Today is Stop Self-Harm Day.

It’s easy to say “stop self-harm” but it’s far more difficult to actually do it.  I can’t sit here and toss out exact numbers and statistics on just how many people have intentionally harmed themselves in the past or are currently doing it right now.  I read somewhere that 4% of all hospital visits worldwide are the result of self-harm.  Don’t ask me who came up with that number or how they did it.  All I know for sure is there’s a lot of people out there who have hurt themselves in the past and are continuing to struggle with it today.  I’m one of them.

Looking back, I almost feel like there were two Lisas.  There’s the Lisa who eventually grew up to be the woman who is currently writing this post.  And then there’s this terribly sad, insecure girl who, starting at the age of 13, would go off by herself and try to hurt herself.  I used to tell myself that I really wasn’t trying to hurt myself because I very rarely actually drew blood.  Instead, I would just leave a frenzied patterns of angry, red scratches up and down my arms.  The few times I did open up my skin, the pain was so sudden and sharp that I immediately stopped what I was doing and swore that I would never do it again.  But, looking back, my intention was always to actually draw blood and I always felt like a coward when I couldn’t bring myself to push the sharpened edge against my skin just a little harder.  If I hadn’t had 3 sisters who I feared would walked in on me one day, I probably would have bled a lot more.

The question that’s always asked is “Why?”  Why would anyone want to intentionally harm themselves?  I think the general assumption is that its done for attention but I know I was horrified at the thought of anyone else finding out.  The morning after, I always made sure to wear long sleeves and if anyone did notice anything, I was very quick to blame it all on the cat.  At the same time, there was a part of me that hoped someone would notice and that someone would not only tell me to stop but give me a reason not to start again.

If you really wanted to go searching for an explanation, there’s a lot of possibilities.  I’m bipolar and, for as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with periods of intense depression (“my inner darkness,” as I used to refer to it in various adolescent poems).  You could probably link it to the fact that my Dad walked out on us around the same time I first started trying to hurt myself.  There’s other possibilities that I’m not going to go into and I’m sure they were all factors.  In the end, it all came down to the fact that, at that time, I felt that I didn’t deserve any better.

There was something else too, something that’s difficult for me to explain.  As much as I hated the initial pain, I loved the moment immediately after when that pain gradually faded away.  It was a feeling that told me that the worst was over and that I had survived.  At times, it almost seemed worth the pain to feel the peace that came after.

Fortunately — though it certainly didn’t seem so at the time — I had a major manic episode when I was 16 years old.  As a result, I spent the next two years “in therapy.”  Every weekend, I would spend an hour talking to a very nice man who lived conveniently close to Vista Ridge Mall.  Every Saturday, I told him about all of my fears, insecurities, and shame and then I spent the rest of the day shopping. 

Therapy works better for some than for others and I’m certainly not holding it up as the ultimate solution.  It worked well for me, though.  If you’ve ever been in therapy, then you know that one of the side effects is that — especially in the beginning — you want to tell everyone everything that you learned in your last session.  That was certainly the case with me.  Before then, I was always the type who would just try to hide behind my smile.  What?  How could you possibly think I was depressed or scared or insecure?  Can’t you see me smiling?  However, after my first few sessions, I realized that I didn’t have to always smile.  I learned that allowing people to see the real me — even in my darker moments — didn’t necessarily mean I would then be shunned and rejected. 

I wish I could say that, after I discovered that, I never again did anything to intentionally hurt myself.  But I can’t.  I’ve had relapses.  I’m not proud of them but I don’t hide them either.  If anything, they leave me ever more determined not to turn one defeat into a full surrender. 

It’s been over a year since the last time I intentionally hurt myself.  I would be lying if I said that I’m never tempted.   Fortunately, in just one year, a lot has changed in my life.  I no longer feel like depression or insecurity is somehow proof of failure on my part.  Instead, they’re just two of the many things that everyone has to deal with in life.  For the longest time, I felt that being self-destructive was the only way I could acknowledge the darkness that I knew was inside of me.  Whether I was hurting myself, abusing drugs, or allowing others to abuse me, it was all my way of saying that, deep inside, I was hurt.  It was my way of begging for help without actually asking for it.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s okay to ask.

I always used to feel like a coward because I could rarely bring myself to draw blood.  What I didn’t realize, at the time, is that I was even more scared of asking for help.  I always felt that the people I loved would reject me if they ever found out just how depressed and worthless I truly felt.  There’s still a part of me that worries about that.  I guess it’s something that will never truly go away.

It’s hard for me to know how to end this essay.  I wish I could say something like, “And once I started opening up to my loved ones, all of my inner darkness just magically faded away and I never hurt myself again.”  But it’s never that simple.  I still live my life under the constant shadow of being bipolar.  I still struggle with the darkness.  I know that I’m still not a 100% “well” and chances are, I never will be.

But I also know that I’m not alone and, in many ways, that makes all the difference in the world.

I’m not alone.

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