This post deals with self harm. if you are uncomfortable with this topic please dont read any further.
i wont be trying to generalise self harm as it is different for everyone who has been affected by it, but i will try to be honest and be as open as i can about how self harm has affected me.
so, a brief outline of how it all started.
during my third year of college things didnt go well for me. i may have passed the course, but there was a huge effect on my mental state. i was upset, angry, worn out and generally pissed off with the world. i was also severely pissed off, angry and frustrated with myself. i didnt do exactly what i wanted to do during the course and it got to me. once you get on that slippery slope down towards depression is a bastard to get off of or climb back up.
my parents found out about my depression and i started seeing a doctor, however i had not begun to hurt myself yet. that started about a month after i'd been diagnosed.
have you ever done something, good or bad and you arent quite sure why you did it? thats how my experiences with self harm started. for some reason i had a lighter next to my bed, and being the typical guy i decided i wanted to play with fire (literally). i ended up letting the top of the lighter get hot and completely out of the blue i pushed it against my upper arm, just below the shoulder.
the strange thing was it didnt hurt. it didnt feel good, but it gave me a strange sense of release. it was as if a little bit of that stress and anger was out of my head.
it then progressed from a lighter to a stanley knife blade. owing to the college course i did i had plenty of these lying around. using a blade was getting rid of the anger and pent up agression that seemed to be pressing against the inside of my skull. honestly, it helped me, and it helped me for a good few months.
i could only ever use a blade on my right arm though. if i didnt use my left hand to hold the blade i didnt feel in control. i tried using my right hand to cut my left arm, but it just didnt feel right. i couldnt control the blade as well as using my left hand and i didnt like that.
i took to wearing darker clothes with long sleeves as the cuts worked their way down my arm. the dark clothes helped to hide any blood that may seep through the top i was wearing. i remember after one particularly intense session the entire sleeve of the shirt i was wearing was literally dripping with my own blood.
the release of all those negative and aggressive emotions was great. the state of my arm wasnt.
i stopped because of my best friend. she made me promise to stop using a blade and i promised myself i would find a different way to deal with all the things ratting around in my head.
3 months doesnt sound like a long time does it? i have known people who have dealt with self harm problems their whole life and are still dealing with them, so i guess im lucky that i managed to get out of the habit. im not saying im stronger or better than those people who are still dealing with self harm. i dont want to come off like that. im just saying that it can affect different people for different lengths of time.
thats my first hand experience with self harm. i figured i'd tell you about that first before i write any other stuff.
so, why did i do it?
when i first started, i didnt know why. it wasnt actually until i'd stopped that i realised fully why i self harmed.
Release. its all about release and how i coped with situations in my life. if i had a shit day then i needed a way to get those shit feelings out of my system. i blamed myself for having a crap day and a crap mental state. the obvious answer was to punish myself for it. whatever the problem was was my fault and i needed to be punished. (i know that sounds like some weird S&M stuff but its not that. honest.) as i punished myself i realised that using a blade was actually calming me down as well. it got rid of the immense pressure that was building up inside my mind. the shit builds up, i need to find a way to get rid of it. slash. cut. slash. no more pressure.... until the next time i had a rough day.
about half way through my counselling course with the YMCA (brilliant support. i will post a link to them as well as TWLOHA at the end of this post) my counsellor brought a bottle of coke with her to the meeting. i noticed it and suddenly i had an epiphany.
if you drop a fizzy drink on the floor then pressure builds up. now you can either wait for it to calm down, or you can release the lid slowly and gradually the pressure within the bottle dissipates, allowing you to open the lid safely without being drenched in a delicious beverage and being annoyed because you've both got covered in drink AND wasted some of your coke!
if my mental state was a bottle of fizzy drink that i'd just dropped on the floor what i was doing, instead of releasing the pressure safely and carefully was to grab a sharp object and stab the bottle repeatedly with holes so the pressure could escape. now that does work. you get rid of the pressure, but you also lose a lot of your drink and any chance you had of using the bottle again. its not a good way to deal with stuff.
what i had to do was teach myself how to open the lid of my emotions safely without causing everything inside to come tumbling out uncontrollably. im still learning how to do that, even now. i have bad days sometimes. REALLY bad days. i'll be honest, the urge to use a blade or a lighter is still there, but its an easy way out. i'd rather release those emotions gradually and safely than just hack and slash until they pour out. i will NOT self harm again. i promised my friend and i will not allow myself to break that promise, now matter how much i want to.
now, this bit is a little different to my normal rambling. i asked facebook friends if they wanted me to have a go at answering any questions regarding self harm. i got asked a couple of questions so here's my attempt to answer them...
