Health and Fitness

My Little Brother Just Told Me He Was Self-Harming

Shock and disbelief overwhelmed me, and then guilt. 
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It was two in the morning when I saw his green little dot on Messenger. 

“Hey, how are you?” I asked.

Aaron just turned 19. He is the youngest in the family, and he lives in the province with the parents. This year, he graduated from senior high and started his online college classes for a pre-med course. 

Throughout his last year in high school, he would ask me for advice on his English and Social Studies courses, and by “advice,” I mean write his homework for him since he’s not very good with words, but shined in Maths and Sciences. 

I would scold him for not giving me ample time to whip up a 300-word essay on History or a 400-worder on Bioethics. 

Kuya, marunong po kayo sa mga theory theory?” He would ask.

Kelan deadline?” I would reply, confident that I could bullshit a way through any topic given enough time. 

Aaron has been a consistent honor student, a top athlete in school, and even though he hates to admit it, popular with the girls. He attracts affection from people surrounding him because of his spirited personality. 

But that moment when I messaged him that morning, I saw a different Aaron. 

Eto, Kuya, pagod at malungkot.”

“Why?”

“I’m tired of my course.

He then unloaded the pressures of online classes in college: The 12-hour classes every day, the insurmountable amount of workload their professors dumped on them with such abandon, and the lack of rest. 

 Even if you haven’t achieved anything yet, you just want to give up on life... I don’t want you to think of me as ‘sadboi’ or that I’m just acting out.

Nag quiz po kami sa Chemistry, Kuya, umiyak ako. It’s depressing how low the marks you get even when you exerted a hundred percent.” 

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“What did your girlfriend say?” I asked, thinking he would have shared it with her. 

“Nothing. I’ve only told this to you.

And then something I’d not expected to hear from him. 

“When you’re at this stage, Kuya, a lot of things enter your mind. You start thinking you’re tired of everything. Even if you haven’t achieved anything yet, you just want to give up on life.”

That startled me, even if he tried to mask his troubles by ending his sentences with “HAHAHA.”

So I told him: “I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.”

What a cliche, I thought, and somewhat perfunctory.

And then I added: “You know I love you, bro, so don’t do anything stupid.”

Nothing could have prepared me for his reply when he said, “Kuya, I’ve been self-harming.”

Images raced through my mind of lacerated body parts, but I kept myself collected and replied, casually: “What did you do?”

“I don’t want you to think of me as ‘sadboi’ or that I’m just acting out. But I’ve been cutting myself. Life’s been shitty and messy but it’s okay, I get by.”

No, it’s not okay. 

My little brother proceeded with telling me how since Grade 9, he’s been having dark thoughts and been self-harming. This has been happening for nearly four years?! Why didn’t he tell me! How could we have missed that? Aaron has always been the family’s joker, dancer, and life of every party. How heavy it must have felt for him to be compelled to tell me this now, at 2 a.m. 

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“When was the last time you hurt yourself?” I asked.

“In October.”

I did not scold him nor invalidate his self-harming. I wanted him to feel accepted and safe. 

“The next time you think of doing that, just message me first, okay?”

Opo, Kuya.”

I asked him if the parents knew, and he said no but they saw his cuts, which amazingly, they believed was grazed in the fence. 

“You bastard,” I said.

Then he showed me a picture of his arm, bleeding from at least 30 lacerations. They felt like cuts on my heart too. 

I was shocked and overwhelmed, but a familiar feeling of guilt eventually took over. Guilt that I had not cared enough to talk to him, or that I was not seen as someone trustworthy enough for confiding something like this. I made it apparent how I was always busy for conversation, that he felt talking to me was going to be burdensome on my end. 

“Sorry Kuya, ayoko kasi maging pabigat sayo.” 

That kind of hurt, but I know it was my fault. 

Prior to our 2 a.m. chat, our last conversation was one month ago, and it consisted of three words: “Musta?” I said. “Ok lang,” he replied. 

Self-Harm is a Sign of Serious Emotional Distress

If you know anyone who is harming themselves, that person could be feeling a lot of vulnerability mixed with guilt, shame, and loneliness. Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress.

Don’t judge, but acknowledge their feelings and emotion. Show concern, and stay calm. Most important, just listen to what they have to say. You may not have all the answers to their problems, but you don’t need to have all the answers anyway. Many times, lending an ear to someone is the best response to anyone who tells you they’ve been self-harming. 

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If possible, help them access further support. Organizations like MindNation offer free mental health care to retrenched workers, while HopeLine offers 24/7 services for self-harm and suicide prevention. 

Hopeline is the only 24/7 hotline for suicide prevention in the country. It is operated by 18 responders. Its hotlines are: 804 HOPE (4673) 0917 558 HOPE (4673) 2919 (toll-free for Globe subscribers). 

*Names and certain situations in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.

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