Cutting Edge Stuff
Astonishingly despite the progress that society has made in many other ‘emotional’ arenas – mental health is still a topic that is considered taboo and shrouded in stigma! The mere mention of some of the ‘goings on’ within that genre and we see people wince and shudder and cold shoulder those ordinary folks who deign to discuss it in a serious light.
My philosophy has always been the same – if you want to know about something then the only way to find out is to ask, or read and research but always – ‘To Talk About It’.
But some ‘topics’ are not just taboo but completely distasteful, totally off-limits or considered forbidden to talk about in certain circles and some stigmas go far beyond disgrace! “Self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts’ are still very much looked upon as a blot on the horizon of morality.
Many have often asked how l actually managed to stop self-harming? Which in truth is an excellent question and one that l am not often asked. If someone remarks upon my old scars – l no longer lie about their presence – but just own up – “I am an ex self-harmer”. It is by far easier to be more truthful about it, in comparison to my age old line of ‘I fell into a glasshouse and it cut me up pretty badly!” The fact is that using that line is still pretty good, because of the shape and miscellaneous array of my battle scars on my legs and arms – the glasshouse theory is believable.
Fact is, what’s the fucking point of lying about it all – it happened, it’s done, and there is never any turning back the clock – l have to live with the damage l did to myself. These scars serve me now as a reminder of the pain l was going through when l performed my own surgical procedures!
In a bizarrely morbid way, l guess l am proud of them – not the profound pride that comes with a gloating of ‘Ooh looksee at this!’ Like they are of the same popularity as that of Gollum’s’ ‘My Precious’, no – more of a ‘l have got through the shit’ style of pride. In fact anyone who has come through the darkened tunnel of depression, self-harm and mental health stigma has this strange kind of pride. It’s not easy being on the very edge of the brink of death and coming back from there, l assure you.
Not many people have actually asked me before ‘why or how l stopped’, mostly l am asked why and when l started in the first place, and of course if we are to be honest about it – both are valid questions. You can’t not have an end without a commencing. But even before we venture down that path one of the biggest questions l have heard is:
What actually is Self-harm?
In a nutshell – it is a behaviour or habit where upon you deliberately cause injury to yourself; you are intentionally harming your own body. There are many ‘styles’ of harm from scratching to lacerations to deep cutting, overdosing on tablets, burning your skin, punching or hitting or biting, drinking or inhaling, breathing in toxic materials or liquids and deliberately placing yourself into situations where you could be seriously hurt or injured. These are but a few of the methods, there are many.
How l actually started always came as a surprise to me. Whilst according to my Mother l had unconsciously started self-harming when l was a youngster of around five – six years of age – at around the same age that l also started to ‘stim’ quite aggressively and progressively. I suspect that the two were interlaced with each other.
My Father detested my stimming and reacted quite violently to it, and l learned to stim at a young age discreetly when in the company of others; however when out of easily affronted eyes would continue at my own pace, however if caught the consequence were really very stressful. Learning to live in my household was always an overwhelming experience – l think that is why the self-harming began. It was a coping mechanism
Why do people self-harm?
For me, it was a way of coping with overwhelming situations and day to day stress. During the ten year breakdown l used it as a way of ‘waking up’ and getting a fix back into reality. In fact l probably cut my arms and legs as many times as l had a cup of coffee and l had a thing for coffee!
For many people it is like a valve, some people release through anger, or tears whilst others like myself used body aggression as a tension reliever but also and this was applicable to me, is that it is a way of punishing yourself and easing off any guilt or shame you feel you have.
There are many reasons why someone might start injuring themselves, we have discussed stress, overwhelming emotions, guilt and shame and emptiness as with depression. But sometimes self-harm is a way of distracting your thoughts away from something more painful either in the here and now or past memories. For some – the inability to express their emotions in a normal manner express themselves through harm and again for some it is purely a way of communicating with others – classically known as a cry for help.
Like mental health – self-harming doesn’t discriminate, there is not one specific demography that performs this more than another – it can affect all walks of life. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, young or old, working or unemployed, single or in a relationship, family orientated or not. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, who you hang out with or don’t, where you shop – all irrelevant.
