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”.

A very spoonie holiday

I’ve talked in my last two posts about my recent setbacks, but I’ve yet to address why I’ve been struggling a bit more. As someone with CFS routine is hugely important to me, it helps me pace and keep my activities at an even level. Breaking that routine can cause me a lot of chaos.

At the start of August I went on holiday, the week before I hit a new personal best for time in the office and felt like the week away was much deserved. What I underestimated was how hard going abroad for a week would be. Not just the travel, but the holiday itself. So I’m going to try and think about the individual issues and how my future self could mitigate at least some of the struggles.

Travel

The first and most obvious hurdle was getting to the Italian villa where our family was staying. This meant a 4am start to get to the airport, although evidently not early enough as it ended up being a bit of a rush once we got there. I like to be early for any travel, flights especially. Feeling rushed was a major trigger and before we even got to the plane I was experiencing pain and fatigue from the stress. I couldn’t even have a much needed plane nap as the pain kept me uncomfortable and awake. Once we got to Italy the weather was hot and dry, luckily that wasn’t super different to the hot and humid weather back home, as drastic temperature changes always mess with me. We picked up the hire car and I made sure I wasn’t involved in navigating so I could relax in the back. The rest of the journey was uneventful, but it was a long day.

For the return journey I used the lessons I’d learnt and insisted we leave with plenty of time to get to the airport early. We got a bit lost, so I was especially glad of the extra time! I was still unnecessarily anxious to get through security and sat by the gate, but once there I could alternate between resting and stretching my legs, so once we were on the plane I was relaxed enough to nap. It was still a long day, but I noticed a huge difference in how I felt at the end of it.

So tips?

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to do things at your pace
  2. Let others be in charge of any extra thinking if you can
  3. Accept that it will be a big day and prepare for that

On Holiday

My favourite holiday pastime has always been swimming. Now that I have CFS my fitness level is much lower, and even a small amount of swimming can tire me out. So I experimented with swimming over the first two days and found that actually it isn’t so much the swimming I enjoy, but the experience of being in the water. This made things much easier as I could spend my time floating or sitting on the steps into the pool. I got to have my relaxing pool time without exhausting myself.

Day trips are always going to be a tough one for me, so I only joined the family on one during the week. I warned them in advance that if they wanted me to come along we wouldn’t be out for so long as I’d get tired. They agreed and planned that we could walk through the town we were visiting, and there was a car park at both ends, so they could fetch the car and pick me up from the one we finished at. The reality was that it was a very hilly town, we walked downhill and there was no way I’d make it back up – so the car park plan was handy. That said in the actual moment, they were reluctant to leave so soon, and realised all the restaurants were back at the top of the hill. I felt pressured to not ruin their day and attempt to climb back up the hill. Luckily my husband is very supportive and put his foot down, stopping me from pandering to the group. In the end they left us at a cafe by the car park for an hour whilst they did extra bits and we stopped for lunch on the drive back. Everyone got what they wanted from the day, and I didn’t have to do more than I could manage.

Tips?

  1. Find low impact ways to enjoy your holiday activities
  2. Discuss plans in advance of day trips to manage expectations
  3. Don’t put others’ enjoyment before your health
  4. Be ready to sit in cafes and rest (bring a book or have a buddy to chat to)

The Aftermath

The hardest part of the holiday wasn’t until we returned. Routine is a key part of my energy management and I’d been out of it for 8 days. When I tried to go back to my routine on Monday I found it very tough, I couldn’t make it the whole way to the office. By Wednesday I’d had enough and despite bad leg pain warning me I needed rest, I forced myself into work. Within minutes I was overwhelmed and had to leave. That foolishness caused me to have a bad flare up and not be in work for another week and half!

My biggest tip!

  1. Accept that the holiday will break your routine and it will take you a while to get back into things. Don’t push yourself as that will not help! Take it at your body’s pace and be patient!

Depression vs my other conditions

I’ve had mental health issues since I was a teenager, but have only been honest and open about them since my early 20s. I’m now in a place where I am happy to talk to anyone about my CFS and anxiety, but my depression slightly less so.

So why am I more ok with some mental health issues than others? I feel comfortable with my anxiety because it feels reasonable, everyone worries, I just do it more. It’s easy to explain and relate to. My CFS is less easy to explain or relate to, but it’s so much a part of my everyday that I’ve become comfortable with it. It’s a disability and it’s not going anywhere so I’ve accepted it to the point where I don’t think twice about talking about it.

My depression is different. It isn’t there everyday in the same way, it lurks in the background then strikes out of nowhere. I can’t explain it as well, because I don’t really get it myself. I’ve always been lucky to have a lot in life, I know depression doesn’t care about that – it’s the great equaliser, but I am always are of how unreasonable it seems.

Recently I had a big hit of depression, for two days I could only cry and wish it would all end. If that was my anxiety I could take action to reduce it. If it was my CFS I would do stretches or pace myself around it. For depression it was a frightening loss of control. I had to wait it out because I’m already on the max dose of antidepressants and the doctor just called it “a blip”.

I think, being a control freak, that’s why I feel uncomfortable about my depression. I have to ride it out, and no amount of positivity can drag me out of that cave. It’s the condition I deny with “no really I’m fine” because I don’t want to admit how much it frightens me.

Talking about it online is a lot easier than in real life when I was stood in the middle of work balling my eyes out for reasons I couldn’t explain. It’s not embarrassing when I’m unseen. I’m not ashamed of my issues in person either – but it really is awkward sometimes!

I’m not sure what my point is with this one, I guess I want you to know it’s ok. It’s not just you. Even if I seem like I’ve got it all together most of the time I have my struggles too. As a community we have each other and we understand each other.

A bad week

You won’t be getting a full post this week, my catch up with scheduling posts coincided with a bad week.

However despite my focus on positivity and recovery I’m not going to shy away from owning up to the tough times, the times I don’t succeed. Because we all have them, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

This week I’ve cried hysterically at work, at home while brushing my teeth, and at the doctors during two useless visits. I’ve had shooting pains, joint pains, migraines and just generally felt really rubbish.

The road to recovery is not smooth, there are potholes and wrong turns.

But I know not to let this week define me. One bad week doesn’t mean I should give up. Next week will surely be better, and the fact this was only a week rather than a month means I am miles ahead of where I was a year ago.

It’s okay to not be okay sometimes, it’s okay to find it all a bit much. Just don’t let that drown out all the good you’ve accomplished.

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!