CW: Anxiety, Self-harm
They never teach you all the ways to do it, only that one. If it’s something else, maybe it doesn’t count, you think. At school, I’d slide my fingers close to my scalp and pull, over and over, end up with hairs tightly wound and fit to slice. I could never leave a scab or scrape alone. Once or twice I scratched my face to calm my nerves, and of course there was the year I didn’t eat. Still, I never tried That, never selected a tool for the job. I think about it sometimes – I am rocking the breadknife’s blade against my wrist, letting it leave shallow, whitish corrugations – and have to suddenly abandon lunch.
I could collect sharp objects, arrange them in a semicircle on the floorboards and, kneeling in the curve, consider. I try not to think about that. But I do think using something is too much for my brain to comprehend, too many steps. I’ll lose hours agonising over how to tidy up, or go to bed, or start a conversation: all the little bits and pieces that make those tasks whole. Adding a blade or a pin or a match to something my bare hands can achieve in a dissociative half-hour seems impossible. Scratching and picking and squeezing at sensitive spots, reopening wounds that healed tentatively overnight – that does the trick. I strike and scratch my thighs, and gnaw on my lip, and slam my head against the wall, and there are no bruises, no cuts. Sometimes red reminders of my nails’ work remain, but not for long.
The most visible physical harm is remembered by my hands: the sides of my fingers rubbed raw and splitting, the nailbeds swelling and filled with pus. Mostly I do this in my sleep, strip off cotton gloves sticky with cream and wake up in the dark, wringing. A year (or fifteen) of trying to fix the cause, and here this symptom is solved in a day: a phone call and a trudge through heavy rain, the jeans I should have shortened dragging in the mud, and the doctor will see me now. When he cradles my hand in blue sterile gloves I try not to show it’s the first time I’ve been gently touched in years.
Isabelle is a writer from the UK who spends too much money on books and too much time thinking about Martin and Lewis. You can find Isabelle @Ph4ntomR3q on Twitter