I remember the first time, about ten years ago, I came upon the word self-harm in a particular non-fiction book titled ‘Out of the dark’ written by Linda Caine and her psychotherapist. The story started off as portraying her as a contented wife and mother, then slowly, her deeply buried memories of a dark past began to trickle into her life, overwhelming her and as an escape from it all, she’d sometimes burn herself with a pressing iron or cut herself with shards of glass.
Now as a young girl, I never understood the concept of mental health nor the word self-harm. As I grew older, I came upon a couple of pages on Instagram of people, mostly teens, who’d cut themselves and post pictures. My curiosity was piqued and the question that was always at the back of my mind as I stared at those pictures was ” Who on earth takes a razor and drags it across their skin?”. Through reading of various articles and nonfictional works on Google, I came to know that self-harm isn’t directly connected to suicide, but along the way can make one have suicidal ideation. It is an unhealthy coping mechanism and is often associated with some mental disorders.
So now unto the topic of discussion, I got to understand it closely from someone who’d constantly self-harm. He said self-harm does not just come about like that without the thoughts preceding it beforehand, in other words, the thoughts propagate the actions. The thoughts could come about days, weeks or months before but usually it lingers in the mind for a long time before it is actually executed. Self-harm is not only restricted to using a razor, but also different other tools like iron, glass, hair pulling, skin picking, scratching and so on. People do not also know that self-harm can come in form in negative inner self talks from within one’s mind, and further leads to thoughts about punishing oneself and then the urge to self-harm seems like the best option to go about it.
Now back to Linda Caine’s ‘Out of the Dark’, the more I read the more I understood. Often times before someone begins to harm themselves, they visualize the pleasure they get from releasing the pain and the moment they begin to take any action of self-harming, it becomes difficult for them to stop. I got to understand that there’s a strong urge to give an outlet to all the emotional and mental pain, like a swirling storm within them unwillingly to abate, it’s like everything inside literally screams to be let out from the prison of one’s mind. Some days it’s feeling nothing at all and some days it’s feeling everything all at once, so the physical manifestation of the inner turmoil on the body in form of scars gives them a satisfaction of feeling alive and real.
Believe me when I say this, eventually, giving in to the urge of self-harm makes the problem you are facing a lot worse than it was initially. It’s like a junkie getting high on cocaine but when the ecstasy dies down, it only leaves him feeling worse than he did at first. It is a vicious and addicting cycle and is often very difficult to stop or replace with something else. When thoughts of self-harm crawls into your mind, it is not always that easy to block out but finding something to replace the thoughts is possible before it escalates into something worse. Try writing out the thoughts, yes, it helps silence them and gives a voice to your feelings. You can try crying out to release all the pent up emotions, you can give yourself a nice bath, or leave the house just to go for a walk or jog, punch a punching bag, call someone who’d understand to talk, scream or yell in someplace private or take your earpiece and play something from your phone’s playlist, anything to take your mind away from those thoughts. Learn to let go of things you can’t control and do not be too hard on yourself.
So the next time you stare at that blade or pause while pressing your clothes to stare at the hot iron in your grasp, don’t do it. I know it’s quite difficult to fight the urge, but that’s why you’re one of the greatest warriors we know. And for those who have a hard time stopping the cycle of self-harm, I know it is going to take a whole lot of courage and determination to stop. It’s okay love, even though you hide your battle scars, we know you’re fighting a tough war within, but as much as you fight, it’s okay to give yourself some love and compassion. The journey to stop is not easy, but you can start by learning to make a list of distractions and avoiding any triggers as best as you can. Also, there was an App released in 2016 called Calm Harm created purposely to help deal with urges of self-harm by providing various forms of distractions! You can definitely download it and try it out.
Oh, and did I tell you Linda Caine overcame her self-harming addictive cycles? So did the strong person I know on a personal level. If you want to talk to someone who’d understand, reach out to a trusted relative or friend, a therapist, or even the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative, MANI.
– Yousuph Sarah Olanike.