Cutting Myself Some Slack

Let’s talk about self harm and cutting.

There are a lot of us out there who have urges to harm ourselves as a way to cope with emotions that are difficult to cope with. These urges happen mostly, but not exclusively, to women, and a lot of us are teens. But there are many adults who do it who don’t necessarily ever talk about it. I do it. Well, not at this moment, but I have had bouts of self-harm urges periodically in my life. I hurt myself by giving myself bruises and scrapes a few times when I was a teen. I cut myself once when I was in my 20s, then never thought about it for about 10 years. Then the urges came back in full force while I was married. It was a toxic marriage, which probably had something to do with it.

Like any overwhelming urges that might not be healthy, like self-harm, alcohol or drug consumption, wanting to hurt someone else, it is possible to learn how to deal with these urges in healthy ways. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of self-awareness and support. And sometimes despite our best efforts we still fall back on the old coping mechanisms that have worked in the past.

For me, cutting provides two things. First, it gives me visual proof that something makes sense. If I put a needle on my skin, it will bleed. It’s a direct cause and direct effect that I can see when everything else in life, relationships, illnesses, crisis situations, feelings don’t follow any kind of sensible pattern. Call it a desire for control if you want, but it’s deeper than that. It’s a need for understanding. I’m not saying it makes sense, I’m just saying that’s what I am seeking when I’m experiencing the urges to cut myself.

Secondly, cutting is a way to take the pain of my bipolar thoughts out of my brain and transplant it onto my body. Not only does it serve to relieve some of the pressure of emotional turmoil inside my head, but it gives me, again, visual proof that I am in pain. People can see my pain, I can see my pain, which isn’t always the case with mental illness. Physical pain takes away the strength of mental pain.

I cut myself for the last time (I hope) several weeks ago while recovering from my suicide attempt. I took an 18g needle and cut grid patterns up and down both shins. Recovering from a suicide attempt is a confusing time. I was trying to step back into a life that I didn’t plan on being around for anymore. All of the problems I faced before the attempt were still there, I had a new diagnosis and new medicines to get used to, and I had to make the choice to stay alive for all of it.

That was difficult.

But I made that choice. I am alive, I will not continue to be miserable while I’m alive, and now I want to take this experience and find ways to turn that pain into something positive and beautiful. If that means writing candidly about things I’d rather keep hidden for forever, being able to learn about all the wonderful people in my life that provide me with support, making someone feel less alone by being able to relate to what they are going through, or turning my physical evidence of pain into something beautiful and empowering.

Last night I got the first of four tattoos that will cover up those cutting scars on my shins. The pain of the tattoo was nothing compared to what I have survived and my determination to move forward with my life. We were not able to color in the tattoo because the scars aren’t quite healed enough, but from the picture below, you can see where the art will cover the pain. Some parts will still be visible around the tattoo, but that’s life. Life is imperfect, but there is something for all of us in it.

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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)

Feel Less

So many major life changes, crises or otherwise, have happened to me over the last year, and I have felt every single feeling that has arisen along the way. I feel everything fully, to the point where my capacity for feeling emotions has shrunken to almost nothing. I was not aware that this was possible until now, but it is. I don’t know how to halfass anything in my life, from work to play to relationships to, apparently, feeling emotions. How much of that is the bipolar vs. innate personality or character, I’m not sure. But I don’t quite understand why I feel my feelings so strongly, to an overwhelming and depleting level, and other people don’t.

Can a person learn how to feel less? Is it possible to let some feelings in but not others? I don’t want to stop feeling altogether, but with the new medication cocktail I’m taking and my reduced emotional capacity, it seems like that might be where I’m going. Right now I often use apathy as a coping mechanism because I am fearful of irrational emotional ambushes.

I just started reading Carrie Fisher’s novel Postcards from the Edge, which is about chemical addiction; openly truthful about how people use drugs and alcohol to avoid or cope with their feelings. Honestly it would make so much more sense for me to self medicate. People get by in life by wanting to ease pain and dampen their feelings, and I think it’s a common human denominator to want those things. But for some reason I face everything head on and want to deal with feelings unfiltered and until they make sense or dissipate. Someone who does this without self medicating is going to be deeply affected by the emotional roller coaster. Why can’t I learn to self medicate like a normal person? It would save me so much grief. But then I wouldn’t stop, ever.

I’m so deeply affected by the intensity of my own feelings that I need prescription medications to make me stop feeling much of anything. The modern lobotomy. The meds will keep me alive, possibly allow me to create some sort of productive stability in my life, but they’re also taking away my feelings. I am frustrated that these are the choices I have. I don’t want to make either, and neither makes me very excited about my future as a human. I just want to feel things on a healthier scale. One that doesn’t destroy me.

But until I figure out if that’s even an option, I’m taking meds that work on a sliding scale of effectiveness, stockpile things and people that make me feel happy, and figure out how to get through a half a day at a time.