Monday, 6 November 2017

I'm A Balloon

Hi people!

I did not intend to go this long without posting. I've been planning my wedding (it happened in October) for so long, and I've been so busy with it I haven't had time to write anything. But now I can!

So, after that happy introduction/reunion, I now need to move on to some tough stuff. In this post, I'm going to talk about self-harm, both my own experience of it, some stuff usually reported about it, and also some science behind it. Please don't just close the page because this subject makes you uncomfortable; we really need to talk about this more in our society. However, there may be some people in psychologically dangerous situations right now reading this. If you think this will be too distressing for you, to the point where you think you may actually self-harm, leave this post until later. Do not under any circumstance feel obligated to read this post if you think it will be detrimental to your stability right now. If you think you are in danger of self-harming right now, ring someone you trust, ring an organisation like the Samaritans, ring the emergency services, just do what you have to in order to get help now. I really don't want to be the cause of distress for anyone.

Okay, now that's been said, I can start explaining what self-harm and self-harm impulses are like. As I said in my previous post, many people self-harm for many different reasons. For me, it was to relieve stress. This is where the title of this post comes in: in times of intense anxiety/stress - often a trigger for my depression - I would feel like an over-inflated balloon. An over-inflated balloon with steam coming out of my ears, I would swear blind to you that it was like my skin was being stretched painfully and that it would explode under the pressure. What do you do to relieve the pressure of an over-inflated balloon? You pop it. You let some of the air out through holes. Self-harm doesn't have to involve razors or cutting, despite this being the usual way it is imagined; it can involve anything from razors to glass to acid to fire to your own body parts and much more. My method of self-harm was digging my nails into the back of my hands as if to puncture the skin. I never did puncture the skin, but I still used enough force to leave my hands covered with red crescents that would stay for two days then fade away, as if nothing had happened.

People use self-harm as a way of distracting their brains from mental distress, among other reasons. And here's the sickening truth: it works. Very briefly after each episode I self-harmed - as in, for maximum two seconds after my nails first dug into my hand - I felt relief, like I was actually letting out some of that pressure. You may not realise it, but there is actual evidence that hurting yourself to make yourself happy makes an awkward sort of sense. When your body is hurt in some way, it releases chemicals in order to counteract the pain, called endorphins. You may have heard of them; they are the ones that are released during exercise, during physical intimacy, during moments of genuine enjoyment. They are the "happy hormones". The automatic release of endorphins after you self-harm is exactly why you feel a very brief sense of relief...and the part that you can become dependent on.

That rush of endorphins that relieves the mental distress can become something you can't live without. In times of mental distress, your first thought is to self-harm, and that reliance becomes stronger and stronger until it is your only coping mechanism. And so, I found myself stuck in a vicious cycle where I would feel stressed/anxious, I would want to self-harm, I self-harmed, I felt a brief relief, then I would feel agonising disappointment in myself because I indulged in a behaviour I knew was damaging. And so it feeds into itself.

Now, self-harm is not an addiction; an addiction is something where you cannot control the withdrawal symptoms your body experiences. Self-harm is a chosen behaviour, a coping mechanism. As with all other coping mechanisms, you can replace it with another, healthier coping mechanism. This takes time and effort and, more often than not, times of failure, times where you simply cannot resist that urge. When I admitted to a Christian close friend that I had self-harmed recently, he took my hands in his and stared directly into my eyes. "Your hands are beautiful," he said fervently, "and God made these hands to write, and to play music, and to clap, and to hug people. He didn't make them to hurt themselves." I didn't self-harm once after that encounter. I'm not sure what happened, I'm not sure what other coping mechanism I used instead (probably writing). But any time I had the urge, I remembered what my hands were meant to be used for, and I felt God take my hands in His, cradling them like they were precious diamonds.

[I've said nowhere near enough on the huge subject of self-harm in this post, and there are so many other things I'd like to say in the future. If you have any suggestions you'd like me to talk on specifically, please feel free to leave a comment or message me. If you are interested, here are links to some sources I used for the scientific side to this post:]

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