All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Six of the Best: My self-harm triggers…

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
What are some of your main triggers? Why?

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I’ve written extensively of my triggers on this blog, including one post in which I challenged myself to find an emotional trigger for every letter of the alphabet. I personally believe that knowing your triggers is one of the most important tasks you can undertake in your recovery journey. For only by knowing what sets you off, what stimulates those urges and beckons the darkness, can we hope to find ways to appease them.

1. Loneliness

My primary trigger for many of my mental distresses is loneliness. Even thinking about being alone is enough to trigger bouts of depression, mood shifts of bipolar and all manner of self harm activity. Ever since I was a teenager I had a fear of being alone. It was something I never wanted to be. I thrive on people. Being around others fills me with confidence, motivates me, thrills me and generally fills me with all sorts of happy fuzzy bunny feelings. But when I’m alone. When I have no-one in my life. I am filled with a darkness that only self-harm can enlighten. The last eight months of being self-harm free have been a nightmare. I am perpetually alone. No-one to distract me, no-one to enliven me, no-one to stimulate me. As such, I find myself being constantly triggered, but unable to self harm to relieve myself as I wish to remain self harm free.

2. Emotional Abuse/Domestic Violence

Ever since I found myself the victim of an emotionally abusive relationship, anything to do with abuse/domestic violence has triggered me. Overhearing it being talked about in public. Reading about it in a newspaper article. Seeing the hashtag #DV in tweets. Everything and anything to do with abuse has the power to render me completely useless, as it resurfaces all the memories, all the pain and chaos that I went through during those long, abusive months. Many times over the last eight years I’ve found myself self harming to relieve the pain I feel as a result of domestic violence.

3. Rape

My rape occurred on the 7th July 2007; eight years ago tomorrow. Sitting here, today, I have already begun thinking the only way I will get through the day is by self harming. I don’t want to. But the memories that will resurface, the pain that I will be assaulted with, will only be soothed by self harm. It is, without question, the first major challenge of my self harm free period this year. But it isn’t just memories of my rape that trigger me. Like abuse/domestic violence, it is everything to do with the subject. Articles. Personal accounts. Tweets. Facebook posts. TV shows. Anything that features rape has the power to trigger me. It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s everyday. But there is little I can do about it.

4. Crowds of people/People in general

This is to do with my social anxiety. I don’t like massive crowds of people. I don’t like being around people in general. I don’t trust them. I don’t function well around them. They have the power to reduce me to a quivering, unintelligible wreck. Many times over the years that I’ve been self harming I have been triggered to cut after spending prolonged periods of time around others. Even at school, being surrounded by dozens of other people, my peers, was enough to trigger me into self harming when I got home. It was a way to deal with the anxiety. It still is, all these years later.

5. Vanessa

Vanessa; the bane of my existence. Of my four primary voices she is the most abusive, the most vicious, the most damaging. Everything she says is an insult, every comment designed to inflict pain on my person. She encourages me to self harm often. I don’t always succumb to her wishes, but there have been times, many times, when I have. I wish she would stop. I wish she would stop telling me to do it. But she won’t. Like all the other triggers, I just have to install mechanisms to deal with her.

6. Boredom

I like being stimulated. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve never liked sitting around doing nothing. I need to be doing something. Whether that’s writing, reading, playing video games, watching TV, chatting to other people, masturbating (what, I’m an adult, and a passionate socially isolated one at that!), preparing dinner, listening to music, whatever. I need to be doing something. For when I’m not doing something the dark thoughts that populate my mind rise to the fore and I’m forced to self harm in order to appease them. This is a major problem given my current boring, monotonous routine. As essentially I do nothing every day, and in doing nothing, I have found my self harm urges growing with every passing day; threatening the self harm free eight months that I’ve successfully navigated.

