How I Would Explain My Self-Harm to Others

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Trying to explain my self-harm to someone who doesn’t self-harm has always been a struggle for me. But after nearly 11 years of struggling on and off with it, I’ve finally found a way to explain it:

Sometimes I feel too much. I just feel too much. No, I’m not saying that I am physically feeling too much — this is not a matter of the five senses. Rather, it is a matter of my emotions. When I say, “I am feeling too much,” I mean that my emotions are overtaking my mind. I mean that my emotions are spiraling down a negative path. I mean that my emotions are too strong to deal with in that moment and I want to make them stop. Sometimes, I have a very clear picture of what these emotions are and I use the coping strategies I’ve learned to help deal with them. But more often than not, I don’t know what emotion I am experiencing. You see, I’ve blocked myself off from my emotions for such a long time now that it can be hard to identify them anymore. Therefore, I don’t always know how to cope, so I turn to self-harm.

I’ll continue explaining:

The first time I can remember feeling too much was in March of 2006. While I don’t remember exactly what I was feeling too much of, I know that it was overwhelming. It was then that I hurt myself for the first time. Yes, I hurt myself. On purpose.

It may seem counterintuitive to create a physically painful feeling when I am, at the same time, saying that I am feeling too much. But that’s where it actually makes sense to me — the physical feeling relieves the emotional feeling and allows me to feel less. While I do not know when the emotional feelings will stop, I know from experience that once I create a physical pain, the emotional pain goes away. I’m not exactly sure the best way to describe it, but I think a quote from the movie “Short Term Twelve” did a pretty good job when it said, “It’s impossible to worry about anything else when there’s blood coming out of you.” And it’s true. Within seconds of hurting myself, my “too much” becomes much less, until it becomes nothing at all.

When I can get to a point where the self-harm doesn’t physically hurt and the emotions don’t hurt either, then I will finally be at peace with both my body and my mind. I suppose you could say I am numb. It is in that peaceful moment when all my emotions have ceased that I have relief from my “too much.”

So that is why I self-harm. Or at least, why I used to. Thankfully, I can write this and say I am free from self-harm behavior for a while now, which is something I am proud of. Nevertheless, I do still often feel “too much,” but I’m learning to identify what causes that feeling instead of just blocking it out. This is uncharted territory for me, but if there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that there is hope — hope in that I can one day feel all of the emotions on the enormously large emotional spectrum and not want to to run away from them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Mike Powell

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What I Wish Health Care Professionals Would Consider Before Dressing My Self-Harm Wounds

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I’ve touched on this subject before but I feel the need to revisit it. “Noncompliance” is something that is so widely accepted as a viable piece of terminology when talking about people who have any kind of physical or mental health difficulty and it’s one I don’t feel is really questioned enough.

Inherent in noncompliance is the unspoken implication that the medical professional has the definitive truth of what is in another individual’s best interest. Now of course a doctor or psychiatrist can assert their medical knowledge as superior to the person whom they are treating and can say from this perspective alone, that yes, they know what is considered as providing the best medical outcome based on evidence based practice. But I believe this is not the same as understanding what is in the best interest of an individual.

This is where I think true occupational therapy comes into its own. Occupational therapy aims to look at the whole person, not just the medical outcome. You may assert that having my arms dressed by qualified nurses is more congruent with evidence that points to the reduced risk of infection associated with professional driven wound management. But beyond this, do you consider the impact the treatment intervention you are asserting will actually have on me as an individual? Have you considered how the treatment makes me feel? Have you thought about how the time it takes up in my daily life may disrupt my routine and make it difficult to plan other occupations I find meaningful? Did you consider the cultural implications of your suggested treatment? When independence in our society is prized as the goal, how may being dependent upon a service again affect my esteem? Have you thought about how my role as a patient may shape my self-concept when I’m working hard in therapy to construct an identity outside of my use of services?

