Tag Archives: self harm

Me, my self harm and my scars

I feel incredibly strongly that self harm is an important topic to talk about. Not only because it is on the increase in schools (and talking about it is the only way to prevent it) but I wish to break down the stigma, misundstanding and controversy surrounding the topic.

Don’t get me wrong, I find it a very difficult topic to open up about, I feel sad that I’ve used it as a coping mechanism and I’m gutted that I have to live with my history on show but we have to start talking about it somehow!

Read more about my story here: http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/19/my-history-of-self-harm-has-left-me-with-scars-but-i-see-them-as-a-mark-of-my-survival-6686564/ 

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Restrained or calmed by chemicals or clothing?

TW – trigger warning, images and themes of this blog may cause distress to some people.

Imagine the chemicals in your brain are telling you to behave in certain ways that are either unsafe to you or unsafe to other people…

Imagine you become so unwell, you lose awareness that your thoughts, actions and behaviours are out of character, you lack insight. How would you want to be treated?

The Mental Health Act can be used to detain someone for assessment or treatment of a mental disorder if they or others are at risk.

Mental illness does not discriminate, just because you come from a certain background or have a high flying job or “perfect life”, mental illness can strike anyone at any time.

Image result for mental illness uncontrollable

When I became so unwell I was convinced killing myself was the only solution to my problems, I was behaving in ways that put my life at risk and was detained (under the mental health act) first by police in a cell and then by mental health professionals in hospital.

I was then forced to take medication, have electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and engage with psychotherapy. All these combined with time and a safe place to stay enabled me to find my way out of the black hole and recover enough insight to decide what was best for me to continue my road to full recovery.

Listening to an old podcast of All In The Mind, a BBC radio 4 programme, recently, I was struck by a discussion about strong clothing. Clothing used in the asylums (C.19th) to hold patients and comfort them. The garments were often quilted, very heavy and warm. A similar idea to the straight jacket, the clothing would restrict movement and prevent them from harming themselves, others or their environment.

Image result for strong clothing mental health images 

The guest on the programme went on to talk about a survey they’d carried out with a group of mental health service users, artists, historians and clinicians. They asked whether they would rather be restrained by drugs or by clothing. Apparently everyone said they’d rather be restrained by a garment except one service users who would prefer a padded room and one psychiatrist who said he’d prefer drugs (although it was not clear whether he would prefer to use drugs on his patients or whether he would prefer to be restrained by drugs if he was the patient).

This has had me thinking about how the mental health system has swayed so strongly towards drugs and what I would prefer.

Image result for mental health drugs

There’s no doubt, preventing someone from harming themselves is important, but if there are a number of options, surely we should think carefully about whether different options would suit different people.

Strong clothing came into being as doctors tried to avoid  the “revolting instruments of mechanical coercion” rejected by the “non-restraint” movement of the 1840s and ‘50s. They claimed they were something else entirely. It seems that in the 21st century physical restraint is seen as inhumane, truing instead to chemical restraint.

strait-jacket

Feeling safe is a fundamental human need. When I think about feeling safe, I’m in a familiar environment being held (embraced) by a familiar person. When unwell (physically or mentally) feeling safe becomes even more important. When very unwell, to be with people who can assess and treat you appropriately, it is most often necessary to be in an unfamiliar environment away from people we know and therefore feeling safe in others ways becomes more important.

comforted

Strong clothing, it appears, was used to calm patients and to help them feel held in safety. With the addition of restricting the unwanted harmful behaviour.

But for me, not being able to move is connected to feeling trapped and this is a bad feeling, not a safe feeling. I had nightmares as a child about being in  strait jacket! I have never been trapped anywhere but it’s a deep fear, no idea where it comes from!

I don’t think I would have found this strong clothing comforting.

Safety, while I was in hospital had to come from trusting the professionals around me and from some familiar routines (such as always getting up on time and getting dressed etc). Having visitors was also vital as some familiarity.

Some people see mental health wards as somewhere all the patients are “drugged up on meds”. This is not the case – there are some patients, perhaps suffering highly disturbing mania and delusions making them behave in dangerous ways who are given sedating medication (and it might take a while to get the dose balanced) but not everyone.


