I have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder for the last twenty-three years. I started cutting when I was eleven, and it has been a twenty-tw-year battle. I’ve been hospitalized in psychiatric units eight times, and I’m really ashamed to admit all of this. However, I’m proud to say that I haven’t cut in three years, as I have found other coping skills. Now, I’m creating a website to help other people understand mental illness, self-injury, and it also includes strategies for crisis intervention and suicide prevention. It’s hard to share my story of mental illness. It’s humiliating to show my scars and admit things like psychotic features. I’m always afraid that the person I’m speaking with wont understand. However, I decided that it’s important to put it all out there for people to see so they know they’re not alone and that there is hope for recovery. I believe God has given me this desire to create this kind of a website as a ministry. It’s hard to share it all, but if it helps others, it’s totally worth it. Every time I feel my scars, I remember that Jesus will have His scars for all time so that, when eternal life begins, mine will go away.
When I was in the seventh grade I read a book that was about a young girl who had entered rehab for self injury. I had never encountered self injury before, but long story short my young, impressionable, anxiety ridden little mind thought it sounded like a good way to cope. Thus began my messy, painful, brilliant journey for peace inside a hurricane of a mind. As I grew things only got worse. I can remember countless nights of feeling like the sky was falling, my pillowcase soaked with salty tears. Self injury seemed like the only way out. The only way to make my frantic mind quiet. To stop it from running in circles, from replaying every single thing that could go wrong. To be quite honest I didn’t see the harm in it, it was an immediate release and it made me feel better. I wasn’t trying to kill myself so I remember thinking that it didn’t “count.” I thought I could stop. I would go months without it, but as soon as something bad happened the cycle would repeat itself. This went on for five years. When I was in the twelfth grade a friend I had confided in was having a hard time. She said she would see someone if I did, and because she held my heart in her hands, I reluctantly agreed. I hated seeing a counsellor, I thought I could do it on my own, I thought because I came from a good home that I didn’t have a right to feel the way I did. I resisted her help, I wanted to sit in my sadness and be left alone, until one day she said to me, “you’re going to be okay you know. It’s just getting through right now that’s the hard part.” Something about that little sentence made a world of difference to me. It didn’t fix me, I continued to have bad days and relapses. But I always kept that tender moment in my back pocket. Because the sun will always come up tomorrow, and nothing you are feeling now will last forever even if it feels like the sky is falling and you are feeling every human emotion all at once. I have now gone six months without self harming. I have scars now, and on bad days they serve as reminders of every time I thought my soul would crawl it’s way out of my body. But I know those days are temporary. On good days I embrace them, they are a part of my story now, a reminder of where I’ve been and how much I have overcome. A reminder that my body healed itself every time I tried to destroy it. I am still on my own journey for peace. Parts of me still feel broken and old feelings slip through the backdoor when I’m not looking, but I’m better than I was.
I hope you remember that even on days that you do not feel like it, you are such a beautiful human being. Take a deep breath and remember that you are capable of love and compassion and empathy and how amazing that is. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you love yourself even if it’s not true quite yet. Don’t resist help, embrace it, ask for it, there is no shame in that. You will be okay. There are a million other human beings rooting for you if you look for them.
I wish every one of you luck and love on your journey to find your peace.
I was twelve years old when it all started. I did not know what it was. I did not know what it meant. All I knew was that it felt strangely good.
I grew up in a country where mental health was not recognized. There was no information on depression, eating Disorders, and of course, self-injury. All I felt was this overwhelming sense of shame that was eating me alive. I felt “abnormal”. I felt like a failure. As a result, I tried to cover up my emotions and made up stories to explain the scar on my arm. Even to this day, I still make an effort to cover up some of the more visible scars just to avoid questions.
Things spiraled downwards in middle school. I was living in a school dormitory with 5 other girls. It was a very competitive school and everyone strove to be the best- not only academically but also physically. In particular, every girl I knew was dieting and was comparing who could be the thinnest. It was like a plague and I could not escape it. I started to starve myself and would only eat an apple a day. But it didn’t go as well as I planned. I started to binge as well on the weekend and I was not losing weight. I felt even more shameful and hopeless. I started to feel like that I had no self-control and I was letting myself go. Whenever I felt this way, I would pinch myself so hard that I couldn’t feel anything anymore.
