I mentioned briefly in my recent blogs that I’ve been having a rough time lately—all the normal symptoms…extreme anxiety, irritability, depression…etc. As normal, with the increased intensity of my emotions, I’ve had a desire to hurt (in particular) cut myself. Unlike when they are part of my OCD, the thoughts are not repulsive; instead, something really believes it will make me feel better. While I hate to admit it, the idea is appealing. Sometimes more appealing than French fries…which is saying a lot.
Now I know most of you are asking “Why would you feel like that?” Well, that’s a question I have also been asking myself . As I try to push the thoughts out of my mind as soon as possible, I don’t usually examine the feelings too closely. But recently I’ve been trying to figure it out. Healthy Nicole does not try to deal with stress by cutting herself—why does sick Nicole want to?
I recently went to a NAMI “In Our Own Voice” presentation that helped answer the questions. (If you have not been to one, I highly recommend it. The two presenters at the one I went to were great—honest, funny, and insightful (just like me!)). Anyways, one presenter shared that she began cutting herself at an early age and explained three reasons she did it.
Number One: Physical Pain
When your body is in physical pain, your mind can only focus on that source of pain. So for at least a brief period of time you can escape the crazy thoughts in your mind. I can relate strongly to this one. Ironically enough, I remember complaining about a headache one time when I was younger and my dad saying “Want me to hit your finger? Then you won’t be thinking about your head anymore!” I sweetly and respectfully said, “No, but thank you anyway.” (haha ok maybe not totally respectfully…I was a moody teenager!)
So many times when I’m feeling my worst, I desperately want anything to take me out of my head and pull me back to reality. Physical pain can do that—and give me a break from thinking (it’s the closest I can come to taking my brain out and leaving it in another room).
Number Two: Outward Expression of Emotions
Especially as a younger person, you often do not know how to express the intense confusing feelings going on inside you. You honestly don’t know what is wrong. Harming yourself can be an outward way to express pain and ask for help.
I can relate to this reason as well. I think back on several actions during high school I did to try to get the emotions out of me—and there were a few things I did to try to get attention (SOS attention, not just the ‘I like being treated as a princess attention’—though I did that too!)
I still feel like that sometimes, one time after a breakdown, during the ‘debrief’ this conversation happened:
Me: “Didn’t you see? Didn’t you see how serious the situation was?!”
Them: “Well you weren’t hurting yourself”
Me: “Oh—so I have to hurt myself for this to be serious?!”
Oh……I still cringe when I think about that conversation….
While you might think “I’d never say that”, try to remember—the outside could just be a small glimpse of the struggles inside. Even if you think it might just be “teenage angst” or “hormones”, get to the bottom of it. The goal is to give voice to the emotions before they are expressed in self-harm. One of my goals in raising awareness is to help give others ways to express their intense/unpleasant/unexplainable emotions in healthy ways. You know– hitting a punching bag not your little brother or drinking water not alcohol (and no, putting the vodka in a water bottle does not count!).
Number Three: Physical Healing
The last reason she gave for cutting was that she could see the physical heal. It would bleed, then she would bandage it, it would scab, and then heal over. While I cannot relate personally to this one, I have heard others also mention it. It reminds them that things can heal and get better
My addition: Human frailty
As I was wading through the why—and trying to relate to the previous reason, I had a revelation. In some ways, seeing myself hurt does give me hope. Unfortunately, not the good hope that ‘things heal’. Instead, it gives me hope that “Life will end at some point. My body can get injured/ harmed and I will die.” I know that is a completely morbid thought—but when I’m in the midst of an overwhelming depression, I do believe there is no end in sight. And in a sick (pun intended!) twisted way, seeing myself harmed reminds me that I can/will die at some point.
Self-harm can be a weird, confusing topic. It can be difficult to bring up and explain. As mentioned above, one reason for self-harm is the inability to express emotions. So how can you expect those struggling with it to explain why they feel that way?
I hate admitting it because I don’t want people to worry about me. I don’t want them to think that I’m weak. Or worse…weird! But, at the same time-I want it to stop being shameful. I want people to understand. And I want people to know they’re not alone. So here’s me—admitting once again—that I’m a nut job.