I’m not sure what I would have thought about a padded room. It certainly screams “asylum” and conjures up images of someone throwing themselves around in a “frenzy”. Dare I say, I think I would have found that helpful – I like the idea of getting rid of my pent up frustrations and energy. At times (when hearing voices in my head) I would bang my head against the wall, it would help, but I would end up with terrible bruises – surely (although, finding another way to manage my emotions in the long run) banging my head against a padded wall would have been helpful?!

As I gained some insight I knew my thoughts and behaviour were unhelpful but I was still finding it hard to control my actions. I remembering feeling the relief of taking medication that slowed down my racing thought and calmed my tense body. I rarely used it, only as a last resort but I remember the feeling vividly.

Drugs act on the brain, to alter chemicals to change how we feel. Strong clothing acts on the body to prevent harmful behaviour. Psychotherapy works on all 3 areas but it takes a long time!

Image result for thought feelings behaviour cycle

If you were unwell and lacking insight and immediate action was needed to prevent harm, what would you prefer?

Low self esteem: The hidden condition

Low self esteem can be a painful condition and many of us suffer in silence, unaware of the damage being done, unaware that there is a way out.

Throughout my mental health journey, I was asked numerous times if I had low self esteem, I would struggle with this question. The definition of self esteem is:

“Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect”

Since I did not believe I had any worth or abilities, how could I possibly have confidence in them? I did not believe there was anything about me to respect. Therefore, the question baffled me because if there is nothing to feel good about how could I rate it as low or high? It’s only since my self esteem has improved have I realised how rock bottom it was and I had previously been viewing myself through a distorted lens. Once the cycle of low self esteem started, add in mental illness and you soon reach no self esteem!

We build a picture of ourselves and  our self esteem grows from a combination of the following:

  • Experiences at home, school, work and in the community
  • How other people react to you and treat you
  • Illness, disability or injury and how those around you cope
  • Your own thoughts and perceptions
  • Culture, religion and societal status and role
  • Media messagesself esteem boxes

Problems associated with low self esteem include:

  • Feelings of fear and anxiety – an all consuming fear of doing something wrong, looking stupid.
  • Isolation and avoiding new situations – these things can feel too overwhelming when you assume you won’t be able to cope.
  • Staying quiet and not sharing thoughts or ideas, not initiating conversation – anything to avoid looking bad, stupid of inept and avoiding rejection.
  • Underachieving and lacking ambition for fear of not coping or being rejected,
  • Or overachieving – constantly working inordinately hard to prove worth and competence to self and others, striving for perfection and perceiving failure if it’s not achieved.
  • Seeking or remaining in destructive relationships through fear of not managing alone.
  • Depression – persistent low self esteem with negative self-talk can lead to other symptoms of depression such as low mood, not sleeping, poor appetite etc
  • Hypersensitivity – assuming negative thoughts from others leads to being on the look out for these signs that confirm these fears. These could lead to acting on a sign that wasn’t perceived accurately (for example a compliment will sound sarcastic). Sometimes people will throw out “tests” to see what people think of them.
  • Lack of assertiveness – anxiety and fear can lead to difficulties sharing feelings and asking assertively for needs to be met. This can lead to people being passive and being “walked on”, which can lead to a build up of pressure and aggression being expressed as being defensive, sarcastic, brusque or even rude. Putting other people down (not necessarily deliberately maliciously) may be a way of covering up a low self esteem. Being passive-aggressive is common, examples include being manipulative, planned tardiness, throwing out cues for others to pick up on and gossiping.
  • Obsessions or addictions can be a way of coping or covering up. From workaholic behaviour through to developing serious mental illness such as anorexia or obsessive compulsive disorder with intrusive thoughts etc
  • Behaving in a needy way, relying on others for direction and trying to please others.

None of these are meant to be criticisms but it’s helpful to know that people behave in all sorts of ways, unintentionally, in order to manage such a negative feeling. It may be helpful to realise that you have low self esteem and that how you’re managing it is having a negative impact on you and the people around you. If you notice other people’s behaviour is annoying, unhelpful or irrational, this may be the tip of the iceberg and it might be worth thinking about whether their self esteem is playing a part, the real root may be hidden.

