how many people in school, college and adult life struggle with and overcome depression!

      You are beautiful :) and you can do this.

      • Sweet-Pea June 20th, 2012 4:49 PM

        Thank you….
        Its just hard to pluck up the courage. I’m terrified of (even my closest friends) possible reaction…and being treated differently…?

  • noquierodecir June 18th, 2012 3:43 PM

    I had to take a two-day leave from school this year because my cutting had become so horrible.

    The distinction between self-injurious behaviour and suicidal behaviour is an important one, and I thank you (Stephanie) very much for highlighting it.

    I am so glad that you are doing well now. I hate how long this process takes. Writing is also my catharsis, but I’m only a rising sophomore and I’m scared about how long this habit takes to kick.

  • donovan June 18th, 2012 3:49 PM

    Being committed really isn’t a break, though I know why it can be seen as one. Mental hospitals are places to go to be stabilized (for example: going there for maybe a week after attempting suicide). It can actually be a cliquey environment. I remember when I was committed almost two years ago (age 15), girls liked to compare their scars, drug experiences, and sexual escapades. I was excluded because I was a baby-faced white upper middle class virgin with frizzy hair that was afraid of pot. I haven’t cut since being released (437 days ago). Congratulations on kicking the habit :)

  • brandy June 18th, 2012 3:49 PM

    This really hit home with me, as a reguar cutter in denial of what I am doing. I was wondering for a while if I could write about it for rookie- would you still be interested?

  • Alienor June 18th, 2012 3:57 PM

    i love you. can i hug you please

  • izzybee June 18th, 2012 4:09 PM

    This is very relevant for me recently, thank you for being so positive, things like these really help. Thanks x

  • ironsides June 18th, 2012 4:10 PM

    I’ve been dealing with self-harm for half my life now–I started when I was twelve, oblivious to the fact that there were others that did it, and am still struggling to stop. I have been fighting depression and suicidal ideation for years and years, and at 24 I still slip up and cut when I can’t handle things. It is a really constant struggle, because it implants itself in your brain as the “only thing that works” or tricks you to think that it’s a way of being “in control.” Thank you so much for posting this and for being so honest and up-front about it, and not coming at it from the angle of confused parents and adults who are puzzled by a “new teen phenomenon that is putting our kids in danger!” For a long time, I was able to distance myself from cutters and cutting. I felt that oh, that’s not me, that’s not what I do, even when I had fresh cuts all over my body. It’s taken a lot for me to own up to it and to accept it as a part of my life and only since admitting to myself that yeah, that’s me, have I been able to make ANY progress in therapy. It took being rushed to the hospital from my university psychological services office for me to take myself seriously and feel I didn’t just need, but actually deserved help. It is a LONG ROAD and a tough fight but I know it’s worth it. There will be a day when I have a solid “last time I cut” memory. It is worth working for.

  • hannahismissing June 18th, 2012 4:17 PM

    wow. this is just what i needed. i am going through this same situation right now…
    my friend is spreading my personal information and is creating ridiculous rumors, and my parents found out i cut as well…but i am finding new friends and it helps a lot. this article was great…amazing job rookie! ^_^

  • familiarjewels June 18th, 2012 4:25 PM

    I really love this article; it’s so honest and true. I’m in the midst of trying to give up cutting and finding other ways to deal with my depression, and from my experience I’d really encourage anyone suffering to speak to someone about it. When I kept it bottled up it just made things worse and sharing really does help. It might not feel like it, but honestly it does.
    Lots of love and thanks Stephanie.

    http://familiarjewels.tumblr.com/

  • suze_me June 18th, 2012 4:35 PM

    I stopped cutting a month back. It was pretty difficult in the beginning, because I was so used to cutting that it seemed natural, like brushing my teeth. Eventually, with the help of some very special friends, I managed to quit. Now, I just do it sometimes, when I can’t think straight and before I realize, I already have a billion cuts on my hand. Mostly its after I have a fight with my dad. I can’t help it.
    Anyhow, I loved reading this. Excellent article :D

  • Fortune_Goddess June 18th, 2012 4:42 PM

    Does digging your nails into your palms secretly during school count as self harm?

