Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Time to Love

Thank you, so much, for all your reassurances last night. I realize what I'm writing is hard material - it's hard for me to write, and so I really can understand why it might be hard to comment on it as well. And I realize that, in many ways, it's unfair for me to ask or expect you to keep commenting as if it were normal writing. But I'm needy. I'm needier than normal these days. I discovered this quite some time ago, when I realized how often I was calling my mom, just to tell her things like, "Just thought you'd want to know that I took two pages of notes in class tonight. Isn't that great? Aren't you proud of me?" Yes, I require more attention and support than I ever used to require. Sorry for that. But thank you, my dear, dear friends - because you are ALL friends to me - for staying with me.

This will be our third and final Q&A post about cutting. Thank you to all of you who submitted questions for me to answer. If anyone ever has a question in the future, never hesitate to ask. This was a way to open the dialogue, but it's a dialogue I hope will remain open - on this blog, at least - forever. I welcome questions anytime.

And speaking of questions, let's move on to the last couple...

When you've known someone who was a cutter, and he/she has moved on, should you "let sleeping dogs lie" or ask them about it?

I know it's a horribly un-helpful answer, but it really depends on the person. For me, it took a long time to open up about it. But once I did, I was willing to talk about it with pretty much anyone and everyone. What I didn't want was to be confronted when I "fell off the bandwagon," so to speak. When I did cut, even though I knew it was just a setback, I was horribly ashamed, and if someone had approached me about it then, I wouldn't have wanted to talk about it. But normally, I'm willing to be open. (Really? Duh...)

Other people, however, might be more vulnerable to triggers, and might feel those desires to cut coming back, despite the fact that they've gone years without cutting. If you think this is the case, then most definitely don't bring it up. As a general rule, you just don't want to do anything that might lead someone to hurt himself or herself. If you think asking him questions about it, or talking about how you feel about it, will bring be harmful more than helpful, then I would definitely recommend saving your questions for those of us who are more open.

What should I do if I suspect someone I know might be cutting?

One of the reasons I gave the testimony to which I alluded in the last post was because I thought it was possible that someone in the audience might benefit from hearing it. I didn't expect to necessarily know whether or not this was true - I was content to know it was a possibility. But about six months after the fact, I got an email from someone who had been in the audience. She asked to meet with me to discuss my testimony, and gave me no more details than that. I was intrigued, so I agreed to meet with her, and we met up for dinner one evening.

It turned out to be what I suspected/feared. She told me that she had a good friend who she believed might be cutting. "I didn't know what to do," she told me. "You're the only person I've ever known who knew anything about it at all. So I thought I would ask you for advice."

I was sad, because I had to tell her the truth, and the truth is this: There's VERY little you can do to help a cutter unless he or she WANTS to stop cutting. Anything you do decide to try should obviously be based on your understanding of the person. Will he/she be receptive to direct intervention? If so, broach the subject openly. Tell him/her your concerns. You'll obviously want to make it clear that you are speaking out of genuine caring for this person, and that you will continue to be supportive regardless of what happens.

If you think he/she is likely to react defensively to any sort of direct discussion, you obviously don't want to do that. I would recommend making yourself available as much as possible - for conversation, for hanging out, for happy distractions, for emotional support, etc. Give lots of reminders that you care about this person, that you want good things for him/her, and that he/she is a worthwhile addition to the world. Most cutters do not value themselves or their contributions to others around them. Trust me.

But no matter what you do, if this person doesn't want to stop, there's pretty much nothing you can do but be supportive and love him/her unconditionally. When I started back up in October/November, I had a very defensive attitude. There were a few people who knew from the start that I'd begun cutting again, and when they got anywhere near the subject, I pretty much said, "It's my life, it's not that big a deal, and right now, I need this. So back the F--- off." Sometimes I used slightly more polite words like, "I'm fine," but the message was always the same. I knew what I was doing, I knew it wasn't good, but I also knew I wasn't planning to stop anytime soon.