Even though I know of my triggers, I still have tremendous difficulty with them. I am working hard to alleviate them, to find coping mechanisms and skills to stop them triggering self harm or summoning my deepest depression. It’s a learning curve, I guess, that I’m still working through. One day I hope I will get there. One day I hope I will be able to manage each of these six things. It’s just today, is not that day.

What about you? Do you have triggers you find hard to manage? Do you have any tips or tricks to overcome them?


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Twelve inspirational Doctor Who quotes…

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
What is your favorite inspirational quote?

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~ Twelve inspirational Doctor Who Quotes ~

Rather than one inspirational quote, I’ve decided to share twelve from my most inspiring hero – The Doctor. Why? Because I can!

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30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 22

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
Where do you feel the most calm?

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~ calm ~
[adjective]
(of a person, action, or manner)
not showing or feeling nervousness, anger, or other emotions.

Courtesy of PTSD and social anxiety, I live in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. Every minute of the day my mind is constantly on edge, constantly observing, constantly ensuring there are no dangers nearby. It is exhausting. It is frustrating. It is my life. Over the years I have become used to living like this. It is just what I have to do to survive. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss living a ‘normal’, non-vigilant life. I miss feeling relaxed. I miss feeling calm. I miss feeling anything other than the constant stress that I feel. So to ask me where I feel most calm is a misnomer, because I never feel calm, ever, under any circumstances. I can’t. The moment I do feel calm is the moment some demon will walk up behind me, tap me on the shoulder and shriek ‘BOO’ at the top of her voice. In order to survive I can’t allow myself to feel calm. I must be vigilant. I must be aware. It is what I have to do.


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30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 21

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
Have you tried to stop in the past? What are you doing differently this time?

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In the past, I have tried to stop self harming many times. The first concerted effort was in late 1999, seven or so years after I had first self harmed. Tired of what I was doing, tired of my life, tired of the darkness that overwhelmed me, I embarked on a quest to see as much of Scotland as I could. The plan was to distract myself with the beauty of this majestic country. For a few weeks it worked, but after settling into a backpacker hostel and looking for work to fill the coffers, the urges of the past resurfaced. Rather than cut to self harm, I made the ill-fated decision to start smoking, thus replacing one self harm act with another. But I didn’t cut. I didn’t hit. I didn’t burn. For nearly twelve long months – taking in three months in Canada –  I didn’t injure myself in any way, shape or form.

Then I started college. Then Rachel killed herself. Then my depression returned with a vengeance. I started self-harming again in October 2000 and kept up a sustained routine of self harming behaviour for three long, painful months. But that New Year I met Louise, and soon after, fell in love. This simple act of human emotion was enough for me to reapply myself to becoming self harm free, and although difficult, with Louise’s help I succeeded in my attempt. For four long years I remained self harm free, in fact, for the duration of our relationship I only self harmed on three occasions. Once in 2004 and twice in 2006, not long before our relationship ended, which triggered a return to self harming.

By late 2006 I was self harming on an almost daily basis. My friends had no idea. My girlfriend, Kathy, had no idea. But it no longer held the appeal it once did. I wasn’t receiving the same release. When I self harmed it wasn’t easing my emotional distress, it was increasing it, so I made the conscious effort to once again rid myself of this practice. It was hard, and painful, to go cold turkey, but by the time of my birthday I was self harm free and remained self harm free for several months, until a mental breakdown struck my soul and rendered any chance of remaining self harm free impossible.

Throughout 2007 I self harmed frequently. Sometimes several times a day. I hit. I cut. I burnt myself. I did anything and everything I could to relinquish the emotional pain I had found myself in. It wasn’t until the latter months of that year, when Samantha rekindled our friendship on Facebook, when I was beginning my blogging journey, that I was ‘stable’ enough to once again return to a self harm free way of life.

