Thoughts on Homeschoolings Ugly Transition into College

[In this post, I address homeschooling. My definition of it may be unique and shocking to some. I had a particularly negative experience not because homeschooling itself is bad, but because it was used as a medium through which to control my life in a mainly isolated environment. It was spiritually and emotional destructive,  and I was NOT taught a legitimate education. There was very poor accountability not just between me and my parents but between my parents and HSLDA and the school I was homeschooled through.

When I throw around the word “homeschool” in this post, the context is relevant when homeschooling is specifically: 

– Exclusive of any extra-curriculars or without most subjects taught through outside classes 

– A method of preventing children from socializing or experiencing the outside world WITHOUT the intention of easing them into it

– Necessary in order to prevent CPS from knocking at your door

– Recommended by religious leaders who argue that the world is something to be afraid of

I do think that homeschooling through charter schools is a good option. Full-blown HOMEschooling, however, is not, in my opinion, a good idea.]

I’ve been on Pinterest a lot lately, looking up lifehacks and tips for how to study well. I’ve taken a few dance classes before, but this will be my first official semester in college. I’m pretty nervous for it, but I’m also so excited. I’m going to make friends! I’m going to take classes from real live professors and have real live peers. I’ll be taking actual tests! I’ll be sitting in a room taking notes and I’ll be expected to turn in papers and homework assignments.

“How pathetic does she seem,” you might be snickering to yourself, “that she actually wants to take classes and be responsible for homework?” but look dude, I was homeschooled. The only test I ever took was the SAT, which I freaking bombed. The only high school classes I ever took were taught by my friends’ parents, or were peer-taught (which only sort-of worked out). Or–and this was the case most of the time–my mom was my teacher. But that’s basically another way of saying that she picked out my textbooks, wrote up my quarterly reports, graded me with a wonky letter system (which made it impossible to formulate even an unofficial GPA), and ultimately made me responsible for my own education.

It’s been a funny observation of mine that it’s treated as such a newsflash to new college students that they’re now responsible to do their homework and make time for studying without accountability. I’ve had to do that myself since I was 12.

I don’t know if I’m complaining here or not. I’m a very independent person, and because of the way I was schooled, I have a pretty reliable work-ethic now which serves me daily. However, my older brother really suffered because of this school-system. He needed more accountability to get his work done, which really wasn’t ideal. It would be him in his room for hours struggling over an essay that he just didn’t get how to write, and once written, it was edited, sent back to him to struggle through all over again, and after my mom was finally satisfied, it was tossed and forgotten. It wasn’t graded. It wasn’t particularly acknowledged.

So don’t take away from this post that homeschooling is The Shit. It wasn’t for my family and it’s typically not in general. But hey, I’m not vouching for the public school system in this situation either. From what I’ve seen, and as my boyfriend put so well, “public schools cater to extroverts and punish introverts.” They can tend to stifle children’s creativity and discourage learning by presenting it as a chore instead of the privilege that it is. Any institution whose priority is to mass-produce one single type of ideal student is inevitably going to cramp the style of those who don’t fit inside the cookie cutter. And when we’re being real, that simply can’t be helped.

Ultimately, I’m not a fan of extremes; in fact, a large quest in my life has become to establish personal moderation, along with practical adjustment to the outside world. Did anyone see Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? It’s a show about a young woman kidnapped and raised in a post-rapture cult who was rescued and returned to the modern world. It is the story of how she readjusts to life as a free person. Sometimes I feel like her, because I too was raised in a cult; only I wasn’t living in an underground dugout. I grew up believing in bullshit well-seasoned with some truth. In a way, readjustment has been harder for me because it’s not all black and white. And it’s complicated.

For instance, in a perfect world, homeschooling might work. Parents would lovingly raise their children with actual truth, and they’d surround them with a legitimate support-system of good friends and involved family. Children would get their work kept in check by responsible adults, and slowly they would be taught how to shoulder their own responsibilities. They would experience a wholesome upbringing that catered to their personal strengths and weaknesses, and made their transition from childhood to adulthood a smooth, practical one. Students wouldn’t be bullied, forced into molds they weren’t meant to fit into, pressured in unhealthy, unhelpful ways, or raised with methods that handicapped their passage into adulthood.

This, however, is reality. Reality can’t promise those things, even with the most well-meaning parents. In my experience, (which may not be absolutely true for all) homeschooling is the territory of typically abusive idealists who won’t accept what today’s world has for them. They attempt to set up an unrealistic, synthetic utopia in which to keep their children “sheltered” and pure for as long as possible. In their ideal world, their children will grow into strong men and women of whatever religion or conviction they stand firm under, and will continue what their parents began by also raising their children inside this utopia, all the while themselves somehow never stepping out of it.

Here’s the problem that I see: people get sick and have to deal with doctors in the outside world. People have to work in the outside world to pay for all the children they have. People travel all over the place, people meet friends with access to the outside world, people grow up and want to explore the outside world. And parents who attempt to sabotage their children’s efforts to peer through the windows into our world cause resentment, and the more severely the parents persist at this, the clearer it will become to their children that something is being hidden. At one time or another, those children will grow up and take a look.

Here’s what they’ll find every time: their utopia is foreign compared to the rest of the world. It’s a culture shock that would overwhelm anyone who knew nothing of it except that one day soon they’d have to fit in to get by, to make financial ends meet, to be anybody. It forces them to answer a detrimental question: which is true–their world, or this one?

Ultimately, the bottom line is always that Homeschool Utopia and Planet Earth cannot co-exist.

I could say so much about my experience with this here. But the point I’m trying to make is mainly that homeschooling can tend to under-prepare children for adulthood. On the other end of the spectrum, public schools can tend to overexpose children to unhealthy and unhappy mediums of living. But ultimately, which one prepares people for real life more? Which one consists of an education relevant to the world they’ll grow into, not out of? Not to be coy or anything, but getting married right out of high school and living in a mommy jumper with a dozen kids and a husband who got a degree in Character for the rest of my life is not ideal. 

(What if he loses his job? What kind of job would he get without a degree that could support a dozen kids? Would I be able to get a job to support us? Who would hire a lady in a jumper anyway?)

There are many reasons why I feel I must go to college, regardless of the fact that my parents don’t support it (for the same reasons that they homeschooled me).

“You’ll be badly influenced and become atheist,” they told me. “And the friends you’ll make with put garbage in your mind.” “The books you’ll need to read in your classes are full of filth and lies.” “IT’S A HUGE WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY.”

Honestly, I’m not really sure how they expect me to get by in the real world without having to deal with most of these issues anyway, degree or no degree. And what about the bigger question here–as an unmarried woman, how will I ever support myself without anything more than a high school diploma (from fucking HomeschoolVille)? I’ll tell you what’s a huge waste of time–flipping burgers for a living as a 40-year-old. But you know what’s a good financial investment? Paying for a degree that will get me a job with which to pay for itself later.

