Just to conform to society: Trigger warning, this post deals in detail with self harm, various forms and motivations. If this is an issue you are sensitive to, keep on walking, it’s not for you.
Hi my name is Dans and I am not well.
I think sometimes I need a tattoo that says ‘your name is Dans, you have less than perfect mental health’. Hell even there I struggle to say I am mentally ill. I have mental health issues. I’m sick. I’m down right crazy.
I don’t know how but I manage to forget. You may say that’s good. Don’t be defined by your limitations, don’t be constrained by the labels put on you. But I’m not talking forget for a moment, or even a day. I forget for a long while. Forget that I need to be fighting. Forget that I need to take it easy. Forget how far I can fall. And fall I do.
Most importantly I forget that this illness that I have is forever. I may get better for a while. I may have good hours, good days, good weeks, good months and hell even good years but it is forever. It will come back, and even in the good I need to be keeping an eye on it, be wary of it.
I had some really good years recently. They weren’t without depression, without outbursts of anger, without tears and hopelessness, without urges to self harm and thoughts of running away and suicide. But they were really good years. I started and finished a very intense masters degree. I started a PhD and published papers, I bought a house with my boyfriend who became my fiancé and then my husband. I learnt many many new crafts, including the gardening, knitting and spinning. I accomplished many things. I made new friends. And I forgot. I took on more, I worked myself hard, and I stopped keeping an eye on it all.
The last 6 months have been a slow downwards spiral, it likely started before that, but that is the time I remember. The urges to self harm to deal with things grew. They started small as they always do. Start by pushing myself harder, staying up later, not allowing myself to do things I enjoy, not sleeping, not eating, not drinking, isolating myself, restricting circulation. Then came the less subtle, the fist clenching until the nails dug in, the picking, the hitting, the pinching, the scratching, the biting. And then it happened. Despite all of those things I could tell myself I was still self harm free. I mean they don’t really count, they don’t leave marks, they are socially acceptable. But last week I cut. 4 years free of breaking my skin with a blade, gone. And to make it worse I didn’t just cut, I carved. Probably the least socially acceptable of all. Even makes the therapists pull the ‘wtf’ face.
I had finally gotten to the stage where the words on my body were pretty much unreadable and now I have two new ones. One which it just won’t be possible to keep hidden in these summer months. I’m now 4 days ‘clean’, hoping we can go another 4 years, hell maybe even longer. Maybe this time I’ll remember to take better care of myself. Maybe as this new one is in such an obvious place I will be reminded more often of what can happen when I forget that I am ill, and that I always will be.
Since cutting, deciding twice to quit the phd, and then twice to keep going with it, I have been doing better. I started back on the phd work this week but tonight the stress all built again. I guess a day of caffine pills wasn’t my best idea. I swear I’m just not able to look after myself sometimes, not able to make ‘good’ decisions. I can’t go to bed. I know I’ll just get mad at my husband, there is no reason to get mad with him, he has been so wonderful, but the anger building inside will spill over and he doesn’t deserve that. I can’t focus on the phd work as the concentration seems to be shot and I just feel stupid and I don’t need another word added to my collection. So I thought I would come here instead.
Talking can help, but often there just isn’t anyone to talk to. I talk to my husband but there is only so much he can take on, and he does need to sleep at times. I used to talk to my friends more, but my shit is difficult to understand and after a while I found it just made it harder to talk to them directly. I’ve tried Samaritans but it didn’t work for me. If I remember rightly I just ended up frustrated, even more depressed because hell if Samaritans doesn’t work for me how fucked up am I? I have a CPN I see once a week now, but that is just half an hour and can’t really talk to her at half 1 in the morning. But this, typing on a screen, something that may or may not be read by people I know or complete strangers. This helps.
So believe it or not that was an introduction to where I am at the moment. What I wanted to talk about was self harm. If depression is an awkward subject and talking about personality disorders highly uncomfortable then self harm is downright taboo. Even when talking on forums for people suffering from mental illness self harm can be awkward.
For some, suicide is more understandable. You feel suicidal, which means you are struggling with life and think dying is an option, let’s help you deal with your issues, see the joy in life and want to live again.
But self harm? You’re struggling so you hurt yourself? What is the point in that? Are you trying to kill yourself? Are you trying to get attention? Just huh?
I can’t count the number of times someone has sat across a room or a screen from me and equated self harm to a desire to die. And I can’t even begin to put into focus how infuriating it is.
I do not self harm because I want to die, or am trying to die.
I self harm because I am trying to live.
