This is a most difficult subject to tackle because there is a lot of shame and social stigma connected to it. Many people, even fellow sufferers of mental disorders, find it hard to sympathize with or understand those who suffer these behavioral problems if they themselves have never experienced it. Sufferers of mental illness who exhibit this behavior don’t get help because they don’t want to admit to others that they do it, they are ashamed, that is until it becomes noticeable to those around them. I am going to try to talk about this issue on my website because I think it is important and I want to cover all areas of bi-polar illness, not just the ones people like to wag their tongues about. This is going to be tough because it is a tad personal as well as a bit painful. But, I am hoping that my honesty will help someone out there.
I have, myself, personally, experienced this behavior. I would be caught up in a driving desire to cause myself pain, physical pain. I would feel so wound up inside like I was going to emotionally hemorrhage if I didn’t release the pain or emotional tension somehow. At times there was this howling that would echo through my soul, rising from the depths, gaining momentum as it grew louder, ever louder. The tearing or burning of my flesh seemed to release some of that inner scream, that pain. I wanted something to hurt more than what hurt inside, I would of rather it hurt outside, physical pain, than feel what raged in the depths within my skin. Then there were times when I was just numb, and the cutting of my flesh felt good, a pleasure, it felt like something more than just the nothingness that had become who I was. It made me feel like I was still alive. It gave me a feeling of empowerment, it didn’t matter what pain life threw at me I could master it, I could eat it like it was a simple slash of my skin.
These are the feelings I felt when I experienced my self-abusive behaviors. I have exhibited them during both phases of my disorder, both manic and depressive cycles. I have come to realize that those urges came from the overwhelming emotional pain and chaos I was suffering at the time of the incidents. I did not understand what was raging inside of me as an undiagnosed bi-polar personality and had not yet been given any therapeutic experience to properly deal with my demons. I had become so weary of the severe emotional anguish inside of my mind I only wanted to appease it with the sensation of real, tangible pain. Real pain could at times take those racing thoughts and chaos and focus it, giving the illusion of a concentrated calm.
Causing oneself injury in this way can also be an indirect means of the sufferer crying out for help to the outside world. The person may not be able to describe the torment they feel on the inside and their only avenue of expression is to demonstrate the power of their inner chaos by carving it on their outer extremities for the entire world to see. The sufferer may not even be aware that they are transmitting a call for help to those around them. Many of these sufferers hide their injuries; they inflict their wounds in places they can easily hide, like on their upper thighs or stomach. They may truly believe they are committing these deeds in secret, but really they are, emotionally speaking, desperate for someone to discover their scars and put a stop to it, the psychological issues causing the slicing/self-abuse, I mean.
I find that desires of self-harm begin to rear their ugly head when I feel emotionally suffocated or trapped. When my capability to cope with stress levels hits the bottom of the reservoir and I am emotionally destitute I feel that old desire to claw my way out of my skin all over again. I have to steel myself and physically force myself to stay away from sharp objects. When I was a teenager it started as slicing ever so often with knives or razors. It progressed to burning myself with cigarettes and curling irons. When I left home and was living on my own it got so bad I was whipping myself with wire coat hangers. All of this I cleverly hid so no one would think I was a nutball. This went on for a number of years on and off. The urges would subside a little, then return even worse. I have to admit I was lucky; I have very few physical scars from all of the damage I wrought upon myself. I can still see the whisper scars of the cuts and the burns are visible if you know where to look. But, I was one of the lucky ones.
I have had the benefit of therapy and counseling to help me work out a lot of those inner demons that like to scratch and scrape away at my outsides. I have come to understand some of the places where these urges come from. My medications help a lot too. I know now to seek aid from people who know what they are talking about when I start feeling that way again. I am also now a mother and am responsible for my actions. My son looks to me for guidance and follows my example in life; I can’t be exhibiting behavior of that nature to a young child. What hurts me hurts him two-fold. I don’t know if I will ever be rid of these urges/tendencies, but I have learned that they can be controlled. It has taken many hours of therapy and a lot of work of my own to get to this point, it’s hard, I won’t lie, but it’s worth it.
If you suffer from these feelings you are not alone in your misery. There are many of us out there suffering in silence with you. I urge you to seek help and therapy because life doesn’t have to be drowned in anguish. You don’t have to hurt yourself to ease your pain. You can speak up and vent your turmoil verbally instead of physically torturing yourself. You don’t have to be ashamed, you are not a freak. You are just in too much pain to know any better. Tell a professional what you are doing to yourself, get help and get better.