Conversation with Mica
Dan: When did you last cut?
Mica: Four days ago.
Dan: So it’s ongoing.
Mica: Apart from this week I hadn’t cut since 2011. But It’s a daily thing, that’s like battling an addiction, it’s something you wake up with. Because if it’s what you’re used to dealing with stress with, you get busy, upset or angry it’s going to be the first thing you think about.
It’s not about putting the razor blade down, it’s about for the rest of your life dealing with your stress in a different way, even though you know cutting works. Then you don’t do it but you think about it all day.
Dan: I think you hit the nail on the head by comparing it to addiction.
Mica: Similar to alcoholics, they can’t have alcohol in the house, they can’t smell it because they know that’s temptation. It’s difficult.
Especially if you start cutting in the formative years of your life. Because the things you learn at this time is usually how you behave as an adult. When you then become an adult you tell yourself “I’m not doing that any more” but what do i do now? You have to learn to deal with emotion all over again.
Dan: It’s familiarity?
Mica: Yes, It’s habit, like turning the light on when you enter a room, it’s just what you do. And habits are hard to break.
Dan: My girlfriend and I were discussing going through depression and she asked me “Is it something you ever miss?” I instantly knew what she was on about. If you’re in it for a long time , you understand it and its familiar. But when you start to come out of a depression and feel happy you feel uncomfortable and don’t understand this state.
Mica: Yeah, you don’t know how to react to it. You’re not sure how to behave, have to re-learn how to be happy and new habits.
Dan: And there’s a temptation to fall back because it’s so familiar?
Mica: I would say so. There’s almost a temptation to say to yourself “Well things are going to fuck up any way, I’m not going for a better job, I’m not going on holiday, I’m not going out with my friends” so you can be back in your bubble.
Dan: When I was 16 I quit drinking and I think that played a role in how I dealt with my issues and found cutting. I have a friend who relied on drinking to escape his stress, I personally think drinking can be as bad or worse. Because drinking is more common and sort of accepted by society.
Mica: There’s so many ways people deal with their stress, first thing someone will offer you if someone's passed away is a drink. They’ll ask “Are you ok, do you want a brandy, you need to get a good drink down you” but they wouldn’t say “don’t you want some weed. Go on take a line of coke” They’re not going to slide over a razor blade and a tissue.
They’ll offer you a drink, especially in Britain, because it’s very, very acceptable. There’s accepted forms of soothing yourself and there’s not acceptable forms. And there’s grey area’s, some people when they’re stressed they go to the gym for hours and hours on end. They might go before work, their lunch break and after work for longer and longer. In their mind it’s the only way and they get the same endorphins as when you cut yourself.
I remember thinking in my early 20’s “What’s the problem if I just cut myself? It’s superficial, I’m not going down to the vein, I’ll hide so no one freaks, my mum won’t see, I can come up with an excuse” that was my way of thinking. “It’s socially unacceptable but it’s not harming me that badly, it will heal. Don’t judge me, I feel better now” I felt like that for a while. But now I’m in the strange position because I’m diabetic.
I can’t think the same way any more because I’ll definitely end up in A&E. They’ll ask where the cuts came from, give me a psychological evaluation, a therapist will call my next of kin and I don’t need that kind of stress when I was trying to lessen it.
It’s forced me to think differently.
Dan: It’s very interesting how you speak of social acceptance. Even though there’s socially unaccepted drugs, I still think they are sometimes more so than cutting.
Let’s say you had an illness that would be made a lot worse by a small amount of alcohol, which could be on par to just a little cut for you now. Then because of this you also ended up in hospital, no one's going to give you a psychological evaluation, even though the harm could be on par and your reason for drinking being the same.
Mica: A lot of people don’t have a basic understanding of self harm and it’s unlikely that they will if they haven’t experienced it personally. This can lead to those suffering getting frustrated and for those who are close to those suffering to also get frustrated as they won’t know how to react. They can butt heads and get no where, neither have learnt anything.
That’s why conversations like these can help, give people the tools to listen, it’s incredibly important. Because the numbers of people self harming are rising, unfortunately and as we know you might not grow out of. It’s not just going to be teens, will we get to a point where we have elderly people talking about self harm? It’s something that needs to be dealt with, using conversation, often.
Dan: I want to ask you about access to information. There’s the way we’re doing it now, talking one to one, or talking to friends, talking to family. Then there’s getting information via online. When I started to self harm my mum did what most people do and went online. She found it confusing as most things she was finding were saying this is what teenage girls do. There I was not fitting into the stereotype at all.
In my recent experience it has got better but I feels there’s still a huge amount missing.
How are we meant to even get into the grey area’s of discussing self harm when most of the black and white information is absent?
Mica: I’m a youth worker and I noticed in schools there’s not even leaflets. There’s a thousand on contraception but none of self injury. A parent won’t know there’s a difference between cutting vertically and horizontally, if they were to try patch that up with a plaster, they could end up losing their child. There’s a huge absence in basic guides to dealing with self harm. A lot of parents won’t know what to do.
