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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Self-Mutilation from a Cutter's Perspective

(Scroll down for 25 Feb update to this entry)

Had it not been for Skillzy, I wouldn't even have been aware of the contention circling around the blog world concerning cutting and self-mutilation. As anyone who reads this blog knows, this is an issue near and dear to my heart. Bleeding Out the Pain is my personal website chronicling my own struggles with this addiction and terrible problem.

Most of what I read on the blogs was misinformed, confused, or out and out ridiculous. Some of it was cruel and heartless spoken out of pure ignorance on the subject. The majority of posts that Michelle's Malkin's piece The new youth craze: Self-mutilation spawned were written by those with only intermediate knowledge of self-mutilation; or worse, no knowledge whatsoever. Even with A Small Victory's sound take on the subject, most people are still missing the real issues in this debate. I think it's time that someone with a little authority speaks out on the subject.

I'm not going to go into a lengthy dialogue about my background with cutting. There's my self-injury site and blog archives for all of that if you're so inclined or feel a need to check out my credentials. Suffice it to say that I've been down the road and the lost battles of my past stand out like a glaring beacon on my mutilated arms every time I go out in short sleeves. In other words, I live with this every day. I don't want your sympathy - I did this to myself, but understand that I've been in close contact with the world of self-mutilation for over ten years.

I created Bleeding Out the Pain as a way to help me cope with my own problems and as I began to go through the process of recovery. It was also a way to reach out to others who might be going through the same thing and felt alone. The night before I walked myself into a mental health clinic I spent hours scouring the Internet for personal websites on self-injury; it helped immensely to know there were others doing this same insane-sounding thing. In the years since that time many young people have contacted me to say my site helped them, and many others took up correspondence with me for a time to discuss their cutting problems. An alarming trend I saw from all of this was the very thing that Michelle Malkin brought up in her article: it was becoming a "cool" thing to do for today's youth. I knew that many years before Malkin wrote her obtuse article on the "new craze".

As I drove to work this morning I thought long and hard about what I would say here - how I would address these issues; the main ones I feel people are missing in all of these dissertations? I really can't tell you how deeply this hurts me or explain to you why I've been in tears for the better part of this morning. Perhaps it's Malkin's irresponsible assertion that someone like me, who cuts and has cut themselves, is nothing more than a bored, attention-seeking Emo kid. Maybe it's the fear that young people with a real problem with self-mutilation may get passed off as one of those bored, attention-seeking Emo kids and not get the help they need. It could be the fact that we are living in a society where children aren't taught self-respect, self-esteem or self-love and choose to hurt themselves as an alternative to healthier modes of coping. And it might just be that even after all these years and all these struggles we recovering self-injurers have gone through to make the public aware that this is a real and serious problem, it might all become regarded as nothing more than childish antics. That those of us who advocate helping self-injurers will be seen as no more than pushers perpetuating the glamorous world of cutting and self-mutilation to innocent and susceptible children.

All of this has been weighing heavily on my mind.

This has nothing to do with music, and even less to do with ignorant journalists trying to sensationalize a subject on which they have no knowledge or background and didn't take the time to research. The quandary here is that there is an alarming rise in self-injury by today's youth. Why? And what can we do to stop it?

The first thing is to realize what self-mutilation is. I'm not going to go into why or how - that's been covered and the reasons and ways can be as varied as the people who do it. People who self-injure are not freaks, they are not begging for attention. They have a real problem. And they need real help, and real understanding. I've written more on self-mutilation as an addiction, but felt it would make this post too lengthy; click here if you would like to read it.

Irresponsible articles like Michelle Malkin's do nothing more than cast self-injury as some attention-garnering child's game; a "fad" that that is more of a status symbol than any real problem or cry for help. It sheds misinformation on a sincere mental illness and glosses over the very frightening fact that the number of self-injurers is growing at an alarming rate.

Malkin's inclination is to blame the music. How is it that when a genuine issue arises involving our children today our first thought is to cast blame on the media? To me, that's a cop out. One of the biggest problems with our youth today is that everyone tries to put the blame for their disturbing behavior on something else.

Then Malkin goes on to attack Christina Ricci, one of the many Hollywood stars that have come out as a self-injurer. In the self-injury community, people like Ricci are lauded. For so many years cutting was not treated as a serious mental illness, or was simply thrown off as "suicidal" (which is far from the reality of the situation). When famous people began admitting their problems with self-injury, it became real. For the first time when I told people who asked about the scars on my arms, "I used to cut myself" they didn't look at me in horror and say, "What in the world?! WHY would you do that? I've never heard of such a thing!" When self-injury became a known true and real problem, self-injurers started getting the help they needed and deserved. I have no problems with anything Christina Ricci said about self-injury; her stories of what she did and how it made her feel are authentic. They help shed light on something that most people don't understand.

The important first step to be made here is not casting blame, but taking action. Cutting is not cool and that needs to be the message we're spreading. Not "stop listening to that music" or "just stop cutting already". Yes, cutting is a rising phenomenon among today's youth - now, what are we doing to do about it? Give me something concrete - don't pawn this problem off on music and celebrities.