This effort was short-lived. By mid 2008 I was self harming on a semi-regular basis, seeking emotional release through cutting and hitting. It was something that I hated doing, but it was something that I had worked into my routine, the only way I could live was to self harm. Throughout the year I self harmed in spite of hypomanic episodes, periods of anhedonia and a blossoming relationship. I continued self harming throughout the early months of 2009, and when homelessness hit, I knew my chances of remaining self harm free were next to none. For three long years I self harmed frequently. Occasionally I drew on myself in an effort to minimize the cutting, but I always returned to this blissful release to ease the trauma I was living through.

When my homeless ended in 2012, I made another attempt to quit my self harming behaviour. For a while it worked. But the stress of living way below the poverty line took its toll and I returned to self harming in order to cope with my meager life. 2013 rolled into 2014 and self harm had once again become the norm. In fact, by the middle of 2014, my self harm was worse than during my homeless years. It was a daily routine. A highlight of my day. But then, as I had attempted several times in the past, I decided I needed to quit this behaviour.

My dalliance with physical illness helped. The pancreatitis and resultant cyst caused me so much physical pain that I didn’t need to inflict any more upon my person. But what helped more was my fervent desire to succeed. I was more determined than ever to remain self harm free. I restocked my self harm safety box. I armed myself with a myriad of coping mechanisms. Whenever the urge arose to self harm I would turn to my box and play with the contents until the urge had passed. I still do to this day. Over eight months self harm free and I remain as determined as ever to never self harm again.

I’m not really doing anything different. The safety box is a new coping skill that I haven’t used in the past, but the rest, the distraction, the determination, the self belief, the smoking, are all things that I have tried during every period I had tried to give up my addiction in the past. Perhaps not having any new mechanisms will mean that I will once again fail to remain self harm free. But I’ve never had this much determination, this much self belief that I can succeed, so hopefully these emotions will guide me to success.

Only time will tell.


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30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 20

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
What is the most vivid memory you have of self harm.

trigger_warning

The year, 2004.
The month, December.

It had been a rough month. The person with whom I was co-managing a backpacker hostel was on extended medical leave, placing me solely in charge of the hostel in her absence. Although stressful, I grasped the opportunity with both hands to prove to all and sundry that I was magnificent in my fated profession. Day-in, day-out, I cycled the ten kilometers to work the 12 hour shifts that I was rostered to work. Day-in, day-out, I threw myself into my job. Serving customers. Making reservations. Marketing the hostel. Ensuring everything was running smoothly. The odd bit of maintenance. Room checks. My job was part manager, part receptionist and part general dogsbody, but at the time I loved it. I relished the challenge and loved spending time in the hostel that, over twelve months, I had slowly made my own.

But working 12 hour shifts day-in, day-out started to take their toll. Being on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week was exhausting. When I wasn’t in the building, I was on the phone to people who were, extinguishing spot fires and making sure everything was ticking over nicely. Although I didn’t let on to the staff how stressed I was becoming, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work it out. I hadn’t had a day off in nearly a month, every day was spent at the hostel, or on the phone for hours on end to the staff on duty, or attending meetings at head office with management. And it was after one of these meetings that I snapped.

Four and a half weeks of working every single day, sometimes as much as eighty hours a week, had frazzled my synapses. All I wanted was a day off. All I wanted was a little time to myself. No hostel. No guests. No staff. Just me and my thoughts. But it wasn’t to be. For on the one day off I had organised for myself, I was called in to head office for an ‘urgent’ meeting with the marketing department. So instead of relaxing in my unit, I was cycling the ten kilometers to head office to have a meeting with a staff member I despised, a staff member who never took my comments or opinion seriously. For nearly an hour we bickered about the best strategy for advertising the hostel, all of my suggestions falling on deaf ears, all of her suggestions being treated as if they had been spoken by the second coming of the messiah. After ten minutes I knew it was pointless being at the meeting, but being manager in my co-manager’s absence, I wanted to prove I could handle whatever was thrown at me.

