If I wasn’t so gone completely, this would feel like pain

Post #1 of at least 2 that I don’t want to write, but must. It seems impossible to write a mental health blog without talking about self harm and suicide. The serious stuff. It seems impossible to write about self harm and suicide without feeling you’re writing for shock value. It seems impossible to write this without irreversibly altering (some) people’s opinions of me. Fortunately, I’ve never cared too much for your opinions.

During appointments with many doctors and therapists, I’ve been asked about destructive behaviour. A lot of things are considered “destructive”, especially when used as a coping mechanism. Drinking excessively, taking drugs, sleeping with inappropriate people, being a total nightmare so that people leave you alone and you don’t have to face reality. I spent the first half of my 20s horrendously drunk (and oh, I AM a horrendous drunk), with a habit of abusing prescriptions and making occasionally questionable decisions about men. I am slowly learning to make better life decisions but really? Being 26 is destructive. The perils of our 20s aside. I would tell you that I have never self harmed and I’ve never been suicidal. I would happily tell you that and what’s more, I would believe it. I am probably delusional and I omit difficult facts to fit the imaginary happier life that is running in parallel to my own.

What is true, is that I’ve never meant to hurt myself. My actions have never had a pre-meditated intention, which is not to say that I haven’t done a reasonable amount of damage. My anxiety stems from losing control of situations, ironic really, considering that anxiety plunges me into a state where I have almost no control left. In a desperate attempt to regain control I will mercilessly throw myself into repetitive actions, scratching at my arms, legs and chest until the skin is raw. Whilst living with my ex, there were awful nights of him forcibly pinning my arms down to stop me from drawing blood, and in the mornings after the nights before, I would cry (again) from seeing the state of myself. Mornings of hunting for work dresses with high necklines and long sleeves in an attempt to hide that I looked like I’d slept in a briar patch.

On occasion, my panic attacks turn to anger. It’s frustrating to be trapped inside your mind, to be so afraid of what’s happening, to hate what you’re doing but feel powerless to stop it. I get angry and work myself into a frenzy. I have bitten my arms and the backs of my hands so hard that a perfectly round bite mark will be visible for days after and the bruises last for weeks. A dangerous precedent I’ve set over time. In terms of exerting pressure, the masseter – a muscle around your jaw – is the strongest in the human body and so a forceful bite hurts. The pain is harsh and will shock me out of the state I’m in. That is not healthy knowledge for me to possess.

Clearly I have a detailed history of self harm whether I choose to label it that or not. I am largely better now, thank you very much for your anticipated concern. Running is repetitive and if not painful, at least has physical impact and so is a satisfactory response to attacks. The key is catching the situation while running remains an option. I also spend a lot of time silently reciting the lyrics to Sorrow by The National in an attempt to focus my thoughts and bring any vague form of order back. It works. Sometimes.

Similarly, I don’t really identify as having been suicidal. And yet, I have teetered dangerously close to the edge of train platforms and my eyes have flickered from the tracks to an approaching train and back a hundred times within the space of seconds. I have stared down double decker buses and made knowingly reckless calls about my ability to dart through traffic. I have taken significantly higher than recommended dosages of painkillers, sleeping tablets, benzodiazepines and washed them down with gin. For a few months when I was 23, I went to the top of the same multi-storey carpark on about 30 separate occasions in a trance and gazed down at the ground. It is of course entirely mad to write this and claim I haven’t felt suicidal, but I will.

Because you see, the aim has never been to kill myself. The aim has never been to die. My sole intention has purely been to stop the incessant chatter of every over-analytical, critical thought racing through my mind. Death would be an unfortunate consequence of the action but in those moments, there is no consequence. As long as my brain remains in overdrive, it has enough capacity to realise that yes, it would make it stop, but not enough sense to see that everything would stop.

And really, that’s scarier isn’t it? How easy it is to die because your brain is too stupid, sad and confused to recognise what will happen. Appalling survival instinct. My most terrified moments have been following glimpses of reality during those states where I realise that I am the danger. It’s not my workload, my weight or any of the other things that have broken me before. It’s me. A core group of my friends have endured two hour phone calls in the dead of night with me panicked and incoherent. Keeping me in something resembling conversation until my brain quietens down and I’m not afraid of myself. So ends this particular confessional.

I’d like to say that these are the darkest days and henceforth the blog gets happier. That all I have left to share is the wonder of running and how it helped me. Spoilers; it does, eventually, but it gets worse before it gets better.

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