Self harm – it’s easier than you think

Usually I take the time to make a pretty heading for these posts, but this is an ugly topic and honestly I’ve sat on this post for a week building up the nerve to press publish.

Self harm is a difficult topic to discuss, even in the already awkward area of mental health. Someone who hasn’t ever cut themselves may wonder how anyone gets to that point, or judgemental people (like the first doctor I even confessed self harming to, 5 years into my destructive habit) may say that it “doesn’t count” unless you really go for it and leave scars.

The truth is it’s actually really easy to self harm. You might have done it yourself without realising.

Self harm doesn’t mean picking up a knife and cutting your body, it means hurting yourself. That might sound a bit obvious, but when you really stop to think about it there are a lot of ways to hurt yourself.

An example that comes to mind is a friend who had been through some traumatic life events and was struggling to process them, they carried a lot of (unjustified) guilt and so they drank. They regularly got black out drunk and ended up in dangerous situations. In short they caused themselves harm. They self harmed.

Now many people would not get to such an extreme point, but the truth is this:

Every time you do something that has a negative effect on yourself you are causing yourself harm.

Are you staying in a relationship that makes you miserable? Maybe you are doing that because you don’t really believe you deserve happiness?

Are you eating excessively or avoiding it as much as possible? That probably stems from negative emotions just the same as if you picked up a weapon and injured yourself.

Are you putting up with verbal abuse from someone in your life? Letting them use you as an emotional punching bag? By choosing to let that happen you are choosing to be in pain.

You might read some of those and think “I don’t have a choice but to put up with this or that” – well that is pretty much how people who physically hurt themselves feel. It is an addiction, a crutch or a reflex. It is really hard to not fall back into the habit when you are feeling worthless or angry or sad.

Last week for the first time in 10 years I fell off the wagon and self harmed, but honestly when I sat back and thought about it I’d been doing it for weeks. Eating junk food until I felt sick, avoiding things that make me happy, I’d been beating myself up in other ways long before I touched a blade.

Yet others treated this action much more seriously. I think we need to rethink that. Of course traditional self harm is serious, but that doesn’t mean other forms of it are less so. My GP and my local mental health service had been very dismissive of my distress up until that point, and I don’t think that teaches us a positive message. You can kill yourself with smoking or cholesterol after all.

I guess my take away from this is to consider the the choices you are making and the emotional reasoning for them. If you think you are making bad choices for yourself, talk to someone because it is just as serious as the big scary “self harm”.

Announcing ‘Your Way To Health’

So as I hinted last week I have something special to announce. I have co-authored a health and wellbeing journal which will be released in October! I am very excited to share it with you all once the final touches are done!

I made a very rough version of this journal for myself when I was first signed off with CFS. I was seeing many different health professionals and they all encouraged me to track different things. I was also being trialled on various pain medications (ultimately none worked) and I wanted to judge if they actually had any effect. I am not the best at sticking to things, and have never managed to keep up a diary for more than a few days, so to help me I made a template to fill out each day.

Months later I was working with Kuljit Sehmi (www.centrebalance.co.uk), who specialises in ME and Fibromyalgia, and I was feeling much healthier. I showed her what I made for myself and she was full of ideas of how to add to it.

So we did!

We’ve had great fun working together, and the rough pages have developed into a 3 month journal. Complete with monthly health focuses, weekly reviews and a few creative pages (containing my groan worthy jokes – I’m sorry in advance!). We are launching it officially in October once it comes back from the printers, and will be selling on Amazon, at trade fairs and anywhere we can really!

My dream is to work with practitioners and specialists to create custom journals for their clients, and maybe one day even an app! I never thought I had the skills or the knowledge to embark on such a huge undertaking, but I’ve loved every moment so far.

 

Effective resting

When I first had my big energy crash in 2016, I spent a lot of time on the sofa bingeing Netflix. I didn’t have the energy to do active things, and I didn’t have the concentration to read. Watching trash on TV while wrapped in blankets felt like I was resting, but I soon learnt this wasn’t the case.

Once you have no energy you really notice how many things use it up! That means to rest you really need to take out all the activities that sap your energy. For example, you don’t have to be running around to get tired, thinking or concentrating can be just as tiring.

So when you are feeling tired, don’t just flop on the sofa, make the most of your down time by laying back and doing mindfulness or breathing exercises. There are plenty of apps around to help you out. You want to limit how much your senses are working in order to give your brain time to rest.

Reduce stimulation as much as possible – but don’t nap if you can help it! Sleeping in the day can get you into negative routines, the idea rest is to relax for 10min and just exist. Some people might find some relaxing music helps, but personally I enjoy some peace and quiet.

