I’ve spent over a year lost in the NHS system with Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderline personality disorder is the only illness in the Psychiatric DSM that has self-harm as a criterion for diagnosis.
I self-harmed for years, on and off since the age of 11. It never really clicked that there was anything strange with what I was doing, it was just like ‘oh right something bad has happened and we’re doing this again are we’. I didn’t realise that this behaviour was a part of me; it shocked me that I was returning to it years later. The summer before I attended university I had been self-harming every day solidly for three months, this was a very badly kept secret amongst my friends, everyone in my peer group knew but said nothing. My family were clueless. My emotions were exploding everywhere after being bottled up for years, in a mortifyingly public fashion, but I couldn’t stop it. I continued partying heavily. I thought I had gotten better I was feeling on an ‘up’, things were going to be alright, this was when my self-harm peaked, and for the first time I had to go to hospital for stitches. It was at this point that I finally broke and decided I had to tell my mum, which was one of the most heart breaking experiences of my life.
After the severely traumatising event of going to hospital I did not want to self-harm again, at least for a while, so this was the first time I made the conscious decision that it had to stop. I was still very suicidal but I knew that I had to try to get better, for my mum’s sake. I never wanted to make her cry again, the way she cried when I told her I’d put myself in hospital. I went to the doctors they said I was clearly depressed but that the waiting list for counselling was 3 months, 1 month if they put me as an emergency, I was leaving for university in a fortnight. She wanted to send me away with nothing, but I knew with 100% certainty that if I carried on feeling the way I felt, within the next two weeks I would be back in hospital for more stitches.
So I asked to try antidepressants. A side effect of antidepressants in the first 6 weeks can be suicidal feelings (you’re damned if you do you’re damned if you don’t) but it was a risk I was going to have to take. I reacted quite badly to antidepressants, which as I found out later is not uncommon with mood disorders, they didn’t lift my mood at all but left me feeling completely spaced out and unable to function. Anti-Ds and alcohol do not mix well, so I was unable to drink during Fresher’s, and when I did (in moderation) the consequences were pretty dire with my depression becoming more severe. When other students asked me why I wasn’t drinking I lied and said I was on antibiotics (I also wore long sleeves for the first 2 months despite it being a freakishly hot September). I wasn’t ashamed, I just didn’t want it to be the first thing people knew about me when I started uni.
Self-harm is a complex issue and there are many different motives behind it but I think it’s fair to say that the common thread running through all the reasons is that it’s a coping mechanism. Much in the same way that smokers need to smoke, cutters need to cut. It makes you feel better- otherwise we wouldn’t do it. It’s a release of stress and tension. Sometimes it feels like you deserve it, and by punishing yourself physically you no longer have to feel guilty- for a multitude of sins, some real, some imagined. If you’re angry it calms you down. If you feel numb or out of it, it makes you feel something again, even if that something is pain. Dealing with physical distress can be easier than handling mental anguish. I know I’ve mentioned suicidal feelings alongside self-harm already but it’s worth noting that the two are not always linked, self-harm is a way of surviving and most of the time when people cut themselves they’re not actually looking to die.
Another problem with self-harm is that it can become addictive. The mind is tricky because it controls not only your wants and desires but also your logic and reasoning. So you can find yourself convincing yourself that you’re just going to buy some razors. Not to actually use, just to have in. Just in case. You’ll wander into a pharmacy when you’re upset almost subconsciously, and then what a surprise we’re in front of the razor aisle, what are we doing here! Well while we are here we may as well pick some up just to be on the safe side.
This series will be continued in parts 2 and 3, if any of these issues affect you or someone close to you, here are some resources on hand to help.
Nightline confidential information and listening service open 8pm-8am
02380 595 236
25236 from halls
The Samaritans 24 hours
08457 90 90 90
Mind a very good website to read more about BPD
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kayson an excellent first-hand account of BPD