22 January 2018

Deromanticising self harm *trigger warning*

Deromanticising self harm *trigger warning*

There's a weird section of the Internet that glorifies everything that is traumatic, and I can't even put into words how angry I am that it exists, but I totally understand why and how people can get swept up into it. Self-harm is brutal and painful and happens when you're struggling so much that you turn to something that you can't take back. But there are masses of people who congregate, or just spread the message alone that self harm is beautiful, and it's not. 

Tumblr is one of the main sites that I've experienced it on, but it happens on Instagram as well as a whole variety of dark corners of the web. Through pictures and text, and text on pictures, the message is out there that self-harm is in some way weirdly romantic. The posts don't come up with a trigger warning. They're in your face before you know it, and whilst you know you shouldn't look, deep down there's that desire to see how things compare. 

The pictures don't tell the full story. They show a snapshot into someone's life. They show the post-self harm view of a self-harmer, but they don't show what happens after that, or what led to that, or how things escalate. By isolating it in this way, it makes it seem manageable, and controllable, but it's not.

Films that involve self harm have only ever made me angry. Films are designed to have a plot arc: a beginning, a middle, and a happy ending. But life as a self-harmer doesn't go so smoothly. There's not always a guy to sweep you off your feet and miraculously fix your problems, and you're not the side character whose problems get overlooked in your own life. You're the lead, and there's no one guiding the script.

Before we get all deep and meta on this, I just want to do a little myth-busting on the whole topic, so that there's one tiny place on the Internet that someone can go to and remember that self-harm isn't romantic. Recovery is possible, and I've written all about my journey here, but the act of self-harm itself is something we shouldn't make seem hopeful, or happy, or beautiful, because it's not. And if you've never done this (please never do), here's an insight into it that might help you understand things better:

1.) It's not spontaneous. There's a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing before the actual act of self-harm. For me, it's spiralling. I'd start to feel shit and then get that urge and then feel more shit until my head was flooded with all the awful things I've ever done and I couldn't see a release. That could take a long time, and fighting myself to not self-harm was often more painful than the act itself.

2.) It hurts. It hurts for days afterwards, and sometimes you move too suddenly, forgetting that it's there and you're hit with a wave of oh my god now I'm triggered. It's all you can look at and all you can think about for days and it just makes life so difficult.

3.) The urge can hit you wherever you are. The only way I can describe self-harm is as an addiction. You're constantly on the hunt for your next fix and who gives a fuck if you're at school or at a friend's or home alone? You don't.

4.) Scars aren't a way to connect with people. People don't look at your self harm scars and cry 'me too' and suddenly you've found someone to connect with. People stare at them when they think you're not looking, or even when you know they are looking and it just makes you feel worse.

5.) Recovery is tough. It's not about throwing away your blades and being done with it. You have to unlearn all the coping methods you've been using and find new ways to deal with pain and trauma. If I could go back to a time when I hadn't self harmed and tell myself not to do it, I would. And I dream of a world where no one ever wants to start.

6.) You have to clean up. This is different with different types of self harm. But you don't just do it, and that's it. You need to make sure things are kept clean, change plasters and bandages regularly, and it's so triggering to have to keep cleaning it.

7.) It isolates you. Self harm isn't the way to find your soulmate, or gain a new group of friends who 'get' you. Some of my closest friends and ex-partners have or do self harm, and although, yes, sometimes it has helped us to get closer, it makes everything so much harder. You do trigger each other (even if you don't want to believe it). You keep secrets from everyone in your life. Whether it's wearing long sleeved shirts all the time, or the fact that you can't tell them you don't want to do something because it'll hurt your self-harm and ultimately it will drive a wedge between you and other people, where there are gaps in your life you can't explain.

I've honestly found writing this so so hard (and I'm trying not to get teary). Being a self-harmer shat all over my life, and the forums and posts and images shared of it all over the internet make me absolutely livid. I understand why people share photos of themselves when they self harm. It's isolating, and it's something that you're feeling so intensely, it's hard to keep it all in. But, I'm so glad I never shared any photos myself, because although it's your body, you can be triggering someone to do the same thing, and I can't see anyone wanting to do that. 

This post isn't here to seem patronising, or to make you feel like shit because you self harm. It's there to show the flip side of the coin; to show people who don't self harm that it's not something to be taken lightly, or that you can just 'get over'. It's life consuming, and it's more than what that picture shows.

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  1. This is a really brave post and so, so important for tackling this huge romanticisation stigma. I can remember this whole 'culture' being created on tumblr and it fucking up the recovery of a lot of people I know. The media doesn't help whatsoever and you're so right about films and TV catering to young and impressionable audiences. It should be talked about more, but in this brutal and honest way with no hint of saviour complex or romanticisation. I'm glad to see that you're working through this and are in a position to write so honestly, stay strong Steph!

    1. Thank you so much! I know so many people who have been triggered by tumblr over and over again, and I just want there to be a place on the internet where it's not glorified

      Steph x


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