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The Act of Self-Harm a subject of Stigma

    This is a great personal share from one of our Twitter followers on self-harm, it is a subject with a lot of stigmas around! The more we are open to talking about it the more we can bring awareness to this! When we share our stories we never know who our words will reach and who they will help heal. It's about people helping people and together we can do this!


    This entire post focuses on the act of self – harm and self - mutilation. But before I begin, it is important to define these concepts for those who do not harm themselves, and even for those who do and do not understand why. I, on the other hand, research all medical terminology and forms of treatment. I find it easier – not to label – but to understand it from a scientific point of view. It is much easier to comprehend a concept of action when you understand it fully.


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    Mayo Clinic “defines self-harm as “Nonsuicidal self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It's typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, this type of self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration. While self-injury may bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, it's usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions. Although life-threatening injuries are usually not intended, with self-injury comes the possibility of more serious and even fatal self-aggressive actions. These usually coincide with: ‘ statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness.’ While self-injury may bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, it's usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions. Although life-threatening injuries are usually not intended, with self-injury comes the possibility of more serious and even fatal self-aggressive actions.


    The Medical journal or dictionary if you like, describes self – mutilation as: “a way of stopping a dissociative episode. Dissociation is a process in which the mind splits off, or dissociates, certain memories and thoughts that are too painful to keep in conscious awareness. Some people report that they feel ‘numb’ or ‘dead’ when they dissociate, and self-injury allows them to feel ‘alive.'


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    Self-mutilation is a general term for a variety of forms of intentional self-harm without the wish to die. Cutting one's skin with razors or knives is the most common pattern of self-mutilation. Others include biting, hitting, or bruising oneself; picking or pulling at skin or hair; burning oneself with lighted cigarettes, or amputating parts of the body. The relationship of self-mutilation to suicide is still debated even though statistics show that nearly 50% of individuals who injure themselves also attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Many researchers think that suicide attempts reflect feelings of rejection or hopelessness, while self-mutilation results from feelings of shame or a need to relieve tension. Statistics show that over half of self-mutilators were sexually abuse as children, and many also suffer from eating disorders. 


    Self – mutilation/harm is commonly associated with the following thoughts, actions or questions: “Persistent questions about personal identities, such as "Who am I?" "What am I doing here?" Pulling out hair, persistently picking at or interfering with wound healing, and hitting or punching objects.” 


    I recently discovered (about three years ago), that I suffer from an OCRD (Obsessive Compulsive Repetitive Disorder), particularly BFRBs (Body Focused Related Behaviours), in which I pick at my skin until I draw blood. I also did not realize I was pulling my hair out on a daily basis. It became second nature to me, to the point where my hair stylist showed me with a mirror what I had done. I had pulled and broken chunks of my hair my neck. This is also a BFRB called trichotillomania and in some cases, the person suffering actually eats the hair that they have pulled out which can cause serious and fatal conditions in the colon. I have managed to stop pulling my hair out, although I joke from time to time about my “anxiety patch,” like a yarmulke at the top of my scalp that I just cannot stop scratching enough, no matter how many hair products I use. It is quite comical to watch a mother smack her twenty-eight-year-old daughter’s hand in public because I do it subconsciously. I do not even realize that I am doing it. It feels like lice that is how unbearable it becomes. The irritation is usually driven by emotional stress and turmoil, anxiety attacks, depression, and thoughts racing through my head about past experiences. Still, there is a little bit of humor involved. We have a little bit of a chuckle and carry on with our day… until it happens at home again. But we still laugh about it. Sometimes you have to find the funny side, but not self – deprecating to the point where you believe you have no self – worth and decrease your self-esteem. It is okay to joke up until a point, but not to go so far as believing that you are just plain “crazy.” Instilling thoughts like that about yourself brings on a whirlwind of depression and decreased self – confidence. 


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    You do not want to be on a date and someone to know you scratch your scalp because of nervousness and anxiety, and Myofascial Pain Syndrome cute. Not romantic. Usually, this kind of behaviors can be helped with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a psychologist, maybe even medication for anxiety from a psychiatrist/psychologist.


    The years of 2006-2008 were my common for inflicting pain upon myself; mainly my arms and legs with a razor blade. I would punish myself for having eaten every calorie that day because of my eating disorders and being anorexic. Or I would inflict pain upon myself to forget the severe bullying and abuse at school. Every chance I got, I would just cut and slice. The more aggressive I was, the more my mind would concentrate on the physical rather than emotional pain that I was trying to escape. I was one of those girls who always wore long tops to hide what I had done. Not many asked questions because being anorexic, your body temperature is quite low so wearing a jersey or jacket was not uncommon for me to even in the blistering heat without muscle or fat to keep me warm.


    Due to the Myofascial Pain Syndrome, I could not handle the pain in my legs anymore and I had actually begged doctors to amputate my legs to make the pain go away. Of course, doctors have an obligation to listen to their patients but also follow an oath they took to protect their patients, which meant in my case, not amputating healthy limbs because tests showed there was nothing physically wrong with my legs. The scary thing is, I was not afraid to lose my legs, I just wanted the pain to stop. It carried on for so many years and eventually, a person reaches their breaking point.

