Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weekly Geeks #4

Annoyingly I missed last weeks Weekly Geeks which was about childhood books as I was away so I thought I would get involved again this week. Copying straight from The Hidden Side of a Leaf this weeks theme: Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.

My theme is self harm ie cutting, burning, deliberately causing physical harm to the body (I am not focusing on eating disorders here although they are linked). It is a theme that speaks to me personally. I started self harming at the age of 15 using a compass at the back of class one day and moved on to using a razor blade. It is something I relied upon for the years to come as my way of exerting control, proving that I was real and bled like any other and trying to dispel the numbness that consumed me. I suffered from depression as well as a mixture of anorexia and bulimia, but cutting was my main outlet. It is hard to explain but many people confuse it with sucicide attempts which it never was for me. It was more a way to show myself that I was alive and without it I am not sure I would be here today. Now I am 28 and have been self harm free I think since I got married 2 years ago. My husband knows I will never make a promise I won't do it again as I think it will always be a part of me and something that surfaces again. I still get tempted when I feel my life is spiralling out of control and I do still have periods of depression, but things have mostly been positive in the last couple of years.

I don't believe I have addressed the issues that made me start harming, things have just settled down somewhat. I had a few years where it got really bad and I had to go to casulty for stitches and my arms are very scarred. I used to be very careful about always wearing long sleves, but now I don't really bother so much (obviosuly I do at work and around my mother, father and grandmother). I get comments from strangers but fob them off just saying it was from when I was younger and elaborating. Why should I, I don't know them! It isn't something I really talk about as I feel it makes others uncomfortable, but it is not something I am ashamed of any more. My scars are like my tiger stripes and they are a reminder of what I went through to become the awesome person I am today! I see them as marks of survival rather than something to hide and deny.

There was an interesting quote in The Scar by China Mieville which was not about self harm but which struck me as applying in my case: "Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing after injury, a scar is what makes you whole." And on that note, on to the books I have picked for this topic.

The Luckiest Girl in the World - Steven Levenkron

"She told herself it wasn't happening. Even as her heart began to pound and she had to work fro breath, she told herself it couldn't happen now.. Soon she'd feel as if she were disintegrating into hundreds of pieces, and she'd have no way to stop it...she pushed back the wrist-length sleeve of her skating dress and looked a the underside of her forearm, which was criss-crossed with dozens of small white and red scars."

This is one I have at home but haven't yet read. A fictional account of self harm based on his psychiatric work with harmers.

Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wurtzel

A book that really reached out to me and that I hope to read again. About depression, self harm and drugs written as an autobiography. It was the first time I found someone else who could put into words what I was feeling.

The Bell Jar - Slyvia Plath

Similar the Prozac Nation, a mostly autobiographical account of Plath's struggle with depression and harming herself. A very important book to me as well and one I hope to revisit.

Cutting by Steven Levenkron

A non-fiction account of cutting, understanding it as well as some help to overcome it. Quite useful for those who have a family member self harming and are unsure what to say or do.

"Cutting takes the reader through the psychological experience of the person who seeks relief from mental anguish in self-inflicted physical pain. Written for self-mutilators, parents, friends, and therapists, this book explains why the disorder manifests in self-harming behaviors and, most of all, describes how self-mutilators can be helped."

Cut - Patricia McCormick

One I haven't read but saw a review of at the weekend. Aimed at teen readers and is billed as a sensitive treatment of self harm in a fictional setting. The heroine of the tale is a self harmer and is admitted to an institution and is about her battle to want to get better. Definitely one I will be adding to my list soon.

This is a photo of me and Alex taken the week we got engaged and we used it on our posters for our first DJ night. Sadly I have put on a bit of weight since then grr but it does show what part of my arm is like with it's scars. Don't worry if you are squeamish, there is nothing gruesome shown.


gautami tripathy said...

This is one issue that needs to understood. I as a teacher see many a students harming themselves. You have named great books.

I have read The Bell Jar. I think I will read it again.

Child Abuse

gautami tripathy said...

BTW, I finished reading The Blind Assassin.I posted a review today. I am linking yours. You can link mine if you want to.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rhinoa, I admit, I wasn't up for reading your post (I'm sorry!) but I have so enjoyed ALL the posts, I wasn't going to avoid any... and after seeing your comment at the end asking if this would be ok - YES! OF COURSE! Very brave, very honest, very touching. Actually, a book I just read touches on cutting, very very briefly but the comments were interesting - House of Meetings by Martin Amis. eHugs to you - thank you for this post. The whole point, for me, and what I've enjoyed about this week's geek, is that we have so much to learn!

Ana S. said...

"My scars are like my tiger stripes and they are a reminder of what I went through to become the awesome person I am today!"

Very well said! You really have nothing to be ashamed of. And you know, when we met I thought that you were brave and that you were comfortable with yourself, and that only made me like you more.

This is an issue I struggled with at one point when I was younger, but not for as long as you, and not as intensely. I only have a single scar on my right wrist and it's more or less faint, so I don't have to deal with people asking questions. I also had friends who cut, and it's hard to know what to say, or when the best thing is not to say anything and respect the person's privacy. Like you said, cutting and suicide attempts are NOT the same thing, and this is something parents and teachers sometimes forget. But on the other hand I do understand their concern.

All those books sound very interesting. The only one I've read is The Bell Jar, and Prozac Nation has been on my list for a while. I love that quote from The scar, btw, and that picture of you and Alex is lovely.

Thanks for being brave enough to share this.

chrisa511 said...

