When your way of coping isn’t the most traditional…

TW: Self harm

Self harm- The world needs to talk about this more. As I write this I don’t know if I’ll ever share this post but I really hope I can find the courage to, because it’s so important, often stereotyped, stigmatised & not understood.

I have struggled with self harm. I have had a evenings where I’ve not wanted to be here anymore. I’ve been to A&E twice for treatment & been seen by the mental health liaison team there. I’m ashamed of all this (although I shouldn’t be) but this is reality and is probably the reality of a lot more people than any of you realise.

Without generalising (I am about to generalise) if you don’t understand self harm and mental illness, it’s seen as attention seeking or a cry for help. You’d probably think “why on earth would someone do that”, and to be honest I’d be lying if I said I’d never had all of these views. It is fairly impossible to understand unless you experience it so read the rest of this with an open mind as I try to explain it more.

People can self harm for SO many different reasons and the reasons can vary every time they do it. One thing’s for sure, it is not for attention and please never suggest to someone who has self harmed that they’ve done it for attention because you’ll only make things worse.

Why? (This is my personal experience and nothing more)

  • The anxiety is so intense I need a physical release from it
  • I can’t control the thoughts in my head or how I’m feeling but I can control the harm I do to myself and that sense of control is hugely important.
  • I feel so low and useless I deserve the pain and to be punished for being useless because nothing will ever get better.
  • If I deal with these feelings by harming myself I know I will get some relief & won’t do anything worse than harming.

The problem with self harm is it can very quickly become your “go to” coping mechanism especially when it’s had the desired effect previously (such as relieving anxiety). The problem is the effect is only short lived, because as soon as you feel better maybe the next morning, you feel all the guilt and shame from having used this as your coping mechanism. Not only that, you’ve probably left a visible mark you’re now trying to hide from everyone for fear they’ll judge you, which just further increases the anxiety and shame and will ultimately feed into the feelings that trigger you to self harm in the first place, it’s just a horrible circle.

Self harm is often described as an addiction because of the quick fix nature of it, and ability for you to very rapidly rely on it as your coping mechanism for difficult emotions. This makes it incredibly hard to stop once you’ve started.

Is there any help?

Nowhere near enough, is the honest answer. Self harm specific services are minimal and the community mental health team say the same! I was very lucky to have access to a crisis charity in Preston who could offer some sessions to help with alternative coping mechanisms and distraction techniques. You just need to explore all possible options- GP, self referral to therapy services, private therapy if you can manage it financially, self help techniques and websites, crisis lines (samaritans and SHOUT).

As I mention crisis lines I think it’s also important to clarify their role. I often hear of Samaritans etc being described as “suicide hotlines”. They are not this. They are for people in crisis. If your crisis is that you are suicidal, phone them. But equally if your crisis is that you’re really struggling with self harm urges and feel you might act on them, PHONE THEM. Everyones crisis is different and that needs to be recognised and appreciated.

Also there is an incredible app called Calm Harm. It’s free and gives you hundreds (probably actually thousands) of self harm coping strategies and distraction techniques based on what emotions are making you want to harm. One of my favourites was writing the 18 times table until the thoughts passed… It successfully distracted me though!

Obviously probably the only real way to beat self harm is to deal with what is causing the feelings that are driving you to feel like that, which will only really be found through therapy and we know that might be a long wait. In the meantime try the app, it really is good!

A do as I say, not as I do paragraph: Don’t be ashamed of your self harm. If you have permanent visible marks from the harm, don’t be ashamed of it. The very fact you have those marks but are still alive and fighting shows you’re an incredibly strong person and much stronger than anyone who judges you for it. The people that judge self harm are those that don’t understand it and you can’t change that so just hold your head high. Failing all that, get a tattoo over the area, that’s what I’m doing!

All I really wanted to do with this post was try to increase understanding of self harm, why people might do it and decrease the stigma a bit because I still struggle with the thoughts myself, so can’t give any recovery answers. However if you’re worried about someone, by asking them directly about self harm, you’re unlikely to trigger them to harm further, but you might just give them that opening to talk to you about it and get some help before it escalates further.

It can feel impossible to get out of the cycle of self-harm but it is manageable with the right tools & once you stop self harming you’ll count every single week you’ve gone without doing it, and celebrate that because it’s a great feeling. But don’t worry if you have a wobble, you can always get back up and go again. The last line here is added the day I plan to share this blog: I’m more than 6 weeks free of self-harm now so it is possible with the right tools and the right people around you!

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