And what, I’m expected to never find myself in a situation where I have to decide whether I think atheism is my thing or if I’m going to stick to my childhood religion? The world is big. Bigger than colleges. People all start off small, but I don’t want to stay small. I want to expose myself to what life can offer, but I can’t do that if I’m too afraid of how poorly my identity and conviction will stand against Outside Influences. Such fear is only a testament to how little faith has actually been placed in my faith–if you can wrap your head around that one.

The same goes for friends. If my parents are so concerned that I’ll be easily swayed into thinking and doing stupid things, I’m certainly flattered that that’s what they think of my intellect, integrity, religion, and self-worth.

As for media becoming a filthy influence in my life… (uhm…I watch Orange is the New Black?) I think I’ll know the bullshit from the nuggets of truth. It’ll be just like sorting through my childhood all over again!

In summary, I’m going to college against my parents will.

And what an experience it will be! This is my chance to get back my education–all of the things I should’ve learned in high school will be repeated and expanded on here. My papers will be read by people who actually know what they’re doing, and I’ll have a chance to take a stab at getting an A in a class. I’ll join real study groups and have the chance to complain to someone else in my class about how killer finals are. Hell, I get to experience what finals are like. I’ve only ever heard of them before.

This is a dream that I’ve made happen. I applied for financial aid myself. I got myself into community college on my own. I went to Freshman Days, I read books on how to navigate school, I got on RateMyProfessor.com and picked out who I wanted to teach me, and I registered for classes. I paid for them with my own bank account. I am going to buy a parking pass and attend my classes and get grades and take finals and get my degree all by myself, no thanks to my parents and their medieval views on life.

Now it sounds like I’m bitter, but I’m not. (Don’t worry, I went to counselling for that already.) This is something that I’m proud of myself for doing. It’s the largest financial and time investment I’ve ever made, and I think it will be one of the most life-changing ones I can make at my age. I managed to figure it out independently (although not without a good share of blood, sweat and tears), and I feel like a better person for it. At this point, I’m happy with the way my life has gone.

You don’t, however, want your kids to be me. I took a year between high school and college just to get my suicidal, dysfunctional, naive, uneducated-as-fuck shit together. Don’t put your children through this by doing them the disservice of homeschooling.*

*Consider charter or private schools. You’ll make the financial investment in them now with a healthy upbringing, or in severe counselling, therapy, or even correctional schools later.

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Posted in abuse, advice, ATI, christianity, college, cult, homechooling, homeschool, isolation, parenting, religion, transition, venting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Meaning of Life

I have philosophized about the meaning of life for a long time.

When I was younger I was sure it was about making sure everybody in the world heard the Good News so that Jesus would come back.

Then, as I got older, it became to do something great in God’s name. Maybe I’d write a life-changing book, or become a famous Christian speaker.

Still later, I just wanted to be happy for once.

Sometimes, even today, I just have to throw up my hands and say “42” and stop worrying about it.

If I went out and interviewed people on the street about what they thought the meaning, or the point, of life was, I imagine I’d get plenty of responses like, “graduate college, get a high-paying job, get my own place, fall in love, get married and settle down. May have some kids.”

Yet this never fooled me completely. That sounds a lot more like a plan than a meaning, if you ask me. By definition, it’s the American Dream. Arguably, however, were I to ask any number of people what the point of the American Dream is, I’d hear answers like “happiness”, “freedom” and perhaps “family.” I think family is pretty close. After all, we work to support our families, they’re who we come home to at night and spend our vacations with.

Funny how it seems so many families are train-wrecks. I spent a great deal of time in counseling due to the things my family did to me. I spent an even greater amount of time trying to move out. Nowadays I just accept that I can’t afford that, so I spend most of my time away. Ironically, this is one of the reasons why I enjoy working so much.

Still, I ache for companionship. My heart always blooms on the days I see my boyfriend, Jake, or when I visit friends. Those are the times I’m truly happiest. Often, the days in between my socially-active weekends I spend in Emotional Limbo just waiting to bloom again, determined not to wilt in the meantime. Over the past few months it’s become very clear to me that—regardless of what the official meaning of life, the universe and everything may be—what means the most to me is companionship.

Family tends to be a very limiting term, but I like to include my close friends in that circle, because my own immediate family just isn’t working for me and I hate to feel excluded. (Here’s something pathetic: sometimes I even want to call Jake’s parents Mom and Dad.)

Young people are dreamers. We naturally have more hope than the average adult, I think because adult life has already boxed them into their un-hopeful, priority-filled life-plans. We tend to look at adulthood and say “Yuck! What the hell did they do wrong? I’m never doing that.” I’m an adult myself now, albeit a young one, and I’m still hopeful, but I got a regular job against my better judgment, and just like my peers, I’ve registered for community college.

I was shocked the other day to look at my parents and realize that they used to be me. They used to have unrealistic dreams and hopes that they pushed for until they finally gave way, just like their parents before them, and like I very well may too. And this is their destination. This is it—this is the family they get: their American Dream.

I ask myself a lot if I will be happy if I end up just like them. To be perfectly honest, I’ve spent my share of time trying hard not to become like them, so my answer is never very heartening. But hey, it could happen.

Here’s the rundown on my family.

My mom thinks she knows more than anybody else in my family. She reads the news and internet a lot to get all the answers. Whenever she hears of any new crazy Government Conspiracy, she hops on the computer and reads and reads and reads until she thinks she understands how the end of the world is going to play out. Most of the time, this makes her even less happy, which is the biggest reason why I don’t get why she keeps on reading…

If you ask her about the droughts in America, she’ll tell you the Government cut off our water supply on purpose to make us more dependent on them, and that they don’t care if it makes people sick or that it harms our environment. If I bring up how I’m so happy my part-time job only taxes me at 9-something percent, she’ll tell me “Yeah, just wait until you become our age. Then it becomes 40 percent.” If I so much as bring up vaccines or the election or the End Times she’ll tell anybody who’ll listen about how we’re all going to be poisoned, thrown into a socialist One-World Government, and that somewhere following mass-martyrdom, we’re all going to suffer through the Tribulation.

Just this morning, mom told me she emailed me an article, to which I replied, “Is it good news or bad?” She paused, then said, “Susan, if you only ever let yourself hear good news then you’re going to be ignorant just like the rest of our country.”

Yes, maybe a little ignorant. But will I be happier? Absolutely. This may shock a few people, but after knowing my mom, I’m actually incredibly willing to live ignorant and happy instead of informed and death-sentenced. Sure, maybe America will become Socialist. Yes, maybe the Antichrist will come while I’m alive and then we’ll all be killed. But my knowing it was coming won’t change that. What will change is that rather than living with hope and excitement and healthy determination while getting married, finding a job I like, and raising my kids as well as I can, I’ll do those same things while fearfully dreading the day they’ll be decimated.

