A post for #selfharmawarenessday yesterday

I write this post as someone who self harmed from the age of 14 until only a year or so ago. So for over half my life I had been consumed by self harm. I both hated it with a passion but relied on it like a good faithful friend.
I remember the first time I self harmed I was at school and sat on top of a toilet cistern to hide away and cut my arm with a compass point.
What I felt when I did this was a massive release and relief from the mental pain just for a small amount of time. It wasn’t at all about gaining attention (even though others thought that was the case) but more a way of coping and getting through an enormously difficult time. I didn’t really know much about self harm and certainly it wasn’t a public thing or part of any group action.
Yes it frightened me; but as I got older it actually probably saved my life. At times when I was immensely suicidal the release by self harming and therefore the small focus away from the mental pain sometimes gave me respite from intense suicidal feelings.
As my bipolar became more prominent the fact I self harmed seemed to distract psychiatrists away from a bipolar diagnosis even though there was a clear family history. This was frustrating as it seemed the only symptom/end result that was focused on and even when I had a bipolar diagnosis other psychiatrists who I might see during crisis or within the home treatment team would convince themselves my bipolar diagnosis was incorrect and just focus on the self harm.
This happened most recently 2 years ago and after that very distressing crisis assessment I made an official complaint and actually got to meet with the trust medical director and correct my medical records. Self harm can be a symptom of many psychological diagnosis’ and consistency of professionals is vital in ensuring the full picture is taken into consideration.
People often ask me how I stopped self harming. I actually stopped over a year before I actually stopped wanting to self harm. I stopped because I convinced myself that it wasn’t working like it used to and that I had managed to build up a tool box of other coping mechanisms that actually worked better. Just stopping didn’t though take away the debilitating urges and horrendous flashbacks to times that I had self harmed which in turn would lead to dreams and images recalling horrendous episodes of mania and depression time and time again.
When I started my second cycle of EMDR it was clear that tackling the self harm was a priority and so this is what we concentrated on. It was absolutely horrendous and I re-lived some terrifying experiences but since last May ( a couple of months after finishing EMDR and throwing all my blades away) I realised that I no longer wanted to self harm.
The first major depressive episode that I experienced was the ultimate ‘test’ but not once did I want to self harm and not once did I buy any blades. Yes I felt desperate and suicidal but the urge to self harm had disappeared and not returned.
What would I say to people that have an urge to self harm – this is a hard one but I hope that they have somewhere or someone to turn to instead of self harming. I realise that this isn’t often the case and therefore self harm might be the only option in some peoples minds and if people do self harm they need to be given support, safe places and not judged because they self harm. It is not attention seeking behaviour and often as in my case a life saving coping strategy. I actually often would text the Samaritans when I had an urge to cut. This did stop me more than just a few times as it gave my mind a different focus and so became another coping strategy.
I wish I had never started but also know it part of my story.


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