TRIGGER WARNING: Self-harm
When D1 (my first doctor) first asked me if I self-harmed, I immediately assumed she meant cutting myself. I confessed that I had, but not since I was about twelve years old. A few weeks later, after starting DBT, I realised the awful truth. I self-harm almost daily. I am a living, breathing example of self-harm. And here’s a funny thing about BPD; sometimes things that shouldn’t upset us do, but things that other people find distressing we don’t react to or consider out of the ordinary. With me, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are just normal aspects of day to day life and nothing to be distressed about – which is why until very recently, I didn’t consider that what I did was harmful.
You see, when most people think of self-harm, they think of people cutting themselves with razor blades, burning themselves with cigarettes or substance abuse. Yes, all of those are self-harming behaviours, but there are others too. Engaging in dangerous activities, hazardous behaviours including risky sexual liaisons, spending, binge eating, starving oneself – in fact, self-harm is anything that causes damage to oneself.
The topic of self-harm is a challenging one, I know and a trigger topic for some with BPD who self-harm but it is also profoundly distressing for those around us who care; be they family, friends or health professionals. People genuinely don’t understand why we do it. We get called manipulative, attention seeking, crazy, controlling and immature. But we’re not. We each have our reason for indulging in these activities and confronting though it is for those who care about us, it is essential to understand why.
When we self-harm, it’s not a cry for attention. We are not using it to make you do what we want. It’s not an attempt to control you. It’s an attempt to control ourselves.
It often shames us that we need to do this. We hide it. We don’t want the stigma, the negative attention and the labels that come with it. But we can’t stop because it keeps us alive in an entirely peculiar sort of way. Sorry family and friends, but if your loved one has BPD, they need to self-harm. Why? Relief, release, focus, control – we all do it. We all have our reasons, but ultimately, we all need it. Physical pain is oh so much better than our emotional/psychological distress – and if you have BPD, you are in a state of extreme mental anguish. What is going on inside of us is so unutterably painful and out of control, harming ourselves even just for one moment is … a break, a reprieve, a moment away from the screaming agony inside our minds.
For me, I know what I want to do, I fantasise about it all the time – I keep everything I need on hand. It’s my emergency kit, and I know it is a very unhealthy one. My idealistic – yes I do mean that – self-harming activity is slowly slicing through my flesh with a razor blade, over and over again. I know that will be noticed and I don’t want that. I don’t want anyone to see the scars; I don’t want to be thought of as abnormal; I don’t want to be sent to hospital; I don’t want to be medicated.
So I have compromised my ideal behaviour and my actual, and far less satisfactory self-harming practices include but are not limited to:
- Holding lit cigarettes or flames close to the skin, just enough to cause pain but without leaving scars;
- Binge eating or not eating;
- Poor diet, i.e. cakes, chocolates, biscuits, tobacco and large quantities of alcohol only eating correctly if others are present.
- Alcohol abuse;
- Lack of self-care;
- Tying laces, string, etc. around my arms in a specific pattern and slowly tightening to cut into my flesh and restrict blood flow;
- Putting myself in dangerous situations;
- Risky behaviour;
- Consuming carefully measured concoctions of alcohol and prescription medication;
- Inappropriate spending, e.g. impulsive purchases of absolutely anything whether I need it or not. I recently spent a week’s wages on iTunes and eBay buying music and art supplies and left myself nothing for bills and food. Signing up for courses to learn new skills, then not completing assignments or attending class and not being able to get a refund. I would be a very well-educated person if I could just follow through on these impulses!
All of this is dangerous, detrimental to my life and all of this must stop. I know this. And really, if you can find a competent and caring health professional you don’t need to be afraid to admit this. Health professionals nowadays have a greater understanding so if you do any of the above, don’t be scared – in the BPD world this is kinda normal, you can be helped, it will stop – because the good news is, there are alternatives. Ok, so at this point, I am not doing all of them it’s early stages for me BUT being able to open up and talk to my health professionals about this and finding they are not judging me is a huge relief. Neither of them has locked me up nor medicated me (which are significant personal fears). Both listen, both hear me, and both are guiding me gently toward safer options based on DBT.
Hear us. Don’t judge us. Understand us. Don’t fear us. This horror can stop.
For further information on self-harm and where to get help, check out the links below: