I’m writing this blog with a fair bit of trepidation. It’s a subject that is difficult to talk about. But I’m hoping that, just like when I told you about my panic disorder, talking about this issue will make it easier for me to deal with. So, I’m writing this mostly for me.
But I’m also writing it for people who are dealing with similar problems. I’ve had several people email me, thanking me for being open about my panic problems and agoraphobia, because it’s helped them feel less alone. Mental illnesses are very real diseases that, stupidly, carry a lot of social stigma with them. It reminds me a bit of when people ran from lepers, yelling “Unclean!”
Anyway, I have a mental illness, and lots of other people have mental illnesses, and the more we talk about them–even the painful, awkward aspects (which I’m about to address)–the more that social stigma will disappear and the easier it will be for sufferers to ask for help.
So, here’s the deal: in addition to my panic disorder and agoraphobia, I have significant self-harm issues.
Bam. Now you all think I’m weird and suicidal. But that’s not what this is.
Self-harm can take many forms, and I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject by any means. Heck–my own form of it isn’t even clear. It started several months ago, and has morphed and changed multiple times. It began as a strange obsession with the stairs. Every time I’d go up or down a set of stairs I’d think “I really ought to fall down these stairs.” I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think that’s the point.
(Sidenote: my Twitter followers will recall that I’ve slipped twice on my basement stairs and fallen. That was before any of this, and unrelated.)
Soon, the problem changed to “I really ought to break my hand” and I’d think–obsess–about punching the wall.
Currently, the obsession is “I really ought to bleed from my head.”
No, none of this makes sense. The obsession is hard to describe–it’s a constant fixation. I’ll sit on the couch, watching TV, but my mind will be glued to the corner of the wall and thinking about how much better things would be if I smashed my forehead into the sharp edge and began to bleed.
And I’ll admit I’ve indulged occassionally (and the indulgence, however painful, only makes the craving stronger).
Without exaggeration, I can say that I think about punching myself in the face at least once a minute, and I have to conciously choose not to do it. It sucks.
To make it clear: self-harm is an entirely different beast from suicidal thoughts, and I can honestly claim to have never had the latter. People who self-harm (and I know this sounds crazy, but, after all, it IS a mental illness) do so to ease their pain. When I think “I really should bleed from my head” I always imagine that doing so will make me feel better. On the other hand, people who are suicidal are doing the opposite: looking to escape their pain rather than relieve it.
Why do I have it? It’s not clear yet. In many people, they self-harm as a way to transfer their mental/emotional pain into physical pain. However, my psychiatrist tends to think that my self-harm is more closely related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (which is commonly comorbid with panic disorder).
My self-harm issues are part of the reason that I make models (like I showed on the blog yesterday)–because the urge is lessened when I keep my hands occupied at all times. (If I’m not doing something with my hands, I’ll often hold my right hand with my left, just as an extra barrier to keep me from acting on the urge to hit myself.)
And that’s about it. I don’t have any great advice, or a point to make. It’s just like when I told you about my panic disorder: it’s been too hard not to tell you. I don’t like having to lie to my friends to explain weird behavior. And, talking about problems is always better than not talking about problems.
But here’s the deal: I’m still a normal person. Maybe that’s the point of all this. Just because I have a mental illness doesn’t mean I’m a freak, any more than having a physical illness, like the flu or diabetes or cancer, makes someone a freak. I can still do things. I can still talk to people. I can still write books and behave in normal society. It’s just hard sometimes.