I remember the surprising relief that came with that first cut. It felt stinging and exhilarating and guilt-ridden all at once. Little did I know then that it would be the first of many to come.
My cutting habit began four years ago, the same year I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and severe depression, after many years of struggling and not knowing what was “wrong” with me.
While the diagnosis did help me understand myself better, the medication prescribed were more to treat the physical symptoms such as insomnia and heart palpitations. As the weight of my mental disorder became more crushing every year, I found myself desperately fighting for moments of relief, struggling just to make it back up to the surface, to suck in whatever air I could before getting caught under another wave of anxiety and depression.
I can’t remember where the initial idea of cutting* came from, but I remember how that first cut brought a strange sense of calm as my skin experienced pain one moment and relief in the next. The relief didn’t last, but it was the only relief I had.
So whenever things got too hard, I would turn to self-harm for a momentary escape. It was something I did on and off, several times a month, over the four-year period. I kept my wounds covered by wearing long-sleeved cardigans wherever I went.
Is it a spiritual attack?
For a time, I thought my struggles must be something spiritual since I couldn’t think of any other external reason for them. So I thought I’d reach out to my church in hopes for guidance, but any attempts to reach out in the different churches I’d been part of were almost always met with lack of understanding or just plain harshness.
One church leader said they hoped I wasn’t doing it for attention, while someone else said I needed to cast these thoughts out as they were sinful. Others said my actions were selfish and “unhealthy”, and that I needed to stop.
Of course, these responses were ineffective and unhelpful. A response that hurt me the most was from a fellow Christian who berated me for “caring so little about life” that I would inflict such pain on my body and think it was okay to do so. In that moment, I remained silent as I didn’t feel like explaining myself anymore.
Already overwhelmed by anxiety and depression, I became even more crushed by these replies. Not only was I disheartened by their attitude, I also felt deeply ashamed that I wasn’t the kind of Christian they expected me to be.
I was cutting because I hated myself—more specifically, my brain and how depression and anxiety have made themselves at home in it because I couldn’t bring it under control. With the growing shame and a yearning for relief at the same time, cutting felt satisfying on both those counts.
Through all of this, my husband did what he could to support and take care of me. He constantly prayed with me and would always ask me to not cut even though I always ended up doing it. He also tried his best to find the right psychiatric help for me, worried that I might take things further than cutting.
Then one day came the greatest anguish I have ever had to endure in life. Yet, miraculously, it was also the day I stopped self-harming.
That heart-breaking yet hopeful Christmas
December 25, 2021. Christmas Day.
My husband and I arrived at the emergency room of the nearest hospital, where they immediately prepped me for a surgery to remove the remains of my dead baby’s body.
The entire day was a blur of crying and confusion as the memory of Haven’s heartbeat, which I’d heard only a few weeks before, resounded in my head. My mind couldn’t compute the new reality I now faced in the hospital.
At the end of the day, with an empty womb and broken hearts, my husband and I buried Haven’s body in the quiet of our church’s garden.
I felt like I was drowning in a sea of sorrow and pain. Why didn’t our baby get to live? I felt guilty that my body didn’t do its job. I felt that it was my fault she died, despite doctors having said it was out of my control and not because of anything I did or didn’t do.
The night after my surgery, I resumed the old habit of cutting myself. I was on the floor, soaked in tears, steeping in the sensation of burning pain and grief from the edge of the knife.
But not long after starting, I was stopped in my tracks as the words “by His wounds” rang soundly in my head, clear as day.
By His wounds. I knew it was from a verse in the Bible, though I couldn’t immediately recall which one. Extreme tiredness washed over me, so I cleaned up and cried myself to sleep for the night.
The next morning, the first thing I did was look in a Bible concordance for the word “wounds” to find the verse. I eventually came across Isaiah 53:5 and flipped to it. And there it was, underlined in my Bible, a verse I had highlighted years ago.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.
As I read the verse, I saw the cross so blatantly in every line. This verse clearly shows the reasons for Christ’s death on the cross, describing vividly how our sins had pierced, crushed, and deeply wounded our Saviour, and how He received it all so that we may have peace and healing.
In all my years of being a Christian, nothing pierced my heart as much as this verse did that night.
That Jesus had taken upon Himself all the punishment and shame meant for me made it clear that any punishment I felt compelled to inflict on myself was unnecessary; and any shame I felt has been clothed by Jesus’s perfection and righteousness.
When I was at my lowest—devastated and broken, I was brought to see how Jesus gave up His own body to be broken that we may have life, both now and in eternity. His sacrifice covers it all. He has already paid for the cost; I need not pay for anything anymore.
My anxiety disorder and depression remain heavy struggles to bear, yet, unimaginable as it may be, the death of my baby brought new light to my understanding of the promise of eternity. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this present life is not a hopeless one.
That Christmas, I looked to the promise of heaven as I laid my child’s remains to rest. I found solace in the redeeming work of the cross as I also finally laid my years-long habit of self-harm to rest.
In the seasons of healing, of grieving, of longing to hold one’s own babe, of yearning for a better future, our Jesus is with me through it all. He leads me, His sheep, with the gentle tenderness of a shepherd who understands every care and sorrow. He is my peace and hope.
*Self-harm is a contortion, a sickness in the mind and as such, cannot be “fixed” by simply choosing to stop. Reasons for inflicting self-harm can include not feeling in control of oneself and being unsure of how to cope with underlying trauma. Professional help and spiritual support must go hand in hand when addressing self-harm and in working towards recovery.
Editor’s note: The diagnosis, treatment, and healing journey for mental health conditions vary from person to person. If you struggle with anxiety and depression, please seek professional help for treatment and continual support.Back to Homepage