My Experience of Cutting as a Form of Self-Harm

The act of cutting oneself, on purpose (or a more comfortable label for it, self-harm) can be a very scary thing to those who do not know about it.

I started cutting myself, small cuts, during my sophomore year in college, which wouldn’t necessarily hurt when I did it, but I just needed to see the bit of blood. I had never heard of anyone doing this to him/herself, but it came to me and what began at the age of 19 has continued, on and off since then. I am currently 47 years old.

In the beginning, I honestly don’t remember much of what brought me to do it. It wasn’t for attention because I made sure it was covered during the colder weather and would cut my thighs in the warmer weather when I’d wear shorts. It was for me, and, perhaps, my therapist at the time. My first year in therapy was my sophomore year in college following a summer as a camp counselor where I experienced a lot of anxiety and had suicidal thoughts. I had no idea why it was all happening. After camp, I returned to school in NYC, and my school’s health services referred me to my therapist, who was wonderful.

I don’t remember talking a lot during that first year, but she began the work of teaching me about my feelings. You see, there are more feelings than happy, mad and sad, and that was all I knew. I began cutting myself, I believe, because my entire life prior, was missing a big piece of being human. It’s all about feelings, many feelings, good and bad, and I had no idea. Those 7 years of therapy became the base of the next step in my therapeutic work as I moved to Boston and took a little break from therapy but then started up again. I saw this therapist on and off for about 20 years. I continued to cut myself, at times, mostly when I was angry or felt misunderstood by someone, including my therapist.

I have learned, through a lot of hard work with my current therapist in CT (moved here in 2011), more about feelings but that my cutting was an “easier” way to cope with my anger about, well, anything. I never want to feel angry at someone as it makes me feel like a bad person. My therapist always reminds me that if I never felt anger, that would be a problem. When she says, ” welcome to the human race,” that can help me feel a bit more at ease about any of my feelings.

It’s only been a few weeks, but I am now able to feel good while also feeling anxious or disappointed or angry. My life prior to this was feeling one at a time and if more showed up at one time, I’d become completely overwhelmed, sometimes have panic attacks and sometimes cut myself for relief.

For me, cutting is more than a habit at this point. It is an addiction. It is not something I want to do, in terms of hurting myself on purpose and then dealing with the emotional consequences as well as the scars that are on my body. It is up to me, though, to stop. No one can make me stop or stop it for me and my therapist reminds me of that often. Even though I am sometimes able to use my healthy coping skills to ward off the thoughts of doing it, I am not always successful. It’s hard to break away from it after so many years. Yet, as the years have gone by, my awareness of the cause of the action has increased. Awareness is key to stopping but it is a long process. I do want to stop but I can get caught up in it.

Having bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder doesn’t help much. I have cut myself when depressed and when hypomanic. The OCD can play a role if I feel the obsession with it start, then the compulsion to do it to feel relief. But, at this point, I often don’t feel relief, as I have in the past, which is a sign of good work in therapy, but there’s a lot more to go.

I do not want cutting or self-harm to be a secret, just as I do not want someone with any mental illness to stay quiet. Reaching out, voicing your truth can be freeing and help to educate those who do not understand what those of us with mental illness combat daily. Secrets never lead to anything positive. Let people in, those you trust the most. Just having one person who supports you and cares about you, no matter what, can make all the difference in the world as you navigate your daily life with all symptoms of your mental illness. For me, I wrote this today to free myself of this secret. While some know about it, most of the people in my life don’t or believe I stopped years ago. I needed to write about my cutting now because it’s current and has been an off and on behavior for the past several years. It’s part of me, and while unfortunate, it’s my challenge to face head on.


