What does it feel like?
There is an internal experience that I live with that I get both before and after self-harming. It is as if this experience drives me to self-harm, and then is also triggered because I have self-harmed. It feels like a pressure, a desperation, a searing burning in my solar plexus, where I am so angry with myself for what I have done, so remorseful, frustrated, yet also helpless and victimized, and it leaves me in a state that simply continues the cycle of self-harm.
What effect does it have on behaviour?
This pressure, with the searing, crawling feeling seems so big, like it will take me over or destroy me somehow. I can feel it physically, and I want to get it out of my body by scratching, squeezing, picking, tearing and digging it out. It is confusing because the thing seems so big, terrifying and unbearable on the inside. On the outside, I see regular life going by, but it is like a blur that I am completely disconnected from, as if I had lost access to it. Then I look inside and it is like a pit of torment, like the world is coming to an end.
Where did it come from?
I wonder, how did I go from a child that would never think such things about myself, to this internal disgust and loathing, feeling like I need to be punished, or harm myself to get it out?
When I look back I can see and associate several memories that carry the same ‘feel’ to them. Being bullied, reprimanded in front of the classroom by a frustrated teacher, basically, the times where I would be on the receiving end of emotional outbursts from others, with emotions that I did not express externally and so did not understand.
I remember feeling completely confused as to why this was being ‘done unto me’, taking it all very personally. I felt as if I had no cover or protection from the pain it would cause, and eventually I felt somehow that I deserved it.
After having experienced this quite regularly, as happens in school, I began to fear it. It was as if I never knew what might set it off, as I was not intentionally being ‘bad’ or misbehaving. It was like lying in wait for ambush at all times. This became my protection, the cover of constant fear and hiding, withdrawing within myself and internalizing the emotional pain, while on the outside, I was stoic.This often led to triggering people even more as they thought they were not getting through to me (as it was explained to me once when I was later found hiding and crying).
I also mostly hid from adults in my world. I became distrustful and did not want to let my guards down when I was begin treated nicely, because I knew at any moment it could turn. My internal reality became a lonely and isolated place. And with the internalization of all the emotions, I began to reprimand and attack myself in my thoughts and internal conversations.
How to define it?
I began to believe it all as if it were all my fault. I was worthless, despicable, unbearably intolerable, no good, unable, disgusting and so on. And so it became a cycle of talking to myself in these ways, and creating an unmanageable and unbearable internal reality that I did not know how to cope with, and it began to manifest physically. I remember self-harm OCD starting when I was about 6-7 years old. I caused myself pain and it felt good after, like a relief and release for me – a way to release the internalized emotions.
What is it today?
Fast forward to today, and although I have found many ways to cope and get by, the main patterns and thought processes are still there at the foundation of my self-relationship. What it feels like is tip-toeing throughout the day, but any time I am required to check with myself and look inwards, I am met with this wall of pressure, searing fear and self-damnation.
I can see how I connect this fear to a multitude of situations throughout my day.
What will happen is, as I move throughout my day, there will inevitably be moments of challenge, uncertainty, not knowing, and moments that require decision, self-introspection or looking inward. But instead of looking inward and finding a nice, quite open space within myself to play with ideas, I am confronted by what seems like the fiery pits of hell.
It is like trying to find solutions while being under attack.
For example, if I am writing and I don’t know how to express what I am physically experiencing within myself, I will look inward and be met with this unbearable searing wall that prevents me from seeing, from finding the words or from understanding what is going on. In these moments, OCD is triggered, and I look for relief through self-harm.
How to Manage?
Self-harm seemed to be my only solution, because I thought that I should not go towards, move into or through something that feels so bad. But throughout the process I have been walking, I have been challenging this. I have during my process, moved through that wall many times, and as unbearable and endless as it has felt, I have always come out on the other side empowered.
What I have found is that on the other side of that wall is forward motion, continuation and self-direction. It is normal to, throughout the day while doing tasks such as cooking, cleaning, or while working, find oneself in a position where some problem-solving is necessary. There are always times when it is not easy and I don’t know exactly what to do. These are the moments where I will often hit the wall and go into OCD.
OCD is like a bottomless pit where you go in thinking you will find the bottom, some ground to stand on to get your footing, to find a safe place in the ambush, but instead you just keep falling. However, there is comfort there, because it is a distraction, a focused-attention elsewhere. There is the illusion of control. There is the aftermath of pain found there as well, that is endorphins that can be used like a drug to feel good, if only for a moment. It is a momentary, absolute lostness.
But what I have realized in pushing myself so many times, is that I do in fact have the creativity to find my way. I just, at the moment, have to find it within or beyond this searing self-hatred, anger, frustration and remorse that sits there in wait. It is like a trap, where many of my answers hide inside, or just on the other side of this emotional wall. And each time I have to pass this wall it fools me into believing it is all real and true, unless I stand up from within it. Stand up and be the authority from within this experience.
How to stand up from within it?
The take-away here is that when and as I see OCD is being triggered, it is because I am being confronted by something that requires me to find a solution and act on it. I challenge myself to, in these moments, take a moment and make a space for me to define in words what it is I am looking at. To actually have a look at what it is I am telling myself. I know I have the creativity to find a solution and a way forward in any situation, it is just a matter of weathering the storm that I know will be there. It is no longer an ambush, it is now simply a process of repetition until I prove to myself that I can stand through it.