The Rough Side of Black Sheep: Author Kia Zi Shiru Shares Her Battle with Self-Harming
I’m here today to talk a bit about one of the big themes in Black Sheep, self harming.
Black Sheep is not an easy story, not to read and certainly not to write. Pulling these emotions out of me and identifying them so I could write about them wasn’t easy. It’s a dark story, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t bring light to others, being able to read about someone who experiences the same things as they have gone through and it not judging them. Young Adult fiction doesn’t do that often.
I could have put in so many moments to “teach” the reader about right and wrong, the opportunities were there. Multiple times. Instead I rather chose to go the other way, not teaching but showing how it influences people. One of the things I did this with is the ongoing theme of self harming that goes through all three of the books.
The fight between Adam and Vic in the second book is one of those cases. Why does Adam get so mad at Vic when he finds out he still self harms? Not just because it’s wrong, although that is part of it. No, the real reason Adam gets mad is twofold, 1) Vic has breached a promise between them that he wouldn’t harm himself any more, and 2) Adam knows that breaking the habit of self harming is hard, nearly impossible in some cases.
The second thing is something that people don’t often talk about, even though it is the worst about trying to stop self harming. It is like an addiction; the hormones released in the brain are addictive. This is an uncomfortable truth that isn’t often explored when talking about self harming. I’ve read enough stories of people overcoming it because of love, friendship, shoulders to cry on. True, those things are important, but it forgets one important and really sad truth. Stopping it is really hard. A lot of people dealing with self harming don’t understand why it isn’t as easy for them as for the people they read about in books or hear about in other places. That is because those people make it seem easy.
Self harming is not easy. To take the first step of harming is one hurdle. A lot of people try once and never again. Then it becomes two times, three, four. Slowly but surely people get used to doing it, it becomes a release of energy or emotions. To get from that first tentative try to a stage where you realize that you’re doing it on a daily or weekly basis can take months. Self harming is (in most cases) not something that is created overnight; it takes a long time to establish itself. And with all things that take time, breaking the habit gets harder and harder the longer you do it.
There is one thing that I haven’t really talked about before, at least, not in the last couple of years. In past blog tours I’ve tried to avoid the question, but I think it is fitting to actually talk about this in this last tour. Yes, I myself used to harm.
My addiction was mostly invisible. I don’t have any scars left from it apart from my own memories. My harming started innocently enough when I was playing with hot candle wax. I dripped it in the palm of my hand a few times. It was interesting, but I didn’t think much of it at first. Then I started doing it more often, finding ways that would make the pain more intense, and I felt an enormous relief. Of course, it didn’t stay like that for long, as most people who have self harmed know.
I began to find other spots—the top of my hand, my fingers, the upside of my arms, the inside of my arm, the inside of my elbow. When I reached that stage, I was months further on. I had become addicted to the burning pain, I had started to need the release it gave me. Only then did I get to know other people, and start to realize what it was that I was doing. It opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone in this, and that my reasons for doing it weren’t in any way wrong. I did it to release energy that was caught inside me. I had emotions I couldn’t explain, emotions I tried to hide. All those things seemed better when I hurt myself.
As I said, I don’t have any scars. I mostly used ways that wouldn’t be visible after 30 minutes to a few hours. In the end, I was able to stop. It took a long time and lots of encouragement from other people. Even now, when I’m under a lot of negative stress, I sometimes want to hurt myself. Why? Because it’s easy, I know that it’s a quick fix to a more complex problem.
What I wanted to explore both in Black Sheep and in this post, is that no two people who self harm are the same. Sure, some will do it to get attention from people, not hiding their wounds, screaming for help in a way. Don’t ignore them. They do honestly need help, even if they might not be able to voice what that help is. Don’t push them away because they seem “dramatic”. They still need help. Others are like Vic and Adam. They fight a daily battle to stop, to not do it. They promise friends not to do it. They hide their scars under clothing or jewelry. They also hide new wounds, either by doing them on the same spots they’re already hiding or by doing them in places that are normally covered (legs, feet, etc.). Don’t just love these people, comfort them, help them. Celebrate when they’re clean, try to explore what went wrong when they’re not. And don’t rush it. Going cold turkey is hard, no matter the addiction.
And then there are those like me, those finding ways to harm themselves that are invisible to the world, those feeling inferior because they don’t have any scars. They feel as though they’re not like those others who harm themselves. They don’t have any scars to be proud of or to cry over. All they have is their own memories. This is the hardest group to help as it’s difficult to check for new “wounds” when they’re often gone within hours. This doesn’t actually make them any different from the group above; they just need a lot more honesty. If you can’t see when something goes wrong, they need to tell you. There will be other groups too, showing or not showing, but they all have one thing in common: being addicted to the feeling of the cutting and needing help to stop it, because it isn’t healthy.
One last thing I would like to touch upon (if you’re still here with me). Not everybody that self harms wants to die, nor are they depressed. Some people self harm because they’re frustrated about themselves and they don’t know how to deal with it more healthily. Sure, this can turn into depression, but the harming can be there way before.
Others harm because they’re addicted to the hormonal rush they get from it. Still others do it to get attention. As stated above, they don’t hide their wounds and scars. The help they need might not be what they want. They need help not with the harming itself, but with establishing why they feel like they need the attention that comes with it. And, some are depressed, they feel that harming themselves at least makes them feel something. They are able to control the feelings and the pain through harming and this relieves some of the gray and pain of being depressed.
Also, self harming is in most cases not a sign of being suicidal. Sure, a lot of people who (try to) commit suicide will have a history of self harming (either physically, emotionally or otherwise) but it is not an immediate sign. A lot of the time self harming hasn’t got anything to do with wanting to die; it has to do with trying to live.
Okay, that wasn’t a bit about self-harming. It was actually quite a lot. Sorry for that. I hope that, In Black Sheep, I’ve succeeded in illustrating at least some of the complexities involved in harming, both visible and invisible, and also how others react to it, because I think it’s something that has been misunderstood for a long time. Most of all, I hope I’ve shown you that not everyone is the same and that there are a lot of people out there who need help. If you think a friend might be harming, please reach out to them, try to find out what is actually wrong. Harming is a symptom, not a cause. Have patience with them. Remember that self-Harming is an addiction, and like all addictions, the habit is a tough one to break.
To find out more about Kia Zi Shiru and her books, including the Black Sheep Trilogy, please visit her website