When my parents realized that I wasn’t eating enough, they became extremely upset. So upset that my dad punched me in the face when I refused to eat. All I remember was tears mixed with blood streaming down my face. However, I was told to keep quiet and make up stories when people asked. Curiously, no one ever asked. It was as if everyone knew not to mention it. Instead, they alienated me and I fell into an even darker abyss. I contemplated suicide almost every day. I cried myself to sleep almost every night.
Fast forward to 15 years of age, my parents decided to send me to Canada, alone. I did not know anyone and did not know a single word of English. I felt “inferior” to everyone else and was even more frustrated with myself. My eating behavior became more erratic and my mood more depressive. I did not know how to regulate my emotions and as a result, whenever my partner at the time and I argued, and whenever I could not take it anymore, I would go and cut myself. Of course he did not know what was going on and thought that I was completely insane. I would always feel ashamed after what was done and blame myself for not controlling it better.
Luckily, as time went on, I learned more about Mental Health. I still remember my first lecture in Psychology 101 in my first year of university. It was a lecture that changed my whole life. Over time, I took a more serious interest in Psychology and decided to specialize in it. I volunteered at many research laboratories and read many interesting articles in the field of Psychology. Nothing felt better than knowing what I felt was not wrong. Nothing felt better than knowing what it was. Nothing felt better than feeling empowered that this all can be better. I started to accept myself for who I was. I started to see that all this hardship gave me strength and make me more resilient. I started to see, after so many years of struggling, that I was getting better. I can’t say I’m completely “cured”. I still have moments to this day when I want to injure myself. But what I learned that was the most helpful to me was self-acceptance. I am okay with who I am. Self-injuring does not mean that I am defected. It only adds to my story and experience, which make me stronger. This is why, after graduation, I decided to pursue a career in Psychology. I want to share my experience and knowledge to help those who also have struggled. I want to advocate for mental health. I want to make those who suffered like me to know that we are not weak, but we are all survivors.
I remember when it started. Most people probably do. I was 16 and my dad was lecturing me again. I remember thinking I just couldn’t take this long conversation anymore, but I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave. I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. I couldn’t speak. All I knew was I needed out, but I was stuck there.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of self harm was that it was just “cutting.” I had no idea that it could manifest in any kind of harm that one does to him or herself intentionally.
As the years progressed, my mental health deteriorated. It first it was just depression, then anxiety joined the party. Then I had Bipolar II, then Bipolar I. Then, they wanted to tell me I had Schizoaffective Disorder. They missed a crucial diagnosing factor, though, because I lived in denial about my self harm for many years. When asked, I always answered no and I thought I was telling the truth. I justified it as “well I’m just doing what I have to do to get by.” And that was true – I later learned to be compassionate and look at it as a coping mechanism for the things I had no other way of managing.
Eventually it became hard to ignore. At that point I had no choice but to admit to myself that this was self harm and incredibly dangerous. As I came to terms myself and shared with my trusted mental health professionals, I finally received a correct diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. After going through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, my self harm stopped and I learned better coping techniques and I now no longer meet the criteria of BPD.
I share my story for two reasons: “cutting” gets most of the press and many people may not be aware that self harm can take many many forms. The second reason is that I want to share hope. Recovery is possible and you can learn new coping mechanisms that are more healthy than self harm. But be kind to yourself – don’t beat yourself up, because you are doing the best you can with the skills you have. All you have to do is learn new skills. It is a challenging journey, but you are worth it. You deserve recovery. It’s not too late, and you’re never too far.
I know this may sound weird but yes, someone famous who doesn’t even know I exist actually saved my life.
At the beginning of last year I started suffering from depression and self-harming. No one knew about this until one of my “best friends” saw the scars on my wrist and told my other friends. They all came to my house and started yelling at me and telling me stuff like “idiot” and “stupid”. Of course they told me that self-harming wasn’t the answer and forced me to tell them what was going on with me. I couldn’t explain what was happening to me so I just told them that I hated myself, which was true, but there was more than just that. I was 14 at the time and I didn’t receive any attention from my mum, in fact, sometimes she left me having dinner all by myself or told me that I was stupid, useless, fat, stuff like that. So what I always thought was: “if my mother doesn’t love me, how am I supposed to love myself?”. My friends made me tell them all the things I didn’t like about me and then left, because they thought that I’d get better with just one talk where they treated me like I was some stupid girl who just self-harmed for fun, until one day my actual best friend came to my house and told me that she used to self harm too and to listen to a link on her tumblr page. When I opened the link I saw that it was from Calum Hood, who I swear is the love of my life and makes me happy every time I need. I never told my friends that the reason I stopped self-harming was that link because I knew they would think it was dumb and I mean, I wouldn’t blame them because it’s lame to think some random guy who makes music helped someone to stop cutting but yeah that’s the truth and if someone needs it, even though they don’t know who Calum Hood is, it can be really helpful, so please if anyone needs it, I’ll put the link at the end of my story.
