Here I am in 2014, working at NoStigmas, a job I really like, and a great cause, with a master’s degree from a great university and about to start a PhD. Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to be the smart one, I was the bookworm, the “academic one” – and right now it looks like I’ll get to be all those things. But even though things are pretty good, for a long time they weren’t. TRIGGER WARNINGS THROUGHOUT FOR SELF HARM…
I first got depressed (clinically speaking) at 11, and started self harming around the same time. Nothing too major at first; pins, needles, compasses, the occasional pair of scissors, and I covered it well. Even so, there were outward signs that things were not right – for instance, trichotillomania was harder to hide. As a result of that and increasingly depressive spells, I began the seemingly infinite cycle of therapists, counselors, doctors, psychiatrists and medications.
As I got older, I started to push the self destruct button with more dedication, and began self harming in more dangerous ways; self medication seemed far easier than prescribed medication, and with fewer side effects.
Most people, when asked to define self harm, automatically think of cutting first, and that it's related to suicide attempts. Actually, self harm is often a coping mechanism that, while dangerous, can preclude or prevent suicide. Additionally, it can encompass a wide range of behaviors. For me, although cutting was my most usual method, it included chain smoking (I had open heart surgery as a baby so this was much more risky for me), drinking excessively, binging/purging, burning, bruising, punching walls, banging my head on walls, provoking violence, and sex (the latter of which often surprises people, both because of what they know about me and because it seems so counter intuitive).
I can’t even remember what caused the first hospitalization, but with over 10 years of harming one way or another, and several suicide attempts, it was probably overdue. My diagnosis was officially Bipolar I with dysphoric manic episodes and psychosis, but various other things were considered, including schizoaffective disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Between the ages of 22 and 28 I was in and out of hospital pretty frequently for suicidal thoughts/actions and self harming, including a couple of fairly long term spells under lockdown. When I was in hospital for months at a time, I ridiculed people who said it would get better - it seemed utterly impossible.
But they did. For me, psychotherapy was “the answer,” but I know that without medication I would never have got to a position where I could respond to it. Having tried virtually every psychiatric medication, I am sometimes wary of recommending them, but I can’t deny they helped me. It’s up to each person to figure out what works for them, which may be medication, therapy, counseling, alternative therapies, or a combination.
It’s often said that addictions never really leave you, and that you have to work at recovery. I think that’s true of self harm - it can become an addiction. For 2 decades it was unthinkable that I might go a day or more without wanting to do it, and I was unable to go anywhere without a blade in my wallet or pocket. But it’s been around 4 years, and although it crosses my mind sometimes, I can resist it. Maybe surprisingly, I’m fairly open about my history, unless I’m doing something that requires professionalism, I don’t feel obliged to cover my scars. Issues like these can be highly stigmatized but people are often more accepting than I expect.
Now things are better than ever - I still take some psych medication, l still have traits and quirks that some people find a little strange, I still have something of an ability to connect emotionally, and I’m still a tad over-eager about dark, depressing, angry music - but that’s ok; the important part is that I know how I operate, and what makes me happy. I’m finally doing well academically and achieving the goal I’ve had since I was 10 of becoming a PhD, I’m working for a great cause, I’ve got good friends, and things really are pretty good.