I’m just not about that life. Besides, doesn’t Jesus say something about living by faith? Won’t it be enough if I just trust that He’s in control and I’m not? That sounds much pleasanter and more assuring anyway.

But that’s my mom’s world. There’s that and her bitter oldest son who moved out of the house because he had enough of her bullshit, and her two younger sons who won’t listen to her because rather than teach them to respect her for her adulthood, she went the route of blind obedience “because she said so.” It worked at five, but they’re smarter than that now.

And then there’s my dad, who mom’s been married to for 30 years. Sometimes I think she loves him. Other times it’s so obvious she wishes she’d never married him in the first place that I want to throw up. She picks fights just because she’s angry, she tells him he’s just trying to get attention when he acts sick (which, if he is, it’s her job by definition to give him that) and she talks smack behind his back. I hear, “He’s obsessed with his job”, “all he cares about is food” and “what a baaaabyyyy” when he’s not in the room. Out of nowhere she’ll give him sharp answers, and my dad will look at me like “What did I do NOW?”

In addition to this, my parents are not financially stable. They’re applying for credit cards to pay medical bills after my dad received a 50 percent cut in pay a couple months back. They’re looking for more work, but they’re still spending on things. My mom keeps insisting that she redesign the entire house one room at a time, buying decorations and paint consistently. I figure this is a coping mechanism for her, but it’s also financially irresponsible given the time.

My mom researches health food a lot. She buys a lot of it too. She nearly guilt-trips us into refusing to eat unhealthy foods lest we all eventually die, and yet—what? There she is, snacking on Cheetos. There she is, skipping meals, even though her doctor says she’s starving herself. There she is with her daily four cups of coffee and bowl of honey-nut Cheerios (I’m not exaggerating).

…It’s an understatement to say I do not understand my mom…

But my point here. What I’ve come to realize is that the majority of my family-dynamics honestly revolve around my mom. She determines everyone’s moods but mine. I have a car and responsibilities and my own room. I’m paying for gasoline and school myself. I’ve processed enough of my upbringing that she very rarely sets me off anymore. I am free.

But this is her family. She has children who have openly rejected her, daily fight her over the smallest things, and one who sneaks around her trigger points. She has a husband who she is terribly unhappy with and wishes would work harder so that her family wouldn’t be dirt poor, and she has herself, who she is not treating very well. This is her meaning in life.

Can you believe that? This is it. Who on earth would fight their entire life just to wind up here?

This is it, and she either has given up, or she’s still dreaming for a different meaning where she hopes she’ll bloom, just like I do in Jake’s arms every Saturday.

I realize even I am hypocritical in this situation, because this is my family, and I tiptoe around them, do the dishes sometimes when the kitchen is dirty, and then leave for 10 hours most days. The only difference is that this is not my only family. My family is Jake, and his mom and dad, and his brothers, and my older brother, who’s moved out, and his lovely girlfriend, and my friends at church, and my peers at school. My family is my mom and dad and younger brothers and extended relatives too, but they don’t represent my meaning in life.

My meaning in life is first of all faith in Jesus. He’ll show me where He wants my life to go. He’ll show me who He wants me to marry, and once married, that’s forever. I also find meaning in life in family—the family I choose to surround myself with and love. God forbid that I ever find myself having sunk so low that I spend my time berating and neglecting my husband, or treating him like he is only as valuable as his paycheck—because that’s not true of anyone. I hope I never hurt my children to the point that they shut me out, or that they must figure out my trigger points in order to have a non-destructive conversation with me. I hope I always value myself enough as a person, not to mention as God’s Child, that I will take care of my health and well-being. I hope that when I move on from the family I live with now to the family I make my own, that I will always keep in mind that that will be it; that will be my meaning in life, my destination. I hope that I will make it my most-valued possession, and I hope that I will never give up on it.

I hope a lot; I know that. I think it’s my right as a young person to be a hoper, a dreamer. But I do hope I always will be.

Posted in 42, brothers, compassion, dad, dreams, family, food, future, health, hope, hypocrisy, life, love, meaning, meaning in life, mom, neglect, story, venting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Truth

Life never stops being interesting.

A few years ago I would’ve told you that my life was interesting because I’d just joined speech and what-do-you-know, I was extremely good at it. In fact, within a few months, I was no longer even considered a novice, was held to a dauntingly high standard, and many people loved me. It sounds like bragging, but it’s not. Success comes with expectations. With an inability to accept any future failures. With a personal, infinite “trying” compass that says “you didn’t try hard enough, I think you should work harder,” and “you already achieved that. Now you need to be better than last time.” Things are interesting because of the conflict that exacerbates them. And if I was really being honest, without the added stress and pressure I was feeling due to my achievements, winning really isn’t interesting at all.

A couple years later, I would’ve told you that my life was interesting because suddenly I realized I’d been raised in a cult that was spiritually and emotionally abusive. I became triggered by almost everything my parents and most Christian leaders said, I felt hated by my family and misunderstood by my friends, and my only choice became rejecting what I’d learned about God in my upbringing and starting from the ground up–which I did. Interesting because who isn’t fascinated by cults and the stupid, funny things people in them do? Interesting because how will I ultimately change? How will my parents react? I enjoyed telling people my long-winded tragedy because I knew it would immediately fascinate, but also get me what I wanted, because pooooooor Susan. She is so lost and hurt. She lives everyday with her parents and they are still waist-deep in the doctrine that screwed up her family’s life. She has no money to move out and is soooooo scared. Sad sad saaad.*

Nowadays I don’t know what I should say. I do believe people who write about themselves have to be a little proud, otherwise they wouldn’t think themselves worthy to be written about. I’m okay with that. There are a lot of things I still need to say, and must say honestly to an audience lacking any preconceived notions of who I should be, or am.

Here’s a warning: I’m sick of censoring success out of my life to avoid the appearance of pride. I’m equally tired of censoring out the terrible events in my life to avoid the appearance of seeking attention. I’m writing a damn blog. Of course I want to keep your attention. And you want me to keep your attention so you won’t get bored. It seems like the only socially modest way to share about your life these days is to lie and say it’s good and boring.

Here’s the truth: my life is often terrifying and interesting. Or exciting and interesting. Or depressing and interesting. It switches around a lot. But it’s always interesting.

*I’m not pulling a “kids in Africa” card invalidating my experiences and feelings because they don’t deserve to be felt and grieved since others have been dealt worse. I am making fun of myself a little because in the past I’ve used my past to get sympathy and validation when it wasn’t always necessary.

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When Nobody Cares ‘Til You Cut Yourself, Part 6: Healthy Self-harm Alternatives

This has been a long series. I am gearing toward wrapping it up pretty soon, but first, one of the things I thought was extremely important to do was throw out some ideas of healthy replacements for self-harm.