If you are still reading I want to thank you, it means a lot and if you are going through this stuff, you’ll get over it. I know it’s hard and it may seem the end of the world but that’s not true and someone out there cares about you, you just need to find the right person to talk to about this because not everyone understands.
Anyway, stay strong, I love you
I turned to self harm (cutting) my sophomore year of high school when a friend of my who self harmed glorified it. I came from a family of dysfunction. My parents were divorced when I was the age of 1 and both remarried few years later. I was forced to move with my mom and step dad more than 10 hours from my dad and family at the age of 7. At a young age I felt llike I had nobody to talk to, I didn’t get along with my step dad and me and my mom didn’t have the best relationship either. As I grew up I didn’t know how to express problems or feelings, I just let them be anda go on with life. My sophomore year I begin being bullied by my so called friends, I felt betrayed, useless and alone. My best friend at the time told me about how she cut and how the feeling of cutting your skin so deep took away the pain. I tried it not knowing that it would end up becoming a addiction and my inner demon. I would cut every time I began feeling stressed, mad, sad, alone pretty much anyway other than happy. As years kept going my urge to cut became stronger. I became suicidal and would even write out my letters to family. Nobody knew my secret until my freshman year of college. I would lie about self harming, I would cut in places that people couldn’t see, I would wear long sleeves in the middle of Summer. The middle of my sophomore year I got into a relationship with a guy who seemed so wonderful who ended up becoming my abuser. I was so ashamed and afraid to tell anyone my problems in my relationship so instead I kept it to myself. My boyfriend knew I struggled with cutting and used it against me, he would encourage me to cut, he would grab my arms where I had opened wounds or slap them so the pain was painful. I became so depressed and turned to cutting multiple times a day everyday. I spoke out that I was suicidal and was placed into a mental hospital. After being in the mental hospital for a week I got out and felt embarrassed that everyone knew I was in a mental hospital for suicide. I began cutting and turned to anorexia as a way to take away all the pain. After 4 years of self harming I finally decided I no longer wanted to hurt my body I took it upon myself to get help and recover. I went to counseling and a Christ center recovery group called celebrate recovery. I was clean for 2 months and relapsed after being overwhelmed and stressed out. I stopped attending church, counseling, celebrate recovery and everything helping me recover. I started attending celebrate recovery 6 months ago and realized that my life is worth something beautiful, and my story wasn’t over. God has delivered me from self harming 6 months ago. I faithfully attend celebrate recovery weekly. God has worked within my life and has placed people in my life to help me along my recovery journey. I now have a different kind of confidence in who I am. I use my scars as a way to share my story and teach others about God. Although I went through a really rough 5 years of self harming I am blessed to have overcome it and share my story with others.
Your story isn’t over!
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.
From the outside looking in my life seemed fairly perfect. An only child, loving parents, pets, I lived near the beach, I had a lot of friends, my home life was good, I made good grades…ect. But on the inside I was lonely. I had a lot of anger. I resented my parents for my lack of love. My perception wasn’t clear. I began to cut in middle school and stopped in high school. I experimented with other types of SH. I needed an outlet for my anger and hurt and loss. Thankfully one day I decided that this wasn’t helping my life. It was making me miserable. So I stopped. I was always able to stop, I just didn’t know how to control my emotions. But thankfully I have learned. I poured my heart and soul into journaling. I had found a safe place to express my feelings. I wrote deep and dark poems. I could almost feel the anger seep out of me and become the ink in which I wrote. It was like magic. Since those dark days I have given my life to Jesus, gotten married to an amazing man who loves me likeJesus does, and I’ve found a career I’m passionate about. I haven’t SH in years. And I have gotten a lot better at handling my urges and temptations.
