What do you think of when you hear the words "self-injury?"

You probably think of a middle-class, teenage girl cutting herself to get attention. That's the cliché, and it's all kinds of wrong.


Meet Dr. Stephen Lewis.

He's been researching self-injury — we're most familiar with it as cutting or burning — for over 10 years.

A quick definition: Self-injury is intentional damage to body tissue (that doesn't include body modifications like piercings, tattoos, and scarification) without suicidal intent. And far more people are doing it than you'd think.

What he and other experts found might surprise you: Self-injury happens equally across gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic lines.

It's not just an issue in the U.S. either. Self-injury has emerged as a major global mental health concern.

Here's something else that might surprise you: Lewis isn't just an academic expert. He's a life expert. He lived it.

He used to self-injure, and he shared his experience with the world in his talk for TEDxGuelphU.

It took some soul-searching before Lewis decided to tell his story publicly. In the end, he told me, "I wanted to convey a sense of hope to those who presently struggle. I wanted them to know they are not alone and that recovery is possible."

"There is light at the end of the tunnel. As dark as it may seem, if you keep walking — you can find it," he says.

Like Lewis (and myself), 1 in 5 adolescents has engaged in self-injurious behavior at least once, and a quarter of them have done it repeatedly. It can start as young as age 12.

As Lewis put it, "Self-injury provided needed relief from that emotional turmoil I was feeling inside. It conveyed the words I could not."

It's an attempt to relieve overwhelming feelings of sadness, distress, or self-loathing. Most often, people do it to externalize inner pain, to make it tangible, or to stop feeling numb.

The relief that self-injury provides is only temporary, though, and it can develop an addictive quality: The longer it's used, the harder it is to stop (or to find another way to quell the pain).

There's also a tolerance factor: The more you self-injure, the shorter the period of relief. It makes for a cycle that's incredibly difficult to break.

So, how can we help stop the cycle of self-injury?

Whether you're someone who has self-injured or not, one of the most important things we can do is educate ourselves: The false cliches and stereotypes we carry around about self-injury affect those who do it, too.

When we characterize people who hurt themselves as crazy, manipulative, or attention-seeking, they're more inclined to feel ashamed and isolated. They live in fear of judgment, and that fear creates silence.

This silence means that many people feel hopeless and alone. While self-injury isn't, by definition, a suicidal behavior, it does elevate risk for suicide.

Without help, that silence and that hopelessness can be deadly.

Self-injury is a habit that's hard to break. One of the first steps toward ending the cycle is for us to allow the conversation to happen.

Four little words are all we need: "How can I help?"

That's what turned things around for Lewis:

"For me, this involved a willingness to not just ask for help, but to accept it —something I was not accustomed to. This help, for me, came from professionals. It came from friends, and it came from my family."

His story ends well. My story — as a fellow self-injurer — ends well, too. All of these stories can end well.

"Recovery is a process," said Lewis. "And not a linear one. I had good days and bad days, and on some bad days, I self injured again. But those bad days became fewer and farther between."

Nobody should suffer alone. We all have baggage, but we each bear the weight of our burdens differently.

We can help each other bear that weight if we're brave enough to listen and brave enough to start conversations that matter.

This is how we find better ways to heal. This is how we create hope for those who need it the most.

Watch Lewis' full talk:

Want more information on self-injury? Take a look at the Self-Injury Outreach and Support website.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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