I did stop hurting myself for a number of years once I left high school. But I will never forget watching my friend sitting at the back of the classroom cutting her wrists with scissors, and no one paying any attention. As I always say, people believe that this is all an attention seeking motive, and very little consideration is taken for those who harm themselves. 


    When I was experiencing so much pain in 2012, I use to throw myself down a flight of stairs; anything to forget the physical and emotional pain. It actually takes a lot of courage to harm yourself, this is why I have such a soft spot for people who try to commit suicide because it takes a certain amount of courage to know that you are going to kill yourself. A lot of the time people who harm themselves do not know what to do with their emotions, they do not want to die, they just do not know how to live in the mindset they are in. We think alternative measures of pain will take the emotional pain away, especially if you are not an addict who would pop pills/recreational drugs and drink bottles of alcohol to numb the pain. It is a quick, easy and instant way to direct the pain to other parts of your body instead of surrounding to the emotional pain you are experiencing.


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    In 2018, not only did I displace ribs but I broke four ribs as well. This was not done on purpose, I was involved in an accident. But for those next four weeks of recovery, I was able to defer my mind from emotional to physical pain. Once my ribs healed, I had a flood of emotions surge through my body that I had blocked out from an abusive relationship. Breaking bones was probably the most comforting thing that happened to me because I had completely numbed and disassociated my emotional pain with physical pain. Until, like I said, I began to recover.


    In 2015, I was struggling with physical pain so much, including emotional pain, that I actually took a needle which was used for cannabis oil so it was quite a thick needle, and injected it into the most sensitive parts of my body, I.e. the hand, foot, neck, and elbow area. I just kept on shoving this needle into my body, not injecting anything, but anything to divert the pain I was experiencing. I injected so many times it looked like I was a junkie looking for viable veins. There were bruises all over my body. I do know how to use a needle, nor am I afraid of needles. I have never injected any recreational drugs but I wanted to concentrate on a different kind of pain. I penetrated so many parts of my body but for that brief moment in time, I had something else to think about.


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    In 2016 I got engaged, but my fiancé lied to his family about our engagement because I had been admitted into rehab five months prior to our engagement. Imagine my surprise when I walked in with champagne to announce the happy occasion and no one knew what I was referring to. We had been engaged for a week and he was too embarrassed to divulge the information to his family. Not only that, but they laughed in my face thinking it was a big joke even though I had a ring on my finger. So not only was I humiliated, I had to break off the engagement because the family didn’t approve. I had to fix someone else’s problem. It was supposed to be a joyous occasion. I remember going home, smashing a plate, and using the broken pieces to slice my arms. The difference between using a blade and something blunter is that you inflict that much more pain on yourself because it does not slice skin like a fish knife. You have to rip the skin to draw blood which causes a lot of pain. I went through a long time without harming myself, but that was a tipping point, something I was most certainly not prepared for.


    My most recent attempt, June 2018, had to do with a psychological breakdown after an abusive relationship. There was so much hurt and anguish attached to the situation that my heart was torn apart. I was emotionally and mentally abused. I was extremely lonely and I felt worthless, hopeless; no friends, no boyfriend, and I could not contact my parents or psychologist. Everyone was away on holiday or for work. My ex-fiancé had brought my engagement ring back to me in a plastic packet which showed me how much I really meant to him. I tried to rekindle with a friend of ten years, to which I got “I am unable to be your friend all the time I have a busy life.” I was so alone, traumatized, distraught, hopeless, helpless and emotionally charged that I had to get rid of the pain. 


    We have some very sharp kitchen knives. I first sharpened them, sterilized them, and slices over my artery over and over again. Any deeper and I probably would have bled to death. As stated above, self- harm does not necessitate suicide. It is about numbing the emotional pain. Most people who saw what I had done completely freaked them out, but not me. If only people could understand what you are feeling within, short of cutting your heart out, hurting your arms and legs seems like the only logical thing to do at the time. We are not interested in downing a bottle of whiskey, throwing back a bottle of pills, it is about that instant pain relief, diverting the hurt you feel internally, to external pain.


    This may be difficult to read, it is sensitive and graphic, but it is raw and it is the truth. Very few will understand this, be judgemental, condescending, and more than likely slot me into a category of “crazy.” That is ok because everyone has their own way of dealing with mourning, loss, and suffering. Just like addiction, when something triggers you, you want pills or alcohol. Self-harm is like an addiction in itself this is why we call it relapsing every time you harm yourself. 


    This is not a post to give people ideas, to slander behavior; it is about educating people who do not understand that what you see on the outside, is not nearly as bad as what we feel in the inside that drives us to such a point of self-destruction. I hope this will open your eyes to the suffering of mental illness, avoid judgment, and rather ask the right questions to the person suffering as opposed to judging them. I understand this because it is my post, yet I still conduct research to further my knowledge on my own and other peoples' suffering.


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