After a period out of work after I completed my degree, I have recently returned to the stresses of working life. During my time off, I felt relatively well for the first time in many years and didn’t struggle to badly with my thoughts and feelings, even though I was receiving very little professional support.
Having been back at work for a few months now, the daily grind seems to be chipping away at my resilience, leaving me raw once more. With this, familiar (but unwelcome) thoughts and feelings have returned, along with the urge to act upon them. I have been trying to surf these out alone, I’ve managed this previously and figured I could again but the urge hasn’t decreased in it’s strength. I told my partner more explicitly how I felt as I feel my resistance dwindling, and I’m also fed up of the urge not passing.
She already knew I was struggling with these thoughts but as I struggle so much to express them whilst in their grasp, it was helpful to be able to tell her more honestly. Having similar experiences herself, she provided me some practical ideas to try to reduce the urge. She suggested I paint my skin with nail varnish or something similar in the areas I would have liked to have self-harmed. This seemed like a good idea to me and I said that I would try it.
Health professionals in the past have suggested to me that I am much more of a practical person than an emotional person and so doing something like this seemed much more appealing and easy than trying to discuss in any depth what was going on inside my head at the time.
Interestingly, as I painted on my skin I felt more in touch with the emotional side of things though; the things I didn’t feel I could access or express. At first I felt disappointed that the painting didn’t offer any pain, and in fact conversely was potentially soothing. I began to concentrate though on shaping the nail varnish realistically, and this grabbed my attention more.
As I carried on I fluctuated between feeling some of the feelings I used to get when I self-harmed – anger/aggression – and wanted to do more. I also noticed the familiar lack of perfection feeling, where each mark led to another to try and harm ‘evenly’; I suppose I was concerned with the appearance of the marks.
In between these feelings and whilst I was particularly focused on painting evenly, I began to think about why I wanted to self-harm, where this urge was rooted.
I recalled a few weeks ago seeing an old friend, who I knew used to self-harm. She had scars of varying ages and I couldn’t help feel almost jealous. I haven’t been able to self harm in a long time and even when I had, I never did so anywhere visible and especially not on my arms, because I am required to work with these showing. I felt jealous that hers were on her arms and visible and she didn’t hide them.
I thought further about this. Returning to work has meant that, once again, I see other people’s pain. Lots of peoples pain. Frequently. A proportion of my workload involves helping people with mental health conditions, people who self harm etc. and various other things. I see their pain all the time, I feel their pain all the time. I try to help them and sometimes this is painful for me, too. Helplessness.
But nobody sees mine. It is very rare I will show my pain. I have always been a rock for my family and many other people, and this can be very difficult. This is how I feel at work too, especially as I’m often in a position of seniority. People look at me for guidance, for help. People expect me to be able to manage everything and anything. People expect me to be okay all the time.
People expect an awful lot of me and it’s a fault of my own that I often don’t expect very much back.
My pain seeps out through the cracks, tearful moments or angry outbursts. But I still find it very hard to talk about what’s going on inside my head and this is very alien to me. I find it much easier to help others, but I feel I need to try and find some ways to help myself now.
Has the urge passed? I don’t know. Did this help? I think so. Exploration feels better.