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Monday, 6 November 2017

A History of (Self-)Violence

I've been self harming for the majority of my life. When I was at primary school, I would stick the compass in my hand during maths. I'd get pins and needles and put them through the skin on my fingertips or between my thumb and index finger but back then it was out of boredom - I didn't purposely try to gain anything from it. As I got older, I continued with what I did and eventually around the age of 13-14, I started to try novel ways of hurting myself. I would use nail clippers on the skin of my hands or I'd bite tiny marks on them when I could.

I can't tell you when I discovered it could be used as a coping mechanism, but as I did, it escalated to cutting. When shaving, I would use the blades and pull it across the skin on my wrists. This was when I was about 15. At this point I also discovered I could use matches to burn myself with. I was cutting my wrists, burning my hands/wrists and I also noticed that if I cut my lips and eyelids with the razor, I could create a fair bit of pain and blood that would heal up very quickly (and very discreetly.)

I'm not sure when I discovered the painkillers; I suspect I was 16. Things were starting to get very bad for me. I was doing my GCSEs and had some empty periods in which I could come home (3 minute walk) and do as I pleased. I realised co-codamol was the way to go because the codeine really does something for me - it numbs me in such a way that makes everything feel okay. To add to that, in GCSE Art I was using spray paint a lot of the time in basement for different projects. I'd huff the spray paint which gave me a bit of a high, take some co-codamol, use the razor on myself or a match and on occasion I even used concentrated acid mixed with something sharp to cause myself a chemical burn. Then I went back to school feeling out of it and a bit more able to cope with my decreasing self esteem and increasing anxiety.

Time marched on. The razors were cutting too shallow so I needed something better. I tried to remove the razor blades and found they still weren't giving me what I needed. I would smash glass objects or compact mirrors I had, dig out the shards and use them instead. These were sufficient for a while and after that, I found pocket knives and utility knives (that I took from my dad's toolbox) could produce a decently sized and deep wound.

I should point out the main supply of my co-codamol was not my own: I stole from my parents. I probably made them think they were losing their minds as their supplies dwindled without any memory of them using them. There were days near the end of my time at school on which I was going in almost yellow from the paracetamol overdoses. I would take overdoses at night and then the next morning I felt so sick I could hardly function - and a lot of the time I couldn't. I took days off from a "depression hangover" ie. I had hurt myself the night before and/or overdosed to the point where I was unable to leave my bed or unwilling to. The cycle repeated. I started with alcohol as I neared 18 and was scoping out anything I could find. I drank whole bottles of wine or would sneak some of my dad's whiskey into drinks. I would drink until I was physically sick. When I was 18, I would go and buy bottles of vodka myself and then drink them until I was sick too. I'd mix alcohol with co-codamol overdoses and make myself twice as sick (but twice as high) - again, causing me to be too ill to leave my bed some days. I gravitated towards anything I could find that could potentially make me feel less shit for even a few minutes.

At 18 I got a debit card and could start spending money without scrutiny. Some of my first purchases were on craft knives and blades to go with them. This would be the biggest upgrade to my self harm arsenal and one of the most consistent; it's one I still use. The craft knife blades made me able to cut to an extent I had never managed before: one swipe and I could cut straight down through the subcutaneous tissue. It was extraordinary to me. Before this, my worst injuries were done with the utility knife and even then it took the right angle and amount of force to do any kind of real damage.

As the years went on, my main weapons against myself were: the co-codamol (8 or more of the 8/500 doses), sufficient amounts of alcohol to knock me out, prescribed and OTC sleeping pills and the craft knife. Oh, and I learned that if I use a lighter to heat up the right sized metal object I can give myself 3rd degree burns. That's a big one too.

However, I've recently been seeing someone regarding the drug use. Turns out the paracetamol in co-codamol can cause serious liver and kidney damage. Who knew, huh? Me. I had been told for years. Every time I told someone about how much I was taking they put on their serious voice and told me how damaging it is to my body. I'm sure they didn't know it but it was an aspect I embraced. I loved the idea of slowly killing myself and I never planned to reach 30 anyway.

Anyway, a few months ago things became very bad for me regarding my mental health. Active suicide thoughts. Thinking about killing myself on a daily basis. Stopping eating. Taking 12-16 co-codamol on a daily basis (over 8 is an overdose). Inflicting severe burns. And crying. Crying all the time... just like I was before I ever started to get any kind of mental health treatment or medication. I would lash out at random times, screaming, crying, out of control. Something needed to be done so I thought it was important to go and say something on the advice of those around me.

I was discharged initially from the mental health team a couple of years ago. I suppose they figured that since I was attending group courses and I was able to look after my injuries, I wasn't a priority anymore and was discharged in favour of those who need the treatment more. And anyway, I'm on enough pills to keep me placated. But this recent increased suicidality and overuse of painkillers was enough to warrant an urgent appointment. Myself and my mental health worker agreed that I needed to come off the co-codamol and the vodka I was taking daily at the time first of all. My medication would get looked at after that and I would also receive further counselling regarding my cutting/burning.

The thing about using a combination of coping methods is that if you eliminate one, another has to compensate for that. The alcohol was never a huge thing for me so that being eliminated was not quite so bad as long as I still had my sleeping meds. The co-codamol, though, was more complicated. It had become routine that when I felt like self harming, I would first take the needed amount of co-codamol and cut afterwards. Sometimes the drugs would be enough and I wouldn't even need to cut. But I am now currently in a position where I have no alcohol, no co-codamol and still feel like harming myself. I can burn myself, yes, but this doesn't always give me what I need. Sometimes I require the sensation of bleeding out. I've been cutting for so long that anything less than seeing some subcutaneous tissue won't do it for me. I won't stop until I cut right through.

We're now in a situation where there are times that the cutting has a lot to compensate for: the original feelings of wanting to harm myself, the desire for a quick fix, the lack of alcohol, the lack of co-codamol, the lack of burning, a lust for blood, and the requirement that the wound be of a certain depth or else it's just not worth it. There's a lot to match up to and it means what I end up doing is something very serious indeed.

This is what happened recently. I produced a cut so deep that the blood ran out of it like a river. A cut in which I'm certain I hit something for the first time in my life because there was a deep patch of blood at the other end of my bed consistent only with a spray. I had never seen anything like it before and it was happening to me. For the first time in some years, I panicked. I let it bleed for a few seconds before trying to work out what I should do and trying to talk myself through stopping the bleeding. I thought of all the first aid approaches I could: apply pressure, hold it above your head, try and stem the blood flow, etc. I tied a belt around my arm to try and ease the flow. I wasn't about to bleed to death in my bedroom when I only meant to make myself feel a little bit better but also wasn't about to wake up my parents to take me to hospital on a Friday night for something self inflicted.

Every time I cut, I fear for the next time. Every time I stop taking the painkillers, I wonder when the next time will be. The road is endless and I fear it's going to get worse and worse. Whenever I think I'm over the hill, I know there's another coming up but I don't know when. It's been like this for too long. Next time I cut, I fear I won't be able to stop the bleeding. Next time I decide to overdose, I fear I won't wake up. I need to escape it, somehow.