Posted on

A Note on Self Harm

Trigger warning: this post talks about cutting and self harm

This is probably the most difficult subject to talk about, but that might be why it’s the most important to talk about in order to fight the stigma of living with mental illness. That’s the theory I’m working from, anyway, because that way the pain of talking about it publicly has a purpose.

I have used cutting and other forms of self harm such as bruising myself and using diabetes as a weapon – binge eating without giving insulin, or even eating normally and purposefully not giving extra insulin – since I was a teenager. As a teen I was not allowed to ask for help when I needed it, so I would cut myself – usually on my face – to show people I needed help. I stopped doing this until I was in my early thirties.

I was in a toxic marriage and needed help but wasn’t getting it, so I started cutting again. The urges surprised me since they were so strong and I haven’t felt them since I was a kid. All of my pain in my marriage was invisible, so the cuts, the blood, the scars were all proof that I was in pain. It was outside of my head, which was a relief.

My marriage ended and I started cutting again. My life was suddenly in chaos. I lost everything: my house, my family (in laws), my job, my car (totaled it), my jobs (lost two in a row), my dog (liver failure), I almost lost my dad to complications of surgery, and I was trying to survive on my own in an upside down world. My depression was spiraling downward at an alarming rate, and I started cutting again. I dug into my legs with a sterile needle (always sterile, I don’t want to do damage, I just want the pain) as a way to gain a sense of control.

If I cut I bleed. If I bleed there’s pain. Cause, effect. Very straightforward. Absolutely nothing in my life was straightforward, I was in control of nothing, none of the causes had effects that made any sense. Surgery is supposed to heal, not try to kill. Working hard is supposed to give you job security, not take it away. Dogs are supposed to live forever. But I know exactly what happens when I put a needle on my skin. This year when my marriage ended and I lost everything was what led me to my second ever psych-hospital experience, but I will go into that story more another time.

I had a counselor recently whose response to me talking about my cutting was, “Most people grow out of these urges eventually. Almost no one continues to cut after age 30.” Yeah, well first of all, you’re talking to one of us over 30, so check your facts. Second of all, that’s not true at all, there are many adults who self harm. But people over 30, this arbitrary age when life is supposed to magically get better, don’t feel like they’re allowed to talk about it. I told this counselor, “I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me. Do you think I’m doing something wrong?” She said no, I was doing nothing wrong, I was just using an old coping mechanism. She said the urges should be getting fewer and further between. I said they’re not, they’re more frequent and getting stronger. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not an anomaly of her inaccurate statistic.

There are many many many adults who hurt themselves in secret, suffering in a very painful silence. There’s an Instagram account I follow that is called Faces of Fortitude: “This project lays a foundation of healing thru portraits of those affected by Suicide & Mental illness.” A photographer takes pictures of people who have survived depression, suicide attempts, trauma, and self harm, and tells their story in the caption. There are amazing stories and powerful photos, and it is inspiring to read. In one of the stories the person advised against tattooing over or hiding your self harm scars, but advised wearing them proudly because they are reminders of what you survived and of how far you’ve come.

I respect this sentiment, and if it were anything but self-inflicted scars I would agree. But I still have times when my own scars can be triggers for me to want to hurt myself. I have gotten several tattoos that cover my scars, and I did it because I wanted to turn something painful into something beautiful. That is what I would rather look at than scars, reminders, of painful moments. When I have the urges to hurt myself, they are difficult to shake. The pain is actually what brings me relief. Totally intuitive, right?? So when I see the scars, the memory of the pain makes me want to cut again. It’s all complicated.

Cutting and self harm are complicated. We don’t do it for attention. We do it because the pain, the blood, the bruises, the scars give us something that we need so desperately that we have to hurt ourselves in order to get it. Maybe it’s validation we need, or a way to ease our depressive thoughts without trying to kill ourselves, or maybe we need to get the pain out of our heads and into the outside world. Whatever our reasons are, we don’t have to be teens. We are mature, fully functioning adults with hidden pain that we don’t know how to express otherwise.

When you see us in the wild, don’t judge us. Just know we are in pain, or at one time we were in pain. You can understand and relate to that. That’s all it is, so I wish it didn’t have to be a secret. Thank you for letting me share a little bit about my experience.

