Hello, lovely people!
This is a hard post for me to write, because as open as I am on here about my experiences, opening up about what I’m currently going through and feeling is extremely hard for me. For the longest time, I never had a place where I felt like I could be open with people in my life – I’m a burden; I’m annoying; I’m just being silly; I’m just being stupid; they’ll think I’m being an attention seeker; they’re going to judge me. Does any of that sound familiar? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone! Depression is such a dark and isolating illness, it tricks you into thinking that you’re alone in this, that nobody will understand, and something that many people turn to in order to help with their pain is self-harm. Being open is never an easy thing to do, but I’m choosing to write this post because I know that so many people turn to self-harm, I know how difficult it is to manage. Nobody should ever feel like they’re alone in their struggle.
I’ve mentioned in my previous posts that self-harm is something that I’ve always struggled with. The first time I self-harmed I was eleven years old, and I remember it so clearly. I’d found out my oldest sister had been self-harming; I didn’t understand it, but I knew that my sister was hurting, and it was a way for her to cope. I was hurting, too, and if this was something that helped my sister, then surely it would help me too. I grabbed the sharpest knife I could find, sat in the bath, and cut myself for the first time. I remember wanting the knife to go deeper. I remember wanting to die. I remember being scared that I had depression and would suicide. It still stuns me that I was 11 years old and feeling this way, but I’ve learnt that this is actually quite common. This first act of self-harm changed my life – it has been a constant struggle ever since. I self-harmed from 11-19, and stopped when I met my husband. I felt happier, I didn’t feel the urge to self-harm anymore. But after a few particularly horrible months and then a traumatic experience, I started up again, five years after I’d last self-harmed, at 24 years old. The only reason I’d held off for so long is because I felt like I was too old to self-harm anymore, it felt juvenile. I didn’t realise how common self-harm is among adults. I’ve struggled with self-harm ever since starting it up again in February, I’ve tried to kick the habit so many times, but not succeeded.
To me, self-harm is something that I use to gain control when everything else in my life is feeling uncontrollable, it’s something that I use to help ground myself when I’m having a break down, it’s something else I can focus on, it’s a relief from the pain I’m feeling inside. But lately, I’ve been feeling pretty darn good in my life, like I was finally making progress, like my mental health was on the mend, I didn’t have the urge to self-harm anymore. I was so excited when I got to six weeks of being free of self-harm, I was sure that I’d finally kicked the habit. But lately, I’ve been struggling again because of past trauma, and in a moment of pain, I self-harmed by burning myself. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t count and that I didn’t break my 6 week streak – they were only small burns, they weren’t worth losing my streak over. Deep down, though, I knew I’d broken it. I ‘fessed up to my therapist, and tried to convince him as well as myself that it wasn’t self-harm. His response? “I guess the thing that makes it self-harm is the intent, now how ‘big’ the injury is”. The intent was definitely there. I’d self-harmed. I’d broken my streak. I felt miserable, all the hard work to get to being clean of self-harm for so long was ruined. So today, when I had the urge to self-harm, it felt like it didn’t matter. I’d already broken my streak, so I figured I might as well cut myself, my usual method, and so that’s what I did. I slipped up. And while I feel so disappointed and angry at myself, I know that it’s misplaced, because I made a mistake. What’s important is that I don’t let that mistake rule me.
So, in light of my recent self-harm, I want to go over some methods to help manage the urge to self-harm that I have found to work for me. Honestly, for me, it mostly feels like determination and sheer will-power to not self-harm that prevents me from doing it, but when the urges get a bit too much, these methods help me to “ride the wave”.
Talk to someone
I won’t lie, telling someone that you’re having the urge to self-harm, or have already self-harmed, is excruciatingly hard. I’m rubbish at being open with people, but for the first time in my life, I felt like I had people that I could reach out to about my self-harm – the amazing people I’ve met through the MH Crisis Angels. It was so difficult for me to talk to them about it, because I’m not used to being open – it took me months of hiding my cuts before I gained the courage to tell my husband. Self-harm can make you feel really isolated, but as has been proven for me, more often than not there are people who care and want to support you, it’s just a matter of reaching out. When I’m having the urge to self-harm, I find that talking through these urges with someone who won’t judge me helps. It helps me to process the urge, and it also often gives me the reassurance I need that self-harm isn’t the right method to help me feel better. If you feel like you have no one to talk to, please see the list of numbers I’ve provided at the bottom of this post, and if you’re not comfortable with calling, then I highly recommend reaching out to the MH Crisis Angels – a free online peer support group who will always offer a listening ear. Trust me, there’s always someone who will listen, it really is just a matter of reaching out.