At this point in my life it had been nearly four years since I’d last self-harmed. I was in a happy, fulfilling relationship. I had people to talk to, people to spend time with. Aside from overwork, everything in my life was rosy, everything in my life was as I wanted it to be. But something triggered in me during that meeting, that fateful meeting of conflicted minds. After four and a half weeks with no day off the emotional turmoil was at its peak. Something had to give. Something had to ease the tension. And with no other option, I fell back into old habits. As I left that meeting, stressed, tense, emotionally unstable, I realised I not only wanted to self harm, I needed to self harm. Not later. Not hours after the event. But right then.

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I walked from head office to a 7-11 convenience store. I purchased a pack of smokes (at the time I was a non-smoker), a box of matches, and left the store knowing full well what I was going to do. I was going to take a cigarette from the pack, place it in my mouth, light a match, light the cigarette, and then place the lit match back into the box. So I did. And as soon as the match was back in the box I closed it, gripped my hand around it, and waited for the inevitable. Within seconds the lit match ignited the other matches in the box, and in that split second, the entire box exploded in my hand. The pain was instant. The fire burning into my flesh. I immediately dropped the flaming box and stamped it out with my foot, ignoring my fellow pedestrians who had witnessed the incident during their busy lunch hour. I stood in the street, the city moving quickly around me, and stared at my hand. A large blister had erupted on the palm of my hand, smaller blisters popping up on my fingers and thumb. It burned. It hurt. But the pain wasn’t intolerable; it was beautiful. In that moment, as I stood amidst the hustle-bustle of city life, I felt completely and totally at peace. All of the stress. All of the frustration. All of the emotional distress. All of it ceased to be. In that moment I was lost to the magnificent pain that throbbed on my flesh. It was just me and my pain; me and myself.

I stood in the street for nearly five minutes, smoking my first cigarette in over a year, flexing my left hand, enjoying the pain that burned on my skin. After finishing the cigarette I walked to a bin, disposed of the butt, and casually began walking to a nearby public convenience. I could have run. I could have walked briskly. But I wanted the journey to be as slow as possible. I wanted to feel the pain for as long as possible. Eventually I reached the toilet and began drenching the blisters with cold water. It still hurt. It was still beautiful. But it helped ease the pain a little. After several minutes I left the toilet and visited a chemist, purchasing some plasters that are intended to cover burnt skin. I had self-harmed enough to know you should take care of yourself after an incident. After all, the moment had passed, I had relieved the emotional distress, and was focused on self-care.

That night I told my girlfriend that I had burnt myself on a stove. She didn’t know about my self harm, no-one did back then. It was something I had kept to myself, my own little secret, my own little coping mechanism. She didn’t suspect my lie. She had no reason to. She merely scolded me for being an idiot and carried on with her day. A week later, on Christmas day, the blister was still prominent so I showed it to my girlfriend’s mother, a GP, and she passed on some self-care tips and once again chastised me for being so stupid. For placing my hand on a lit stove top. She didn’t suspect my actions either. Why would she? I had never given her, or anyone, reason to suspect my secret methods of relaxation and psychological coping.

Even though other events have been more painful (the infamous self-flagellation incident of 2000, the even-more-infamous knocking myself unconscious on a tree incident of 2007), that moment, that blissful, beautiful explosion in my hand has remained my most vivid memory of self-harm.

I have never repeated the action, I have never even considered it. That moment was the only time I have ever ignited a box of matches in my hand. At the time it was exactly what I needed. It was exactly what I deserved. And I have never – ever – regretted doing it. If I hadn’t done it my emotional distress would have overtaken me, I would have been flooded with suicidal thoughts and rendered unable to do my job, the job I was so desperately trying to prove I could succeed in. It is a moment in my life that I will never apologise for. However much I dislike self harm, however much I hate who it turns me into, I will never apologise for doing something that, at the time, felt so right, so perfect. But I will, until my dying days, urge others not to repeat my actions.

So if you’re thinking about it. If you’re sitting there thinking now there’s an idea I could implement. Don’t. It really isn’t worth it. You deserve better.