Who will save me from myself?
My journey through self-harm and depression.
(TW: Self-harm, depression)
Words by Naomi Yeo.
It was a fierce battle between “stop being weird, those blades are so old”, and “phew, I still have them.”
In the end, the latter got the better of me – I pressed my old pen knife blades on the side of my legs.
I'm a young adult – who fell into the deep, dark and insidious hole of self-injury several years ago, long past days of teenagerhood. This time, I slipped up after more than a year without having an episode – and it hit me hard. I've heard analogies of self-injuring tendencies being compared to an abusive lover – the one you know keeps hurting you over and over, but you keep going back because it's the only thing you know, and the only thing you feel you deserve – and for now, I think I see these behaviours in the same perspective.
The next day, I find myself in tears – I'm not sure why I'm crying; I'm unable to stop – I'm trying. I can't decide which is worse – falling back into this black hole I repeatedly warned myself to avoid, which hurts even more knowing I've stayed clear for so long; or feeling sad and invalidated – invalidation is one of my biggest triggers preceding an episode. It's exhausting, and I'm relieved it's not a work day. My eyes hurt from crying. With every fibre of my being, I hope my colleagues will not notice my puffy eyes at work the next day.
Invalidation is one of my biggest triggers preceding an episode.
Everything feels familiar – raised, red bumps that hurt when I brush against it as I take off or put on clothes, or when the water from the shower tap touches my skin. I can't win – if the water's cold, the wounds sting; if it's hot, they burn. I regret the episode the previous night already – why can't I remember to stay away, knowing I can never bear the consequence the next day? Part of me thinks I deserve this, as punishment for slipping up the day before.
I hate dealing with the aftermath of episodes of self-injury.
It’s an emotionally draining mess with such a high level of human agency. I feel I am to blame for hurting myself, and I am a shame. I find myself questioning how it is ever possible for me to struggle this way.
Yet, self-injury brings an odd comfort – it reminds me the aftermath is always predictable, even though it can be uncomfortable and difficult to bear. I can’t help wondering if this gives me the familiarity and predictability I crave, but don’t always get.
I'm feeling small and embarrassed. I'm ashamed and tempted to yell at myself:
“Only kids half your age do such things!”
I quickly remind myself, self-injury pays no attention to stereotypes – and find myself wishing for this to stop being portrayed as teenager behaviour. Because it isn't!
People are quick to soothe those who self-injure with words emphasising that they are loved and valued.
Yet, my moments of self-injury are not because I thought I was not loved, but because I hated my own inadequacies – I felt I deserved the hurt, as a means of self-punishment for the “bad” feelings I felt and situations that caused them. I felt the need to relieve the emotional tension bubbling at the back of my mind – nothing else seemed to help.
I dare not say I’m fully okay – but thankfully better than before, with measures that have helped tremendously – church community and the gospel, therapy, antidepressants which help with mental health struggles. Yet, self-injury remains a constant struggle – one that seems to lie dormant for ages before erupting again, never dissipating for good.
Sometimes, well-intentioned words of encouragement feel like empty platitudes when they come from people who are privileged not to struggle in the ways they had intended to encourage you for.
More than once, when the mental fog seems to dissipate, I have found myself questioning how this could ever happen to me – me, who sought academic success in school as much as I could? Who never skipped school or fell into bad influence? Who resolved never to do things like that because it would make my loved ones sad – and no way would I hurt them this way.
How could this have happened to me?
While I wish no one would need to learn the same hard way I did, I believe there are lessons to be learnt even in my deepest moments of shame.
Through this, I've learnt to be slower to form stereotypes of others – people who appear functional may have deep invisible hurts. I'm still a work-in-progress on this, though – at times, I am taken by surprise and instinctively express my disbelief when someone I least expect shares with me that they too, have struggled with issues like this.
I believe the empathy l bring (after I've gotten over my initial moment of surprise!) to someone with similar struggles is precious – while encouragement is always treasured, the words with strongest impact on me are those from people with similar lived experiences to share. Sometimes, well-intentioned words of encouragement feel like empty platitudes when they come from people who are privileged not to struggle in the ways they had intended to encourage you for.
At the time of this writing, I am coping much better than I used to. Throughout this journey, I have repeatedly asked God “why me?”, but I have also now come to know the sufficiency of God’s grace in this aspect of my life.
To quote the lyrics of Laura Story’s Blessings – what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?
I hope this sharing of my own personal trials will grant you solace in knowing you are not alone too.