Let me tell you a secret: I bite my nails. I’m an adult and I bite my nails, and it’s so hard to kick the habit just because there’s nothing to replace nail-biting. Now, while self-harm is not a habit, it’s a reaction to emotions that need to be channeled. And when we take away the thing we channel emotions into, unless we replace it with something else, not returning to it is going to be so much more challenging.

So go ahead and make a plan—what are you going to do next time you’re triggered? How are you going to handle your emotions? I don’t mean bottle yourself up…that’s not going to solve anything. I want to know how you’re going to RESOLVE the emotions that are triggering you. And by resolve, I mean process and come to peace with.

Like this: “Yeah, that thing sucks. But you know what? I’m going to be okay. Maybe not at this time, but eventually I will be. And that’s great! Someday is going to be better than today! Shit happens, but that doesn’t mean I’m shitty or that my life is shitty or that everything else that happens is going to be shitty. Shit just happens sometimes.”

But here’s the deal: you can’t just say this to yourself and be okay. For some reason, people seem to need a physical way to walk themselves through their emotional journeys. Maybe it’s inconvenient sometimes, but I’ve learned to appreciate that God made His plan for our lives a time for learning and processing and growing.

I grew up believing that somehow my goal was to become perfect as early on in my life as possible. THEN—and only then—would God use me as His Vessel. I honestly thought that after that, for the rest of my life, I would walk the walk and talk the talk and do exactly what Jesus would do.

I gave that belief up a while ago, though, after I realized that God didn’t want me to just kick my nail-biting habit and get it together already. He wants me to figure out why I do it and whether it’s a good idea to keep on doing it and, if not, how to stop. Somehow, to God, the process of our lives seems to be more important than the results.

In the hopes that you will allow yourself the same grace through your journey to recovery, here are 6 healthy alternatives to self-harm.

Stretch

This seems weird to suggest but this is my #1 go-to whenever I am triggered or angry and feel like I might do something rash. This is probably the most effective thing to do for those who get the urge to inflict pain on themselves. I recommend doing this as part of a process through which to settle with your emotions—it’s not the only thing you should do.

I have a stretch routine I do to keep my body strong. It’s a combination of yoga and standard ballet warm-up stretches I can do sitting down on an empty space in my bedroom that stretch my core and leg-muscles. Anyone who stretches knows that feeling a healthy amount of pain during a stretch strengthens their bodies and is necessary to build muscles. As long as you are not pushing your body too far, this is not damaging to the body and still produces a certain amount of pain that—if you absolutely have to—you can concentrate on.

Go Running/Exercise

This is like the above, but more general. If you’re triggered or angry, go running, or go to the gym. Push yourself as fast and as far as you need to—the worst that will happen (unless you run for a very, very long time) is you’ll suffer a few cramps.

The great thing about this is how healthy it actually is for your body. By exercising after being triggered, you’re taking care of yourself rather than cutting or bruising your skin. You’re involving yourself in your own healing-process. You’re also potentially giving yourself a chance to think and tire your body for a good night’s sleep.

Dance

Especially for those with a heart for dance, this is so good for you. I expect, however, that you already do this whenever you’re emotional, because dance is an art-form that is so clearly an expression of feeling through which you can communicate and vent.

Make Music

For those who sing or play an instrument, this is something you can do. Write a song about how you feel. Record it, share it, talk about it. Compose music that sounds like your heart, or tells your story. God has given us so many different ways to express and heal ourselves inside and out, and music is absolutely one of those ways. Music doesn’t have to be a performance. Sometimes, the best way to make music is to make it for you.

Write

Write a poem, tell a story. Tell your story. Journal the events to think them through to better understand them, or—better yet—write about the events to someone else. I’ve found that it’s always easiest to write anything when I’m writing it for an audience, even just one person.

The gift of writing is such a privilege. Many people I’ve spoken with have told me they’re just not comfortable with the way they write, that it’s work and not fun. If this is you, writing just isn’t your thing, so go find what that thing is. But for those who can process by writing out exactly what’s happened to them, you’re in a really good—even optimal—position to process your feelings, because you’re already thinking about solutions just by staring at your problem.

Draw/Paint/Art

I had a wonderful art teacher who I love, who’s absolutely changed the way I view my artistic abilities (or lack thereof). I’m still not perfect at it, but it’s something I can express myself through, be it painting, drawing, playing with clay, or making paper collages out of words and pictures cut out of magazines. If you’re gifted in this area, or if you WISH you were (just like I do) then go for it. See what sorts of stories you can tell with striking shapes and vivid, haunting colors. Draw a feeling or paint a prayer; tell a story with a picture.

Whatever it is you do, use it to help you express and process and understand and resolve. Self-harm IS NOT the only way—there are other beautiful ways to channel what you feel. Make your self-harm recovery inspiring instead of nightmarish. God has given us powerful tools to heal ourselves with. We are not helpless. We have the ability to make ourselves better, healthier people. It’s not going to happen overnight, but that’s okay.

Remember, life isn’t a cakewalk, but it’s not quicksand. It’s just a long, bumpy road. You’ve got this.

To be continued.

Posted in abuse, addiction, advice, alternatives, art, body-shame, christianity, cutting, dance, depression, emotional abuse, exercise, God, guilt, guilt-tripping, healthy, help, music, neglect, nobody cares, numb, personal, physical abuse, recovery, resolve, run, scars, self-harm, self-injury, self-mutilation, self-punishment, shame, shutting down, stretch, suicide, trigger, yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Nobody Cares ‘Til You Cut Yourself, Part 5: How to Help Self-harmers

In the last post, I seem to have listed every possible thing NOT to do or say to someone self-harming. So, to compensate, I’ve dedicated this post to being about what you CAN do to help self-harmers.

The way helping self-harmers works can basically fall into two categories.

  • Long-term Supporters, and
  • Short-term Supporters

Understand that there’s no shame in being a short-term supporter, especially if it’s because being involved in depressing, emotionally-needy situations for extended periods of time can be draining and discouraging. That doesn’t mean we ought to ignore them altogether—especially as Christians, we are called to meet the needs of others. But if you are easily triggered or negatively affected by emotionally-unstable people, being a short-term supporter is probably in your best interests.

For the long-term supports: you can have an immense impact on self-harmers, and even help them stop self-harming (without asking them to). With the list of Don’t’s in mind, here’s how.

Base the relationship on friendship, not self-harm.

The first requirement in helping your self-harmer is to be their friend. This relationship, however, shouldn’t be solely based on the fact that they self-harm. If you only care about their scars, you’re not really their friend—you’re just trying to be a hero. With my friend, Jake, we were friends before I self-harmed, so I never got the vibe that he was only giving me attention because of my problem. Instead, I knew he genuinely cared about my well-being.

Friendships were created to serve one another. If both parties are making an effort to be kind and serve the other person, both parties end up happy. This should be the focus of your friendship with your self-harmer—to look out for their best interests in kindness and love.

