This post is for people ready to dig deep into a challenging topic. I want to welcome Chelsie from You, Me & Emetophobia, who is ready to share her story about how she overcame self harm. Many bloggers struggle with self harm currently or have struggled with it in the past. I have never experienced it myself, but I am grateful to Chelsie for her honest and ultimately hopeful story. She’s guest-posted for me before, and she has a great blog of her own. Be ready to read a moving story.
In Chelsie’s Words:
The first time I resorted to self harm I was in high school. Or maybe it was middle school. To be honest, I don’t remember and I don’t really try to remember. I guess it’s because, like most people who self harm, I don’t exactly beam with pride over the thought of having done it.
There is no pride in self harm because it’s usually done out of desperation. Desperation to feel something other than emotional pain; desperation to feel in control amidst the chaos they are experiencing externally and internally.
And let me tell you, my life was definitely in chaos. With my parents going through a messy divorce, three consecutively terrible boyfriends (which I was probably too young for anyways), a cancer prognosis for a loved one and a phobia with no name all hitting me at once, it was a perfect storm. Then, when you factor in the already teenage angst that came with puberty, looking back it’s not exactly surprising I resorted to such extreme measures.
But I think there might be a common misconception that only depressed people will self harm, and I think there is also a misconception that people only self harm because they are suicidal. Neither of those were true for me. Of course, I could have probably convinced you I was with all the emo poetry I wrote at three in the morning while listening to HIM and Panic! At The Disco.
No, despite all the wrong in my life and the struggles I endured in my high school years, I never once felt as if I was truly depressed or ever considered taking my own life. I guess that’s because deep down I must have known it could have always been worse, or someone out there could have had it worse than me.
I recently read an article from TheMighty.com titled 39 Messages to People Who Self-Harm, From People Who Have Been There. Despite being seven years self harm free, all of the messages resonated with me. They reminded me that despite all that life had put me through, and despite all the scars I left behind, I am still a person, with valid feelings and tremendous worth.
It’s nice to be reminded about that from time to time, and I think for those of you who currently self harm it’s nice to feel like someone out there hears you and understands you. That being said, I’ve waited a very long time to share my story of recovery. I’ve carried a lot of shame and regret over my past decisions, and I think it’s finally time for me to start letting go of that. I’m going to do that by sharing how I overcame my battle with self harm, and hoping that it can help at least on person see that they can do it too.
Support is vital. It doesn’t have to come in the form of a significant other or a family member, or even a friend. Support can come from within, it can come from a support group on Facebook, it can come from your favorite poetry verse that you have hanging on your wall. Support can come from playing your guitar when you feel the urge, or going out for a walk with your dog. Support doesn’t have to be a physical person; support is anything you use to help you through the urges.
During the first few months, despite heavily leaning on my boyfriend (who is now my husband) I would constantly find other things to do. Activities that required a decent amount of focus and use of my hands always worked best, as it would occupy the mind and reduce the seemingly crushing waves of guilt and shame that would hit me when the urge struck. When my husband wasn’t around, I would sit in my room and breath, and try to find help from within.
I’ll be honest, there will be relapses, but that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up, because chances are it’s been a week, three weeks, a month, six months since you last did it. Pick yourself up, remind yourself why you decided to stop and keep pushing forward. Remember what worked and what didn’t, and tell yourself next time you’ll go a day, a week, a month longer. Power through, and remember that you stopped before, so you can stop again.
And it takes trust to continue pushing on. It’s important to trust yourself, your strength, your courage. Trust your ability to persevere in the face of a relapse. Trust that you will one day be able to forgive yourself, to look at those scars and realize that despite all that you’ve been through, that you healed. You put one foot in front of the other, you climbed that wall, you emerged the other side and then destroyed it piece by piece until you could clearly see the road you came from.
Lastly, be aware of your triggers. Know what your body feels like when an urge hits, be mindful of items, sounds or pictures that make you feel a certain way or take you back to when you would self harm. For me, I always knew when my body needed to self harm because my wrists would burn. Without fail, the feeling to cut was always preceded by my wrists burning, almost like it was simulating the act of cutting to get me by until I actually could self harm.
I also tried to avoid Secondhand Serenade for a long time because it was almost always the soundtrack to my self harm. It was always playing when I felt my worst, and it triggered those feelings I was trying to conquer. So, for example, if you know listening to Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol reminds you of a bad time, remove it from your playlist for a little while, until you are better prepared to handle the emotions that come with it.
There was a quote I heard the other day from a woman on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that really spoke to me. She had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, and they were discussing a time when the woman removed her shirt and proudly displayed her scars. Ellen ask the woman why, and she replied:
“It hit me that I have scars because my body healed, and that’s beautiful.”
If your body can heal from the trauma, so can your mind. It will be a long road, but recovery is possible; healing is possible. I have dealt with a lot of negative emotions towards my self harm. I feel a lot of shame, a lot of regret and it never gets easier to talk about. In fact, I usually avoid it but what I’ve learned throughout my time is that holding it in is worse. Not telling someone makes the burden that you feel, whether consciously or subconsciously, heavier.
In fact, sitting down to write this was very, very hard. These are memories I buried deep, purposefully trying to forget them because I didn’t like what I had to do to keep myself sane. I had never even gone as far as writing about it, so as I began this process, for the first time in six years I was overwhelmed with the feeling and urge to self harm (but I didn’t). After a day or two, I came back to this because I knew I had to push through, and I knew I had to do this.
No, actually, I wanted to do this.
I wanted to do this because my battle with self harm was real. The pain I felt was real; the trauma that caused it was real and the scars on my wrist are real. I wanted to do this because like so many others, those scars are a constant reminder that I literally chose to etch every negative emotion on my skin instead of screaming into a pillow or talking it out safely.
But you know what else? My recovery was real too. I may not have struggled with depression or thought about taking my life, but overcoming self harm is a huge feat. The sleepless nights tossing and turning while my wrists burned were real. Learning to not be triggered by seeing knives, scissors or exacto blades was real too. Feeling overflowing pride after hitting one month, six months, two years, four years self harm free was real.
I wanted to do this because like so many others I sat on this emotional burden for so long. Even with my recovery well over, I buried those feelings and sometimes that secret is harder to carry than the actual self harm. Don’t do that to yourself; don’t wait to get the help you rightfully deserve because while there may be no pride in self harm, I’ve learned that there shouldn’t be any shame either.
Chelsie, thank you for your willingness to help others who are struggling with self harm.
If you would like to email Chelsie, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. She says, “I will do my best to respond to you within 48 hours, but if for some reason I cannot get back to you in that time frame, I promise I will always respond as soon as possible. Also, feel free to join our Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. It is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.”
If you are interested in guest posting on The Wishing Well, leave me a comment and we’ll touch base. I can’t promise I’ll take every submission, but I am dedicated to sharing stories of recovering from mental illness with honesty, humor and heart.