I recently posted on a support forum about my reasons for self harm. One reason was again pointed out as “eye opening” (when I had mentioned it to De, she had admitted that she never thought of it that way, and it helped the whole thing make more sense to her), so I thought I would share it here also.
“people will help with profuse bleeding, but I am expected to handle intense and unbearable emotions on my own”
Regardless of your skill-level in dealing with physical injury, there is no expectation of figuring out how to heal the wound on your own if you are bleeding badly. People will not look at you with an incredulous stare and tell you that you should be able to stitch yourself up and get on with your day. Even doctors are expected to seek medical help with physical illness or injury.
With emotional hurt however, a person is expected to develop the skills necessary to carry them through even the darkest times alone. The emotional equivalent of evisceration or amputation is expected to he handled with grace and poise and completely on your own. Yes, you are allowed to seek help, but you are not allowed to expect hand-holding or much support outside of a quick check-in. You are expected to “take a deep breath and use your coping skills”. Would you tell me to use my coping skills until I found one that worked if I got into an accident and became trapped in my car? Would you tell me to use my coping skills to try to cure cancer? Then why tell me to use my coping skills again and again and again in response to flashbacks or depression or anxiety?
Sometimes, when you ask for help over and over again only to be met with dismissal, you find the help any way you can get it.
I’m writing this not to invalidate the usefulness of healthy coping skills, but to offer another perspective to the concept of self harm being “done for attention”… sometimes it’s the only way to start to get the level of help you need, or the only way to allow people to understand the extent of the hurt.
When the intensity of my self harm had gotten dangerous in the past, it was always directly proportionate to the level of emotional hurt. People stopped saying “go deal with that shit on your own” and finally started asking “how can I help?”
I guess I had hoped to have this post speak more to the stigma of mental illness than it is actually doing. My frustration with the way mental illness is treated comes not so much from the general public, but from the standard of functioning treatment providers set up for clients. While they often acknowledge that it is “difficult to overcome,” and “issues that have been with you your whole life should not be expected to change overnight,” they still are expected to change and improve in relatively short order with relatively little intervention.
A cancer patient has support in so many forms, but a person with depression gets ostracized for “not trying hard enough” when they can’t get out of bed, or told they are being resistant to treatment when the medication side effects prove too taxing (or they report the medication not working)… we need to keep examining the way we treat mental illness. We need to keep looking at the expectations placed on individuals who deal with this day in and day out. When you are exhausted from fighting with the world inside your head, you shouldn’t be expected to fight the world outside alone, yet we do it every day…