With the following 28 keystrokes, I am going to write one of the most difficult sentences I have ever written for a public audience:
I struggle with self-injury.
Why is that so difficult to admit? I have openly talked about so many of my other struggles. Depression. Bipolar disorder. Anxiety. Suicide attempts. This is where I usually throw in a bit of humor to lighten the mood. You laugh. The tension releases. It’s hard to admit that, as I write this, my throat is tight.
I’m at a loss for a punch line.
When my two-year-old daughter notices my scars, she touches them and says, “Mommy! Boo-boo!” I wonder about what she’ll say when she gets older. I wonder what she’ll ask when she gets old enough to understand what they are. I wonder what I’ll tell her. But yes, my child, they are there; they are boo-boos. They are the type of boo-boo that people don’t often like to talk about.
If you struggle with self-injury as well, this is what I want to say to you:
You know the stretches of time where you’re managing OK? Those long periods—you know—a day, a week, a month, a year, years. Those stretches? Sometimes they end. It happens. I want you to know that it does not make you a failure. You, like myself, sometimes torture yourself with guilt even though you shouldn’t. I want you to know that a lapse does not mean no other stretches will come. You can persevere. You can continue to more stretches of “managing OK.” Heck, sometimes you can even manage well, excellent, fabulously, [insert your preferred, positive adjective here]. Your lapses do not define you.
If you know someone who struggles, this is what I want to say to you:
That friend or family member who struggles with self-injury has trusted you with one of the deepest, toughest, and most vulnerable parts of their story. Do not make them feel ashamed. Do not question their motives. Do not accuse them of seeking attention. Just love them. Just love them so hard it feels like it can wash away any wounds, any scars, any boo-boos.
Three words, a hyphenated compound word, and a period. That’s the structure of the sentence I struggled to type up there:
I struggle with self-injury.
If you’re wondering why I broke down the structure of the sentence itself, it’s because I’m a neurotic-when-vulnerable-slightly-awkward-but-mostly-amazing-English-major (ah, there’s the laugh).
Stigma makes it hard for that structure to exist. Stigma makes it hard for those 28 keystrokes to happen. Stigma makes four words nearly impossible to write. So, I offer myself, a vulnerable and terrified example to follow, in hopes that we will continue to break down stigma with our openness. In hopes that when my daughter, fifteen-years-old, asks me about my scars, I’ll be able to give her an answer. Not the right one—it’s not about having all the right answers. But an answer all the same.
None of us can heal if stigma holds our lips together tight. And that goes for all mental health struggles, not just this one. However, this is the one I want to talk about today.
So, know this: I’m not judging you, friend. Please be vulnerable with me, with others. Talk about your boo-boos. Be brave with your own keystrokes, your own words spoken out loud. People will meet you in your honesty. First you have to invite them in.