In October last year I took my first overseas trip to beautiful Stockholm, Sweden to present my paper ‘Expressing nonsuicidal self-injury: using creative writing and autobiographical fiction as self-care’ at the Autobiography 2014 conference at Södertörn University. The conference ran over three days and featured presentations from … Continue reading ‘Expressing NSSI’ published in ‘Writing the Self’
This morning Facebook asked me if I’d like to share my year. The photo collage feature has been available for a while but has been featuring in my newsfeed more frequently lately in the “so-and-so’s year” format. While the concept makes sense as Facebook controls more and more of our personal data, the feature falls short for me.
Facebook as a utility is seen as a way to “connect and share”, however the “my year” feature feels more like a “collect and share” option. Where it falls short is in the ability to convey connection, or to put it another way, to convey meaning. This highlights the importance of the humanities and in particular storytellers to the technology industry. Collecting, managing and collating large data sets without interesting interpretation and analysis makes data meaningless.
I make these critics as an individual working in the creative arts and humanities who has only a limited understanding of the inner workings of STEM. The Facebook “year” feature however highlights the importance of interdisciplinary approaches and collaborations. The creation of social media and social technologies in particular can benefit from the skill sets of creative art and humanities researchers as these are technologies that tell stories.
If you think of data as documentation, you could argue that creative artists have long been responsible for the domain. Creative artist’s documentation is often subject to their own interpretation though, making it subjective and not objective which puts it at odds with our contemporary concept of data. We now like to think of data as unbiased. But can data ever be completely unbiased?
Too often we trust the “truthfulness” of the sciences and think of creative arts as wholly “fabrications” instead of considering that each is a blurred combination of both. Creative arts and humanities researchers are just as interested in facts, realities and evidence as those in the sciences, and creativity and interpretation are likewise as important to scientific study. The conventions, approaches and strengths of individuals working in either area are where the differences can be found.
As a researcher I’m a creative practitioner with an interest in the interpretation of what might be classified as scientific fields. I am interested in mental health, social media, therapeutic writing and communication technology and in particular where these areas intersect and intermingle. I enjoy interpreting the work of those in academic fields outside my own and I rely on their abilities to communicate their findings in ways that are accessible. As my research career and creative practice evolves I hope that I can (continue to) find and work with researchers from a broad range of disciplines whose strengths may vary from mine but who are flexible and respectful enough to see the value in interdisciplinary inquiry.
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. In that time I’ve done a little bit of work on my PhD creative piece. I started fresh, at a different point in the story than I’d previously intended too, and while the words at the moment are coming at a snail’s pace I’m feeling better about the foundation that I’m laying.
The chapter that I have been working on involves the protagonist running. As I was writing, or trying to write, I was struggling with some of the descriptive work. Questions of “how do I describe that sound” and “how does that feel in the body” arose. It occurred to me that I’ve been doing much too much thinking and not enough doing.
Recently I’d been very focused on doing work as opposed to actually doing. In thinking about my novel and my writing (or lack of writing), I’ve been neglecting two crucial writing tools, observation and experience.
Have you seen A Place for Me (also titled Stuck in Love)? It’s a film I really like. It’s about love and writing and stars Greg Kinnear… these are all things that greatly interest me (oh Greg, swoon!). I bring it up because there is an excellent line in the film:
The novel I’m writing draws heavily from my own experiences. I had been so preoccupied with how to use some of my past experiences in the work that I’d been forgetting the importance of continued observation and experience. To put it more bluntly, I’d stop paying attention.
Being present is becoming more challenging in our hyper connected word. Mindfulness based techniques and approaches to therapy are rising in popularity as the antidote to our obsession/reliance on new communication technologies which see us ever contactable but rarely available. I don’t wish to cry foul over smart phones and social media, quite the opposite, I’m very interested in embracing new technologies and see them as having great potential to assist us in numerous ways. However, we must learn to use these technologies as opposed to being used or sucked into the connected but unavailable vortex.
With this in mind, I’ve been striving to experience and observe the world around me over the past couple of weeks. When I order coffee rather than look at my phone I’ve been taking a moment to people watch: how many sugars do other people put in their coffee? How are other people dressing? Where do they stand as they wait for their coffee, in front of the lids and spoons, further away, right in front of the bench so others have to squeeze past? This might sound dull or even a bit creepy to some readers but it is these details that all writers need in their tool belts – awareness of how others be, do and exist!
