Tag: personality disorders

Moth to a flame

I’ve been drawn back to a website that has been harmful for me before. Another page I follow posted a link to it. I should never have looked at it again in the first place. Definitely not the second, third, fourth time… until I was being drawn back compulsively, hurting more and more each time but still going back like the proverbial moth to a flame. Or to a fluorescent artificial bulb, which seems more appropriate in this case. Why? Is it some kind of self-harm? Some unwilling fascination like not being able to look away from something awful, a crash or accident scene – except the awful thing in this case is what I fear that I am inside.

I don’t want to say what the site is or what was written as that would do no good to readers. In summary it promoted fear of people like me with personality disorders and the harm we do and made various claims about how we think and what our motivations are. It was not new to me, the claims are nothing new and I’ve been well aware of these ideas about people with personality disorders for some time. What was written drew me right in. It activated particular fears and past memories for me. It’s worse because on the face of it at least, the site is highly regarded (though I have suspicions) and because in the past before coming across the harmful articles, I had found some pages on the site about surviving abuse to be helpful and relatable. It’s not as though I stumbled across just any webpage on a spur of the moment search.

It is very hard to hold any sense of my identity apart from what this site “says” I am and what I now fear I am. I was afraid before and continuously doubt myself and my motivation, thought processes, whether I actually love, actually want good and care about people in my life or if actually I’m selfish, if someone thinks I’m good am I actually deceiving them, and it’s never ending. What I’ve read has multiplied and sped up all these thoughts.

The last 3 nights I barely slept, not really knowing why, though this unending thought process is probably a large part of it.

Xxx

Advertisements

The wrong voices calling

The voices are very bad at the moment. My emotions are soaring and plummeting at the moment since my last group therapy and discharge on Friday. So it is not surprising the voices are worse. They often are when I’m emotional and stressed.

It’s as if now this stage of therapy is completed and I’m trying to hang on to the good and the real, the voices are getting louder (stronger?) trying to pull me back to the blackest darkness and terror where “reality” was my abuser’s words and threats. All morning I’ve heard her calling out to me. Sometimes just my name. Sometimes the things she’d say – mocking, detesting, making me an animal, less than human, threatening, confirming my evil and the terrible things that would happen (unless I gave in and gave her total control). I hear her. And it is terrifyingly real. It is totally outside, not an echo in my head. I turn towards the voice and dread grips me. It stays totally real to me even as I try to repeat my safety statement.

I am Ginny. I am 32 years old. Today is January 30th 2017. She is far away. I am safe now. I trust in God. …He created me for good not evil.

These aren’t the only voices I have but they are some of the most frightening and separate me most from reality. I don’t know how or if there is any way to stop or change the voices. If there is I haven’t found it in the therapy I’ve had so far. If I can’t change them can I lessen their power?

I try to remember,although the world created by my abuser was my reality – the only reality for 11 years and the most of it for another 14 or so – it is not the truth. The voice is not trying to do anything, or pulling me anywhere. It is a hallucination. It is a memory. It is not a person (now). A hallucination does not have a will or an aim. A hallucination is not physical so cannot pull or drag me. So why does it have power to cause me terror, to return me into the frightened child, to make it impossible to believe in my freedom or any goodness in me?

Several other people I’ve met who have personality disorders have shared having experiences of voices. In my 18 month MBT therapy, we talked about hearing voices in the group sessions. Sometimes for example, I’d share that I was struggling to stay present in the room because the voices were loud and scary and I was constantly being pulled away from reality. But in therapy we didn’t get to explore the experience of voices or how to cope with them, how they may interact with what you’re feeling and what is happening in reality, how they affect interactions… in therapy the focus was on using grounding techniques to move away from them and be present in the group and able to focus on others. Sometimes we talked a little about how the voices may affect our thoughts about ourselves and about others, for instance when we’re interacting with someone, leading to assumptions (they think I’m evil, the know I’m bad, that’s what the voices are saying) rather than curiosity about the other person’s thoughts.

However we didn’t talk about how to cope with them. We didn’t talk about their emotional effect on us, the way they pull us with them, the control they have even though it makes no sense, how they bring traumas right back, how what they tell us and make us feel is more gripping than our current experiences, if there is any way we can respond to lessen their power…

There is a place for using grounding techniques to cope and this is valuable. There is great worth in learning to be able to stay present for others here and now. Probably a value to staying present in the moment for ourselves. Yet I wish there were more than grounding techniques because there’s always next time the voices come. Their apparent power stays the same.