My lack of self esteem was mostly internalised and exaggerated as I turned to self punishment.

self esteem not good enough

I became depressed, used self harm to manage my emotions and hid inside anorexia to manage strong negative feelings about myself. Once I was on my road to recovery and I was able to reflect on some of my unhelpful thinking I became very aware of my fear of arrogance – my overwhelming fear of my head being too big had pushed me so far in the other direction I was suffering for it! A balance is important. (Arrogance is unattractive, and while some people may think it’s got them places, I never want to venture down that path.) I can be assertive while using humility to keep arrogance at bay!

It is really important to boost your own self esteem and the self esteem of those around you and to avoid unhelpful coping patterns. Here are some tips:self esteem don't compare

  1. Stop comparing yourself to others – a trap a lot of us fall into, thinking it helps us know where we stand but it’s unrealistic as we’re all unique with different abilities and strengths. Get to know yourself rather than thinking you need to be the same as someone else.
  2. Don’t strive for perfection – some people believe only God is perfect, others believe it does not exist. Being OK with “good enough” was one of the best things I ever did for my recovery. Don’t get me wrong, I love my perfectionistic streak (it’s part of who I am) and I can turn it on if I want to but I keep it in cheque!
  3. Make mistakes – it’s natural, it’s the way we learn and it’s fun! They will happen, there’s nothing we can to avoid them so we may as well enjoy them! Apologise if necessary, learn what we need to, treat yourself with compassion and move on – that’s the most important bit!
  4. Focus on the things you can control – focusing on our worries and the things we can’t control leads to a downwards spiral of negativity. Instead, if we look at what we CAN change not only will we feel better but we’re more likely to actually achieve what we want.
  5. Talk to yourself in a positive way – imagine recording a repeater tape with “I’m no good, I can’t do this, I’ll never achieve anything” – if you didn’t believe it in the first place, you will after a very short time! This is what goes on inside the head of someone with low self esteem. Instead, we need to replace it with “I can do this, I’m an OK person” etc. Work out what you want and tell yourself you can do it! If someone you know has low self esteem, make sure you are their positive repeater tape – without prompting tell them they are lovable, tell them what they’re good at, tell them they’re unique.self esteem be careful
  6. Do things you enjoy and help others do the things they enjoy – having low self esteem makes you focus on the things you’re no good at. For once, just relax and do something you know you’re good at – go to the park and read a book, spend some times stroking your cat, make a smoothie, do some weeding. Anything! Helping other to find something they enjoy has its rewards – it will improve their self esteem and you might find something new and fun too!

self esteem you are good enough

Breaking out of low self esteem can be hard. It’s especially hard if its become habitual to behave in these ways over years and years. But improving self esteem will improve every aspect of your life! Feeling better about yourself will mean you will be able to:

  • Communicate better, which in turn improves relationships, from intimate relationships to work colleagues to acquaintances.
  • Manage challenges better – challenges come along, they can defeat us or make us stronger depending on how we approach them.
  • Managing illness better – one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen is that when I’m unwell I’ve started asking for what I need instead of assuming I don’t have a clue and hoping other people will know better than me!
  • Get what you want out of work – being honest about whether you want to achieve highly, be a CEO or whether you want something else – don’t let your self esteem dictate whether you over or under achieve!
  • Have a healthy work-home-life balance – everyone’s different and needs/wants different things out of life. We should not allow our self esteem to allow us to be dictated to by others. Working out what works for us as a unique individual is vital for a healthy life!

If low self esteem is caught up in mental ill health, external support will be vital, recovery is tough but I wouldn’t give up my journey for anything. I’ve learnt so much about me and those around me, my life has been enriched by the experience. Wherever you are on your journey or whether you’re journeying with someone else, I hope my blog has helped in some way.

self esteem just be yourself

Self harm – friend or foe?

(TW) Some people may find the content of this blog upsetting and/or triggering

Self harm is a controversial subject and I’m hoping that being open will break down some of the stigma and misunderstanding.

As a fairly intelligent rational human being, I would frequently step back from my self harm behaviour and think “what the heck am I doing?!”. So, why, when in a highly emotional state did reasoning fly out the window and it become the “only thing that works”?

