How did I completely forget ... that I used to self-harm?!

When asked about self-harming and suicide re. depression, over the last few years I've kept saying "Oh I'd never self-harm, purely because I'm scared of pain. I don't understand people that do it".

I'm now 22 years old and I self-harmed (tamely, with a compass - causes less fuss and mess and it was what was around at the time) around the age of 13-15. I kept it hidden for a while before showing one friend. However, because I felt so silly and embarrassed I approached the whole thing light-heartedly. Strangely, her reaction was that she thought this was "cool" I suppose, and started doing it herself, the trend spread throughout my small group of girl-friends at the time. This suddenly went from something I did in tears, within the safety of my own room, with only my own company ... to my close friends and I, using it as a shared experience and I learnt to actually enjoy the self-harm - it gave me a buzz. I think at that point that a) I realised that this was not a healthy habit, especially with the fact I had linked it to feelings of positivity ... and b) what was first an expression of my pain had quickly turned into something trivial - it was no longer serving its purpose. So I stopped and ... I can't really remember, but they must've stopped too.

However my anxiety got worse and the compass was soon replaced with my bare nails - I used to work myself up in fits of tears and sit scratching my arms, I mean really digging my nails in. The arm scratching, well I guess I grew out of that too, around the age of 18, when I went to college.

How did something like self-harming just slip my mind?! It may sound tame, but the fact I forgot that I used to cut my arms with a compass and violently scatch and scatch at my arms in my teens makes me worry about what else I've forgotten further into my past :S

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  • Hi Sapphire,

    I can understand how you must be feeling, to suddenly remember something, subsequent, that in hindsight, it's so extreme. But to calm your remind regarding the worry about your memory - forgetting painful memories in our past is not that unusual, far from it. In fact it's completely normal.

    I bet there are things in my past - and in fact everyone's here, that people don't even know about. When we experience something painful, in order to protect ourselves the memory gets pushed into the unconscious mind, where we can't access it (this is sometimes known as repression), it this so we don't have to live with unpleasant feelings in the present, that come from our past.

    That's about as much as I can say, I'm afraid. I don't know enough to be able to go into much more details.

    They do appear to come back into our memories at times - many friends of mind have remembered unpleasant things from their past that they've forgotten (usually in their early adulthood, from what I've observed) - but these can be for various reasons. Perhaps their unconscious is trying to tell them something, to address the issue - because often with repressed memories people can become 'stuck' - as the memory affects them on an unconscious level - preventing them from doing certain things (that could act as stimuli for the memory), and subsequently stops them from moving on. The good news is, if people do remember unpleasant memories, providing they don't come all at once and end up being re-traumatising, it can be quite cathartic and releases stress. Obviously it's painful, how can you expect it not to be? But after.

    I'm wondering what caused your anxiety at the time - why it lead to such an extreme form of behaviour. I would say definitely ask for some form of counselling, if you haven't already, and bring it up with them because I'm sure they could offer you much more than I can. :) (Hopefully in a few years though I'll be qualified to help more professionally, I'm doing a psychology degree - or at least attempting to :) ).

    Before I finish I want to say, don't be surprised if you find yourself remembering more unpleasant things... Don't be alarmed. I don't believe a person's unconscious minds let's it's guard down if the person couldn't handle the memory. Don't go 'looking' for bad memories either - as I'm not even saying it's going to happen (it wouldn't be my place to say that as I obviously don't know you), just that it could. Just if it does it does - if it's meant to then it's meant to.

    The best reassurance I can give you is as I said at the beginning. You're not going 'crazy' or anything like that :) so please don't worry - what happened was completely normal and healthy.

    Hope my reply makes sense. Head is all over the place and there are fireworks going on outside my window. Message me anytime.

    (((hugs)))

    Fay :) xxxx

  • Thank you for your thoughtful comment :) It was a mixture of long-term problems with my mum and just having developed depression and being confused and scared and not knowing how to cope. I've had really heightened emotions for years now. At the time it was new and the overload of emotions was just too much. I bang my head sometimes but I try not to self-harm as I'm scared I'll be looked down on for it. I've now found banging my head doesn't leave marks - so no questions. I don't scratch myself anymore, but I think I'm always going to find ways, it's the only way I can cope with the intensity of anxiety/frustration at how I'm feeling, that I have sometimes. I was just scared when I realised I'd managed to forget, that's all. I keep thinking I'm strong and I'm coping, but the fact I've buried that, the fact I did it made me panic because it's making me realise more and more that I'm not as "normal" as I think I am.

  • Again, thank you for taking time to respond xx

  • No problem :)

    I want to start off by saying self harm isn't as unusual as you think, you'd be surprised. So many people self harm but many hide it, which is why it isn't well known. Off the top off my head I can name at least 6 other people who I know who have self harmed (but I probably no more without realising it). I, myself, went through a stage of biting my hands really hard at one point, but when it almost left a permanent mark I realised it had to stop and like you, I worried about being judged by my family (my gran noticed it once and because she's far from discrete she asked in front of everyone when we're visiting...it was mortifying.) I understand these revelations have come as a shock and are causing you to question things about yourself (i.e. being 'normal') but in the big scheme of things, you're no less normal than anyone else and don't forget - you're human, and humans aren't made to be perfect.

