Self-Harm and the Danger of One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

by thethreepennyguignol

Obvious trigger warning for self-harm here.

So, a few months ago, I was at the Doctor’s (not that doctor, you fool, the other kind). And I was feeling like shit for reasons I honestly can’t really remember any more-everything in my life was trotting along at a good old clip, but I still desperately wanted to harm myself and I couldn’t figure out why. While in my slightly twisted opinion, there was nothing wrong with that and I should just sit on the floor listening to shitty mid-noughties pop-punk and get it over with, I knew (and still know) that when I cut myself it hurts some of the people I love the most, so I traipsed into the doctor’s, looking to talk over some of the horrible things going through my head and hopefully find some way to start tackling them. I was in and out of the appointment in ten minutes, after the doctor had referred to my “illness-inverted commas…” and handed me over the card for a website which had some helpful hints for people struggling with depression, which is not a problem I’d come to her with. She made some noises about putting me back on anti-depressants, and off I vanished back into the real world again, no better off than when I came in, but a little disgruntled at another pointless encounter about my self-harm from a person who didn’t really seem to want to listen to what I had to say about my own experiences.

Look, I know that some people who suffer from mental health problems refuse to get help from the medical profession, and if that’s their way of dealing with it, bully for them, I’m not going to try and take that away. But me? For the last two years, I’ve been about as keen as I can be in fixing what’s wrong with my brain in whatever way I can- give me pills, give me therapy, give me anything you think might make me not a little bit scary when I’m on a viscous downer. While I’ve mostly managed to get a handle on my depression and anxiety, self-harm hangs out at the back of my head like a bad dream you kind of half-remember, until suddenly it’s the only thing I can think about for two weeks straight and enter into an endless roundabout dialogue with myself about why I should do it, but then I shouldn’t do it, but then it’s my body and no-one else has any say over it, but then…and on and on and on and on. I’ve been pointed towards a bunch of ways to deal with these problems in the past, and what I’ve gleaned from a lot of these coping methods is that it’s okay to what to hurt yourself, provided you don’t inflict the results on anyone else.

If you’ve been on any self-harm advice sites in the last few years, you’ll come across a variety of tips and tricks to keep yourself from harm. Example: wrapping a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it against your skin until the urge to cut yourself goes away, or pushing your arms into a bucket of ice to fulfill the urge to feel pain on your body. Now, I get why both of these would be useful if you were just trying to kick an addiction to a specific kind of self-harm, but for me- and a bunch of people I’ve connected with, online and in real life, about these issues- it’s not about cutting, or burning, or whatever your poison of choice may be (literally poison, sometimes, but I digress). It’s about the pain aspect of it all. I might be a cutter first and foremost (ugh, such a 2006-MCR-fan word), but I will hit things until my hands bruise, scratch until I draw blood, push earrings into my fingertips, because the sensation of the pain gives me relief from feeling angry/upset/frustrated/scared/whatever. A lot of the coping methods advised are not to wean you off using physical pain to salve yourself, and that seems kind of counter-intuitive, a way for people around you to not have to deal with the physical aftermath of what you’ve done while you’re still engaging in destructive behaviour.

And, of course, I only speak for myself here, but my experience with doctors and self-harm has been pretty atrocious across the board. Most have put it down to depression or anxiety, even when I try to explain that no, that’s really, really not what this is and could I please not go back on anti-depressants when the furthest thing from what I’m actually feeling is depressed?

In the chats I’ve had with other people who engage in self-injurious behaviour (would it be too crass to refer to them as my SIBlings? It would. Glad I got that out), one thing has become evidently clear: there is no one reason behind it. It’s simplified in after-school specials as something done for control, or to express an emotion, or to feel less numb, but those are only a tiny sliver of the reasons why people like me do it. I understand why people look for common factors amongst those who self-harm, because it makes the problem easier to treat and understand, but it’s not that easy, as much as I would love it to be. I would love-love-for there to be a pill that made all of it go away, but there’s not. Because sometimes self-harm is a symptom of other problems, and sometimes it’s the problem in itself, sometimes it’s an experiment, sometimes an addiction. Whenever we try and simplify it- by offering one-size-fits-all solutions to the problem, or by not listening to a sufferer’s own personal experiences-we’re skipping out on a chance to address the real issue at the heart of the problem, whatever that may be. Mental health problems are still sitgmatized, and self-harm, as one of the most visible forms of a mental health problem, is not exempt from that list. So we need to talk about it. We need to talk about it a whole bunch, because, judging by most of the resources I’ve encountered over the years, it seems like we don’t have a fucking clue what we’re talking about.

What had been your experiences with self-harm? Is there anywhere you’ve found advice you’d want to share with other sufferers?