[Content Note: Frank and graphic discussion of self harm]
Funny how some things never quite leave you.
Its an old addiction but I’ve got it under control… more or less
Its maybe 20 years since I first hurt myself to ease the pain on the inside and the earliest self-imposed scar is over 15 years old
I’d love to tell you that it had been years since I last deliberately hurt myself.
I mean, yes, its been a while since I last actually picked up the razor – maybe even years – but I couldn’t tell you exactly how long that was, maybe its less, a lot less. And perhaps it is at best a couple of months since i punched a wall just to feel the pain and no more since i dragged a kitchen knife over my skin just to feel the sting but its not regular.
Sometimes it really is 6 months or more between the slips. Sometimes I even think its gone away.
At best, if I never hurt myself again I will always have these scars – the scars I may one day describe to my child as the marks of a struggle I fought with myself. Or perhaps as a symptom of an illness they know I fight every day.
But what i want is to open the skin and feel the pain. The sharp tear and long ache. The hot sticky mess and the sweet sweet release.
I dream about it, I think about it on the bus. I visualise it in the quiet moments and lust after it in the anguished aeons of despair and I even revel in its soft embrace in moments of happiness.
If you have never felt the pull of addiction I don’t think you can really know how it consumes you – and though this is no heroin it perhaps gives me an inkling of that want and need
It doesn’t rule or ruin my life. I am not a slave to my addiction, choosing it over more important things, battering myself and other people for an ever greater hit.
Most people will never notice my cravings.
But every now and then I give in. Still.
Still I want.
Still it feels like a need.
Still on the topic of gender – Small has female external sex characteristics and as such we have, until Small is old enough to make the decision for themselves, chosen to identify her as female-gendered as well (since the majority of people match gender and sex) so why if She is normally she.. does my brain occsionally absent-mindedly refer to her as He.
On a different parenting note – currently Small sleeps in a moses basket beside me and feeds 2 or 3 times a night; despite sensible precautions and anxiety management inevitably the 1st time I wake after feeding her I panic about where she is, often wondering if I dropped or squashed her but also paranoid she is somewhere else entirely, before remembering putting her down and being able to hear her breathing.
Seriously, someone make small talk with me for more than 5 minutes about something that is not Baby…
Like most people with ongoing depression issues I struggle with the holidays and find this whole time of year overwhelming.
Unlike several members of my intimate circle (friends and family) I like spending the christmas hols with my parents and siblings -our political differences are not so dramatic as to cause real hurt and we are quite good avoiding ‘issues’ where that seems to be required. Though they often don’t understand my choices we seem to have reached a happy détente and I feel no need to rock the boat so to speak.
Similarly, I am too far removed from office politics to give a shit about who I should kiss when or how I should frame our holiday schedules to make them make sense to monogamous folk.
And yet even having decided to not worry about whether people know about my intimate relationships or not, and whether or not that changes how I have to live my life – I am still stressed.
I am stressed not just because being open is not sufficient protection for the people I care about and they still have to deal with the judgements of others both on the basis of their decisions and mine – and yes some of our more poly sceptical friends our coming round to at least the “well I don’t approve but I can’t see anything obviously wrong with YOUR lives” view but its not quite making up for the “I’m not saying you can’t but you do know you are fucking up x’s life don’t you” camps… There are people I have known for years I just don’t know how to say to – “I get you care but back the fuck off because we are making this work by making our own rules and your constant whining/worrying is making it harder”… yes this makes it hard at this time of year when everyone is all about fucking hetero, mono family values but because actually its not as hard as just being expected to talk to people.
All the fucking parties. Organise this, make sure you have x,y,z together for when you see so-and-so…. leaving the house is a fucking struggle in spring when no one notices and you only have to get to the shops/see Mrs A./ go to your Dr.’s appt once a month or less but in december when everyone has a party and you need to do the shopping and getting a dr’s appt is a miracle, suddenly a week is a stack of unreasonable goals piled on almost impossible imaginary ideals.
And oh gods above they are all so cheery – if I believed what I heard at parties I’d know for sure that their relationships always got better and their jobs got more interesting
But that’s not what I feel as I curl up and battle back the tears before each time I venture outside, each time I wonder how to stop the shaking and hyperventilating to start a new conversation and everytime I want to apologise as someone starts to congratulate me on our new venture.
The desire to tear my skin apart is worse than it has been for nearly a year, my shoulder is hurting a lot again and I feel like a failure before we have even begun. Yay for self-fucking-confidence and all that shit.
Sometimes the Cancer Research adverts still make me cry.
In my early twenties there were 2 key mantras in my life “An thou harm none do as thou wilt” and “Safe, Sane & Consensual” – as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the interpretative difficulties that both of those propositions face [too many and various for this time of night] but there remains a fundamental truth that they embody and which needs to be applied to every part of life including beer choice…
If no one is getting hurt, and you aren’t being coerced then it is entirely your choice what you feel like doing right now.
