National Self-Injury Awareness Day
January 30, 2003 3:03 PM   Subscribe

"We are male and female. We are artists, athletes, students, and business owners. We have depression, DID, PTSD, eating disorders, borderline personalities, bipolar disorder, or maybe no diagnosis at all. Some of us were abused, some were not. We are straight, bi, and gay. We come from all walks of life and can be any age. We are every single race or religion that you can possibly think of. Our common link is this: We are in pain. We self-injure. And we are not freaks". 29 days until March 1 - National Self-Injury Awareness Day.
posted by nthdegx (42 comments total)
I thought this was better posted prior to March 1, than on March 1 - here's hoping one day it will be International Self-Injury Awareness Day.
posted by nthdegx at 3:17 PM on January 30, 2003

[drops keyboard on toe]
posted by quonsar at 3:18 PM on January 30, 2003

posted by luriete at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2003

self-injury makes it sound like clumsy-person day. I didn't know what they were talking about until one of the links said, "also known as self-mutilation" - which to me seems more appropriate anyway, since usually the sort of thing a person with this disorder does isn't exactly an injury - cutting up their arms or faces or whatever is more like mutilation, isn't it?
posted by mdn at 3:25 PM on January 30, 2003

Self-injury, also known as self-inflicted violence or self-mutilation (most people who do it hate that term), usually involves hurting oneself deliberately in order to deal with feelings. It can take many forms; some of the most common are cutting, burning, and hitting, each of which occur in many different ways.

This is a little more common with kids than you'd think... I have a friend who works with troubled-teens (whatever that means) and the mention of it seems to pop up more frequently than I would have thought.
posted by imaswinger at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2003

We are in pain. We self-injure.

Well, the answer is obvious, isn't it? Stop self-injuring, and you'll no longer be in pain!
posted by me3dia at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2003

A friend of mine was in a behavioral unit for a while after his divorce went badly, and there was a young lady there who was a self-mutilator. One morning she managed to get someone's disposable razor (the staff wasn't sure how as they were supposed to be under tight control) and she gouged her arm flesh all the way down to bone before someone discovered her. She insisted it wasn't a suicide attempt, which seems plausible as she had more than enough time to have opened a vein if that had been her intent.

I often wonder what happened to her since then, but I'm not so sure I really want to know.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:35 PM on January 30, 2003

People calling themselves a "Self Injurer" always sounded more detached and clinical to me. But that is a good sign IMO, as opposed to using the term "cutter" which in my experience has always popped up as an identity term. I have worked with, and have been friends with, people with mental illness for the last 5 years or so. Watching the appearance of scars on a young woman with smooth milky skin, as she slowly cuts and gashes up the inside of her arm alone at night is something I wish I could forget. As a friend I often felt powerless and horrible as if someone else was causing that pain and there should have been something I could do about it. In some situations depending on how well you know the person and how much they trust you, you cannot do anything. Horrible in the truest sense of the word to see flesh (one's living body) desecrated (don't interpret this word too much) and tortured like that.

Well, the answer is obvious, isn't it? Stop self-injuring, and you'll no longer be in pain!

If it were only so simple.
posted by Tystnaden at 4:10 PM on January 30, 2003

Well, the answer is obvious, isn't it? Stop self-injuring, and you'll no longer be in pain!

Nope. Talk to some of these terribly suffering folks and you'll hear "I only feel real when I cut myself", or "Cutting myself is a release."

Given the remarkable self-destructiveness of people generally, these behaviors aren't really that unusual. As with any of us, there are absolutely valid, understandable reasons for particular behaviors. And despite those valid reasons, we nevertheless must help people move themselves beyond such behavior. All people.

The acceptance and resolution of that odd little paradox is key to solving a whole host of problems, in addition to that of personal self-injury.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 4:11 PM on January 30, 2003

I think me3dia was making a joke off the emotional pain causing and the physical pain resulting equation.

Watching the appearance of scars on a young woman with smooth milky skin, as she slowly cuts and gashes up the inside of her arm alone at night is something I wish I could forget.

would it have been any less heartbreaking if her skin weren't "smooth and milky"?
posted by mdn at 4:18 PM on January 30, 2003

mdn: Absolutely not. But I had this bad taste in my mouth after hearing the word "freak" and reached out for something with a kick. Color contrast between scar and skin sticking in your brain, that type of thing. Skin color is irrelevant to the logic, just useful to the rhetoric in a totally non-race based way.
posted by Tystnaden at 4:31 PM on January 30, 2003

If I were cruel or heartless, I'd say that this is simply the gene pool weeding itself out...but I've known some kids (and was borderline one myself eons ago) with this, and their pain and hope for release via self-injury seems authentic. Strange, the many forms disease can take...
posted by davidmsc at 5:09 PM on January 30, 2003

MDN: would it have been any less heartbreaking if her skin weren't "smooth and milky"?