Perhaps I’ll look to see if there are any books that explore voices and how to cope. I’ve pretty much been told that the voices won’t go away but if I keep taking my medication, I won’t lose my grip on understanding they aren’t real. I feel I need to find more than that.

I would be very interested to hear about experiences of voices that anyone would like to share.

Ginny xxx

Update long overdue!

It is a really hectic, up and down time at the moment and I’m much overdue posting. It has been hard to gather my words. I don’t make a habit of 2am posts – certainly not the best time of day for coherent writing – but I did not get to finish this earlier and it felt important to write before a big change coming up for me in the morning.

Belatedly, wishing you good things this New Year. I think I can just about say this since it’s still January! I’m praying that positive times and opportunities come for you and God’s blessings are shown to you to encourage you each day.

January is always a strange time, cold and empty in a way, after Christmas. Right now, so much seems unsettled, in the world, for my loved ones and in my personal life. I’ve written that before not long ago and of course it has not magically changed with the new year; if anything it seems all the more apparent. I’m trying to give generously of time and resources and friendship, for example to friends in need, and that’s how we encounter Christ in every day. But I’m feeling twisted apart inside because I come up against my limitations, what I cannot give and cannot resolve.  The family in my block, both of the partners seriously ill, whose Benefits have been suspended unresolved for weeks so they have no food, heating or electricity. My friend who has already suffered terribly and now faces more surgical procedures, my friend who has been homeless for almost a year and whose life may be in danger… to the thousands on thousands of people seeking asylum, the fear taking hold giving weight to insular policies that seem to offer protection but perhaps already spiral out of control. (The Mexico border “wall” seems to me to teetering somewhere between bizarre Divergent- trilogy-esque images and more than echoes of the Cold War era eastern block policies.)

I steer away from political issues in this blog but I think this turmoil hits ever closer to home. We hope that in times of hardship we come together and hold onto what matters most but I’m starting to think a certain level of hardship and fear brings only divisions. Then again, in my faith I believe somehow this must not be true because Jesus became Man to suffer and experience everything we suffer and go through. And He is all Love. Love came here, into the darkness and despair. Nothing changes Jesus. The despair and dark and hurt didn’t change Him, didn’t change love. So Love is here, Love suffers and struggles, but isn’t extinguished, so even in the hardest times, it’s love that remains – not division and conflict . I mustn’t lose sight of that.

This post has diverged somewhat from the update I originally planned. Probably to do with the fact that it’s 2am. I’m going to try to get back on track.

Since Christmas, I feel I have not been able to catch up at all. Usually, I have a big clear out, going through cupboards and drawers and so on and decluttering. I haven’t managed this at all. I’m frustrated with myself that I can’t keep on top of the housework at all. My emotions are bubbling over and have been for some time and I feel I have no resilience to cope with straightforward things. Saying that, maybe a lot is happening at the moment. I’m about to be discharged from the personality disorders community service I’ve had therapy in for the past 2 years. I’ve been trying to find support and things I can get in place for after my discharge. This has not been easy and actually it has been quite distressing because I have been promised a lot of treatment I haven’t had and I’m left with major mental health issues unadressed. On the positive side, I have made contact with a peer support worker and Recovery Coach who are going to help me short term and I think this will be really valuable. I have also signed up for some courses at a Recovery College, which I’ll post about (and explain) next week.

My physical health is not going through a great patch just now. The cold always makes the pain worse so that’s part of the reason. I have had to give in to the fact I need a wheelchair sometimes now and I’m looking at getting a mobility scooter. At least this will help me be less isolated and take a little stress away perhaps, because I’ll be more able to take part in things outside my home, like my volunteer work.

Practically at home, I am going rapidly up the wall at the company who should be repairing my boiler. I have had problem upon problem since November and now have no heating or hot water. I feel they have handled the whole thing terribly (7 canceled appointments for a start, having to phone 6 times to arrange a very simple thing, and so on, then them accusing me falsely of missing appointments). Ggrrr!! I know this is just part of life but in the state I’m in at the moment, I can’t cope with this, and feel very frustrated with myself for that. My emotions explode out of all control. Then I get angry with myself because so many people are going through so much worse.

