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“Self-harm” Doesn’t Begin to Describe It

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I want to introduce you to a friend of mine and share an extraordinarily powerful and seriously helpful piece of writing from him. I’ve never had a guest blogger before, but this is truly a must-read.

If you think you don’t know anyone who has serious depression or who struggles with self-harming behavior, you are probably mistaken. At the least, this essay will equip you to deal with this in the future, because you will encounter it and may need to help someone you love.

The essay is long. Please read to the end because the first section explains what *not* to do, and the end gives you some positive suggestions. At least file it away so you can have it when you need it.

This was posted on Facebook on October 24 by Teaque Kaiden McLaren, age 25 and is reprinted with his permission:

Teaque

Teaque

“So I know I said I was going to bed, but I’ve got something that I feel really needs to be said. And I’m sorry it’s so long.

As a person who has dealt with depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts over the past 9 years of my life, something I’ve found that doesn’t really help a lot when people find out you’re struggling with thoughts of hurting yourself is them telling you things like, “oh no don’t do that,” “just think of the positive things in life,” or “get help, NOW.” I know they think they’re helping, but when a person is in a state where they’re seriously considering harming themselves, trying to tell them what to do isn’t going to do much of anything. Or, if anything, it’ll make them feel worse because they want to stop so badly, but they don’t know how. When they’re in that state there are no filters to emotions, there is no logic behind what they’re feeling. Asking them why they feel that way is just going to frustrate them because they DON’T know why. It’s a giant rush of all these different emotions that are coming at them so fast there’s no way to sift through it all and find the root and be like, “oh, this is why I was feeling down, let me just change that.” I know this is a hard thing for some of you to understand if you’ve never dealt with that kind of situation before, so I’m going to try my best to help you understand things from our side. Show you how we see the situation, and how we see the world in general.

"A giant rush of all these different emotions..."

“A giant rush of all these different emotions…”

Before I continue I just want to say that no one case of depression is exactly the same, because no one person is exactly the same. Everyone reacts differently in situations, so it’s hard to say exactly what will and what won’t work, but I’m going to try and at least help you understand the basics of what depression is like and how you can really help someone if they’re having a hard time. Even if that means you have to contact the proper authorities. Even if it means that they might disown you as a friend. It’s their LIFE on the line, not your pride, not your desire to be the person who talked them out of hurting themself. If you can’t handle the situation, then find someone who can. That is how you can be a true friend. You never know if one day they’ll track you down to thank you. I know there was a friend I was upset with at first for telling the school administrators when I would cut in high school, but more than anything now I have nothing but respect for her, and am so thankful that she did that. Sure it meant embarrassing moments of getting called to the counselor’s office or the nurse’s office and having to wait for my mom to come pick me up, but you know what? That got me the help I needed.

There are many reasons why people choose to start and/or continue to self-harm, just like there are many ways that it is done. There’s cutting, burning, punching, slapping, starving yourself, binge-eating, and so many more that I couldn’t possibly list them all off the top of my head; and I’m sure that there are even more ways that I haven’t heard of yet. Never doubt a persons’ creativity; even when it comes to self-harm. Like I said above there are many reasons why people harm themselves; some people are actually trying to kill themselves, others view it as a form of punishment because they feel they’ve messed up to a degree that deserves some kind of repercussion, or that they aren’t being punished enough. Other people view it as symbolic; letting the blood flow or forcing themselves to throw up is a cleansing of all the bad inside. All the hurt and pain that they feel inside that is so intangible and hard to comprehend is suddenly physical. Watching cuts heal is like watching a wound in the heart or in the soul heal, and they genuinely do feel better for a while after they’ve done it. That is because of the endorphins that are released by the body that go to the site of pain, numbing it and making it feel like it’s getting better, even if only for a short time. In the end though, it all comes down to control. They feel like they have no control over their life, over these emotions that over half the time they can’t even put a name to, so they reach out and grab for something that they can control. Unfortunately, that control usually ends up being through harming themselves.

Of course there are the people who do it to try and get attention or to seem ‘cool’ or ‘tough’, and while yeah they irritate me that they’re making light of a serious problem, no incident of self-harm should be overlooked just because you think they’re not genuinely struggling.