[On preview: did you mean this as a race issue or a 'young and pretty' issue? I'm taking it as the latter. Young, pretty black girls can have milky skin too. And though I'm white, there's no way I'd drink milk that's my skin's color, unless it's labelled 'ice coffee with caramel'. :) ]

Yes, it probably would be less heartbreaking to me for an old and ugly person to harm themselves, and probably also to you and almost everyone else. And of course were the self-mutilator my grandma, who hasn't had smooth milky skin for some considerable time, it probably would have been more heartbreaking to me than a young and pretty stranger. People care about each other more or less depending on all kinds of factors, including attractiveness and family ties.

While it is a good thing to aspire to treat everyone as well as you can, it is not a good thing to deny the fact that you will, in the course of your life, treat some people better than others: your family, friends, and lovers.

As for self-harm in general, my opinion is that it most commonly manifests itself not in cutting one's skin, but in self-destructive behavior like smoking and excessive body piercing and sadomasochism and petty crime and excessive drinking and getting into fights and so on and so forth. People who do this kind of thing are fully aware that it harms them, but do it anyway. How is that not self-destructive?

If you're engaging in self-destructive behavior and you want to stop yourself, I suggest that the first and hardest step is to recognise that you have a problem and get yourself psychological help. Your counsellor will most likely encourage you to develop interests and relationships, to distract yourself from a desire to hurt yourself, which is the key to it. It's above all else a symptom of dissatisfaction and boredom with life.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:29 PM on January 30, 2003

That second link is a great one. I had no idea this behavior was so widespread. It's nice to see an issue that on the surface seems to be batshit crazy addressed with compassion and reason.

Aeschenkarnos, this doesn't necessarily have to be chronic behavior. Much like a drinking binge, some people seem to only do this once in a blue moon.
posted by Samsonov14 at 5:43 PM on January 30, 2003

MetaFilter -- We self-injure. And we are not freaks
posted by matteo at 5:51 PM on January 30, 2003

Well, I'm glad that the reaction ratio of "Freaks!!" to "It's disturbing, but I can understand it" is tipping more towards the latter end of the scale. It does sound a bit strange but awareness is one way of beginning to solve the problem. I self-injured for about seven years and have only recently been what I consider recovered (for about a year).

My own reasons for it were that emotionally, I felt numb inside; I didn't know how to deal with a lot of the crap in my life and it was a release. The physical pain was more real than what was in my head. It was also a way of showing my pain on the outside, wearing my scars as evidence that I was hurting (which went hand in hand with the twisted wish that the abuse I was going through would become physical instead of staying mental/emotional, so there would be proof of what I was going through and that people would notice and help me get out of it).

Thanks for posting the links, nthdegx.
posted by sammy at 6:12 PM on January 30, 2003

I haven't read through all the links yet, so sorry if this has been asked and answered anywhere, but -

Are these (or similar sites) more geared towards support of those afflicted with a disorder, or towards promotion of the disorder itself, a la many of the pro-bulimia sites out there (which I won't link to)? And even if these truly are supportive, isn't there always going to be a point where they cross over to the other side?
posted by yhbc at 6:40 PM on January 30, 2003

it probably would be less heartbreaking to me for an old and ugly person to harm themselves

i find this image more disturbing than the young and pretty version. at least the young have more of time ahead of themselves to sort out their issues and go on to lead a long healthy happy life. no one of any description should be so at their wit's end or so numbed by their experiences that they need to hurt themselves to feel alive.
posted by t r a c y at 6:46 PM on January 30, 2003

yhbc, see this from the second link. Just as puking ain't cool and cutting yourself ain't cool, trolling ain't cool.
posted by Samsonov14 at 6:54 PM on January 30, 2003

There are quite a number of people on the support forum I frequent that deal with this. It seems to be some sort of emotional release...they deal with stress or inner pain by cutting. It is a definite subset of my disorder...although I must admit I was surprised how widespread "cutting" is. Some have pointed out that when they are cutting that is the only time they feel anything.
There are actually people who resist going to the hospital while in an acute episode of depression or whatever because they know they will not be able to cut in that environment-I suppose you would have to say they are addicted to self-harm.
posted by konolia at 6:54 PM on January 30, 2003