    • Marguerite June 18th, 2012 6:01 PM

      Yep, anything sharp that you hurt yourself purposely with…

      • Pashupati June 19th, 2012 7:00 AM

        Even not sharp things.
        If you beat yourself with your hands, or kick yourself with non-sharp objects, that’s also self-harm. I’d have say it’s better than with sharp things, but a friend’s doctor said it could evolve into a blood clot because I had one big bruise that still hurted and I guess it can be dangerous in other ways too if you kick yourself on the stomach too strongly/too often.
        If you rub yourself on something non-sharp to gradually “cut” yourself, it’s also self-harm. Basically anything you do for “self-harm reasons” that harms you is self-harm, even if in the beginning it’ not-so-dangerous because it can escalate. I hope you’ll find someone IRL to support you when needed.

    • dianeisnotmyname June 18th, 2012 8:14 PM

      hey Fortune_Goddess. I did the same thing, and I was in denial a lot about my self harming habits but it eventually got worse because I kept denying that I had a problem. I hope you feel better soon.

  • Fortune_Goddess June 18th, 2012 4:42 PM

    It helps me calm down.

    • Abby June 19th, 2012 9:19 AM

      Try finding other ways to calm yourself down. Any way that works beside hurting yourself should help. You’ll get through it. We love you <3

  • Marguerite June 18th, 2012 5:58 PM

    One of my friends used to cut, and it really scared the hell out of me, I knew why she did it, and I knew she wasn’t going to insanely hurt herself, but I couldn’t stand it. Eventually I helped her to stop without the help of adults. She was scared she would be seen as suicidal. I’m really glad nothing super serious happened.

  • redblueblueberry June 18th, 2012 6:04 PM

    Thank you for this. I admire how you guys at rookie can be so open about all the horrible things you’ve been through and how you survived. Hats off to you. I still find it hard to talk about what I’ve experienced. most of the time i just pretend it never happened. problem is, it works. but the bad feelings seep into areas you wouldnt expect them to. Again – thank you for telling your story. I hope i will be able to sometime too.

  • starsinyourheart June 18th, 2012 6:05 PM

    i’ve been a cutter since i was 9, i turned 18 a few weeks ago and i haven’t cut since february… i used to see no reason to not cut, but the longer i haven’t cut, the more reason i find to not do it. sometimes i think of how many weeks/months it’s been and i just smile for no reason :)

  • FrillsAndThrills June 18th, 2012 6:30 PM

    I’ve been cutting since I was 11 years old. I’m 22 now and I still relapse. It’s a long road, but this article really made me feel like there’s hope. Thank you

  • dianeisnotmyname June 18th, 2012 8:09 PM

    It took me a while to realize that I was a self injurer. I never really cut with something sharp because I didn’t have access to sharp objects, and I thought I was “too chicken”. However, I scratched myself, and made cuts that weren’t very deep. I didn’t think it “counted” as cutting because they didn’t make big scars, and this lead to me feeling like I was “weak”. It got bad as my depression got worse, because during class I would just scratch my arm and no one really noticed.
    This year, I cut my arms but the cuts were a bit more visible and someone actually noticed and told the counselor. I kind of lied to her, but I have my own shrink who I talk to fortunately.
    It’s gotten a lot better as my depression has improved, though I do occasionally “relapse”- and I agree, I feel worse after I do that. It’s a vicious cycle of sorts. Thanks for the great piece.

  • runningfilm June 18th, 2012 8:10 PM

    I cut myself quite consistantly, despite three different therapists and various medication, from 6th grade until halfway through my sophomore year when I hit my breaking point (long story short, my parents had been reading my very, very private Tumblr for over a year) and slit my face open on one cheekbone. It’s been over a year and a half since that night and I haven’t relapsed. I’m off all my medication and “graduated” from therapy. It doesn’t really bother me anymore, other than when someone asks about my scars. To a certain degree, that part of me doesn’t even seem like myself anymore- it’s like a friend’s story that was confided to me late at night, half asleep under the covers. I think my biggest issue about it was that I just never learned how to deal with frustration/anger/bad feelings properly. I wouldn’t say that’s why I started, but that is definitely what made it progress the way it did. I find is so ironic that I worked so hard to make permanent scars, and now I want nothing more than for them to fade away.

