Back one fine September noon in 2015 Saima (name changed) was in the first year of her college when oneday her teachers summoned her to the staff room. When Saima entered the dimly lit room she had no idea why she was called there. Upon entering a male teacher told her to sit on a chair which was placed in front of him. As she sat there not knowing anything, she started pulling down her sleeve.
As her teacher started talking to her about her studies he suddenly noticed her pulling down her sleeve, he asked her the reason and Saima could not say anything. The teacher asked again, “What are you doing?” And sensing something bad he asked her to remove the sleeve. Saima did not know how to react. She pulled off her sleeve and her biggest secret was revealed, she was hiding her bandaged arm. The teacher was stunned and asked her, “What is this?” And Saima sat there silent, tears rolling down her cheeks she did not know what to do, she had no words left.
Self harm tendencies include cutting, slitting, burning etc. It may not be necessarily done to attempt “suicide” but it is often found amongst the people who are dealing with psychological, emotional and mental issues like trauma, anxiety, depression, anger management issues etc. Self harm is often practiced to coop up with the overwhelming emotions and can calm down those emotions momentarily.
In Kashmir in particular people belonging to the pre-teen and teenage groups mostly indulge in such activities. On an average among five teenagers including both the genders, one or two people are found to be having self inflicted injuries, or self harm tendencies. Some reports suggest that self harm tendencies are found more in females than males. And there can be many factors and reasons leading to self harm. It includes cutting, burning, slitting, carving words or alphabets or symbols into skin, piercing etc.
Saima, who hails from uppertown area of Srinagar, Kashmir, now 25 recalls the time and calls it a “nightmare.” She said, “I remember sitting there and praying. I was literally praying that they should not inform my parents about it. I was petrified and shaking.” The teacher soon called other teachers, which included another male teacher and a female teacher and all of them started questioning her.
“I remember they asked me in Kashmiri, why do you do this? And I was crying and sobbing because I was very terrified. The teachers told me if I tell them the reason they will counsel me. But no they did not do that. One of the teacher lit his cigarette and continued asking me questions, they had no empathy at that time. But I was begging them not to call my father,” she added.
Saima back then was still a teenager, she had suffered from a “break up” and then used to cut her arms, slit her wrists and let the cuts bleed until she felt better. “I never felt any pain. I first cut my arm when I was in class seven and since then I did not stop until 2016. I used to cut my arms and hands with blades, with shaving machines, with sharpener blades, knives every sharp thing I could get in hand,” she recalls.
“They still called my father and I was sure he will not spare me. And when my father came they told him that he should get me treated,” she said. After meeting the teachers and coming back to home her father told everything to her mother. “And my mother came to me and she asked me why I was doing this I had no answer. I mean it was only my emotions that triggered it,” said Saima.
She then was taken to a renowned psychiatrist of Kashmir who started her treatment. “I was diagnosed with suicidal tendencies, mood swings and chronic depression and my treatment for that began. I was put on a course medication. For almost four years till 2019 that medication continued,” she explained. Pointing at her countless scars she said, “I regret it now. I mean back those days I felt relieved but now I feel embarrassed. This is not something I should be proud of. I just want to go back and remove those days when I was harsh on myself,” said a visibly upset Saima.
For Saima, her parents have always been supportive. Her mother while wiping her tears said, “When I saw her suffering, my heart sank. It was not her suffering it was my blood a part of me suffering in real. So I did everything I could to make sure she does not continue harming herself. I took her to peers, to doctors, to molvi sahab, to Dargah, I took her everywhere I could just to make sure she will be fine.”
She further added, “I took her out of college and gave her a break from everything and made sure she was not exposed to any kind of situation that could trigger any kind of negative emotions in her. For those years I could not sleep because I always thought I have failed as a parent. Even now when I look at her arms her hands I want to scream. No parents will ever want their child to suffer.”
This is not just about one girl, there are many more girls who are suffering from it. Young girls especially can be seen with scars on their bodies.
“I have a cousin sister she is barely 14 and she has the similar scars. She is on treatment right now and when I asked her what made you do this she very casually replied anger,” a dejected Saima said. She however has a request for everyone,” If you see anyone with scars help them out by reporting it to their parents. The elders need to know so that they can help those people who are suffering silently. If you see pieces of broken sharpeners, or blades or cutters make sure you don’t take it leniently. Most of the times people think it is their only escape, but you can be their escape by not remaining silent at all. I request everyone to keep their eyes open and help such people. They need our empathy the most, nothing else just our empathy.”
According to Wasim Kakroo, consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services Rambagh, the tendency of self harm is mostly found in teenagers. The main reason is he defined is, “emotional instability.” He said in girls there are many reasons that force them to practice self harm. “It is an indication that something is wrong with a person’s emotionality,” he said. He further added, “It is usually seen that people practising self harm, there is something that is putting them in distress.
They do not know much of healthy coping strategies. They prefer physical pain over emotional pain. The practice of self harm releases the feel happy chemical Endorphin, which are natural anti- depressants. People with such tendencies turn to some quick fix solutions such as self-harm.” According to him people turn to self harm because of emotions like, “pain”, “guilt”, “shame” “self hatred” etc.
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