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Self-Harm: Relief Is Relief To My Brain

Self-harm is not a joke, nor is it glamorous. Often co-occurring with other mental illness diagnosis, self-harm is a difficult but necessary topic of conversation.

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Does it Make You Uncomfortable? Good.

I have struggled with self-harm for years, my body wears the story and will tell that story for the rest of my life. Did that sentence make you uncomfortable? More than likely, it did. I’m glad. I’m not glad that I am causing you to feel something unwanted, but glad that the idea of harming oneself on purpose is not an idea you have ever entertained.

I could outline the salacious details. I could tell you methods and number of times, number of scars, hospital visits, etc. Society and media today drive stories with shock value, I could exploit my pain and tell the story in a way that would sell to that. I won’t. My pain doesn’t need exploiting, giving the wrong information to those who read stories only for tools to use themselves, to be valuable. I want my story to be as valuable as possible in the right way. I do not want to tell a story that will be stripped of its lessons and taken for tips and tricks of the trade. I will not try to ‘scare you straight’ if you’re thinking about hurting yourself; that won’t work.

My life has not been easy, I have arguably more than my fair-share of hurt. Sad, alone, confused I searched years on end for ways to cope, desperately grasping at anything that promised relief. Relief, however short, would be sweet. I was convinced that no matter the consequence, I would commit to a life searching for a way to end my pain.

I self-harmed because for, if only brief moments, I could forget my pain. I could forget the emotional wreckage that lay within me because the searing pain of the physical harm I caused. I could forget the bullying, the deception, the anxiety, the depression, everything faded to the background as my body surrendered to my will. I willed to be rid of anything and everything. I wanted nothing to do with my body and who I thought I was.

I self-harmed because I was convinced that any pain I caused would be better than the pain I was in. If I was in pain, I needed to be worthy of being in pain. I needed that reason. If I was in pain I needed someone to blame, and it was easy enough to point that blame directly at myself.

I self-harmed because I, if mostly subconsciously, wanted a physical manifestation of the intense amount of emotional pain I was experiencing. I wanted proof. I wanted reason. I wanted something to point too. I needed proof of how much I was hurting.

I self-harmed because I needed relief. Intoxicating, adrenaline and dopamine filled relief.

I self-harmed because it made me feel better. It’s hard to fathom how exactly causing yourself pain could not make you feel worse, but feel better, when you haven’t actually experienced it yourself. I’m not saying you should conduct your own experiment, quite the opposite in fact. Let’s stick to scientists and those well-versed in scientific theory running any experiments here.

Here, I will turn to a scientific theory: “pain offset relief”. The theory is said that when pain reduces or is removed, however slightly, the experiencer feels better. The pain is offset. The offset not only returns the person to the point they were at before the pain, but beyond that to a state of ‘relief’. The theory when applied to self-harm, would be that the pain offset relief tricks the brain into perceiving relief of not only physical, but emotional pain as well. There has also been research that has found overlap in the areas of the brain that deal with pain. Your brain cannot distinguish the relief as being solely physical, because it cannot distinguish the pain itself as physical or emotional.

So remember that myth you’ve heard about anyone who self-harms as being ‘wired differently’? It’s just that. A myth. Those who self-harm don’t ‘enjoy pain’ at all, in fact, they despise pain so much they’re willing to go to maladaptive lengths in search of any relief.

I self-harmed because my chronic pain was physical. I self-harmed because I could control that pain I caused, unlike the pain I felt in my hips. I could control the pain and relief, unlike the rest of the physical pain I felt. Back before my diagnosis of FAI (femoral acetabular impingement), labral tears, and chronic pain, I had no explanation. No explanation, coupled with the crippling disbelief of my pain by almost everyone around me. If they didn’t believe my pain, and no one could find a reason I could be in pain, than I needed a concrete reason I hurt. So I gave myself a reason to be in pain.

Even now, distant from my days of self-harming, I can still see the logic and reasoning behind my self-harm. I hope you can too. I hope you can find some understanding, some softness, some view into the world of those that self-harm and emerge more able to relate and more able to support those around you who may struggle with self-harm.

Self-harm is not a joke. Self-harm is not a basis for a halloween costume. Self-harm is not to be deified, or idealized. It is a real issue for many across the world. It is an issue that needs to be talked about; to be addressed. Talking about the issues is the only way to solve them. Don’t dismiss it, don’t ignore it. Process it. Help those who are battling it fight it. Don’t ignore it because it might make you uncomfortable.

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