28 Keystrokes

By Nik Wiles

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.

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Comments (15)

  1. Myra

    Thank you.

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  2. Sadie Ashley

    Thank you for this. I can remember one time when ended a “good” stretch even tho it was a good day just because I was tired of the anxiety of wondering when I’d “mess up” again. I’ve come a long, long way since then but it’s always there, you know? And it’s so hard to admit (I don’t, actually) that it’s still so present in my thoughts and memories even though I’m in my longest good stretch in years. So thank you, for writing this, so I could read it. And nerdy word-lovers unite. 🙂

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  3. Sarah

    Yes, Thank you.

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  4. Fio

    Wow. I’m amazed. Thank you. It’s difficult to talk about it, but it helps to heal (knowing that from experience)

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  5. Scarlet

    I love this.

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  6. Nancy

    28 keystrokes. My life

    Reply  |  
  7. Stacie

    Brave. And a good use of your English major skills. 👍

    Reply  |  
  8. Danika

    I struggle too. I went a year and then relapsed…twice in one month. It was so hard to open up about it and it didn’t go over too well so thank you for this. It hurts knowing your family and close friends shame and judge but it really helps to know there are those out here that understand. Thank you again.

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  9. Rena

    Thank you for writing this.

    I still remember this one time when I had a mark on my arms and my little sons asked me where it came from. I’m fearing these questions all the time, for how can I be a role model to them, how can I tell them to love themselves, when I don’t know how to treat myself right, when I have to fight ever so often for not giving in to the urge to hurt myself.

    I still remember this horrid day when an acquaintance asked where this mark came from and my husband laughed and said “Oh, it didn’t happen accidentally. She did it to herself“. I still remember the shame, the embarassment and the betrayal I felt at this moment and I don’t want to ever feel that way again.

    So thank you for having the courage to type those words. Because they are oh so true. Because every time, someone telks a story like this, it helps breaking down the stigma. Because thanks to you and everyone else as courageous, there might come a time, when I can confess it myself, certainly without being proud ofit, but without me having to be ashamed of it, either.

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  10. Angela

    I struggle with self-injury.
    I’ve struggled this past week. I keep picking at the (comment removed due to content), hoping that will keep me from doing it again.
    My son is 16. He hasn’t asked and I wouldn’t know what to say anyway.
    Trying to stay strong!

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    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Angela,

      You are incredibly brave for sharing your struggles. We hope that you will seek out the help that you deserve for yourself and your well-being. Please look at our help page here: And if you would like to, you can email us at We would be honored to hear more of your story, and will reply back as soon as we can. And if you are in need of immediate assistance, please text TWLOHA to 741741 via Crisis Text Line. You will be connected to a trained counselor.

      You do not need to hurt yourself. You deserve love and kindness, from yourself and others.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  11. Rosiiie

    Beautiful. Thank you for writing this.
    I’ve just crashed out of an ok stretch and things feel darker and murkier than ever before. I normally push myself to talk because I know it’s good to let other people in, but this time I’m struggling to talk to anyone, to let anyone in.
    I needed to hear this tonight, thank you.

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Rosie,

      We’re glad that Nik’s words could help you in some way. You are not alone in how you are feeling. It’s good to recognize when you need to talk (even when you would rather keep it all inside). Please email us at if you would like to share your story. We are always here to listen and will reply back as soon as we can. And if you are in need of immediate help, please text TWLOHA to 741741 via Crisis Text Line, you will be connected to a trained counselor. Sending you infinite amounts of hope and love.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  12. Ramon Shitta

    I teared up at the part “Mommy! Boo-boo!”. It both highlights the innocence and strength of that moment at the same time. Sometimes ignorance is really the best. I often fear that as we share most of the good in our lives, we forget that we are able to have lapses as you called it. Thank you for sharing

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  13. Kerina Rae

    Thank you so much for sharing this. For allowing us to read and understand no one is alone with this. To know that every time I struggle thru another bad moment and each time it’s harder to walk away from the “wild child” side I call self injury; that even if I finally after almost 8 years of being ok, I still won’t be a failure if I break down on my path. But because this website exist and people like you share your story…tonight my “wild child” stays safely caged for another day or week or who knows how long. So again thank you for sharing and reaching someone that needed to know even failing isn’t failing it’s simply another path I had to chose which way I needed to go.

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