This is going to be a really tough one. Not just because of the memories it invokes for me but because I know that it’s a subject that many people find difficult. But to make sense of the second part of “The Big One” I need to cover it. Furthermore, my own feeling (and that of people I respect a lot) is that I should tell the whole story.
So, the difficult subject of self harm. In my case mostly cutting. I hear many opinions expressed on this and so many of them seem to be wrong or based on a false impression.
To go off course for a little while. Physical pain is something that, in most cases, we are able to deal with in one way or another. From something like paracetamol for headaches through to stronger stuff for more severe cases. I remember having kidney stones and being in very severe pain (apparently something like childbirth) but I was given morphine IV and the pain was gone in a flash. I have lived with chronic pain in my back for some time and, apart from acute episodes, I can usually “switch off” my awareness of this pain to a large degree. But it seems we can do nothing to alleviate emotion pain. People who have never been there may not even be able to understand the use of the word pain. But it is the right word. When you hit the depths it is a kind of emotional agony that I am afraid that, frustratingly, I can not put into words.
For me cutting myself was a way of trying to release that unbearable emotional pain. For a time the pain and trauma of those cuts would blank out the emotional pain to some degree. For me a large degree of pain was necessary. People suggested various strategies, such as pinging elastic bands against my arm to inflict pain. This really didn’t work for me. For a start the pain was not great enough and did not last long enough. But another factor was that, for reasons I still do not fully understand, I had to see the damage. I need to see the harm to my flesh and large amounts of blood. For this reason I tended to cut very deeply. Mostly I would not get the medical attention cuts like this needed so I have some quite ugly and broad scars.
I think one common misconception about this type of self harm is that it is suicidal or para-suicidal behaviour. I do not think it generally is and it certainly was not for me. Although I was very suicidal at times in my illness this cutting had no relationship with that. In fact, quite the opposite. It acted as an emotional pressure release to the extent that I would go so far as to say it actually kept me alive.
I think another misconception is that it is a form of attention seeking. I do not think this is generally the case and it certainly was not for me. I was quite furtive about cutting and also very deceptive with people I would not normally be. The worst cuts were made in places where they would be easier to hide. But, of course, when you are close to someone it is impossible to hide them forever. A small nudge leading to a wince or expression of pain and the game is up with someone who is on alert anyway. As I mentioned there was normally a lot of blood which I would meticulously clean up. But sometimes the odd small spot was left somewhere and my OH would notice it and know what I had done. It is, by far, my biggest regret of my whole illness. The massive pain I caused her by my self harm. Of course it is painful to see someone you care for suffering but I think this makes other people they have failed to help you enough. It is wrong but I understand why people would feel that way.
My “relationship” with my scars is somewhat ambivalent now. I am not proud of them but I also refuse to be ashamed of them. They are part of me and my illness and, as I said, possibly helped to keep me alive. I don’t actively hide the scars. If it is hot I will wear a short sleeve shirt. But the worst scars and where they would not normally be seen anyway; such as inside of upper arm and leg etc.
I know many people will have found it tough to read this. But it has also been tough to write it. Some people will find it repulsive and disgusting. I fully understand. Sometimes when I made the really bad cuts I would feel a sense of disgust. Both at the damage and at myself. Even now, whenever I see cutting on TV etc, even if I know it is stage-managed, I turn way.