Today is my one year anniversary since the last time I self injured. It is a huge accomplishment for me and I feel the teensiest swelling of pride in my chest. The urge has not completely left me, some days it nags away at me, goading me to self harm and “take the easier way out” by replacing emotional hurt with the more familiar physical pain. Below I’ve shared 12 things that have helped me on the hardest days and in between to not give in to the urges that beg to be heard.
The reality of self harm is that it is not always a teen, although the many self articles found in magazines and online would have you believe it’s solely a product of teenage angst and hormones. The reality of self harm is that it takes on many shapes and sizes, it affects the young, and the older alike. Self harm does not care if you are a busy student, or a successful executive, church goer, animal lover, unemployed, or a business owner, male or female – many people struggle with self injury, and the guilt and pain it brings.
I was about 11, or 12 when the urges to self injure hit me. I was struggling with depression, and trying desperately to hide it from everyone. My home was not a safe haven for me, my parents did their best and I was never abused physically by them, it was not that way when other members of my family came to stay. I was living a life of fear, anxiously hiding my depression and trying to avoid those who would hurt me.
Self harm became my lifeline, a way to control my life when I felt I had no control – it was also a way to punish myself for not being able to stop what was happening. I had no idea that anyone else in the world felt this way, I don’t even know why or how I came up with the idea that to hurt myself would help me feel in control.
It took me 21 years to admit to anyone that I was a chronic self harmer, and had been for so long. It was shameful, and frightening to get help – it took another year to finally have the new coping strategies I was learning actually help. Spending two weeks in a mental health hospital, it was a shock and surprise to me to find that self harm was actually really common among those who struggle with mental illnesses – it opened my eyes to the fact that I was not alone in this, and that I didn’t need to feel as ashamed of my dirty little secret as I did.
After I left the hospital, I felt strong enough to open up and tell my husband about this hidden issue, I was able to talk to my Psychiatrist and tell him too – doing that gave me a lifeline to recovery. They helped me find coping tools, and my husband has often sat with me while I have cried and sobbed my way through a day while trying to ignore the increasing urge to harm myself.
Here are some of my go to distractions – remember different things work for different people, you will find what helps you. Most of all I found using my stubborn streak for my own good and refusing to allow myself to self harm, even though that in itself hurt, was the first step for me.
1. Be honest, tell your safe person how you are feeling and ask them to help you. If you can’t talk to them, write a note or text. Just getting the words out there can often help.
2. Remind yourself of how disappointed you will feel in yourself afterwards, think of your support people and how they may feel.
3. If you need to cry, allow yourself and don’t feel ashamed, it’s a natural way to let out emotion.
4. Mindfully transport yourself somewhere that you feel safe, calm, or happier. I like to imagine being on the beach, feeling the warmth of the sand under my toes, the gentle breeze against my skin, the smell of the salty air – the more you practice, the easier it is to take yourself away from the situation you are in.
5. Remove yourself from temptation – go on a walk, or drive, meet a friend for coffee – don’t take self harm tools with you.
6. Let your pain out in words by writing in a journal. If your thoughts are frantic just scribble down whatever you are thinking. Consider blogging.
7. Keep an art journal and draw or paint your feelings. Focusing on keeping my hands steady so I can sketch helps me self soothe.
8. Put on a guided meditation and follow along, or practice deep breathing and grounding techniques – 5 things you can see, 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can feel.
9. Do a yoga or pilates session and focus on stretching each muscle. Slow and steady, there is no rush, focus your thoughts on the movement.
10. Take a hot shower or bath, imagine it washing away the painful feelings.
11. Rub pure peppermint oil on your wrists, it stings a little which may help if you are feeling numb and would have used the pain from SI to “feel”, plus the smell is very soothing and calming.
12. Sit with your feelings, remember that you don’t have to hurt yourself just because you’re thinking about self injury.
Making a list of things that help you to distract yourself if you are experiencing self harming urges is the best advice I could share with anyone though. Have it handy and practice it when you are feeling stronger too, so that it is second nature in the hard times, on those hard days. Don’t wait until you are trying to get through a crisis.
Remember this though, you are worth so much more than your scars and bruises. You are worthy of love, both from yourself and from others.