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Self Harm and Short Sleeves

Mind if I take a look?’

I just told my doctor that I’d been self-harming. I’m sure you can guess why he wanted to look but it sounded such an odd request to me at the time. Does he think I’m making this up?

Self-harm isn’t much talked about within men’s mental health and the only reason I can think of is that people don’t see it as a ‘manly’ thing to do. For whatever reason, cutting yourself is seen as a  ‘teenage girl’ thing. However, recent research may be showing that self-harm, in all its forms, is just as common among men as it is among women. It’s just we don’t seek the help we ought to.

Without going too far into detail, which might make you lose your lunch, I started self-harming by being clumsy. During severe depression, I was vaguely helping out in the kitchen when I picked up a pan of boiling new potatoes without an oven glove. It took me a while to realise, like a toddler, that I was feeling something, and even longer to realise that it was pain. Also, deep inside, my poor brain had registered that it had made something it hadn’t made in ages. Endorphins.

These are the happy making chemicals you get during exercise, orgasms, feelings of love, and oddly enough, when eating spicy foods. There is an idea that you can get addicted to endorphin rushes and although that in itself isn’t a problem, the way you get endorphins could be. If you’re in a period of severe depression, you probably won’t be doing much exercise, sexual or otherwise, you probably hate more than you love, and a piece of toast can look especially dry. Maybe this was what led me to burn myself again.

I remember it was mechanical, like the large majority of my actions at the time. The pain temporarily cut through the thick fog I existed in. This is one reason for self-harming: wanting to ‘wake up’ from feeling numb and disconnected.

I never cut myself because I just couldn’t do it and frankly, didn’t trust my knowledge of anatomy! There are, of course, many more examples of self-harm besides cutting and burning. Reckless drug-taking and drinking, risky sex, dangerous driving (and not the adrenaline junkie sort). Scratching, self-poisoning, punching walls or punching yourself.

I nearly broke my fist the first time I was dumped by punching a wall. In itself, it wasn’t self-harm but I can see with marvellous retrospect that it was the beginning of the mechanism in my mind for coping with stress: pain. In one particularly ‘dramatic’ moment that now makes me cringe, I once gave myself a black eye and a nosebleed while yelling into a mirror. I was trying to cope with stress and wanted relief and calm. But I was just stuck in a loop.

Mind if I take a look?’

This time it’s my now ex’s sister. She asks me why I did it. I tell her, ‘I used to…not be…very happy.’

See, people probably won’t notice your scars but if they do, what are you going to say? You need to think about it and also allow for their grimaces or frowns. My sister mentioned an oil she used to get rid of stretchmarks. I started using it on my arm but stopped. I don’t see the scars very often and when I do, I tend to think ‘Christ, that was ages ago!’ I’ve accepted my scars won’t disappear and often I end up having conversations with people about them and hope they come away informed.

Finally, to those of you who still self-harm, one last tip from my personal experience: rubber bands. My therapist told me to wear one (I chose the red Post Office ones) and to twang it against my skin whenever I felt stressed. You get the pain but you don’t break the skin. For me it was a great solution and meant i could get on with my life.

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