Mental health / Mental Health & Wellbeing

I Cut Myself To Feel Better

(Warning: this post contains detailed discussion of self-harm.)

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~ William Shakespeare

I decided to write this because almost everything that I’ve seen about self harm in the media and online discusses it as being almost exclusively an issue for young people, primarily teenagers. The only acknowledgment that I’ve seen that people in older age groups also self harm has been in the context of discussing long-term self-injury where a problem that begins in adolescence continues well into adulthood, largely due to a lack of or inappropriate treatment early on.

I’ve been told that this is an inaccurate representation of the age demographics of self-injurers. But I have no way of ascertaining whether this is true or not. I was told this by doctors, but not by doctors who treat people who self harm, or who specialise in any way in mental health. For all I know they could have just been saying it to make me feel better.

Either way, when I came to look for resources, or information, or blogs, or anything really, that specifically related to people who started harming themselves later on into adulthood I couldn’t really find anything. And while I’m quite happy to accept that this might be because people like me are rare, I struggle to believe that I’m a total anomaly. So I thought I’d write about my own experiences in the hope that anyone who’s sitting at home performing the same Google searches as I’ve done over the last few weeks might stumble across it, and, even if they don’t find it particularly useful, at least feel like they aren’t completely alone.

If you’re one of the few people reading this who actually know me you might want to go away and find something else to do right about now because this isn’t pretty.

I spent most of my teens and twenties drinking too much, spending too much, sleeping too little, and being too reckless, but it didn’t occur to me to deliberately and outright hurt myself until two years ago, when I was twenty-eight.

One evening, when I was already aware that I wasn’t very well, I was chopping some onions, or peppers, or, I don’t know, some vegetable, and I suddenly decided, for no reason that I can remember, to see what it would be like to slice the knife into my forearm.

The experience was underwhelming.

I was surprised to find that my skin was harder to cut into than I’d imagined that it would be. And I felt a bit silly. And I stuck a plaster over the bit that was bleeding. And that was about it really.

When one of the cuts healed it left a small, barely noticeable scar behind.

A few weeks later when I was feeling numb and depressed I scratched at the skin on my arm with something – I really can’t remember what now, although I’ve a vague feeling that it might have been something that came with a Domino’s delivery – until it bled. Again, I couldn’t explain why, it just seemed like something worth doing at the time; and again it didn’t really have any sort of effect on me. I healed up just fine that time.

The third time I cut myself was a few months later, but this time I thought I scared myself out of this form of experimenting for good.

I was having a really bad week. My PTSD symptoms were really affecting me really badly, I’d just started legal action against my employer for discriminating against me due to my PTSD, and I had a mounting feeling that I just wasn’t coping. Then late one night I managed to smash my tagine and the frustration felt like the last straw of what I could cope with. I picked up one of the broken pieces and kept hacking at my leg with it. I still only gave myself superficial injuries but this time I ended up with an ambulance being sent out for me.

See, when I was feeling overwhelmingly crazy I was meant to ring the crisis team to talk to someone who could help me to sort out my crazy brain; but I was in a bit of a state and I couldn’t find their number. So I called the NHS Direct line instead and asked for them to transfer me through to the crisis team – something that they’d done for me without any fuss before. However, this time I got through to somebody who didn’t seem to have much of an idea of what they were doing, and so, despite the fact that explained many times that I hadn’t and wasn’t going to give myself a serious injury, I just wanted to speak to a mental health worker, I was sent an ambulance instead.

In fairness, the ambulance people were great; they filled me in on some things that should have been happening with my treatment that nobody had ever even mentioned to me before, and they rang and lectured the mental health team for me and got those things but in place. It was just that I felt completely ridiculous at having wasted their time as an emergency service being sent out primarily to look at some relatively pretty minor injuries.

So after that I didn’t even think about hurting myself again, and eventually I got better.

Until around Christmas time last year. When I got sick again. Mental health sick.

In the middle of December I had a back spasm or something which meant that I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t move properly for about a week. I had codeine and ibuprofen for the pain.

A week later I overdosed on the remaining codeine. Not a fatal overdose. I threw the remaining tablets out of the window and onto the roof of the kitchen extension half way threw because I’d suddenly become worried that if I died from taking the painkillers Dr Housemate might get into trouble for letting a crazy person be in his house at the same time as a dangerous amount of opioids.

Two weeks after that I started self harming properly. Because I was still suicidal.

