My body comes with a trigger warning – Self harm and stigma

Hello!  I wrote a blog for Mind on self harm,  stigma and conflicting messages.

“Stigma” has two meanings. One is religious- they’re the literal marks on the hands of Christ at the crucifixion, and then bestowed upon those whom were holiest- and by extension, those who suffered the most. The other is social- a mark of disgrace. Self harm is both. It is highly stigmatised in society and within the health system, and it is a mark of suffering.

Suffering only has cache if it’s quiet, or, “dignified”. If you make people uncomfortable with your suffering, then there’s stigma. And therein lies the rub.

How do you combat stigma on something that makes other people uncomfortable?

How do you say people who self harm should be treated with kindness when their bodies are seen as attacks on others, to say that self harm shouldn’t be a problem hidden in the dark, when we do exactly that by not allowing representations of self harm?

I just have scars now. They’re very noticeable but also very faded.

Recently, I had a baby. In the postnatal ward, a midwife wrote that I was sitting on the bed holding my baby, “scars on arms”. That’s six year old self harm scars, as relevant to my medical history as a broken leg, and yet so very present, because they were, on a hot stuffy ward, visible. That’s what I was reduced to- “scars on arms”, the loving arms holding my newborn son, the arms of a new mother, a person, exhausted, elated, and ordinary.

If you’d like to rest the read,  it lives here.

Therapy Tales No. Etc- Death and Trauma. Fun.

Therapy is ending soon.

Losses, fears, love- that’s basically it. Losses of things I loved- including animals (I know pets die, but mine in sudden, cruel ways I can’t go into here but which haunt me) and people. They all died lonely, premature, unfair, painful deaths. As soon as I really understood what death really was (which happened when I had another loss- my friend who killed herself when I was 15), I have been completely heartbroken ever since. Of what life is. Of feeling. Of finality. Of memory. I can’t bear it, any of it. That’s when the fear really started. I’d always been afraid of my parents’ death, i obsessed over it. But that was my first big loss, of someone I’d seen so recently, so young, so similar to me. We were all steeped in bullshit pop music mythology, playing with self harm. But she died. Alone. And I was unforgiven for something. I never got to explain or say sorry. And she died. Died. Death. Forever. My first cremation, too.

Memory is important to me. Memory is evasive to me. I have convoluted memories of my own childhood.  Different from my siblings’ because we’re different people. Everything is kind of mixed up, muddy. Then my own brain conspired against me, and I don’t remember a lot of my periods of illness, or the life that existed, inevitably, as life does, within them. And I had my own fractious relationship with the truth when I was young.  When I look back I realise it was because I found it so hard to be living the life I had, so created another, not even one that was easier, but one I felt could justify the pain I was in without ever being honest about what was really causing it (it still feels churlish and trivial, and now I am at the other extreme of exposing honesty).  Other people have memories I don’t, largely negative and embarrassing. My own bad behaviour haunts me not just because it hurt those it was directed to (or caught within), but because I know it has become part of the memory arsenal, that chorus always waiting to be summoned, or to butt in, uninvited, and to hurt. And I hate that. I don’t want to be someone’s bad memories. Maybe if I can be better now, I can replace it or erase it? And all I want is to give my son happy memories. Robert says I’m morbid, which is true. He keeps us in the present- he thinks, “experiences”, I think, “memories”. Already living in the past tense.

Memory is all we have, really. In the end, if we’re lucky, that’s all we have. Since my dad died I have dug deep and cling to the good memories I have of him. Further and further away. It’s hard to remember happiness. It’s not the visceral gut punch of despair, more the balloon in your hand that drifts away, bright and then small and smaller. Physical pain is hard to remember (I couldn’t describe now what my contractions felt like, even though I know they hurt), but emotional pain recalls itself constantly. So I often only remember the bad things clearly (and how bad they were), and it feels like they just happened. How jealous I am of people whose parents weren’t like mine and who they went out to lunch with and they didn’t die like my dad did. Even those who did die but in ways that people had some sympathy for (alcoholics dying, lowest of the low, fuck their children, the way we were treated by the medical staff, my baby brother and sister, fuck them forever and forever for it, for every person afterwards who turned their face away from me),  I have to unfollow people on Facebook posting happy pictures with their parents. Out at lunch! Having drinks! Doing normal things.

Memory is the twoheaded monster. My memories of my dad are awful, Sometimes they engulf me and I feel like tearing my skin off in agony that I can’t go back, can’t change something, can’t intercept this awful image and make it different. That was it. And his memories. I think that’s perhaps worst. HIs life which he didn’t deserve. That he was so desperately unhappy. That he died like he did, and that I knew he was afraid of it. And there are tears pouring down my face as I write this. To be afraid without comfort. Without hope. I wanted to be there when he died to be a hand or a face or a word, and I wasn’t.

Me being there wouldn’t have changed the outcome, he would have died anyway. But I wanted to do something, anything.

My friend Brendan died not long after my dad. He was an alcoholic too, was trying to recover. He died of an accidental overdose and my last communication with him was a voicemail he left on the Monday before he died asking me to meet up, saying he was nearby, just passing, are you in? get in touch, and I was so up my own fucking selfish arse I never did and then he died.

In therapy we talked about safety behaviours and my big one is having my phone on me and being always contactable. I have a three hour commute to and from work and most of it is underground. I went for a rare night out on Tuesday and had a panic attack on the train as I visualised (fear not feelings etc, but it felt like a promotion, it felt like destiny), Robert screaming over our baby, screaming and screaming and I wasn’t there. That if he died I wouldn’t be there. What would his last memory be? Be held, be there, be loved. Not alone.

(Howl)

This is hard to write. I’ll come back to it.

It’s also about fear. I used to have nightmares about my dad dying from his drink. But he did anyway. It happened even worse than I screamed about. So why should I trust my fears aren’t real? That the worst won’t happen? It did. All the worst fears I have (dying myself is a worst fear that will inevitably be true, but I fear dying young, leaving my baby, Robert dying, my baby dying, my mum being unhappy and dying) came true so why not these? It’s hard not to take my anxieties as facts. They happened.  And with Robert and my baby in particular, who are my husband and my son, I love them so fiercely, I think, my love must insulate them from suffering, from death. But it doesn’t and it won’t. How can I ever accept that? I know it’s a childish and possibly a bit narcissistic but there it is. When Robert has the slightest bit of discomfort, my refrain is, “What can I do? How can I fix it?”

We talked about my intrusive thoughts which often take the form of, when I’m speaking to someone, imagining them dead. And realising they have the same expression, that I am just superimposing my dad over everyone’s faces, just reliving it constantly.

We didn’t even get on that well when he was alive. We had some beautiful moments, a lot of understanding, and he was a good person. But I often hated him for what he put us through. I used to fantasise about him falling downstairs and breaking his neck just so he’d shut up. Stop shouting. Stop drinking. Then we’d be free. (I hate this freedom. I hate myself).

So the therapist talked a bit about trauma and how events can be too big for the brain to process so they never become memories. They’re always happening instead. A sort of PTSD. And how if you break them down they can be processed and become memories and stop being so present. I’m skeptical. I have some extra sessions before we quit but feel like we’ve pulled a thread and I want the jumper back. And I don’t want to do the homework. I don’t want to write it all down. I want to keep pushing it all out. I don’t want to break it down. I don’t want to break down.

I cried a fair bit after that session and Robert gave me a lot of hugs when I came home. And then abruptly I just stopped talking about it, as I do, Silly, trivial, depressing.

Yeah.

(Stay with the feelings)

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