[CN: self-harm, depression]
Edit: It’s now known this was in fact a prank by 4Chan (as Geek Mom supposed), but this HuffPost article explains again why this is no joke. I still have all the same things to say as I did this morning on this matter. Let’s have this discussion, help those in need, and quit making fun of those who self-harm.
This morning while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw a few mentions of a trending hashtag, #CutForBieber. The most impactful item I came across was a Geek Mom article. I then looked at the actual tweets related to this hashtag. It was mind-boggling to see kids posting pictures of their bloody, slashed up arms, all for their favorite musician.
This “movement” came in the wake of Justin Bieber allegedly smoking pot, and his fans are disappointed with him. To prove this, and to “make” him stop doing bad things, they are supposedly cutting themselves. And, apparently, they will continue to do so until they feel Bieber is being good once again. As the Geek Mom article points out, this could all be a huge prank to begin with. Either way, it has shown a light on cutting, the public’s view of it, and other issues related to mental health. Even if one teenager cut herself to somehow prove something to a pop singer, then this entire thing, whether a joke or prank, is horribly wrong. I could point out and write about how two wrongs don’t make a right, or how a threat of “I’ll hurt myself if you do or don’t…” is bullshit, but, these are teenagers we’re dealing with. So why bother. They haven’t learned those lessons yet. Still, this hashtag shouldn’t be put on a shelf and labeled as “stupid things kids do.” There’s a bigger issue at hand here.
What’s disturbing about this, aside from the cutting itself, is that for these teens who have now posted pictures of their cutting, this is on the record for them. Granted, most were jokes (which, only further serves to stigmatize cutting and mental illness), but there were several that were not. This will stay with them indefinitely. In a few years when they apply for college, or for work after that, or when they start dating someone, it will easily be found. Just like sharing naked pictures of themselves or images of them performing sex acts on the web and not considering the ripple effects of that, kids still have not learned how powerful the Internet is, and how painful it can be. That’s all for future discussion. As is the fact that this #CutForBieber has become a big joke on Twitter, poking fun at cutting and cutters. There is nothing funny about self-harm.
My main concern with teens and cutting is that it is a very real disorder. The cracks on Twitter today only prove that most blow it off as something silly and harmless. Sure, there are some who do it for spite or attention or just because. People tend to dismiss “cutters” these days as someone who just saw it online and wanted to do it too. Sidenote: if someone cuts, solely for the sake of attention, or for any other reason, then don’t you think they need some damn attention? If you are willing to carve into your own flesh, does it really matter much for what reason? Something needs to change in that person’s life. More often, the act of cutting goes well beyond simply wanting someone to notice you, or to gain approval from friends, or because it’s trending on Twitter.
I was a cutter as a teenager. Back then, the term “cutting” wasn’t even used. The doctors described what I did as “self-mutilation” or “self-harm.” I’d prefer either of those terms over “cutting.” Cutting seems far too casual–in my mind I think of paper cuts. When I hear self-mutilation or self-harm, that sounds serious and morbid. Both of which cutting very much is. I don’t recall the very first time I cut, or what specifically led to it. I do remember how the idea came to me though. I didn’t read about it, it wasn’t for a famous pop star, and I didn’t see a Tumblr that glorified it. I had a new stationary set for my desk, it had a tape dispenser, letter opener, other odds and ends, and a triangular mini razor blade. It was black with red on the part that slid the blade up. I was going through a very difficult time, and one day, overcome by negative emotions, I grabbed the triangle, slid up the blade, and cut myself. I barely broke the skin at first. The physical pain, and subsequent release of endorphins, made me feel better. It distracted me and eased the sadness and anger and shame I was feeling.
It instantly became an addiction for me. I carried my trusty triangle with me all the time. Even just feeling it in my pocket gave me a sense of relief. In school, I’d go for a cutting break to the bathroom. Sometimes I’d cut until I bled, other times just a scratch. Primarily on my wrists, but also my legs. I was sure to cover my wrists with a big watch and tight bracelets. I also wore long sleeves all the time. I was never concerned with someone noticing my marks. I covered them well, and honestly, didn’t care enough about myself to even think anyone else would bother to either. I felt pretty invisible, and this only got worse as the months went on. If I was without my blade, it was easy enough to scratch at my skin until I bled, or find other ways to bring pain upon myself. So yes, parents, it need not be slash-marks on your child’s arm to prove they are self-harming, look for any and all signs. And look, dammit. It could save your kid’s life.
I was depressed, clinically depressed. Not some teenage emotional ups-and-downs, hormones-shifting, growing-pains, attention-seeking drama, but actual depression. No different from what an adult would face. Don’t ever downplay a teenager’s depression, I assure you, it is very real. I fought hard to wake up and get to school every day. Things like showering and eating became massive challenges. On the outside, I looked pretty typical, and always wore a smile on my face. That is what I did best. Even at my lowest, which I’ll write about in the coming days, I had a smile on my face and a joke at the ready. My self-harm was my coping mechanism. I battled with eating as well, at times forcing myself to vomit if I felt I’d eaten too many calories. The rest of the time I’d eat very little and tell myself how fat and disgusting I was. I look back at pictures and feel so sad for that 14-year old girl. The adults in my life had no idea. I covered up weight loss by wearing baggy clothes. They didn’t get that I thought I was obese when in reality I was at a perfectly normal weight, if at times even under. No one knew the demons I fought from the inside. I can’t fault them; I was unbelievably good at keeping it all under wraps.
But doing so was wreaking havoc on me. The self-harm, though still making me feel temporarily better, was becoming less effective. I grew more depressed. And then, it seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel: suicide. My thoughts became overrun with how I would end my life. Where would I do it? What was the least messy way, I contemplated, wanting to be kind to those who would find me. Thankfully, I was able to get help eventually, and that is a long story for another day. My point is we cannot dismiss cutting of any nature. It’s abnormal. Whether it’s a minor issue that simply is resolved by having an open discussion with a kid and making changes in the home life or whether it’s clear someone who cuts is deeply mentally ill and needs professional help, self-harm must always be addressed.
It’s my hope that if nothing else, this hashtag will bring some attention to cutting and to mental health. We need to have these discussions, however uncomfortable they make us feel. For years, I was ashamed of my history of self-harm. This purely stems from how our society treats and labels those who have mental illness. Beyond that, I also hesitated because “cutting” has become something of a joke (well before today’s hashtag). For any of that to keep me from sharing my story, which it did for years, society needs to look long and hard at itself. If all I went through is kept locked up inside me, never to be shared, and surely never even capable of helping another, then what was it all for? I want the hell I went through to have a point. If someone like me who has come out through the other side is still worried to discuss it because of how others will respond, it’s clear change needs to happen. I’m no longer afraid to share my stories though. I suppose part of it is that I look at my own children and know I would do anything in the world to help them. So I have a burning desire to get my story out. If I get through to one person, whether I encourage a parent to talk about cutting with their child or I give a teen some hope that it really does get better, then it’s worth it.
Note: I haven’t linked beyond Geek Mom, because of the concern I have with promoting self-harm through many of the links that are out there. They can be enticing to those who injure themselves, so I’ve opted to avoid it. Geek Mom has some helpful ones in the article however and obviously, plenty of information is available online.
If you or someone you know needs help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)