We must differentiate between self-injury and suicide attempts. Self-injury is the process of harming yourself intentionally, without the intent of death. Suicide attempts are acts carried out to end your own life. While most individuals that self-injure are not suicidal, a history of self-injury does increase the risk of future suicide attempts.
If an individual does not harm themselves with the intent to die; Why do they do it? The following list outlines several common reasons provided by individuals that self-harm, (Samweiss, 2022).
Common Reason for Self-Harming Behavior
1) To distract themselves from emotional pain
2) To punish themselves for negative feelings or behaviors
3) In an attempt to find and obtain caring connections
4) Due to poor impulse control
Suicide ideation refers to the presence of suicidal thoughts. These thoughts could be fleeting or obsessive. Individuals who deal with suicide ideation often feel trapped, hopeless, worthless, or alone, (Mayo Foundation, 2022).
+ “I wish I were dead.”
+ “Everyone would be better off without me.”
+ “I could care less whether I live or die.”
+ “I wish something would take me out of this world.”
+ “There’s nothing and no one here for me.”
+ The purchasing of equipment, (firearms, ropes, etc.).
+ Planning the suicide, (When, where, how).
+ Writing a suicide note or saying goodbye to loved ones
My Personal Experience
I have two goals through this platform. First, to raise awareness for mental health and be a positive influence for those that struggle with maintaining it. Second, continuing to improve my own mental health through self-reflection. I could provide you with textbook examples, symptoms, and psychological reasons, but I feel that personal testimonies make the greatest impact.
I am going to share my personal experience with self-harm and suicide ideation. If any of my loved ones are reading this, please note that these are past experiences. I am perfectly capable of managing these thoughts and feelings at this point in my life. I am okay, so please do not worry and do not look for personal fault in my story. I love you all and appreciate you so much.
So It Begins…
At 13, I just wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted to belong in my family, in my friend group, and in my life. But, my family situation was complicated. 13-year-old girls are mean. And I felt like a fraud. To sum up my feelings, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. When I reflected on these thoughts, I came to one conclusion; The problem in each of these situations was me.
Was it my fault that all of these things were happening? Did I push my family away? Was I too difficult to be close to? Why did I constantly self-sabotage? And what was wrong with me? I now know that I have complex, post-traumatic stress disorder and unhealthy core beliefs. But, at the time, I felt like something in me was broken, difficult to love, and worthless. If I was the problem, how was life supposed to get better?
Most mornings, before school, I would sit in the shower crying as scalding hot water filled the bottom of the tub. The burn of the hot water seemed to help me calm down and feel better. I liked how red my skin became and the sting of the burning water sprinkling across my skin. That is where I was and what I was thinking about the first time I cut myself.
Feeling broken and unwanted every day and crying yourself to sleep every night for a prolonged time can break you. Sitting in that scalding water was a relief, an escape, from my obsessive thoughts and the emotional pain that they caused. I felt that the stinging burn could help me feel better. But, I couldn’t sit in the shower all day. I started to consider other ways that I could inflict that pain onto myself.
One day, while shaving my legs, I accidentally cut my knee. The brief burn provided me with the solution. After finishing in the shower, I took a shaving razor back to my bedroom. Once inside, I locked my door and used tweezers to break the razor’s head open. I carefully plucked out each blade and wrapped them in toilet paper before hiding them inside a pair of socks in my underwear drawer.
The first time that I clenched that blade between my fingers and slid its sharp edge across my wrist, I was terrified. I was afraid that my mom would find out, I was afraid that I was crossing some metaphorical line, and I was afraid that it wouldn’t help me. But, the pain distracted me from me. It pulled me out of my own head and provided me with something real to hate myself for.
At the time, I wanted to hate the ugliness of my skin rather than the ugliness I believed to exist inside my head. I needed to hate everyone else to stop hating myself. Sometimes I would slash my skin once, another time twice. Whenever I found myself lost in my own self-loathing, I’d slash my wrist again. If the situation did not permit me to do it, I’d dig my nails into the healing cuts, until they started to sting. Cutting myself became my coping mechanism for dealing with emotional pain and intrusive thoughts. I carried a blade, wrapped in a paper towel inside my bra at all times.