Thank you Samsonov14. I do appreciate having that section pointed out. My question was serious, though. I just hope there aren't sites that glorify or otherwise "rationalize" (normalize?) the behavior.
posted by yhbc at 7:15 PM on January 30, 2003

shouldn't evolution have weeded out this, er, tendency? i'm actually being serious -- how many "self-injurers" do you think there were, say, in the 15th century?
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 7:48 PM on January 30, 2003

. . . maybe a better way to put it would be: why are self-destructive behaviors more prevalent now (or are they just more talked about)? this is all very bizarre.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 7:56 PM on January 30, 2003

konolia: It's very addictive.

sirmissalot: Think self-flagellation. It seems to me that this is a very similar thing; many of these people are grasping for meaning, and in the 15th century, that generally meant 'religious fanatic.'

I did this when I was younger (very mild cuts). There used to be a gallery somewhere online where you could post pictures of your scars/cuts. I don't really see the problem with it; my stress release these days is smoking, which is certainly more harmful. Why is it OK to cut yourself for artistic reasons (scarification, piercing) but not as a release? (I'm not being rhetorical or snarky, I'm really interested in what the moral difference is. Is it just the fact that you are trying to cause pain instead of doing it despite the pain?)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:54 PM on January 30, 2003

Evolution doesn't govern as much of human behavior as most people currently think. The brain is a ridiculously complex system and ridiculously complex systems do strange things. (Plus, modern life isn't exactly the african savanna we're evolved for.)

[/ too glib and off-topic]
posted by Tlogmer at 8:54 PM on January 30, 2003

Just a question froman ignorant soul here, but if they aren't killing themselves, and they say that "it makes them feel real or alive", then why is it a problem? I mean, they aren't hurting others, and it's makes them feel better, so isn't this a case of "whatever floats your boat"?
posted by dazed_one at 9:36 PM on January 30, 2003

...or towards promotion of the disorder itself, a la many of the pro-bulimia sites out there?

Good, relevant question. I think one of the major ways you can see the difference is to ask someone who cuts how they would feel if they were responsible for causing another person to start (or continue) cutting. Most self-harmers would drown themselves in guilt if they knew they were responsible for someone else's cutting in any way.

then why is it a problem?

Also an important question. The act itself isn't truly the problem, as everyone has vices with different levels of danger associated with them. The real problem is that people are avoiding deeper problems when they resort to self-injury (at least, that's what I was told). It's almost like when someone goes out drinking every night to forget their problems. The drinking itself isn't a problem, but the fact they are using it to avoid real problems is. (bad analogy, but you probably get the point)

On the concept of self-injury versus self-mutilation. Please don't use the term self-mutilation, it implies a very specific set of motivations and circumstances that is somewhat demeaning. Self-injury or self-harm aren't always as negative.
posted by dogwalker at 11:36 PM on January 30, 2003

yhbc - I know of no sites that glorify or promote self-injury. i am sure some must exist but i would never link to them. most people that self-injure that i know recognise it as a problem and really really want to stop. they have no idea how. plenty of people just seem to grow out of the problem - but many don't. i have a problem with people that wear SI as a cultural identity, but in other ways i think their problem is as/more acute.

We are in pain. We self-injure. Well, the answer is obvious, isn't it? Stop self-injuring, and you'll no longer be in pain!

I'm sure you were joking, me3dia, but just in case this wasn't obvious to anyone - the pain is a cause, not a result of the self-injury. people do feel better after taking a knife to themselves - if only temporarily. The key is to find another way - and that is the goal of an awful lot of people.
posted by nthdegx at 11:42 PM on January 30, 2003

Thanks for posting this, nthdegx. I know what seems to me to be an unusual number of self-injurers (six confirmed, a couple more suspected), so this an issue close to my heart--hence the extra-long post.

shouldn't evolution have weeded out this, er, tendency?

Unless the injury damages reproductive capability, there's no way it could have a evolutionary impact. I guess the slight correlation between SI and suicide might mean that fewer people with SI tendencies reach reproducing age, but I doubt that percentage is big enough to make a difference. (That explanation also raises the question of why suicide is still around.) In any case, SI itself isn't genetic, though some of the personality traits and mental illnesses associated with it may be.

why is it a problem? I mean, they aren't hurting others, and it's makes them feel better

The concern is that the injuring is often symptomatic of larger problems: eating disorders, depression, bipolarity, or suicidal feelings. Any of those are probably more harmful in the long run than the actual injuries, but the cutting/burning/pounding itself can leave permanent, visible damage. It's easy, too, to get caught up in a particularly intense session and injure oneself more severely than intended. And they aren't hurting others? Maybe it wouldn't bother you, but it hurt me like fuck to see cuts appearing on a friend's arm and know that (a) she was that hurting deeply, and (b) had chosen to express it that way rather than ask for my help.