The psychological impact of your suggested treatment is overlooked simply because generally wound management is considered medically, as better enacted by qualified practitioners. This however overlooks my personal narrative. I have been a self-harmer since before my teenage years and have amassed a great deal of knowledge on dressings and wound management in that time — after all I’ve had to in order to keep myself safe. I frequently find myself telling those who are qualified which dressings would work best and how better to apply them so they don’t fall down or come away from the skin. Most practice nurses are so used to doing dressings for a largely older age population that they often forget how much more movement a younger person’s dressings need to withstand. Sometimes they apply them so poorly I’m usually having to redo them as soon as I’ve walked back home from the surgery. In applying my own dressings and monitoring my own wounds, I am taking on responsibility for my own actions and demonstrating self-care. Why is this viewed as noncompliance?

The main point I want to make is I believe the physician puts himself or herself into a position of knowing what’s best for a person based on meeting a single set of criteria. There is no consideration as to whether having my dressings completed by the practice nurses is likely to trigger me into further self-harm because of the lack of dignity and control I feel in the situation. If I want to attend to my own wounds, I am labeled a “bad patient” because I’m not agreeing with what the doctor feels is the best course of action. I am seen as “noncompliant.” But how can I not be compliant with my own care. Can I not disagree with the recommended treatment regime and still be legitimate in knowing what’s best for me as a person? Do I not have the right to say I know myself better than a professional who has never met me before? Is it not in both our interests to work together as a partnership rather than in a futile power struggle where you must always be heralded as the superior and me as the psychiatric patient who needs others to make her decisions for her ?

I believe everyone has the fundamental right to be listened to when they tell you what’s best for them and not be labeled negatively because of it. I believe the word, “noncompliant,” is another way of a professional saying, “I didn’t try hard enough to understand what’s important to this individual.” I believe it’s a way of saying the problem is the patient and the only solution is the treatment they as the professional thought to administer. To me, “noncompliant” says, “I’m right and you’re wrong” and doesn’t stop to consider the notion that maybe patient and physician both have a valid point. Yes, outcomes in evidence-based practice may suggest I have less chance of infection and wound complications if I allow the nurses to do my dressings twice weekly at the GP surgery, but also this treatment may actually exasperate my feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem through learned dependence and take a psychological tole on me when it leaves me cast into the role of psychiatric patient and service user. In this way I am not “noncompliant” with my care because I am trying to look out for my own best interest and get my needs met to the best of my ability.

The goal should be not to label people, but to engage people. If an individual isn’t taking a prescribed medication — why aren’t they taking it? If they aren’t using a piece of equipment you gave them — what is it that prevents them from doing so? What, why and how are words around enabling others rather than defending one’s clinical position.

My argument is that nobody is “noncompliant.” I believe it is a redundant, reductionist piece of language to use. People simply choose to act in ways you don’t think are helpful to them.

I think it’s time we binned the arbitrary labels that let the professional off the hook from finding another treatment or strategy to meet their patient’s needs. It’s time to take back our own power and say: “You don’t have the right to tell me what I need. It isn’t your job to tell me to sit down, shut up and do what I’m told.”

Psychiatric patients aren’t children, we don’t need disciplining into accepting your values and ideals as our own, we just need support from clinicians who will work to understand our perspective and work with us rather than against us in what should ultimately be the aim for us both: our overall well-being.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via utah778.

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To the People Who Stare at My Self-Harm Scars

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Hi. I’m one of those people you might have stared at. One of the people you may have nudged your friends in the ribs about to point out. I’m the person who just happens to be in the same place as you trying to go about my day. You may have decided I was worth a long, hard glance. And that’s OK. I understand that sometimes, when something is different, you can’t help but look. But there’s a big difference between looking and staring.

I have self-harm scars. All over my body. Some of them, over the years, have turned white and aren’t noticeable, but others are bright red scars, or keloid scars, that I know will either never go away or will take years to fade even slightly. I’ve accepted that. I know what I look like. I’ve had to get used to my new body. I have to look at myself every single day and remember each one of those scars and how they came to be and I am trying so hard every second to not be constantly self-conscious of them. And I usually have them hidden, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. And that’s usually when people stare.

I know looking is sometimes uncontrollable. You may see something different to what you’re used to and you can’t help yourself. Sometimes I don’t mind that. One quick glance is easy to pass off as merely that — a quick passing glance. But when you stare, it’s a whole other story.