    There’s a million more things I want to say, because I haven’t opened up to anyone about this since I quit- but I don’t know how.

  • Whatsername June 18th, 2012 8:11 PM

    I started two years ago- it went from a safety pin to razors and knives- and every time spring/summer comes around I “quit”. I don’t have the same group of friends that understand- when I talk to my closest friend about it, she gets really awkward, smacks me on the arm and goes I’M MAD AT YOU, STOP THAT. It doesn’t really do anything but I know she doesn’t know what else to do.
    So every year when it’s time to take off the sleeves and long pants {most of my scars are on my legs} I quit by myself, and now that it’s summer, I’m scared to death I’ll start again in the fall. I’ve researched it more than last year, though, and I threw out all of my razorblades, so hopefully I can beat it this year.
    Thank you for writing this- it’s very relatable.

  • pinky June 18th, 2012 8:16 PM

    Everytime I hear a story of someone over coming self injury (and other addictions too) I feel so happy and proud for those people. It’s been 14 months since the last time for me, you are all stronger and braver than you think. Beating these things takes a lot of courage.

  • Nomi June 18th, 2012 8:17 PM

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS. It’s so funny that you did actually, because i just wrote a story relating to cutting and my experiences with it. A private story, but it was just on my mind. I cut, and I hate when people consider it an emo trend or whatever. That’s very odd to me. I’m very lucky to have a boyfriend who wants me to stop and is extremely supportive of me, and friends who want me to stop and look out for me. And I’m really very glad you got the help you needed.

  • Tara June 18th, 2012 8:24 PM

    what a powerful story. you are so brave and I’m proud of you for getting through a really painful, difficult period.

  • Catherine_CC June 18th, 2012 9:17 PM

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this Stephanie nor Rookie enough for posting it.

    One (of the manyyyyyy) things I hate about my personal experience with mental illnesses and all that comes with them is the stigma that prevents people from getting the help they need. Depression, bipolar disorder, and self harm are all things I struggle with and are all things that are taboo to talk about–but that is what needs to be done. We must talk about them and spread awareness so that the people who need help the most know that they are not alone and that it will get better.
    So, from someone who is deeply affected by personal mental illness as well as the illnesses of the people I love–thank you for sharing your story.

    -Catherine
    http://atinybitquiet.tumblr.com/

  • old hands June 18th, 2012 9:41 PM

    Cutting is everything to me. I get up in the morning just so I can start a new day doing it. I don’t think I could ever quit lie you because I don’t have any reasons to.

    • Abby June 19th, 2012 9:17 AM

      I can’t give you a reason to quit. You have to find your own reason to. You will find it someday, trust me. Just know that there are people in your life and out here that care about you. You’re beautiful, and all of us here at Rookie care about you. I can tell.

    • Catherine_CC June 19th, 2012 10:53 AM

      I think I might know how you feel. Right now I consider myself in recovery from self-harm, though sometimes I do relapse.

      Self-harm is considered a coping skill to deal with painful emotions, but just like drugs and alcohol it is a harmful coping skill as well as addictive.

      Not too long ago I dreaded going to school everyday, not just because I hate school (I still do), but because school terrified me. I would get nervous, anxious, and often suicidal. The only way I made it through the day without bursting into tears and a full blown panic attack was because I knew I could cut as soon as I got home.

      And even though I felt terrible after the initial relief of cutting, I still did it because I didn’t think it was really all that harmful–but it is.

      Even though it’s difficult to stop self harming, it really is better for you in the long run to find other ways to cope.

      I hope you take to heart what I’ve said–things can turn around for the better.

      And, probably most importantly, you are never alone.

      -Catherine
      http://atinybitquiet.tumblr.com/

    • Stephanie June 19th, 2012 3:36 PM

      Hugs old hands. I can’t say much more than Abby and Catherine have. They both gave great advice. I did feel like you do right now as well. I didn’t see a reason to stop and I can’t give you one. My reason was a slow realization that it wasn’t helping and that I had an addiction of sorts and I didn’t want be addicted. Your reason may be different, but it will be there. You will find something more, a better release, one that gives you much much more than cutting. Much love and hope to you.