It is a coping mechanism, an unhealthy one: yes, a socially unacceptable one: yes, a dangerous one: sometimes, but it is a method of staying alive. I self harm because I am struggling and everything else I have been trying hasn’t worked. I am often having suicidal thoughts when I self harm, but the harming is not me acting on the thoughts, it’s me trying to avoid the thoughts becoming reality. It is very much worth noting that since cutting things improved, I was able to socialise, eat and drink normally, enjoy things, concentrate on the work and the suicidal thoughts went away. It did help. I’m not saying that if you’re feeling stressed at work go and cut yourself, but I am saying that if it is some scars and being able to function or me being in hospital I’ll take the scars
I have 3 different forms of cutting they seem to fulfill 3 different needs for me, and I do have ways to stave off all three.
The most common for me is the focused cutting. Just one area, just one stroke, will only leave one scar. It’s light and gentle and repetitive. When I was younger I used to tell myself that I was keeping the area open for when I finally decided to slit my wrists. But that was BS, and I’d have known that if I had probed the thought any further. The more you cut over the same area the more scar tissue you develop, that would make it harder to slit my wrists there. Over the many many years that I have thought about I have realised what it is about for me. It’s about the repetition and the calming. It calms me down completely. I can sit for a good hour cutting the same spot just lightly, go off into almost a trance. Big downside of it is once I sat there for too long, nicked something and had to go to A&E for stitches. Waste of NHS resources number one, probably down on my record as a suicide attempt, which it wasn’t, and I had to get a friend to take me and I hate it when my inability to deal with things affects others. My alternatives? Picking, I have several scars where I have picked the same area over an over again. Again not great as it’s still harming. Knitting, something not too complicated but not simple either, requires focus and repetition. Any other very repetitive task. I used to sort out my husband’s ccg cards, sort files on the computer.
The rarest cutting for me is the complete and utter anger. Often I throw things instead, or very rarely the anger gets that bad. Either way, in all the years I’ve been cutting it’s only ever happened maybe 3 times tops. It’s the wild rage slashing, pretty much no two strokes parallel to each other. Even I feel highly uncomfortable about it. That kind of rage really does scare me. Been about 10 years since that has happened thankfully, I hope it never does again, that I have learnt to deal with my anger better. What do I do to stave it off, well as I said it’s rare. I think the throwing things that are likely to smash is my way of dealing, and thankfully it has also been years since I felt the need to do that.
The last, and the one that has left the most scars, is probably the one that makes people the most uncomfortable. It’s the carving as I call it. My therapist says I am too hard on myself, so does my CPN and pretty much anyone involved in my mental health. Hard on myself plus anger issues has culminated in a part of me that loathes myself, and I mean really loathes. It’s a part of me that sees no good in anything I do, no usefulness to my existence and will not be argues with. It’s a vindictive side of me. One that lashes out with thoughts and words. And just to be sure that even when I am feeling happy and seeing the good in life I remember what a shit I am, that side of me carves the words into my skin, reminding me just what I think of myself, what I truly am. Or at least I used to think of it that way. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I have evolved in my cutting, but this time around carving the words have made me feel a little less like I need to remind myself of them. Or maybe it’s the same. The word is on my skin now so instead of screaming it at myself in my head, my head can quiet as it’s on the skin for me to not be able to forget and for the rest of the world to see. Maybe that is why I can think better, clearer, after I have carved. The dull pain remains, reminding me subconsciously of the word, the feelings behind the word and my brain can get on with functioning and dealing with my shit again. I used to try writing out how I felt, but that often got very graphic and frankly quite disturbing, having my mind only focus on one word stops things from getting too dark. It’s very rare that I have carved more than one word at a time, in fact I’m not sure I ever have. It gives the hateful thoughts an outlet before they build. Writing on myself in pen is probably the best thing I have to avoid this type of cutting. It’s what I did tonight before coming here. And now that I have remembered the strategy it is probably something I’ll be doing a fair bit until this phd is over.
I feel better for having said my piece. For giving my explanation. I have a whole load of resent for the way that society views self harm. For the fact that as long as it’s not something people have to see, self harm can be acceptable, but the moment it become visual people have issue. But I accept that unless you have been there it is hard to understand. I’m not gonna re-read and proof read this. There are likely typos, grammatical errors and bits that just plain don’t make sense. But I feel better now, I’ve worked through the frustration and some of the anxiety I felt when I opened this page. It has helped me, and if anyone actually reads it and it helps them understand me a bit better, understand self harm a bit better or makes them feel slightly less alone, then all the better.