It seems such a long time ago now, when I first started cutting my skin. A one-off response to feelings of overwhelming anger and pain when I was fourteen led me to take a knife to my arm. It would have been just a one-off, too, had I not faced those feelings again, years later. When I became suicidally depressed at university, I began to self harm again – much more so than before, until I spent every day cutting the same skin over and over, pulling off scabs and cutting where they had been. Until I used to bleed whenever I moved my arm, until I tried not to use that arm any more. It was the most terrifying time of my life, that deep depression, and the self harm was in some ways the most frightening aspect of it. I thought: I must be insane, out of control, mad – no one normal could do such things.
I know now, of course, that self harm is quite common, that many people cut, burn, or otherwise harm themselves, for many different reasons. It is not terrifying to me any more – though there is still a massive amount of stigma, both for those who are not Christians and for those who are. If you choose, you can read on the internet awful words directed at self harmers – this post is not one of those pieces.
Friday, March 1st is Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) and although I have written a series on self injury already, which goes into more detail than I will do here, I wanted to mark the occasion. I no longer regularly self injure – it is a rarity for me now, and I no longer feel the intense shame and self-hate that I used to when I did it regularly. Things can and do get better.
I am a Christian, and this blog has an explicitly Christian theme, so I would like to talk about how we as Christians view self injurers, and how we as self injurers see our faith.
There is huge stigma in churches and among Christians about mental health in general – and particularly about self harm. That is partly our society’s general unease with mental illness, and partly the result of thinking that Christians won’t suffer, that we won’t hurt, that we won’t be ill. The Bible promises not a perfect life full of ease, but reminds us that we will suffer, both as Christians and as human beings. We all age. We all die. We are all subject to the curse on all of us brought by our forefather and mother, that all the world is broken and not as it should be. We are not living in the perfect Eden, where there was no illness, no suffering, no death, but in the world of the Fall, where we will meet with suffering. Part of that suffering is illness and disease, and one of those illnesses is the depression and anxiety that often go hand-in-hand with self harm, and which did so in me.
I have heard it said that Christians will be healed of all that ails them – but when? I do believe God heals us, takes all our pain away, but I do not think he has promised us a cure for all our illnesses at a time that we choose. He may heal us, miraculously or medically, he may make us go into remission, but we also need to acknowledge that some people suffer and die. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe God will heal all – but sometimes our full healing can only come once we have cast off our body of death. I am not trying to discourage anyone from seeking healing, but we need to live with the fact that good people, people of faith, still get ill, still get disabled, still die. That is the reality of living in this world.
Are we worse sinners because we suffer more? Because we are mentally ill? No – being in pain does not make us worse than other people. The question I always had was “is my self harm a sin?” I think we would all agree that self harm is not a good thing, that it is not something God wants, although I feel that to flat-out call it a sin is harmful to those who are hurting. God does not want us to self harm: but he has compassion on people who are in agony.
For me, self harm is about control, about regaining control over my emotions when they are running amok, about control over the terrible energy that comes on me in depression sometimes, which makes me want to do worse than a few cuts on the skin. What I need to realise is that it is God who has the control, and try to lean on him rather than making for the razor whenever I am hurting. I, and others, make that sound easy – “Just lean on God, just pray, just let God take the trouble away!” when we know that sometimes we can be in a dark pit, so dark that it is hard to see God’s light.
I can’t offer some easy answer, some “pray this prayer and your troubles will go away”. I wish I could. I rarely self harm – partly because I make a conscious effort to stop myself, and largely because I work with doctors to manage my depression so that it does not get out of control so often.
I receive a lot of comfort from God – although he has not healed me of my mental illness. I hoped for a long time that he would come and wave a wand and everything would disappear, but that has not happened. I still struggle, self harm is still on my mind, like an addiction I cannot escape. But I can act like a recovering addict and try to fight it.
Don’t let fellow Christians tell you you are worse than other people, don’t let them tell you you are demonised, or not really a Christian. But do, please, talk to God, to your friends, to trusted people, and try to work out what is causing you to self harm. For me, it was depression; for you it may be something different, but it was only when I worked on the underlying cause that I stopped self harming so often. And it was as my faith grew that I came to accept my scars, accept myself more than I had.
I’m aware this is a rambling and disjointed post, but I hope it has been helpful to someone. I have a whole range of other articles on self injury from “Christian Views” to “Cutting and Marking in the Bible” to “Recovery” and others available on my Guide to Self Injury page.
Remember that if you are in crisis, the Samaritans are always available on 08457 90 90 90 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Why Self-Harm, and Who Can Help?” Self-Injury Awareness Day 1/3/13 (believementalhealth.wordpress.com)
- Self Injury Awareness Day (sexyonthedarkside.wordpress.com)