I spend all of my time trying not to be self-conscious. And staring instantly throws me into that place. That place of, I’m a freak, they’re staring at me. I’m so stupid. I’m too different. I’m ugly. I’ll never be beautiful. I’ll never get anywhere in life. All people ever see are my scars, etc, etc, etc. It’s an instant feeling of my heart sinking down to my feet, of my stomach instantly knotting, my face becoming red and wishing I could run and hide. It reminds me of all those mistakes I made, all those cuts and sometimes, it makes me feel like I should just relapse because what difference would it make if people are going to look at me like that anyway?

I don’t mind people staring if they’re informed. I’ve always said if someone were to look at me judgmentally, learn my story and get to know me and continue to look at me judgmentally then I would let them — they would have the right to. But when people don’t know me, they don’t know my history or my story or what I’ve gone through — and they instantly judge me on something they do not understand. And that’s not OK with me.

So, to you, the people who stare: please consider how you are making that person feel. Everybody has their own story, their own history and their own incredibly valid feelings. Consider how judgmental eyes, nudging and pointing will make that person feel. I can guarantee you the person is more than aware they look “different” and they’re probably just trying to maintain their confidence to get through the day without hiding — I know that’s how I feel. So please, educate yourself. Be informed and be kind. We are people. Regardless of looks, we are human beings just like you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.

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To the Young Woman With Red Hair and Self-Harm Scars

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Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to the piece, “To the Man Who Approached Me About My Self-Harm Scars.”

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder along with anxiety and a few other issues a number of years ago. I struggled with self-harm when I was teenager and early adulthood. It’s something that never goes away after all these years.

But this story isn’t about me, it’s about a story I read on The Mighty earlier this week. Reading the story, I quickly realized she was talking about an interaction I had while in New York City with my family. I’ve gone back and forth about sharing this story. I’m not thrilled about the attention that may come my way. I just want everyone who feels alone to know there are people out there who understand what others can’t comprehend.

So, we walked down to Times Square and looked around for a while and decided to get a little better view and to sit and rest. The bleachers had some people relaxing taking pictures and enjoying themselves. We sat down about half way up and took in all the sights. Very quickly someone caught my attention and nothing else mattered.

This piece is for the young woman with red hair and noticeable self-harms scars. My first thought was, She’s a fighter. But I also thought about how brave and courageous she was. But the more I watched you it became very clear how uncomfortable and anxious you were. You sat with your legs up against your chest and your arms wrapped around them like you wanted to hide. A few people walked down the bleachers past me and nudged each other when they saw you. It was then my heart sank and hurt for you. I understood the demons that gave you those scars, but also how difficult it must be just to be in a pair of shorts and a top.

That’s when I knew I had to say something to you. I sat there wondering what to say, and a million things went through my head. I wanted to sit next to you to tell you that you’re not alone in your fight and to please keep fighting and never give up. I wanted to tell you how beautiful you are on the outside and on the inside. I didn’t see what everyone else saw — I just saw a young woman with red hair.

My family decided it was to time to leave. They headed off in a different direction down the bleachers. As I came up from behind you, I still didn’t know what to say. When you turned and looked at me I saw dread sweep across your face. The only thing I could muster was, “You’re a warrior.”

You saw my semicolon tattoo, but not what’s tattooed next to it — the phrase: “You’re not alone.” Don’t ever forget that.

My only regret while visiting New York City was not saying the things I wanted to say to you but didn’t. After reading your story I now know, I achieved my goal. I just wanted to make you smile.

tattoo

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead Thinkstock photo via lolostock.

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How I Talk About My Self-Harm With My Daughter

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

It started with an innocent enough question: “Daddy, what are those white lines on your arm?” 

“Those are scars.” 

“How did you get them?” 

“I harmed myself.”

“How did that happen?” 

“I did it on purpose.” 

“Why?”

“When I was younger, I used to harm myself when I was angry or sad.” 