A close friend has serious housing issues as well as a huge number of health problems. I’m trying to be there and do what I can. Cook hot food and support him with form filling and trying to get him a support worker who could help. It is a little way I can try to help and use the knowledge I’ve gathered from my own housing issues in the past.

I’m going to stop here. Later this morning is my last group therapy session and this will be a really really hard lot of goodbyes. I’ve been writing thank-yous and goodbyes, some of the hardest cards I’ve ever had to write. I’m sure I’ll write more about this last session and ending therapy, in the coming days. At the moment I’m struggling to find the words. I’ve cried so much today.

Ginny xxx

 

 

Is this pain real?

WARNING: this post contains brief mentions of eating disorders and self-harm.

Which is harder to deal with: physical pain and physical disability / ill health, or mental pain and distress and poor mental health? Is there a difference for you? Does one seem more real than the other?

At the moment my physical health is poor and my physical pain and limitations have been worsening fast, in particular in the last couple of weeks. Any standing or walking is painful and shaky. I need to use my walking stick again, having had 5 years or so not needing it (apart from one time for a few weeks).

Physical health problems can be tangible and visible in a way that mental health isn’t. People can see that I’m using a stick or that I need to rest often. They can’t see in the same direct way when I’m having obsessional thoughts or hearing the voices. I’ve posted before on how many people I’ve met who have Borderline or other mental health problems, feel a shame about their mental health condition and support needs and a guilt for needing help or “not being normal” or not being able to cope. Many of these people, again myself included, have physical health issues too, and the common feeling seems to be that these are more allowed and acceptable (in others’ eyes and also our own thoughts) than the mental health needs. Often that does ring true with me and I’m sad so many people find that. I’ll post on that topic more separately.

Just now I’m struggling to trust that my physical pain is real and allowed too rather than being something I’ve invented, is my fault, not real…

Physical pain is still subjective. Nobody can objectively see how much, say, my back hurts or there are weird numb sensations then burning pain in my feet. Anatomic problems can be seen and measured on scans and tests but what our experience of pain and weakness is, can’t be.

I have been desperate for more visible and concrete proofs of what I experience physically. I have some, for example, a scan has showed some degeneration in my lower spine, the GP performed various tests which diagnosed they inflammatory condition in my knees, and so on. However much of my physical struggles aren’t documented in the same way. You can’t see nerve pain or nervous system inflammation, painful joints, muscle spasms, poor regulation in the autonomic nervous system (well not directly anyway, although some tests can show disrupted adrenal or thyroid function or high white blood cell counts)…

The lack of physical, external evidence of what I’m experiencing is a real problem for me. If i let myself think on it the voices get loud. I think I must be going mad. It must be my fault. It must be my invention or my imagination. I should just get on with it and push through. I’m weak. The worst thing is the thought I must be a fake. I hate using my stick because of it even when I’m in more pain and more unstable without it. I’m deceiving everyone, the voice tells me. Look. Everyone knows. Everyone’s looking at me. Everyone’s talking about what a fake I am. They all know nothing’s wrong with me really. I’m terrified it’s all made up and I’ve faked it all without realising. I’ll never stop it but my whole life I’ll be a fake and at the end I’ll be judged and punished for it. Other voices tell me I’m doing it for attention to make people worry about me. Don’t you know how much upset you’re causing, they ask…

In the past I’ve felt I’ve deserved physical pain. That it’s safe if I have pain or cause myself pain. It means I’m being punished and suffering and that’s safe. It means I won’t be so bad. I won’t be so dangerous. I’ll be weak and that’ll be safe. That was how I thought during my anorexia. That was how getting thinner and thinner and more ill kept me safe. It is/was part of how self harming was safe too because it punished only me, just only me, stopped the evil emotions as I saw them getting out. I say “was” because I’ve managed not to self harm for a month and I’m grappling with the feelings that come to be now I’m not doing it.

The physical pain from my illnesses that I can’t control is different. It is overwhelming. It isn’t safe. It might show my badness (because I’m fake). It’s overwhelming and can feel inescapable but I feel I don’t have the right to think it’s real.

