I’ve debated writing this post since virtually the day I started my blog. But some things have been holding me back. Not only is it a topic that can be extremely triggering for people. But it is a topic I keep very close to my heart. Up until now only three people knew that I self-harm: my mother, my partner and my best friend. I honestly find it embarrassing that I self-harm. It makes me feel dirty and unreasonable. With all that being said it is topic I believe is important to discuss. I will be talking about specific self-harm methods so if you feel this would be triggering for you please do click-away and I’ll see you next time. So without further adieu, here is my self-harm story.
I have self-harmed since I was young. It probably all started in my early to-mid teens. I would scratch and pick at my skin. And often hit myself. The thing is, at the time I didn’t regard this as self-harm. The dominant form of self-harm shown in the media was cutting. That’s what I thought self-harm was. In my mind I didn’t self-harm. It wasn’t until I got to university and learned the definition of self-harm that I realised the seriousness of what I had been putting myself through. Self-harm can be defined as causing deliberate injury to oneself, typically as a manifestation of a psychological or psychiatric disorder. Hmmm, so it turns out scratching, picking and hitting probably do count. This rocked my world. I thought my scratches and bruises were nothing compared to the cuts other people wore. But the fact is that the form of self-harm isn’t so important. What is important is the motivation driving the self-harm. And this is usually shared amongst self-harmers, regardless of the method they use.
Self-harm is driven by an attempt to regulate emotions. Some might want to express their emotions, to force them self to feel during times of numbness. At other times one might be motivated to self-harm in order to repress emotions, to stop them from feeling unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings. In conversations with my Psychologist we have determined that the main reason I self-harm is because of the feeling of shame. I am deeply driven by shame. I feel shame for the emotions I can’t control or I feel shame for not feeling enough. I self-harm when I think about the sexual abuse I experienced a s as a child – because I can’t handle the shame. Sometimes I have even self-harmed because I am ashamed of how I look. As a teenager my self-harm was often motivated by a poor body image. I would scratch and pick at my stomach because it wasn’t the ‘perfect’ and flat stomach that I so desperately desired. I have distinct memories of crying in the shower and scratching and pulling at my stomach like it was a tumour I needed to remove. I felt so deeply ashamed to be me and wanted to punish myself.
My self-harm symptoms are often intimately tied up to my Bipolar symptoms. When I am Manic my emotions can be so desperately overwhelming and intense I need an outlet to express them. This often means being violent against myself. When I am Manic I often hit myself in the head in a desperate attempt to slow my thoughts down. My brain races like a cyclone and I will bash my head against the wall, begging it to stop. I love that feeling; when I bash my head and I feel dizzy. Because for just a couple of moments, my brain can’t comprehend a thought. It’s peaceful. It is clear. It’s the calm amongst the storm. This is one of the things that makes self-harm so addictive. It provides immediate relief or distraction from upsetting emotions, which just reinforces the behaviour for next time.
The same goes for the Depression side of my Bipolar. I am prone to punching myself when my brain is moving so slow it feels like tar. Conversely to my Mania lashing out, this self-harm is motivated by the fact that my brain is moving so slow. I want to shock it back into submission. The best example I can give is when I am Depressed, and I am staring at my laptop, willing myself to write some of my assignment. I will sit there, aimless, motionless and out of no where I will have a sudden urge to punch myself. I lash out because I feel ashamed for being so incompetent, for being so Depressed that I can’t complete a basic task like checking my emails. Unlike with Mania, where I hit myself extremely hard once or twice, with Depression I can strike myself as many times as there are seconds in a minute. It’s like a frenzy. I’m just trying to wake my brain up. I often do this when I catch myself dissociating too; to make myself feel something (but I am planning a separate post on dissociation so more on that next time).
So where does this story bring us now? I’m afraid it doesn’t have a happy ending. I self-harmed yesterday. I self-harmed today. Chances are I might self-harm tomorrow. But I am feeling optimistic. I’ve only recently starting talking about it, because as I said I felt so deeply ashamed and embarrassed about it. That’s why it was so important for me to write this post now for where I am at in my own journey. I’m finally ready to talk about it. I recently downloaded an app called ‘Calm Harm’ which is actually super cute. It has little characters and has options for activities you can do to calm and distract yourself when you feel the urge to self-harm. I haven’t used it yet. So far, the urges come on so quickly and so intensely I don’t even have the opportunity to think about using the app and then WAM! I’ve already hit myself. But I am hoping I can get myself programmed to think of using it. I know when I first started mapping my moods on an app it felt unnatural but now I do it everyday. It’s all about making it a habit. If I can make self-harm a habit then I can make not self-harming a habit.