It was only a passing connection. I stood on the traffic island, waiting to cross the road. The sun blazed down unrelentingly and it was blisteringly hot. I fidgeted in the heat, itching to cross the road to the shade on the other side as the cars streamed passed me through the river of the one-way system and I stood there, waiting for the traffic lights to change. There was a girl across the road, waiting. If it hadn’t been for her arms, then I would have forgotten her, like the hundreds of other passers-by that I saw that day, but as I noticed her, my eyes were immediately drawn to the mesh of cuts and scars covering both of her arms from shoulder to wrist.
She can’t have been more than 17 years old and she stood there in a vest top and shorts. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed the cuts, each about three inches long, and covering every inch of her arms. I tried not to stare at her but I felt overwhelmed with such remorse and pity that she had done this to herself. What had possibly caused her to be possessed with the compulsion to hurt herself in that way? I felt drawn to her, I wanted to clutch her hands and beg her not to do it again, to ask her why, to try and reach her. My heart quivered with empathy and every nerve in my body strained to try and reach this person. Too soon, the lights changed and we crossed the road, she passed me and was gone.
This piece isn’t written from a writing prompt. I wrote this following a real experience that I had this week. Seeing people with marks of self harm makes me feel desperately sad and I always loathe the feelings of powerlessness that I experience when I see them- I inherently want to try and help them, or to communicate my sympathy to them, to tell them that I have seen them and I am sorry. I haven’t been able to forget about the girl, to stop worrying about whether she’s OK, to stop feeling frustrated that our society is sufficiently emotionally constrained that I felt too shy to try and reach out to her (and it’s nothing to do with ‘right time, right place’ – if she’d been sitting alone in a coffee shop or any other sensible location I still wouldn’t have acted). But really, could I have helped her? Perhaps not, but at least I would have tried.
Statistics about self harm are pretty damning. It’s increasing every year and young people are particularly at risk. It’s something that needs to be talked about without being normalised (and I think that one of the roots of the problem is that it’s become normalised behaviour at the moment), and it needs to be discussed within a frame of understanding. Most of all, it’s an issue that society collectively needs to tackle – we can’t turn our backs on it and pretend it’s not happening. I want our leaders at all levels of society to talk about self harm. It’s less than a decade since I left secondary school and there was no discussion of self harm in any of my classes (not even PSHE – Physical, Social and Health Education), I’d hope that the curriculum has changed in this time. Charities seem to be on the case with raising awareness about self harm, but I think it would be great if there could be a wrist band campaign so show support and understanding for people who self harm.