Pictures of an arm full of cuts started to fill up my Facebook homepage. Yes this arm you see on top of this page, a bit distracting, no?
Well, all of a sudden most of my friends were sharing them. Why? Who posted this? And why would someone share such pictures on their social media profile?
Paying more attention to the post, I came to realize that the girl who uploaded the pictures is a girl I knew from school. A girl I have always thought was beautiful, fun and cheerful. For a second, I thought she was supporting another person, maybe a foreigner who shared their story online.
I clicked on the post, and started to read her words, and surprisingly, this girl was talking about her own experiences, she was sharing her own personal story! “How brave!” I thought. An Egyptian female sharing her journey with self-harm, publicly? That doesn’t happen much. Or at all.
This girl who decided to break our Middle Eastern society’s taboos and publicly talk about her problem, is Dahlia Sayegh, a 21-year old, 4th year student at MSA majoring in Advertising and Public Relation.
Looking at her, you’d never think that she suffers from depression or engages in self-injury. The only thing you’d notice, when you meet her, is her pure smile, beautiful face and kind personality.
How did you become aware that you were suffering depression?
A: I knew I was suffering from depression when I started losing interest in everything and my daily routine became an obstacle, as I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew it wasn’t normal to feel that way.
When was the first time you decided to harm yourself?
A: The first time I decided to self-harm was when I was freaking out from gaining weight. I felt like I didn’t have anything under control so I scratched the word “fat” on my arm and it bled a little.
I was freaking out about gaining weight because I felt so insecure and uncomfortable in my own body. I’ve always had a certain frame for my body that I never want to get out of. Even when I got really thin, I used to always see myself as really fat.
How do you cut yourself? And how often did you use to do it?
A: I break my razor, take out the blade and cut myself with it.
I used to self-harm once a day.
What brought the idea of self-harm to your mind?
A: The idea came to me because of how much I hated myself and how much I needed to shift my attention from my emotional pain.
How did self-injury make you feel?
When I cut myself I used to feel a bit numb and that my brain released a certain chemical that eased my pain and gave my mind a few moments of serenity and calmness.
It made me feel better and calmer as my mind slowed down a little bit and the thoughts rushing through my mind slowed down as well.
What encouraged, inspired or pushed you to post your story on Facebook?
A: I posted on Facebook for a couple of reasons; first I wanted people to know me for whom I really am. I always felt like I’m constantly hiding behind a fake smile and people have no idea who I am.
Another reason was to use social media to shield myself from direct reactions of people in case they were negative, I must admit I was a bit afraid to confront people face to face, as I wasn’t sure of how they would react.
Finally I always felt alone while suffering, but deep down inside of me I believed that some people might be going through the same thing. Therefore, I wanted to break the taboo of talking about mental illness, especially in Egypt. I wanted to make people understand that mental illness is common and that it’s not something that you should feel ashamed of. I wanted people to understand that it’s not something you choose, but rather something you suffer from and keep on fighting against, and that’s definitely what makes you a strong person.
I noticed how people’s reactions were mostly positive, how did that make you feel? Did you get any negative comments?
A: Positive comments meant everything to me. I never imagined that people would be so open-minded. A few random strangers opened up to me about their own illnesses. It was extremely heart warming to be there for them and share your experience with people who understand you and are suffering just like you.
Negative comments weren’t direct, but they came in the form of sympathy and that’s the worst thing you can offer to someone who’s suffering from mental illness. This whole “I’m sorry” thing you say to us because you feel that we are weaker than you bothers me.
How did your parents and family members react? Were they aware of your self-harm before they saw your post?
A: My close family members were shocked. They knew I suffered and that I self-harmed from my therapist, but they never imagined it was that serious. They just freaked out when they saw my post.
As for my extended family, I was surprised to see how understanding and supportive they were. They made me feel loved and cared for so much and I can never be grateful enough for that.
Do you still harm yourself after you posted on facebook?
A: No, I didn’t harm myself after the Facebook post.
I’m constantly reminding myself that I need to fight in a different way as this isn’t the solution. I must admit that it’s a tough challenge to go through, but I hope it’ll be worth the fight.
Hopeful about raising awareness about mental illness and removing the stigma associated with self-injury, Sayegh shared her story with her circle of friends on Facebook.
She still wishes her message and story could reach as many people as possible.
You can see Dahlia’s original post here: