One of the most interesting articles I wrote on my original blog was this one. My ‘coming out’ as a self harmer. When it appeared on the original All that I am, All that I ever was in October 2007 it barely registered a blip. A couple of months later I used it as one of the founding articles on my sister blog Eliminate the Stigma of Mental Illness, and at the time this barely registered a blip also.
A couple of months ago I was feeling nostalgic and took a spritely jaunt through some of the old blog pages – and kinda stopped when I reached this post on the Eliminate… blog. How many comments? Really! They have to be spam, surely?
They weren’t (well, a couple were) but most were like this:
Thanks for writing this, i felt so relieved reading it, i know I’m not alone in this but its hard to find others that REALLY understand what its like.
Ive looked up sites before and they are all meaningless to me, they agrivate me. This one helped me alot. Thank You. Im 14 And already ive become addicted, People think they understand, but really they don’t. This page really helped me just knowing I’m not alone. Thank you.
And people opening up about their own self harm experience. It was eye opening to know that so many people had read something I wrote and taken it to heart. As such this post will always have a special place in my heart.
(Some) True Confessions of a Self Harmer
We’ll start with a bang to get everyone’s attention:
I ONCE PURPOSEFULLY IGNITED A FULL BOX OF MATCHES IN MY CLOSED FIST
So what’s your reaction?
HO-LY …!! ?
[stunned silence] ?
OOOWWWWWWWW!!! OWWWWWWWWWW!! OWWWWWWWWW!! ?
My guess is all of the above, and then some.
My top 5 most painful injuries, as inflicted on myself, in reverse order:
5) When I was 14, I stabbed a pencil into my finger whilst in the middle of a class at school.
4) When I was 21, I whipped myself so hard with a belt it I couldn’t sit, lean or lie on my back for just under a week.
3) A couple of days before being diagnosed as having a breakdown, I was sitting on a beach in Port Fairy. I started a small fire, took one of the burning sticks, and burned both my chest and shoulder. It was this event that made me realise I needed to see a doctor!
=2) That box of matches hurt like…well…a box of matches igniting in your closed fist!!!!! I had burns on the palm of my hand, thumb and two fingers for weeks.
=2) In July 2007, I knocked myself unconscious by throwing myself into a tree.
1) The cutting/hitting/burning incident in May 2007 prior to my suicide attempt.
I had to start like that! There was no other way to do it. Like every single form of mental health problem that exists, we need to talk about self harm in order for the stigma to be eliminated. The only way to do this is in a blunt, bloody and brutal way.
Hurting yourself is NOT about attention!
Hurting yourself is NOT about wanting to kill yourself!
Hurting yourself is NOT about bloody EMO!!
Hurting yourself is NOT about proving how cool you are!!
Hurting yourself is NOT about having a weakness of personality!
Hurting yourself is NOT about self-hate!!
Hurting yourself IS a symptom of a larger problem!
Hurting yourself IS a symptom of a larger problem which the person may not even be aware of!!
Hurting yourself IS AN ADDICTION!!
Pure and simple.
Even though burning myself with that stick hurt like nothing else, I’ve still burned myself since. Even though I couldn’t sit down for a week, I’ve still whipped myself again. Even though I bled all over my school books, I still stabbed myself with a pencil again.
Like any form of addiction – gambling, drugs, smoking, chocolate, porn – you simply have to do it again, only with every new time you do it, it has to be bigger in order for you to receive the same “hit”. Cutting yourself once will do the trick, but sooner or later you find you need to cut yourself dozens of times to receive the same fix. This is where the problem hits, because sooner or later you’re slicing a pound of flesh from your arm and not even feeling it.
This is where people who aren’t even suicidal are killing themselves by accident.
I’m not saying that everyone who self harms isn’t suicidal, nor am I saying that anything which I have written above about what self harm is/is not is set in stone. People self-inflict for all sorts of reasons, but from my experiences not only with my own self harm but also talking with people, who do the same thing, they aren’t suicidal or weak (in fact, some of the people who self-inflict that I know personally are the strongest most beautiful souls I’ve ever met)
I started self harming in 1993 whilst I was at school. I was able to get this under control by mid-1999 whilst working at the video shop. Throughout my time backpacking I was not having any urges to do so and thought I had it under control.
I did relapse however during the last four months of 2000; whilst trying to cope with Rachel’s death, restarting college and after my first suicide attempt [remember that word for later; after.]
From December 2000 to December 2006 I only self harmed on two occasions. It wasn’t until my breakdown in March 2007 that I relapsed and once more began doing so. I was able to get it under control again between May 2007 and July 2007, but suffered another major relapse, and have self-inflicted on/off since.
The last time I self-inflicted was two days after my last suicide attempt, October 2007 [and note the use of the after again].
My trick with self-harming was to attack parts of my body which I could cover – legs, arms, buttocks, back, chest – by throwing on some form of clothing, beit a jumper on the middle of a summer’s day or a long sleeve T-shirt on a cooler one. Always with injuries which wouldn’t leave any long-long term scars.
I would always use similar methods – cutting, burning, scolding, hitting – and every now and then, when the mood struck, would become creative and run into trees or ignite boxes of matches in my closed fist.
I was never doing it because of wanting to kill myself, or hating myself, or wanting to prove how tough and resilient I was. Nor was I doing it for attention – if attention was all I was after I would release a wombat into a crowded shopping precinct or streak Brunswick Street on a Sunday afternoon. It was always about this PAIN-PLEASURE balance I mentioned in an earlier post.
(And no, I’m not referring to this pain-pleasure as in a sadomasochistic way – ‘cause if that was the case whenever I felt like self-inflicting I would just go visit a dominatrix and have some sexy woman whip me rather than doing it myself.)
I’m referring to the coping mechanisms people have when their internal pain becomes too great.
Remember I said earlier to note the use of the word after in relation to my suicide attempts. The reason I self-inflicted after those attempts was as a way to control the inner conflict, pain and turmoil my mind was going through as a result of them. It was a way to stop me from trying again! It wasn’t because I still wanted to die; it was because I wanted to live!
The other times I self harmed was as a way to feel something. Life had become numb, frustrating, painful, empty and meaningless. The over-riding feeling of loneliness and emptiness is a powerful influence, because we live to feel, and if we are feeling nothing then what is the point of being alive? Again I wasn’t self-inflicting because I wanted to die, it was because I wanted to feel something: to feel like I was alive!
Having a tree knock myself unconscious, burning my chest and not sitting down made me feel something that I was missing.
Hence, why, before my third suicide attempt I did self harm – as a means to grab some physical feeling. something to convince myself not to go through with what my brain was telling me to do. However, on this instance, no matter what pain I caused myself, it didn’t work.
Overcoming the urge to self-inflict has been one of the hardest things I have had to deal with through this tumultuous time suffering from depression.
As I said above, IT IS AN ADDICTION. Pure and simple!
And anyone who has tried giving up smoking or gambling or Lindt or badgers will know that overcoming addiction is fucking hard! Not only because of the pure level of addiction, but also because it means having to face up to whatever problem is feeding that addiction in the first place. Whatever buried pain is making us smoke, drink or gamble needs to be faced up to. In essence, we need to become whip-wielding dominatrixies in order to tame and eventually command our problems.
To overcome self-harm we, like with every form of mental illness, we need to start talking about it in order to understand it, in order to help people overcome and control their addiction.
So how can you help? If you know someone who self-harms here are a few pointers:
– Whatever they’re doing DON”T take it personally. It isn’t about YOU!
– Be available and LISTEN to them if they need to talk.
– ACKNOWLEDGE their pain, it won’t make it go away, but it will make it more bearable.
– DON’T avoid the subject or pretend it’s not there.
– ASK THEM “I know you hurt yourself and I would like to understand it a little more, could you maybe explain why you do it? I’d be grateful if you could.”
– DON’T confiscate their “tools” (because I guarantee you this will lose their trust and they will just get more creative anyway)
– BELIEVE in them and BE HOPEFUL
– DON’T push them
– TAKE the initiative and distract them; take them to the cinema, rent a DVD, bake some chocolate brownies, go to a trivia night, go for a walk, have a playful pillow or water pistol fight, hell, if they’re your bf or gf, do a seductive strip tease and get them thinking about that cute butt of yours.
– DO spontaneous acts of kindness
– Be available, and willing, to LISTEN if they need to talk.
– EDUCATE yourself – slip on your Willow hat and hop on the net for some research.
– SUPPORT them physically; call them up and tell them you’re worried about them and invite them over for a game of scrabble or a blueberry muffin.
– SUPPORT them emotionally; go to the Doctor/Psychologist with them.
And please, please…whatever you do…
– DO NOT TRY TO MAKE/ORDER THEM TO STOP!!!!!!!!! If you make them feel guilty, or punish them in any way, this will just add fuel to their addiction.
And please, please, please, please…whatever you do…remember to…
– Take TIME OUT and recuperate, caring/loving someone who suffers from any form of mental illness is exhausting and you need to look after yourself.
Although it’s confronting, brutal and painful to think that people you care about are inflicting this pain on themselves remember that to them it is merely an addiction. A symptom of a larger, possibly unknown illness or condition, and they just need some help and support in order to get them through it.
As we’ve all experienced from time to time: the over-riding feeling of loneliness and emptiness is a powerful influence. It’s time to stop judging people who self harm, and start understanding what they are feeling; it’s the only way to understand their pain.