I’ve talked about self harm once before. It wasn’t very personal and was mostly about my issues with how many people (often people who have never experienced it) conceptualize it. This time, I’m going to get personal. Also – trigger warning. Please be gentle with yourself when you read.
I have a long and turbulent history with self harm, and like many people who have experience with it, it was at it’s worst in my teenage years. My teenage years were so utterly horrible, in ways that I doubt I can do justice to with my words. School was a nightmare. My family life had turned topsy-turvy in ways that I was simply not able to cope with. And my head… that was probably the worst. That made everything else so much harder to deal with.
My head has always been a rather noisy place. Sometimes in a words way and sometimes in a… honestly, I’m not sure how to describe it. Lots of images. Lots of concepts. Lots of chaotic emotions and feelings and sensations. It was deafening when I was a teenager. I was living in an existence of unmitigated noise – both outside my head and inside – that I honestly could not escape from. It would be years before things got better, and the process of getting better was pretty rocky and tough in its own right.
So at the time, I found coping mechanisms. Ways to get me through each day. And it’s easy to look back on those coping mechanisms and view them as maladaptive – the most positive one was listening to music at ridiculously high volumes. Sure, it hurt my ears, but it drowned out all that noise in my head that I so desperately needed relief from. So yes, I self harmed. I was told that I would look back on it in shame, and I certainly have gone through times when I felt shame around it, but I don’t seem to now. It is partly about my rejection of shame, but it is also about having compassion for myself (which, now that I write it, is probably connected to rejecting shame as well). It’s about understanding that self harm does not exist in a vacuum. I was dealing with a lot, often in times when I had woefully inadequate support. I needed to find something, anything, to keep me going, and I did.
I lapsed recently. I had a spectacularly bad day for mostly no good reason. Probably brain chemicals just going wrong that day leading to awfulness, and I simply Could. Not. Cope.
Oh, I tried. As my brain screamed and screamed and screamed at me, bombarding me with piles of awful messages, I tried. I flailed, I cried, I assembled a jigsaw puzzle, I distracted myself with TV, I reached out to friends, I rocked, I moaned, I ate healthy meals, and none of it helped for more than a few seconds at a time. Some of it I even regret having tried (reaching out to friends was probably a really bad idea, given the state I was in), even though they are held up as positive examples of cope.
So eventually, after 10+ hours of my brain screaming at me very nearly non-stop, at horrible chaos in my head that was getting worse and worse as time went on, I lapsed.
Was it the most positive coping mechanism I could have chosen? Probably not.
Should I have found something else to help? Maybe, but I am honestly at a loss as to what I could have done.
Should I have waited for it to let up on it’s own? Again, maybe, but so far waiting had just made things worse.
Did it help? Yes. Absolutely yes.
I can’t quite say I felt better afterwards. I was still depressed. My feelings were still full of icky. But the screaming in my head finally stopped. Not just for a few seconds, either. It stopped. I finally had my ability to think back. I could finally begin the task of sorting out my rational thoughts from my irrational feelings.
I don’t mean this as encouragement to self harm. Obviously, it is a flawed coping mechanism. I mean this to try to express why it can feel like the only option, why it can be so appealing, why it can be so hard to choose anything else. Sometimes it is simply the best of bad options. Also, it does not have to mean a loss of control. Towards the end of things, when the chaos in my head was at it’s worst before I finally used my last resort to make it stop, I had been having some fairly extreme and scary desires of self harm. What I actually chose was mitigated – something I have experience with and know how to handle. No, it should never be the first option. Or the second, or the tenth. But when I have tried everything else and nothing is working and I am falling apart at the seams, please understand why I might choose that route.