Check out more posts from me on Healthy Minds Canada!

I am very pleased to be a volunteer blogger for Healthy Minds Canada. Any opportunity for me to share my experiences, knowledge and help others is always a great opportunity. To date, I have published 2 blogs. I would love it if you would check them out and also check out the other blogs from other Canadians.

Self-harm free! 

“*Content Warning: Talk of self-harm, no details* My name is Kristen and this is my first blog post for Healthy Minds Canada. I am beyond excited to be able to announce in my first post that December 2016 is the month I celebrate 2 years of being self-harm free! Wow!”

You are perfect how you are in this moment.

“A popular picture “pinned” by others on my Pinterest account reads, Note to self, I am doing the best that I can with what I have in this moment. And that is all I can expect from anyone, including me.”

 

When I see your scars.

This is yesterday’s Daily Post.

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt: Scars.

The scars from self-injury tend to cause feelings within the people who wear them on their body. Some people feel empowered by their scars or simply do not care that they are there. Others go to great lengths to hide their scars because they feel great shame over them. Personally, I hide mine.

“A scar simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you…”

I hide my cutting scars, mostly on my legs, out of fear. I personally do not care anymore that the scars are on my body. I do care A LOT about what other people will think when they see them. I do not want to answer questions. I do not even want to hear the questions. I don’t want to explain myself. I don’t want to deal with the looks when people notice my scars. I am afraid that if my family sees my scars then it will make them sad. The worst, for me, is the people who may see my scars and think that they don’t look “bad”. This has been said to me before and it completely invalidates my experience and struggle with cutting. So, I hide.

The odd time I come across someone else with self-harm scars and they are wearing short sleeves, shorts, a short dress or a bathing suit I am always in awe. The majority of these occasions I do not know these people and do not feel comfortable saying that but I always want to thank them. I want to thank them for not caring and showing me that I also do not have to care. When I see your scars I feel less afraid of my own and the impact they will have on others. I am less afraid that people will comment. Seeing your scars tells me that I can put my past behind me and be who I want to be in the present and the future. My life does not need to be dictated by my scars. Seeing your scars makes me happy that I am not the only person who has them as I felt isolated for a very long time.

As I go forward with my life, and over 1 year cutting free, it is my hope that when I show my scars I can have the same effect on others as they have had on me.

 

Self-harm scars? No alcohol for you!

Have you heard about this?

21-year old, Becci Wain, was at Tesco, buying alcohol for a friend’s birthday party, when the cashier refused to sell her the alcohol because of her self harm scars. According to this cashier it was the company’s policy to not serve people with scars. (WHAT?!) The instance was quickly cleared up since Tesco has no such policy and apologies have been made and accepted.

Check out the Independent article Wain wrote about her experience: “When Tesco refused to serve me because of my self-harm scars, I was devastated – but it’s society’s fault, not theirs”

This is one of my worst fears. Other articles show Wain’s scars and I can admit that in comparison no one would notice my scars unless they were directly looking closely at my arm so the odds of someone blatantly pointing them out are extremely small. Still, the fear is there. I am amazed at Wain’s attitude toward what happened, that she can acknowledge how painful it was and that it will not hold her back!

I do lay blame on the cashier though. We need to be held responsible for what we do and say. I feel, when we say these discriminatory things happen because of “stigma” or “society” we are removing ourselves from the problem. We can’t do that. We are society and we are stigma. In order to change the stigma and society we need to change ourselves. We do that by taking responsbility for our discriminatory thoughts and actions. It is our responsibility to unlearn discrimination.

“Attention-Seeking” Behaviour: Because I can’t get attention the regular way

Image: A cartoon person wearing a reflector vest and earphones and holding a glowing marshalling wand in each hand. Text says, “Look!! At!! Me!!”

I’m currently going through training to become a DBT counsellor. We were going through an example client to demonstrate how to use chain analysis in an individual counselling session. This client had been experiencing loneliness which was amplified by her boyfriend not coming straight home after his business trip and going to a wedding without her. The client ended up self-harming and going to the hospital where they called her boyfriend and he came to pick her up. The facilitator asked if the example client’s behaviour was successful. The answer is yes. She wanted her boyfriend’s attention and through self-harm she got his attention. The facilitator went on to say that some people have learned that the only form of communication others will listen to are when they hurt themselves or, in some cases, dying.

Behaviours exhibited by the example client are known to many as “attention-seeking”. I was labelled as an “attention-seeker” in high school because of my cutting. I then, as I do now, believed that the negative association we have with attention-seeking behaviours is wrong but not necessarily because of the individual exhibiting the behaviours. Something is wrong with the person’s environment that drives them to hurt themselves or threaten to hurt themselves in order to receive the attention that they feel they need. At some point, I believe that everyone who uses “attention-seeking” behaviours has tried to communicate using their words. “I am in pain, can you please help me?” or “I really need you right now.” Somewhere along the way one too many people or the same important person too many times said, “no.” Still needing help, these individuals think of other ways to show others that they have an unmet need: cutting, suicide attempts, substance use, threats to harm others etc. It is unfortunate that many of these behaviours are reinforced as people rush to help the individual in need.

On my journey to emotional wellness, I find myself learning to communicate in ways that are new. These ways involve describing how I feel, identifying my emotions, empathising with others and soothing myself. I struggle with telling myself that yelling does not mean I am being heard or that harming myself brings me the understanding that I need. It is especially difficult when I use my words, a calm tone, and understanding of others and where they are at and I still do not get what I have asked for. I know I cannot always get my way but it is very stressful to tell someone you care about that you need their help and they say no.

