Even though cutting is closely tied in with suicide, as it is a means to an end, it isn't always about that.
I hope the following post can help those that don't, understand a bit more about why cutters cut, and follow my struggles to 'cut out the cutting'.
I am not trying to promote cutting by any means, but I hope that fellow cutters may be able to get something from this post too, even if it is just a feeling of understanding.
When I first began cutting, I was 16. I used a rusty blunt craft knife, and hacked at my skin. Most of the cuts were superficial and have dissapeared over the years, only one of them scarred.
I remember working in a supermarket, it was summertime and everyone was wearing smocks, and I was the only one wearing a jersey. It so freaking hot, but I had to cover my shame, cover my scars.
Why? you might ask, why cut? why do it where you have to cover it? were you asking for attention? were you crying for help?
Well... I cannot speak for everyone, but this is what cutting means to me.
I cut because the pain boils over, I cut because I am panicking and hurting and if something doesn't give then suicide is next on the list.
So I cut, it brings me back from the brink of hysteria. Concentrating on the blood, on the pain, on pushing the blade deeper, seeing how much pain you can take, the adrenalin rush you get after each line of violent red is carved into your skin.. it is addictive. It gives you endorphins, it makes you feel better when you feel absolutely horrific. Yes it hurts, it hurts like a b***h! but the worse the inner pain, the less I notice the external pain.
I am sure there are less gruesome alternatives which I will talk about later, such as exercise, chocolate, sex, laughter etc etc... but when the mind is in a depressed state, it is hard to want anything more than to punish yourself.. to externalise the pain and anguish you feel internally. To have a visual reminder of the despair and distress you are dealing with.
So yes I guess cutting was both a cry for help, and a way to ask for attention. I wanted subconsciously to show people the pain I was feeling.. I wanted to shock people into caring. But after the act, I would become ashamed, and try to hide it. I wouldn't want people to judge me because I cut, even today I wear bracelets on my wrist that is marred by scarring, and I try and keep my forearms tanned to obscure the thin white lines that stand out like crazy whenever I get really cold.
Even today; despite having traded cutting in for other methods of calming and destressing, my friends get highly suspicious when I wear anything long sleeved or long legged out of context... I can only laugh and pull back the clothing in question and prove I have no new scars. Yes it is a bit sad and tragic, and some of you might think it is disgusting and depraved... but understanding peoples motivation is the key.
Don't judge something you don't fully understand.
I still feel to this day, if cutting didn't leave scars, or leave you open to infection, it would be a perfectly reasonable way to deal with panic attacks. It is effective, the pain tires you out, and the endorphins give you a boost of serotonin... you feel better after a short while, and the better you feel, the more it hurts, until you stop.
But cutting isn't fool proof. It DOES leave scarring. Scarring that opens us up to questions and judgement.
Tattoos are hindrence enough in a job interview, scarring well, you can imagine how that is going to look.
Also I do not want my children to think cutting is a healthy or normalised thing. I do not want to have to explain why my arms are bandaged or why I have big cuts on my arms.
Scars, I can explain the scars when they are older, I think it is healthy to feed the kids the truth. But there is an appropriate time and situation to broach the subject. I don't want mine to feel that cutting is good way to deal with anger or hurt, or that it is the solution.
Also when you are doing something like cutting, it is easy to go to far. If you are too far gone when you start, if the hysteria is already in full swing, you can cut too deep, go too far. This happened to me on one occasion, I was hospitalised as I had cut too deep, and the loss of blood rendered me unable to get out the shower.. I was too dizzy, too sick, I lay there bleeding out, til' I heard my husband walking past, and I shouted out to him... I scared myself a bit there, I was told if I had cut any deeper I would have cut a main vein, and I probably would have bled to death.
That was the second to last time I have cut. I knew then it wasn't a safe option any longer. I had to find another way to deal with my panic attacks.
The last time I cut I ended up in hospital, but for a different reason.
I was seriously upset and I had tried all my panic attack tricks - nothing would stop this ball from rolling.
So in a last ditch attempt, I allowed myself to cut to try and bring me back from the brink, I was scared at how upset I was, I was beyond reach.
Hopefully that helps some of you understand why someone might cut. I cannot speak for everyone of course. I have met others who cut deeper, and in more secretive places.. but I think it is still to the same purpose... to externalise an inner pain, to take some control of the train wreck in progress.. I guess it is kind of like "If I am going to feel pain, I am going to damn well be in charge of what pain I feel!"
Did you ever say as a kid "Ow my tooth hurts!" and then someone jabs you in the ribs and says "there, think about that instead!"
It's a bit like that.
But why don't we all just eat chocolate?
Studies have shown chocolate gives us endorphins, as does exercise, sex and a few other things.. so why not get obsessed with those instead? turn to chocolate, turn to exercise, turn to sex?
Well, people do.
People have eating disorders, exercise and sex addictions to deal with their pain.
The fact of the matter is, plugging the gap with something else, isn't an answer, it just leads to a dependence on any one source to make you feel better.
The best solution in my opinion, is therapy and cognitive thinking changes.
I am learning different solutions to bring me back from the brink.
An occupational therapist taught me breathing techniques to use when feeling panicked. I turn on the overhead fan, or if it is really bad I use a small portable fan and sit it by my head, and close my eyes and breath.
In through my nose, hold it, then out through my mouth. Thinking about breathing correctly distracts me from thinking about the things that got me there in the first place.
Breathing exercises calm you, and if done properly can relieve most anxiety attacks.
I recommend anyone try it. If you can get yourself calm enough to talk to someone, ring a friend or a therapist/ support person.. you may be able to talk through your problem.
If it is something you don't want to share, perhaps calming yourself down enough to sleep. I often do this, the problem feels smaller when I wake. I can deal with it a bit better, or seek out someone to help me do so, once I have rested and calmed myself.
Friends also swear by regular exercise as a natural endorphin high. I cannot say I have honestly tried this out properly yet, but It sounds like a good idea. If going for a walk will help you to feel better, by all means do it.
Just remember that while exercise may be a good solution for the panic, it will not always fix the problem.
Talking with someone is often the best and only way to deal with the bigger issues.
Finding someone you can trust and talk to is an important step to 'cutting out the cutting'.
Someone who will not judge you or demean you if you do slip up and revert to old ways. Someone who will encourage you to vocalise your pain, rather than carve it into your skin.
For links to places you can seek help, someone to talk to, see side bar.
May I suggest The Nutters Club on facebook, if you just want to find a group of open minded, supportive, non judgemental people, most of who will be able to relate to what you are struggling with.