Thursday, November 26, 2015

Self-Harm

As much as I try to be a logical person, I am predispositioned to having intensely strong emotions. This is, like most things I struggle with, related to the BPD. In the process of identifying my disorder and getting to know it, I started to curb the violent outbursts, the throwing and hitting, the self mutilation and suicide attempts. These are the most immediate problems of Borderline Personality Disorder. And truth be told, as stupid as this may sound, I still feel like I'm slowly climbing up a hill with overcoming even those most basic things. Not too long ago, on a particularly bad day, I wrapped up a glass ornament in a skirt and smashed it into a million beautiful fragments of glass. I didn't use any of them but it was like I was some kind of self-destructive robot, operating on autopilot. I simply removed the bulb from it's packaging, grabbed my flashlight off the shelf and listened to literally the most triggering sound I know - glass breaking.

This used to be a real problem for me actually. I still distinctly remember being in science class when someone dropped a beaker or a light bulb or some shit on the cold tile floor and it shattering into a hundred shiny pieces. My boyfriend at the time, knowing that I was a cutter, immediately turned his gaze to me to ensure I did not find some way to retrieve a tiny piece of glass. Glass was always my favorite. X-acto knives and razor blades are scary because it's much too easy to do what those of us who cut call a "whoops cut" where you end up needing medical treatment or, even worse, endanger your life. Glass is much easier to be precise with, on the other hand. That's the common misconception people have of those who self injure - that we're trying to kill ourselves yet failing. SIV (Self-Inflicted Violence), has nothing to do with suicide other than us trying to stop ourselves from reaching the point where we feel like that's the only option. It's really all about releasing endorphins, being able to visualize your internal pain and - most importantly - control. 

And if we're totally honest, sometimes (though not as often as most media or uneducated would have you think), it's about attention. Most of the time, however, we're very secretive about cutting. When I moved from my arms to my legs, I found that it was possible to keep it hidden indefinitely as long as I didn't space out and forget about it during moments like my mother coming into the bathroom after I showered or getting changed in front of my significant other. That's usually when I got busted. That's a whole other can of worms that's hard to explain; on one hand, you feel like absolute garbage for upsetting your loved one in such a way. The shame is unreal. On the other hand, though? You get a really twisted, sort of self-satisfied feeling for being able to evoke such a reaction. I used to have to force myself to not smile when people saw my scars because there was something very strangely appealing about their expressions of concern when their eyes followed my deep, red gashes. Especially if they were the "reason" why I hurt myself in the first place. Though, no one is ever truly to blame for someone cutting themselves. I wish I could say this to some of the people in my past. One person in particular (I actually forgot about this until this very moment, wow, this is fucked up), actually had the unfortunate "honor" of me gouging their name into my thigh. The real culprit obviously is chemical imbalance and poor coping skills but no one had told my thirteen year old self anything like that. It was much easier to blame my oh-so-neglectful boyfriend. He probably hadn't IMed me in several hours. How dare he.

My history of hurting myself started way before I actually took blade to skin. When I was younger, I was the kid who bashed her head against desks and walls. I'd pull out my eyelashes and even the hair on my head if I was upset enough. I'd bite my skin as hard as I could stand, pick all and every scab over and over and over and over and scratch at my skin mindlessly. I still remember the first time I cut myself surprisingly well. I obviously had no way of knowing what a fucking rabbit hole I was about to send myself down but I did sense the significance of purposefully hurting myself. Though it probably would have happened eventually either way, a friend of mine actually told me to do it. We had had a fight and he basically ended the conversation with, "you should just cut yourself," because I was probably being a bitch.

To back up a little bit farther, I had become relatively accustomed to violence. My childhood was fraught with neglect and abuse and although it had been several years since I had lived with my father, it still had not truly left our household. We were all jumpy, bad at expressing our feelings, full of mental health issues and short on good ways to express our anxiety, depression and anger. As a child, I would often feel as if I had somehow contributed to the problems my parents faced and would eventually find myself punished for it, one way or another. Nothing like me getting my face punched in but more subtle, more difficult things to describe. In reality, these events (Carly does bad thing followed by Carly suffering), were generally unrelated. However, my young brain had made a link. And this link was very, very difficult for me to break. In times of high emotions and utter desperation, I have cried to Nicholas, "Just fucking hit me! I deserve it!" He is, sadly, not the first person to have to look into my tear-filled eyes and try to pull me back to the planet earth with reassurances that he would never, ever dare do such a thing. The moment you lay hands on your partner, your relationship is as good as over.