It interacts with my mental control too. When the pain is bad part of my mind freezes. I cannot be warm or present for other people. Trying to interact at all is a fight. Sometimes I want to hide and sleep. Being around anyone can be too much. I panic and want to be safe at home in my secure place. I mix up words and sounds and can’t get a simple sentence out straight. The all encompassing nature of emotions and especially anxieties and fears and psychotic thoughts increases. I feel shut tighter into the world of my Borderline.

I doubt the reality and truth of my physical and emotional experiences. The only pain I knew was real and undoubted was the pain of self harming or starving. The rest of my experience I doubt, as though the real me that’s bad really, angry, fake, deceitful, will be found out in the end, but I can’t escape from it/her. I only just realised that in writing this post. Trying to stop self harming is going to change a lot, I think.

Ginny xxxx

Goldilocks and the three bears (with a sore head – or three sore heads I guess)

Goldilocks and the three bears (with a sore head – or three sore heads I guess)

[Artwork is not my own.]

Q “Why are you chasing after a giggling fortune teller with a crystal ball?”

A “Well, my therapist told me that I have to try to reach a happy medium…”

Yeah okay sorry about that one…

In therapy recently we’ve talked about different concepts of an emotional thermometer.

One view could be a bit like a normal thermometer which can read positive and negative temperatures (ie plus and minus zero, not positive and negative in the sense of value). When we reach a very extreme emotional state either side of the middle, it is a bad time for us and we are not able to use coping techniques or mentalise, because of the extreme we are at.

At the high, hot, “red” extreme, where the thermometer has “shot up”, we are experiencing very intense emotions – extreme anxiety, distress, hurt, anger etc. I guess it could also be an extreme of a positive emotion although I wonder if this would make coping as difficult? I probably should think more about that.

At the low, cold, “blue”, frozen extreme, we also aren’t able to manage because we feel so low, cut off from our emotions, maybe as if we are in a numb state.

It might, perhaps, be more possible for us to function in the low extreme than the high extreme – we might be more able to get through the day better than when we are in an extreme of eg distress and crying – but it is not a place we are calm or happy.

In the middle of the two extremes, so a range around the imaginary zero, is a mid-ground where we can have calm and balance and where we are able to mentalise about our thoughts and emotions and be curious and reflective about what we and others are experiencing. So the zero is not a zero in the sense of zero = no emotion, but it represents the mid-ground.

This happy middle ground is the “Goldilocks state”*- where we are not too hot, not too cold but “just right”. (Sadly the term just works with reference to Goldilocks and the porridge part of the story. It is not the emotional state one frequently reaches when finding someone else sitting in your seat on crowded trains and I’m not even going to touch on what happens when you find an unexplained person sleeping in your bed 😉 [joke!]…)**

In order to be able to employ coping strategies, the aim may be to find ways to bring ourselves away from either of the two extremes to this happy “Goldilocks” middle ground. No end of different factors, including our personality, what we have learned about regulating our emotions as children, the role models that we have had, and so on, can affect our ability to return to the middle ground and the extremes we go to in the first place. I guess this something I’m going to find my way through in therapy. Someone said to me that they find the term “emotionally unstable personality disorder” more accurately descriptive than “borderline personality disorder” because it better represents these extremes of emotion.

I think there are lots of ways the thermometer metaphor could be used. Perhaps instead of imagining a plus and minus end of the thermometer, it is more helpful to imagine a thermometer from 0 – 100 degrees and that the happy medium is around the middle of this range, too much is going towards 100, etc.

Personally I can identify with the metaphor that involves the minus temperatures because I definitely feel I slip into a state that’s like sub-zero, when I am so numb and cut off from my emotions (and others’) and can’t engage with anything. Sometimes I can’t even talk to anyone. It is not the heightened emotional arousal of my extreme distress but it is by no means good either. It may allow me to give the impression of functioning for a while, but I feel I am operating in a dream world, not really present. And it is very dangerous because of where it can quickly lead me to, or switch to.

Which brings me on to the thought that for me, as well as the thermometer there is a cyclical path that does not involve going vertically up and down the thermometer, but oscillates straight from one extreme to the other. My “sub-zero” state can very quickly flip straight to the high, hot, red end. My numbness can flick straight to anger, hurt, agitation, even thoughts of violence or fury which I would never normally experience let alone act on. I can flick straight into the compulsive need to self-harm and self-punish to turn the anger and emotional energy on myself. It feels like a frightening loss of control. I can oscillate in the other direction too. Overwhelming sadness and distress can suddenly plunge into numbness and disconnection and dissociation from the world into what feels like one of my other personalities and my memory of what has happened will go very blank. It feels very out of control afterwards.