I was very young when l started and late forties when l stopped. The myths suggest that it is only a certain age bracket that carries it out and that is not true, whilst a higher proportion of youngsters ‘may’ begin self-harming between the ages of 11-17 this is again not a definitive figure.
People suffering from mental health issues, disorders, depression, those who use drugs or drink alcohol are also prone to start.
Do people self – harm for attention?
Much of society believes wrongly in the myth that self-harmers injure themselves for attention – that is not the case for the bulk of harmers who mostly keep the injuries hidden and away from the eyes of society as much as from their loved ones!
I never used my harming as a way of gleaning attention from anyone, it was my private war and l had not sent out invites to join the party. I went to great lengths to hide my guilty sinning away from prying eyes. It is not just the word self-harm that people shudder from it is of course the visual aspect as well – in fact – people don’t want to hear about it, think about it or be associated with it so there is NO way they want to actually see your injuries especially if you are a cutter like l was.
During my breakdown l was married , although l am long divorced now – when l tried to explain my stresses to my wife and why l was doing what l was doing, she shunned, snubbed and ostracised me and that was the start to our decline. She maintained that l sickened her, that my actions disgusted her and that l was seriously mentally ill and tried to have me hospitalised – so when l say many a time those who self-injure keep their mutilations hidden, l really do mean that.
If anything, self –harming is very similar to tattooing – except without the ink, it is a form of expression.
Did people not know l was self-harming?
My ex-wife knew, her friends knew [ex-wife told them], but l kept myself to myself and out of the eyes of society. I wore long tee shirts in Spring/Summer and longer but baggier clothing during the winter months.
My Doctor in the early days saw signs of it, and warned me that if l didn’t stop, he would section me! If anyone caught sight of anything, l lied about what had happened or l walked away from them. I had serious problems with depression, was in the heights, peaks and troughs of a chronic mental issue and so l was able to keep myself to myself.
Does self-harming actually help?
I think this comes down to the start of the stopping process, it did for me, but each person is as unique in their personalities as indeed they are in the damaging behaviour.
Causing injury to yourself has several knock on or chain reactions, aside from the obvious… being you are further scarred – this time physically.
I have scars of various lengths, shapes and depths on my forearms, calves, upper arms, shoulders and thighs – l never attended hospital for any of them for fear of being shut away. I used broken glass, broken crockery, scalpels, razor blades, Stanley knives and over the years l lost a lot of blood. None were ever stitched, and they healed naturally and rather awkwardly in some cases.
It can become addictive, routinal and repetitive – it did for me, but l am at my own concession ‘prone to addiction. It can lead to a worsening of emotional distress, the guilt and the shame of the acts can lead to more disturbing behaviours. The actual harming can also increase to dangerous levels and serious injury.
Indeed, one of my last serious cuts was made to my thigh, a cut made by a Stanley knife out of stress and frustration, disappointment and upset and it ran so deep and so wide that l couldn’t walk properly for several weeks. It became infected and l had to then endure more weeks of pain and stress and upset. But l could not go to the doctors as l was fearful l would lose my dogs or that l would be sectioned.
In addition to my self-harming, l was constantly plagued by morbid thoughts of suicide and whilst self-harm is not specifically an attempt to end your life, the longer you self-harm the higher the chances creep up for you and the possibility of suicide.
Does it help?
Of sorts of course it does.
Self-harming stopped me from killing myself – there isn’t any easy way of saying it, writing it or even speaking it. Causing injury to myself allowed me the freedom to think straight and clear the fuzziness in my brain, but gave me the time to wake up and remember that life was more important than death.
I didn’t self-harm to die, l self-harmed to live!
However, the question is – How did l manage to stop harming myself?
Whilst self-harming is not a mental illness, it is an addictive behaviour, and l was in the throes of several addictions over the years all of them damaging, but l knew that if l didn’t stop then sooner or later l would cause myself some serious harm.
I was a cutter, but also l took pills, albeit the latter was mostly during my several attempts at suicide. I was a heavy smoker, with serious insomnia issues, who lived alone with two dogs who were loved dearly, who was at the time living under remarkably serious stress and distress, who was being both bullied and manipulated by landlords and treated as the equivalent to a slave and a retard because of my Asperger’s.