Relate to your self-harmer.

Learn as much about your friend as you can, asking them questions, just like any friend would, to see what you have in common. When it comes to deep emotionally-based things, ask yourself if and how you can relate to their feelings and experiences. If you do relate, communicate that to them so they know you understand.

Remember, friendship is a two-way street. You are not their doctor. You’re just their friend, and friends relate and help each other.

Establish trust and confidentiality.

Everything confidential between you and your self-harmer NEEDS to stay that way. Find out if they have trust-issues—which means you’ll have to be extra sensitive to that—but even if they don’t, being loyal to your word is imperative.

By building trust between the two of you, you become somebody they can talk to when they’re having trouble and need someone to comfort them, understand them, or give them a sounding board or outside perspective. This way, there’s a better chance your self-harmer will find healthy ways to process their pain.

Validate their feelings.

This ought to be something you do in any friendship, but it is especially important here. Self-harmers self-harm because of how they feel, quite often because other people tell them that what they’re feeling is wrong, inaccurate, or unimportant. Do your best to correct this by telling them what they’re feeling is normal and okay. Quite often people feel like they’re the only ones who feel the way they do—until they talk to someone else about it!

Jake never understood how I felt, because—unlike me—he comes from a functional home. He never told me what I felt was wrong, however. He overreacted to my self-harm, but he compensated by treating me normal after that despite it.

Telling people that what they’re feeling is acceptable helps them relax, process how they feel better, and eventually resolve it, rather than bottling it up inside due to guilt, fear or shame.

Offer to listen to them.

Too many people are great talkers and avid advice-givers, but terrible listeners. For instance, I am a great talker while my best friend, Jake, is a wonderful listener. He doesn’t interrupt me when I’m in the middle of a rant, and he comforts me by telling me I’m okay, and he doesn’t give advice unless I ask for it.

That’s too often what people end up not doing. Instead, they listen only until they “get the gist” of what’s going on, and then they’re giving advice they’re not credible for or would never follow themselves. Even if what they have to say may be helpful, it is quite often unwelcome by the receiver because it was not asked for.

The result is often the receiver shutting up and opting to find a new listener. For self-harmers especially, communicating what’s happening in their lives and how they’re feeling helps them process what’s going on, and is quite often self-solving. Hearing myself think out-loud or through writing is a huge part of how I resolve problems.

Be a good listener by asking gentle questions that encourage your self-harmer to go on. Ask for details about what happened, how it made them feel, how it made other involved parties feel, what’s going on in their minds now, whether it reminds them of other (painful) memories, how they plan to solve it, etc. At the same time, if you’re sensing resistance about giving up certain details, don’t press it. Move on and explore the information your self-harmer is comfortable sharing. This communicates interest in what the self-harmer has to say, and allows them the chance to get their heart off their chest in a safe place free of judgment or anyone bossing them around.

Be there for them.

This is one of the more challenging things to do as a long-term supporter, because it can be a full-time job. You may need to establish boundaries within the friendship about when you’re available to talk so that they don’t occupy more time than you can comfortably give them. What I really mean when I say “be there for them”, though, is during emergencies. What good is a friend when they’re not around when you really need them? Especially during emergencies—meaning when a self-harmer is triggered and wants to respond by hurting themselves—a self-harmer needs a friend to go to for help. When I was really not doing okay, Jake kept his phone on under his pillow all night just in case I needed to call him. I never took him up on it, but it was so comforting to know he was just a call away.

Ways you can be there for your self-harmer are:

  • Meeting with them in person.
  • Taking phone-calls
  • Video-chat, texting, emails, Facebook, etc.

Walk them through their thought-processes.

If you get to a comfortable enough relationship with your self-harmer, they’ll welcome you into conversations where you both think through their thoughts together. Thinking critically and objectively about events in their life will help them see the big picture and may lead them to solutions. It’s important that the self-harmer is the one who comes to these realizations without you forcing them. It may be easy for you to see the big picture form the outside looking in, but from the inside out, and with feelings hurt, the view is much narrower and more biased.

Help self-harmers:

  • Think objectively by asking questions about other involved parties’ perspectives, or wondering to them what the situation must look like to an outsider.
  • Think about how another person feels about a situation by pointing out there are two sides to every coin, and a reason for every reaction. Encourage them to give the benefit of the doubt, and to consider people innocent until proven guilty.
  • By encouraging them to find solutions to the problems causing them to self-harm by discovering what started them, and how those things can be helped and healed.
  • By encouraging them to replace self-harm with a different form of self-expression. This self-expression doesn’t have to be bad. There are many beautiful ways to express emotion, some of which are dancing, singing, music, art, journaling, exercise, or even just crying.
  • By brainstorming with them ways to improve their life. Positivity is so important. Self-harmers live an often depressing, colorless life, filled with both highs and lows, but mostly just lows. People say that the little things make up the big things in life. Sometimes the big things are unchangeable, but little things, small additions any situation, can brighten a person’s day. Taking the time to go on a walk and appreciate the flowers and the weather; preparing good, wholesome food to remain healthy and feel good with; getting enough sleep; taking a break to read a book; listening to good music; watching a funny, uplifting or captivating show; listening to TED talks; reading inspiring quotations, or anything that helps them appreciate life and give them ample reason to be happy about something.
  • Preparing them with a response-plan for the next time they’re triggered. It’s going to happen. Even if your self-harmer is in recovery, they’re going to at least be tempted to relapse. The best way to help your self-harmer with such situations is help them know what to do next time it happens, so they don’t panic and do something rash. A response-plan can be to go on a run as soon as the trigger happens, to call you or someone else, to pray, to journal, or something to transfer the energy their trigger causes them into resolving it in a healthy way.

Congratulate them for their clean-record.

A clean-record is the amount of days since the last time your self-harmer has hurt themselves. It’s important to congratulate them for however long they’ve not done it, even if it’s only been a couple of days. This allows them to be proud of taking care of themselves, and encourages them to response to triggers in healthy ways in the future. Emaline and I did this together sometimes, and it provided an outlet of positivity for our situations.

Don’t get frustrated when they relapse.

Remember, relapses are a part of the recovery process. It’s like breaking a drug addiction. The easiest way to do it is to slowly wean oneself off of it by gradually consuming less. While self-harming is more of an impulsive thing that shouldn’t be encouraged at all in recovery, it’s not something a self-harmer should be punished for doing.

Instead, make an effort to be proud of them for trying to recover in the first place. Staying in one’s current emotional place sometimes feels safest, even if it’s actually harmful. Change can be scary. Being willing to face one’s monsters and try to improve oneself and one’s life is a big step toward recovery, and is definitely something to celebrate.

Help them deal with their scars.

