Why Do People Self-Harm And Why Am I Choosing To Stop?

TW: self harm.

This post is not glorifying self harm or encouraging others to self harm. I am against self harm and intend through this post to educate people on self harm.

Why do people self harm? This is a question I am sure many people who don’t self harm ask themselves and I asked myself it a few years ago when I found out my friend and a friend of a friend were self harming. I could not comprehend why someone would want to hurt themselves. This was until I started scratching myself to self harm a few months ago.

I think there are many different reasons why people self harm and each individual will have their own reasons. I am writing this post to shed light on my reasons for self harming and try and help others understand more why people self harm.

Self harming for me is an impulsive compulsion. I often do it almost instinctively. For me it is an outlet, a habit, a sense of relief. Sometimes when I’m anxious I scratch myself. However, there is an underlying desire for me to harm myself and it has got to the point where I take delight in making myself bleed. I often feel better after I self harm and use it to deal with emotions. 

Now that I have addressed why I self harm I will explain why I want to stop. I want to stop self harming and am going to stop because the real me deep inside doesn’t want to do this, only the ill me does. I want to stop because I know that it is very unhealthy and I am worried about it getting much worse or me turning to other self harm methods. I want to stop because I don’t want to be defined by this illness; I don’t want to be labelled. I also want to stop because it is hurting people I love. I just want to stop and I think finally I have the strength and determination to stop. 

I have decided that I will use things like art, poetry or music as distractions if I feel like self harming. 


Sometimes Doing The Wrong Thing Is The Right Thing (What Happened When I Stopped Taking My Medication)

Normally I would advise people to listen to their psychiatrists and consult their psychiatrist before making changes to their medication but as my experience has shown sometimes the right decision is the decision you personally choose to take.

I was absolutely fed up with being sluggish, lethargic and drugged up every single morning. This is not to mention the fact that I put on weight whilst taking Olanzapine and moved up a dress size. I was frankly zombified and not myself!

So what did I do? I completely stopped taking the Olanzapine without consulting my psychiatrist. I didn’t even gradually reduce my dosage, I just stopped it!

What was the result? I was no longer sluggish, zombified and drugged up and I was now my animated, lively self again. To add to this, my mood was the same as it was before I stopped taking the medication and I even started to get even more stable than I was! Maybe Lithium is enough to stabilise me?

What I am trying to get across through this blogpost is that perhaps we know ourselves and what is best for ourselves better than anyone else and we can even get decisions such as whether to take medication or not right. However, I am aware that my decision was reckless and I should have consulted my psychiatrist. 

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My Experience Of Taking A Leave Of Absence

I could have gone back to university anyway even though I couldn’t concentrate and had suicidal thoughts but instead I decided to go home and take a leave of absence. A leave of absence means that you are taking time out from university or school but you aren’t dropping out.

I think sometimes it’s just not possible to continuing on studying if you are very ill or have personal circumstances. I felt that if I had gone back to uni that year I might have eventually ended up dead if the suicidal thoughts had continued.

There is no doubt that I found taking a leave of absence to be very hard. At times I felt like a failure for not doing what I was supposed to be doing which was completing my degree. I also missed my friends as most of my friends were at my university or universities far away.

I don’t regret my decision at all. It was necessary for me to take time out to get better so that I could flourish even more at my studies when I went back. The leave of absence gave me time to try lots of different medications and therapy to see what could make me better. Resting and only doing low stress volunteer work was very good for my health. I think I needed months of rest so that I could recover. 

Overall, I don’t think I would have been able to get better without taking a leave of absence.


My Recovery From Suicidal Compulsions 

TW: Suicidal thoughts and urges

I am sure there are others who have a very different experience to me of compulsions and how they have learnt to resist them. This is my story of my journey towards resistance.

My suicidal urges (compulsions) started in June 2014 after I had been put on antidepressants. At the time I had suicidal urges wherever I went. I did not however give into the urges and they remained something that scared me but that I didn’t act on. 

In September 2014 I had a very strong thought that I wanted to overdose and it really scared me. I was made by the university to go home for a few days because of this.

In January 2015 the urges became so strong as I had been dialoguing with the suicidal thoughts and fantasising about a certain suicide method. In early January I thought “I am going to overdose tonight.” I didn’t do it because I told my parents. 

A week or two later I took a very small overdose. I then started to strangle myself but stopped myself very early on. I also got out a knife on one occasion. I didn’t use the knife though. As you can tell, I never really wanted to die on any of these occasions; I just felt that I needed to give into the urge. 