I want to address a certain issue regarding counseling. Parents of children and spouses of those dealing with depression and self-harm who are religious, I know that the first thing you want to do is drag them off to a counselor of your own religion (which is in your right to do so), but before you do please, PLEASE do some research into the places you are going. We honestly do not do well at all with people throwing bible verses at us or spouting other religious stuff into our faces and saying how we should immediately trust in your deity to take care of everything. A lot of times when we’re dealing with depression, if we were religious at all before, we’re also having a lot of trouble with our faith. You may say all you want that Jesus or Allah or whomever will lift you from this, and that’s nice that you believe so much in your God that he/she can do this, but we’re in a place where inside we just feel this giant black void. We feel alone, we feel isolated, we wonder how a God so loving and so powerful could let us suffer this way and if you sit there and try and shove it down our throats, more than likely we’re going to respond by pulling further away from where you want us to be. I know you have the best intentions, and I admire that, I really do, but please take into consideration that we are having a really hard time and the last thing we need is someone telling us what to do and that there is no other way but that way. We’re just trying to sort out our lives, our emotions…we can only handle so many things at once. After all, we’re only human. Now I’m not saying don’t take them to a religious counselor, as you’re welcome to do whatever you please. I’m saying to make sure that they’re open-minded, that they’re willing to listen before talking, that they truly have your loved ones’ best interests in mind. I’ve been to counselors who don’t listen; they just speak at you not to you, trying to force their ideas onto you. Honestly, it just made it all worse.

Another issue I want to address mostly pertains to parents, though it is not exclusive to them, it just so happens that it’s mostly parents who do this. When you find out your child has been self-injuring or has been thinking about it, I know your first instinct is to pull them in and shelter them, don’t let anything touch them. This is a generally a bad idea in my experience, ESPECIALLY if they’re in their mid-teenage years. They’re at that point in life where they’re trying to find their individuality; they’re trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, they’re trying to learn how to be themselves and separate themselves from you so they are no longer just someone’s son or daughter, they are a person. An individual whom they feel is worth something in this world. I cannot stress enough how important this stage in their life is. If you never let them grow up, never let them learn how to be an individual, then they’ll never be fully prepared for the world when suddenly, they’ve graduated college and are out on their own. They won’t know what to do because all their life they’ve been coddled and spoon-fed how to live. At this point in time in their lives they don’t want a parent, they want a friend. They want someone they can trust; who they can go to with their problems where they know they won’t be judged for how they feel or who they may happen to love. And I’m sorry to tell you, but if they don’t find that kind of atmosphere or relationship with you or your significant other, then they’re going to go elsewhere to find it. That elsewhere might be just a good group of friends, or it might be drugs or gangs where they can end up getting into a lot of trouble then or even later on in life. At the same time though, don’t push too hard. Just let them know that you’re there for them, no matter what they need.

Now I know I’ve said a lot of what not to do, so I want to share a couple things that I’ve personally found to be helpful when struggling with urges to self-harm. Instead of trying to tell them not to do something, try saying that you believe in them, you believe that they can hold on and resist. That you know they’re so strong and that they can make it through. A quote I once read from the book A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong said it better than I could ever hope to word it. A woman was describing her plans for the future about how she would like to have a family of her own one day, “But,” she said, “right now, my goal is just make it five more minutes … then five more.” Sometimes that’s all they’re going to be able to do, and you have to support them in that. No matter what, make sure they know that you are there for them, but keep in mind that if things start getting out of hand, or if you feel it has gone beyond your capabilities, then it is your responsibility as their friend to seek out proper help.

Speaking of the book by Marilee Strong, I would highly recommend it not only for those who deal with self-harm, but also for those who wish to understand better from a more scientific point of view. She not only interviewed over 50 people who suffer/have suffered from depression and self-mutilation habits (including some famous names), but she also interviewed psychiatrists, psychologists, and neuroscientists to try and get the full picture. While it does mostly focus on those who self-harm in result of traumatic incidents in their pasts, it still gives you a good look into the lives of these people who struggle day by day just trying to get by. Some reviews do say that a few of the stories can be triggering, so if you are sensitive to this kind of material please read with caution if you chose to look into it.

With all of that said, and with it now being after 5am, I want to thank you all who do at least try to reach out. I know your hearts are full of good intentions; I just wanted to make sure that you knew a little bit what it’s like in our shoes. We can’t up and change our moods on a whim; it’s a difficult process that we have to go through but we really appreciate each and every friend we have who supports us and helps us get through our darkest hours. I know for me personally, while it’s been a long hard road and I’ve lost friends along the way because of it, I wouldn’t change my past for anything. I wouldn’t take away these scars because that would change who I am, and I’m proud of whom I’ve become because of them. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today; I wouldn’t have the confidence that I have now in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to had I not gone through those years. I know I still have a long way to go, but each day is a new page, and if I can help even one person understand better, or help one person realize that they’re not alone…then why stop at one?

