A Q&A on Self-Harm

A Q&A on Self-Harm

Happy Sunday, y’all. I’ve had one of the best weeks I’ve had in a while- largely because we got a puppy! Klamath, our 10-week old little Siberian Husky is super cute and sweet. It’s been a tiring week, since she can’t yet sleep or hold her bladder through the night, but it’s all worth it. I love having her nap on my chest when I’m feeling anxious and playing with her when she’s full of energy. She’s not old enough for walks or dog parks, but we’ve been taking her into Home Depot and holding her while we grab a few items. In other news, Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500, and there was a wreck in the pit area, so that was fun to watch.

This week, I’d like to address self-harm. This topic is possibly more taboo than suicide- or anything else mental health, really. Self-harm is often misunderstood by those who have never partook themselves, and incredibly stigmatized on social media. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that about 75% of those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder self-harm. It’s so common in those with BPD that it’s listed as one of the 9 diagnostic criteria for the disorder. With this in mind, I thought I’d open up about my own experience, and address some common questions.

What is self-harm?
In short, self-harm is a coping mechanism. It’s generally any action where you physically hurt yourself, but some common ones are cutting, burning, and banging your head against the wall. Just like lighting a candle or taking a deep breath, self-harm is a means to cope with a difficult situation or feeling. In the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that I did back in October, they taught is different soothing techniques, so we would have healthier coping mechanisms to turn to.

What do I do when I have the urge to self-harm?
I’m still experimenting with new coping mechanisms. My therapist told me to snap a rubber band against my wrist. The last time I tried that, I snapped the rubber band so many times that my wrist started to bleed, so I’m not sure if that was actually effective. Smells are always helpful for me. Thanks to a friend, I know have a fragrant oil I keep on my desk at work. I take a good whiff of it every time I feel stressed or anxious. I also have a lot of candles at home.

Why do I self-harm?
Let me start and say that I am actively trying not to self-harm. I’m quite proud that it’s been over a month since my last self-harm incident. My first self-harm incident was when I was a freshman in high school. This was the year I was tasked with competing in Germany in artistic roller skating. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I just didn’t know how to handle it. These days, most of my self-harm is the result of extreme anxiety. It’s often at the onset of a panic attack when I feel like I’m losing control of everything around me. Self-harm then seems like the only thing that I can control at that moment. It’s an act of desperation.

Occasionally, I’ll self-harm when I’m very depressed. For me, this is infrequent. It takes quite a bit of effort to self-harm. When I’m so depressed that I can’t get out of bed, I just don’t have it in me to get up and self-harm. When I’m in a state where I feel empty- no happiness or sadness, just nothingness- I’ll self-harm because I’m trying to feel something. It doesn’t matter what that feeling is, I just need to feel something to remember that I’m alive. 

How quickly does gratification come and go?
Very quickly. Self-harm only fixes whatever feeling I’m having, or lack therof temporarily. I’d say maybe a full minute, and then I plunge back into whatever emotional state I was previously. Self-harm is a short sighted coping mechanism because you convince yourself that this is the only way you can experience some sort of relief, and you’re so desperate to not feel however you’re feeling. Within a minute of having self-harmed, any relief you felt is gone, and you’re back where you started.

A couple hours or so after I self-harm is when I start to feel guilty. I feel bad for letting myself slip, and not using my healthy coping skills to ride out my feelings. I feel like I’ve let myself down, and that I can do better. The marks on my arms are reminders that I’m not okay.

Are there times that you know that you shouldn’t self-harm, but you do anyway?
Yes, absolutely. I know I shouldn’t self-harm, but I get in this pit in my mind where I think that self-harm is the only way I can get some kind of relief from what I’m feeling. All my other coping mechanisms go out the window.

Do you self-harm for attention?
Hell no. I go through great lengths to hide my self-harm marks. I’m basically the queen of long-sleeves. I think there were times, before I sought help or was diagnosed with BPD, that I wished that someone would see my self-harm marks and ask if I’m okay. I wanted someone to see them and help me access the professional help that I knew I needed. However the urge to ask for help, or show the marks in any way is overridden by intense embarrassment.

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