Another real problem here that people seem to be missing is what I call the "Everybody Cries Wolf Syndrome". When you have a large number of people "playing" at and experimenting with what is a real problem or mental illness, those that are truly suffering and need help get grouped into that category of those doing it as a fad. There may be a child out there who truly has mental issues - who is truly cutting and cannot stop by herself and needs psychiatric help. But because of the large number of kids that are doing it because it's "cool" she is seen as just another blase, pseudo-tortured kid trying to be heard by jumping on the bandwagon. She doesn't get the help she needs. That, in my opinion, is the larger problem here. Articles like Malkin's that are spreading the "it's a new craze" perception only worsen this dilemma.

Self-mutilation has been around for a very long time, and it will continue to exist for as long as there are mental illnesses. I don't know what the answer is to combat the rising number of young people latching on to cutting. For my part, I do what I can. I have my site, and I listen to those that contact me; I counsel those that come to me themselves. I talk with those concerned relatives and friends who ask me questions and try to understand why and how they can help their loved ones. It pains me deeply to see someone going through the trials of self-mutilation. It isn't a joke and, for a lot of people, it isn't a "fad" or done to "be cool". It's a very real problem - that needs very real help.

25 FEB 2005 - UPDATE
Following up on Michelle Malkin's Update

Michelle Malkin seems upset that people are criticizing her "The new youth craze: Self-mutilation" piece. I'm not sure what she expected when she tackled such a grave and serious issue with the trite commendations of modern culture.

I don't believe that Malkin's intent is to trivialize cutting or self-mutilation. Yet while her heart might be in the right place, she is attacking the problem from all of the wrong angles. Delegating self-injury into the category of "fads" and "new crazes" severely damages the fledgling self-harm community. It is just in recent years that self-injurers are being recognized as their own unique group; that self-mutilation is being seen as a serious problem & mental illness and is being treated as such. Beforehand it was lumped into a conglomeration of other problems and was not properly treated. Because of the emergence of self-injury as a distinctive addiction and problem, help became available to those who suffered from the affliction.

Even more hurtful to me, as a cutter, is Malkin's inclination to place liability on modern culture. I am not at the whim of the media mavens and I'd like to think that people, even young adults, have enough sapience not to blame their shortcomings and compulsions on music and celebrities. Sadly, this is the bandwagon that people have jumped on in increasing numbers as the years passed. It is so much easier to blame something else than to simply admit there is a problem that is out of our control.

Where Malkin misses the mark is her belief that shedding light on what might or might not be causing kids in larger numbers to carve into themselves is going to solve anything. If a parent reading her article thinks that deterring their child from listening to certain music is going to stop that child from ever cutting, that parent is in for a hard blow.

I began cutting at the age of 14 or 15. It had absolutely nothing to do with music, stars or celebrity of any kind. At that time it wasn't a "fad", all the kids at school weren't doing it and I honestly believed I was the only person that found solace in slicing at my arms with razor blades. I didn't show off my marks, but painstakingly hid my cuts and the ensuing scars behind long sleeves and seemingly superfluous jackets in the summertime. I didn't come from a broken home and I wasn't abused. I was a scared teenager like most of you were that happened to find a coping mechanism for the pains and trials of my prepubescent years in a blade; others found it in alcohol, music, drugs, or exorbitant sex.

I don't (and didn't) "fit the bill" of a teen who would be cutting by Malkin's standards. I didn't listen to "sad" sappy music, I wasn't "goth", and I wasn't starved for attention. There was no Internet for me to connect to other cutters, or to view graphic pictures of bloody wounds. Regardless of what is on the Internet, the radio, the TV or on the pages of a magazine, kids are going to hurt themselves. Why? The problem is not what the media and accessible sources are feeding them. The problem is not Christina Ricci admitting she hurts herself. The problem is a media that shoves plastic perfection down our youth's throats and can't understand why they hate themselves. The problem is people blaming the wrong people for the wrong things and thinking that solves anything. If Michelle Malkin truly cared about the rising number of children hurting themselves, she'd use her notoriety for positive change - not for a smearing hate-campaign against pop culture. What we need to be doing is teaching children that CUTTING IS NOT COOL; we do not need to be casting blame and throwing our hands up in disgust. We need to work together to fix this problem with our youth rather than blast what the purported causes might be. They're doing it - they've always done it, they'll continue to do it for any number of reasons that you can come up with. If you took away all of the media "problems" and possible causes that Malkin brings up, you would still have young kids hurting themselves as a desolate method of coping.

I'm tired of people saying "Oh, they're doing it! How horrible!" I am disgusted with people saying, "It's this person's fault!" or "This is making them do it!" I'm ready to hear people say "What are we doing to stop this? How can we make a positive change for our youth?"

As long as we keep pointing fingers, we are not addressing the real issue. As long as we are blaming this on asinine things like "fads" and "crazes", we are hurting those children that have real problems and need very real help. This isn't a fad, it isn't a "new craze". This is a very serious issue that has been around for a very long time, but is getting worse. What are we going to do about it?

- shanna bared her soul & griped a bit @ 7:36 AM

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