This is a tough one to share but I feel that it does. My ability to process the pain of losing Willie has brought me to depths that I haven’ felt before and have now idea how to live through. This is about that journey.
I have heard before and my Psychiatrist said it again recently that depression is anger turned inwards. A very apt way to describe it. It also goes along way to explaining self-harming behaviour. For myself, I have engaged in self-harm, in some form or another, for most of my life. For most of my life I didn’t really understand what I was doing or why…just that when my stress levels reached a certain point, I needed to do something to release the pressure. Suicide was never something on my radar (until recently) but I knew that what I did do did help. So, as crazy as it may have seemed to anyone else, it made perfect sense to me. This is something that I have spent a lot of time and energy on hiding from others, especially those who are close to me.
I became anorexic when I was in my very early teens. This morphed to include bulimia every now and then but my choice was always starvation over bingeing. After I became a fitness instructor and personal trainer I developed a well-organized version of exercise bulimia which replaced the anorexic behaviour. I was having kids and needed to eat so I had to be creative. Counting calories and obsessively exercising until those calories were burned did it. I recognize now that eating disorders are a form of self-harm, amongst other things. I have struggled my whole life with eating disorders and to this day suffer a delusion sense of what my physical body looks like. I know this on an intellectual level but that makes no difference to what I see in the mirror.
Flash forward a few years to after my first divorce and I was starting up my running routine. It didn’t take me long to discover that running was a perfect version of self-harming behaviour for me. There was, and continues to be, a drastic difference between a run for health and vitality versus a run embarked on in a tormented state of mind and driving my body to run until I can barely limp home the last block. Swollen knees, blisters and hips that scream at me. I have done this for 10 plus years now and have had the injuries to show for it. But to my thinking…it wasn’t “bad”, just a way to handle stress.
More recently this hasn’t been enough (not to mention an injury bad enough to actually side-line my running ability) so I have turned to cutting. The shame and guilt over this is new to me. I have never been ashamed of my self-harming behaviour – but then again, nothing before has left clear marks. Anorexia, unless it becomes extreme (which mine did in my late teens) can be covered up as dieting or with baggy clothes. Bulimia is nearly impossible to detect and exercise bulimia is usually not noticed. Running is a “healthy” thing and no one knows the horrendous thoughts of needing pain to punish yourself for being so fucked up that are running through your head. You smile and nod at the people passing by and you’re “fine”. Cuts can be hidden depending on where they are but sometimes the rational mind is not the one doing the cutting and you “snap out of it” and see that covering “those” are going to be a bitch. And… the shame rolls in. I should be stronger, I should be able to find a healthy was to deal with emotions that overwhelm. Then the rational mind that says, at least it was cutting and not something more permanent. Then the shame that you even have those thoughts to begin with. A circle that goes around and around.
My professional therapists have given me an insight that self-harm is nothing to be ashamed about and that in fact, it is just a symptom of an ailment. We don’t have guilt or shame over sneezing when the nasal passages are irritated. For some people, thoughts of self-harm (or actions) are the same thing. Just different wiring. Some people over-eat when they’re stressed, I starve myself. Some people want to lay on the couch, I need to feel physical pain to be able to release and process the emotional pain I have inside of me. Different responses but just simply, responses to stimuli. It’s being aware first and then being given the tools to change unhealthy behaviour to healthy outlets of behaviour. There are going to be times when the stress and thoughts are over-whelming and I fall to the “not-too-healthy” choices…no shame, just “better next time”. The key is that there will most assuredly be a “next time”. That’s what I’m working on right now.