I first experienced loss my senior year of high school. While family members had passed away in my childhood, this was the first time I was able to fully process what had happened. My former stepbrother, the son of my mom’s ex-fiancé, died suddenly from a seizure. While he and I had continued to be friendly when we saw each other after our parents’ split, the discomfort between our families resulted in ours not being able to attend the wake or funeral.
I felt as if there was a volcano in my stomach and chest that had built up all this pressure but wouldn’t erupt. No crying or screaming or running or hitting things made the pain lessen. My grief overwhelmed me to the point where it was difficult to stand up right.
This was the first time I cut myself.
It seemed to be the only way to release the pain that I couldn’t expel through all the ways I’d dealt with hurt in the past. I thought it would only happen that one time, but soon enough it grew into something I no longer felt I had control over. Every time I hurt, cutting myself seemed like the only way to come back down to my baseline.
At first I was ashamed. I feared that if my mom found out she would be angry and would tell me I was crazy and send me away. I hid it well around the house, but it was otherwise not my best-kept secret. I admitted it to my high school boyfriend immediately, then to some friends at school. After being the object of their sympathy, I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Though my bubbly personality became diluted and I wore three-quarter sleeve shirts through the summer, nobody ever brought the topic up again. While I didn’t want to start the conversation, I truly wanted someone to ask if I was okay.
As I entered college things became worse. On top of the expected stress of this life transition, I dealt with heartbreak, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse in my first semester. I was cutting more frequently, and I didn’t feel that my pain was worth anyone else’s time. I didn’t work too hard to hide it anymore.
Only one friend was brave enough to say something to me when she saw fresh cuts on my arms, and to this day she is one of the truest friends I will ever have. She cried and told me to please stop because she loved me too much to watch me hurt myself. I thought I’d be angry if anyone confronted me about it, but my immediate reaction was panic. When I ran off, she checked in on me asking me to come back and get lunch. She made a point to ask the difficult questions from then on and to make sure I knew that I always had someone to talk to when I didn’t feel I could handle my emotions. For a year I had felt like I was drowning in a public pool, but nobody noticed I was underwater. Her willingness to cross the boundary of comfort to help me get better felt like finally being pulled back up to the surface. Even if I did dip below sometimes, I knew there would be a hand to pull me out when I needed it.
It took me three years to stop cutting entirely. I got in the habit of asking those closest to me if they noticed when I slipped up. Most often, the answer was yes. When I asked why they didn’t say anything, usually they said they just didn’t know how. I didn’t blame them. Figuring out how to bring up that kind of topic is a struggle in itself. Asking if someone is hurting themselves is scary. Asking if someone wants to die is terrifying. It is uncomfortable to tell a friend that you are afraid they’re experiencing those feelings. It is asking them to let you in to what could be a very intimate and personal part of their lives that hurts to talk about. If the answer is no, you can go on like normal, but if the answer is yes you might not know what to do to help that person from there. So it’s easier not to ask. I urge you not to think this way.
There is rarely a smooth way to ask someone if they are putting themselves in danger of any sort. Though it may be awkward and uncomfortable, the best thing you can do is just ask directly. Yes, there is a chance they will get angry with you. Maybe you’ll have a fight. Trust me when I say they will forgive you, and they will be so grateful that you reminded them that someone cares about them and that they are worthy of love. I certainly was. Maybe you don’t know what to do from there. It isn’t all on you. There are so many avenues of help available. Accompany your friend to the guidance office or counseling center if you are in a school. If it’s an emergency, go with them to a hospital where they can talk to someone. Maybe the best thing you can do is help your friend figure out how to talk to their family about it so they can work together to find help. No matter what avenue you take, the most important thing is that you ask when you notice something is wrong. For all you know, your showing your friend that you care about them so much that you’re willing to overcome discomfort to help them could save that person’s life.
I can proudly say it has been two years since I last slipped up. It took many long walks, tears, and uncomfortable moments of admitting my pain to get to this point. I’ve begun journaling again and have found solace in loved ones who have worked to overcome similar difficulties. It took me many months to truly feel I was lovable and worthy of people’s time the way I had before I started cutting, but I did get there. Though I still sometimes struggle with the feeling that cutting myself will ease my pain, I have learned to cope better. I honestly do not think I would have gotten here if nobody had been willing to confront me and directly ask me to please stop. Every day I am grateful that someone did because I have learned to love myself again and have grown into someone so much stronger than I was five years ago.
Special thanks to Beth Teague for this phenomenal article. Always remember to support your friends and loved ones (and even strangers). Sometimes the hardest and most uncomfortable questions can save lives.
And always remember, you are not alone.
You are loved.
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