Will it? Will it always be this way?
This is what I can tell you.
I started to self harm when I was in high school. It was nothing too extreme, just some carvings on my ankles, just far enough down that the ankle socks for my cheerleading uniform wouldn’t reveal them. Yes, I was a cheerleader. In high school, people think being a cheerleader means you are so happy and have it all. Not true. I was depressed, and I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t know why until I was 26 and diagnosed with bipolar II disorder.
In 1998, I began college. Instead of just carvings on my ankles, I began a whole new array of other forms of self harm. There was the typical binge drinking. It may not seem like self harm, and to some it isn’t. To some, it really is about having fun, trying to fit in, and being rebellious. For me, it was to try and get rid of all the dark, depressing, self loathing and self hatred filled thoughts and try to find either a place that would make me happy and carefree, or would block out all those thoughts all together by just blacking out.
Binge drinking was just one, anorexia and bulimia was another. Many may think, why would an eating disorder be considered self harm? Well, if you are anorexic, you are purposely depriving yourself food and nutrients that your body needs to survive, thereby destroying all your internal organs in the process. The same holds true for bulimia, except with bulimia, you let yourself eat, however, you destroy your body and it’s organs while trying to get it all out, whether it’s through vomiting or laxatives. The destruction you do to your body inside is not always just temporary. Just because it doesn’t leave scars you can visibly see on the outside doesn’t mean that your metabolism isn’t forever damaged, or the enamel on the backs of your teeth is completely eroded, your liver and kidneys may have damage, you may have osteoporosis because of the lack of nutrients to your bones. And lastly, your heart. Eating disorders can cause a lot of damage to your heart. Heart disease runs in my family. My uncle actually passed away in his twenties during an open heart surgery. When I was younger, I had a heart murmur and it was closely monitored because of my uncle. By the time I was a teenager, I had outgrown it, but, after years of eating disorder behavior and self harm, that murmur came back.
The eating disorders and binge drinking were part of college life, but then I began self harming by using any sort of sharp objects and slashing cuts all over the tops of my arms, my legs, and my wrists. Despite all that, I did graduate college WITH honors, and with TWO bachelors degrees, a B.A. in Criminal Justice and a B.S. in Paralegal Studies. I landed my very first “professional” job in a law office that included health insurance benefits, so I began to see a professional psychotherapist who specialized in eating disorders. I worked through those and they laid pretty dormant starting in 2005. The cutting however, did not stop. When I would get so angry or upset and couldn’t figure out any other way to let out all the pain, I would cut. At the time, my then boyfriend (who then became husband and exhusband) had a boat and so spending lots of time with friends on the boat during the really hot spring and summer months was tradition. Wearing pants and/or long sleeves to cover the cuts or the scars became so embarassing, but having anyone see the cuts or scars would have been much worse, and we all know that if you are out in the sun with fresh scars, the scars don’t tan or burn but,remain white, which draws even more attention to them.
How did I stop? How did I realize it would not last forever?
I drove myself to the hospital because I was suicidal, admitted myself to the psych facility, and was diagnosed with bipolar II. I remained there about 14 days where I was then released to an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy Program) where you went every day from 9am -3pm, Monday through Friday; had another hospitalization a few weeks after that; was released back to the program, and then completed the program, almost 7 months later from the date I drove myself to the hospital because I was suicidal.
That program, along with my family and friends that stood by me through that process, is the reason I knew it was not going to be like that forever. In that program, I met so many amazing people in so many different circumstances and periods of their lives. We all started as a group of strangers but we got to know each other and believed in each other; I mean, literally, we were put into a room with a group of people of all ages that had never met before and no mutual acquaintances. We all had this enormous emotional and mental hurdle that we didn’t know how to get past, and absolutely didn’t believe we had the strength to get through it ourselves, but one by one, we watched each other as we conquered our hurdles. And as I watched each person conquer theirs, I began to slowly believe in myself. I hadn’t really, truly believed in myself in a very, very long time, so I had almost forgotten what it felt like, but everyone else believed in me.
The last three months of the program I had dropped down to half days and to only 3 days a week because I had started law school in the evenings. Yes, I had gotten myself back to a point where I was feeling confident enough that I was attending one of the most competitive types of schools. Law school, especially the first year, is known for its competitiveness. On my last day at the program, they held a “graduation ceremony” for me and they allowed my family members to come. After listening to the group members and staff talk about my journey, my dad stood up and thanked them all for bringing him his “real” Christi back.
After that, I wanted to help as many people as a I could because I did not want anyone else to feel alone, or feel like no one else felt the way they did, and I wanted to help as many people who couldn’t afford the amazing treatment I was so fortunate to receive because of my insurance benefits through my employer. I scoured the Internet for support groups and info and found so very little, but I did find one that caught my eye and changed the years to follow.
Ask A Bipolar is a website where people who have questions because they themselves have the illness and want to know more or may not have the illness but want to be more helpful to friends and loved ones but are too afraid to ask, so they submit their questions and those questions are answered by one out of the team of authors and it is posted on the website. What makes this site so unique? All of the authors have bipolar disorder! This way, you are getting an answer from someone who truly understands it or has been through it themselves. I found the website and followed it for a bit to see what it was all about. After a few weeks, they posted that they were looking for some new authors. On a whim, I took a stab and submitted my application.
After a few months of being part of the Ask A Bipolar team, I was asked to become partners with the founder. I had also started blogging for International Bipolar Foundation, I was published in their book Healthy Living With Bipolar Disorder, and Ask A Bipolar put out at book. While I loved writing for both websites, they both had specific formats. Ask A Bipolar was question/answer and International Bipolar was once a month. I wanted to do more to help other and get my story out there, so, I created my own website. When I said before that it wouldn’t always be like this, I meant it.
I called my blog Musings of a Bipolar Hot Mess. What I thought would be about 100 or so friends, family, and probably Ask A Bipolar followers, turned into a whole lot more! One day I checked the page and it was at 3,000 and I was dumbfounded. Next I know, it’s at 7,000, then 10,000. Then, Psychcentral.com had nominated me as a Mental Health Hero 2013, WEGO nominations, and the Facebook page is 16,400+.
Do I still have urges to self harm? Do I slip up? Have I been completely 100% self harm free in all that time? The answers: Yes I still get urges, yes I do slip up, no I have not been 100% completely self harm free in all that time. Have I been more self harm free than I have been self harming? YES! ABSOLUTELY!!! I slip up maybe once a year, if that. But, now I have coping tools, I have an entire community of people who not only look to ME for advice, but I also look to THEM for advice, comfort, and support as well. I have learned that my family loves me and cares so much about me and they help me.
Is it always going to be like this? NO!! BUT, YOU have to be the one who takes the first step toward the change. YOU have to be the one who takes the first step to say NO the next time you get the urge. And then, it won’t always be like this.