I think self harm is primarily about 2 things:

  • Transferring emotional/mental pain into physical pain
  • A lack of compassion/respect for yourself

I first discovered self harm as a teen when I found the world an overwhelming place. It was very superficial at first but I learnt that it helped to ease the discomfort I was feeling. I’m not sure what led me to think that it might work and to try it. I can speculate that it was linked to the natural occurrence that when we physically injure ourselves (by accident), after the initial pain, a wave of endorphines bring a sense of calm and an ability to cope with the injury. It therefore makes sense that, to produce that sense of calm and empowerment (to cope with the situation) I turned to harming myself deliberately to achieve the same effect.

Self harm is when someone intentional injures themselves. Examples include cutting, burning, hitting and poisoning. It could also be said that alcohol and drug taking as well as eating disorders bare similarities to self harm. For me, cutting was a release, I did not do it for attention, nor did I do it because I particularly wanted to. At the time it felt like I had no option.

Depression is a sinister illness that ultimately tells you that suicide is a valid option, in fact, an appropriate reaction to the given circumstances. When overwhelmed by the world and overwhelmed by these thoughts and feelings, it’s natural to look for a way out. 1 option is to follow through with a suicidal act, but if part of you is still thinking rationally, another way out is to find a way to relieve these feelings. For me, I genuinely believe, harming myself (without suicidal intent) kept me alive.

Although it kept me alive it actually represented the depths to which my self esteem had sunk. Every time, I knew I was adding to my scars, I knew I was putting myself at risk of infection etc but I cared so little about myself and my body, this was irrelevant. It provided the relief I needed but after the event I would feel guilty and angry. Although, part of me also gained something from the care I needed to give myself.

Unfortunately, for a period, for me, self harm became a habit. Instead of considering what options I had, I would turn to it like an old friend. It had worked in the past, why would I not continue?! It gave me what I needed, it relieved the pressure in my head, gave me a way to express myself. But, although a friend in the short term, ultimately, longer term it is not a helpful way to deal with feelings.

Self harm is often a way to manage our emotions on our own. Few people who self harm reach out for help and it is certainly not a way to deliberately manipulate or gain attention. The way out of self harm is to realise we are not alone. Other people can help us to manage the distress we’re feeling.

I had to learn that it was ok to feel bad. Anxiety and anger are acceptable, distress is bearable and instead of punishing myself I needed to be kind to myself. This took a long time, and I “gave up” self harm a number of times. Because self harm works as a coping technique, I was lured back many times. I’ve spent many hours distracting myself with numerous activities, desperately trying not to self harm. There is no one technique I’d advocate but overall most important factors are:

  • Express emotional pain more helpfully – sometimes this involves expressing it to either privately or to someone else, either verbally or written down. Using words is important but sometimes just venting it is important, maybe through exercise (moderate) or art, for example.
  • Learning self compassion is key. I have always known it’s right to be kind, caring sympathetic and show sensitivity to other people but I had to learn to treat myself in the same way. This does not mean I now love myself in an arrogant way, I just respect myself and believe I do not need to punish myself for being human.

I know it is hard to watch a loved one self harm, I am saddened when I hear someone uses self harm as a coping technique. But I understand how and why people do it. However, I am proof that there is a way out.

I am very sad to have so many scars but they represent a very difficult time in my life that has made me the person I am today.

For more information or if you need to talk to someone, please contact:

Or contact your GP and support team. Please do not suffer in silence.

When my mind broke my body

survived

TW (some may be adversely affected by the contents of this blog)

10 years ago an illness took me to the darkest place on earth

10 years ago I believed I would be better off dead and suicide was the only option

10 years ago my Dad answered his phone “hello sweet-heart” but a policeman had used my phone to call him, he was told his daughter had jumped off a bridge in an attempt to end her life and was lying broken on the ground

10 years ago my parents drove 30 miles, feeling numb with no idea what they were going to find at the end

10 years ago the surgeons said I should have died

10 years ago I lay broken in a hospital bed, I needed a bone graft to repair my sight, a metal fixation to prevent permanent paralysis and months of bed rest to allow my fractured legs to heal

10 years ago the psychiatrists wanted me to go straight back to the psychiatric unit

But something inside me had changed…my mind was broken, my body was broken but I realised the spirit inside me was still alive…

I had survived when I should have died, I’d been given a second chance, my story wasn’t over…

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In the last 10 years my relationship with God has deepened

In the last 10 years I’ve learnt to live with the consequences of my actions and I manage the chronic pain