I don’t know yet how I will start to learn how to some how get off this dangerous oscillating circle to get back to the happy middle ground or how to get control of the extreme emotions, especially managing anger.

Does anyone else switch or spin through emotions like this? I’d be really curious to hear other people’s experiences.

[Note – *and** : as in the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a famous children’s fairytale in the UK / USA. I know some readers are not from the UK so please ask if this reference is puzzling to you!]

Ginny xx

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

I apologise for not writing this Part 2 yesterday as hoped.  I had a weekend away for a very dear friend’s 80th birthday. It was special and lovely but I was very drained when I got home and I did not manage to write. I’m sorry.

***

I am starting to realise that it is terribly difficult for me when I realise that my thoughts or emotions are different from someone else’s about a certain situation or matter.  It could be about a particular situation or experience we are both sharing in right now, or a memory of something that happened before, or a matter of belief (religious belief, a principle, that kind of thing), or any case of sensing someone’s strong emotion. It was my therapist and someone else in a therapy group I’m part of who identified this first, then went on to identify that this difference of emotion/thought between individuals is another instance of uncertainty we must learn to sit with.

I sense other people’s emotions more strongly than my own. I find it hard to identify and name my own emotions. When I do feel them they can be very frightening and overwhelming; I may feel them so strongly that they block out anything else, becoming to me everything that there is, frightening me about what will happen and what it means about who I am. They can feel as if they physically pain me. I may feel physically utterly drained or consumingly panicked and driven, unable to sit still, pacing constantly for hours (compulsively, despite the physical pain this causes by aggravating my joint conditions). Times of overwhelming emotion are times I often self-harm.

Other times, I may feel numb and nothing at all. I may be painfully conscious that the other people I’m interacting with feel very strongly but I feel unable to reach out, to come to any connection with them. I may want to say something and know I should and know I should and want to empathise, but feel frozen and unable to respond, and know that by this I am hurting the other person still further.

Or, despite not knowing at all what I feel, I may feel the other person’s emotion (especially sadness, anxiety or anger) so strongly that beyond what I think would be described as empathy, I actually feel their emotion myself to a level that I cannot stand it. It can happen very fast and I do not make any conscious decision or any particularly strong attempt to pick up the emotion. It just happens. Sometimes, I have as little as passed people on the street, sat beside someone on the bus or had a minimal “meeting and greeting” interaction on the reception at work, and this wave or wall of emotion will hit me and stop me in my tracks. I passed someone on the street the other day and was suddenly hit by a wall of such strong anger and hurt that I stopped walking. It was like a physical presence around me and in my lower chest and I gasped and this was swiftly joined by extreme fear. The person had done nothing to me, not even noticed me nor interacted in any way.

A couple of people who share my religious faith have told me that it is a particular gift to be able to empathise to a particularly great extent – it could allow me to help someone, be there for them, pray for them, understand their needs, know if they are in danger, and so on. I think perhaps it can be a gift and could be something from which good can come. Not that I think I have any particular ability, certainly not any power, but it is a sensitivity that could lead to good.

The problem is the intensity is so great it is frightening – as frightening as my own emotions can me. It can be there to such an extent that I can no longer continue to be with the person / people, and withdraw completely in exhaustion and confusion and fear and feeling huge guilt that I cannot resolve what is happening to the person and can’t be sure – there’s the uncertainty again! – is it my fault they feel this way and how should I respond? Then I end up back in the numb place of then not knowing how to respond and not being able to give anything at all.

Whichever of these happens, I’m left unable to interact socially. I haven’t yet unpicked quite why sitting with the uncertainty of the differences and unpredictability of emotions between people is so very frightening and overwhelming to me.  However it does seem to be shared by several people I know who suffer with personality disorder.

A particular problem where thoughts, emotions, intentions and communication are involved is that you can never check enough. You can never get to be completely sure what the truth is and what is right or wrong and if you are good or bad.