Some people, depending on their circumstances, may need help hiding their scars. I don’t encourage keeping dangerous secrets, but the public can be ruthless, and they’ll rat you out if they see anything that’s gossip-worthy. Hiding scars from unnecessary eyes can be wise, be it by getting creative with clothing or by using concealer or liquid foundation to cover them up.

On the other hand, some recovering or fully-recovered self-harmers need help uncovering their scars without shame. It’s important for them to know that scars do not define them and that there’s no reason to be afraid of what people think of them for having them. Showing scars is okay, and it’s something to be proud of for being brave enough to do.

Let them know they’re not annoying to you.

Communicate that you want your self-harmer to come to you when they’re feeling triggered or like they want to hurt themselves. People can sometimes get the vibe from others that they’re annoying the other person, which is definitely possible. What they should know, though, is that there’s a difference between being annoying, and dealing with an easily-annoyed person. Reassure your self-harmer that you’re interested in them and WANT to help them, should they give you the opportunity.

For the short-term supporters:

Be kind and sincere, and validate your self-harmer’s feelings.

Try to understand how they feel, imagine how you would feel in their situation, and tell them it’s okay to feel the way they do.

Tell them that they’re cared for.

Tell them you care about them, and go out of your way to point out the other people who love them and support them too. Tell them how obvious it is that they’re considered important and lovable.

Don’t treat them like they’re not normal people.

The only difference between a self-harmer and “normal” people is how they process their feelings…sometimes in more complicated, less efficient ways. Respect that about them.

Ask them questions about themselves.

Sometimes just venting can help a person process what’s going on. Giving them a chance to get something off their chest can help them clear their minds.

Help them find a long-term supporter.

Sometimes this just isn’t possible, but if you can point them to a friend you know is emotionally stable and who would be interested in helping, point them to them. Don’t go to the other friend and try to set them up. Make it the self-harmer’s decision to seek help. They won’t appreciate you tipping someone else off about them needing help.

Offer to pray for them if you’re religious.

This communicates that you care about them, and can mean a lot to people. It also can be very helpful, despite how overlooked this idea often is.

Be positive and hopeful about life.

Nobody likes a Debbie Downer, especially people who are already pretty down. Go ahead and commiserate with them when appropriate, but also make it a point to be a ray of sunshine in your self-harmer’s life. Point out all of the things to be happy and hopeful about in life. Point out that things will not always be the way they are. Help your self-harmer think about their future by asking them “Are you still going to feel this way 2 years down the road?” “What about 5 years?” “What about when you get married?” “What about when you have children?” This can help give them a larger perspective, along with a brighter, trigger-free future to look forward to.

I know I already made a list of things not to do, but as a supporter of any kind, here are some small things to avoid doing.

Don’t:

  • Talk about a person’s scars in public.
  • Tip people off about it.
  • Make suicide or self-harm jokes (or eating-disorder or gay or racist jokes either, for that matter).
  • Be obviously rude to a self-harmer because of their scars.
  • Be abnormally interested in a self-harmer because you see their scars.
  • Treat a self-harmer like they’re crazy.
  • Treat a self-harmer like they’re naïve or stupid.

This does nothing to help and communicates that you are untrustworthy, nosy, and judgmental. It’s not anybody’s place to be those things, nor do your friends deserve them.

To Be Continued.

Posted in abuse, addiction, attention, bad parenting, body shame, christianity, cutting, depression, emotional abuse, God, guilt, guilt-tripping, help, love, neglect, nobody cares, numbness, parenting, personal, physical abuse, privacy, religion, scars, self-harm, self-injury, self-mutilation, shame, shutting down, suicide | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Nobody Cares ‘Til You Cut Yourself, Part 4: What NOT To Do to Self-harmers

Disclaimer: While this post may give the impression that there’s really nothing people can do to help self-harmers, that is definitely not the case, nor what I mean to say. Here is my post listing all of the things you can personally do to help.

“Dear Susan,                                                                                                  1/23/13    

If we’re going to be friends you have to swear to me that you will never deliberately physically hurt yourself. I care so much about your well-being and if you’re going to hurt yourself I just can’t deal with that. I don’t know why people cut—I hear it relieves pressure, but there’s got to be a better way of doing it than doing something that causes pain. Your body is a temple of God and I can’t watch as you tear it apart. Any time you want to, just call, and vent to me. I’ll be praying for you, and try to answer your calls no matter what. I really care about you and I cannot deal with you hurting yourself.

I’m not going to lie…I’m disappointed. I know you made a promise a while ago not to hurt yourself, but I want you to renew that promise with me.

You should know that you have a vast community of people who care deeply about you and couldn’t stand to know that you’re hurt and would give anything to stop you from injuring yourself.”

 

This was the text my best friend, Jake, sent me the night I self-harmed the second time. I had done it exactly the way I’d done it the first time—with a needle an inch above the previous scars. I hadn’t been lectured this time. I was dealing with a stressful situation and seeing the scars in the bathroom had triggered my relapse.

I can get away with this, I told myself. I don’t care if I promised my friends I’d never do it again. This can be my secret coping mechanism I can rely on. No one has to know.

In that moment, I remember the feeling of not being in my most right of minds. A little crazed, I’d again rolled up my pants and done the deed, immediately realizing my folly afterwards. The guilt was not far behind at all.

Feeling lousier than I had before, I remember realizing Shit, now I have to tell everyone what I did.

You might say I’m good at keeping secrets, because I am, at least, from my family. But from the people who show love to me, it is much more difficult to contain myself. People who make me feel safe give me the impulse to spill my heart out before them because I know that they—unlike my family—will gently brush through its contents and tell me I am beautiful and loved.

So I texted Jake, my very best friend, and asked for help. His response pissed me off a bit, because he’d threatened to leave me all alone if I continued to self-harm, and he guilt-tripped me into not doing it again, but it still got the message across that he cared deeply for me. Despite his ignorance, his initial response was still tender and honest, and for that, I owe him greatly.

After all, I have never self-harmed since.

In this post, I want to give a few suggestions on how NOT to treat people who are self-harming should you find yourself involved in a situation with someone who is. The chances that you may, by the way, are very likely.

1) Don’t assume you know why someone self-harms.

People of all ages have been known to self-harm, and it’s easily something that can be self-learned. My mom has repeatedly insisted—even to this day—that the reason why I cut was because of my involvement with friends who were also self-harming. It is her opinion that, apparently, if you spend enough time with anyone, you adopt their personality, attitudes, and convictions, regardless of what role you play in their life. …Perhaps some people have begun physically hurting themselves because somebody told them it was cool, but that’s just not the case with me.

It’s hard to assume accurately why someone self-harms, just like it’s hard to guess correctly who someone is just from speculation. People want to be understood, but it’s hard to get an accurate picture without, you know, asking them personally.

2) Don’t make someone promise never to self-harm again.

