[Trigger Warning: Self-Harm]
Our team has been so busy this month that we’ve delayed putting up a piece for September’s National Suicide Prevention Month and for October World Mental Health Day on the 10th. Even though these are just specific dates where these issues come to light and encourage ease and conversation, everyday is Suicide Prevention Day and everyday is World Mental Health Day.
I’m an ex self harmer. I started in my mid teens and don’t really remember how it started. It’s a huge blur and maybe it’s my mind not wanting to revisit those moments although there are some memories of which I self harmed that I will never forget. I remember why, what and where each happened, what was said when there was someone present and the emotions I felt going through it.
In high school; in Hong Kong, my closest friends all did it. Looking back on it now I realise that none of us ever talked about it with each other. None of us knew exactly what we were going through but we went through it together albeit in silence, like a nod from across the street or a hat tip.
It’s been a few years since the last time I hurt myself and as I turned 30 this year, I know it will always be a struggle for when things get tough. It takes a lot to get me to that place, a place where you feel the world is ending and there is nothing left to lose and your emotions are running high and you are unable to think rationally.
I like to think of myself as an open and honest person but in my teens and early twenties, I shut off and shut down. I felt like I was the only person going through a hard time but I know for a fact we all were, we just didn’t talk about it.
A 2016 survey by the Paediatric Society and Paediatric Foundation in Hong Kong found that more than a quarter of secondary school pupils had thought about committing suicide or self-harming in the previous six months.
Maybe at 15/16 years old we didn’t know how to ask or speak to each other, but sharing the burden and knowing someone else was there to listen would have been a huge weight off our shoulders.
One of my worst memories of self harm was when my friend cut herself in front of me in her kitchen. It was incredibly tense and emotional, she was crying over something that had happened with one of her parents and as they left she took a knife and took it to her forearm. I stopped her immediately and her helper and I tended to her. She was hysterical and I was in complete shock. I had witnessed something that I went through alone and in private but the act of her doing it in front of me so desperately and hopelessly was such a cry for help it broke my heart, my friend was in pain and I couldn’t do anything to take it away but I’m so glad I was there to hold her. We were 15.
The definition of self harm states as deliberate harm to oneself. Self harm doesn’t have to incur an obvious wound, it can be seen in many forms, from burning, poisoning, scratching, substance abuse, hitting objects or yourself in a way that is impulsive but not intended to be lethal. It is also known as DHS, Deliberate Self Harm.
I can’t speak for others but for me it acted as a replacement, a diversion. All of a sudden my crying subsided, my hyperventilating turned into heavy breathing, then eventually normal breathing. This was all from seeing the destruction I had caused my body. But I was calm, I was quiet, and I was still. As if I was curiously watching a fish swimming in a pond, my attention had flipped, the problem seemed to have dropped out of my mind and my focus was on this new replacement pain, the fish in the pond.
I have scars all over my body, my stomach, my arms, my thigh, my ankles. Writing this brings tears to my eyes because I know that self harm is such an act of loneliness and helplessness. Many people say that it’s attention seeking. While I think it’s true in some capacity, it’s not attention seeking as it is help seeking. It’s a cry for help, it’s a cry for someone else to start the conversation because the harmer can’t themselves.
I’ve lost two friends to suicide and almost another. I remember sitting in her hospital room, then going to dinner surrounded by all our friends, holding her hand, supporting her and laughing together, it was like nothing happened and yet again we didn’t talk about why she ended up in hospital. I think this was due to not wanting to bring the issue to light and actually tackle it head on. Talking about it may have made it more real and we chose not to go down that path. In hindsight, we absolutely should have, but this felt like a moment to be positive and optimistic. We were also in our teens and this was hush hush or problematic or “touchy.”
I haven’t told many people this but I’m finally okay for this to be out there, and if I can help in some way by talking about my story then I’m happy to put it out there.
I live close to the beach so I can’t hide my scars, sometimes people ask and I tell them with no hesitation and that will be the end of that. People will talk, people will stare, people will have their own theories, and I don’t let it bother me anymore. I would always cover up my body, I’d always wear a tshirt with sleeves and never tank tops or tube tops or skirts. I was meticulous and aware, I did not want people to know.
My scars have held me back from wearing certain clothing and going to certain places where they might be seen. I had accepted a plethora of modelling jobs, most of which I then apologetically cancelled myself. I was very aware that showing up with scars like I had would cost a retoucher and make up artist extra hours, so I decided to not put myself through it. I also didn’t want to have to explain to three or more strangers what they were and how I got them, which I’ve had to do.
I have since decided to not care.
This will always be a battle, and I know it won’t always be like this. But my thought process about it has changed over the years, as it became apparent that as every moment of anger or sadness subsided I was left with something permanent. I honestly didn’t want any more reminders embedded in my body and I didn’t want to have to explain myself, I wanted to move on and deal with my emotions in a healthier way and honestly, I knew I needed to treat myself better.
I know that time heals and the moments will pass but it’s important to speak to people you trust, surround yourself with people that uplift you and people that can help you think objectively but supportively. I’m happy to say I’m not embarrassed like I once was, this is a part of me. We’re all going through something or have done that has undoubtedly shaped us. If you open up you might be surprised to hear a similar story back, or maybe completely different but nonetheless, common ground, a shoulder to lean on and a burden to share.
Please reach out to someone if you are in need of help. There are people there for you.
Reach out to:
The Samaritans @samaritans_hk (24 hours) Phone: 2896 0000
Suicide Prevention Services (24 hours) Phone: 2382 0000 /
Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres @hkfwc.1981 Phone: 2386 6255
Shall we Talk @shallwetalkhk20 https://shallwetalk.hk/
Mind Hong Kong @mindhongkong https://www.mind.org.hk/
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention @hkucsrp https://csrp.hku.hk/