  • elizabethmarley June 18th, 2012 9:52 PM

    Thank you for writing this.

    I started cutting when I was 13. I’m 26 now.

    I remember telling therapists that I couldn’t imagine my life without self harm. When I was 13 or 16 or 18–when I was in the thick of it–I just couldn’t see a way to stop. I remember so many friends and boyfriends crying, begging me not to hurt myself, but I was in a place where I just couldn’t give it up. And really, you can’t stop for other people, you have to figure out how to do it for yourself.

    It took a lot of years, a lot of work, and a lot of letting myself “mess up”. I still do it once in a while, but it’s very rare and not something I plan on or look forward to, and I don’t “identify” as a self harmer anymore.

    All of you young girls and boys are wonderful and smart and you WILL get through this. It’s work, it’s really hard work, but you’ll get there.

  • bethleeroth June 19th, 2012 12:08 AM

    Thank you for writing this. I’m 28 now but was a cutter for several years starting when I was a teenager. It’s been years for me but it’s still a relief sometimes to know someone else has been through the same thing. And THANK YOU for making the distinction between being attracted to friends who are also cutters and “doing it to fit in.”

  • chasen June 19th, 2012 1:45 AM

    The first time I cut I was twelve years old and now, eight years later, even though I haven’t cut since February, I’d still put myself in that category. What’s always hit me hard about self-harm is that after I did it that first time (on the way to class, with a key), it’s always been there in the back of my mind as an option. Depression or no depression, it always hangs around, it’s just that I can ignore it better when I’m not suffering depression at the time. I also get triggered pretty easily – e.g. I want to cut now after reading this article – so I’ve had to develop a fair few distraction techniques over the years. They work for a while, but in the end it’s always just a matter of time before I snap and go right back to it again.

    It also doesn’t help that I scar pretty easily, so I can clearly see the roadmap of all the times I gave in. If I could, I’d go back to when I was twelve and just not start in the first place and I’d do anything I could to stop other kids from starting as well. It isn’t worth it and there’s a good chance it will haunt you for years.

    • Abby June 19th, 2012 9:14 AM

      It’s an uphill battle. I watched my sister fight it. Luckily, she won. I have faith that you can, too. Remember, strength isn’t measured by how many times you break. It’s measured by how many times you put the pieces back together again.

  • hkma June 19th, 2012 2:10 AM

    I wasn’t able to quit until I accidentally hit an artery after splitting the skin open an inch wide. While I was in the emergency room having stitches put in I realized how though I’ve felt suicidal numerous times, the moment my life became seriously threatened all I wanted was to be healthy again, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted when I wanted to stop hurting emotionally, which I believed could be solved with self harm and drug use. Though the situation was terrifying, it was a wake up call and I finally realized how I need to take care of myself.

  • Yanii June 19th, 2012 3:20 AM

    I am so thankful to you for writing this. Self mutilation is something I’ve struggled with in the past and more recent past. I feel extremely uncomfortable talking about it with anyone and hate when people point out/question me about my scars. My mother and sister discovered them when I first started and neither really knew how to handle the situation and reacted angrily. When begged for an explanation of my actions, I was unable to describe the sense of stress relief you perfectly worded in your story that cutting gave me. Because of this, I made the decision to never discuss them with anyone. Your bravery to share your personal experience with this is deeply inspiring to me. Thank you for shining a light on this subject which is often misconstrued by many. I shall no longer view myself as a freak or crazy person despite others’ misconceptions of me based off of the scars I will no longer wear with shame.

  • kavalier June 19th, 2012 6:40 AM

    Just, thank you.

  • MissKnowItAll June 19th, 2012 8:29 AM

    Thanks 4 this.
    Like a lot o people, I struggled with cutting. Everything in my life felt so unreal. I cut to feel the pain. To stop the numbness. I haven’t cut in over 4 years, but it’s still something that scares me. I can’t go to the beach or wear bikinis because I used to cut on my thighs. I didn’t tell my parents because I was ashamed o myself. I felt like a coward. My cousin did something that helped. When she found out about my cutting, she drew a butterfly on my arms. The rules were simple. I couldn’t scrub them away. If I cut, I killed the butterfly. My goal was to let them fade away naturally. It helped me a lot.

