How to survive the impulse to hurt yourself

Erin Schulthies is the writer of Daisies and Bruises, a blog about "finding her way one step and one word at a time". After losing most of her youth to severe depression, she decided that since death was no longer an option, she had to find a way to live. This is it.

Hurting yourself is an individual thing. We all have ways we hurt ourselves, whether it’s overeating or smoking or driving too fast. Some methods are conscious, others are not. Obviously, hurting ourselves hurts us. Why on Earth would we choose to do something that weakens us, makes us more vulnerable, and threatens our survival?

I can’t explain it except that, for me, hurting myself has been a way to align with the world hurting me. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of mentality. It also has made me feel in control of some of the hurt in my life. Actually seeing my physical pain has helped me accept the emotional pain. So it has helped on some levels, or else I never would have done it to begin with.

For a long time I embraced the urge to self-destruct, but I’ve learned the hard way what it does to my physical and emotional strength, not to mention my self-esteem.

Today I had a rough patch and I pulled through without harming myself. What works for me might not always work for you but we can’t be THAT different from one another. Here are some tips for you to try to survive the impulse to hurt yourself, especially if it involves self-harming through injury or suicide.

Therapy was very difficult this afternoon and my first impulse after those sessions is to hide. I simply cannot handle going back out into the world and beeline for the bathroom in my therapist’s building. It’s one room, and everyone else who needs to pee can go fuck themselves because I’M TAKING CARE OF ME!

SURVIVING SELF-DESTRUCTION 101: ERIN STYLE

1. PROTECT YOURSELF

Isolating can be dangerous when you’re feeling upset but it can also be a quick survival tool. Hide until danger has passed! I went into the bathroom, locked the door, and sat down on the floor. In the bathroom there were no people (single stall type room) and no easily accessible sharps. Other good safe places include your vehicle, if you have one, or a nearby corner in a building.

2. DELAY

I used to always carry tools to hurt myself with but I’ve learned that I can always find a way to hurt myself if I absolutely feel that I have to. Nine times out of ten, however, by the time I’ve figured out a way to hurt myself, I’ve changed my mind. Those ten minutes are crucial in protecting yourself in the long run.

3. CRY YOUR BRAINS OUT

It’s what our bodies want to do most when we’re upset. Although society teaches us to ‘be brave,’ our bodies cry because it’s our best natural release for emotion. I cried today for like 45 minutes in that bathroom.

4. THINK IT THROUGH

While bawling my brains out, I thought about ways to hurt myself. Unless I damaged property and expended a huge amount of energy, there was nothing within reach to hurt myself with. That’s when bawling your eyes out comes in handy too because it zapped me of energy. When I thought about self-harming outside, I realized that I couldn’t do so without seriously freaking out people around me. And what if I messed up and hurt someone else or hurt myself in a way I hadn’t intended like caused brain damage? Things can always be worse, believe it or not, and I could not afford for things to get worse.

5. REACH OUT

Yes, this is hard to do but I’ll let you in on a little secret: if it’s too scary, you don’t have to tell people that you’re feeling like hurting yourself! Although that can be a helpful way to maintain safety, sometimes it’s too overwhelming to think about. After I cried for 45 minutes in my therapist’s bathroom, I thought about the support group assessment I had in another 45 minutes. I’d never met the group leaders before and I wasn’t about to tell them about my state of mind, but I knew I didn’t have to be 100% happy-go-lucky when talking with them. I’d waited a long time for that assessment and I decided I could hurt myself after it if I still wanted to.

Going to the support group assessment wasn’t a magical cure. They could tell I was upset and it was pretty awkward because I didn’t want to tell them what was going on but since we’d just met they didn’t push me. I got a glass of water there, though, and promised them I’d come to the group next week. And by the time I got out of the meeting, I realized that I’d put off hurting myself twice in 45-minute portions. I still felt a little unsafe afterwards though and so I curled up against a wall outside, cried a little, and then wrote in my journal. I got through the rest of the night by delaying, reaching out, and then the most important part:

6. REWARD YOURSELF!

Avoiding hurting yourself is pretty awesome. Yeah, it might feel a little lame to celebrate your safety but it is actually the coolest thing in the world. And if that’s too weird to think about, just treat yourself! I got a Starbucks frappuccino later in the evening and checked out some books at Chapters. I wasn’t super enthused about “celebrating my safety” but I figured I’d been through enough shit for the day. It was time to enjoy myself a little, in the small ways I know how. Sure my problems aren’t fixed but I’d done enough about them for the day. I could take them back on in the morning, after delaying some more and chilling out. Give yourself some of the good things in life and those too will help you want to take care of yourself and live even more. :)