girl in shadows

The Truth About Cutting & Self-Harm

By Kimberly Zapata

The first time I took a blade to my wrist, I was 15 years old. I don’t why I did it. I’ve scoured old journals for clues. I’ve read through dozens of sheets of angsty poetry in the hope of finding answers, and I’ve thought about it time and time again. But the why I cut myself eludes me — at least when it comes to that second. That moment. What I was thinking remains a mystery.

Of course, I didn’t cut deep enough to do real damage. I just wanted to see something. To feel something. To remind myself I was still alive. And the sight of blood was enough; it meant I was still breathing and my heart was still beating. In spite of the emptiness and numbness, I was still “there.” And that was comforting. Early on, the visualization, the sensation, the warm rush and pain had me hooked.

After the first time, my methods changed. I tried a variety of “tools” over the years — each with its own unique impact and effect. I used steak knives and butter knives, safety pins and straight pins, and I used my own nails. Scratching, as it were, an itch I couldn’t see — and I would scratch this itch whenever I was feeling too much — be it sadness, frustration, anxiety depression, guilt or self-loathing — or I just needed a release. Because for me, cutting was a release.

It was the eye in my hurricane, the only way I knew to quiet my mind and calm the storm.

But perhaps more important than the act itself was the scar it left behind — because then, finally, I had something tangible. Something real. After I cut, there was physical proof of the pain I was in, and it brought my invisible illness to life. Somehow, it made me feel less crazy and less alone.

Of course, this probably makes little to no sense, especially to someone who has never battled with mental illness or has never self-harmed. But cutting — and self-harm in general — isn’t about the death. It isn’t about pain, and it isn’t about the injury. Not really. Not completely. Instead, it is about being. It is about breathing, and it is about taking control and feeling alive — and many reformed cutters echo similar sentiments.

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