    I can understand the banging head against the wall as well - again you'd be surprised, I've heard a few of my friends say they do or have done this. I used to do it a few times, sometimes it just seems like there's no other way of coping with the over whelming feelings or thoughts that come into our minds. But it doesn't half give you a headache does it? :)

    I wish I could help out more. I've heard somewhere that holding ice cubes in your hands can cause discomfort and take away the need to self harm, also there's wearing an elastic band around your wrist and flicking it - although not everyone I know has been satisfied by that.

    Although have you tried keeping a diary of how you feel? (I have, although I understand obsession of feeling like you have to always 'commit' to it that comes with anxiety, many of mine are half full where I've been frustrated and just given up. Although in hindsight I shouldn't have worried, as a diary is supposed to be a true representation of my life and how I'm feeling, not an edited version. However, if you feel keeping a diary's a bit heavy, you could try writing how you feel on posts it, or small strips of paper and maybe storing them in a tin to keep them together - that way you won't feel like you have to keep on track of it so much). I don't know how often in the day you get these feelings of being over whelmed, but perhaps when they're just beginning - before they've taken over - you could take some time to write your thoughts down before it gets too much (this can also help us to understand why certain things are bothering us and, at times, make new connections and draw a solution from these - although it depends what they are).

    I'm sorry about the all the problems you've had with your mum. Clearly that's going to have a profound affect because your mum is supposed to be the person you can go to make you safe, comfortable, and secure. To not have that will unsurprisingly cause you to feel vulnerable, helpless, and wounded - this can lead to developing depression, and badly puncture our self esteem which in turn causes a vicious circle because this is the time when we need relatives to support us the most - it's hard! It's not surprise it would cause you self harm.

    I don't know if you ever managed to sort things out with your mum but I hope you did, or somehow you do. I know my mum and me have some devastating memories but we're a lot better now, we came through it. In hindsight I think a lot of it came from her saying things in the heat of the moment because of her depression, which she gets bouts of. So I think it's important to remember that sometimes parents don't mean what they say, so with this in thought, try not to take whatever's been said to heart. And also, sometimes parents get it wrong too and make mistakes.

    Sending healing (((hugs))) your way.

    Fay :) xxxx

  • Hi there! I Can't believe how simular this post is to me. Makes you realize your not the only one. My family and friends dont understand me! I feel I am a shame to them! Everyone take care! xx

  • No, Sapphire, love, you're really not alone :)

    And I can understand why you have found this experience so frightening.

    I'm not sure whether you had really forgotten your episodes of SI, more likely you had put it behind you. It was no longer relevant to the questions you were being asked so your mind did not bother to supply the information. It's only later when something triggered the specific memory that it all came back into your mind.

    That said I understand your fear. I have a long history of SI (self injury) and I think when we react in this way we are always questioning why, looking for reasons, etc. I don't know why I cope in this way and I do worry that there is some undiscovered, unremembered trauma in my past that has caused it but the longer I go on the more I think there isn't. It's just something I do when I under stress.

    Please try not to dwell on it too much.

    Love

    Lizard.xxx

  • Sometimes our brain blocks the unpleasant things we partake.

  • Hi Fay, I'll definitely try the ice cubes, thank you. Also, I used to write it down and I think that helped a bit. Although I used to write it in a more obscure way from reality, like as a made up character - because I like creative writing. This helped distract me, but I don't know if detaching it from me rather than identifying with it and coming to terms with it is such a good thing? My mum has had her own mental issues that, the more I see them in myself, the more I realise she has the same issues, which makes me feel bad because I feel I'm stressing her out more. But at the same time, she's an only parent with only me, so I feel bad not keeping her company all the time - but I'm 22 now, I need to lead my own life. She never abandoned me but smothered me, and in some cases, although it's different the effects can be almost as bad as abandonment. But anyway, thank you very much for your advice Fay :) xxxxx Tamzin, it's additional stress isn't it? :( xx Lizard, thank you for your reply, yeah I'm just thinking that I put it behind me for a reason. But up to a couple of days ago I was genuinely thinking "I'd never self harm", which is contradictory to what I did, it feels like I've been denying the incidents to myself. xxx I agree Holly, I think that's why the memory got lost for so long, despite being asked about self-harming frequently in the years between then and now. Thank you all for your comments xxxxx

  • Hi Sapphire 3, I hope your feeling better! Its really difficult when you Can't talk to your family, I have been seeing a 3 principle facilitator, which helps me find a space to listen to my wisdom, my mum thinks its a wasted money and making a friend. I started scratching my arm again, so disappointed in myself! I feel i'm useless! xx

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