Jake did this, and I did promise him I’d never again do it, and I have kept that promise despite the hundreds of times since then that I have been tempted to relapse. This was partly due to it being paired with his threat to cut off communication with me if I hurt myself again, but its effect was still the same: the consequence of the shame of a broken promise.

I understand why a promise could be seen as a good idea. It’s a form of accountability between two people. However, this accountability is not yours to keep. We’re talking about guilt-tripping people into avoiding using their coping-mechanism for dealing with deep hurts. While self-harming can be life-threatening, it’s not a leading cause of death, and isn’t considered suicidal behavior, therefore, I’m sorry, but it’s not your job to save the day. (If you know for a fact that a person is suicidal and is dangerously harming themselves, that’s a situation that should be acted upon by helping that person get professional treatment. Note: you are most-likely NOT that professional.)

When a person promises not to self-harm, they are often promising not to deal with their emotional troubles in the most effective way they know how. Suddenly, they must once again find a way to cope with their pain. And if this person is already struggling to function, you’re causing them a greater dilemma by giving them one more thing on top of everything else to process and deal with.

Consider this: if you really want to help people, help them with their life, not their reaction to it. Help them find peace; don’t keep them from forgetting they don’t have it.

Besides, promises only work on a small variety of people, and for a host of different reasons, most of which are related to fearing the guilt and shame resulting in breaking that promise. That is a big reason why I haven’t done it since, and I’m still dealing with an overwhelming fear of guilt and shame for sundry different reasons. If you want to help someone who is self-harming, don’t ask them to make promises that are just as unhealthy.

3) Don’t guilt-trip someone into not self-harming again.

Specifically, don’t tell people that they’re hurting other people by hurting themselves. Don’t make what they’re doing about you and other people instead. Don’t make them feel guilty for trying their best to handle pain.

I have found that the people who tell me I’m hurting other people by hurting myself only began to care about it at all when I started hurting myself. They tell me there are plenty of people who care about me and would be heartbroken to know that I was in such a bad place, and yet the very same people never gave a damn until my skin had red lines across it. My mom would give me lectures about how wrong it was to be uncontrollably emotional all the way up until she realized I wasn’t passive about it.

Here’s the thing—we know you really don’t care about us when you make it about other people. Certainly we know hurting ourselves pains the people who really care about us. Having to hurt ourselves to somehow not hurt as much pains us too.

Sometimes—not all the time, but sometimes—people just want to be heroes. They want desperately to help, to make a difference, and trying to remedy the tangible pain is an easy way to feel important. I know, because I used to do this myself. But if you really want to help people, guilt-tripping them out of self-harming is not the way to go.

4) Don’t make a self-harmer feel like they need to apologize to you.

It bothers me that I even have to point this out. I ended up apologizing to Jake after he sent that long text, telling him I wouldn’t do it again, and begging him not to leave me. That is a really unhealthy relationship to have with anyone.

Each time I self-harmed, I realized the strength of my conscience when I felt the urge to contact those I had broken my promise to and personally apologize to each of them for hurting myself. I wound up renewing that promise with everyone, and feeling staggered under the weight of that accountability; accountability to people—13-18 year olds—who meant well but quite frankly had no idea how else to help me. Apologizing for dealing with pain doesn’t help.

5) Don’t make a self-harmer feel ashamed of their scars.

My dear friend, Emaline, struggled with self-harm for a long period of time. She tried imperfectly to stop, but before she eventually did, her parents discovered her scars. Not long after this, someone saw Emaline’s scarred wrist and tipped her parents off.

This had the worst effect possible, because her parents were immediately afraid that someone would contact Child Protection Services, claim abuse, and take her and her brothers away. This was not only completely blowing the situation out of proportion (besides the fact that that’s not an accurate picture of how CPS acts), but it’s making the situation about THEM and not Emaline’s hurts. The way her parents reacted to the whole situation made her feel uncared-for and guilty for becoming a threat to her family’s well-being and happiness.

Her parents’ solution was to buy Emaline thick bangles to wear on her wrists. They purchased makeup specifically to cover up her scars. They told her she must not tell anybody, teaching her that her pain is dangerous and that she can successfully avoid problems by hiding them and pretending they don’t exist.

Pain, however, demands to be felt. It tells us something is wrong and must be resolved. Hiding this pain fixes nothing, and making easily broken promises—which trigger guilt—only exacerbate the problems.

The soldier who is internally injured doesn’t appreciate the people who try to talk him out of taking morphine. Maybe they’re preventing him from developing a morphine addiction, but they’re also withholding temporary relief from him, which, I might add, is not the way doctors treat injured patients. If this is the way you’re “helping” self-harmers, you’re doing it wrong. Consider this: doctors fix the problem so the patient no longer needs the morphine to begin with.

In the same way, here is what you must understand: if you want to help someone who self-harms, you shouldn’t stop them from doing it.

To be continued.

Posted in abuse, addiction, analysis, attention, christianity, cutting, depression, fundamentalism, guilt, guilt-tripping, neglect, nobody cares, personal, privacy, religion, self-harm, self-injury, self-mutilation, shame, shutting down | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Nobody Cares ‘Til You Cut Yourself, Part 3: 8 Reasons Why People Self-harm (Continued)

Trigger warning: graphic imagery, self-injury

I cut twice. The first time was in November after a stressful day at work and a lecture from my mom that just barely tipped me over the edge. The second time was a relapse the following January.

In our day and age, pain and forms of self-torture are often romanticized, like love-stories in TV shows. But that’s not truthfully how it is. People who have idealized physically harmful behavior aren’t seeing it for what it truly is, comparatively like those with eating disorders, who have convinced themselves that reality is only solvable by doing things that are far more dangerous than they think.

My reality hit me seconds after my deed was done, because, by letting that needle break my skin, I’d broken promises to the people I loved, too. Friends who had experience with self-harm had made me swear that I would not make their same mistakes, no matter how depressing my life became. It was because of this that instant shame overcame me after I did it. And with shaking fingers and what I felt was necessary loneliness stabbing my gut, I’d resorted to my diary to confess what I had done.

My shame was too great for me to bring myself to tell any person for a while. But my desperation for help and some sort of closure forced me to eventually tell a friend—who I hadn’t made a promise to—who I thought could help me with his own experience.

There is something to be said about the bond that is instantly created between two people, even two strangers, who have both self-harmed. It means the pain they both have felt is deep enough to warrant a physical need to cope, and it gives them a hell of a lot in common. So the bond I developed with Jared when I told him what I’d done was instant. And as a regretful self-harmer, he opened up and told me this:

It’s not worth it.

It’s not worth the released tension, or the untrue feeling that you’ve done something to help your situation, or the scars you get to deal with for the rest of your life. It’s not worth the few seconds afterward that you feel relaxed, and it’s definitely not worth the Euphoria.

And I agree. It’s not worth any of the reasons why people do it. Let’s continue them here.

