Managing self harm on my own terms
Posted Monday 9 July 2012
After blogging about my assessment for counselling and my first session with a practitioner from my local Mind back in May, I wanted to share my progress and feelings a little further down the line.
Now, it is important to understand that I struggle going out with other people because of the self harm risk. Self harm is a private ordeal, it is an act of mental pain, fear and distress. My reaction to the physical and mental waves of intense anxiety and panic is self harm because I just want the anxiety and fear symptoms gone. It’s a release and a distraction all in one. Basically I’d rather feel external pain than be “trapped” in my mind with such terrifying thoughts.
It’s not a release and distraction technique I’d recommend, I should add, but for some people like me, for whatever reason this is just how it is. I’ve long since learned not to be ashamed of the fact, and a lot of people around me know of this aspect of my health.
But there is always of course that consideration of the public and other people for me to take into account…every time I go out in public and put myself in a position I know the anxiety and panic are very likely to hit, I’ve got a massive added pressure on myself – and from society – to not self harm. There is a fear of what other people would think of me, but another large part of this pressure is about protecting other people from seeing my own pain. It’s bad enough I’m so distressed without upsetting others, right? I especially don’t want to upset or worry those I love.
Knowing all of this, you can see why going out with others has been so tough. Why going outside the house at all has, at times, been impossible. I don’t want to hurt others - and I also don’t really want to hurt me! With so much history in this particular area I was, naturally, slightly apprehensive about going out with my Mind counsellor. Could I really be totally myself with her, even when I’m at my worst? Was it really safe to let go of that pressure I spoke about and just accept that “what will be, will be”?
I needn’t have had any concerns at all. I knew the moment I set foot outside with her that it would not matter if I did end up panicking and getting distressed to the point of self harm in front of her. I felt comfortable with her, and because I trusted her and knew she understood, there was no intense pressure, from her or myself, to hold myself together desperately and hide anything I was struggling with.
That was a huge relief, and a huge release too for a lot of the tension and anxiety. As it happened, I didn’t panic, the waves of anxiety were there but they were manageable. Talking about whatever I liked – whether it was about how I was feeling or about something entirely unrelated to my mental health – helped a lot. I have found that talking about how I feel, whenever I’m ready to talk, helps (e.g. talking about the waves of anxiety at a time that feels right for me to talk about them, not when someone else tries to get me to talk about them!).
I know now that with certain people – my private counsellor and my Mind practitioner - I can trust fully in them and talk freely without any worry about being judged or analysed, which gives me an essential alternative release and distraction method with no pressure on me whatsoever. That is pretty special!
As a result, my confidence in going out with other people has improved beyond measure. I went for another walk with her at my previous session, and intend to take another walk with her at my next session next week. Mindfulness is something she suggested I consider trying, but again it was suggested without any pressure whatsoever, it was just an idea raised, and it was the right idea given what I told her about the way my mind works when I do leave the house.
What means the most to me out of that suggestion she raised is that she listened. She took on board what I have explained about the way my mind works, and suggested something that is more likely to suit me accordingly. For that I am thankful, and it has been far “easier” to take on board this suggestion and give it a try on the basis of knowing it has been thought through about whether it is likely to suit me or not.
I am a long way from where I want to be - leaving the house on other people's requests or to meet other people elsewhere is absolutely still a no go, it must be on my own terms entirely and all start from home, where I am still most comfortable, in my own time and at my own pace.
There is still so much to work on and I expect to have ups and downs with my anxiety, agoraphobia and self harm for life – but I have come so far in the past couple of months it is remarkable, and a lot of it is simply down to being given the time and space that suits my needs to get that support and understanding from this lady from my local Mind.
If you missed Laura's first post, you can catch up here. You can also follow her on Twitter.
If you're struggling with thoughts of self harm, there are things you can do and places you can go to for support.
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