That means drink if you want to drink, or don’t touch alcohol on thursdays, or only have sex with black men between 4 and 7 on sundays or whatever. And more than that it mean no one should be criticising you for your decision not to drink alcohol or to drink.. shock horror Fosters… or to sleep with midgets for money or count your sexual partners on your bedposts.
I might [read: do] think that Fosters is worse than Satan’s urine flavour-wise and I might suggest that is bad for a lot of people’s health but do you know what, in the end actually if you want to drink it that isn’t my decision to make.
When it comes to choice of beverage I see a lot of snobbery going on where people are judged according to their drinks choices and it upsets me (it especially upsets the me who both buys £20 bottles of beer and £1.10 tinnies..) because your favourite ain’t necessarily right for everyone (e.g. why privilege peaty whiskies over briny ones..) but to be honest I am more more worried about the pressure we still put on people to drink alcohol, or more alcohol
One of the worst things I see in my profession are the people pushed by their social group into “just one more” – people pressured into consuming alcohol for the sake of social ease. It leads to people drinking and driving, it leads to people getting ill or upset and it is not safe!
Second, though not far behind that, on my pet hates is people being ridiculed and stigmatised for their choice of drink – now [fair disclosure] part of the reason this bugs me is that invariably the guy being torn to shreds is being accused of being girly or gay for not wanting x drink (which ya’know as a queer gal is kinda irksome) and this kind of bullying is Not Cool and not only do I worry because it can lead to people not being as safe as they should be and inhibiting their choices because of the power of alcohol but also it rather bugs me that someone gets to feel like they know better about what someone should put in their body..because weird though it sounds [e.g.] ‘you need to drink vodka or you are weak’ isn’t just emotional bullying when it comes to the kind of coercion, the buying it anyway and pushing and pushing til they drink it is the kind of mentality that leads to rape…. its what you want (or i think you should want), its the socially acceptable thing to do, if you don’t you are boring, rubbish, not my friend….etc etc.
Its not ok.
It is not ok to tell someone what they want to drink because it is their body and their choice; they shouldbe able to make their own decisions, to enjoy it and want it and not be too damaged by it long term… and I think any mentality that says otherwise is dangerous.
[Content Warning: Post discusses depression, self-harm & suicidal ideation]
Its funny isn’t it how the ordinary indicators for depression don’t mean much to you as you slide into the pits when low-level depression and anxiety are the norm. I don’t really start noticing a magical downturn in mood or a particular pessimism creeping up and except for sudden irritability above and beyond hormonal shifts I’m not sure how this fits with DSM…
What I notice is:
The shift in sleeping pattern – I need more, a lot more (less than 12 hrs feels like torture), but I struggle to get comfortable and wake early and the nightmares creep in more and more…
Aches – I think its a sleep thing but every joint, every muscle that has ever plagued me makes itself known, I start getting headaches and stomach-pains; painkillers seem the only sensible option.
Fogginess – I can actually feel my inability to concentrate, the blank space between my internal thoughts and the next step, the failure to form words and a sense of being withdrawn from the world that may or may not result in long silences.
Clumsiness – I realise this might seem odd but when I am low my ability to judge distance apparently disappears, I start walking into door-frames, beds and beer barrels; and I start dropping things and tearing things. If I am covered in bruises and paper cuts and keep knocking over glasses and mugs chances are I am depressed.
Itchy Skin/Self harm – the straight-forward urges never go away (though sometimes there is longer between them) the temptation to dig the blade into my skin or cause pain eats at my psyche at the slightest moment of doubt, fear or stress (and trust me I haven’t gone a single day without thinking about it, especially while working, in over 15 years) but as I start to slip it feels like there is glass underneath my skin that I need to get out, everything itches, and the desire to feel my own blood trickling over my skin jumps up at every unguarded moment.
So yes. I’m feeling a bit low right now.
But ya’know lets call it hormones or worry about the future and lets say ‘this too shall pass’; lets not fret about it or make a big deal about it and lets say “it’ll be ok”. Because I’m fed up of inane therapy with 6 month waiting lists and I’m not sure I’m ready to take new drugs. Just don’t say “cheer up” or “don’t worry” and I’ll get somewhere again… like I always do.
So the other day they went ahead and cut some holes in my shoulder and shaved a little bone out in order to give it more space to move. (Arthroscopic subacromial decompression & ACJ excision arthoplasty -if you are interested)
So now I am ambling round in a painkiller haze and trying to force my poor body to do the physio – it is not co-operating.
Firstly, the wounds are still slightly oozy – apparently they inject extra fluid to make things easier to see (and I think anti-coagulants) which means that my dressings require careful attention. Also it turns out that instead of making my shoulder not hurt, codeine makes me sleepy, cranky, weepy and yet oddly emotionally detached from the pain.