Thanks for sharing this with everyone Rhinoa. I think it's great that there are people out there like you who are willing to talk about cutting and other issues like this so that they're not so taboo. When I worked in the hospital we had so many teens who would cut and they wouldn't turn to anyone for help because who would listen? They were going through this alone, right? I'm so glad that you put a post like this out there...you never know if someone may be googling one night now and find your story and all of these links to books they can relate too.

Congrats on the 2 years with no cutting! It really sounds like you're in a better place right now and I'm happy for you for that. That's a great picture of you and Alex :)

Eva said...

Thanks for sharing on such a personal topic! You and your husband are adorable. :)

One of my really good friends cut in high school, so he was always wearing long sleeve shirts even in a south Texan summer. Like Nymeth, I was never sure exacly how much I should pry, so I just made him promise that if he ever thought about suicide, he'd let me know. College made a big difference for him, which is nice!

Dewey said...

I don't know if you saw my response to your comment on the WG post, so I just want to say here that yes, of course this topic is suitable! It's obviously a topic that matters to you, so there you go, it fits the criterion.

I noticed an interesting reaction I had to your post. Since I am close to someone who used to self-harm, I am, I like to think, pretty informed about it. I've read a couple of the book you featured, for example. But when I read that you wear long sleeves around your parents, I immediately felt angry on your behalf, thinking they were probably the cause of your pain in the first place, and now you're hiding the results. But then I realized that was a stupid assumption. But I think it illustrates why people react strangely to self-harm. I think it's because it forces them to confront the idea that the person in front of them was once (or still is) in such pain. And it makes them wonder what the problem is and if they can help, but then uncomfortable about butting in and offering help.

But I think we all deal with pain in different ways, and yours only has shock value because people can see it, unlike so many other ways.

Dewey said...

P.S. So glad you survived and became this awesome person! :)

Kim L said...

I liked this post, thank you for sharing your story. I had a good friend in high school who was cutting for a while, and it was so hard to watch her go through it.

And you are so right... scars are part of what make us what we are!

Maree said...

Great post, and that's a great pic of you and your husband _ you're a cute couple!

Rhinoa said...

Firstly thanks to everyone who left me a comment here. I was very nervous putting this up as it is a very sensitive topic. You made me realise I did the right thing being open about it.

Gautami - Thanks I linked to your Blind Assassin post. I think this is an issue teachers need to understand as it was in school that I first started harming. The nurse in my college made a point of calling my mum and telling her a few years later which I thought was very unprofessional and got me into a lot of trouble both at college and home.

bkclubcare - Thank you for taking the time to read it despite being nervous. I hope it opened your eyes a little to a mostly unspoken topic.

Nymeth - Thanks *blush*. It is something I am open about in person and it is much more difficult to discuss here randomly. I hope you were able to get help and support when you were younger.

Chris - I love the idea of someone googling and finding this and it letting them know you can get past it even though it seems at times it will consume you. I make no promises I can't keep but I know Alex (my husband) is really proud of me for not harming in such a long time.

Eva - Yes it is a pain to wear long sleaves in the summer. I still have to do it every year for work and it's not nice getting the tube in London in rush hour and not being able to wear something more cooling. I think university helped me, I learnt a lot about myself there and I am glad it worked out well for your friend too.

Dewey - Thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean about the shock value, it is often ignored when people are taking drugs and abusing alcohol is the evidence is not in sight. It is the same with eating disorders, but harming is often harder to hide. The main reason I wear long sleaves around my parents (not so much my dad now) is just that is upsets them to see the scars. They found it a difficult time themselves when it was at it's worst and I don't think they like to be reminded which is fair enough. It is more my mum's husband who would have an issue about it and I just want to avoid the drama.

Kim - A couple of my friends started doing it a little later than I did and I found it very hard to watch as well even knowing what I was going through.

Maree - Thanks, it's one of the rare photos where he thinks I look better than him!

Robin said...

Rhinoa, I admire your honesty and courage in talking about this issue and in sharing your personal experience with it. I was very moved by your story, and think it is so important for all of us to learn more about this problem -- especially those of us that work with young people, so we can recognize some of the emotional pain that eventually leads to this condition and then maybe find a way to reach out and help before it gets to that level of self-harm.

Dewey said...

I think that in the summer I would wear tank tops on the tube, putting on a long sleeved jacket or sweater or something over that just as I arrived at work! I hope your work has great air conditioning.

alisonwonderland said...

this post is just so great! thanks for being brave enough to be "real" about this important issue.

i have had Cut on my to-read list for quite a while. i read The Bell Jar a number of years ago. the other books you've listed look interesting too.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I sent you an email--hope you don't mind. :)

soleil said...

i have read The Bell Jar several times and even did a paper on it in high school. i definitely related to it. i have also read Prozac Nation. Cut is on my TBR list. i never heard of those other two but they sound good. i used to scratch at my wrists with staples under my desk and sometimes at home i would make a slice or two. but mostly i scratched and scratched and scratched at my wrists until they were red, raw and sore.
this was a really brave post. i think you are awesome and am really glad to have you as a friend.

mariel said...

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been, and must still be for you, and truly admire your courage, not only for dealing with the prejudices and ignorance of some of the people you must have come across, but also for sharing your experiences here.

Noone should ever be ashamed of suffering from depression or self-harming. From what I have seen and know, it seems to me that only those who have experienced depression and/or self-harming themselves can really understand what it is like to go through it, which makes it all the more important that you have shared your story. I have the utmost respect and admiration for anyone who is able to work through such a painful time and still be willing to share it with people, be they strangers or close friends.

Great book selection. Prozac Nation is one I've wanted to read for a while (since you recommended it to me!). Wishing you the very best for a self-harm free future, and congratulations on two wonderful years of marriage! xx