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I’ve never been happy. There have been times in my life when things were good, but there was that feeling of insecurity that something would soon go wrong, and I would become depressed once again. I started cutting myself when I was fourteen because it was the way I felt control over things. After some permanent scarring I finally stopped after a year. I’m now eighteen and a college freshman and I’ve been feeling urges of cutting again. I know it’s probably the newness of school and transition, but i’m worried I’m going to fall back into that dark place. Please help.
-Depression Cutting In
Dear Depression Cutting In,
I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you’ve been having. It sounds like depression and low mood have been with you for a while and they have really caused some problems for you. Although self-injury became a primary way that you sought relief, the costs became too much for you. You committed to making changes and you were able to remain self-injury free for several years. You should be proud of the progress that you have made and remind yourself of this success as you face this challenge again.
You may find it helpful to know that for many people who struggle with self-injury, it often started in adolescence. Self-injury occurs in only about 4% of the general population, while it can occur in up to 20% of those experiencing mental health struggles. Self-injury can have several functions, with the most common reasons including to distract from painful emotions, as a form of self punishment, and to feel in control. You mentioned these in your question including feelings of insecurity and a desire to exert control. These will be priorities to better understand and process as you move forward into being safe and self-injury free.
You should be proud of the progress that you have made and remind yourself of this success as you face this challenge again.
I’m not sure what you did in the past to help you out of that dark place whether it was psychotherapy, medication, or other means, but I would strongly consider them again. If you took this on by yourself in the past, I think it is time to reach out for additional support. Know that engaging in therapy may feel as though you are losing control at first but will ultimately increase your feelings of control and self-efficacy in the long run.
Your college may have an on-campus counseling center or you could seek help outside the university. Since self-injury has served as a way to exert control in your life, it will be important for you to find new ways to manage painful feelings when they show up. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help you manage these feelings. In addition, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill workbooks could be helpful in your journey.
Dear Depression Cutting In,
Your feelings seem overwhelming and I’m sorry you are going through this. My hope is that you will resist the urge of self-harm and commit to coping skills that won’t hurt you anymore. How did you learn how to move away from cutting yourself when you first stopped?
I never cut myself, but there have been times in the past where I’ve used unhealthy eating patterns as a way to control my emotions. Afterwards I would struggle with guilt. Change and transition was often a trigger for me too. I’ve since learned healthier ways to deal with stress and tools for coping and I highly encourage you to do the same. There are people out there to help you, people who can relate and resources that can assist you in taking control of your life for a positive future. Make a commitment that this time you will not follow the urge, but will make a healthy change.
You don’t have to fall back into that dark place. You do not have to let emotional pain lead to self-injury.
You don’t have to fall back into that dark place. You do not have to let emotional pain lead to self-injury. Reach out for help from a professional, licensed counselor or therapist, or health center on campus that includes a counseling center, a psychiatrist to administer medications if needed and counselors there to listen. This journey does not have to be one you take alone.