The problem with the fact that I am still in pain is that every one of the 5 different exercises that I am supposed to do 4 times a day is a mental battle where every instinct tells me not to force my body that high up the pain scale and I am drained from the effort.
I have other things to do at the moment godsdammit!
There is something about this time of year that I struggle with.
I love that the world is erupting into blossom, our veg patch is taking shape and small creatures of all varieties are being born (including a brand new ‘monkey’ born to some very good friends who will be suffering the 3 of us as godparents).
I love that W & I have our legal anniversary at this time of year.
I love that this is a time of beginnings and hope.
But its hard.
Its hard in part because the anniversary of mum’s death is coming up (17 years this time around) and its hard in part because the annual beer festival in our area consumes so much of my time and energy.
Its hard because its a time of beginnings and hope for so many people – after the cold, dark, wet of winter I watch people who hadn’t noticed their moods dipping begin to lift and shine, I watch their projects become invigorated and their activity levels rise and I know that isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong the dank, drear days of winter grind heavy for me too but unlike 75% of the population the lift that springtime brings seems to somehow emphasise that my depression is here to stay. It is like the way that the 1st lift of anti-depressants gives some people the energy for suicide that they had been lacking only on a broader scale, and frankly it makes me miserable as hell.
This year I get to be extra mopey about it though. This year real life is having a bit of a dig just to check I’m paying attention. W’s mum has been ill for a long time but its getting very bad and she needs to go and look after her for a bit. We need to sort proper full-time care and benefits and stabilise her condition as much as possible. I have known this was coming for a while and I think we are prepared for the financial implications (though it might put back my hopes to get pregnant in the next year) but I can’t say I’m not cross that ‘fate’ has let it fall over our anniversary, mum’s anniversary and my shoulder op date – quite frankly I expect to win the lottery as compensation.
So if I post over the next month expect whinges about the UK benefits system, my father-in-law and health-care professionals in NI and gushing compliments to my wife’s strength, commitment, care and honesty and to B’s patience and support.
I am not and never have been the person who goes to the rallies, I do not use my position of privilege to offer a platform for minority voices.
I have never started a petition or lobbied parliament. I don’t even blog about my politics very often.
I have to put my energy into being me and I don’t have the strength to do more but I have nothing but respect for the energy people put into that kind of fight (even when I don’t necessarily agree with their aims) and I am well aware that people with less resources than me, less physical and emotional stability than me try to make the world a better place and offer themselves up for causes I believe passionately in and a part of me is ashamed of my inactivity even as I know I can’t do it.
I am also not a person who shares much in the way of links to blog posts and petitions and political rants. The two are very much related.
Since I am not involved in the fight I do not know the path that it has taken to that step and whether that course of action is the right/better/only way forward. Since I am not involved in the fight I don’t want my voice to drown out the voices of those who are.
And most selfishly of all I don’t want to be that person – the kind of person who jumps on bandwagons without understanding all the issues, the kind of person who nags people to be do-gooders with the press of a button without standing up there doing it, the kind of person who thinks liking a page on facebook is all the effort that they need to put in.
I choose to try and lead by example in my sensitivity to other people’s needs and rights and I hope that my comparative silence means that people will take a moment to stop and listen when I feel I must speak out.
I read a very perceptive blog post recently in which the author commented:
“Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.”
It would be fair to say that I am not very good about wanting stuff for precisely the reasons outlined above and because there is a little bit of my depressive brain that tells me that I do not deserve to want. I have not trained myself into the habit of creating a series of goals from the mundane to the fantastical and I am even more terrified of asking for things. In general I have got away with faking these things for most of my life – pick something that sounds a bit like what everyone else wants and amble towards it without commitment and/or work your life around aiming for the things that those nearest and dearest to you want.
It all falls apart somewhat when the expectations of normal life fall away (in my case through lifestyle and relationship choices) and those nearest and dearest to you are even worse than you are at picking things that they want.
B is actually a little more open about what he desires unless his mood has dipped significantly but whilst he does talk about dreams he is a little more conservative and often unclear about his plans. On the other hand, my dearly beloved wife, W, couldn’t admit to herself wanting even so much as a steak dinner for fear of imploding (and believe me she nearly always wants a steak dinner). Wanting is anathema to her being; it involves a consideration of the self (where only others are acceptable), it suggests a striving against the status quo (which might be non-catholic), it potentially involves conflict with those she has been taught to defer to such as her parents and the social order. In short getting her to admit to wanting to be my wife was a miracle & wanting a lifestyle or even a holiday is beyond impossible.
I believe there are secret fantasies lurking there in her sub-conscious surrounding grandchildren and cake and deer-stalking but I can’t begin to coax something out of her that I can use to create a life-plan and this means I have to try and work on my own desires.
And what do I want?
A family, a little small-holding and a steady source of income.
I want my family to be happy and I want to help make it that way