  • lorobird June 19th, 2012 8:46 AM

    Thanks so much for sharing. I only recently realised how many people struggle with depression and self-harm. This was a great read, very helpful in terms of understanding the psychology behind these practices.

  • Abby June 19th, 2012 9:11 AM

    Okay, so I don’t want to be the one on here that’s going to be like, “YOU SHOULDN’T CUT IT’S BAD I NEVER HAVE.” But I just wanted to share a story. I don’t know when my sister started cutting, but I remember vividly the day my family found out. It involved a lot of crying, yelling, appointment-making, and my mom telling me to go back to my room.

    My sister got in with a shrink and started seeing her regularly and taking medication. But the prescription she got should have never been given to her. It was meant only for adults, and could cause worsening of depression in teens and children (seen the commercials?). When my sister was sixteen and I was thirteen, she attempted suicide. I remember a family friend picking me up from school, and as soon as she said that my parents were at the hospital, I just KNEW. I called my dad and remembered saying, “What’s happening daddy?” like a child.

    My sister got better. She spent a week in the psych ward on watch, and she spent years in therapy with a shrink she actually likes and who didn’t give her bad medication. She’s now happy, at her dream school in Scotland, and in a long-term relationship with the man of her dreams.

    But it has taken me and our family just as long to recover. I was angry for a long time, at the doctors, at God, at her. Then I was guilty. I still feel guilty sometimes, like I should’ve been able to stop her. It’s a long battle. But I feel like we’re winning it.

  • oharnoldlayne June 19th, 2012 9:19 AM

    So what I’m about to say perhaps has more to do with the comments in another article, but it also applies to this one, I think. People tell someone who’s recovered from a mental illness that they’re STRONG or BRAVE, but isn’t that implying that people who haven’t recovered yet are WEAK? It’s not someone’s fault if they have a mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, OCD, etc.). Would you blame someone for having cancer? Mental illness is a lot like other illnesses.
    I hope this comment doesn’t come across as rude, it’s just hard to have a mental illness (which I’ve had in the past) and have people not understand that your behavior isn’t you, it’s the illness and you’re going through a really tough time.

    • Stephanie June 19th, 2012 3:29 PM

      This is very true. Everyone here who is talking about their continuing struggles with self-injury and depression, is a very strong person who happens to be going through a tough time. I do hope it helps to read the stories that other commenters are telling, too, though. I know it helps me. Even though it has been a long time, when I go through stressful situations, I still think about cutting. Hearing these reminders that other people are fighting the same battle makes me feel like I have allies, I’m alone and I do have hope. We can get through these tough times.

      • oharnoldlayne June 19th, 2012 10:08 PM

        I agree. It can help to hear about other people’s experiences and even though my issues have never involved cutting I could relate to your article a lot and some of the comments I read.

  • AnguaMarten June 19th, 2012 10:09 AM

    God. I have friends who are in this kind of situation–one friend in particular. I don’t know her all that well, and I know she won’t let me in and there’s absolutely nothing I can do–but she hates herself and she cuts so much. I’ve cut before, nothing serious, and my best friend has finally stopped cutting, for the most part. I’m just so worried that something’s going to happen to her and nobody will be able to do anything. This article kinda gave me hope that she’ll be okay.

  • laurenniee June 19th, 2012 11:38 AM

    Thank-you so much for writing this. It’s really odd because I just went shopping and was stood in the changing room hating myself for my scars and my cuts and being angry because the other day a friend was like “Why don’t you just stop?” They didn’t get it when I said “You don’t say that to me about my smoking. It’s the same thing. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I still do. It’s an addiction.”
    This was such a beautiful article and for somebody who’s working their way through BPD and self harm issues, it was really really inspirational.
    Thank you so much.