Whew. This is not my private therapy session, this is not my private therapy session...

Towards the end of breaking down some assumptions, below is a list of facts about my friends, relatives, and acquaintences who injure themselves. None of this is meant to imply causality.

At least two are bisexual.
One is black, one is Indian, and four are white.
One is male.
Two are actresses. One is a singer.
One is overweight. At least one is anorexic.
Five cut themselves. One cuts and burns.
Two have stopped cutting completely.
One was abused as a child.
One was in foster care.
All six are of above-average (in some cases, far above average) intelligence.
At least one has attempted suicide.
All six are physically attractive; four would be considered very attractive by most people.
One is Jewish. One credits her conversion to Evangelical Christianity with stopping her cutting.
At least two had alcoholic parents.
One smokes.
One was arrested on drug-related charges.
Three are from middle-to-lower-class families, three are from upper class families.
One was briefly institutionalized.
One interned for the UN.
All six have divorced or unhappily married parents.
One is in cosmetology school.
Two are planning to go into medical professions.
One joined the Army.
posted by hippugeek at 12:02 AM on January 31, 2003 [1 favorite]

Isn't it also similar to an obsessive compulsive disorder? I met a young woman who did this to herself very badly and was hospitalized for it. She explained to me that there are all kinds of variations on this behavior and that even on one end of the spectrum are the severe nail know the ones who bite their nails down to the nub, till theres practically nothing there. She pointed out that those that do that to themselves feel some fair amount of pain, yet they continue to do it day after day.
posted by SweetIceT at 12:11 AM on January 31, 2003

Isn't it also similar to an obsessive compulsive disorder?

I was thinking about the same thing earlier, SweetIceT. Skin-picking is another one that straddles the line.

Forgot to mention in my epic novel above: If you're mildly tempted to injure yourself, try drawing on your skin. One of the links included suggestions for simulating blood with food coloring, henna, or paint, but regular black ink works fine for those of us who don't need the realism (or want the attention). Drawing is just about ideal: it requires intense concentration, provides concrete physical sensation, and does no damage whatsoever. If self-expression is the goal, you can develop a vocabulary of complex and beautiful symbols that only you understand; if communication is important, it's far easier to tell a friend that you draw on yourself when you're upset than it is to tell them you cut. Not to mention the entertainment value it provides during long classes.
posted by hippugeek at 12:45 AM on January 31, 2003

I've never actually self-injured and to be honest I never entirely understood why people did that to themselves. And yet three years ago I thought seriously of doing it. I had a shitty job with an increasingly toxic workplace atmosphere, I was doing a voluntary thing on community radio that was also going to hell in a handbasket, and in general things simply were not good. And the idea came to me one day that, you know, if I just broke my arm or something, that would solve at least part of the problem. After all, it was a primarily manual job, and if I had one hand or arm out of action I couldn't do it so surely that would have to help...

I didn't do it. I wouldn't have known what to do and I'd probably have been too chicken to do it. I've never wanted to do it since then. But I still had the idea to do it, and that's what horrifies me even now, that once upon a time I did have that idea and maybe I would've carried it out. I didn't understand the idea behind self-injury before, I'm not sure I entirely understand it even now... but I must've understood it then. So I don't view the subject lightly at all.
posted by H.B. Death at 2:52 AM on January 31, 2003

How do you define self-injury? Wouldn't it amount to far more than merely injuring one's body? What about life patterns, addictions, the psychological realm, etc., etc.?
posted by troutfishing at 6:07 AM on January 31, 2003

Reminds me of this person..

I remember in school people dabbling with this kind of behaviour. One of my friends stubbed a cigarette out on her hand in front of me. It seems to be part self loathing, part attention seeking, part showing off, part cry for help .. whatever. I think the shocking thing is not the injuries that result, but the state of mind that is revealed. People don't want to deal with people who have a compulsion to be miserable.

I wouldn't be surprised if it was linked with other self-destructive behaviour symptomatic of depression such as alcoholism, drug addiction and anorexia.
posted by Summer at 7:17 AM on January 31, 2003

Put me down as a past self-injurer. In recent years I have done it a time or two, usually while extremely depressed and highly intoxicated.

