Awareness overload… Self harm awareness day

Trigger warning: self harm!

At the risk of flooding my blog with awareness overload I would like to just mention self harm give that it’s self harm awareness day…

Talking about self harm is something I find so much harder than talking about my eating disorder. It feels like people have a stronger reaction to it and tend to focus on the injury rather than the stuff behind it.

Why do people self harm?

Obviously this is for many many many different reasons. It varies from person to person but it also varies for that person. However, as a generalisation (remembering that generalisations aways miss out something), people self harm for two reasons:

  1. Because they are feeling too much, self harm brings that under control. For example, I really really struggle with feeling angry. It completely overwhelms me and I currently have no (healthy) way to cope with it. Self harm is a way of turning the anger down, or off, so I can continue to live.
  2. Because they aren’t feeling anything, self harm gives them something to feel or validates their existence. For example, over the years I have had periods of disassociation, where i’ve felt invisible and completely cut off from myself. It’s like  watching your body live but you haven’t really got anything to do with it. Self harm has allowed me to break through the disassociated state. In feeling pain and seeing the injury, I’ve got myself ‘back into my body’ and confirmed to myself that I’m real.

This is obviously incredibly simplistic and is looking very much at the core reasons. I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years though and my reasons for self harm, do fit into this model. Self harm has allowed me to see my pain (reason 1), to care for myself (reason 1 or 2, in both cases what you’re really trying to get to is something which makes you feel better), to cope in difficult situations (1), to avoid suicide (a risk for me of reason 2)…

Self harm and suicide

They are generally not related. Of course more people who self harm attempt suicide because they are already a group of people at risk of emotional pain. (I’ve struggled with the wording of that but I hope it makes sense.) however, self harm is generally a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with something so that you can continue to live. For me, self harm and anorexia both prevented my suicidal feelings from reaching the point where I made an active attempt to kill myself. I was drowning in depression and self harm and anorexia numbed that pain which meant I could ask for help.

What can I do if I’m self harming or I’m concerned my friend is?

I didn’t really feel I could write this without a little bit of signposting (my day job is all about signposting people to support…).  As I’m in the UK, this is what I know however there’s lots of support elsewhere.

  • Talk to a friend. It’s hard. It’s scary. But having someone know you are in emotional pain helps. If you’re unsure about talking about self harm, focus on what it is that’s making you self harm.
  • If a friend tells you they self harm, stay calm, check if they need medical assistance but don’t make it all about the injury. “I imagine you are feeling some pain, or are finding things difficult, would you like to talk about it?”
  • If you know the core reason you self harm, approach appropriate support. That’s a bit vague but what I mean is, if you’re a young carer who’s self harming because of the pressure of being a young carer, talk to your local carers centre. If it’s because you’ve experienced domestic abuse, try your local domestic abuse charity. But you might not have a core reason and that’s ok too. It’s just if you do, getting support for it will help with the problem rather than focusing purely on self harm which is more of a symptom.
  • Talk to your gp. I wanted to include this but with a note of caution, some gps are better than others… Check if your surgery has someone with an interest in mental health. In the UK, your doctor is required to keep your appointment confidential unless they believe you or another person are at risk of harm although they will encourage you to speak to your parents.
  • If you’re in education, try a teacher, school nurse or counsellor.
  • Online support can be fantastic if you’re not ready to speak to someone you know. Just remember, the internet has good and bad and you are looking for support not people to drag you down.Try the NSHN forum for example or some of the organisations below.
  • National organisations: Mind, Young Minds, Young Minds Parents Helpline, Samaritans, Self Harm UK, Life Signs

What makes you come alive?

At a recent appointment with my psych nurse we spent a while talking about rubbish things which have probably contributed to the recurrent depression, self harm and anorexia.  Needless to say, the mood in the room was heavy.  Then she turned the conversation and we started to talk about things I enjoy.  After a while, she stopped and looked thoughtful and then told me how she had seen me come alive as I started to talk about photography, travel etc and how she’d really felt the atmosphere change in the room.

A few days after, there was a post on twitter which said find what makes you come alive and do more of it (or something to that effect).

It’s something I’m really trying to keep hold of.

What makes me come alive and how am I planning on doing more of it?

Photography – I’ve started following a couple of photography blogs for inspiration; I’ve made a note of techniques I want to try out with my diana mini; I’m hoping to get to the lomography store whilst I’m in London this week to pick up some interesting film; I’ve got my eye on a new lens for my DSLR and it’s only £150 so is affordable-ish.

Books – keep reading! I’ve got a good routine at work now where I read on my lunch break instead of sitting at my computer.  I also think it would be nice to set aside a couple of pounds a week to go to a cafe with a book.

Travel – I can’t fly at the moment (I have been forbidden by the psych nurse on account of my weight which is a good reason for gaining some weight and I need to keep reminding myself of that) but that doesn’t mean I can’t make plans.  I have planned in a bit of detail an independent trip to Norway.  I’ve also decided on a small group tour in Cambodia and started to look for somewhere to stay in Lille.  In the meantime, my travel is restricted to trains but that’s ok – I’m off to Scotland in August for a writing, photography, art week away on a remote island.  I’m also staying at a hotel which is in a bookshop on the way and way back!

Learning – over the last couple of weeks I’ve been to quite a few workshops and lectures as part of York Festival of Ideas – Writing Recklessly, Randomness and Chaos in Art, The Rise of the Female Diplomat, Listening to the City (a writing workshop), Frogs Don’t Need to Get Hot (about social support and mental health) and Moving Beyond Boundaries (about teaching women’s history in schools).  I’ve really enjoyed these and have (reluctantly) acknowledged that I’ve got so much more out of them because I have been eating more and have gained a little weight.  I’m also trying to get back into my Future Learn courses.  Last night when insomnia struck, I returned to looking at the MA in Women’s Studies that I want to do but I know, sensibly, that I can’t do right now.  I also had a look at some of the open university modules and think that might be an option before the MA.  But before that I need to get healthier.  So I’m currently waiting for the centre for lifelong learning brochure to come out and hopefully I’ll book myself onto a short course or a weekend course which I think will be more achievable.

Dinosaurs – dinos rock!  They are amazing and I feel like me and dinosaurs have been a bit distant of late so I’m hoping to reconnect with them and their awesomeness!  This has most recently included a trip to the natural history museum in Brussels where I bought a hoodie with a dino on it (I’m that cool!).  I also have the bones of a poem about a diplodocus which I need to go back to.

Speak louder (or why I’m talking about my mental health)

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I’m talking a lot about my mental health at the moment (more so on twitter than here) and I feel a need to explain.  One of the reasons I think I have ended up where I am is because I didn’t talk.  Therefore talking is important to my recovery.  Also, having a way of externalising bad thoughts and feelings and acknowledging the good days and behaviours is a healthier way for me to validate my experience.  I have an overwhelming need for validation and I know this is something that drives my destructive behaviours and keeps me trapped in their vicious cycles.  Eating disorders and self harm can be incredibly secretive and talking about them is helping to free me from them.  Talking (or tweeting as is more often the case) helps to keep me accountable, even if it’s just being accountable to myself.

I also think that we should talk about mental health and one of the ways that some good can come out of where I am is by raising awareness of depression, self harm and eating disorders.  Even if it’s just normalising the fact that someone is talking about it.

So, if you happen to speak to me you may find I mention my psych nurse, my eating disorder appointments, my weigh ins or my dietitian in passing.  These are part of my life at the moment and the fact that they are means I am fighting, I am trying to recovery.  The fact they are part of my life is a positive thing.  If my talking about it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why.  I am not ashamed.  Are you?