In the last 10 years my family have gone above and beyond in the support they’ve given me and some amazing friends have stood by me

In the last 10 years I’ve been through more emotional pain but I’ve learnt how to cope with it, I’ve learnt that crying and being angry are important parts of life

In the last 10 years I’ve been to a therapeutic community, day care, had more hospital admissions and over 100 individual therapy sessions

In the last 10 years I’ve discovered who I am and developed a sense of identity

In the last 10 years I’ve been out of work, in voluntary work and in paid work

In the last 10 years I’ve found my soul-mate and married him

I have no idea what the next 10 years has in store, we may start to build a family in our own home, or these things may not be possible but whatever happens I know the person I am now is equipped to deal with life’s challenges head on!

life

For more information or if you need to talk to someone, please contact:

Or contact your GP and support team. Please do not suffer in silence.

It’s just attention seeking

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Most of us have heard this phrase used in relation to someone one with a mental health condition. When someone self-harms, they’re “just attention seeking”, when someone attempts suicide but doesn’t complete or attends A&E, they’re “just attention seeking”. It is used in a derogative way and has an undertone of “don’t give them attention”, “they’re time wasters” and “make sure they understand how inconvenient they’re being”. I’ve heard it used by many different people including doctors, nurses, police and MPs.

If you actually step back and think about this…when a baby cries, they are asking for their needs to be met, we do not blame a baby for causing a scene, that is the only way they are able to get their needs met…if, at that point, their needs are not met, they are likely to develop other coping strategies – some will scream and cry more or bang their fists on the side of their cot while others will shut up and never expect their needs to be met. The care giver has the control over whether they receiving the attention they need. From the minute babies are born, they seek attention, they need attention. This does not disappear as babies grow into children and then into adults, we learn to satisfy ourselves, yes, but we still need attention in a variety of ways, it’s natural.

If an individual is in emotional distress, anxious, depressed, frightened, paranoid or confused they have a need to decrease the distress – this is a natural human desire. Some people will find it easier than others to manage their emotions. Most people will need to express their emotion and may need support from others. If, for some reason, they are unable to express their emotion appropriately or rationally, or their needs are not heard, they are likely to express the emotion in an unusual way, this can be known as “acting out”, they will seek behaviours that satisfy their natural human needs. Once this happens, is it right that they are then told they should not have attention? Surely the earlier they receive attention, the quicker their needs will be met and the unhelpful behaviour can be altered. These people need support to ensure they are able to express and relieve their emotions in a healthy way – how can this happen if people turn them away and they are told  they are an annoyance or an inconvenience?

At times, when mentally very unwell,  I’ve been distressed by voices in my head shouting hurtful remarks at me, I didn’t have the language or understanding to explain what was happening but I  wanted them to stop (I think this is a reasonable desire!). Having tried every healthy coping mechanism I could think of and nothing having worked, at times I’ve banged my head against a wall with such repeated force I’ve ended up with severe bruising. This would go some way to relieving the voices. But I would then need assessing for concussion, fractures etc. The last thing I wanted was to sit in A&E for hours but there I was left, well past the target waiting time… at the time it made sense to me that I was being punished for my bad behaviour, after all I had done it to myself. The doctor then looked at me with such disdain, I was left with no doubt I was below dirt on his shoe. Being treated with contempt confirmed my belief that I was worthless, pointless and not worth helping.

Often people who self harm or act out in other ways do not want attention for that behaviour, I have always been embarrassed and ashamed and done my best to hide what’s happened. I have not wanted attention but I’ve needed attention (both for the physical injuries and) to understand what was happening so I could learn how to express my needs and emotions in a healthy and understandable way.

Some people worry that giving this “bad behaviour” attention, it will just continue. Believe me, if you’ve reached the point of acting out your emotions, it’s going to continue. Giving the right support and attention will ease the situation not compound it.

The state of the child and adolescent mental health service scares me. Reading this account from the Guardian saddens but does not surprise me. If children are left in mental distress, rates of child suicide will increase and those who do survive will end up in the adult mental health system – a very undesirable place, best avoided!

Next time you here someone say “they’re just attention seeking” with a derogative tone, say “yes, that is because they need attention”. They may not be asking for it in the most healthy way but that doesn’t mean you deny them the help and support they desperately need to work out how best to aviate their distress in the short and the long term.