The stress, depression and anxiety l was under was immense, my dogs were being threatened daily by these same landlords and l was constantly at breaking point. These people tortured me in many ways, and sadly l was being held over a barrel – it was a nasty catch 22 situation that would not be easy to break free of.
And yet l did.
I had to start believing in myself again, and reboot my confidence and reminded myself of a vow of responsibility l took with my dogs – l said l would look after them till the day they passed, and that they were my best friends on the planet, and l was fearful of what would happen if l cut myself so badly that l died and what would happen to them. They displayed to me an unconditional love and l was their Dad – it was that simple.
The real last straw was the thigh cut – it was a terrible cut, a seriously damaging injury that stretched almost 6” across my upper thigh and ran about half an inch deep in the middle. Many of my cuts although regulated and cleanly cut had never been as bad as that one slice – a slice too far in many respects. The infection that followed alone floored me.
I nearly died l feel from that one cut or could have.
I rebuilt myself single handed, there were no friends, or family or loved ones to help me through it – there were no link buddies to help me cope – l had to rekindle my years as a people trainer and start to motivate myself – which is why today l still promote motivational messages – it keeps me positive.
I threw away anything l used to use to cause myself harm, and worked very hard to stay on the narrow edge. Slowly and surely l was able to regain confidences to enable me to get out of the crippling situation l was in and gradually – l managed to get myself into a position to leave. When help was offered from the authorities’ l took it and made my escape.
The thigh cut was really ‘cutting edge’ stuff as far as decisions went, it happened in July 2012, it was the last deepest cut my body ever experienced, and although l scratched myself rather deeply in September 2013 – till now – l have not taken a blade to my body, but at times l have been tempted, but resisted the urge.
When l was able to breathe a sigh of relief after escaping the ‘bullies’, and l was in new accommodations l was able to properly identify why l stopped.
1] ] My dogs, l loved them, and they needed me, l had to stop buggering about and to start remembering them.
2] Old wounds that had healed badly were giving me jip and they still do today. I was getting concerned about the sheer number of ‘old’ scars l had on my arms and legs.
3] One of my dogs had swallowed a blood stained bandage and l nearly lost her – it was a hell of a wakeup call as to just how messy and untidy and careless l had become with my bandages. But equally, my stress levels had made me reuse dirty bloodied bandages on my wounds and many became infected.
4] Cutting the way l did, was taking its toll on me, l was always sore, always bloody.
5] It didn’t seem to be resolving anything?? What was the point? I was no longer getting any gratification out of its practice.
6] I started to believe in me again, and my renewed energies and strengths were returning.
It’s been over 4 years since my last episode, l have been blade clean since then – finally l kicked the habit! It was really tough to break the cutting routine, the behaviour but l did achieve it and am really pleased that l did so.
An awful lot of emphasis is placed onto what’s and the why’s about self-harming – Why do you do it? What made you start? And very little is placed into the why’s and how’s about stopping. These days there is more in the way of support – there is more awareness – and it makes it easier for harmers to trust someone else. You see if the caring society wants to help, then they have to understand that the average harmer isn’t doing it for attention, it is not a direct call for help – they may just want to talk to someone about it. But do not wish to be threatened with hospital or shamed and shunned – they want to be able to TRUST someone with their inner mind.
One of the reasons l continued to harm for so long was simply because l was not able to talk to anyone about how l was feeling – the support wasn’t there for me and l found l couldn’t trust anyone. Sure – self –harm is about awareness but it is also about the ability to communicate to a trusted source. Someone who will not over-react or look at the harmer in disgust and doesn’t look down their noses at them and someone who doesn’t instantly believe that self-harm is ALL about crying wolf for the sake of it.
If society wants to help to stop the harming, then society has got to stop harming those looking to talk.
There are a number of different organisations out there with regards self-harming:
Rory Matier – The Tee Shirt Blogger
Ps: These posts are my views on my autism/Asperger’s, they may not be everyone else’s who is on the spectrum.