Friday, 18 November 2011

Masking the Mental Pain with Physical Pain

I remember the first time very well.  Not every detail, but all the details leading up to the action.  I was home alone.  I was sitting in the living room on the sofa near the window.  I looked outside and stared blankly.  I was on medication - not sure which one, but an SSRI.  I felt empty and alone.  I sobbed on the sofa and thought about all my friends.  I wished I could be like them.  All the happiness was gone.  I wondered why the medication didn't seem to make me feel better.

I don't know why I did it because I had never read about it or seen it on television.  My friends didn't talk about it.  But I was drawn to it and it almost seemed to "call me" that day.  Why would anyone want to do it?  I was such a happy girl growing up, so why I had it come to this?  Nothing traumatic happened in my life.  I had a more-than-stable childhood.  I had supportive and loving parents, family and friends.

That afternoon though, everything was a blur.  My life felt like it was crumbling and I couldn't figure out why.  I had so many questions but was almost too tired to bother trying to find the answers.  So I got up off the sofa and walked to the kitchen in my parents house.  I opened the drawer that contained all the cutlery and utensils.  I rummaged through the various ladles, can opener and knives.  I pulled out a knife, and then another...finally settling on a serrated bread knife.  I took it out of the drawer and sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor.  Tears ran down my face and my vision was blurred.  I took the knife in my right hand and placed the edge of it on the underside of my left forearm.  I dragged the blade across my forearm.  Again.  And again, only this time harder.  I could hear the skin break and small pieces of skin flaked away.  With the next stroke of the knife I broke skin.  I pushed the blade into my arm so all the little points stuck into my arm, then proceeded to drag it along, creating a deeper cut that began to fully bleed.  As the blood appeared darker, I let out a deep sigh and closed my eyes.  The burning sensation was comforting.  It didn't hurt, but instead gave me a sense of relief.  I finally felt in control of my emotions.  I had found something that would give me instant relief.  As I cut my arm, I cut away the pain - if only for a few minutes.

Cutting would become my comfort for many years to come.  Even as an adult in my 30's, this form of self harm would be my "go to" during extremely stressful times.  I was never proud of it and would attempt to hide it from my husband for as long as possible.  It's not an easy thing to discuss so openly with friends or strangers but I'm not ashamed.  Self harm becomes more and more prevalent each year in North American and the UK.  And statistics say that most people who self harm are women who have either been sexually abused OR lived with 1 or more parents who were alcoholics.  Well, this wasn't the case for me.  Other than being female, I didn't fall into any of these categories.  So what made me do this?  Years later, I can look at the pattern and I came to realize one thing:  EVERY TIME I used cutting as a coping mechanism for anxiety and/or stress, I was on medication.  Every single time.  Even this past year while tapering off of Benzos, self harm became an almost daily battle for me as the urge to do it was always there.  However at only 2 weeks off the medication, those feelings quickly dissipated.  I now never have feelings of acting out this way and if anything I think, "Really, that helped me?".  I can't fathom doing it now.

Although many will argue that SSRI's and/or Benzos are lifesavers, I am here to only educate you with the possible risks.  I never even knew about self-harm.  I was not an angry girl.  I was certainly not a girl who would inflict pain on herself or others.  So what drove me to it?  Well, it's simple.  If you look at the possible side effects of SSRI's, it states that once you take them, you or your parent/companion should look for any signs of agitation that can possibly lead to suicide OR self harm. 

I am sad that self harm was ever a part of my life.  I am sad my parents had to witness it.  I'm sad  my husband and I spent so many occasions arguing over it - as the "medicated Sarah" didn't understand how my loved ones could be so upset with it - to me, it simply helped me, so please just let it be.  I am left with minimal scaring and a tattoo that covers the majority of it.  However, I will never be ashamed of what I did because I understand why I did it.  It was my own personal coping mechanism and I never used it as a cry for help.  It was the only way I knew how to help myself without having to lean on others - which made me feel in control of one aspect of my life.  As the various medications had a hold on me and controlled every thought and emotion, I screamed and fought back by ways of self harm.

I feel confident that this will never be a part of my life ever again, but I am happy that I can reach out to others and share my story.  People are not evil for doing this.  Although I'm sad it happened, I have no regrets as I feel it was uncontrollable because it was a medication-induced action.  My husband would ask, "Why?!", and I couldn't answer him.  Now I know why.  I fully understand it and embrace it.  It's a chapter in my life that I'll never return to, but instead will use it to spread the word and the risks. 

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