In addition to my increased observations I’ve also been getting out of the office and away from my PhD to have some fun. I have been to dinner with friends, taken a road trip to visit family, gone to dance performances and also gone to see some live music. Each has been a rich and varied experience which has indulged a variety of senses and more importantly, reminded me that I’m more than a PhD student and life is bigger than my thesis alone.
The most recent of my adventures, was going to a gig with a friend. It was his first small gig (having only gone to large music festivals or big stadium style shows) and was at one of my favorite venues. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do, so much so that I often go by myself. Any hint of loneliness or awkwardness felt going solo to a gig is usually outweighed by the delight of the music and sheer thrill of a good live show.
There were three acts, each being an Australian hip hop artist and I was very aware when I bought the tickets that the majority of the crowd would be younger than me. My friend had told me he would probably just chill by the bar and let me do my own thing. Off course, as I suspected, like me he was digging the vibe and hung out with me near the stage and speakers. The first act hit the stage with thumping energy and my friend and I responded by dancing, cheering and whooping. Around us, others stood, still.
I’m increasingly noticing, that the older I get, the more I care about enjoying the moment and the less I care about what other people think of me while I’m doing so. For the younger crowed at this gig, the opposite appeared to be true. They slowly warmed up but as the night wore on and the temperature climbed, I noticed more and more that those around me were experiencing the evening in a different way.
The younger faces in the crowd captured the moments via their smart phones. Experience has taught me that photos or footage taken at gigs is 1) rarely viewed at a later date, 2) generally shit-house. I understand the desire to take a snap to show a friend or to add to a social media site for posterity but I don’t share the desire to continually do so again and again at a gig. Perhaps there are simply more young music journalists at gigs than I’m aware of? Rather than sweat and dance and experience the music via the body, the younger set were more inclined to capture the moment in a non tangible representation.
The other sharp difference in experience was presentation. This gig was stinking hot! The humidity was high and both crowd and performers were dripping in sweat. As a live music fan living in Queensland, Australia, I am very used to this. I still put thought into my outfit and dress in a way they I enjoy and hope is pleasing to others… i.e. yes, I like to look nice. Yet ultimately I’m well aware that things will get messy. Comfort and practicality are the key concerns. I feel comfortable when I dress nicely but also practically, in a way that will allow me to make the most out of the evening… dance, drink, get among it etc. I told my friend there would be girls in high heels. He was skeptical. Through-out the evening, I pointed them out to him… “heels, heels, heels”. Fair enough if those individuals were comfortable but if you’ve ever been on a cramped dance floor next to someone wearing heels you will understand that their pain often becomes your pain… “ouch, you’re standing on my foot!”. Bless their little midriff’s and carefully applied faces – yes, it is hot and yes, your makeup is running off your face… who cares. These poor little petals were more concerned with their presentation than their participation. Thus, another vortex to avoid.
Over the last few weeks, as I’ve been trying to be more present, another shift in my awareness has come into play. I’d wanted to visit my therapist but had to wake two weeks to get an appointment. Despite feeling better by the time the appointment rolled around I still went. Before starting the session I fill out a computer survey, a psychology test that gives my therapist an indication of where I’m at mentally before I enter the room. When he started the session he informed me that my score was the lowest it’s ever been and we talked about why now, despite my thinking that I was feeling better, that the numbers were saying something else. The conclusion reached was that presently I am actually experiencing my emotions. In the past I’ve employed numerous techniques to avoid negative emotions. While avoiding these emotions may at times allow me to function short-term, the feelings are still there, accumulating and collecting interest. Therefore my efforts to experience and observe are also coming into play in regards to me emotions. Rather than be numb to my emotions, I’ve been experiencing every rotten, yucky bit of them.
Experiencing emotions is important, even if they are unpleasant. Life isn’t a non-tangible representation, its ripe with texture and variables and consequently the creation of art reflects this. It is through art that we explore life’s’ inconsistencies and seek to create meaning and understanding of both ourselves and others which in turn furthers our ability to participate and evolve.
Can you feel it?
Never is written on my inner right thigh. It is not printed in ink; it is embedded in the flesh, written in scar tissue. I remember how I got this scar because I remember cutting the word into my skin.