After these incidents I was admitted to hospital as I didn’t feel safe at home. Going to hospital was the best decision I ever made. I had almost no urges during my whole month in hospital as everything that I could use to hurt myself with was taken away from me. I would advise others with self harming or suicidal compulsions to practice no exposure to dangerous objects as a way to make their thoughts and urges less strong. 

I am going to be honest, my stay in hospital was not perfect. I gave into suicidal urges on three occasions on one day. However, this was before I had been put on Lithium and had my Olanzapine increased. Since I have been on Lithium I have not AT ALL given into suicidal urges.

One of my problems I have had is that I have bipolar disorder and most if not all of the occasions I have failed to resist a suicidal urge my mood has been fairly high. Therefore, having my psychiatric medication just right is very important for me.

Of course I couldn’t have stayed at hospital forever. At some point I needed to go home. In order to make home as safe as possible for me my parents needed to hide dangerous objects from me. This thus continued the environment of safety which would make the thoughts and urges less intense.

I have now had my parents stop hiding things from me for a couple of days. I have had one suicidal urge but it was nowhere near as strong as over six weeks ago when I took the overdose.

I am going to continue resisting the urges and hopefully over time they will get less and less strong.

I advise others with problems with suicidal compulsions to practice lack of exposure to start with when the thoughts are too intense and then expose themselves to the things that provoke urges so they can get rid of them. 


Can People With Mood Disorders Be Mentally Stable? 

I have a few friends with bipolar disorder who claim to be “stable”. I wonder if it is possible for people with mood disorders to be completely stable.

One definition of stable is “well balanced”. The nature of bipolar disorder is that it is unbalanced; you swing from highs to lows with perhaps some euthymic mood in between. It is considered by many that medication may make the highs and lows less intense but it doesn’t get rid of them. 

I think that it is mostly not possible to use the term “stable” to describe people with mood disorders because they are unbalanced. I think to call people with mood disorders “stable” we would have to create a new definition and make “stable” stand for a reduction in the intensity of mood swings and their effect on the person’s life.


My Experience Of A Private UK Psychiatric Hospital 

I consider my stay in the Priory for a month and two weeks as a day patient to be very positive. The food was excellent which always helped! It was like staying in a 3 star hotel with nurses, psychiatrists and therapists there! 

The main reason my stay in hospital was so positive was because I felt safe there. The nurses took away absolutely everything that I could use to harm myself including a telephone and a lamp. This lack of exposure to dangerous objects meant that I had almost no suicidal thoughts for the majority of my stay. 

The second reason that hospital going to hospital was such a good decision was because I got to see a psychiatrist three times a week so my medication was monitored regularly. During my stay I was out off Lamotrigine, put on Carbamazepine instead and then put on Lithium instead of Carbamazepine.

 I found the group therapy programme combination of CBT, psychotherapy and self awareness very helpful. In psychotherapy and self awareness groups I was able to talk about my suicidal thoughts and urges, my self harm, the bullying I experienced and the sexual assaults that I experienced. It felt very good to chat about these experiences and get feedback and comments from other patients.

CBT was helpful for me as it taught me about what my core beliefs, rules and assumptions and negative thinking patterns were. Being aware of this will help me to change my thinking and behaviour. 

The only disappointing thing about my stay was that when I was giving into suicidal urges at the hospital on one day I was not supervised by the nurses after doing that. I also think it would have helped me if there had been some OCD groups.

Overall, I highly recommend the Priory to anyone with mental health problems. 


What I Have Learnt About Myself From Group Therapy

I have learnt a lot from the month of daily group therapy I had at a private hospital. 

From CBT I have learnt that my core belief is that I am inadequate which is related to me having low self esteem. I have a negative focus, black and white thinking and I am prone to castastrophising. This is all linked to me being a perfectionist and my extreme fear of failure. 

Psychotherapy and self awareness affirmed what I already knew that I always try and please others and don’t say no even when I am uncomfortable and don’t want to do something. Another patient also reiterated that even after everything I have been through I am still too trusting and I open up to people too soon. 

Self awareness and psychotherapy have also taught me that in many ways over the past nine months I have felt that bipolar me or suicidal me have taken over my body and the me before the illness has been hidden deep inside.Thus, I have started to evaluate my own behaviour more when I am manic. I have accepted that when I am manic I sometimes swear too much and am cheeky and sometimes overstep the line. I also, am aware that when I have given into suicidal urges that was the ill me talking and not the real me deep inside.

Over the past few months I have already been trying to change my behaviour by saying no more and being more assertive with people. I am going to continue this and also work on behaving differently when I am manic, resisting suicidal urges and working on my perfectionism.