TW: Contains detailed references to self-harm. Please proceed with caution.
I’d say it’s been around a decade since the first time I self-harmed. I don’t remember the specific moment, but I know I was distressed, I know I reached for something close to hand, I know I used this ‘something’ to hurt myself and I know the ‘wound’ was superficial. It happened before I could think about it; it seemed like a reasonable reaction to how I felt.
With the passage of time, my SH behaviours have taken different forms and have become more severe. Cuts that require stitches, overdoses that prompt hospitalisation, starvation that brought me close to death. My SH has not been constant, it can be better or worse depending on whether I’m in relapse or recovery. With every relapse comes a new wave of SH, a new seemingly unbreakable cycle of destructive behaviours. With every relapse I have to re-learn the process of overcoming such cycles. Time frame? Indeterminate.
Regular readers will know via such posts as Intervention that I recently committed to trying to break the most recent spate of cutting, with the help of a specially devised Crisis Plan, my care team and my cousin. For the most part, I’ve done reasonably well. I’ve had the odd hiccup, but am told repeatedly that this is to be expected. For me to ‘quit’ overnight would be an unreasonable and unrealistic ask.
But I have to explain the term ‘urge’ to people who don’t understand. Because to stop the execution of SH is not to eradicate the desire to SH. For me, SH is always going to be my default reaction to distress, it’s always going to be a compulsion, something I’m driven to by a seemingly physical thing inside me. This thing has a voice, a very loud voice that chats away all day long. It informs me that I have no cutting implements in my room and that I should rectify this. It tells me to stockpile dressing and bandages. It makes me check my arms for a good ‘cutting location’ or prompts me to think about other parts of my body – my abdomen, for example, with its pure, unmarked skin. There are occasions when I can quieten this voice. Music is a good tool. Loud music, which drowns out the poisonous SH voice deep in my head but it always comes back.
Resisting these urges is something else. Has anyone ever suffered from Shingles? I have. It is the single most excruciating thing I can ever remember having wrong with me. I can only describe it as an agonising itch under the skin. And when I say under the skin, I mean under the skin. There is no way to get to it, to scratch it, or relieve it. You just have to suffer it. That is what the urge to SH is like. It gives a whole new meaning to ‘climbing the walls’. It makes you want to scratch your face off, or tear your own hair from your scalp. Professionals tell me all the time that these urges will dampen over time, that eventually I won’t even think about SH but I’m still (im)patiently waiting for that to happen. For now, I just have to persevere with my Crisis Plan and the coping methods outlined on it.
I read a good quote the other day:
‘pain is temporary, quitting is forever’
I believe this is loosely attributed to Lance Armstrong and, in terms of MH, I might be taking it out of context but it really struck a chord. Because to ‘quit’ a habit, or a vice, whatever, and not return to it is a daily, lifelong battle.