I’ve written already about depression and how it makes you feel; but today I’m writing about what I was told was an “inappropriate coping mechanism” for it – self harming.
It’s a great shame that the subject is still so taboo; even today in our supposed 'enlightened society', for most people the very idea that an individual, for whatever reason, would self harm or even mutilate fills them with horror and disgust.
Others don’t want to address a subject they think is about suicide or what they see as the "lead up to it" (as I was once told it's often seen by non sufferers). It’s a classic case of what I like to call ‘Head in the Sand Syndrome’ – if non sufferers can’t see it and won’t discuss it, then it’s not happening. Of course most of us know that this theory never works and isn’t true; it's still going on, only in secret.
The first thing to note, especially if you’re a friend or a loved one of a self harmer, is that suicidal tendencies and self harming are not the same. You can be suicidal and not self harm, and you can self harm and not be suicidal. It can happen, but not often - usually a self harmer doesn't want to die, and a suicidal person would never dream of cutting themselves.
Self harming is brought on by many reasons; I’ve heard someone say it’s because they felt so ugly inside, that they wanted to show the world what they thought they should look like on the outside.
Others might do it as a way of physically expressing deep emotional rage, frustration or despair. Sufferers do not have to be depressed; for some – I am one – it’s a control issue. By cutting themselves they (I) feel they have some small amount of control over their lives.
Of course the tragic irony, as I learnt to my cost, is that ultimately the need to self harm controls you. Even the smallest, slightest upset triggers a need to cut to be able to cope with the situation.
You realise, with growing horror, that you’re addicted to the feeling of release of the emotions you think are 'trapped' in you – that, however it works and for whatever reason, harming your own body makes you feel better, calmer and more able to cope with the world around you.
In my case the knowledge that this was just another thing controlling me, when I felt my life was spiralling out of my control, was a total nightmare. But I still couldn’t stop; for four years each and every time I swore it was the last, especially when my family found out - but still it continued.
The reactions varied; my husband was completely shocked and horrified, but very supportive. My late mum, God rest her, went mental at me (this never helps and can actually make the sufferer worse; as their belief that they’re nothing, a waste of human DNA, is usually reinforced by this reaction).
My own father acted as if it wasn’t happening and refused to discuss it, even with my mum – a classic example of HitSS; my inlaws told me to pull myself together and stop making my husband’s and daughter’s lives ‘awkward and unpleasant’.
I also need to point out here that my daughter was much younger then and, as I’m so very accident prone, it was easy to tell white lies – I did hurt myself, but it was an accident. Not a lie exactly, but not the whole truth either.
However, now she’s a very mature fourteen year old and she knows the truth – I’ve said before, over and over, I really hate lying – and so I’ve explained that it’s not the right way to deal with the terrible issues that life often throws at you. There are other ways to handle it, and it’s best to do that before this sort of thing has a grip on you; but I didn't realise that at the time.
I've tried to explain that talking about any problems always helps; that if there's something wrong I will do my best to help her, even if it's just listening to her and nothing more. I suppose I want to ensure that she doesn't follow in my footsteps; this is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
The thing is that self harming is about addiction; the drive to do it is no less – in my opinion at least – than what I think the need for an alcoholic to obtain drink, a drug addict to get narcotics, or even a smoker to puff on a cigarette would be.
Most of us don’t enjoy it; but the pain and, in the case of a few of us, the running blood, frees us from the demons that constantly haunt us day and night. The easing of the pressure we feel; that often makes many of us feel like we're about to explode into a trillion pieces, that suddenly dissipates the moment we cut, is the reason we do it.
However, there are so many reasons people do this that I can’t honestly list them all here. In fact I’m sure there’s even more I just haven’t found out about – the few I have mentioned are really just the tip of the iceberg.
The one thing to remember the most is that this is an affliction in the same way any addiction is. The first time is a choice – there after it’s a need and ultimately it becomes a necessity.