Back to my first foray into self-inflicted violence, however. After this extremely upsetting conversation with my friend, I found my way into our teeny apartment bathroom. In my hands were a pair of kid's safety scissors. Yeah, the super dull, awful, small little pieces of shit with a tiny light blue handle. I did not use these as my go-to utensil for very long. I recall clearly staring at myself in the mirror, trying to understand what was happening inside of me. Yet everything was so loud in my head, it was like a hundred voices screaming over one another. Those for this action, those against, those that were angry, those that were sad, yet none of them came clearly to me. It was just noise. Just endless, ear piercing noise. My eyes were empty and meaningless. Every emotion cancelled one another out and I just was. Nothing erupted from my eyes, no words came from my lips. My gaze turned down to the dull scissors I had discretely brought in with me. This was the answer. I parted the blades and held my arm out. No one had told me how this was done, I had never known someone who did this. Yet a single sentence had made it clear that this was the solution. Taking a deep breath in, I pushed the blade against my skin. At first, what a sickly feeling. My flesh tearing scratchily beneath me, splitting unevenly. I became more brave with each cut, pushing harder and harder. Finally, after a few lighter scratches, red beads burst forth like crimson pearls. This was a bracelet I would learn to put on more often as time went on. After only maybe a minute, I put down the scissors and stared at the tiny orbs on my arm, slowly enlarging until they finally burst and trickled gently down the curvature of my skin. This was absolutely fascinating to me. Suddenly, I was calm. I realized that the noise was gone and all that was around me was silence. This complete quiet was inexpressibly relaxing. I understood without consciously thinking it that this was a feeling I would chase until I died.

Cutting yourself is like a drug. It's truly the only thing that compares to the euphoria and relief you get from hurting yourself. Remember I mentioned the endophins. The next best thing would be sex or exercise but when you're depressed it's pretty hard to muster up the energy to do either of those things. A good runner's high or a particularly strong orgasm is the best way people who don't hurt themselves can try to comprehend that feeling. SIV is much easier to do, however, so that's part of what makes it that much more appealing. I used to cut myself at work all of the time, with razor blades stashed in strange places in the bathroom so no one would ever discover them. Sudden onset of depression halfway through your shift? No problem. Excuse yourself for a few minutes and voila, reemerge with a resurgence of energy and positivity! Must have been one hell of a dump.

After self-mutilating for years, you get kind of scary about the whole thing. I went through phases of cutting myself several times a day. Early on, I absolutely loved the texture and nerve response of doing it around my wrist and on my arm like most cutters. You can't hide these scars forever even if you wear long sleeves every single day and after getting caught, sobbing lectures and losing friends (you learn to reaaaally hate any activity involving water), I realized I would have to move to a different area if I wanted to continue. I've cut on almost every single part of my body. Most scary is the neck. Most uncomfortable is definitely the feet. Most awkward is your chest. Most practical are the thighs. I really enjoyed cutting on my ankles as it was a similar sensation to cutting on your arms but I realized it still ran the issue of being harder to cover up.

I ran the gambit of tools, experimenting with just about anything I encountered with a sharp edge. You can always find something to use if you're creative and determined enough. After trying enough compasses, steak knives, safety pins and jagged metal though, you do form a preference. Like I mentioned earlier, my utensil of choice was glass. Of course, even within this, I preferred thinner, more precise glass. After breaking a black light on accident, I fell in love with the effortless yet somewhat ragged way it ripped at skin and planted small shards all across my house in different rooms in case of emergency.

This was somewhere around my peak, when my mother was so incredibly scared and frustrated that she had no idea what to do with me. Fortunately, around this time, I ran away and broke into a friend's house, hiding in their closet til they returned home from a play then went to school with them the next day like nothing had happened. When the truancy officer appeared in the doorway of my science class (interesting how shit always seems to go down in science), I knew immediately he was there for me and began packing my things without saying a word. This was the event that began the long, sometimes infuriating road of counseling. A decade later, I can say that I'm grateful they forced me to go. Teenagers are shitheads.

