I think about self-injury a lot. Most days I don’t self-injure, but most days I think about self-injuring.
In the earlier days of my self-injury the thought would pop into my head and in most cases I would do it as soon as I could following the idea.
I didn’t care about getting blood on my clothes and often wore dark pants that would hide the blood stains.
I wanted to self-injure and then it was off to the nearest bathroom. That’s an exaggeration. I still thought of self-injury more than I acted on it, but I acted on it much more quickly when I did. Certainly external events would sometimes prevent me from doing it, but I’d often find ways, even if it meant secretly scratching myself with a safety-pin under my clothing.
That was high school. Things shifted in college.
It’s obviously more comfortable to self-injure in my bathroom than in a public one. In high school waiting until I got home meant waiting until the end of the day. In college, waiting until I got home often meant waiting however long it would take me travel there. Sometimes that means waiting until a class is over, but rarely the long waits I would have in high school.
I began opting to wait a bit to have the better self-injury experience at home rather than the scared “I hope I don’t get caught” one in a public bathroom. I don’t always do this. I still punch trees, sign posts and walls while walking places, but those days are more extreme than most.
This waiting has stretched out more and more. When before it was waiting 3 hours for a class to end, now I’ll wait the whole work day. Almost all of my self-injury now occurs at night. Self-injury at night is routine, but in the day time is a sign of trouble.
The freedom is crucial. It’s not that anyone is telling me I can’t self-injure then. I can do it if I want to, but often opt to instead wait for the preferred environment.
I picture the self-injury in my head. Imagining the cuts on my body. Sometimes I move a finger briskly across the location I will cut. I think of watching the blood drip down my leg.
And these images in my head are soothing. I plan, “I’ll self-injure when I get home”. Knowing that option and plan is there helps.
I fully intend in the moment to self-injure when I arrive home. But often by the time I arrive at home, my mind is on to other things. Sometimes I self-injure and others I don’t. The intention is the same when the initial thought arrives, but the intervening experiences vary, leading to different outcomes.
I want to be sure to differentiate what I am talking about from therapy techniques where a therapist authoritatively tells a client that they should stop self injuring by trying to wait X amount of time and then revisit the idea.
This is a process that has evolved on its own rather than being artificially forced upon me.
I am not waiting as a means of ultimately avoiding self-injury. As I have said, I don’t think self-injury in moderation is objectionable.
But do I prefer to bleed through a pair of pajama bottoms rather than a nice pair of pants? Yes.
Do I like looking down at my leg throughout the day to be sure blood isn’t visible to people? Not really.
In the moment, I believe with a high degree of certainty that I will self-injure when I arrive at home.
It just turns out that I am not very good at predicting this.
I recently had an occasion where I was concerned I might need to change clothing in front of another person. I wasn’t sure and it turned out not to be the case, but I was very worried about it at the time.
If no fresh cuts are visible I can angle my body so that scars might not be seen.
I had to avoid self-injuring for a few days after I learned of this event. I go weeks without self-injuring fairly regularly. I thought a few days would be nothing.
Once I told myself I couldn’t self-injure my stress skyrocketed. I couldn’t visualize the self-injury. It only worked when I believed in the moment that I would do it for real when I was home. The images were nothing without the hope of reality.
I’d not been fully aware how often the thoughts were in my head. As soon as you try not to do something it becomes so much worse.
The thoughts themselves are soothing. I need the possibility to be open.
I can’t force any of this. It only works if the thoughts are spontaneous.
I was able to avoid self-injuring, but it was not an enjoyable few days.
I’ve found a similar phenomenon occurs with my therapy.
When I am in therapy I have frequent conversations in my head with my therapist. All the conversations are ones I imagine I could have with the therapist. Often they are difficult topics I’m struggling to bring up and I replay the scene over and over looking for the right way to present information.
My actual therapy sessions only vaguely resemble their imagined versions. Some topics from my visualizations do get brought up in my real therapy, but most do not.
The pretend therapy in my head is a useful tool for sorting out thoughts and often by the time I get to therapy I don’t need to talk about that issue any longer.
When I am not in therapy this process doesn’t work. I have to be able to think the conversation could take place. Without it my brain becomes a cluttered mess.
When in therapy that doesn’t seem to help much in session, the pretend therapist in my head that I gain access to can be more valuable than the session itself.
Without therapy I sometimes shift to imagined blogging, which is not as good as imagined therapy, but serves a similar function.