Re-thinking self-injury

Deliberate self-injury is puzzling to many people. Heck, it is still somewhat puzzling to me — even having experienced it – for reasons I’ll explain below. Of course the experience is unique to each individual, so I’m not saying that my own is necessarily typical, but I think it may be helpful to talk about anyway. Also note that I am deliberately going to omit the details about what I did to hurt myself, because I don’t think those details are helpful to talk about.

There have been two distinct periods in my life when I was frequently self-injurious. One was during my third year of college, and the other was over twenty years later. Not coincidentally, these are also the two periods in my life in which my depression eventually became so severe that I required hospitalization. I didn’t have more than passing thoughts about hurting myself during the decades in between, or in the years since.

I only started having problems with self-injury after I survived a suicide attempt and promised never to try to kill myself again. When self-hatred and self-disgust were so strong that I really wanted to die, injuring myself just seemed like the healthier of the only two options I could think of. In this (extremely limited) sense it worked, and in its aftermath I often felt more welcome to remain part of the physical and social world.

To those who would dismiss self-injury as a form of attention seeking, I’d counter that I almost never told anyone about what happened, and that the only times I did were in a proactive effort to stop. I also want to emphasize that there are biological factors involved. In my own experience, I think among the reasons I had such powerful urges for self-injury at these two distinct points in my life were things like extreme sleep deprivation and going through withdrawal from antidepressant medication (Nardil).

What is most inexplicable to me about my self-injury experiences is that they really felt as if I were being taken over by forces much more powerful than myself.  I also felt as if my self-hatred and self-disgust were strong enough to destroy the whole world if not given a more limited outlet.

Looking back now, it is clear that the thoughts/feelings I had about self-injury, and about suicide being its only alternative, weren’t quite realistic — and I’d like to think that next time I’d be less inclined to consider self-injury as a readily available outlet for my internal pain. Instead I’d want to consider other possible ways of making it through each hour at a time, ways that would ultimately make me feel better able to cope. For me this involves promising myself that next time I won’t work so hard to hide my struggle with self-injury, but instead ask carefully selected people to help distract me, wait with me, and guide me through those times. Though my depression has currently receded and self-injury is now quite far from my mind, I want to learn from this especially difficult aspect of my past to be better prepared for the future. Because sometimes life don’t leave you alone.

References

“…It’s an art to live with pain,… mix the light into grey,..
Lost 9 friends we’ll never know,.. 2 years ago today
And if our lives became too long, would it add to our regret?
And the young, they can lose hope cause they can’t see beyond today,…
The wisdom that the old can’t give away, Hey,…
Constant recoil…Sometimes life don’t leave you alone…”

Love Boat Captain by Pearl Jam (2002)

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