I got to a point eventually though that I could look at another person's scars and, with pretty decent accuracy, be able to tell what they used to hurt themselves and how long ago they did it. I prided myself on this absolutely useless skill. My self-injury ebbed and grew on and off depending on what medication I was or wasn't on, the events in my life and other factors. Therapy helped. Medication, once I was older and tried a more moderate dose, was also helpful though honestly not as much as the cognitive behavioral therapy.

With time, I learned to accept my role in improving my mental health and stopped playing the victim. You can't get any better until you realize that you're the only one who has any control over your own happiness. Sure, you can surround yourself with a million people that you love and enjoy being around but unless you've made a conscious decision to try and be happy, it won't matter. You'll still get depressed and fall right back into those bad habits you never learned to break. You can usually thank your parents for that shit but then you need to move on and accept responsibility for your own emotions. You'll never be able to just magically willpower your depression away but that doesn't prevent you from making choices and engaging in healthy activities to try and alleviate it.

As for the self-mutilation? I miss it sometimes, if I'm completely honest with you. I've had many people ask me what changed, how I stopped doing it. The reality is that after a while, much like any other drug, it simply lost it's potency. My body didn't produce nearly the amount of endorphins it used to when I first started. I also just kind of grew up, learned more productive coping techniques and realized how much I was hurting the other people around me by cutting myself.

Probably the most strange part of all this however is the fact that I don't regret hurting myself. When I began, I was so out of control emotionally and had no idea how to make myself feel better. The periods of time which I tried to quit were usually the periods when I either attempted suicide or fantasized about it the most. One incident, which I won't really get into now, I hadn't cut in such a very long time and for some reason, I had decided that this was the one time that I would do it. I would cut so deep that I just bled out and let everyone be right about how it was going to kill me. What a fucking terrifying night. Once I realized how severe the cut was and how much I actually wanted to live, I wrapped it in layers upon layers of cloth in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding. All the first aid training I had received couldn't stop it. It continued bleeding slowly well into the next day and honestly, I probably should have gone to the hospital. The idea of upsetting my mother like that was unacceptable to me though and instead I skipped school to stay home while she was at work and nurse my wound.

If you know me well enough, you have surely seen this scar. It's much smaller than it once was but there's no doubt that I will have it forever. That was the last time I tried to kill myself. Something about the way your head gets after enough blood loss is... somewhat exhilarating yet simultaneously horrifying. Despite any kind of anemic delusion of embracing the peace of death, it rattled my soul and I realized that I wasn't ready to let go just yet. It would be several years until I entirely gave up any desire to commit suicide but this harrowing event was enough to scare me straight for a good long time.

When I was actively cutting myself this was not an issue. I had a handle on things. I was always very smart about proper care and disinfection. I cannot begin to fathom how many times I opened my skin and did not get an infection. I toyed with the idea of what I learned to be "third degree" SIV - more permanent things like breaking your bones or other disfiguration - but this never came to fruition because I knew that it was simply a temporary means at regulating my emotions.

I do feel guilty for the hurt and blame others around me felt as a result of my SIV but the reality is that my self-mutilation wasn't the real problem. My problem was my BPD, my depression. It was just a symptom, my brain's response to the illness and an attempt to cure it. Once I found other ways to treat these problems, I ceased wanting to hurt myself.

So if you were to take one thing away from this whole thing, that is what I would like for you to remember. If you know someone who cuts, burns, picks, scratches, purposefully overdoses or hurts themselves in any way - or if you do it yourself - that is not the real problem. The disorder causing you to want to do those things is the real problem. Fix that and the symptoms will disappear. And if you ever need someone to talk to about all this, you know how to reach me. I've been told I'm pretty good at giving advice and much more importantly a rather good listener. Even if you don't know what to do or even if you want to do anything, it never hurts to talk about it.

Trust me, it's pretty difficult to freak me out.

1 comment:

  1. God reading this now makes me CRINGE I FORGOT that I used to cut on my NECK Y I K E S BIG YIKES ALERT this shit is probably why I have high blood pressure now, all my veins are all fucked up and scarred THANKS PAST CARLY oh well at least I'm still here I guess. If you ask me NOW if I regret it, fuck yeah I do, goddamn

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