What could they do for me? I suppose if they'd tried hard enough, they *might* have been able to have me committed to the psych ward involuntarily, but frankly, none of these people was willing to do that. All they could do was remind me that they cared, that they were there for me (as much as they could be), and that if I wanted help, all I had to do was ask.

I do think that if you suspect someone of self-injury, you should seek out a professional's advice. That way, if you do decide to talk directly to your friend, you have somewhere to recommend he/she goes for help. And chances are, if someone you love is struggling with cutting, you will struggle with cutting. No, I don't mean that you'll start physically hurting yourself. I mean that you will have to deal with caring about someone who is hurting himself/herself, and that involves an entirely new set of challenges on its own. Don't try to handle it alone - get support for yourself as well.

That was a lot of rambling, so let me try to sum up the important stuff. If you suspect someone is cutting:
1) Consider this person and what you know of him/her. What is the best approach to take given his/her unique personality and needs?
2) Talk to a professional for advice and support.
3) ABOVE ALL, love and support the suspected cutter NO MATTER WHAT. Things are probably tough enough for him/her without losing your love.


Thus ends the heavy stuff... for now, anyway. I'll obviously never be able to stay away from serious material for ever. I mean, life is serious sometimes, and this is Life: The Ongoing Education after all. But life is funny sometimes, too - I mean, a baby with a beer? Hilarious! So let's go back to enjoying both sides of life, the ups and the downs.

Stick with me for the journey - you just might learn something along the way.


CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Read this, my friend. I think it will make perfect sense to you:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful advice. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I have a question; I apologize if it's really obtuse or insensitive or dismissive.

Could one do pushups or some similar momentarily intense exercise rather than injure oneself?

Juka said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Ups and down sounds good. :)

And who ISN'T needy these days?

Dani said...

Wonderful posts. I found your blog through Mary Poppins and I was really pleasantly surprised. I've suffered from depression my entire life due to various reasons and cutting was one of the ways I dealt. Most people don't get it and it was really wonderful to find someone talking about it openly and honestly. (and not damning it and the people who do it). Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

As your mother, I agree that I will always be affected by your cutting. And I will always love and support you. I am particularly proud of how you have taken these experiences and used them to help others. A perfect example of "lemonade".
To amswer franz, one could engage in intense exercise. However, that too can be taken to the extreme and result in the pain needed to "feel". It's not the activity. It's the need.

Lara said...

california teacher guy - thank you very much for the link. i did, in fact, connect to it quite strongly. it's good to know i'm not alone.

TSM - thank you so much. that really does mean a lot.

franz - no questions asked out of sincere desire for understanding will be obtuse, insensitive, or dismissive in my opinion. one could do intense exercise in place of cutting, and that might be quite a healthy way to avoid self-injury. as my mom points out in her comment, it could also be taken to extremes, however, if the underlying problems - the poor coping skills that cause us to self-injure - aren't addressed. there are many "stand-ins" suggested for cutting: snapping a rubber band against your wrist, drawing on your arm with a red marker, getting henna tattoos on your arms, "hurting" something that will recover (like a stress ball, or a lump of clay). but these things need to be used in conjunction with therapy to work out the causes of the emotions and the proper reactions as well.

justin - thank you. it makes me very glad to know that.

aly - i'm sure someone, somewhere, isn't needy. but i don't know that person.

danielle - welcome to my online home. thank you for your comments. i'm glad to know people are appreciating the open discussion, and not driven away by it. feel free to visit again, anytime.

mom - your unconditional love and support is part of what helps me to work through these things, so thank you for that. and yes, i'm glad that my own healing is reaching out to others as well. it makes me feel a bit less selfish.

Bubba said...

Just wanted to applaud you for being so open about this. I was married to a cutter, and she would never have blogged about it...thank you for being so open.

I also read a few post on your roomie's blog...much love, prayers, and hugs to the both of you.