4) To Experience Temporary Euphoria

I have spoken to people who have cut themselves repeatedly, to the point of nearly fainting, who do so for the euphoric feelings their body experiences through endorphins in order to compensate for the pain. Our bodies are created, like animals, to survive. It’s programmed into us as an instinct to avoid pain and death. I’m not denying the 800,000 people who commit suicide every single year. Our consciousness can certainly override our sub-consciousness. My point is that even when we consciously make the decision to hurt ourselves, our bodies are constantly making efforts to heal themselves again.

Whenever I cut myself, my body never failed to close the wounds and eventually heal them so well that anyone closely examining my leg now will not find them. Whenever I was in pain, my body always released endorphins—whether I knew it or not—to help relieve it. Pain, in and of itself, is just my body’s nerves signaling to my brain that something is wrong. It is this reason that I am convinced God wants us to nurture and take care of ourselves not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too.

The euphoria people may hurt themselves to experience are their body’s feel-good endorphins. Our bodies produce and release endorphins during things like sex, exercise, when we have reason to be happy, and to shield the pain our nerves feel when we’re physically hurt. This side-effect is particularly dangerous to experience because it can become addictive in a similar way to drugs. Our bodies are always learning, one way being to tolerate certain substances they encounter which make them react. So the euphoric feelings someone once experienced from cutting themselves a little will not return unless they cut themselves more. Pretty soon, in order to reach that same original high, people are practicing incredibly horrendous things that—aside from causing pain—can be life-threatening, such as cutting until one has lost so much blood that they faint.

Other forms of self-harm include hitting, bruising, scratching, burning skin with hot objects or fire, freezing skin with ice, breaking bones, cutting off circulation to parts of the body, and others.

5) To Release Tension

I never cut for euphoria. A needle just can’t do that. But it did release tension for me. It made me feel like all the things bottled within of me could be emptied out by opening up my insides. I’m sure the tension release seems even greater with deeper wounds and stronger pain. It’s a strong metaphor that I actually believed, despite my experience in debate; that the abstract could be released by physically creating a way for it to get out.

But the truth is that the only thing released is blood. The tension hasn’t been permanently solved. Ignored, maybe, but not solved. You can’t ignore issues and expect them to go away.  That’s like getting a headache from dehydration and taking an aspirin for it, then being surprised when the headache returns after the aspirin wears off. Our bodies feel pain, just like our emotions do, and both work to tell us something needs to be fixed. However, the solution is not to erase the symptoms. What prompted the symptom was the real problem: lack of water or a hurtful word. The only way to fix either is to drink water or get an apology.

6) To Feel Something When Everything Else is Numb

Some people are in so much pain that they switch it off. I did this once when I was overwhelmed with stress and worry, and for the following month I was completely apathetic. In some ways it was really relieving; I wasn’t afraid of failure, I wasn’t afraid of loss, I didn’t care about homework or my grades, and I didn’t have to face reality. But, for many reasons, I knew it wasn’t something I could permanently do. This is because when you shut off emotions…you can’t feel any. Sure, you don’t feel impacted by sadness or anger, but you also can’t feel happy. There’s no joy or appreciation for life in the world of apathy. An artist I listen to during this phase of life who ended up speaking truth to me through his songs was Relient K.

During this numb phase—which I realize now was selfish and unhealthy,—rather than containing my emotion within me, it was like I pushed all of the emotions outside of my metaphorical door, gave them a number, and told them to wait in line for when I wanted to deal with them. When my numb phase was over, it wasn’t because I opened that door. Rather, it was an ugly, painful situation caused by the weight behind that door. It broke down and all of the emotions came pouring back into me, and I was virtually forced to deal with everything at once. Going numb doesn’t solve the problem. It’s a form of procrastination.

People who suffer from this numbness are sometimes so used to it that they’re unable to switch their emotions back on. In this instance, while it was never the case for me, people may cut to feel something physically, quite often in desperation to regain emotions or to convince themselves they’re still functional and human.

7) To Punish Themselves

In the case that people do not self-harm to experience euphoria, they may do so to discipline or punish themselves for making mistakes. A perfectionist personality might be prone to this sort of practice. In some cases, those with eating disorders may use self-harm to punish themselves for not meeting certain eating standards, or for binging.

In more drastic cases, people who have had a violent upbringing or who experience corporal punishment may self-harm to punish themselves for things others have punished them for, to relive past experiences, or may even believe that punishment is self-improving. I believe these cases are rarer, and the average self-harmer should NOT be accused of self-harming as an act of violence linked to mental disturbance.

8) To Get Affection from Otherwise Neglectful Sources

This is where it gets complicated, because this is one of the more common assumptions people make about self-harm.

“Oh, they’re just trying to get attention.”

This is true and untrue at the same time. True for certain reasons; untrue because those reasons aren’t the ones people assume.

Fact: everyone is designed to need affection to grow as people. It’s nurturing. Our health depends on it. And in order to bestow affection upon anyone, attention is necessary.

The title of this series was chosen for very good reason. People sometimes lament that nobody cares about anyone until they commit suicide. Only then do people seem to understand the gravity of that person’s outcry and suddenly regret their neglect. It’s often the same for those who self-harm. I would cry and be visibly depressed, but my mom never reacted until she saw my scars.

In the same way, while this was never a reason why I cut, some people may get incentive to hurt themselves to make a statement to those around them. This statement, albeit selfish-seeming to others, is sometimes one of the only things the self-harmer feels will get them the attention and care that they need from those who are otherwise neglectful.

I want to touch on something that bothers me about people who think those who self-harm are “self-centered attention whores” and the like.

We already discussed how it’s a fact that people need affection, and affection is retrieved through attention. I don’t think that people forget that affection is good. Instead, what it seems simply overlook is the fact that some people do not get the affection they need. They’re not “attention-whores”. They’re not given attention at all. These people are just trying to compensate for their lack of love! Therefore, I don’t believe it’s anybody’s business to pass judgment on them for their methods of survival.

I was not seeking attention by self-harming. If I was, I would’ve cut my wrists, not my upper thigh. I was actually being strategic when I cut a body part that I knew would be hidden so that I could get away with it without ever being caught.

This became a problem when—two weeks after I’d initially self-harmed—I experienced incredible back-pain and was admitted to the hospital. I’d never been a patient in a hospital before; not since I was a baby in the delivery room. I didn’t think about my scars until I sat before a nurse and answered questions—my dad standing loyally next to me—about whether I was sexually active (“no”) or if I’d had thoughts about death (“no”) or if I’d ever self-harmed (resounding “no”). There was no way I was admitting to that in front of my dad, much less allowing that to be put on my medical record.

I might have been reckless, but I wasn’t also stupid.

Thankfully my doctor allowed me to keep my pants on when I changed into those ugly frocks you have to wear. My scars weren’t discovered and condemned. At least, they weren’t yet.

To be continued.

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