This is hard to write.
Still, it serves a purpose: instead of me pushing people away, they can choose to be disgusted and leave of their own accord. Saves me the effort.
Before I begin, I should say that this post is about self-harming – specifically cutting – so if that’s a topic you feel you should avoid, then here’s your warning. I don’t intend to be offensive, but there’s a chance some people are going to be offended because this all gross and tragic and I deal with that by being flippant. And finally, I’m not looking for sympathy. This is just a part of the story. So. That said…
There are too many words here already, so we’ll just jump straight in to when I was 23. Although it happened every so often, I didn’t do it quite so much when I was younger than that – the only notable incident was me trying to give myself a tattoo with a compass point and an ink cartridge when I was 12, and I’m not even sure that counts.
When I first started, I would use anything that could scratch me. One night, I used a flat-head screwdriver to make a big scratch from my hip to my ankle. The scar from that is pretty much all gone but you can see it in the right light. I used a pin on the back of a badge whilst I was in a tent in the Lake District on Christmas Eve. I don’t think that scarred at all, it just terrified the person I was with.
It was actually a progression to using proper blades and by the time I turned 24 I was definitely using a razor. This is when things were really bad. At some point, I got obsessed with the amount of cuts: I had to do three at a time, and I had to go over each cut three times. I’d move on from deeper ones and start new ones. Clean, cut, bleed, repeat. I was drinking every night and taking ephedrine stacks with aspirin in, so there was frequently a lot of blood. And I did this every night. I would wake up stuck to my sheets, and not in a good way.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a blood phobia, but it never kicks in when I do this. I think it’s a control thing. It still doesn’t make much sense, though – I’m in control when I cut, but if you have a nosebleed near me then my brain thinks I’m going to die and I have to lie down on the floor before I faceplant.
My arm looked a mess, but I didn’t care. It was a warning sign to others, a signal to say: ‘Stay the fuck away from me. I’m already damaged.’ People were generally too polite to say anything (it’s an extremely ineffective way to cry for help, to be honest) but I caught them looking.
I still catch people looking at the scars. Most people don’t say anything. What is there to say? Although occasionally I’ll have some innocent ask me how I got the big scar on my arm, and I don’t have the heart or the explanation to ruin the day of a 16-year-old girl who’s expecting me to say I put my arm through a window or something. So I say I put my arm through a window or something.
That cut didn’t bleed. I remember being fascinated by what I’d done, right before I called the ambulance. I could see inside my fucking arm. I’d cleared epidermis and dermis: I could see adipose tissue. All with a pair of scissors, and all because I’d misjudged what I was doing. I was so full of self-loathing that I was just slashing away at myself. And the worst thing is that it’s directly over a vein. I can’t work out how I missed it. If you look at my left arm, where the vein branches out from the elbow, there is a two-inch long scar directly over the vein. I’m a fucking idiot.
The counsellor, or whoever she was, who told me that my arms were ugly also pretty much told me I was a fucking idiot. It’s a shame I was so messed up. I took major offence and took it out on my legs. It was also around then that I was trying to start up a company with a friend, and we had to go round to charities and ‘sell’ our service. It probably wouldn’t have gone quite as well if I had fresh marks on my arms. As it was, I had to wear long-sleeved shirts in the middle of summer and try to be careful not to stretch my arm out in front of people.
So legs it was. This was such a bad time. Doing it on my legs meant I could do it at work without anyone noticing. I wore skinny jeans all the time, and the cuts kept getting infected. I used to cut in the same place, over and over, re-opening the same wound. When I moved to Newcastle, the first doctor I saw was so appalled it warranted some kind of flehmen response. The next doctor I saw remarked that he’d heard about me before he met me. And sent me to a psychiatrist.
And then… I mostly stopped. I had to promise I wouldn’t do it because it was hurting someone else, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
It was quite a big deal when I relapsed the first time. Like a junkie going between their toes, I tried to get creative and do it in places that aren’t super noticeable when I’m naked. There aren’t any. I’d blame the cats. I’d say I was clumsy. My lies didn’t work, and the grief I got was more annoying to deal with than the compulsion to cut. Sometimes I relapse and don’t give a fuck. What’s that on your stomach? Fuck off. Amazing how love for someone changes over time.
All those words, and all I’ve done is talk about the gore and the shame. There is another side, the coping mechanism aspect, that may or may not make sense to you. Why hurt yourself further if you’re already hurting? Well, it doesn’t hurt me further. It directs the pain, it puts me in control of it. All the emotional pain turns into physical pain and then that stings like hell before it all leaves me alone for a while. That, in turn, helps me to focus. It stops my mind from floating around all over the place as it tries not to notice all the demons scuttling around it. So it’s like doing lines of speed in a bulletproof vest. Attention-surplus invincibility.
Or maybe just what you would consider normal. I don’t really know what that is.