Anxiety, OCD And On and On and On…

My therapist is on vacation and my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is out of control. It’s been one week and I am now in week two. I see her again a week from today. It has been difficult. Parts of each day are difficult but time is moving, just not as fast as I would like. I see my therapist 4 times a week with an additional 15 minute phone check-in on Sunday mornings. It is intense work. This work, though, as well as seeing her, is part of my routine, part of my weekly schedule. Right now, that is completely thrown off. As a result, my anxiety is increased and is manifesting itself in my OCD as well as my irritability.
I am micromanaging my every move, from getting out of bed to the order of my morning: will I take my walk first or do my physical therapy exercises (hurt back in April) before eating breakfast? If I do my physical therapy and then eat, I will be ready to walk, whereas if I walk, eat and then do my physical therapy, I will be very uncomfortable as 90% of the exercises and stretches are lying down. But, which makes sense in the moment? Which will make me feel comfortable? Which will determine if I have a good or bad day? And on and on and on…
I plan out the order of my morning the night before over a course of 5-60 minutes of constant thought, as if this is the most important decision of my life, but that is how it feels to me. If I do it in the “wrong” order, what will happen? Something bad will happen. That is my thought process. And then, if I am working the next day, how does that timing factor in? It becomes even more complicated in my brain and requires even more of my time to “perfect” it to my liking, yet whatever I do, in whatever order, is never to my liking. This isn’t happening just since my therapist went on vacation, this is how it is whenever my OCD increases to this level.
I plan meals for the week, which, actually, a lot of people do, but this can take hours over the course of a weekend. If I cook on Monday, a day off from work, then we’ll have dinner for Monday and Tuesday, as I always cook enough for the next night, as well. That means I will need to cook again on Wednesday which will cover Thursday, but that leaves Friday, a day that I work. On Fridays I am tired as I get up at 5am to see my therapist at 7:15am, before working for 4 hours on my feet, but want to make a nice Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner for my family. Then the guilt rises, which is beyond wild now anyway and I think I can’t do anything right. And on and on and on…
I can’t stop moving. I get up, do my walking, PT, breakfast in whatever order that ends up often disappointing me as I believe it’s the wrong order, because when you have OCD, all you want is relief and while there are those who suffer with it who complete a task and feel relief, I rarely feel that. My obsession leads to the compulsive behavior which should lead to some relief, but not for me. I end up feeling guilty and angry with myself.
I made homemade frosting yesterday and it was too sweet but I kept in in the fridge overnight to see how it would be today. It was a good consistency but still very sweet. I had to make another batch today. I HAD to. It did come out better, but it was as if making frosting to have with cupcakes I made the other day was the most important thing in the world. While doing this, I was also making dinner in the early afternoon. This is a rare occurrence but I wanted a healthy and good dinner tonight but I had to take my daughter to her guitar lesson which ends at 5:30pm. Constant thinking, constant analyzing, constant motion.
My husband is fully aware that things are stirred up right now and he gives me his total support and understands that it doesn’t matter if he tells me to “relax” or “not to worry about dinner,” as my mind is quite powerful right now and reasoning is not a skill that is easily practiced. I know it pains him to see me this way. I am in pain. I want to control it. I want to feel more mastery over my OCD and I know there are times when I can. Things are simply too stirred up with my therapist away. It’s sad, unfortunate, frustrating and maddening for me. Having OCD and skin picking disorder (yes, it’s a real diagnosis) is a tough combination as they can easily go together. I have more band aids with bacitracin under them right now. My anxiety is just too high and mixed in with the OCD creates a very difficult state of being for me at this time.
Mental illness is hard. Just when you feel you are managing well enough, something else happens that throws you. Unfortunately, that is life. So, my therapist is on vacation for one more week and whatever that looks like for me, I will go on and on and on…

The Best I Can Do

Coming to terms with all of the changes in my life after a roller coaster of the past 5 years is in constant motion. Just when I think I can accept that I can only handle working part-time in retail as opposed to running a program full-time as a social worker, I get hit with such sadness and loss. I have to grieve, yet again. I don’t think people understand how mental illness can drastically alter a person’s professional, medical, personal and financial life. I’ve written about it before and I will probably continue to write about it. So many see me out in public, at the mall where I work or in the supermarket and I smile and make small talk and they tell me over and over again how glad they are that I am doing so well. Even when this is true, I am always confused as I haven’t disclosed this to them. Just because someone presents as “put together,” it certainly is no indication he/she is doing so well. Think of running into a friend who has completed chemotherapy for her breast cancer and has color in her cheeks and a wide smile: think of telling her how glad you are that she is doing so well. It’s an assumption, unless your friend has told you otherwise. I find too many people make assumptions about me. Now, they will not know all of the details of my struggles even though I am rather open about them. Currently, I am doing better and at the same time I am working so very hard in therapy, working on such painful issues three sessions, sometimes four sessions per week. Working through these intense issues brings me two steps forward and sometimes one step back. The process is not a straight line forward, unfortunately. I often leave sessions closed up, in deep thought, sometimes sobbing. It is a process, painful, difficult, fulfilling and based on incredible trust in my therapist. If you notice my weight gain when you see me, which you may be glad to see, (it has put me in a healthier place), I may be ruminating about the session I just came from, feeling overwhelmed simply being at the supermarket, thoughts of folding laundry and making dinner completely distracting me. I am a bundle of nerves and stress but you wouldn’t know. Why would I disclose this to you? Why would I unburden myself? The answer is two-fold: sometimes I should unburden, especially when it is a close friend, but other times, when it is an acquaintance, I would never release it.

I am not severely depressed right now but there is always a level of depression that I live with. I live my life day to day, sometimes hour by hour. I don’t make many plans ahead of time, feeling completely overwhelmed by the pressure of it. Evening meetings or events are almost impossible for me to attend as that is not the best time of day for me. Not everyone understands this. I have to look out for my own health and well-being and consistency and routine makes my life more easily livable. Of course, there are alterations that can’t be changed and when they occur, I do my best to get through. That usually involves extra support from my husband and friends, a lot of deep breaths and my anti-anxiety medication. Even when I am not severely depressed, there are still behaviors that I can’t always leave behind. I do my best and as my therapist keeps telling me, “you have always done your best, 20 years ago and today. That is all you can do.” For me, my best sometimes involves tolerating incredibly intense feelings, constant questioning of my thoughts and feelings and doing the best I can, in terms of self-harm behaviors.

I am in a good place, a much better place and it is something to be noted and noticed after everything I have been through over the past 5 years. Just remember this caveat: feeling better is not a cure for depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD. There is NO cure (yet). I live with many of the symptoms every single day. Each day can be different as can each hour.

I fight every single day. My family fights every single day. My husband and daughter are with me, willing to live our family life in a way where modifications are always being made to support me and my needs. Our existence is not what it was 5 years ago and for my husband and myself, this is not what we ever wished our life would be, but we have, for the most part, found our groove and even if that leaves out others at times or lets people down, it is the best we can do. What more could be asked of us?