I’ve opened a bottle of Italian Merlot and I’ll try to write this post. This is probably the hardest post I’ll ever force myself to write. Part of the difficulty is that I’ve very, very rarely talked about this subject and part is that, despite know how awesome the few readers I have are, I still fear that your opinion of me will change for the worse.
March 1st is Self-Injury Awareness Day. It’s not officially recognized in most places, and even on the internet it’s not really talked about. But since I am someone who has self-injured I feel like I should write something about it.
Self-injury is generally defined as the deliberately damage of tissue without suicidal intent. This can mean everything from cutting oneself to ODing on drugs. I’m too lazy to look up statistics, but if I recall correctly the lifetime incidence is anywhere from 10 to 25% of the population depending on the study and country. It’s more common for females to self-injure than for males and most people start in their teens. The reasons given for this behaviour vary and include: controlling negative emotions, self-punishment, and stopping feelings of depersonalization or dissociation.
There are a lot of misconceptions about people who self-injure. One such belief is that it’s a failed attempt at suicide (see: jokes about “down the road and not across the street”). Although some people who self-injure have or will attempt suicide, the very definition of self-injury excludes suicide attempts and some people even report that they use self-injury to prevent suicide. A second common myth is that we’re all doing this just to get a bit of attention and sympathy. While some people do it for attention, most self-injurers tend to hide their problem and feel shameful about what they do (I can count on one finger, the people in my life that know). And even if one does it for attention, at the point where you hurt yourself for it, it’s still a problem.
The lack of understanding and awareness can cause a lot of problems with family and friends, but self-injurers can also run into problems when seeking medical attention. If you’re cutting or burning yourself on a regular basis, it’s likely that at some point you’re going to need medical treatment at some point. Going to an ER you expect to be treated like any other injured person, unfortunately that’s often not the case. Talking to people who self-injure, it’s not unusual to hear stories of doctors not providing a local anaesthetic for stitches (because if you self-injure, you must like pain) or refusing treatment until the person promises to stop self-injuring (Ok, since you ask really nicely doc — I’ll do it!). It’s not right to treat people who self-injure as less then human or as if they’re a misbehaving child.
I’m not going to talk about my personal story because I don’t really know if anyone is interested and I feel it might be a bit self-indulgent. However, feel free to ask questions in the comments or e-mail me if you want to talk.