  • michellebees June 19th, 2012 1:21 PM

    This brought tears to my eyes as I relived all of the same feelings, the embarrassment, the relief, the release, everything I used to experience. It’s always refreshing to hear other people who have gone through similar things, we’re all just kinda moving on and coping and surviving together

  • apricot June 19th, 2012 2:43 PM

    Words cannot express how grateful I am for this article. I have finally realized I need help, and I am going to go down and show my parents my scars. I’ve been thinking I want to drown, but really what I want is to be saved.

  • Stephanie June 19th, 2012 3:32 PM

    I just want to say how grateful I AM to read all of these comments. I shared my story because I think silence makes you feel even more isolated than you already do when you are depressed/anxious. Hearing all of these other stories makes me feel less alone because I do still struggle like many of you and knowing there are people out there fighting like I am gives me strength and hope. I also want to give you all huge hugs. Rookie readers are incredible bunch of survivors and fighters and I love you all.

  • juribird June 19th, 2012 4:28 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this.
    I was going through a similar thing from age 13 to 17. I had a best friend who was doing it too and for a while we almost romanticised it and making it our sort of secret world thing, if that makes sense. Ending that friendship and admittig that I needed help was the hardest thing I´ve ever done I think. It´s actually something that I´m really proud of, yet almost never talk about.
    Thank you again.
    Greetings from Germany (apparently there are a few germans here. Hey other germans, will you be my friends please?)

  • Jasmijn June 19th, 2012 6:51 PM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m normally not the commenting type, but this article really touched me. I love you’re honesty, and directness.

    Tomorrow my mom will come for a visit, and to talk to me. My family knows about my depression, but not about my self-harm and eating-issues, things I’ve been hiding since I was 14. They will know from tomorrow night…

    I don’t remember when I started, I just know it was my way of coping trough high school when feeling inadequate or sad. It stops me from feeling – anything at all. At this moment, depression has got me again, and the last years of therapy a lot of time has gone in to acknowledging the fact that I should be having feelings. Burning myself, makes me feel sort of the same as binge eating or not eating. In control.

    I’m 24 now, towards the end of medical school. I feel like I should get over a teenage habit, but it’s not that simple.

    Luckily I’ve come to realize – difficult as it may be – asking for help isn’t weak. Admitting I needed help is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’m struck by occasional hopelessness, but in general, I think I can win this fight.

    For anyone in the same position: keep hope, keep in touch with your heart, keep faith in a positive ending. Asking for help is a sign of strength!

    Anyone trying to support someone who self-harms: try to listen, without judging. Give good advice. But be careful of your own boundaries, and how much burden of your friend you can take.

    Well, good luck everyone, and love from Holland!

  • lula June 19th, 2012 7:53 PM

    Oh my God, Rookie, I love you and Stephanie, too. I started self-harming at the beginning of sixth grade, I was eleven or twelve. It started off with my friends, jokingly, snapping rubber bands on my arms. At first it hurt, but then I realized that the pain distracted me from what I was feeling on the inside and the pain actually began to feel nice, as cliché as it sounds. I went home that night and scratched myself with a safety pin. Scratching led to bruising, and bruising led to cutting. My mom found out last October and threatened to tell everyone and send me to a psychiatrist or lock me up. She scared me out of it, but I started cutting again soon after. I don’t cut as often, or often at all, to be honest, but sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed and sad and upset that I still truly believe that that’s the only way I can feel happy. Which sucks, because there’s ugly scars all over my body and I know it’s wrong but I just don’t know what else to do. My mom has no idea I’m still cutting and that from time to time I get really suicidal or that last July, I tried to commit suicide. Anyways, I feel very alone most of the time and don’t know anyone in the same situation, so it was really comforting to read this and the comments and know that actual people have gone through the same things that I am going through. I’m sorry for writing so much, but I kind of needed to let this out, even if no one reads it. Stephanie, this was really helpful and nice, and I’m really at a loss for words. Thank you, Rookie! ♡