"When we've talked about it at home I've tried to explain why someone does that and that it's not as simple as wanting to hurt yourself. Would be good to hear 'from the horse's mouth' why and how it feels both at the time and afterwards."
at the time it didnt feel bad or good. it just felt like release. it was a way to get rid of emotional stress. i was more worried about people finding out about it than what i was actually doing. physically i didnt feel any pain at all. you'd think with my mention of punishing myself i'd want there to be pain, but there was nothing.
in my case it really wasnt about hurting myself. it was about finding a way to make myself feel better and get a weight off of my shoulders. cutting gave me that mental release i needed. unfortunately the release was only temporary so i had to do it again and again and again. it wasnt the right thing to do, but it definitely worked for me. the only problem is you end up WANTING to do it when you're feeling rough because you know it gives you a release. then if you dont get the release you want you do it more and more. at first i didnt really cut much. but as i needed a bigger and better release the cuts got deeper and longer.
looking back, self harm is not something im proud of. its not something im ashamed of either. it was my way of dealing with my problems. unfortunately, it wasnt the best way to go about making myself feel better.
the scars dont go away either. i will be stuck with those for the rest of my life. during my time dealing with depression i have become pretty self conscious of how i look. having an armful of scars doesnt exactly boost my self esteem.
"How can medical professionals help and understand the issue of self harm better?"
hire people who have done it, or talk as much as possible with people who have stopped self harming and who are willing to talk about it.
personally, i think that the only way someone can truly understand self harm is if they have done it themselves. i dont think its possible for me to explain all the emotions, reasons and ramifications involved in self harm to other people. it's just too complicated.
as an example imagine an astronaut. he/she can go to space and come back and spend hour after hour trying to explain what it was like, but in the end the only way someone can truly see what its like is to be there themselves.
im not saying everyone who wants to help those who have/do harm themselves should go out and pick up a razor blade and go to town on themselves. i just think its a very difficult subject for medial professionals to help with if they dont have as much of an understanding of it as possible.
"What would help make you feel more understood and supported?"
luckily for me, i have a small group of friends who i can talk to about this stuff, so i feel pretty well supported (return of the emotional bra for my double d mental issues!) i think that if you know someone who self harms then the best thing to do is just be there for them. having someone by your side who you can talk to and lean on is a MASSIVE help for those suffering from mental health issues. they dont have to talk all the time about whats going on with their health. just having someone to chat with about anything and everything does wonders.
as for being understood, i dont really mind not being understood. sure its difficult sometimes when someone says "whats that on your arm?" that doesnt usually happen much though. most people either stay quiet or avoid the topic. to be honest im pretty open about talking about my experiences with self harm (otherwise i wouldnt have written this post) so i dont mind answering questions about it.
occassionally you get the odd wanker who just throws abuse at you for it. "focking emo wankeh!" is one that ive heard before (with that accent) and to be honest im past caring about what twats like that think. i have all the time in the world for people who actually want to talk about the topic of self harm, but people who are just shallow-minded fuckwits who dont have the common decency to avoid the topic instead of being a massive twat can go play on the A1 at rush hour.
i really do hope this post has been a little insight into the mind of someone who has self harmed. if you are reading this and do self harm, please talk to someone about it. doesnt have to be a counselling service or a doctor. just chat with a close friend or family member.
you arent alone in this.
http://theymca.org.uk/counselling/ - ymca counselling service in cambridgeshire
http://theymca.org.uk/counselling/ - ymca counselling service in cambridgeshire
http://twloha.com/ - To Write Love On Her Arms
http://selfharm.co.uk/home - Selfharm