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There Are Better Ways to Cope
I want to stop cutting

The gym had no windows; an open door was the only source of cool air. My 4th grade class was doing a fitness test. While we were waiting, my friend Rose and I started fighting about something. When she got called for her turn, a rush of anger came over me and I had to release it. So I scratched my arm, hard, with my bare hands. No one saw me do it.

After that everything went blank and I suddenly started to feel better, the anger subsiding. Later that night, I noticed the scratches. I didn’t know why I had done that. But it had helped calm me down.

It was the first time I’d self-harmed.

I didn’t do it again until I got to middle school. But by 8th grade I was cutting myself regularly. I’d use a small blade that I’d taken out of a pencil sharpener.

My home life was stressful. My mom had just moved back in with us after five years in prison. My grandmother was my legal guardian, but we didn’t get along.

I’d mostly cut when I got angry because my grandmother screamed at me or accused me of things I didn’t do. But I cut myself when I got angry at other people, too. For example, throughout the school year I was getting bullied by some boys in my grade. I would hurt myself when I really wanted to just punch them. Once I even shouted in the hall, “I wish I were dead.”

I knew this wasn’t healthy, so I started talking about it to my guidance counselor. She told me talking about it would help, but it wasn’t enough. It helped release some of the stress, but I knew eventually I’d get upset again and would hurt myself. I couldn’t just stop. It made me happy in a way and made me feel more in control.

One day, my mom noticed my scars, and figured out what I’d been doing.

“I see you cut neat; I cut crazy,” she said. I looked at her arms and saw her scars. They looked different than mine. Mine were straight and hers were jagged.

My mom told me she started cutting when her father left her family, when she was a teenager. “I was hurt and confused,” she told me. “I wasn’t sure why I did it but I know it helped me when I felt hurt or angry.”

I was surprised to learn both my mother and I did this unhealthy thing as a way to release anger.

My mom didn’t tell me to stop or seem to have any advice to give me; I think she is still not sure how to deal with those feelings herself.

My mom struggles with addiction. She verbally abuses me sometimes but not nearly as much as my grandmother (her mom) does. Other times she’s supportive and defends me when my grandmother yells at me. It depends on whether she’s high or not.

New Year, Old Me

After I graduated from middle school, I didn’t cut all summer. Things went well because we were staying with relatives in New Jersey and so my grandmother and mother behaved themselves. Nothing made me upset enough to want to self-harm. I was happy about going to high school. I felt confident that I wouldn’t cut again because I thought a new year would bring a new me.

When I started 9th grade, I felt good about my new environment. I was certain I had cured myself. But eventually, I crashed. I wouldn’t say my grandmother is the key to all of my anger and cutting, but I feel like she contributes to about 90% of it. She makes me feel bad about myself and like I can’t be anything in life. What particularly frustrates me is she insults and berates me one minute, then the next she goes all sweet on me.

I am her punching bag with words. When she gets mad at me for something stupid like not cleaning up her mess, or forgetting to wash the dishes, she verbally abuses me. She calls me “b-tch” and says, “You only think about yourself,” when she starts a rampage.

If I call her out on being disrespectful toward my mother, she says things like, “You’re going to be just like your crackhead mother,” or “Go cut yourself.” I never spoke to my grandmother about cutting; I guess my mother told her.

I have many outbursts, but yelling back at her isn’t enough. I still have so much rage toward her. Since I can’t hurt her, I hurt myself.

A Deep Cut

One day after school about a year ago, I walked into my grandmother’s room with the mail and she started screaming at me.

“Why did you send your sister to school in a dirty dress?” she demanded.

“I didn’t. She could have dirtied her outfit while at school,” I said, as calmly as possible.

“When it comes to you, you make sure you look good but when it comes to your sister you make her look homeless,” she snarled.

I got tired of hearing her mouth so I cursed under my breath and went into my room.

I looked for my blade. I usually cut carefully in straight thin lines; I paid attention so I wouldn’t hurt myself badly. And I usually cut on my left forearm—since I didn’t write with that arm it was easier to cover up. But not this time. My anger took over more than usual and I started to cut without hesitation. I slashed my arm two or three times.

image by YC-Art Dept

Suddenly I didn’t feel anything but cold air where I had cut. It was deep and the blood was oozing out. I slammed the door and yelled to no one in particular, “I hate my life! Why is it so bad to have feelings?” Usually when I cut I was just angry but this time I was also scared. I had never cut deep to the point where the blood seeped out the way it did now. I felt my heart beating and my temples throbbing.

