Worse than self-harm

When I am in a cycle of self-harm I cannot imagine that there can
be anything worse. But I have found that there is – sitting with
the urges to hurt myself and not acting on them. This can be more
excruciating than the self-injury itself.

In a recent 10-month period I needed 23 blood transfusions with
more than 50 hospital admissions. Self-harm became my focus. I
thought of myself as a self-harmer and about how much damage I had
done. While I sometimes wanted to change I felt reluctant to give
up the harming. It was as though it formed my identity and purpose.
But the cutting had become painful. Before there had been some
strong emotion overriding the pain – anger, upset or anxiety. These
lessened but I continued to feel low.

What also challenged my habitual self-harming was when an emergency
consultant told me I would not be alive in six months if I
continued. She warned me that my hand might have to be amputated if
an infection spread. But I still felt the desire to harm myself.
Being unable to do this because of unbearable physical pain made me
feel defeated.

The evenings were hard to get through since I associated them with
the rituals of my self-injury. I found myself thinking about
harming myself all the time and was frustrated that I could not do
it as I had before. I became more depressed and even neglected
myself when it came to washing and dressing.

Several things have helped me through, including internet support
groups. You get to know the people who frequently post messages and
are there to support other members. I have often sent messages
about feeling that what I am living now is just an existence and
how I miss the mental drama of self-harming. You write “trigger” in
the subject line of messages if they concern self-injury, abuse or
suicide. I feel the support group members understand.

I joined an occupational therapy sports group and this has given me
a reason to regain energy by taking iron tablets to replace lost
blood. It meets weekly and is facilitated by an occupational
therapist and a support worker. There are six members from both
sexes. The group plays badminton and softball tennis at the local
sports centre.

One practical way of getting through each day has been comfort
eating. I make sure that this is done on lots of fruit and
vegetables so minimising weight gain.

Social care workers should recognise that someone is battling
self-harm even when they are no longer physically hurting
themselves. The mental torment does not end when that person
resists using the blade.

Alex Williams has mental health problems and is a
volunteer.

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