The day I understood why people self harm

In October 2017 my darling nephew died age 19, he died suddenly — I know this is a euphemism for suicide.

I loved him like a son, still do. He called me Auntie, not Auntie Em, Auntie — which I always loved. I miss him like mad.

In the first few weeks after the absolute shock and horror of his death I felt physical pain. People say you feel like you have been punched in the gut, I can show you where I felt that punch. It was a physical pain, an excruciating pain. I would take a few steps and then have to stop, I would have to do ‘who who’ breaths (anyone who has given birth or practiced giving birth will know this type of breathing), because I simply could not continue walking, or moving — I would have to bend and breathe and cry. I existed in a fog of horror — that is the only way I can describe it.

Within days I was on a frantic search for a tattoo artist as I needed to have some kind of evidence of him with me always, that I could touch, hold and comfort. Through beautifully decorated friends I found someone who was good, local and available.

It gave me a purpose a thing that I could just think about, plan and cling to amongst the grossness of every day.

As I sat in the tattooists chair he warned me it would hurt — everyone did — because it was around my bony wrist, but I assured them that pain was fine. Nothing could touch the pain I felt inside.

I watched as he drew on my wrist, then looked on without feeling as he loaded up his tattoo gun and breathed a sigh of relief as he started to scratch the ink in.

Finally there was a release from the pain. Finally there was a physical, hard, deep, burning release. And as he worked, so my nephew’s memorial on my body took shape. The pain took shape, it became real.

I have never until that moment understood why people cut. I don’t cut, never have but I know many people who do. And now I completely understand why.

Now we need to find a creative way for people to get that release without taking a blade to their skin in destruction and permanence. Not everyone will want to be tattooed. Not everyone will be able to, or old enough. But I completely understand the release.

The trick is to undo that gut punch, physical pain in another way — and flicking an elastic band wouldn’t work.

It would be good if those in mental health disruption could find an alternative. Because one of the many tracks to suicide start with self harm, and we have to stop suicide as an option, completely.

This image is of the paddle out his friends did at his memorial
This is his signature and then the moon, as one of his last messages to me was ‘I love you to the moon and back’