A brutally and beautifully honest guest blog by TV3 Midday panelist, blogger and writer Jen Ronan (@JayRow). You can follow her blog, the House of J-Ro at http://www.jenronan.com.
Here’s the Thing About Self Harm
Sure look, there isn’t one among us who jokingly goes on about banging our heads off walls when talking about frustrating situations, or wanting to repeatedly punch yourself in the face at something stupid you’ve said or done (No? Oh. Maybe it’s just me. AWKWARD). Anyway; this isn’t a Misery Porn post – there’s enough of them out there. I’ve probably written one or two of them myself, but not this time. It’s just me as a layperson with no qualifications and my own personal experience offering some thoughts and adding another smidgen of light to shine on the mental health monsters underneath Ireland’s bed.
You’ve to be very careful when talking about self-harm, I think. It scares the shit out of most people who don’t have experience with it, not least because it looks traumatic, but the thought that someone would have the drive or desperation to turn on themselves and do injury strikes at the heart of our own sense of self-preservation. If you can’t trust your own brain, where to from there? I’d be lying if I didn’t ask myself a lot of the time.
I guess the first thing to note about the spectre of self-harm is that it can be misunderstood. First things first; at its most basic it’s a stress reliever, what it is NOT is a suicide attempt. Let’s spell it out: most of us have a certain amount of common sense, so we know what we could do if we wanted to shuffle off this mortal coil. There are ways to get that done which have no backies – etching marks into your lower arm in a series of hundreds of gashes is not one of them. Trust me.
I was a sporadic self-harmer for years; it wasn’t an addiction (which I’m told can be possible because of the rush one could get from the pain or the bloodletting) but it was something I latched on to mostly in my teen years during moments of utter despair, anger, desperation and loneliness. It was a way for me to relieve the rage and frustration of feeling ignored and unimportant, with the added bonus of ending up with a visual representation of how I felt on the inside for days to come. On my better days I could ignore the urge; instead I took to simply writing down endless stream-of-consciousness type stuff to try and verbalise the churning bile and venom circulating around my brain aimed at destroying my ability to walk above ground.
Mine wasn’t an everyday occurrence, like it is for some. Any instances of self-harm I’ve done I can remember fairly clearly, and the one common thing they are all bound by is that they were all borne out of moments of crisis. For me it was like a pressure valve – I could go on simmering for weeks, months, years on some sort of an even keel, until something happened out of the ordinary and threw everything off. Given enough time and torment, an explosion would occur. At this point, with zero coping skills under my belt, I turned my rage in on myself, making sure that the physical pain matched the intensity of the rage and sadness within. Once it was over, I’d be worn out, both relieved and sore as fuck at the same time. My brain would reset to regular levels, the fog would lift, and I’d be left wondering how many long-sleeved tops I had and if they would last the week.
I went years without needing to resort to self-harming, and I’ve thought long and hard about how that came to be. My only theory is that my relationships with my parents changed as both they and I grew older and became more understanding of one another. The biggest change came when my mother and I started to really talk and she finally accepted that I was dealing with clinical depression, and had been for years without ever getting any help. As soon as I was diagnosed and began taking productive steps to recover, the need to self-harm faded into the background. It never fully left, and whenever things became too much, there was always that lightning-flash in the brain urging me on to want to beat myself senseless or tear at my skin with whatever sharp-but-not-lethal implement that happened to be around. It would take a serious effort, but I would simply just be still and wait for the urge to pass.
Then in 2013, my mother unexpectedly died. She hadn’t been well in the preceding years, but in a matter of months her condition deteriorated so dramatically none of us really expected that trip to the hospital would be her last. In the months that followed, life was one trauma after another as I adjusted to life without the woman who was essentially my emotional anchor. The self-harm rose like a psychotic phoenix from the ashes and I attacked myself with a vengeance I’d never felt before; like if I hurt myself enough I’d end up either sectioned and zombie-like wilting away in a psych ward, or somehow my mother would come back from the dead and save me from being in so much pain. In the midst of all this I had also been abusing my prescription meds so a lot of the incidents were done in blackouts, the final one ended with me waking up next morning scarred and in agony, looking in horror at pictures I’d taken of the process on my phone the night before. Technology is a blessing and a curse sometimes.
I was lucky enough to be in day treatment at the time so in I went the next day and came clean to my social worker, and telling someone about it cast a light on the dark thoughts. It marked the beginning of my new phase of recovery, which I’m still in even though I’m out of clinic treatment and on a much more even keel. It’s a rocky road, but it’s doable. That ‘One Day At A Time’ shit can really work if you apply it and give yourself a goddamn break once in awhile. While I haven’t had any incidents in over two years, I do have a habit of picking the skin around my fingers and face until I get infected and sore. Some say my Compulsive Skin Picking is a form of self-harm in itself, they could be right. But it’s far sneakier and less borne out of trauma, just something that punctuates the constant low hum of anxiety.
To sum up for anyone too lazy to read all the above; all is well with me. I’m self-aware, I’m relatively peaceful, I’m dealing. This article isn’t for sympathy, just sharing my story for those who have lived with the same pain, but can’t share it themselves. You can’t see me guys, but I’m hugging you right now. I’ll even stick the kettle on. Love ya.
Apologies if this piece seems disjointed; because it is. Getting some thoughts together on a topic that’s normally so private and taboo to Normal Land can be, to quote a friend, a bit like herding balloons. I’m here thinking with my broken brain trying to explain what a broken brain can get up to. I feel like a double agent for Insanity. The good thing about mental health issues being so openly spoken these days about means that, as thrown-together as this article is, there are going to be a lot of people who will understand EXACTLY what I’m going on about. Which, to be honest, is the most important thing about writing this piece. Mind yourselves.
If you would like to guest blog about your journey, either credited or anonymously, please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you feel it’s time to look for help, please check out this list of Irish organisations and helplines https://theirishwellnesshub.com/irish-organisation-helplines/
If you wish to book a psychotherapy session with Bébhinn please click here: https://theirishwellnesshub.com/book-an-appointment/