It’s been four years since I regularly self harmed; and I was one of the lucky ones, my husband got me help as the first time I had self harmed it lasted over a year and my stopping it only lasted eighteen months. When I started again, the whole thing escalated much quicker and the cutting became much more severe and lasted four years - before I finally made the decision to stop and accepted the aid I knew I needed.
Sufferers really can't master this alone; self harming itself might be a solitary addiction, overcoming it definitely isn't.
But, as I said, I finally decided to seek help with my husband's support and went into counselling. I do know that, in my case, my need to self harm, though constant does tend to worsen when I’m depressed. And, although I’ve not regularly hurt myself for the last four years, I do still occasionally fall off the wagon when things get particularly difficult in my life and I feel my existence isn't mine to control once again.
I wouldn’t call myself a ‘control freak’, but I certainly don’t like – or respond well to – having absolutely no control over my own life. However, other sufferers, because that’s what they are - suffering; aren’t as fortunate as I was and still am. Though I haven't been in counselling for two years now, I still have the total and utter support of my husband and daughter.
But other sufferers of this taboo addiction, might well have families who scream at them about their selfishness, about their lack of care for them, and a myriad of other hurtful things that just makes the self harmer hack at themselves even more as they reel from such accusations.
It’s also not always teenagers who do it; some sufferers are even younger and others are pensioners. One lady I heard about had been self harming for around sixty years – since the day after her wedding, when her husband beat her up for the first time, because she felt she was trapped in a violent marriage; it was her only escape, the only thing that made her feel better. Perhaps in her own mind, wounds that she’d inflicted on herself were her own little bit of control wrestled from her abusive husband.
Another thing I’ve learnt over the years is that even the wounds differ from sufferer to sufferer – some, like me, make wounds that are easily dealt with themselves (even if they bleed). But others will, quite literally, hack at themselves to the point where they need emergency medical help – much like a drug addict that has overdosed; only the self harmer in this case will do it every single time.
Why are we so different, even amongst ourselves? I don’t know; I think, in this one case of addiction, that it varies person to person because the triggers for it do too.
Honestly,I can’t really tell you what drives us to do it; no more than a drug addict could really explain their driving need to get high. I just hope I’ve given the tiniest window into our world so that you can see, even a little, that we’re not weirdos – we’re just desperate. Some of us have been lucky enough to gain control over it; but even more haven't.
But if you know someone who is a self harmer, or you suspect they might be; please don’t confront them angrily, scream or hurl abuse. Please don’t accuse them of being selfish, unfeeling or uncaring. They’re not, they do and they are; it’s just that sometimes our view of ourselves and the world around us are skewed compared to yours. This sort of reaction from those around a self harmer, whilst completely understandable, is not going to help and it might even make the issue worse.
Calm discussion helps; encouraging them to find out why they’re doing it helps. Or, if they already know, how to address the underlying problem; working with them to find ‘appropriate coping mechanisms’ instead helps. Finding a professional doctor or counsellor more able to understand and deal with this, and thereby help them deal with it, helps.
But, they need to want to do it for themselves; not for you, or anyone else. If they stop for others, they will only start again and that usually leads to even more self harming than before. It’s just like any addict really.
Ultimately every day we don’t cut or hurt ourselves is a good day; every day we do we have to accept our failing, dust ourselves down and climb back on the wagon.
Whilst I have every hope that one day I will finally stop self harming altogether; I also know, and accept, the need to do it - that nagging urge to do it will haunt me every day for the rest of my life.
So please, don’t condemn those who are self harmers – we’re no different to any other addict. It’s just that, unlike them, our addiction is still taboo and so many sufferers don't think there's any help for them.
The sad thing is, there is advice, support and guidance out there; but because no one talks about self harming, there's no real way to make all sufferers aware they're not alone and they can save themselves from the nightmare world they're stuck in. I think for many, that loneliness and sense of isolation can just make an already grim situation worse............
This Simi, thanks for reading.......