Warning: Content addresses self-harm and suicidal thoughts. This article was featured on Medium.com
I was twenty-four years old, and I humiliated myself.
I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I know it was enough to push me past a certain point.
I had a job working in a warehouse. It was filthy, raw, pack mule kind of work. And as a college graduate, I wasn’t feeling like the successful young professionals I saw on social media with their Mac books and brown shoes. Don’t get me wrong, the work was honest, but clocking in every day and working next to ex-convicts made me feel like I had taken some wrong turns in life.
So, I flubbed something and got reprimanded for it. When you have no proper sense of worth, no personal island to stand on, other people’s words are like final judgment. And when you screw up, you feel you’ve shattered the universe, and everyone blames you for it.
I remember walking past a window and seeing my reflection. My hair was greasy and unkempt. I was splotched with dirt and dust. And my eyes were welling up.
I made a resolution.
I had been thinking about it for a while, and the day’s events made me decide it was time.
I drove to the local mall immediately after I got out of work. Slowly, I made my way towards the hobby shop. It was a nerdy hangout with an emphasis on eastern culture. They sold things like incense, D20s, Magic the Gathering booster packs, and switchblades.
I knew what I was there for, and I started browsing their selection. I was looking for something specific. I didn’t just want to carve letters into my arms; I wanted to write run-on sentences.
The clerk came up to me and asked what I was looking at. I greeted him politely, and I pointed to the knife that appealed to me. It was a sizeable silver switchblade with a wood finish.
I said I was looking to use it for self-defense. He started giving me insider information, pointers, and tips for its effective use. He carried on passionately, giving me the finer details. The guy really cared about his job. I maintained this conversation for a good five minutes, lying for the duration. Eventually, he sold me on the blade.
Paid in full. Another happy customer.
That night, I sat alone in my room.
I held the knife in my right hand and planned to get to work on my left forearm. I was too nervous to do it on the bottom side, so I kept my wrist turned down.
A common thing for cutters is to hide their wounds, but I had no intention of doing that. I wanted people to know. I wanted people to be appalled and concerned. Was it a cry for help? Yeah, it was. It was a lot of things.
But it turns out self-harm was harder than I thought. I realized the knife was not extremely sharp, so the cuts I made were shallow. They appeared like long scratches, without blood or clear markings. How anticlimactic.
I didn’t feel any different after I made five weak cuts. In fact, the lack of blood made me feel like a fraud.
The next day at work, one of our regular customers came in to buy supplies (I worked in the customer service end of the warehouse). This man radiated kindness and honesty, and I always enjoyed speaking to him. I had my sleeves rolled up, and he made a keen observation.
“Looks like the cat got you,” he commented, just barely concerned that the cuts were about four inches long. Must have been a bobcat.
“I scratched it on some scaffolding,” I responded.
He looked at me, without a smile, for a second longer than what was appropriate. I knew he felt something was off. That’s what I wanted to believe, at least.
This was one of those moments you wish someone would speak up. Where you wish someone would say, “I know,” and you could buckle your legs, collapse into an ocean of tears, and be embraced. It wouldn’t take much at all.
But we carried on, business as usual, and I don’t blame him. Twenty-four-year-old men don’t harm themselves. And after all, there was no blood. There was no proof.
Some time passed, a few weeks maybe. I wanted to do the job right this time, so I paid a visit to Benny’s hardware store.
“I’m looking for razor blades,” I said to the slightly startled clerk. I may have been the only customer in the store. I probably looked like garbage too. A combination of wit’s end and desperation.
Another clerk intervened, “I’ll show you where they are.” He led me to the back end of the store, where the blades were located. I chose the modest 10 pack. I could almost feel him looking me up and down, and he was right to.
But I didn’t care. I found real blades.
I sat on my bed, quietly.
I knew I wanted to do it. I had been waiting for it for so long. To take my hurt and transmute it into a grisly act of self-hatred. To me, that is what made the most sense.
Why would anyone do this? Well, there were several reasons. I’m not basing this off of any psychological theory, only what I felt.
Self-harm started making sense once the shame I felt became irrefutable. Failures, doubts, and difficult experiences blended together into a tension that I never stopped feeling. Self-harm was an outlet for that tension. It’s an eruption. It’s screaming in the dark. It’s a way of saying what you aren’t allowed to say.
I held the one-inch blade to the topside of my left forearm, just like before. I wasn’t intending to die, just to hurt, and to show. But I can’t say death wasn’t crossing my mind either.
I hesitated. I almost felt like I was acting or masquerading as someone who self-harms. I was about to make a big decision, like a character in a movie. “This could be a story you tell people one day. Aren’t you just a little success story?” my mind said, mocking me. And my horrible mind wouldn’t stop talking:
“A 13-year-old girl can do this, and you can’t?”
I kept staring at my arm. It was fine. The marks from the first time had already faded. But I wanted to make it real. I wanted there to be a 1:1 ratio between the pain I felt and the damage I inflicted. That would make it non-dismissible. Then people would know. I would finally be a real person, who’s felt real agony.
It took me years to realize this, but I was already that person. I was in agony, and I was real. I didn’t have to prove it.
In that moment of pain, there was something else too. Another, wiser part of me, spoke up. I remember thinking, “This isn’t the way. This isn’t going to solve anything. If you do this now, you’ll be going down a path you might not come back from.”
But the shame fought back. “Why do you have this inclination to walk away, when other people don’t? What makes you so special?”
It was as if the last ounce of my self-preservation, or love, was something to feel guilty about having. Having that was unfair to those who had already harmed themselves, and I needed to be punished for it. Shame had distorted everything I was.
I took the blade, placed it evenly back in its pack, and tucked it away in my closet. Eventually, it wound up in the garbage.
I needed help. I needed care. I had so much work to do.
For anyone who needs to know: There is a world beyond shame and self-harm. Healing is a real thing. It’s not a flowery word that people just say to sound spiritual. It takes time, but you can get there.
I’ve come to the conclusion that shame is cancer of the soul. It’s not the only cancer, but it’s a major one. And self-harm is a symptom. It’s false catharsis for things you don’t know how to deal with yet. Before I could change anything, I had to change my relationship with myself.
If you or someone you know is contemplating self-harm or suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling (800) 273–8255 or visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Help is available.