“Why are you wearing your jacket?” a friend of mine asked me this summer. “It’s 98 degrees outside.”
“I get cold easily,” I replied, and looked for another way to change the subject as quickly as possible, wishing I did not have to lie at the same time. For many people, physical health issues most affect how they interact with others in their daily lives. For me, it has always been mental health.
I remember when it first happened, how angry I felt at the moment, yet how sad I felt after it had happened. I had had an argument with my parents, and I was so mad that I did not know how to express myself. So I grabbed the sharpest object I could find, a knife from the kitchen, and cut myself until my arm was dripping with blood. I could not help but cry as I looked at my arm bleeding, burning, stinging, and all because of me and my uncontrollable anger. I realized at this moment that what had just happened would affect me for the rest of my life.
As if I were not having a hard enough time trying to cope with it myself, things got even more out of hand when I went to school the next day. I remember getting ready for gym class and putting on my gym uniform, a short-sleeved shirt and small shorts, without even realizing what I was getting myself into. Before I even finished getting dressed, a classmate looked at my arm and said, “What happened to your arm?!” loudly enough for everyone in the bathroom to hear and rush over to see what had happened.
The next thing I knew, I was being bombarded with questions: “What did you do that for?” “Do your parents know about it?” “What if you had accidentally cut an important vein and died?” Meanwhile, the classmate who called me out sneaked away to tell the teacher what had happened. As I left the bathroom, the teacher stood there with her arms folded, glaring at me angrily. “Let me see your arm!” she demanded. I knew the chaos that would result from doing this, but I did it anyway. After that, the teacher and the rest of the school staff had a “meeting” about me, and teachers that I did not even know soon came up to me asking what had happened. The teachers tried to help by telling me to read the Bible more and pray away the “self-mutilation demon” (I went to a Christian school) and telling me that God was not happy with me, without even trying to see where I was coming from or why I did what I did. I did not let it bother me, though, as one of my biggest concerns was telling my parents what had happened. That burden was quickly taken from me. When I came home from school, I heard my dad talking on the phone to someone. He seemed to be upset about something, but I could not tell what. The next thing I knew, I heard him say, “I didn’t do anything to him, so they can’t blame this on me!” Right away, I knew he was talking about me. I tried sneaking away to my room only to get caught and be reprimanded by him and my mom in the same way my teachers had reprimanded me.
I hoped that it would be something that would happen and then go away, but the scars on my arm, as my dermatologist pointed out to me, would probably stay forever. So far, she has been right. All throughout high school, I was never able to wear a T-shirt or anything that showed the scars on my arm, as people would get curious, ask me questions, and then tell me that I needed medical attention. In the cases where I had to show my arm (my mandatory swimming class, for example), I just told people a stray dog did it.
The same scenarios often repeat themselves in college, except that now I refuse to do anything that requires being in water besides taking a shower. Even when I go to the gym and work out, I can’t help feeling a little bit awkward when I notice that I am the only one exercising in a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. Thankfully, most people either think that I have never been to the gym before and therefore don’t know how to dress for the occasion, or that I simply love to sweat as a part of my workout craze.
Even being intimate with someone is more complicated, as someone gently caresses my arm and then asks, “Oh, no, what happened?” And I either lie right on the spot or tell the truth and suffer the consequences. “I can’t have sex with someone who hurts himself,” the person doesn’t say, but I can just tell that is what is going through the person’s head. Even when friends invite me to the beach, I just have to very kindly say no and hope that they respect my decision.
Although my self-mutilation problem happened roughly seven years ago, it affects how I interact with people even to this day. For me, the most important thing that one can do to help someone with a mental health issue is offer love and support to that person, and not judge him or look down on him. Personally, I know cutting myself was a mistake, and I don’t need every person who looks at my arm to reiterate it to me. Also, to people who hurt themselves, I would just like to let them know, as someone who used to do it, that there are better ways to handle your problems. It’s not worth it to hurt yourself over what oftentimes are only temporary problems.