In our post on Saturday, we mentioned that we were self-injuring daily. To us this was no big deal, and we listed it as number 4 in the reasons why last week was bad. Yet, this is what almost everyone picked up on within the comments. This surprised us – we couldn’t see what the issue was. Self-injury in some form, has been part of our life for as long as I can remember. In some ways it has become a normal part of life.
A definition of self-injury or self-harm is interesting to arrive at. I’m going to break one of M’s rules and use Wikipedia for the definition – not because it’s particularly good, but rather like all things Wikipedia, it’s a good starting point. So according to Wikipedia:
Self-injury (SI), also referred to as self-harm (SH), self-inflicted violence (SIV) or self-injurious behaviour (SIB), refers to a spectrum of behaviours where demonstrable injury is self-inflicted. The term self-mutilation is also sometimes used, although this phrase evokes connotations that some find worrisome, inaccurate, or offensive.
(Wikipedia: Self-injury, 2009)
So how do you determine what a demonstrable injury is? Some of my self-injury is psychological in basis, which is notoriously difficult to identify as having a demonstrable injury. Does the injury have to be immediate? I consider eating disorders to be a form of self-injury, but the effects are not always noticeable immediately. So in short, self-injury is like defining the length of a piece of string. To me, what defines self-injury is the intent of the action or non-action. Why did you pick that sore? Why didn’t you eat that piece of cake? It’s definitely not about how much you bleed or how big the bruise is, it’s about why it happened and how it made you feel afterwards.
In many ways I feel like a fraud talking about self-injury. I mean I’m “high-functioning” and “we” don’t self-injure. Then I look at the scars on my skin, the signs of malnutrition evident in my toenails, the sores that never heal because they’re picked at, the bruises on my leg etc. None of these are an attempt to get attention – the scars etc are on parts of the body where they won’t be easily found or recognised as self-injury. They’re also not an attempt at suicide – the plans around suicide are very separate from our self-injury. But the over-riding feeling for considering myself a fraud when talking about self-injury is the shame. It is considered by society as a weakness, a character flaw, disgusting, self-centred… My opinion of self-injury is affected by this societal view. If someone I don’t know says that they attempted suicide or self-injured, I tend to dismiss them as attention seeking – I buy into the societal whitewash. But I also know many people who self-injure on a personal level and at no time do I consider them to be attention seeking. The big difference between these scenarios is that those who really suffer with self-injury rarely talk about it and I know the pain of my friends. I know they’re not faking. I know that they sometimes struggle to get out of bed and even pretend to keep going. Their pain is real to me. But I also feel that sense of helplessness that comes from not being able to “fix it” for them.
I think this is a huge reason why society view self-injury as it does – there is a sense of helplessness about what to do. Will sympathy make the person feel worse? If we talk about it will it give them ideas? But it’s mainly I DON’T UNDERSTAND… Often the lack of understanding comes from all sides – the self-injurer often doesn’t know why they need to injure, family and friends don’t understand where they went wrong, and the doctors treat you as another “one of those patients” where you don’t want to get too close because it’s a long journey out of self-injury. Yes, it often becomes about the people around the self-injurer rather than the injurer themselves. It is rare to find a person who will sit with you during that pain in an unconditional way. But when you do, it’s incredible. I’m not sure I would have the strength to do it, I’ve talked to one person who needed that unconditional support and I’m not sure how effective I was.
Sorry, this is very rambling. But my thoughts about self-injury are so confused. I know I do it. I know I shouldn’t, but every day it happens. I’m worried what will happen if I accept this as my reality – will it mean that I’ll also be accepting the self-injury and not want to stop? Or, will it mean that I can look at the stampeding elephant coming towards me and make it change it course? In the words of Frank – fucked if I know.
I hope that the more we talk about it, the less of a grip it will have over me and others who suffer. Not looking at the elephant in the room doesn’t make it disappear, it just makes the shame more intense.
Wikipedia: Self-injury. (2009, July 9). Retrieved 13 July, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-injury