A Secret of My Bipolar Depression Revised

This post is not PG. I’d say it’s PG-15 or so. I pride myself on keeping my blog family-friendly and I do still consider this a family-friendly post. This is a revised post of an entry I posted originally on June 21, 2011. I keep finding things to add to this post…I last revised it on the morning of June 22, 2011.

I beg teens between the ages of fourteen to eighteen to sit down and read this with your parents if you find this post. I hope that teens and college-aged people who may come across this post will speak to their parents about the following issue if it affects you or you know someone who engages in this behavior when they are depressed or otherwise. Parents, do not be afraid to ask your kids about their feelings. Do not be afraid to interfere in your kids’ friendships and relationships if you suspect they may be destructive or unhealthy. I wish I’d had the courage to talk to my parents about the following issue when I was young because I know for a fact that they cared enough to help me. Mother and Daddy, if you read this post, please know that I’ve gotten help and there was absolutely nothing else you guys could have done at the time to help me. You were and still are the best parents ever! Unfortunately for both myself and my parents, I isolated myself so much within an emotionally abusive relationship while I was in high school and college that no one had any way to know what was going on within the relationship. I didn’t realize how far the destruction had gone. Before the relationship ended, the young man I was involved with promised he was done engaging in the behavior himself. My regret is that I didn’t understand how serious this issue is and that I didn’t seek out help for both myself and for him. I have no regrets about ending the relationship. But I do think we could have both been healthier people much sooner had I known at the time that what I am about to write about is a serious symptom of depression that is very treatable with therapy and, when necessary, medication.

I don’t know about other bipolar people because I’ve known very few outside group therapy sessions. I know that this issue can affect anyone who gets depressed, not just those with bipolar disorder. This is the very disturbing secret about my particular iillness that I’ve rarely shared with anyone outside of those professionals I’ve known or outside of group therapy. I am ready to speak publicly about the unspeakable. I write not to glorify this aspect of depression, but to let people know that it is very okay to ask for help. In fact, it is imperative to ask for help and to know where appropriate help can be found. In my experience with speaking about all aspects of my depression, those professionals that are knowledgeable enough to help are not judgmental. The professionals who really know what depression can do to someone can empathize without making the action okay. This is not something about which to get angry with the person committing the action. Someone who does this, whether on a regular basis or once in their life, is crying out for help in a big way. I am glad that I’ve had folks who intervened and I now know what to do to help myself.

I am a cutter.

There, I’ve said it. I’ll say it again. I am a cutter.

There is a caveat that I can safely add now, thank goodness. I am a cutter in recovery. It’s kind of like being an alcoholic. I’ll never stop being a cutter because I’ll likely never lose the urges to cut when my depression gets to a certain point. However, I have been in treatment for a long time regarding my cutting urges and it’s been a long time since I cut. Now I can safely say I am a cutter in recovery.

It’s taken me years of therapy to get to the place of acceptance I am today with this particular behavior. I can now take responsibility for this old behavior of mine. I am a cutter and it’s not okay to act on that urge. I can now take responsibility for this aspect of my depression.

I think I’ve spoken in my blog about the inward rage that gets to me at various times. I’ve had enough therapy to know that it comes from my severe control issues. I have real issues with responsibility (not wanting to take responsibility for anything) and control (wanting to control everything about my environment). When those issues get out of hand and my inward pain gets very, very strong, I have the urge to cut myself.

I was never very “good” at cutting, thank God. It doesn’t matter, the severity of the wound, though. A cutter is a cutter and cutting is a very, very serious symptom of depression. Even when the intention is not suicide, a cutter who simply scratches can have an accident with tragic consequences. This is a very serious, very self-destructive behavior which warrants very serious, immediate intervention.

It started when I was in college, I think. I used to like to think that if I’d never been exposed to this behavior that I never would have done it myself. That’s rationalization that is not helpful in moving forward with my healing. I moved in with the young man I spoke about earlier while I was in college and at some point when we would fight, I started cutting. He was a cutter as well. He could carve messages into his chest; I first saw it when I was in high school. I sincerely wish that ten to twelve years ago I’d had the tools and therapeutic network I have now with regard to seeking out help for myself and for him.

As I said above, I used to blame his exposing me to the behavior of cutting as the reason I started doing it myself. That blame is nonsense. It bears repeating because I am serious about this now: blaming someone else for my own depression and my own actions is nonsense. I take responsibility for my own health now. He needed help, yes, but my depression and mood issues are my own issues and I needed help in my own right. Praise God that I have gotten that help.

