Trigger Warning. This article talks explicitly about self-harm and different types. If you feel as though you may be triggered but still want the tips, read with a supportive person present.
We feel out of control and in control at the same time. We hurt ourselves and for a moment there is relief. Shortly after we feel guilt, shame, and even a deepened sadness. The truth is self harm is not a solution to what you’re feeling. Both the highs and the lows of bipolar disorder can trigger someone into hurting themselves, sometimes compulsively. It can be so secretive, that nobody knows you need help. It is really important to know that these compulsive habits of self harm are nothing to be ashamed of. Talking to a therapist or psychiatrist is essential. There are ways to potentially help prevent you from engaging in the compulsive self harm. I’ve listed some of the most common types.
1. Skin Picking/Scraping and Hair Pulling
Skin picking and scraping can be seen in various parts of the body. For myself, I struggle with scraping the skin on my face and scalp when feeling manic. I have found that enlisting a friend to tell me to when I am doing it helps a lot. I usually don’t realize that I am doing it, so having someone remind me is great. If you know the are you are going to pick or scrape you can wear a layer of clothing, bracelets, or some barrier of protection over it. If it’s the same spot every time, try putting a Band-Aid over it to remind yourself that you have to stop. You can even write a quote or symbol on it to comfort and inspire you until you see your therapist.
Cutting is a very serious act of self harm as it can be life threatening. If you are tempted to cut your skin, seek help from someone you trust. One preventative tip is to again, cover the area that you are tempted to harm with a layer of bracelets or fabric. Personally, I like to wear a bracelet that says, “hope”. Pick a quote or symbol that is meaningful to you and makes you feel good. Not being able to see that area or readily access it can help. When you do see it, it’s good to have a motivational quote or symbol to help you stay on track. It’s also a great idea to give up your go to cutting tools. If you have a designated sharp object (which some people do, don’t be ashamed) it is wise to hand those over to someone who will get rid of them for you. That way you do not have the chance to back out or retrieve it after you have put it away.
If you feel like you need to inflict pain and are waiting to get help, a harmless trick is to have a rubber band or hair tie on your wrist that you lightly pop. I also will get my favorite lotion and massage my feet or legs. This helps get some of the compulsive energy to use my hands out but is healthy and beneficial to me. Also, going to the gym and having a high intensity workout can help offset some of the urges.
3. Binge Eating and Starvation
If you tend to binge eat when you are feeling unstable and depressed, you are not alone. Food can be comforting, so when we binge eat we are actually seeking comfort. When you feel an urge to binge, try to instead spend time with a friend or family member. If you cannot see anyone, try to do any hobby or activity that does not involve food. Going to the gym and walking on the treadmill while drinking water can be just as fulfilling and satisfying. Also, talk to your therapist or psychiatrist if you are having a hard time managing your feelings. Bipolar depression sometimes causes people to binge eat, and if you are doing this frequently you should get extra assistance.
Binge eating is not a sign of stability, it is a form of self harm. Just as, severe calorie restriction and starvation are also a form of self harm. If you feel as though you cannot eat and are waiting to see your psychiatrist, try making a nutrient dense and high calorie smoothie. This is not a long term solution but if you are waiting for extra assistance and cannot make yourself eat, this is a good temporary alternative. Also, another thing that has worked for sweet cravings, is chewing fruity gum and the temptation passes for a little while.
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