My mom was home and I wanted her to see what I had done but then I remembered she had said to me once, “If you ever hurt yourself again, I’ll have to take you to the crazy house, and you won’t be able to come home.” I didn’t want to be stuck in a psychiatric hospital, so asking her for help wasn’t an option.

Instead, I pulled on an oversized, long-sleeved shirt and rushed out of our Harlem apartment and down the stairs. I was too anxious to wait for the elevator.

Once outside the air felt cool; it was windy. I prayed I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew because I was scared the blood would seep through the shirt and there’d be questions. I found 50 cents in my pocket and made my way to the corner store to buy a Tropical Fantasy soda. Drinking the soda calmed my nerves a bit.

When I got home I went to the bathroom to wrap my cut with layers of tissue. I used so much tissue, my arm looked like the Michelin Man’s. The bleeding had stopped.

Later that evening my grandmother asked me to help her with her phone, as if she hadn’t spoken to me with such disrespect earlier. She gets me upset, then asks for a favor and talks to me like a sweet old lady. “Sweetie, can you help me with this?” then, “Thank you so much love, you’re the best.” It confuses me.

Reading Calms Me Down

After that night, I told myself I wouldn’t cut again because I was scared I might cut myself even worse next time and bleed to death. Even though I have wished my death many times, I was scared to actually take my own life.

But sometimes I still cut myself. I do it because something is hurting me and it is an outlet for the pain. I need to take the pain that’s inside and put it on the outside.

This physical pain is consistent with how I’m feeling inside. Also, once I can see the scar, it becomes a reminder that I should try not to do it again.

I have heard therapy is one way to understand more about why I self-harm and that it could help me stop. Because my mom threatened me with the possibility of getting hospitalized, I’ve been too afraid to go. However, since writing this story, I’ve been considering giving it a try.

My boyfriend encourages me to stop and to take my anger out by writing about what’s upsetting me instead of cutting. I do that and it helps. When my grandmother is verbally abusive, I tell myself that I only have to live with her for one more year and then I can go to college. Reading novels also calms me down, and listening to music.

But to be honest, sometimes I don’t think of these other options and I just act. I hope that once I’m out of my grandmother’s hands, things will get better and my self-harming will become an ancient memory.

Why Girls Cut

It’s hard to know how many teens cut themselves, because most keep it secret. But counselors and teachers say they find many more instances of cutting among girls than boys.

Some experts say this is a consequence of how girls are socialized. “They’re taught from a young age to keep their negative feelings inside so they don’t appear too ‘dramatic,’ or outwardly aggressive,” says Beth Sklar-Baker. She is a licensed social worker in Springfield, New Jersey, who specializes in working with teens who self-harm. “If you have a difficult time saying, ‘I’m in pain. I need help,’ cutting becomes the nonverbal outlet. It becomes a way to let off stress, anxiety, or rage.”

Another contributing factor can be a desire to fit in. “Cutting is often considered trendy behavior, paving the way for girls with low self-esteem to have a sense of belonging to a certain group,” said Sklar-Baker.

Speaking to a counselor or other caring person who can validate your pent-up feelings is the best way to work toward stopping self-harm. But if you’re not ready to talk, Sklar-Baker also suggests trying these strategies.

When You Feel Like You Want To Cut, Do This Instead:

• Rub an ice cube on your wrist. Or wear a rubber band and snap it. This allows you to feel something without harming yourself.

• Use free apps that help you learn to express your feelings and calm down. “Calm,” “Smiling Mind,” “Head Space,” and “Vent” are some of Sklar-Baker’s patients’ favorites.

• Confide in a friend when you feel like cutting and then take a walk with them, shoot some hoops, or anything that will lessen your urge to cut.

• Consider a teen support group, even if you only go once a month. You’ll feel less alone and you’ll learn how others deal with anger, stress, and wanting to hurt themselves.

• Write or journal.

• Listen to music that cheers you up.

To learn more, call 1-800-DONTCUT (800-366-8288) or visit

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