I don’t remember where I got the idea. Maybe from school. Maybe from a teenage TV drama. What I did know, though, is that it would feel good. Well, “good” didn’t matter. I just wanted to feel something.
I didn’t know the technical term until therapy, but I’m what’s known as a covert perfectionist. On the outside, I look all “whatever happens is cool with me, dude,” but on the inside, I’m a tense bundle of nerves. I need to be perfect. I have to be perfect. If I failed at this mission, the consequences would be unbearable.
At 15, that manifested itself in putting an obscene amount of pressure on myself. I had to get good grades so my teachers would like me. I had to be the good kid at all times so my parents would love me. I had to be everything to everyone so they would be happy, and that, in turn, would make me happy.
In reality, all of this had the opposite effect. The pressure I put on myself, the exhaustion of being who I thought I needed to be, made me numb. I couldn’t feel anything anymore — not joy, not sadness, not pain. I was a shell of a teenager with a smile glued to my face and a lax attitude to greet everyone with.
Then I broke.
The scissors were on the bathroom counter, and with shaky hands, I separated the blades and slashed at my arm.
It hurt. It hurt a lot. But that was the point. I felt something again! It was pain, but it was something. It was more than I had felt in months. And with the pain came tears. Tears from the torn flesh on my wrist, yes, but also just tears of release. Blocked up and clogged emotions were unleashed in that horrific moment. I could feel again.
The cutting continued for months. I’d feel overwhelmed, then depressed, then numb, then I’d release it all again through self-harm.
My sister eventually found out and told our parents. I felt unconditional love that night. I felt it. I felt a positive emotion after months of darkness.
Therapy helped me discover I had suffered from a major depressive episode, and over the years, I’ve learned that depression in its various forms is a part of me. And that’s okay. It’s something I live with and cope with on a daily basis, and I’m thankful for the medication that makes daily living possible. I wish I’d had these resources back in high school.
This is just my story as to why I self-harmed. I felt too much pressure to be perfect, and it almost killed me. On the outside, I know that some teenagers appear to just be going through the typical hormonal angst that accompanies these years, but that’s not true for all teens. Some of them are really, truly suffering, and they need someone to reach out. To ask questions and intently listen. To hug them and love on them. To offer support.
If something with your teen seems amiss, please don’t sweep it under the rug and dismiss it as something everyone goes through. It may be scary to know the truth, to see the scars, but you can be a light. You can save their life, like my parents and my sister saved mine.