March 1st is Self Injury Awareness Day – the goal is to discuss the realities of self injury and reduce stigma for those who are affected by self injury. Self Injury is still surrounded by myth, taboo and limited understanding – I hope to contribute to changing this through my own research and writing. Why? Because I self injure.
Self injury, self harm, NSSSI (non-suicidal superficial self injury), self abuse, self mutilation, cutting – the list of terms used to describe this behaviour is long and speaks to the confusion that surrounds the behaviour. For the sake of this post I will be using the term self injury. The terms I’ve listed here are what we find in academic, health and clinical literature and media. The labels that are used socially are much more problematic – emo, sicko, attention seeker, psycho, length ways not across- get it right… these labels can all be summed up in one easy term – bullshit!
Jokes about self injury, comments trivialising the behaviour and general ignorance only contribute to the shame, guilt and lack of knowledge experienced by self injurers and those that care for them. Not only do I find this reaction or treatment of the topic hurtful but I can also find it triggering*. Self injury is more common than you think yet the taboo’s still exist leaving many to continue to carry the secret and refuse to seek help when needed.
*Triggering – when using this term in relation to self injury it refers to “setting off”, something that causes the individual to want to injure themselves or to think about injuring themselves.)
Some people in my life know that I am a self injurer but I am now undertaking a discussion and investigation about my experience with self injury which is more open and in depth than I’ve ever been before. The process of doing so is incredibly confronting – not just for me but for those who know me. I do not find it easy to talk about my relationship with self injury however I think it is an important discussion to have. The literature that does exist comes from a psychological, medical, care or sociological perspective. Most accounts from self injurers themselves are anonymous and generally gathered and edited by others. Discussions of self injury in the media are often presented in a sensationalised way, we hear of the ‘epidemic’, we hear that it is a ‘youth issue’ and the behaviour may be ‘shocking’!
Self injury is surrounded by egg shells and while care and compassion is needed, pity and reference to self injurers as ‘victims’ does little to reduce stigma. Because of the stigma around self injury the internet has always been an important resource for both information and support. I found internet forums particularly useful when I first began seeking help. I am now combining my research into social media and the self with my personal experience with self injury and refocusing my PhD in an effort to raise awareness and fill the gabs in the literature to help create understanding – not just for others but also for myself.
Here are two links that provide a general overview about self injury (more broadly discussed as self harm):
These links are a starting point. Understanding self injury is not straight forward. There is still a lot of research to be done. Therefore the purpose of this post is awareness. Be aware of how you think about self injury, how you engage in discussion of self injury how you react to self injury – be this as someone who self injures, someone who treats self injurers, someone who knows someone who self injures or someone who knows nothing about self injury… if you don’t understand self injury don’t make assumptions.
Writing this post also serves the purpose of my own self awareness. Embarking on a project where I am discussing my own experience is challenging. I have to confront my own fears and preconceptions of how I will be viewed and treated. I am opening myself to criticism, subjecting myself to material that will be upsetting and testing my own abilities to care for myself.
I am asking you the reader to simply, be aware:
If you know me personally be aware that I am undertaking this testing project. Ask me questions if you have any. Be aware that I will need your continued support throughout this project.
If you are a self injurer I hope you have a strong support network. Do try and seek support in a way that you are comfortable with. There are many good organisations online or alternatively talk to your GP or call a help line. You are not alone. I am not seeking research participants for my work but am happy to receive feedback and suggestions of resources or particular issues you feel need to be addressed in the discussion of self injury.
Do you want to start talking about your self injury? Read this:
What can you do if you know someone who self injures? Firstly don’t treat them differently, don’t try to fix them, don’t try and control their behaviour and don’t treat them as fragile. You need to operate within your abilities. Simply ask them if you can do anything to support them, encourage them to seek professional help if necessary (or willing), basically let them know that you care about them, respect them and if they need to talk you will listen without judgement.
Know someone who self injures and want to help? Read this:
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IMPORTANT – Please note: I am a creative writer and researcher and am not trained in mental health or counselling. I am writing my first novel which features a protagonist who self injures and my exegesis will be discussing the research that accompanies this novel and my experiences reflecting on self injury, creative writing and social media. The novel is a work of fiction and not a memoir or autobiography. This is a work in progress and therefore subject to change through process.
If you need help now please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 (Australia)