I was incredibly depressed. I was having panic attacks fifty percent of the times that I attempted to go outside. And I really, really wanted to slit my wrists.

I tried cutting my arm instead to see whether doing some lesser harm might make me feel better.

At first I cut myself with a kitchen knife, then I realised that it was easier and more effective to use a blade that I broke out of a disposable razor.

And it worked. At least a bit. For a while.

Watching the blood and mopping it up made me feel calmer. There’s a scientific explanation for that. Something to do with the release of adrenaline and dopamine in the brain in response to the injury. But I’m not here to explain that.

At first I didn’t cut myself deeply, and I only made a few cuts at a time. But as I got used to it, and as I became more unwell and more in need of relief from the feelings produced by my illness the cutting became more frequent, I’d make more and more cuts at a time and the injuries have become longer and deeper. Because as crazy as I imagine it sounds to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the more it bleeds the better it makes me feel.

It’s gives me a nice, calm still feeling that I think is more than slightly addicting.

Obviously I can see that it isn’t a practical long-term solution to anything, but it’s the only thing that I’ve been able to find that gives me a space where I don’t feel like I need to put a permanent end to the craziness of my brain.

I’ve become organised about it. I kept my cutting to my upper arm so there’s less risk that anyone might see; until I ran out of room and moved on to the top of my thigh. I’m trying to avoid needing stitches so that the marks left by my cutting don’t become to obvious, but I can see already that I’m going to have some unpretty scarring.

It is quite shocking when I catch sight of myself in the mirror – between the wounds and the steri-strips holding them together I look a bit like a walking tally chart. It’s a sign that I spend far to much time on Netflix that I remind myself of the thumbnail for the US version of The Killing, which has been in our list of ‘Top Picks’ since we watched the Danish version.

I have an extensive at home first aid kit, and I’ve dressed my injuries so well that my GP assumed that I’d got a pro to do it.

Because everything I’d ever heard about self-harm had been in relation to adolescents I felt silly at first to have started cutting myself as an older adult woman. But I’ve been doing it for weeks now and I’m pretty much past it.

I know I ought to stop. My GP, and my CPN, and my social worker have advised me to stop; or to hurt myself more safely using elastic bands. But I don’t want to. In fact people telling me to stop makes me want to do it all the more.

I think that’s a control thing.

Intellectually I know that hurting myself is a dumb thing to do, that I ought to find a better way to deal with my emotions/illness/problem/suicidal tendencies/whatever. But then I keep coming back to the fact that I don’t have one. And that for the time being this is doing just fine. And that I don’t really care what happens to me. And that it doesn’t actually hurt me; at least not while I’m doing it. It gets a bit tender while it starts to heal, and I don’t like it if anyone pokes me in the arm.

Yeah, they mis-named it when they labelled it as self-harm. The person it actually hurts is the person that I live with.

I do feel genuinely bad about what I’m doing to him.

I didn’t know what I was doing at first. When we first talked about it he’d been drinking. And he just rambled on about adrenaline and noradrenaline, and said that I couldn’t scare him because he’d seen loads of people with way worse self harm than me, and that this wasn’t a thing.

Then about fortnight ago, after he’d had some more to drink, he told me that every time he sees that I’ve cut myself again it makes him feel like he’s failed me and that he isn’t doing enough to help me.

And I don’t what that. The amount that he’s done to help me has been simply amazing, the last thing that I want to do is hurt him.

So I tried stopping. It was really, really hard, but I lasted over a week.

Then yesterday I had an absolutely epic melt down where I felt like I was quite literally losing control of my mind, and ended up cutting myself as the only way I could think of to bring myself back down to something approaching sanity. To remind myself that I was real and that I was still alive. I was also hoping for the calming effect that usually comes from the bleeding. It didn’t go exactly according to plan. This was the first time that I’ve needed to go to the minor injuries unit to ask someone else to sort out what I’d done to myself – hardly a soothing experience.

And for reasons that still aren’t clear to me the hospital insisted on calling my housemate, as he’s listed as my next of kin.

And I feel like we’re back to square one again.

I apologise if this post has been somewhat rambling. This is a subject on which I struggle to arrange my thoughts into any kind of coherent narrative. Then again if all I’ve managed to do is to make myself sound like a crazy person, then maybe that’s what it is that I need to put across.  I’m just hopeful of the possibility that sharing my experience might prove helpful to somebody because I think that if I’d found anything similar to this post it would have been helpful to me.

