Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anonymous Asked: Cutting

Trigger Warning: subject matter includes self-harm, cutting, mental health issues and mentions of suicide.  

 This is a post from Tumblr, written by Luka in response to an anonymous question on the blog brainbent.  Luka has kindly allowed us to repost it here.   

Trigger and Content Warning for the blog where this originally appeared: brainbent is a Homestuck AU fan-blog that contains various mental health issues, various types of abuse, violence, and offensive language. While most posts are fictional, Luka responds to reader's questions regarding real-life issues, including the following:

Anonymous asked: Hey so I’m dealing with a social anxiety disorder along with depression and a whole lot of stress, and I’ve picked up the habit of cutting up my arm. My mom found out from my teacher and now she wants to talk, But I’m honestly not sure what to tell her I’m really affraid that she will think I’m gonna kill myself, What do i do?

Aiight anonymous, settle in. This is gonna be kind of a long answer.

First some kudos for your mom wanting to talk. It’ll be weird and awkward, most likely, but it is the first step toward helping you cope better with your problems.

Now for the infodump. Why do people self-injure? (I’m going to refer mostly to cutting here, but let’s not forget the many ways people do it, burning, overdosing, picking the skin, picking at wounds, hitting things, hitting your head on things, breaking bones, taking horrible risks and hoping you get hurt, the list goes on and on).

Cutting (with very few exceptions) is not a suicidal behavior. Let’s get that out of the way right now, because it’s important. You have to know why this is happening to fix it. Suicide risk is higher in cutters, but going straight to the suicide explanation for the cutting behavior itself misses the point of self-injury. Which is, weirdly enough, a way to keep yourself going. It’s your brain saying “okay, fuck this, i can’t deal, what was plan b again?”

For some people (a lot of people!) the plan b is harming themselves. I see the scars quite often, on teenagers, adults and old ladies in the checkout line.  And that’s just the people who do it where clothing won’t cover the marks. Other people prefer to hide the scars.

Sometimes you see people (mostly kids) showing off their scars, and people call them attention whores and emo kids and various other things. Which I think is bullshit. People who cut “for the attention”? They deserve that attention, because they’re telling you with their cuts that they are not getting their emotional needs met in a safer, less destructive way. They’re asking you for help right there on their arms.
Take a non-cutter and try to convince him to slice his arms up “for the attention.” Most likely he’ll get freaked out and call you a lunatic!

When this behavior starts to make sense to you, you’re in distress. So anybody reading this who feels contempt for fakers, please give them the benefit of the doubt. Even obnoxious people who brag about their cuts and royally piss you off deserve to be safe and happy.

So what does cutting do for people? Depends on the person. There are a billion ways to be miserable. Here are some of the big ones, though.

When you’re injured, your body releases endorphins, which are natural opioids that reduce pain and induce a feeling of well-being and calm you down. Some people self-harm for this effect.

Other people find out that they can use physical pain to cope with emotional pain. Something terrible happens, or you just run out of mental resources, and it’s too much. So you hurt yourself on the outside to distract yourself and trick your mind into focusing on the injury you can see.

There are also people who go numb and would rather feel pain than nothing at all. It can wake you up when you’re dissociating and make you feel “real” again.
Other people get incredibly angry at themselves, but have no other way to express it. So it starts as a punishment.

And then there’s the folks who (in addition to various other reasons as listed above) want the scars, so they can tell themselves “yeah motherfucker, I survived a war and these are my shrapnel wounds.” Your humble narrator fits into this category.

There are a lot of reasons to do it, but it boils down to the same essential impulse: put the pain on the outside and it’s easier to deal with.

And then you get addicted, because your brain learns that this is the way to deal with feelings, and doesn’t develop OTHER ways.

So here you are, stuck with this painful and self-destructive survival mechanism as your only answer, while the problems in your life stay the same or get worse. And the injury severity or the frequency of the behavior increases along with your suffering, and eventually you get caught. Or you go too far in the self-injury and have an accident, or the cutting stops working for you and you just give up, and you end up actually committing the suicide the cutting was meant to avoid.

Which is why you gotta get help now, while things are still reversible. Check your pulse. Still got one? Shit yeah, you’re not too late.

If you aren’t sure you can talk to someone about the cutting, don’t panic. It’s hard to talk about this stuff, especially when your head is full of messed-up feelings. You wouldn’t be a cutter if you could just randomly spout off your problems and feel better. If only!

But sometimes it’s just. You can’t talk about it. You. Can’t. Say. The. Words.

Here’s where I bring out the old standby for confrontation: write a letter explaining everything you need to say to the person you are trusting. Then agree to talk about what you’ve written. Turn the info over to the person you are confiding in, and let them direct the dialogue from there, with you answering the questions. This might get you over the communication bump.

Some things you would want to include in your letter:
  • Explanation that you are not suicidal
  • What you’ve been doing (the cutting)
  • How you have been feeling,
  • What you think self-injury has been doing for you, if you know
  • How you started, if you feel comfortable bringing this up right now
  • Whether you want to stop the cutting or not, and why/why not
  • Any ideas for what you want to do 
  • Any ideas for what you need your family/friends to do to help

And that’s the scary bit, asking for help. Scary, but necessary.

You can’t do this alone. That’s what the cutting is doing for you now: stepping in when you can’t cope on your own, and taking some of the strain off. It’s normal to be overwhelmed sometimes. It’s not failure to admit you can’t deal with things as they are. If you want to stop self-injuring, you’ll need to replace it with a healthier coping mechanism that actually deals with the reasons for your feelings, rather than bleeding off enough tension that you can keep going through the same old pain for a little longer.

Putting yourself out in the open like that, admitting that you’re not handling your problems, it’s terrifying. What if you work up the courage to talk to someone, and it goes badly? This happens sometimes, and it’s shitty. But there are things you can do even if your family isn’t there for you. I’ll cover those later. For now, take the risk. Be brave and do this thing to be nice to yourself, no matter whether or not other people understand. Acknowledge your pain and give yourself the help you need. And some major credit for coming this far.

Just the asking is a huge first step! It’s something your brain needs to learn to do in order to rewire itself.

The most important thing you can do for yourself now, even if you’re not ready to stop injuring yourself right this very minute (and that’s okay. Recovery is a process, not a bad TV movie), is to get therapy for your other conditions. Depression is a huge contributor to self-injury, and it can be treated. Deal with the things that trigger your behavior, and you may stop needing to hurt yourself.

TL;DR: You’re doing everything you can to stay alive. You are officially hardcore. Now use all that jaw-clenching determination to do the hardest thing and ask for help.

if your support system sucks ass, it’s up to you to give them the metaphorical finger and take care of yourself anyway. If you had a younger sister or brother doing what you are doing, what would you do to save them? Think about it for a while, and then do that for yourself. Because you deserve help and comfort every bit as much and even if assholes are ignoring you, the world is full of people who care and will recognize your struggle for the badassery that it is. It’s shitty that you’ll have to be the one to find these people, but you can do it.

 This is a great resource page that words all of what I’ve posted way better than me.
Self-help alternatives to injuring yourself during a crisis
S.A.F.E Alternatives Info Line: (800) 366-8288
National Suicide Prevention Line: (800) 273-8255.
And if none of this touches on your problem, or if you’re outside the US and the numbers aren’t helpful, just google “Self-Injury Help” and watch the love pour in.

Good luck, anon. Now go kick some ass that isn’t your own!

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