Warning: Some people may find this post triggering. For help with self harm please refer to resources such as Headspace, Helpguide, Lifeline, or call your local crisis helpline.
When I was 15 I was diagnosed with major depression, panic disorder and an eating disorder. Because I wasn’t confused enough, later on I was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and numerous other unpleasant sounding things ending in “disorder”. Basically, no one knew what was going on.
It was a bit of a shithouse time really, culminating in a hospitalisation, threatened subsequent hospitalisations, and a fair amount of general chaos. Medication never worked because, obviously, I actually had Bipolar disorder, and prescribing anti-depressants without a mood stabiliser to someone with Bipolar disorder will usually just make things worse. But the doctors never picked up on that. So…one of my coping strategies was self harm.
I remember the first time I hurt myself. I had just come home from lunch at a cafe. I was freaking out over what I had eaten – not because I was afraid of becoming fat, but because I thought the kitchen staff were trying to poison me (and despite telling the doctors this concern every single frigging week, the professionals never picked up on my psychosis either. Probably because middle class, skinny, teenage, perfectionistic, high achieving, introverted girls don’t have psychosis. They have Anorexia.) Anyway, I tried to make myself puke. That was a fail. So out of pure frustration I grabbed a pair of scissors and scratched myself.
Immediately I felt relief. And about 10 seconds after that; shame.
Harming myself was like a weird drug. I started doing it more and more. I became addicted to it. I am not going to go into morbid detail because I know how triggering this kind of stuff can be. But hurting myself felt like the one control I had in my life. It felt like I was externalising all the pain inside and making it visible. It was my punishment. It was my reward. It was my secret.
This topic is not something I have ever really written about on here. To be honest with you, I don’t really like thinking about what I did to myself. But I think this is a topic worth discussing. There is so much controversy over self harm. And so much disrespect. Those who self harm are mocked, seen as attention seekers, and dismissed.
I can’t speak for others, but I never self harmed for attention. Attention was the last thing I wanted, even going to the extent of self harming in places only I would see, or wearing long sleeved tops on even the hottest of days. I self harmed because I didn’t know what else to do. I self harmed because it was a release. I self harmed because I was unwell.
That’s another thing: there is a myth that self harming is a kind of suicide attempt. I didn’t want to kill myself. Well, I did, at times. But my self harm wasn’t a symptom of suicidality. My self harming behaviour was a tool, a destructive tool, that got me through some of the most difficult days of my life. For me, it wasn’t a step towards ending it all.
Then one day I realised that I was running the risk of permanently scarring my body, in a way that would be eternally difficult to explain. I realised that I wanted to wear a bikini. That one day I would walk down the aisle and may want a sleeveless wedding dress. That I might have a kid who would ask what I did to myself. That it just wasn’t a healthy way of behaving. So I stopped. I say it like it was easy. It wasn’t. There was a long period after I self harmed regularly where it would be my “go-to” strategy if I was upset. It took a long time to change my behaviour. But I did it. And aside from the freak out I had in the locked ward last year, which I don’t tend to count as I was rampantly psychotic and actually set on killing myself as opposed to harming myself , I haven’t self harmed in years.
Luckily I don’t have many noticeable scars. But the ones I do remind me every day on how far I have come, and the path I have walked.
When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of poetry and songs. Today I came across this poem, and it stuck out to me. For me this explains perfectly the allure, horror and truth behind self harming.
12 deadly sins
Feels like fire
My opened flesh
How I like it best.
Indulge my skin
But it’s never enough
To purge my sins
1 because I’m not good enough for you
2 for all the wrongs I do
3 for keeping back the truth
4 for the way that I treat you
5 for my ugly face
6 for this unwanted space
7 for the lies I’ve told
8 for this razor I hold
9 for the pain inside
10 for my hopes to die
11 because I can’t stop now
12 because I don’t know how.
12 purple scars
upon my thigh
I keep them well hidden
So you won’t ask why.
12 deadly sins
my punishment kept
12 000 tears
my cruel hands have wept.
These words haunt me in the sweetest of ways. I wrote quite a lot of poetry, before I was diagnosed BP 1. I remember feeling embarrassed and disgusted for these words that were purging out of me. Only later, after being diagnosed , I looked at the poetry again. I felt less embarrassed, I knew that I was trying to capture what was happening to me on the inside- capture the storm within, the cray cray monster within – the only way I knew how: with words and rhymes. And apparently they call it clanging. Sigh, must they name everything?! I just like people saying, “Yo, that’s some deep shit you got there.”
P.S Love your work!
Wow! I can certainly relate to your feelings of shame. But I think writing is such a great outlet. I will be checking out your blog 🙂
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