Wait it out
Delay the self-harm once you feel the urge. The way that I do this is I tell myself if I still feel like doing it in 10 minutes, then I will. Once those 10 minutes have passed, if I’m still feeling the urge, then I will wait another 10 minutes. Eventually, the urge to self-harm will pass.
Distraction is one of the most useful tools that I have found works for me. There are a lot of ways that you can distract yourself when you’re feeling the urge to self-harm, or even when you’re dealing with difficult emotions. It’s important to note that everybody is different, and so different things will work for different people.
- Going for a walk
- Painting my nails
- Reading a book
- Watching a light-hearted TV show (Brooklyn 99, anyone?)
- Counting up to 500 or 1000
- Breathing exercises – inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Repeat.
- Working on a puzzle – my favourite is Sudoku
- Doing something that occupies my hands – my favourite is playing with my Rubik’s cube
- Playing dot-to-dot on my phone
Again, these are distractions that I find helpful, they may not work for everyone, but I think they’re worth a shot. Trial and error is key – finding what works best for you.
As a writer, this is one of the methods that works best for me. I can either use it as a distraction – often by writing a blog post, or working on one of the many stories I’ve started and never finished; or as a way to express my feelings – by writing poetry, or writing in my journal. Writing about my difficult emotions, the urges that I’m feeling and why I’m feeling them helps me to process my thoughts in a healthy way, and it also helps me to acknowledge what it was that triggered my urge to self-harm. One of the reasons I self-harm is to express my pent up emotions, and writing is a much healthier and much safer way for me to do this – I get the same feeling without the pain! One thing that I enjoy about writing is that it’s something that I can look back on in years to come, as a reminder to how far I’ve made it since I was in that dark space. I have things that I’ve written years ago that I still enjoy going back over!
Finding something that distracts your senses
This is one that I’ve actually only discovered recently! When the urge to self-harm is really strong for me, I find that squeezing an ice cube in my hand, or holding my handle over a candle, creates enough of a distraction to shock my system, and gives me the ache I crave without actually harming me. Something I discovered through therapy is that I find plants to be really soothing – so after a particularly difficult therapy session, I bought myself a little cactus and a scented candle. I keep them both on my desk, and they’re both good for different times. Being able to run my fingers over the little spikes of my cactus, or poke the spikes into my skin, helps me when I need to focus my mind on something else, when I need to break myself from my thoughts, or when I need to feel that sting. If I need to feel connected to something, pressing my fingers into the soil or running my fingers over the smooth part of my cactus achieves that. As for the scented candle, I’ve found it is great at helping me when I need to calm my racing thoughts – by just taking in a long sniff of the heavenly lemon scent, it pleases my mind.
Now these are just several of the methods that I have found work for me, and I really encourage people who struggle with self-harm to find methods that will help them. It is so important to bring self-awareness to why you self-harm and to what your triggers are in order to manage it, it will help you to gain a better understanding of yourself, and what you can do to avoid the urges. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s possible. Please remember that it’s okay to get the urges, as long as you don’t act on them. But if you do act on your urges – it’s okay. You didn’t fail. You’re doing the best that you can, and that’s enough. We all make mistakes. After my most recent bout of self-harm, I was so harsh with myself, I told myself I’m weak, that I’m a failure, that I’m no good, that I deserve this pain – but then I asked myself, is this what I would be saying to a friend in this situation? And the answer was no. The answer will always be no. So please, take my advice and don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re human, just like the rest of us.
As promised, suicide hotline numbers:
Australia: 131 114
United Kingdom: 116 123
United States: 1-800-273-8255
Canada: 1 800 456 4566
Ireland: 116 123
If you have any methods that you use to help combat your urge to self-harm, leave a comment, I would love to hear them!
As always, stay strong, my friends. You’ve got this!