I’m brimming with emotion almost always. Having bipolar disorder means my emotional spectrum is deeper at both ends (positive and negative) than the average person. My neurons are hyperactive. My brain literally has more intense signaling pathways for emotions.
On the one hand, this can feel a bit exclusive – I can experience the same things a little more intensely than someone standing next to me. On the other hand, in western culture the display of strong emotions is considered weak or lacking in self-control. Because of that, I learned from a young age to hide these intense feelings that would wash over me.
With pressure, discipline, suppression and rewarding of the “right” behaviours, I was shaped into a demure young lady. Ladies don’t cry all the time, they don’t shout or complain, answer-back, question authority, run amock… Necessity taught me to outwardly control my emotions. ‘Elegant’ is a word I hear others describing me time and again. I quashed the outbursts deep down and hid my anger, dissatisfaction and emotional upset. I quietly disappeared into the shadows and did my best not to be noticed, and I succeeded. While any display of emotion was quickly punished, it could be avoided by being subdued and for that I was also praised.
But all of those strong emotions couldn’t just be trodden down. They refused to be forgotten or locked in the cupboard for too long. They demanded attention and I, like so many others, found a ‘safe’ outlet for them. Methods of releasing the tension a little bit without people knowing, judging or punishing.
In my teens I spent hours scratching the skin off of my arms and creating sores. The pain was something to focus on while I was seated in class. It was a form of self-torture, demanded of me by the voices I heard and the guilt I felt for impeding the world with my ungracious presence.
In more recent years I’ve continued the habit of creating sores but confined it to my scalp where it’s hidden by my thick hair. I’ve also poisoned myself multiple times with large overdoses of SSRIs or nurofen to dull my mental capacity and concentrate on physical ailments. I enjoyed the possibility of dying or becoming seriously ill from these. I’ve gone through a period of excessively drinking alcohol every night so I could forget, pass the lonely hours and get to sleep.
Self-harm can be used for many different reasons. For me, it was sometimes a form of punishment and other times a means of escape. It was certainly not for attention – I did my best to hide it and I succeeded. I was embarrassed about it and felt guilty, but it felt necessary at the time.
But these habits have never truly helped me in any way. Instead, they’ve perpetuated the problem. I felt guilty and weak for turning to such methods. I was embarrassed and had to hide it. The overdoses and drinking enormously contributed to the ongoing instability of my moods. It was incredibly difficult, but stopping these methods of dealing with my emotional distress was paramount to my eventual ability to heal. No matter how much I wanted to indulge myself by poisoning again, I had to think beyond this one moment to the weeks and sometimes months of recovery from the instability that follows.