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The Butterfly Project

By: Kaitlin Gladney Emerge Lanka Intern


As part of my last day at Emerge, I taught a workshop on self-harm at one of the shelters. There couldn’t have been a more fitting last day for me, as de-stigmatization of mental health is a passion of mine. As I talked to the girls about the importance of self love and of asking for help when we need it, I felt that my internship had come full circle. Mental health remains a stigmatized issue to this day; therefore, it’s critical that we discuss it in open and honest conversation, rather than relegating it to the silent realm of the taboo.


Struggle is a normal and acceptable part of life, something we all experience from time to time. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay not to be okay all of the time. We all need other people.

Sometimes the act of speaking up when we are struggling can seem intimidating or scary. We hear from the world around us that struggling makes us weak, or that feeling depressed or anxious means we’re crazy. As a result, struggle, especially with matters of mental health, has become something people don’t like to discuss.


Instead of giving voice to something so many people experience, it gets forced into silence. Oftentimes, strength is defined as never having weakness or never showing weakness. However, I don’t think that’s true, I think strength is moving through weakness, and moving forward in spite of it.


The silence surrounding mental health can make it easy for us to feel alone if we are having a hard time, as it can seem as if everyone around us is doing just fine. The feelings can be overwhelming, and can build up so much that the tension makes us feel as if we are going to explode if we don’t do something about them! When these overwhelming feelings occur, people can turn to ways to cope that cause more harm than help.


The Butterfly Project offers a way to cope with impulses to self injure: a butterfly is drawn with a marker over the place on your body you feel tempted to self harm. If you don’t self harm, you’ll find that the butterfly fades away due to the passage time, signifying that it lived and flew away, allowing another butterfly to be drawn. If you self injure, you hurt the butterfly and have to wash it off and start over.


The butterfly is meant to serve as a reminder of your own beauty and worth. A reminder that if you wouldn’t harm a butterfly, you shouldn’t harm yourself, because you are beautiful and significant and are more deserving than anyone else of your own love.


We live in a difficult and broken world. Sometimes it can feel like we’re stuck in a moment that will never change, and that things will never get better. While we can’t always choose what happens to us, we can choose how we respond to it. We can love ourselves enough to get the help we need. Pain is real, but hope and help are very real things too.


“Always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

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