Dan: To me the best solution to a problem is prevention, so I want to ask how you think this originates for an individual? How do you think this became a leading coping method for you?
Mica: Because it was easy. As a young kid I remember smacking my ankles when i got stressed, when I got older it remained easy. At eleven my mum could tell if i had been drinking and smell if i had been smoking. I could lock myself in my room, got to town and then when i left just put a hoody on. I don’t think people realise how easy it is to hurt yourself. My friends and I got creative at school, we used to take the blades out of pencil sharpeners. You then become an expert at lying about it and hiding. I was more worried about freaking other people out than other ramifications.
Dan: In a way it sounds like self sacrifice and to me that’s a clear alarm for depression. Because a big trend for those suffering from depression is a huge sense of guilt. I had a friend once call depression the strong person illness but this sounded so odd to me at the time. I always saw it the other way round but then I thought “I’m doing this to not bother other people, I try carry the weight without bothering anyone else” then I saw where my friend was coming from.
Mica: Yeah, that makes sense. But while you’re in it, the nature of the beast tells you the complete opposite, that you’re a withered useless nothing.
Dan: A friend of mine made a short doc on a woman who was a MMA fighter but she also suffered from depression. She’s the stereotype of a super strong person. I guarantee at one point they felt like the way you worded it, withered and useless.
Mica: It’s been difficult for me to be open about the fact I’ve struggled because I’ve come from such a strong family. I’m out of place because they’ve worked hard jobs, raised kids in difficult areas and just got on with it, kept themselves busy. But all sorts of things affect different people differently. I noticed when i was in secondary school friends of mine who were going through similar things to myself were open with their parents but they came from a more well off and comfortable background. They didn’t have to hide like i did. I can’t represent myself as weak to someone who has raised me on her own.
It was also very interesting how all the students were from different continents, yet we all met up at this school and a variety of us self harmed.
It’s not about where you’re from, it’s not about money, where you went to school, we all ended up self harming.
Dan: It could just be the British weather.
Mica: Haha, maybe, or just living in london.
Dan: Well that’s the thing, it’s not just city life, people self harm wherever.
Dan: It’s very difficult to understand what the link is, if there is one. The more questions we ask the more we seem to become aware how ignorant we are on the subject, there’s still a lot to learn.
Mica: The common ground I have come across is that we all felt like shit and wanted to feel better, ASAP.
Dan: Do you think this is our generation's coping method?
Mica: Yes, older generations may not have cut themselves but they would have had something else. It’s the same when people say “We didn’t have as many gay people in my day” you did but they kept their mouth shut because they were trying to survive.
Younger generations are now a lot more open to discussion of these subjects and more perceptive.
Dan: Maybe it’s helpful in some aspects for people who are cutting to be open with each other but I’m reminder of someone I know who has a eating disorder. They said being around other people who were suffering started to make the issue competitive. Do you think that talking only to other self harmers can propel the problem?
Mica: Definitely, I’ve experienced it myself. It’s difficult because talking to someone who suffers from the same condition can be empowering, you feel like you don’t have to explain yourself. Everytime i get into a new relationship and take my clothes off, the other person sees the scars and I have to explain myself. But if my friends (who know I cut) see my scars, I don’t have to explain myself, it’s relaxing.
However I have met people in my teens who did make it competitive, saying “this wounds deeper, I’m more fucked up than you” and that can be some harmful. Also just by opening up to another cutter you might clash without knowing it, as that other person does have a mental health issue.
Dan: You could trigger each other.
Mica: Exactly, you could very easily.
Dan: Another side to it I have experienced myself is the guilt. I thought “I’m not bad enough to need help because there’s someone over there that has it worse” but the catch to that is you also think “my cuts needs to be worse before i can justify getting help” or “before I can justify feeling this bad.”
Mica: Yeah, it’s a shit storm in a teacup. The nature of the beast tells you don’t deserve help. But there’s no such thing as worse when it comes to self injury, there’s the small burn mark on the back of your hand, and there’s taking a stake knife, it’s still self injury. They give the same excuses why they can’t ask for help because they’re scared, “that person needs more help than i do, I won’t waste that space on the NHS. If other people can deal with worse i can deal with this.” Through depressions fog you don’t recognize it as being scared, it’s logic to you.
Dan: I’m sure for most people It doesn’t start off with the big self injuries, I think it escalates. You tip your toe in the water, so to speak. To be very personal I came close to taking my life at 19/20yrs old and facing that gave me clarity. This is controversial to say but I think some people need reach the brink, I can’t say who but I know I did. Suicide made things black and white, it is, obviously the biggest of self injurious. Facing it made me sure I didn’t want to do this any more.
Mica: I agree, I’ve attempted to kill myself about 5 times and then you ask yourself the hardest questions you’ll ever ask and answer them as honestly as you can.
Dan: Sadly not everyone has that moment of clarity and I think that’s when the illness wins.
Mica: That’s when people lose their lives. You don’t know if the fog is going to lift or someone is going to intervene. I know for a fact that might of not been the case with me.