I am not ashamed of my self-harm scars. They’re just a part of me, like my brown eyes, my depression and my sense of humor. I knew Namine would one day notice them and ask about them. I just didn’t think that day would come so soon. (Although now that I think of it, “soon” is all relative. Namine is almost 9 years old.) 

Namine and I talked about sadness and depression. We talked about the talking: about having someone you can trust. It’s not the first time that we’ve discussed her being able to talk to us about anything without fear of getting in trouble, and I’m sure — as she gets older — that it won’t be the last. It bears repeating.

Namine has a self-love I’ve never felt for myself, and for that I’m thankful. She’s never shown signs of clinical depression, but since it can be hereditary, she may someday. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and though you can never truly be prepared for depression, talking about it is a good first step. 

Namine knows about death, having come so close to it personally. Not only she herself, but she’s lost a grandmother and a great-grandmother, and she was extremely close to both. She knows about suicide; the topic was touched on in one of her school books last year, actually. (Had I known ahead of time, I’m not sure I would have let her read it. But she did read it, and so we discussed it.) She knows people hurt themselves on purpose, sometimes badly, when they’re not thinking straight. She also knows I get sad sometimes, without cause or reason. (“Sad” being her word, and although it isn’t quite right, it’s close enough for her vocabulary and our discussion.)

It’s all we can do sometimes to surround ourselves with people who love us. Jessica was with me on the night I harmed myself, and without her present, I may have died. I believe in honesty with my daughter, but on a level appropriate for her age. I won’t tell her now that I almost died, but as she gets older, she may learn it; I don’t have a problem with that.

For now, it suffices for her to know her mommy took care of me. I count myself beyond blessed to have a wife who loves me, despite my depression. And that’s the point I wanted to get across: I am not in this fight alone. I have someone on whom I can depend. I want Namine to have the same trust in us, as her parents — the same assurance that she can depend on us.

So the most I can say about depression to my daughter — and to you, dear reader — is that communication is probably the most important thing you can have. Be there for the people you love. Be willing to talk. More importantly, be willing to listen. Just be there.

This post was originally published on eichefam.net.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Sasiistock

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To the Man Who Approached Me About My Self-Harm Scars

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Editor’s Note: The man described in this story found the piece and realized it was him. You can read his response here.

I have struggled for many years with self-harm in many different forms but, like many, I struggled the most with cutting. As a result, I am covered head to toe in scars, some of which are very noticeable. All of which I am not ashamed of, but I do wish they weren’t there. I live in Scotland. It’s never really “beachwear weather” here, so I generally have most, if not all, of my scars hidden on a daily basis without really trying or having to be aware of hiding them on purpose. Still, when I am at work in uniform or on those rare sunny days when I go without sleeves or — heaven forbid — shorts, I have gotten pretty used to the pointing and staring and whispering or even outright interrogations. So when I went on holiday to New York, I was terrified as I packed those skirts, those crop tops, those shorts with no tights and all of those revealing clothes. I told myself it would be OK and that New York was way too busy a city for anybody to bother finding the time to gawk at little old me. Oh, how wrong I was.

I had it all. I had people pointing, nudging others to get them to look as well, laughing, staring, judging and even one boy who walked past with a group of friends and proceeded to nudge them and say loud enough for me to hear, “Damn, look at the state of that.” I walked around in a constant state of anxiety, always being on edge, looking at every passerby’s eyes to see if they were directed at me, terrified of judgment while knowing perfectly well it was near constant. So when a man came up to me and directly referenced my scars, I immediately felt my heart sink.

But he was different. He asked if he could shake my hand and he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a warrior.” He gave me the most genuine smile and, with a final squeeze of my hand, walked away. I noticed he had a semicolon tattoo on his wrist.

So to that man in New York with the semicolon tattoo who approached the girl with scars and red hair — I can’t thank you enough. You taught me all that judgment is incomparable to one kind compliment. You made me feel comfortable in my own skin despite all of the reasons that had recently been given to me. You reminded me my scars are not flaws, they are not an exhibition to be gaped at — they are a representation of where I have been, the war that I have had to fight and I should not be ashamed.

Thank you, Man from New York with the Semicolon Tattoo. Thank you so much.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via IakovKalinin.

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