“I always hated when my scars started to fade, because as long as I could still see them, I knew why I was hurting.” – Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care
I am a self-injurer. Have been since childhood. Part of the reason has always been to feel something other than emptiness, loneliness, or emotional pain. However, part of the reason has also always been to make my pain be visible. Not even necessarily to others, but to myself.
It feels kind of odd to admit this. After all, wanting to express pain is seen as overreacting, attention-seeking. We are taught to hide and numb out our pain.
I once read a Dutch book on psychosis which started out by eplaining that today’s psychiatry is aimed at ignoring people’s inner experiences, or altering them with drugs. According to the author, we live in a kind of brave new world, where everything is aimed at individual and social stability. Take some soma, baby! And I can relate, having resided in a psychiatric institution for almosot seven years. When I feel stressed, the first response from the nurses is usually to ask if I need a tranquilizer. In fact, when I resided on the locked ward, I’d call oxazepam my “shut up pill”, because nurses would tell me to take it whenever something irritated me.
Please note that psychiatric drugs have some place in treatment of severe mental illness. I take various medications for anxiety, irritability and emotional instability. Sometimes though, I’ve wanted to quit my medicaiton because it numbs me out.
Psychiatric drugs aside, many people are taught that to feel pain is to be weak, and to express it is to be even weaker. Most survivors of trauma feel guilt for the pain they experience, because, you know, others have it worse, it wasn’t that bad after all, you name it. I am still working on admitting that what I suffered was real, and the pain I feel is real as well. Just today, I saw another quote. Something along the lines of: “Your struggles are valid even if others are struggling more.”
Another common misconception is that physical pain is somehow more real than emotional pain. There is a huge stigma associated with mental illness, more so than with physical illness (I’m not saying there’s no stigma associated with physical illness). People all too often think that we can “just get over it” when we’re experiencing emotional turmoil, whereas if there’s something physically or at least visibly wrong with us, it’s real. I am not immune to this, and in my case, this idea perpetuates symptoms such as disordered eating and self-injury.
If you want to get over emotional pain, the first step is admitting it is there and that it is real whether it is associated with visible scars or not. You should not have to convert emotional pain into physical wounds to be taken seriously. Expressing pain in a healthy manner should be allowed, encouraged even, and should be enough to deserve support.