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “I Cut Myself To Feel Better

  1. I found your post on tumblr, searching to see how crazy I am.
    I am twenty years old and slowly started cutting, just like you, out of one simple, seemingly harmless thought. Then I actually did it, and I cannot stop.
    And I know exactly what you mean about it hurting your partner, not yourself. When I have done it, I do get the calming I need, then I am okay, but it tears my boyfriend up to see what I have done.
    What hurts me is after I am done and I start feeling like a kid, covering up my wrists, and thinking of all the emo jokes about cutting, and I feel like less of an adult to deal with my emotions. I really don’t know where to turn, I really don’t know if I want to. I want to help myself, I don’t want to talk to anyone else.
    I just wanted to tell you that you helped me feel a little less immature, that there’s someone else who thought and felt the same thing. Just, thank you. And I hope you’re in a better place since you wrote this. I hope to be too.
    -Janice

    Like

  2. Pingback: 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 02 | All that I am, all that I ever was...

  3. Ok… Let me start by saying this is the first post on your blog that I read. Second off… hugs and thank you for being so open and honest.

    And on to what I really wanted to say: many people cut themselves (or self-harm in another way) at all ages. I think it starts, for many, in adolescence, and I think it’s more noticeable then, when we aren’t as smart to know to hide things as well, and perhaps that it why clinicians focus on that age group. I work in mental health, and I see so many people engage in the activity, and most have no clue. And many of those that do know, pass it off as attention-seeking behaviors, when really it’s about so much more: wanting to feel, or to hurt, gaining control, seeking some sort of release.

    Someone above mentioned EMDR, and I’ve seen good results with it, although the trauma therapy is not easy (but what good therapy is really?). If you’re interested, look up your local center for mental health, they can point you in the right direction.

    hugs and kisses and good luck, in all you do!

    Like

    • Thank you for your kind words.

      I was referred for EMDR with a psychologist but they decided not to treat me because they didn’t think I was ready. They decided this because when I had CBT two years ago I didn’t see the therapist on a regular basis. But my appointments weren’t regular because my therapist only worked two days a week and was constantly rearranging appointments due to childcare issues; so I think they were wrong and I’m going to try to find someone else who might be willing to take me. Although I don’t imagine it will be cheap.

      Like

  4. You’re not alone. While I am one of the people who started when she was younger (12), we started for about the same reason. I would sit on my hands for hours and hours trying not to slit my wrists. I tried so hard not to for several years, but it eventually led to one cut which led to another. I had never heard of anyone doing it until about a year after I had started, and I’ve managed to keep it a secret from most. Or, I did until I came clean about my mental illness. Eight years later and the skin on my upper arm has become thick and completely textured with scars. I don’t do it as much anymore (partly because the skin is so thick and partly because therapy and medication have helped me a lot) but I know I will never be able to wear certain clothes without feeling ashamed and overly self-conscious. I hope this short version of my story has helped you feel not quite as alone as you did before. Wishing the best for you and your future.

    Like

    • Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry that you’ve felt like this as well, and for so long. And I think you’ve just answered my question as to whether my arm is going to look like this forever. I’d been wondering but there never seems to be time to ask the doctor, and if I ask my housemate it’ll only upset him. It looks like weird scar tissue, so I sort of figured that it wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon; but at the same it just seems somehow unreal to me that I could have made it look this…weird…and for it now to just stay that way.
      I’m just hoping they hurry up with my referral to the psychologist.

      Like

      • It is a strange thought. It really depends on how deep they are, how many there are, and how they are treated. I know there’s a lot of scar treatments, too. I’ve never tried any, but I’m sure some work. Many will probably fade, but some will turn from pink to white and stay or take years to fade. In my case, while most weren’t very deep, there have been so many for so long my skin has a different texture and feeling. There are things that I thought would scar that didn’t, and things I thought wouldn’t I can still see. I honestly don’t think about it too much anymore.
        I hope so, too.