  • Saraleebread June 20th, 2012 2:40 AM

    The week of my 16th birthday was my downfall. I’d never actually considered myself depressed before that week. I had known for a few years that I had some serious anxiety issues; I hated being in public or even being social in general. I never was particularly happy. Sophomore year was pretty awful anyway. It was a year that was a first for a lot of things: My brother went to college leaving me home with my parents, my best friend’s parents were going through a divorce so seeing them was getting harder and harder, and I was on the school Newspaper, but the teacher was really making me loose my mind from the amount of pressure and work she gave us. Not only that, but I was just loosing it. My panic attacks were more frequent. I was constantly shaking. I couldn’t sleep. And worst of all, I was turning 16 and all I did was cry.
    Finally I sat down with my parents and told them that I needed help. “I have a social disorder and I think it’s led to depression,” is what I said. My parents weren’t happy, but they were understanding. We got me in therapy where I mostly cried the first sessions, and they put my on the pill (help control my hormones), zoloft for anxiety and depression and trazodone for sleeping (first it was melatonin but it wasn’t strong enough). I am by no means “better” but I’m going to college next year and I’m ready to move on. They say I’ve come a long way. I don’t cry much anymore, but I think it’s the zoloft. I am trying more and I know ways to cope with both my depression and anxiety, but it’s not easy. Basically, I think telling my parents saved me.

  • rookips June 20th, 2012 5:39 AM

    stephanie, thank you so much for writing this article, and also for distinguishing the difference between self-harming and being suicidal.

    i had cut for years prior to starting college and meeting my girlfriend. one of the main reasons i put off being intimate with my girlfriend was because i was terrified of how she would react to my scars (all of them are on my hips, so it was easy to keep them hidden).

    i still hadn’t (and haven’t) quit, but the way she reacted really pushed me in the direction of quitting, and my relapses are few and far in-between now. instead of immediately freaking out and being concerned, she just told me i was beautiful no matter what and that she was there for me, etc. for me, this was much more effective than someone telling me to not do it anymore and making me feel ashamed of myself.

    i think it’s important to be really understanding when confronting a friend or someone about self-harm, because making a big deal about it can actually make it a whole lot worse. plus, there is the frustrating compulsion aspect so when someone says “just stop” it’s maddening because they don’t understand. i think it’s important to try and not tell them what to do, but rather let them know that you really care about their ENTIRE life, not just the cutting aspect, and that you are really wanting to be their friend, and you are not just wanting to save them from themselves or whatever

    sorry for the TL;DR but i thought this should be mentioned :)

  • illonablyton June 20th, 2012 1:10 PM

    This is a fantastic article.

    I went through a self-harming period once, many years ago (okay, five) and it sort of stays with me, you know? Which is weird.

    Sometimes I think about cutting and I freak out. I think I’ve realised that self-harming is not the answer. To anything. So, instead I scream really loudly in my head or I lash out at anything. Which isn’t the best way to go but luckily I have people who love me and always forgive. So yay.

    Anyway, good luck and you’re really amazing for sharing your story like this, you know. ♥

  • Catherine_CC June 20th, 2012 11:39 PM

    Does anyone have any advice for what to do when you have scars on your upper thighs and are going to the beach/pool/wearing a bathing suit?

    I don’t want to try to cover them up with makeup or wear swimming shorts to cover them—-I’m more interested in trying to find the courage to go out in public with scars that are visibly self-inflicted. And also what to do/say if, for some reason, a person who doesn’t already know you’ve cut asks you what the scars are from.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    -Catherine
    http://atinybitquiet.tumblr.com/

    • Sweet-Pea June 21st, 2012 2:49 AM

      Sorry I don’t have any advice….
      almond oil helped some of my scars fade a bit..and some people swear by bio-oil?
      But I’m in the same boat (and I thought that validated a comment) and I dislike this boat…it doesn’t feel great…

      • Catherine_CC June 21st, 2012 9:51 AM

        I’m glad to know I’m not the only one faced with this dilemma—-and I’m in agreement that this is NOT the party boat.