Posted on

TW – Depression Can’t Be Fixed

*TW means Trigger Warning, meaning what I’m about to say has the potential to trigger someone’s past trauma, past painful experience, or something they are struggling with. If someone is “triggered,” they can feel that pain all over again and put them in a challenging emotional or mental position. I will not censor my experiences because I can’t account for all possible triggers. However, I respect the things that people have had to go through, and I can indicate that I am about to talk about suicide; you can choose whether to keep reading or not. Please take care of yourself first.

If you need help now, call or online chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline now.

We need to talk about suicide because it has taken too many people from us. I have lost friends to it, and it’s hard to miss the celebrities who died from suicide: Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Amy Buell, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain. Ugh, just making this list gives me a heavy heart. But as difficult as it is to think about, I think the prevalence of mental illness in our lives is all the reason I need to talk about it. It seems like we don’t talk about suicide until it happens to someone we know. This is more than enough for us to take it seriously!

It is important to remember that depression can’t be fixed. Mental illness can’t be fixed. I love my friends deeply, and when one of them is hurting it makes me sad. It makes me want to do something, anything, to fix it. To take my friend’s pain away. Unfortunately depression doesn’t work like that. We have to consciously love the person over the disease.

My friend called me last night and said they wanted to end it all. I’ve been in that place before myself, but it didn’t make it any easier to know how much pain my friend was feeling. They told me how much I had meant to them over the years, and that they love me. This is a friend I “met” in an online support group more than 15 years ago, so we’ve never met in person. My friend told me, “I always wish we had met in person,” and the wording stabbed at my heart. Through many many tears I said,”We still can. I love you. Please don’t kill yourself tonight.”

…And that’s all I could do.

I wanted to drive to their house, knock the bottle of booze from their hand, and just hug them until they felt better, and I might have if they didn’t live a two day drive from me. (I love dramatically knocking things out of people’s hands, too.) Personally, I have attempted suicide three times in my life, which I will get into more later, but having been there myself does not make it easier to see others go through it. However, it does give me some perspective on what can help in these moments, and what my role is as a friend. The biggest two things that help me are honesty and humor. Don’t try to protect my feelings, and don’t let me take myself too seriously.

I resisted the urge to list all the things my friend had to live for because that would be assuming I know what they find meaningful. It’s easy to project our own experiences onto people in these situations, and I wanted very much not to do that. Instead, I was honest about my feelings and my selfishness.

I said, “I know this is selfish, but I don’t want to lose you. Not today. I mean one day, yeah when you’re being a real pain in the ass we’ll talk again, but not today.” They laughed, which made me feel relieved at that moment of time I bought for them. Humor can save a life. That’s what I tell myself when I’m unable to stop making “that’s what she said” jokes, when that fad ended like four years ago, but it’s true. Depression lies to us and tricks us into taking ourselves too seriously. It robs us of perspective and keeps us locked in a dark metaphorical room, isolated from people who love us. Eventually it can make us believe that we don’t matter.

I got to talk to my friend from their dark room last night. I am scared. I’m scared that they won’t answer my text this morning. I’m disappointed that I didn’t fix them – even when I know that’s not how it works. I’m heartbroken that I even have to entertain the thought that I might lose my friend. But I told them and showed them that I love them, and that is what I could do. I hope it helped, but I don’t know if it did. I may never know, but I did try.

I perhaps have a unique perspective, and am not suggesting this as a template for anyone else’s situation. If someone is talking about wanting to kill themselves and you are uncomfortable, which, let’s be honest, you should be, you do not have to deal with it alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (I put this number in my phone and have used it) and they will help you help the person you love. Then make sure to take care of yourself, getting help dealing with the feelings that come with being in this difficult situation. Depression lies and we tend to believe the lies before we can fight it. We can’t fix it, but we can fight it.

I don’t know if my friend will answer my call today or not. I sure hope they do. My stomach is knotted with the thought that they might not. But I’m glad they reached out to me last night, I’m glad I got to say I love you, and I had the personal boundaries and wisdom to know that I didn’t have to fix them. We can’t fix something that isn’t fixable, all we can do is love it, call it a pain in the ass, and laugh at it, making the time we have on this earth a little more bearable.

Continue reading TW – Depression Can’t Be Fixed