A tender feather
Of a swan or a blackbird –
The soft tickle of fine fibres
Brushing by my flesh,
Yet beware, sharp prick of the point pierces deep –
A smiling, smirking scream,
Be careful, the wind –
A leaf glides on the membrane of water,
Streaming tears on the cheek,
But with little feet I plant myself,
Rooted in stones –
Stones of reality,
Stones of reality,
The journey to ‘Better’ –
Strenuous, long –
A winding path is pastures;
The sky does twist,
He blows me down
And I must myself get up –
Or a story, rough,
Unbeknown of yet –
Painful pride seeps through pages, pages;
Pride ‘I’ll make it’
‘I made it’
‘I made it’
And the quieting pain of ahead.
- Alice West
It is interesting, is it not, the ability we humans have to hide? Like the world’s best chameleons – we can blend not just our looks but our very personalities to better fit in the world around us. But unlike the chameleon, the effect of these changes is not fluid. Our brains are not infinitely flexible. Close, perhaps, but they do have hard limits. Eventually, the price of constant blending is the loss of the background image – and we have need of a base for our selves.
While self-harm does not always stem from abuse, I would say that many of us who were subjected to long-term trauma end up with a desire for self harm. Why not? If those we depended on for everything thought we should be hurt, how can we have any other identity? Through drugs, through eating disorders, through any and every way we can indirectly or directly cause ourselves pain, we find what we are most used to. In a twisted way, what brings us “comfort” and a “sense of home” is pain and hurt. And there is nothing quite like taking command of the pain, is there? When you can control it, deliver it, see it, feel it, numb it, and wear it – it can no longer be hidden. It is the chameleon saying “I HAVE MY OWN SKIN, YOU CAN SEE ME.” Even if you cover it up with sleeves and scarves and bandages, the mirror screams it. “YOU CAN SEE ME.”
How do I know this? I lived it. Live it. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Self-injury is not something that “just goes away”. It can’t be “positive thought” out. Telling someone who has grown used to and dependent on pain to “just stop” is as useless as spitting on a forest fire. And for those of us struggling to get better, it is maddening to have so many misunderstand. We don’t do it for attention. We are shamed by what we do. Most of us want to stop – and even if you don’t now, you will. I promise. At some point you will come to realize you don’t live in a vaccuum. No matter how much you might not want to believe it, there are people who care about you, who don’t want you hurt or dead, and you do make a difference in the world for the better. Like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, each one of us has some effect for good on this planet, and your actions directly affect others. So – you will come to a point when you say, “I have to stop.”
The good news. You can.
It won’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. The truth is, if you have done it for a long time, it might take you a long time to stop. It’s also true the desire never completely leaves you. But you CAN STOP. And you need to. We need you. The world needs you. It is just that simple. The world needs people who have hurt and understand that hurting is not the answer.
Chances are you will need help. For most, if not all of us, that means professional help. Good therapy is not hocus pocus. It is hard work, and it can’t be done with just anyone. You have to find the right person to trust your soul with, and I know how next-to-impossible that can feel. You’ve spent your whole life only trusting in the pain and yourself. How can you learn to do otherwise? I don’t have an easy answer. And the therapist doesn’t do it for you. At best, they are a guide in the darkest of your places – and when you finally get into the light you will walk on your own. But you need help to get out of the pit you’re in. The kind of darkness you have been carrying needs a light and chances are you are stuck without one. People carry lights inside them. Find someone to share their light until you can get yours bright again. Then – who knows – you might be a light to others.
Why should you trust me, you might ask? Who the hell am I to speak to your pain, your scars, your experience? What right do I have to tell you what to do?
Because I am you – on the other side of where you are now – but part of me will always be there. I have the light and the dark, and I still find myself lost there from time to time. If you saw me, you would never know at first that I was anything but successful; solid marriage of 20 years that has survived its’ share of hardships; two healthy, uber successful children who excel at all they do; thriving art business; and animal rescue and therapy work that changed countless lives. But I know the darkness. I barely survived it. Look closer and you will see the crisscross of scars, the marks of pain that life has left on me – and I have helped make them. I wear my pain.
But I am better. More and more often, I choose to put down the knife, to choose a bloodless outcome, to hold the pain in my mind because I know it WILL NOT LAST. It might feel like I cannot control it, like I cannot hold it for one single second longer – but then I do, and it lessens… it lessens and I did not cut. I did not cut. I did not cut. And then I know, I *know* I can make a different choice. It. Is. Possible.
And when you know the impossible is possible, everything changes.
Stop hiding. Let the light find you, because even with your scars – you are beautiful.