I think the important point to take away is that we all need to listen. It can be difficult for some to express when they need help so when they do, having a listening ear can make a difference. “Attention-seeking” behaviour means something, it matters and decreasing it can only be done when we have learned other ways to communicate and that others will care enough to hear it.

Image: “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best to understand people is to listen to them.” Dr. Ralph Nichols

The Woman Formally Known As…: Self-Harm Recovery

When I was a teenager I heavily identified as a “cutter”. This identity was especially reinforced because that is what my peers in high school called me. As I entered my 20’s, I began to identify as a “self-harmer”. I used this term to give myself more compassion and privacy. The softer sounding identify allowed me to see what I was doing was a legitimate coping strategy and also to not let everyone know exactly what I was doing because it’s no ones business. But now, I see myself as something else and I honestly NEVER thought I would get to this point. I identify as being “recovered from self-harm”.

When I was first trying to stop self-harming it was intimidating to think about the end of when I wouldn’t need the behaviours like I used to. I also struggled to think about how I would “know” that I wasn’t a self-harmer anymore. How long do I have to abstain from the behaviour? Does it count if I still feel the urge to self-harm? I also viewed self-harm as one of the key behaviours I engaged in that was keeping me “mentally ill”. I told myself (and still do believe it on some level) that I would never be seen as not “ill” by professionals and society while I self-harmed (what kind of “normal” person cuts themselves to feel better?”). When I saw the proposed criteria for non-suicidal self-injury disorder for the DSM 5 I was heartbroken to see that an individual had to self-harm a minimum of 5 times in a year (among other criteria I met) to receive the diagnosis. Even my best, of self-harming once a month, still meant that I was “disordered”. How was I ever going to know when I was better?!

As I enter my 10th month of abstaining from self-harm, I believe I have found my answer. I am in recovery whenever I feel that I am. For me, this is accepting that it’s not about how long I haven’t cut or not ever feeling the urge to. It’s the fact that self-harm has made its way so far to the bottom of my coping skills list that it’s barely an option. When I become stressed my first reaction is to breathe and not to bleed. When I express that I feel like self-harming I use it as my indicator that more drastic positive coping skills need to be used. I feel like I don’t need to cut. Wow…I feel like I don’t need to cut. It feels fantastic to write that, to think and feel that. I have recovered from self-harm. 🙂

 

Self-Harm: A Statement of Coping

Talk of self-harm

Talk of self-harm

A blog I subscribe to sent me an email yesterday about a post written by a mother who’s son self-harms called “Self-Injury: The Silent Scream for Help” (full disclosure, I used to write for this blog a few years back). I was suddenly hit with a revelation that saying that self-harm is a “scream for help” potentially dismisses the purpose of self-harm, for some, as a legitimate coping mechanism.

Self-harm, namely cutting, has played multiple roles in my life since I first began the behaviour in late 2002. Cutting was how I showed that I was upset, how I punished myself, made myself feel better and it also served as a distraction. There were of course times when I hoped someone would notice, see that I was struggling and give me the help I needed so there is validity in using it to signal help. Cutting became my addiction and an extremely effective means of coping with sadness, anger, frustration, rejection and overall pain. For these reasons, I didn’t want help. I didn’t want to stop cutting. If I was screaming anything it was, “Leave me alone!”

Self-harm can be one tool in your toolbox. For some, the goal is to replace.

Self-harm is a legitimate way of coping with emotions for many. Those who do not engage in the behaviour may not understand that because cutting, burning or hitting yourself (a few examples) seem like very strange things to do in comparison to attending yoga, going for a jog or chatting with a friend in times of emotional need. We all cope differently.

I also don’t view self-harm to be that silent! It’s a very loud statement, boldly displayed on the body even if no one else sees it but you. You leave marks of your pain and coping on your body, some of which do not completely fade away. Sometimes, when I cut, I’m not screaming, I’m sighing with relief. That is why it became an effective coping strategy. There is also the assumption that those who self-harm want help or want help with that particular behaviour. I feel that wanting help is assumed because many view the behaviour as “all bad”. Self-harm can be a way that we help ourselves.

For me, cutting is something I still turn to in times of great emotional pain when I can’t think of other options. I do not see myself as “silently screaming for help” as I am actually very vocal about my needs. It has taken me a few years to work up to this point and I have gained a lot of new coping skills that I try and use first. Surprisingly, what helped me limit the cutting was those around me accepting that it was a tool l I had decided to use (if I even told them at all. You don’t always tell people you went for a walk to calm down so don’t always expect someone to tell you they self-harmed). Not being shamed for cutting helped my self-esteem and in combination with harm reduction I was taking care of myself. I don’t need help, I need a hug and a reminder that I did my best and I’m still awesome.

I am not pro self-harm in any way. Cutting has caused a great amount of pain in my life and has caused more than one friendship/relationship to end and has caused me to hide my body because of scarring. I accept it as a reality and I need to respect myself, show myself compassion and know that I was always doing what I believed was best for me.

This is why I say self-harming behaviour is NOT something that should be ignored or mocked but should be respected. By asking and acknowledging a person’s reasons for self-harm you can support them in engaging in the behaviour safely, limit the shame caused and help them find other ways to cope if that is where they are at in their journey.