The Eccentric Sheep Musings: Depression Vs Anxiety in Self Harm Urges

Today for self injury awareness day I just want to muse a bit on an observance I’ve had with my long term battle with urges.  The emotional source of my urges has changed over the years.  These are my personal thoughts from experience and will not fit everyone else’s experiences. 

There are a few general reasons for self harm that fit a lot of people.  Some of them are more depression based such as not wanting to feel numb anymore or wanting to feel better.  Some of them are more anxiety based such as wanting control over something, and perhaps self punishment could fit in this category too sometimes.  

A common thread is trying to cope with what you are feeling.  Whatever you are feeling you want it to end because it is unbearable.  Self harm initiates the pain response from the body and releases endorphins so it counteracts what else is going on in your body.  The problem is, you aren’t dealing with negative feelings properly.  You are just escaping them.  You aren’t learning to cope properly using this escape method. 

So the addiction part is also very similar, you feel like you can’t deal with these feelings without self harm.  You feel like you need it and can’t live without it.  This is because you’ve created a shortcut to relief in your mind, and your mind is always going to want to take the shortcut and insist on that way.  The only want to erase this pathway to relief is to completely cut it off for a significant amount of time until you mind starts using other pathways, and relapses tend to just start you at square one with that pathway all fresh and new so it’s important to shut that path down COMPLETELY.  This is why I don’t endorse long term alternatives such as snapping a rubber on your wrist, because it keeps that pathway to relief open in your mind so your brain will continue to try to take it when it’s trying to cope. 

What is different?  The main point that I have found that is different is the fight or flight response with anxiety based self harm urges.  Depression based self harm doesn’t have that tied in.  This is because anxiety is your fight or flight response going off when it doesn’t need to.  Your brain thinks something is wrong and you are in danger when you aren’t.  All the alarms are going off and they don’t need to.  It’s difficult to convince yourself otherwise though because your body is reacting like an emergency. 

Danger and emergencies are out of our control.  Most of our lives are out of our control.  Many traumatic events can cause people to deeply desire and need to feel in control of something…even if all they can control is inflicting pain to themselves or initiating rituals of cleaning and checking things just to feel in control of something when everything feels out of control.  So self harm in this realm is tied in with wanting to feel in control of something and can also give relief from the fight or flight response when your body’s pain response kicks in. 

Exercise and walking are good ways to cope with anxiety, and I feel that this is the perfect healthy coping mechanism for anxiety based self harm urges as well.  Moving around getting your blood flowing and your body exerting itself in a healthy way gives it something else to respond to and release endorphins in a healthy way.  You also aren’t escaping the anxiety, you are dealing with it and enduring it.  Because the anxiety reaction is temporary and will go away if you let it run its course and fade away.

Depression based is different because it does not have the fight or flight response involved.  It is based mostly on wanting to feel something different because what you are feeling is unbearable.  This can be either intense sadness and despair or numbness, because feeling absolutely nothing is part of depression too.  Depression can also go the opposite of feeling like you need to do something into not wanting to do anything as well because it annihilates your motivation and drive to do even the things you enjoy. 

So the big part of it is wanting to feel better and not feel what you are feeling anymore.  The pain response of the body from self harm is used for relief and takes the same path as getting a high from a drug to feel better.  Highs from drugs are temporary and give very short term relief.  Depression also can be temporary, but there is also chronic depression with long term issues in battling it that won’t be solved by a temporary high. 

The thing is, a high just helps you escape for a while and then it takes you back to where you were before.  You haven’t gone anywhere.  You haven’t made any progress in your high.  You haven’t dealt with the real issue.  More and more you seek this high to escape more and more, and more and more you don’t get anywhere.  All you get is chained to an addiction that doesn’t really help you. 

When you escape you can’t face it and deal with it.  You need to face what you are feeling and endure it instead of trying to escape and avoid it.  What you are feeling needs to be expressed and worked through.  Expression is very important, and different forms of expression such as talking, writing, and art are all good for this.  Expose the darkness inside to the light instead of hiding it away where it can fester. 

Depression is extremely self centered.   All you think about is yourself and how much you hurt.  This is why finding a way to help others is also very helpful because it takes the focus off of yourself and you start thinking about others and how to help them instead. 

Depression causes us to want to lay down and die, to stay in bed and give up all interactions with people we care about and toss aside everything we enjoy doing.  It is imperative that you don’t stop living your life for depression.  Keep seeing people, keep going out, keep going to school and work, keep doing your hobbies, and keep living.  Even if it’s hard and tiring, keep living.  Just don’t stop and lay them down.   

Fighting with self harm urges might also require you to seek out people who can help you better than those in your life.  Friends and family who have not been through self harm might be limited in how they can help you because they haven’t been there themselves. 

Whatever part of the emotional spectrum your self harm urges come from, whether they change over time or not, it started with a choice….and it will end with a choice.  The choice will feel unbearable, and you will have to make that choice to say no every day over and over.  It will be worth it though, trust me.