  • laurelbird June 22nd, 2012 12:43 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience in this article!! You are brave and Rookie is brave for publishing this, and from the comments you’ve inspired a lot of people. Basically: YOU ARE AWESOME. The first thing anyone would say about me in 8th grade was “she’s really HAPPY.” It’s true, I came off as a happy well-adjusted 13-year-old. But mostly I acted that way because I thought people would like me better as happy. Inside I felt worthless, anxious, and depressed. So I started cutting. Someone told the school therapist about my scars and she called my parents, but they didn’t believe I would cut. Then at the end of the year I partially confessed, telling my parents I USED to cut. They made me see a therapist until I convinced her I was fine, just fine too. Two years later and I still can’t kick the habit. The thing is I’m too scared to cut with anything sharper than a safety pin or a piece of glass. I feel weak and like my problems are two petty to deserve attention. I feel like if only I cut deeper than I will deserve to get help, and this scares me. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I need to be the best at everything, even cutting. I’m so so terrified to do anything. Anyway thanks for letting me vent. Sorry this is so long, but it feels good to get it out there.

  • lelelikeukulele June 23rd, 2012 4:41 AM

    Thank you so much for this article. That bit about how you and your friends ran from the TV crews because you didn’t see your problem as something “trendy” really hit home for me. I used to cut a couple years ago (well, more like scratch – the scars from my own fingernails have lasted longer than the ones made by knives). I was so afraid to let anyone see them or to tell anyone about them because I had this paralyzing fear of people thinking I was trying to get attention, or to be a certain way.
    I would get angry at myself to the point where I felt like I was either going to hurt a) someone else b) something else or c) myself, and I always picked myself. The self-injury stopped after about 5 months (luckily, it was sporadic and I don’t have many scars) but a few months after I thought it was done, I relapsed a bit and my mom grabbed my arm and saw what I had done. Only after she stopped yelling at me and started crying did I feel like I was back in control of the situation. I dunno if that makes sense, but I feel like for me, cutting was very much about control; both of how I was releasing my emotions and how other people viewed me – by keeping my problems hidden on my arms, I was able to maintain my “perfect” image.

  • watermelonwishes June 23rd, 2012 6:23 AM

    I just posted a comment and I hadn’t put in my password :( booo
    But basically, I had a hard breakup last year, and when I was sat in class, with him just across the table I dug my finger nails into my wrist as hard as I could to stop me from crying. The pain from that hurt less than the pain I felt inside, so I really understand all this, but I didn’t do it to the extent that I have scars, but the marks from my nails lasted for a few days. Talking to people about it definitely helped. I spoke to the guy I started seeing after and a close friend, and after another breakup with that guy, and having told him, I felt more guilty about doing it. Hugging myself tight to hold in the pain sufficed.
    Thanks for this article, I know that I won’t hurt myself again, and I have gotten much happier, I now feel I would be able to trust myself in a relationship to not get so dependant, or to be resting so much on it, and letting the guy treat me in a way that will hurt me.

  • soybrain June 23rd, 2012 3:26 PM

    touching and very helpful article. i started hurting myself at the age of 14 and whenever i look back to that time i just want to forget it all happened. i told my friends at one point but it was very weird and embarrassing. we never spoke about it again. but it helped letting someone know, because shortly after i quit. i’m not the person who enjoy talking about feelings, but sometimes you have to do what is best.

  • dragonfly May 3rd, 2013 6:57 AM

    I don’t know if I can still comment on this..
    But, thank you!! The article and comments were really great… I was able to relate to parts and that just feels really good knowing that someone else out there thinks/felt the same as me. I can probably count the number of times I cut towards the end of last year on one hand, and I haven’t since, but I hate it because I still think about it quite often and have urges to cut. For a while I stractched and told myself it didn’t count and wasn’t self harm. I’ve only told one of my close friends, which was really really hard, but her reaction was great and so understanding. Also I still feel like it’s really weird that this is one part of ME, like what, ME self harming?!?! Anyway, thanks.

  • Kat Funkhouser May 25th, 2013 12:40 PM

    Thanks for starting such a supportive dialogue here, Stephanie and Rookie.

    For those of you trying to quit, one thing that helps me a lot when I’m approaching that point where I need control is holding an ice cube in my hand for as long as I can. The shock of the cold can help redirect your mental focus in a similar way, it hurts a little without leaving a scar, and there’s a release in the cold fading as the ice cube melts. It can derail your intense train of thought a little bit.