I'm trying hard to control myself here... me3dia, I understand you meant what you said to be humorous, but is comments like that that are some of the most hurtful you can make to a cutter. Asking a cutter, "Why don't you just stop?" is like telling an alcoholic, "You don't really need a drink."

Most of us wish to god we could stop, but it is the only way we know of to deal with our pain. In fact, the fact that it is abnormal, and viewed by some people with a strange sort of loathing, creates a vicious circle -- the cutting causes guilt and self hatred. The guilt and self hatred leads to a more intence need to cut.

It's a tough circle to break out of.

As for why? ... ... hard to say. It's not like it's something you conciously choose to do. Most of the times I've ended up with a blade in my hand and blood running down my arm started out with me being angry/depressed and suddenly getting a compulsion to do it. Not a concious choice, but a nearly overwhelming need: I must cut. I will feel better.

Another thing about cutters: They're very impressionable when it comes to cutting. Being in an environment that even remotely reminds someone of the feel of razor tearing skin can bring on a need to cut.

Even now, though I consider myself reformed, I reading this thead has put a little voice in the back of my head that's trying to force me to go to the bathroom and whip out my Leatherman.

I will not give in. This time.

posted by jammer at 8:13 AM on January 31, 2003

"It seems to be part self loathing, part attention seeking, part showing off, part cry for help"

So how do you account for people who keep their injuries hidden and show them to know one?

It's a phenomenon that can have very different causes for different people.
posted by nthdegx at 8:24 AM on January 31, 2003

[On preview: did you mean this as a race issue or a 'young and pretty' issue?

I was thinking "young pretty white girl" actually, though young, attractive and female were the attributes I was most concerned about. I feel as if a certain degree of this is "you're too pretty to hurt yourself", and that it's not so much the emotional pain of the patient but the fact that she's ruining what we like most about her. Young women in general have to deal with being singled out for how they look rather than other facets of their person, and this disorder often seems to bring that out, in the cutter and those treating her.

I've never cut myself but I remember a friend once asking, "do you ever beat yourself up?" and me responding, sort of surprised, "sometimes," only to realize he meant, do I ever sit and obsess about what an idiot I am (which would have elicited a much more casual, um, YEAH.)

Yes, it probably would be less heartbreaking to me for an old and ugly person to harm themselves, and probably also to you and almost everyone else.

I think that's highly dependent on what sort of interactions you've had with the person and even if they were limited, what sort of "vibe" you got from them, etc. But you may be right; the gut reaction may be worse when it's someone young and attractive to you. That doesn't mean we should condone that attitude, though. Being conscious of your reactions can help you alter them.
posted by mdn at 9:25 AM on January 31, 2003

I think the problem with finding explicitly pro-cutting sites, or at least sites that can promote self injury as a form of emotional release, is that they are invariably going to be mixed in with your standard body modification sites. I have a hard time believing that all of these people are doing this for purely aesthetic reasons, but then again I'm sure that some of them are. (People may find the pictures in that link disturbing so be forewarned)
posted by guyincognito at 10:08 AM on January 31, 2003

I doubt there would be any connection at all. Apples and oranges.
posted by konolia at 10:47 AM on January 31, 2003

konolia, did you look at the site?

self-mutilation has always been linked to other things - most commonly to religious / spiritual experiences. Self-expression seems a natural avenue to take over from religion in the modern world...
posted by mdn at 3:14 PM on January 31, 2003

I wish I was like you
Easily amused
Find my nest of salt

Everything is my fault
I'll take all the blame
Aqua seafoam shame

-'All Apologies'

K.C. wasn't a cutter that I know of, but these lyrics feel so very appropriate here. Depression, guilt, self-punishment... Google search for "kurt cobain cutter" pulls up this fairly quickly (scroll down, see highlights). It's all so very prevalent...
posted by Shane at 8:14 PM on January 31, 2003

Shane, I think it's highly likely that Kurt Cobain did harm himself in lots of minor ways before he gave himself the most drastic cut of all. Depression is not about objective success, it's not a rational response to one's circumstances, it's a mental illness. A person like Cobain, wealthy, acclaimed, a father and husband, can still feel himself an utter failure, his life worthless and empty. Given the means, at the wrong time, and a lack of inner resistance and reasons to keep living, a depressive will kill themselves. There usually is no "reason why".

Which brings up the idea that minor self-harm can be a kind of suicide-prevention: "I refuse to kill myself, but I still want to harm myself, so I'm only going to cut myself."

Hey, nobody's brought up intense bondage sex yet. "There's a fine line, between pleasure and pain, you've done it once, you can do it again ..." :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2003

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