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