Related Posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/suicide-happens-help-stop-it/

http://brokenlightcollective.wordpress.com/

http://twloha.com/vision

Photo by Melanie Lynn Griffin

Suicide Happens. Help Stop It.

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There are a lot of ways to kill yourself. Of course there are the socially acceptable ways, like overwork and stress and pickling your liver.

But I’m talking about more dramatic departures. One friend of mine drove his van full speed into a brick wall – the weird paint pattern that covered the patched hole was visible for decades until they tore the building down.

Another guy lay down on the railroad tracks. He was drunk. High school.

A friend’s teenage son shot himself. He was on anti-depressants at the time.

Another friend of mine says that every day his niece doesn’t kill herself is a good day.

A young woman I used to teach in Sunday school hung herself in August 2011.  Heather was a beautiful, spunky, talented angel. You never would have guessed.

Heather getting some love from her twin cousins

Heather getting some love from her twin high school buddies

These aren’t famous sportswriters creating detailed farewell blogs about their suicides. They are just regular people who couldn’t handle life. They didn’t get the help they needed for whatever reason.

The Sad Statistics

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, September 10. It’s a good day to educate yourself, because if you don’t already know someone who has taken their own life, the sad odds are that you will.

The World Health Organization says that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially among young people. Worldwide, there is one suicide every forty seconds. The number of people who die by suicide every year exceeds the number of deaths from homicide and wars combined.

In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 25 to 34, and the third rated killer for ages 15 to 24. It’s not just the young — in 2010, an elderly person (65-85) committed suicide every 90 minutes. For the population as a whole, it’s the #10 killer. Nearly a million Americans try to kill themselves every year.

Warning Signs of Suicide

You’ve probably seen this list, but it’s worth taking a look at again – just in case. Warning signs vary, and they aren’t always obvious. Some people keep their struggles a secret, some verbalize them. But here are potential signs to watch for. A suicidal person may:

  • Talk about suicide, death and/or no reason to live.
  • Be preoccupied with death and dying.
  • Withdraw from friends and/or social activities.
  • Have a recent severe loss (esp. relationship) or threat of a significant loss.
  • Experience drastic changes in behavior.
  • Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  • Prepare for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements.
  • Give away prized possessions.
  • Have attempted suicide before.
  • Take unnecessary risks; be reckless, and/or impulsive.
  • Lose interest in their personal appearance.
  • Increase their use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Express a sense of hopelessness.
  • Be faced with a situation of humiliation or failure.
  • Have a history of violence or hostility.
  • Have been unwilling to “connect” with potential helpers.
  • Start saying goodbye to people in a “final” kind of way.
  • Suddenly exhibit a strange sense of calm (the decision has been made).

What to Do if You are Worried about Someone

If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research recommends:

  •  Encourage the person to seek treatment. Ideally, the individual should consult a doctor or mental-health provider. But if they won’t, then suggest reaching out to a support group, crisis center or faith community. Or the person can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Help the person get assistance. For example, you can research treatment options, make phone calls, review insurance benefit information, or take the person to an appointment.
  •  Facilitate open communication. Be supportive and understanding. Listen attentively and avoid interrupting.
  •  Be respectful of the person’s feelings. Even though someone who’s suicidal isn’t thinking logically, the emotions are real. Not acknowledging how the person feels can curtail communication.
  •  Don’t be patronizing or judgmental. Instead of contending that “things could be worse” or “you have so much to live for,” ask questions such as, “What would make you feel better?” or “How can I help?”
  •  Never promise to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret. The reason is simple. If you think that the person’s life is in danger, you’ll have to get help.
  • Offer reassurance. Emphasize that, with appropriate treatment, he or she will feel better about life.
  •  Encourage the person to avoid alcohol and drugs. Using drugs or alcohol can lead to reckless behavior and increase depression.

If you think that someone is in danger of committing suicide or has actually made a suicide attempt:

  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call 911.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  •  If these options aren’t possible, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Say Something

Please don’t feel silly or self-conscious talking about this. If you’re worried, there is probably a reason. Better safe than sorry. Say something. Do something.

Here is a link to a great website about how to help someone you are concerned about. When someone in my family was suicidal a few years ago, I used many of these talking points almost verbatim. They gave me confidence, and he tells me that when I told him, “Whether you believe it right now or not, you WILL get through this, you WILL feel better,” it gave him the strength to make it through his worst depression.

,You might want to keep this number in your wallet. You never know when it might save a life: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Light a Candle

Please light a candle in a window at 8 p.m. tomorrow night. In support and solidarity, or in memory of someone you love.

I wish you peace.

Light a Candle at 8 PM on World Suicide Prevention Day e-cards or postcards in English

Please light a candle

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