Breaking the Habit
Despite the hair bands and long sleeves pulled down to cover my wrists, my mom noticed the cuts after about two weeks. I had fallen into a pile of ice sheets earlier that day. I told her that the jagged pieces of ice cut my arm when I fell down. In hindsight, I’m not sure that she believed that. About a week later, she came into my room one night and began rubbing my arms. While doing so, she noticed fresh cuts on my wrist. Although I attempted to remind her of the incident, she directly asked whether I had been hurting myself.
When she confronted me, I felt ashamed, like my hurting myself also hurt her. I knew she was questioning what she did wrong and it gave me another thing to blame myself for. After our conversation, I decided that I would not cut my wrist again. But, I felt that I needed the pain, so I began cutting the skin below my hip bones. I’d carefully cut along the inside of my underwear lines so that the marks could not be seen if I was wearing a bathing suit.
I continued to do this at least twice a week until I turned 15. At 15, the frequency began to slow down. Instead of injuring myself every time I was upset, I would reach out to a specific friend for emotional support. When he was not available, I would continue my habit. Although the frequency may have slowed down, I did not stop cutting myself until the age of 17.
You may find yourself wondering, why 17? What was so special about that age? How did you get better? Truthfully, I can not take the credit. I stopped cutting myself when I learned that I was pregnant with my son. Instead of experiencing all of the old fears, I felt a new one. What would happen if a doctor uncovered this behavior? Would they take away my child?
That fear of having my child taken from me, or me being taken from him prompted me to break the habit and prepare for new beginnings. My son represented hope, opportunity, and purpose.
I quit cutting myself through the use of sheer willpower, I never taught myself how to cope with all of the difficult emotions that I dealt with. Those feelings were still unresolved and I had lost my preferred method of emotional release. I haven’t cut myself in eight years, but even now, there are still moments when I consider doing it.
Without that immediate emotional release, a new mental health struggle took form- suicide ideation. Instead of cutting myself when I felt overwhelmed with negative emotions, I began thinking about the ways that my life could end. I’d tell myself that one day I could be hit by a car. I’d imagine active shooter situations, or I’d consider suicide as an end in the long term.
When I was overwhelmingly upset, I’d mark my son’s eighteenth birthday as the end of these thoughts and feelings. If I could just fight through it until my son grew up, I’d have no purpose anymore. I wouldn’t be needed and I could just let go.
Shortcomings and Self-Hatred
While I may not harm myself anymore, I still experience those feelings of coming short and self-hatred. That perception of internal ugliness, worthlessness, and guilt is not gone, but I am learning how to manage and confront these perceptions.
Multiple risk factors increased my risk of self-harm and experience suicidal thoughts. I have a family history of substance abuse, I struggle with mental health issues, and I’ve experienced various stressful events. As a teenager, I had even more risk factors. I experienced the loss of family, I was the victim of bullying, I experienced sexual violence, and I was uncertain of my sexual orientation.
These risk factors all work together to increase the prevalence of mental health issues and the presence of one or more of these risk factors increases the likelihood of experiencing another. If you think about that too deeply, it will cause you to lose hope. If I’m already set up to experience more hardship, what is the point in having hope that things will ever get easier?
Commitment to Hope
The advice that I would give to teenagers and young adults that self-harm is that it is a short-term solution to a lifelong problem. Learning to manage negative emotions is imperative to maintaining good mental health. While the pain may release those emotions momentarily, they will always come back again. The key to dealing with these negative feelings is to confront them, question them, and learn how to manage them safely and healthily.
One thing that helps me is committing to having hope. Hope for the future. Hope for me. Hope for my children. Give yourself things to look forward to. Set goals that you believe you are capable of achieving. Don’t be afraid to hope for a better future.
Take a look at what committing to hope looks like for me.
+ Making plans in advance. This provides me with something in the near future to look forward to.
