The first time I ever scratched myself was when I was attending college one summer under a special program for rising high school seniors. It was my first real experience away from home, and I would get homesick at times. I was having trouble fitting in with the other students in the program with me because I claimed to be a Christian, while many of them seemed to either have no religious beliefs, have other belief systems, or simply live in a way that belied a Christian walk. I felt my own faith weakening as I was exposed to new philosophies in classes and challenged in my beliefs by professors and other students.
One afternoon it all came to a head. I was walking back to our residence hall from class by myself and was overwhelmed with a sudden fear and an immense amount of self-loathing. I knew I would never fit in back in Ackerman where I grew up, but now I was faced with not fitting in where I had planned to go to college. I started rubbing my upper arms with my palms and quickly moved to scratching them with my fingernails. I did this over and over until the skin on my arms was raw while crying some of the most intense tears of my life. I had always bitten my nails short out of anxiety, so I did not leave bloody scratches. I feel like that would have been noticed by the people supervising the program, so I was glad.
The episode was over as quickly as it came. I went back to my room and sat down on my bed and started rocking back and forth. I was four hours away from home, and I didn’t know or understand what had just happened to me. However, the fear and anxiety and loathing were gone. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. And I did, fully clothed without even unmaking the bed.
I’ve only done the scratching a few times in my life since then, and my last impulse to do so was two years ago after the funeral of my husband’s grandmother, who was dearly loved by our entire family, including my girls. I was trying to hold myself together, to be strong for Bob and for the girls, and after it was all over, the roof seemed to cave in on my emotions. I did not cry or scratch myself; I made my hands into fists and held them out from my sides as I walked out to leave the church. But I desperately wanted to hurt myself to make the inner pain and anxiety go away. Something about causing myself physical pain made the psychic pain more bearable.