In Part 1 of this post, I gave some examples of other kinds of anxieties in situations of uncertainty. All of these are around things that are more concrete, if that is the right word, where eventually you will find out some answer.  For example, to go back to the same examples I gave: tomorrow will come and I will find out what will happen, I can ask my friend which colour she prefers and be sure to choose the mug that colour, and in time I will eventually find out the interviewer’s opinion of me and whether I get the job or don’t. If I’m trying to overcome an obsessional activity or belief, for example, if I don’t wash my hands 10 times before I speak to my friend she will get sick because of me, it is possible to test out this belief in the concrete world – it will be extremely distressing to me at first and cause a huge amount of anxiety, but I can if I dare to, not wash my hands 10 times the next time I speak to my friend and see what happens. If she does not get sick, and if I dare to keep testing this out, eventually perhaps I may be able to see that I do not need to keep doing this ritual to keep my friend safe and I will be able to stop washing my hands so much. I have suffered and still do suffer to some extent with this kind of obsessional checking and in the past, CBT therapy I’ve tried has focussed on changing behaviour and seeing that the awful things I fear do not come to pass.

But where the internal world of thoughts and feelings are concerned, I find it is not possible to check or “see what happens” in the same way and I never find peace.

For example, in the above instance I can see at least to a large extent without doubt that my friend does not get sick physically. But if I am fearing that I have hurt someone emotionally, how can I be sure? If I ask them, how can I be sure they are not just saying something to reassure me? If I think that someone is having a particular thought or a particular emotion, can I be sure that I got it right? Often it’s harder to ask in these situations (and I suppose I feel that it would be socially inappropriate to do so in many situations – I don’t want to inconvenience other people with my own obsessions and fears). If I say something, can I be sure that the other person understood it the way I meant it?

Often, if I have said something that I intend as encouraging, helpful, etc, I worry afterwards that I have communicated a message that I did not intend, which is bad and that is going to be terribly hurtful and upsetting to the other person because they will get that message rather than the one I intended. Then I worry that I actually, unbeknown to myself, subconsciously intended and thought the bad interpretation, and that’s why I said what I did. This must show that I’m actually evil and nasty and need to punish and hurt myself to make sure I don’t hurt anyone else. Then I will self-punish or self-harm. For example, a friend was worried about her baby girl who could not be with her during her medical appointment, and was instead with a babysitter in the waiting room outside. I said to her something like, “It looks like she is with someone who’s looking after her very well,” intending to reassure my friend that her baby was well. Immediately I’d said it, I panicked that this sentence could have implied “she’s with someone who’s looking after her well, because you don’t” and that my friend would think I was saying that she didn’t look after her baby properly. And my mind spiralled out of control thinking that although I didn’t know it, I was really being nasty to my friend and judging her as a bad mother and my intention, although I thought that I wanted to encourage my friend, was actually to upset her because I’m such a bad person inside. I wanted to check with my friend and say, oh no no I didn’t mean this, I meant… etc, etc, but I didn’t dare to, in case that would only make it worse, because if she had not seen the bad interpretation, it would only make it even worse to mention it. I felt the desperate urge to self-harm immediately to punish myself for being so bad inside.

In these kind of instances, nothing whatever will ever reassure me as to what my intention or thoughts really were (whereas, in the earlier example about obsessional hand-washing, I could obtain the concrete proof that my friend did not get sick). There is no way to check for certain what my real intention was, that it is not unconsciously something terrible which I’m not aware of and can’t control. There is no way to check for certain what effect emotionally I’ve had on someone else, or what they have understood from something I have said.

So I don’t know what the way out is.

For some reason, self-harm does seem to be the only (maladaptive) way that I do cope with this kind of uncertainty. When I can’t check enough that I’m not actually doing bad, or intending bad, then I have to hurt myself. The one thing that does seem sure is that if I’m doing something to hurt myself, it will somehow keep other people safe, because I can make sure I’m hurting myself, not other people. I can make sure I’m punishing the evil greedy part inside me so that it doesn’t burst out.

I don’t know how to begin to deal with these kinds of uncertainty. In time I think I am going to give this a Part 3, to look at ways of trying to sit with uncertainty in communicating with people. I’ve a feeling that it’s going to be an important part of my therapy as so much of my interpersonal problems, and perhaps for others with personality disorders too, are connected to these themes.