+ Actively planning and working towards long-term goals. I am incredibly competitive and achievement-oriented. Making these goals gives me something to work towards.
+ Participating in therapy and self-reflection. At times, these things seem pointless and unhelpful. But, I remind myself that they are good for my mental health and teach me positive practices for mindfulness and emotional management. Talk to a therapist about setting therapy goals. These goals will assist you in recognizing progress in your journey.
+ Imagining my children’s futures also makes me feel hopeful. Picturing them as successful and happy adults provides me with hope for their future and a future that I want to be a part of.
If you or a loved one experience thoughts of suicide….
Please reach out to someone. I understand that things can feel unchanging and the pain feels like it could go on forever, but it doesn’t. I’ve been there and I’ve thought to myself, “Sure, I might be okay tomorrow. But, these feelings and thoughts will be back.”
Sometimes it makes me feel tired. Tired of feeling stuck in a cycle. Tired of dealing with myself. But, actively working to resolve these thoughts does decrease the frequency of their occurrence and the strength with which they return. You really are not alone.
Talk to Your Loved Ones
The belief that discussing suicide and suicidal thoughts makes someone consider it, is a myth. When people commit suicide or experience suicidal thoughts, they often feel alone. Being someone that they can talk to is an enormous help. Check in on your loved ones, especially if they begin to socially withdraw, change eating/sleeping habits, become irritable, or show increased emotional sensitivity.
If you are the one experiencing thoughts of suicide, reach out to those closest to you. Find the people you can trust and talk to them about how you are feeling and what you are thinking. Even if you do not want to share these thoughts and feelings, reaching out to an emotional connection will ease those feelings of loneliness.
Reach Out to A Professional
When these thoughts occur often or are particularly intense, it may be best to reach out to a mental health professional. As a general rule of thumb, I believe that everyone could benefit from therapy and counseling. We all need an unbiased person to talk to and each of us has an experience that we would benefit from working through.
Call A Hotline
Unfortunately, therapists and counselors require appointments. When you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and depression, it can be difficult to make plans for the future. Even if that future plan is only a week away. If you find yourself unmotivated, call a suicide or crisis hotline. These hotlines provide you with immediate access to unbiased communication.
National Suicide and Crisis Textline
Call: 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-273-TALK
State Specific Hotlines
A quick google search of ‘suicide hotlines’ and your specific state will provide you with state-specific hotlines and resources. The American Psychological Association, (APA), offers a list of states. When selected, the link will direct you to a quick form meant to put you in touch with nearby psychologists.
Employee Benefit Solutions
As the awareness around mental health and mental illness in America continues to grow, employers have begun offering employee benefits solutions that offer employees support. One of the most common offerings is Employee Assistance Programs, (EAP). These programs often include access to an immediate support line.
The individual on the other side of the phone is trained in crisis management and can assist you in calming down before connecting you with a nearby therapist or counselor. Depending on the employer’s program selection, the therapy sessions may be free up to so many visits or offered at a reduced rate.
Seek Urgent Care
If you find yourself in a situation where you are not only experiencing suicidal thoughts, but you are picturing and planning how to follow through with them, you should seek immediate emergency care.
Urgent care may include one of the following options.
+ Calling 911
+ Visiting the Closest Emergency Room
+ Visiting a Crisis Center
+ Psychiatric Emergency Services
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, July 19). Suicide and suicidal thoughts. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/symptoms-causes/syc-20378048
Samweiss. (2022, March 8). March: Self-harm awareness month. Department of Psychiatry. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://www.med.unc.edu/psych/march-self-harm-awareness-month/
3 thoughts on “Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation: My Experience”
I’ve been through a lot. Never exactly got suicidal but I have wanted to be someone else many times.
When you start to look into all of the different ways traumatic events affect our minds and bodies, it is so much easier to look at yourself and say, “I’m proud of you. You are doing a great job.” You never asked to feel the way you do, but you wake up every day and try to make the most of it. I AM PROUD OF YOU!
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I’m proud of you too! And I appreciate what you’re doing and your blog. 🙂
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