        Like

  5. First of all, I agree with everyone here who said you were brave to write about this. I hope that writing about it may be therapeutic for you. I find that writing about things is usually helpful for me. It’s also nice to see so many caring comments to your post. It is not an easy thing to truly understand. Clinically, medically, scientifically, maybe. You can know all kinds of “technical” facts, but to truly understand, to know what someone is feeling is only possible if you’ve experienced it yourself. I’ve said it before, and Absent said it above: your words may help someone else who is going through what you are. Don’t be ashamed. Never be ashamed. Hope you start feeling better again very soon. ::hugs::

    Like

    • I think talking about it mostly just makes me feel as though I’m being melodramatic. For all that I’ve said here are some days when I look at myself and think that I can only understand it clinically, medically, and scientifically, and that for the rest of it I’m at a loss. I do hope it ends up being useful though. And thank you, your comments always make me feel better xx

      Like

  6. So I read through this last night and wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to respond. After reading it again, I think the words come a little clearer now. Thank you for having the bravery and honesty to share your experience. Self-harm is a topic that seems to only get attention after the absolute worse has occurred and someone has died from it. By sharing your experience, you shed light on the subject, making it all more human and allowing those of us who have not experienced personally better able to understand it.

    Thank you.

    Like

      • You’re quite welcome. I’m happy to see you back around, and I hope all goes well for you. It was always nice to see you stop by my blog and talk to you, so I’m happy to see you back, no matter what you went through. Your strength, insight, and candor in your writing has always been a welcome part of your writing.

        Like

  7. I was 19 when I started. It’s been going on for 14yrs now. I’m in my longest bought of recovery at the moment, but the urge never leaves. I’m not cutting, but I still find ways to hurt myself. I just can’t seem to stop. I can relate to so much of this post. My heart aches for you because I know where this leads & yet I don’t know the answer. I agree with you, nothing else works. The problem if course is it’s never enough. You will always be chasing enough.
    The hospital shouldn’t my have called anyone without your permission all medical treatment is confidential. You can complain about that.

    The only suggestion is can offer Id emdr. It’s the only therapy that has had any real impact on me. It’s hard, but worth it.
    Try to be kind to yourself. Xx

    Like

    • I know they shouldn’t, it’s annoying, but I think she decided it was okay because he’s a doctor. Silly woman.

      I’ve read about EMDR, it sounded like it could be helpful but I’m not sure about how to go about getting it.

      And thank you. xx

      Like

  8. Thank you for writing this. I can relate to everything you’ve written here. I don’t even remember why or how cutting became an issue for me, but I know I was around 24 years old *when* it began. My best guess is that it started out as a control issue as well because I was married at the time to a man who gave me very little control over my life.

    It went on for several years, kind of waxing and waning in frequency. For much of the last 6 or 7 years, I thought I had put that part of my life behind me because I hadn’t purposefully cut myself in so long. Occasionally, I would accidentally cut myself and feel that same calm you describe (I’m absolutely horrible in the kitchen as I’m very accident prone, which is why my boyfriend does the majority of the cooking.)

    Only recently, within the last few months, that urge to cut became so much stronger. At first, I resisted, determined not to fall back into my old pattern; but eventually, I gave in. Oh, sweet release. That’s the only way I can explain it.

    I’m 41 years old, now. I also suffer from PTSD. You are not a “total anomaly.” Maybe, we are rare, self-harming as adults; but my guess is that the truth of the matter is that as older adults, we feel more shame in doing so and therefore, talk about it less frequently. (I haven’t even brought this issue up with my therapist because of that shame.)

    I also feel like a “crazy person” for doing this. I feel like I’m old enough to know better, but you’re right. If that release didn’t help us cope, we wouldn’t do it.

    Like

    • Thank you. I feel a lot less like a crazy person knowing that there are other people who feel the same way as I do. I always feel as though if someone has reached the point of genuine insanity then what they were experiencing would be completely unique. If that makes any sense at all. I don’t know where I got the idea but from it’s just reassuring to know that I fall somewhere within a bell curve.

      I’m sorry to hear that it’s gotten to you again.

      Like

  9. I was close to 50 when I first began cutting myself. I did not get the release that you got, but I didn’t do it to see if I was alive or not; I wanted to die. It wasn’t long until I had built up the nerve to cut my wrists. About a year later, I did it again.

    Like

  10. One of my good friends in high school once showed me her cutting scars. I was touched she trusted me enough, but also at a loss for words.

    I’m not sure what the appropriate thing is to say here, but can we just imagine that I’m saying it. ❤

    Like

    • I’m not sure what it is either, or what’s really the appropriate approach to take to telling people about it in the first place. I like the idea of just acting like we’ve found it anyway though. And thank you. xx

      Like

I'd love to hear what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s