Thank you for reading, as ever.  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences and what you find good, or difficult, in interactions with others and in communicating about emotions.

Also, an important note: I know that in this article, I have contrasted examples of anxieties and obsessional thoughts surrounding what I have referred to as things I can check in the concrete, external world, with obsessional thoughts and fears about what is going on in one’s head / emotionally / internally. I say that it is harder for me to find the way out of the latter obsessional thoughts and fears. Please note that in no way do I wish to belittle or minimise the distress experienced by those who are struggling with OCD thoughts and actions and fears relating to the external world, for example checking doors or switches, or cleaning. I know from my own experience and from hearing loved ones’ experiences, that these struggles are deeply distressing and the thoughts just as consuming. I empathise very much with what you are going through. All I wished to do here is draw a distinction which I have come to in my own mind and to suggest that the way out of the two sides of these obsessional thoughts may perhaps be different. As I’ve said from the start, I am neither a clinician nor medically trained, and these are just my own thoughts.

Ginny xx

A shapeless piece of steel… a burn that burns much deeper – “Why do you self-harm?”

I have written this post in answer to the question I was asked of why do I self-harm and what purpose does it serve. In my opinion it definitely serves an important purpose and it is not a “cry for help” or to get attention as stereotypes hold.  It’s a coping strategy – a harmful, or “maladaptive” one, but it’s a strategy.

It’s necessary. It’s the only way to carry on. It’s a compulsion, a need, and a blessed release.

It can be almost grounding. When the voices are screaming, the guilt is exploding in me, I am crushed by anger and fear and disgust at myself and running out of breath – I know what those cuts will feel like. It’s the same every time. It’s release. I know exactly what will happen no matter what a mess everything is. I get the scissors or the razor and I know what I must do and I know what I will see as I scratch and bleed and I know what I will feel, the familiar sting, redness, throbbing. I know what that is. There it is before me and it can’t be doubted.

It’s better pain than what’s in my head and it stops the noise and hurt and racing thoughts and voices and rising anger and crushing terror and revulsion that wants to tear at my skin to get away all the bad that I know is inside me.

I can be sure that I’ve hurt myself. There it is, I can see it. It’s not good enough. I’m very weak. I need to do it more and more. But it’s something. It’s some way I can be sure I hurt myself, so I won’t hurt someone else. So I’m not such a danger to everyone else. Not so disgusting.

Sometimes it’s so that I can continue with the day.

It shuts off, for a few minutes, the frightening memory, the frightening emotion or the disgusting thoughts. Especially violent anger or the sadness that blacks everything else out and hides everything good. It literally cuts through it, a little bit, fights the way upwards.

It can end some of the dangerous dissociations where I lose time, forget things, make irrational decisions, disappear from reality into my safe escape worlds.

Perhaps sleep will come afterwards.

Perhaps numbness or quiet will come afterwards and it’s a little bit of a way to get a break.

People say it’s a cry for help. It’s not. It’s not something I threaten to do to get my own way or pressure people. It’s secret. It is the help. It is the way to keep going. If I couldn’t do it, I’d have had to die a long time ago. I’d have given in and (though it’s against every single one of my personal religious and moral beliefs when I’m in my rational mind) the darkness would have consumed everything and I’d have had to do it. I hide it from everyone, make sure I do it where they can’t see, and I very reluctantly tell my therapist about it. One of my friends says call her when I feel I’m going to do it, she’d want to know. I could never do that – I would not want to put her in the position of feeling she must stop me.

I don’t think I do it very “badly” – several people in one of my therapy groups have far worse self-harm scars than I do. It’s nothing really, it’s no danger.  But it is a way to cope.

***

“…My dreams are not the issue here, for they, the hammer holds. The hammer pounds again, but flames I do not feel, this force that drives me helplessly through flesh and wood reveals a burn that burns much deeper, it’s more than I can stand…”

(This and the title quote are from Bebo Norman’s The Hammer Holds. For some reason this song always makes me think of how I feel when I self-harm.  I know this is not anything to do with the original meaning of the song and Bebo Norman is not making this reference at all (it’s a Christian song telling the story of the Crucifixion). Yet some of the lines express how I feel when I cut.  It’s a way to bear the pain; it’s something I wish did not have to be but is absolutely needed and drives me on, it’s the only way to live at the moment. )