It’s an individual experience, so everyone will have different tips and tricks, but remember if you are thinking you aren’t resting, and no matter how crap the Netflix show is, you’ll always be thinking something about it!

 

 

Overall wellbeing

It’s very easy to blame a particular thing for our unhappiness or our ill health. If it wasn’t for that one thing we would be happy, successful and healthy. Fixating on one area gives us a focal point, but it also gives us an excuse. I can’t fix that one thing, then it’s not our fault. But really, if we are being honest with ourselves, our health and happiness is so much more complex.

Years ago I attended a great talk from someone at People’s Health Trust, he said that health is being physically, mentally and socially well. It’s not even a new concept, it was the World Health Organisation definition of health back at the turn of the 20th century! We often think of health as a narrow and negative field, where we are just trying to get by. However considering it as lots of little things and that good health means all areas are 100%, can give us a higher aim. We aren’t just trying to be well enough to function, we are trying to be healthy and happy in all areas of life.

This broad view is the opposite of our focused blame. It can seem overwhelming at first, but really it’s breaking a big concept down into lots of smaller parts. Don’t let the number of areas scare you, because each one is little and easy to impact!

The way I like to think of this is as though we are a character in the Sims. Each Sim has an overall mood bar, but there is a sub menu of other bars, 6 total covering basic needs. However they now also have extra mood modifiers based on experiences, environment and fulfilment of ambitions. This makes mood much more complex.

You’d imagine a happy Sim would have their basic needs mostly met, but if a Sim has bonuses (e.g. for having fun, donating to charity, being in a nice house, making a nice meal) they can be happy even with a two bad bars!

surprisehappy

Likewise, having all your bars being full doesn’t get you into the top level of happiness, the Sim needs some positive bonuses as well as their basic needs being met. In fact they can be almost perfectly happy without their bars being maxed out!

nothappy1happyunhappy2

As you see the bars are green in these scenarios, but the bonuses make all the difference!

So try to imagine your wellbeing as like a the Sims overall mood bar. Fulfilling your basic needs will get you so far, but it’s the extra little things that will build you up. Just because you can’t improve one bar doesn’t mean you can’t be happy and fulfilled, you just need to find your bonuses! The little things that make a difference to your day.

 

Habits

They say it takes about a month of doing something every day to form a habit, however breaking that habit is often a much quicker process. Healthy habits build us up, bad habits hold us back. So what can we do to set ourselves up for success?

Teaching yourself to do something is a personal experience as everyone has a different learning style. You need to consider what you are trying to introduce into your routine and plan at the start how best to do it.

As I said everyone is different, but here are some tips that worked for me:

  1. Time of day – for me I find the morning is the best time to add a new habit, as often I get swept up in the day and forget to do things. For you first thing might not be best, but it can be a good idea to add your new activity at the beginning of a section of your day e.g. when you get home from work. If you say ‘I have to do this before I do the rest of my routine’, you don’t fall into the trap of procrastination and put it off over and over. No matter when works best for you, try to keep the time fairly consistent as that helps to build the habit into your day.
  2. Involve others – if possible (depending on what habit you are working on) including someone else in your efforts can give you added motivation. For example when I wanted to start going for a walk every day, I asked my husband to join me, that made it a bit more fun and also gave me someone to push me into doing it when I didn’t feel like it.
  3. Phrasing – another way to involve others is to talk about your new habit, but to make it an effective reinforcement you should think about your habit like a done deal. “I do this now”, rather than “I’m trying to do this”. By framing your thoughts as though it’s a done deal, you make it a certainty rather than something you might not do. It also means if you don’t do it people may mention it to you – “don’t you normally take a break now?”, to give you an added nudge!
  4. Write it down – something about putting things in writing makes them seem much more official. That can give you a positive boost towards starting this habit. You can also utilise technology to turn writing it down into a helpful reminder. At work, to encourage myself to take regular breaks I have a diary reminder (in bright red!) that pops up at the same time each day to encourage me to have some rest. I don’t have it as a recurring reminder, at the start of the week I add it in for each day, this reaffirms what I want to achieve ahead of time.
  5. Managing setbacks – the hardest part of habit forming is when you miss a day. It is very easy to think you’ve ruined your hard work and broken the habit. That negative outlook makes it really hard to pick up and carry on the next day, it’s easier to think you’ve failed and it’s over. However it’s just one day, even if you fail on day two, 50% of the time you succeeded! Any further in and the majority of the time you did great! Don’t make setbacks into a big deal or they’ll become a big deal. The only reason to think about your setback is to see if you can learn from it, is there something that you can do to avoid that happening again? Positive thinking can make all the difference!