COPING WITH SELF HARM
TRIGGER WARNING, READ AT DISCRETION.
WHAT IS SELF HARM?
Self Harm, Self Injury or Self Abuse is when you intentionally harm yourself physically, mentally or emotionally. There are many different types of self abuse. Some of these are : cutting the skin with sharp items such as razor blades or knives, burning oneself, hitting yourself, scratching or picking scabs, pulling out hair whether it be in your scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes (Different than compulsions) and inserting foreign objects into your body.
Self Harm does NOT mean someone is suicidal. Someone may have suicidal tendencies accompanied by self harm, but many times self abuse is used as a way to cope and feel better. Self harm is not a mental illness on itself, but it is a call for help and requires appropriate therapy. Anyone can self harm, but it does tend to affect adolescent women the most.
There are many reasons someone may self injure. The most common ones are to deal with mental illness such as anxiety or depression, to cope with traumatic situations, to punish themselves, to release emotional pain in a physical manner, to try to associate with their body when feeling numb, or simply for the comfort. There are MANY MANY more and you should never assume why someone chooses to do this.
If you self-injure, the best way to get help is to talk to someone about it. Anyone you trust, but make sure that they can help you with the next steps in your healing process. Afterwards, receiving medical treatment usually brings the best progress!
OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO
Self-harm is definitely difficult to stop, even when you are getting help. After finding comfort and rushes of chemicals doing it for the amount of time you did, it becomes a habit that you do not want to quit. Here, we compiled ALTERNATIVE methods (that aren’t similar like “go for a run” even though that works too!) of what you can do when you feel the urge:
- Hold an ice cube in your hand. Do not submerge your hand in ice water, this is dangerous and can cause nerve damage, but I can assure you that the burning sensation you will feel when holding it will be enough to curb the immediate craving.
Scream until you’re blue in the face! Screaming releases stress and tension, and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t feel wonderful after a screaming fit. Just make sure that you are not doing it towards anyone and that you do it respectfully of others in your surroundings.
- Take a shower and alternate between hot and cold. This shocks your nervous system and once you get out, you’ll feel refreshed and also probably not interested in more self harm. DO NOT do this when you are sick, do not do this for extended periods of time and please make sure you remove any sharp objects before you go into the bathroom.
- Punch something! I do not condone violence in any way, but releasing your anger by having a boxing match with your pillow does not hurt anyone. If you are someone who is prone to anger issues, I would abstain with this. However, if you have access to a punching bag or you want to go full on tantrum on your bed when no one is watching, feel free! Whatever floats your boat friend.
- Massage out your knots. This sounds absurd, but I can promise that massages are extremely painful when you are working out your knots, plus it may help you reconnect with your body.
- Take a timer and write for 60 seconds. No more, no less. Do not pick a topic, do not think about what you are going to write or what you are writing in the moment. There have been times where I read back the things I had written and somehow purple unicorns had slid in there, but releasing your anxious feelings or expressing a traumatic day may help in coping, and the fact that it is only one minute is short enough to commit to in a crisis.
Make sure you are up to date on all of your shots, especially tetanus, and that you stay up to date on CPR Level C. Also, having a first aid kit is ESSENTIAL.
If you are going to self harm and do not have any plans on getting help (even though we urge you to do so), I recommend also having a specific sterile box with instrumentation which you keep cleaned with alcohol and change blades every time.
CUTS- Take off your non-sterile gloves (the ones you find in the hospitals, can be found at your drugstore) you used to self harm. Clean your hands with soap under warm running water for 30 seconds if the cut is not bad. Put on non-sterile gloves. Clean with saline solution if you have some, if not run under water. When the bleeding has stopped and the wound looks dry, apply some antibiotic solution. If the wound is small and you can close it, apply surgical tape on the area. If it is not easily closed, apply gauze and secure with medical tape.
If the wound is bad, apply sterile gauze immediately to the area and apply pressure for 10 minutes without looking at it. Elevate your limb above your heart so it slows down the amount of blood sent to the location, but if it does not stop bleeding after 10 minutes, seek medical attention.
When your scabs start to get crusty, you can moisten it to help with healing. Keep the wound clean when it is healing and keep checking it for any signs of infection like redness, puss, swelling or warmth at the touch.
BURNS/SCALDS/BRANDS- For minor burns, run the limb under cool water for 10 minutes. If it is a large area, jump in the shower or bath for that time.
If it is worse than a minor burn, hold the burn under cold running water for 10 minutes. If it is a chemical burn, leave it in 20 minutes and seek out medical advice. If you can remove clothing stuck to the burn, do so. However, if it is attached to your skin, do not try to force it and seek medical advice. Do not apply anything other than plastic wrap/cling film loosely to prevent infection. If it hurts, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with the pain, and never break the blister as it makes you more prone to infection and delays healing.
BRUISES- Immediately after a bruise is formed, apply ice for the next 24-48 hours for 15 minutes at a time, and always make sure there is a cloth between you and the ice. Do not apply any heat during the first two days. If possible, elevate the area. You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for the pain.
SCARS- Topical (put on your skin) or taking Vitamin E orally is known to reduce the looks of scars in some people. However, some people have a reaction and it may deepen the look so be cautious during the first few days you use it! Bio Oil, CoaCoa Butter (Who doesn’t love smelling like an edible treat?) and massing out the scar definitely helps but make sure you are not rubbing these in too hard and that the scar is fully healed when you do this.
Make sure you never cut down as it can sever arteries and cause more damage than you intend. Burning can cause nerve damage that will never grow back if damaged too badly as well. Keeping everything clean makes sure you do not get infections, and that your scars will heal with more ease creating less complications. Tattoos are also a great way to cover up!
5 YEARS NOW NO SELF HARM. You can see on my right arm a semi-recent scar I had when I was 15. After 8 years of addiction, through a lot of therapy and self-reflection, I managed to boot the habit! It’s difficult and I still miss it, but every day you find new ways to express yourself positively. Don’t give up hope.
IF YOU ARE AN ALLY, THESE ARE THE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
- Does someone have many unexplained injuries, or injuries that have hard to believe stories ?
- Do they wear long clothing at all times, even during warm months?
- Do they have unexplained scars?
- Have they been going through a difficult time?
- Do they have any history of mental illness?
- Are they often excusing themselves to go to private, secluded areas?
Once again, these signs can mean anything. If you are worried, the best step is to get help! Talk to them first, and if you feel uncomfortable, bring in a mediator. Therapy can definitely cure these habits, and if these habits are left untreated, can become addictive!