My Recovery From Self-Injury

My Recovery From Self-Injury

Recovery means many different things to many different people. It’s a very difficult and personal journey. Not everyone is strong enough to realize they need help, let alone know what to do once they get it.

You often hear people speaking about a place called “Rock Bottom.” The consensus is that to help yourself, you have to realize when you’ve hit the bottom. Some people take years to get to that point. Some people never get there. I’m grateful to say that I am one of those that beat the odds. I hit that bottom, and I hit it hard. The most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do was make my way back up.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. I started taking medication at that time and still do at age 42. I’ve always been realistic about my condition. Having attempted to exist without medications, I know that they are a necessary evil. If I stop taking them, it doesn’t take long for me to fall into a deep, dark depression. If the physical symptoms of withdrawal don’t kill me first.

I’m logical enough to understand that I will never fully recover from bipolar disorder, and I’m OK with that. Some people have to take medication for the rest of their lives for diabetes or heart disease. So, I don’t burden myself with the thought of getting better. Don’t get me wrong, I am always trying to improve myself and the way that I feel, but I know that there is no cure for bipolar disorder.

In my late 20’s I made the mistake of thinking that I might not want to be around anymore. My depression was beginning to take over my life. Even relatively normal heartaches seem to affect me much greater than the average person. I was also experiencing migraines that started at the age of 12. The older I got, the worse they got.

I felt like I had lost complete control over my life, so I was going to try to kill myself. I was using an old razor, and when I didn’t receive the desired effect, I kept going. Eventually, I stopped thinking about dying and starting to experience what could only be described as calm. I had no idea that this was “a thing”. My mind just kept taking me back to the thought that I was such a failure at life, I couldn’t even commit suicide correctly.

Eventually, self-­injury became a huge part of my life. I had rituals, songs I played, an entire box of instruments, and a safe place to hide them. One night, I made a mistake and went too far. I couldn’t possibly confess to my parents what I was doing, so I did the only thing I thought I could. I called my then boyfriend who abused me, and asked him for help. He drove me to his sister’s house because she had once studied to be a medical assistant. Sitting at her dining room table, she stitched up my arm, with no sanitation and no numbing solution for the pain.

As I got a little older, self­-injury wasn’t necessarily as important to me, but it was always in the back of my mind. I was humiliated when I would date, and the guy would see my scars. I was covered with them.

In May of 2001, I officially started dating the man who would become my husband. He was extremely supportive, but just as confused as anyone else was. He didn’t understand that I was already beating myself up enough; I didn’t need him to get mad at me for the behavior. Eventually, we started working through it, and my urges were much less frequent. In fact, I went five years without an incident until 2013.

Despite the fact that self­-injury was no longer a big piece of my life, I still kept some instruments hidden in our house. When my life went into a full­on tailspin that June, it was the only thing I could think about. Truthfully, once I started again, I was so depressed that I didn’t care if I died. I just wanted the pain to stop. With each pass over my skin, I felt a myriad of emotions. Failure, fear, guilt, and even a small amount of relief. I couldn’t stop sobbing, and eventually I must have cried myself to sleep because I woke up some time later to my doorbell ringing. My husband had called my family from work and sent my dad and my sister over. At that point, I was the only one that knew I had also swallowed a full bottle of medication.

I was admitted to the hospital, and later I was committed by the state. It was the worst experience I have ever had in my entire life. It was a horrible, horrible facility. I played the game and was a model patient.

After four days, they let me out. Driving home with my husband, I swore I would never take another sharp instrument to my skin again. I pushed all of the past failures to the side. I focused on the here and now and started a clean slate. I developed my own coping skills, and I started writing. I wrote a lot. It began as a blog but has become a book. I am proud to say it was just released on August 21, 2015!

Don’t get me wrong, I still have urges. They may never go away. However, I know now how to put a voice to my feelings and communicate with my loved ones. This past June, I celebrated two years clean of self­-injury. What an enormous milestone for me. I’m so grateful to the people that stuck by me during this journey. Nothing about it has been easy, but I am a survivor. In fact, I’m a warrior.


Rebecca LombardoAbout the Author: Rebecca Lombardo

 At 42 years of age and happily married for 14 years, Rebecca can finally say that she is on her way to reaching her dream. Not only does she hope to help people that are struggling with depression, she hopes to help them realize that you are never too old to find your voice.

Connect with Rebecca via email , or on Facebook or on TwitterYou can find out more about Rebecca’s book, It’s Not Your Journey by heading over to her website.

3 Comments

Anita LaFollette, MFT

I love that you have spoken out. I will use this for my clients so that they too can see the disease is not absolutely hopeless. Thank you

Reply
Rebecca McGranahan

Rebecca,
My name is Rebecca also snd like you I am 45 with bipolar disorder and a history of severe depression and suicide attempts. Every single person in my life wrote me off as dead and gave up on me but like you I am a warrior and still here living. I am back in school at age 45 finishing my psych degree, have an amazing supportive boyfriend, have reestablished ties and forgiven those who gave up on me and take my meds every day as I also realized that as much as we want to believe it there is no cure for bipolar. Living without the meds is debilitating even though living with them feels like a punishment for something I didn’t do. I don’t have a counselor but I am trying my best to improve myself every day and keep on track so I never fall back down into that scary abyss that anyone with bipolar is familiar with. I’m so proud of you for telling your story and inspiring others with mental illness to share theirs. There is such a stigma attached to being mentally ill. So much shame go along with the diagnosis. I know. Thank you for your courage. Your story was inspiring and I truly wish you all the best in your life’s persists and happiness…from one warrior to another.
Rebecca

Reply
Robert Hammel

Wonderful words Rebecca thank you. As more and more strong people like yourself come forward and talk about their own stories, it educates others about this type of mental suffering and hopefully the stigma lessens just a little bit as people gain some understanding.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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