As I wrote last August, I do a form of self-injury, involving squeezing my pores or picking at my skin to the point it bleeds. I got better at not doing it as often, but last month was a bit stressful, and I started doing it more.
My first step in breaking this habit is becoming aware of when I’m doing it. I mostly do it while I’m driving or when I’m writing.
I’ll be driving, doing one errand after another, and stressing out about getting it all done on time, and I’ll rub my fingertips across the skin on my face and start picking at it. I’ve taken to sitting with my hand under one leg. Sometimes I put both hands on the wheel and really become aware of what it feels like to have the skin on my hands in contact with the steering wheel.
When I’m writing, I notice the “itch” in my fingertips, wanting to pick at my skin, and I start to pay attention to my breath, trying to make it as slow and deep as possible.
I’ve started filling out a diary card like I used to while I was doing dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It helps bring some awareness about my day, how I was feeling, how I reacted to the feelings, and what coping skills I used to manage my feelings. You can make your own diary card, just keeping track of what happened during the day, how you felt, and what effective strategies you can use to cope.
I’m choosing at this time to manage this behavior on my own, rather than schedule an appointment with my therapist. This is a very personal choice, and I think there are plenty of situations where a person can benefit from seeing a professional therapist. For one thing, I have training in skills that can help me. I just need to practice them. Writing about it here is a first step in being accountable for it.
A new thing I’m trying is adopting a new behavior. When I feel the urge to pick at my skin, I’m pressing my fingers together, a bit like an evil mastermind, and stretching them. It gives me the feeling of connection and wholeness.
A lot of my anxiety stems from not believing in myself. I fear that I’m going to screw up, do something stupid, hurt someone’s feelings, or just generally epically fail. Being mindful of my urge to scrape up my skin is a way to remind myself that, “I’m okay. Everything is okay.” Certainly life’s not perfect, and there’s a lot of work to do, but adopting an attitude of helplessness will not help me take care of myself, my family, or my community.
This blog isn’t just about building a community, but it’s also about empowering ourselves. It’s so easy to focus on what we aren’t doing that we wish we were or regretting things we are doing. It’s important to remember all the ways we are being authentic and the things we do do well.
What strategies do you use to cope when you feel negative emotions?
To find help for self-injury, eating disorders, and other challenges, check out To Write Love on Her Arms.