It’s not that the cutting urges have gone away completely. As I said before, I am a cutter in recovery. I still deal with the control issues, the rage, and the responsibility issues. Even at my last psychiatrist appointment, I mentioned that my most recent depression brought those urges. But now I know to call my therapist, to call my psychiatrist. When it gets bad enough that I can’t face the phone, I know to tell J so that he can make the appointment for me. When necessary, I know to let J come with me to help me talk about how bad the depression has been. I know now that I can trust both my therapist and my psychiatrist to judge when hospitalization is appropriate and I trust those mental facilities in my area. I thank God that I’ve found a psychiatrist who has a “walk-in” policy, meaning I can walk-in anytime during this office hours and he’ll work me in for a visit. There are “pdocs” like that out there! Those most recent urges are a big part of the reason my psychiatrist is being so aggressive with my medications at the moment. The key, for me at least, is recognizing the urge, having enough self-control to fight it and channel the energy appropriately, and knowing to talk about it with the appropriate people, absolutely ASAP.

I hope no one reading this deals with this issue. But it is out there, I know there are children, teens, and adults who cut because I’ve met other cutters. Cutting is a symptom of mental illness and there is help available. Sometimes there are warning signs, but I know with me, there weren’t any signs at all. Looking back, the only thing I can say is that I isolated myself a lot when cutting was a regular thing for me. More than that, I was spending a lot of time alone with someone else (the boyfriend) who was severely depressed. That having been said, even now I need my alone time and my therapist and I agree on that fact. I need my time for journaling, meditation, and art. Sad as it may sound to say, I do have to pick and choose how long and at which times I spend time with people who I know are equally as “down” as I am when I am at my worst, even when they are good friends. I am finding that the same is true with me for those friends who suffer with depression, so I think those friendship are becoming healthy balancing acts in some cases. I would say if your child or friend or spouse or whoever isolates a lot, be sure it’s tempered with appropriate interactions with friends and family. Be sure that their alone time is for healthy self-reflection and self-development. Get to know your children’s friends. In my case, I really don’t know what else could have been done. The first boyfriend and I spent plenty of time with my family and we had a circle of friends. I guess my only wish is that I’d had more education earlier on about depression, its consequences, and where to go for help. Early on in our relationship, the boyfriend did tell me about his suicidal ideation fantasies and actions. I don’t care to go into that now but I am willing to talk about it in person with those of you that I know personally. J has made the comment, more often than once, that I confused love for serious manipulation designed to get me to stay in the relationship. It has only been in the last few years of my therapy that I have come to release the responsibility I felt for keeping that young man alive.

My therapist says that the tattoo I’ve got on the inside of my wrist is a memorial (not in the healthy sense) to the me who used to cut. I don’t know that I agree with her because that’s not where I used to cut. Maybe she’s right, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It’s there and will be there for life, regardless.

For more reading on this topic or for direction in finding help for yourself or someone else, I think this article is fantastic:
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/self_injury.htm#help. If you or someone you know is in crisis (a cutting urge is a crisis), head yourself or take them directly to the closest ER for help if you do not already have a psychiatric care network.

And now for a little self-affirming banter that I will share publicly, just because writing this post took a lot out of me, emotionally. I’m glad it’s out there for the world because I’ve held this in for, oh, twelve years or so. The following is a lot like many of my journal entries. I’m all about self-affirmation.

I am a cutter in recovery. Cutting is not okay. I am not a bad person for this behavior. This particular behavior was never helpful in my life and I will no longer feel shame about it. Active cutting is no longer a symptom of my depression even though the urge exists within my mind sometimes. I am a cutter in recovery and I’ve got the tools to seek out appropriate help now. I am safe.

In the original publication of this post, I included a picture of an old wound. I decided that inclusion of that picture was in poor taste so I took it down. In case there are those of you I know personally who saw it and are worried, please know that my arms (and other body parts) are fine now! No scars even, from anything other than my scoliosis surgery. I posted the picture to be informative but I decided it did nothing but perpetuate gawkish rubber-necking of the most serious symptom of my illness, one of the more serious symptoms of depression period. In poor taste, as I said, so it’s down. Sometimes I don’t know where to draw the line in my sharing, so I apologize to those of you who may have found it particularly disturbing.

The information posted in this blog is not medical advice and should not be mistaken as such. Only a mental health professional can make an evaluation for appropriate treatment.

That’s all for now.

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