Cutting to the Chase About Self-Harm & MS

Content warning: The following article mentions details surrounding the author’s experiences with self-harm, which may be upsetting for some readers. Please know that there are many resources available for support including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and online chat, and the MSAA toll-free helpline (800-532-7667, extension 154) and online chat.

It’s been awhile since I opened up about some aspect of my life with MS that others might consider embarrassing. Hmm, on second thought, maybe that’s not true. Regardless of how long it’s been, I’m going to open up and talk about something that MS has made me do. Something that is going to seem crazy and strange to a lot of people reading it. That’s ok, because if just one other person reads this and feels like they’re no longer alone, or feels like they have someone to relate to, then I’ll feel like I’ve done my job. MS has impacted me in a lot of ways, it’s had a profound effect on how I live my life. Even knowing that, in no way did I ever expect it to cause me to cut myself. That’s right, I’m talking about self-harming. Though not for the reasons normally associated with the practice, it is still a nasty habit that I’ve had to work hard to stop.

Not who you normally think of

When I developed this self-harming issue, I did not fit the demographic that most people associate with it. Typically, people think of this as something teenagers do, either to gain acceptance in a particular social group or as a way to blunt emotional trauma. Sometimes, it’s a way that they can gain some semblance of control in their lives. It can certainly be a symptom of deeper psychological issues, but not always.  I was in my mid-30s when I started, far later than most. It was something I had never done before, never even considered before.

How and why?

Well, I’m not even sure how it started, I assume by accidently cutting myself on a bad day, but I’m really not sure. The “why” part is a bit more complicated and I’m sure not everyone will understand. As I’ve written in the past, I deal with an awful amount of pain because of MS. Physical pain, not emotional (although there is certainly some of that too), is what helped make this appealing. But wait… you’re just causing more pain, that doesn’t make sense! I know, it seems off centered, but, the thing with cutting myself, inflicting pain on myself, is that I am the one doing it. The pain I encounter everyday because of MS is something I seldom have any control over. It can come on suddenly, without warning, and last a short period of time, or a long period of time. I am helpless to stop it. Pain medication has had little to no effect, medical marijuana and CBD oil have been amazingly helpful, but have not rid me of it, only made it a bit more bearable.

So really, it’s about control. I somehow discovered that cutting myself was a way to gain some control over pain. I know that isn’t going to make sense to most people. But that ability to feel pain, but be in control of it, was immensely satisfying to me. This feeling of control became so important to me. Whenever I had a bad day, a stressful day, or a painful day, I’d end up cutting myself and I’d feel a little better. I even had a dedicated knife I’d keep very sharp and meticulously clean. Even the process of caring for that knife, sharpening it, cleaning it, started to feel beneficial to me, because it was a ritual and part of the process. Eventually, just caring for the knife would be enough to make me feel better on some days. It generated that same feeling of being in control that the actual cutting did, it wasn’t as good, but on some days, it was just enough to get by.

How did I stop?

As I talk about all this now, even I am shocked by it. I’m sure some people are going to read this and think, “wow, that guy is messed up”. I guess in some ways, I have been. Living in pain makes you do things you normally wouldn’t. Chronic pain changes you in ways you simply can’t predict. You don’t always think straight, you begin looking for a way, any way, to cope, a way to distract yourself from it, a way to gain back some semblance of control. For me, this somehow turned into cutting. I’m an educated person, I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but that didn’t stop me. The feeling of that tiny bit of control, in a life with that I seemingly have so little control over now, was just too powerful a draw.

Getting help

In the end, it was friends who talked to me, urged me to stop, to get help. One friend I had even confessed to me that it was something she had done in her teens, listening and talking to her really helped me. I also started to feel embarrassed by it, not when in public, but in front of my dog at the time, Penny. She’d always want to lick my wounds afterwards. In a lot of ways she helped me get past it, as odd as that will sound to some. I eventually stopped and it’s been a long time since I did it. When I’m having a rough day though, I admit it, I think about it. It crosses my mind often, but I fight back those thoughts. For many reasons, I’d decided to get a tattoo of her pawprint when Penny passed. I opted to get the tattoo over my favorite spot to cut (yes, I had a favorite spot). That’s been a huge reminder for me, and just one way that she continues to give me strength.

The amount of people that start cutting because of their chronic pain is probably pretty small. That said, people may do other things that could be harmful because of their pain. Whether you self-harm or do something else, remember you aren’t alone. There are ways out, there are people to talk to. It’s important to seek help, but it’s also very important to accept help. I hope that me sharing all of this will help someone with whatever destructive habit they may have developed. I’m putting myself out there to everyone, in hopes of you at least putting yourself out there to those that can help you.

Thanks for reading!

Devin

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Comments

View Comments (8)
  • elena.cayton
    6 months ago

    Hi Devin, thanks for your article. I am researching the topic of self harm and MS for a friend and your article has clarified a number of things I didn’t understand. I will share with my friend and hopefully ger her to open up even more about this, but I am sure just knowing that there are other people that experiece what she is expiriencing will somewhat help. Elena

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thank you Elena, knowing that others go through this, I think, can be extremely comforting. Feel free to encourage them to reach out to me too.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hi Lucinda012, so sorry to hear. I am happy to hear that you will be getting some counseling though, it’s important and helpful to talk to someone. As you can see, you certainly aren’t alone. Good luck, you’ve gotten past it before and can get past it again, just as I have!

  • Lucinda012
    6 months ago

    Hi Devin,

    I was sent your post about self harming. I started cuttting when was at school but must have stopped at some point. A good few years down and I have started again. I agree with you completely over the control aspect of it.

    I am in a home now and I think they are going to send me for counselling. I will let you know how I get on.

    Lucinda012

  • Janne254
    1 year ago

    Thank you so much Devin for writing about such an emotionally loaded subject. I always read your articles; I value your insights.
    I’ve had MS since sometime before 1980, and as a result, I’m a real physical train wreck, as you can imagine! But the symptom that gets me the most is all the varieties of MS pain- I take morphine, gabapentin, etc., etc., to try and get some relief. But when I turned 42 I was involved in a truly terrible divorce process, trying to get rid of an abusive husband. It took two years in court, but I finally won my freedom- and also developed a bad case of self-harming due to the stress (I have combat-level PTSD). I chose to cut on my forearms for some reason, and I have very visible scars, but only a couple of my closest friends know what the scars represent. I think they are a symbol of my extreme anxiety, a horrible case of feeling like I was in free-fall with no net, during the destruction of my marriage.
    I have to report that things turned out for the better, and the cutting slowed and largely disappeared. I might have a bout with it once in a while, but I credit the drug Paxil with finally putting an end to my biochemical chaos. But the MS pain is still there, waiting to strike when I least expect it. I readily understand why folks cut because of MS pain- I’ve done it myself. I hope that research reveals a way to turn off the nerve pain someday- that would be such a wonderful gift to thew MS community…
    Thanks again for your writings, Devin. You make me think! Janne

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thank you so much Janne254. I obviously sympathize and greatly understand. I’m so happy to hear you’ve turned things around as well. Since this was published, I’ve actually had several people messaging me privately admitting the same thing and that they felt relieved to know that someone else had the same experience, so thank you so much for sharing your story!

  • Mascha
    1 year ago

    I’ve had a bad habit. Not sure it was MS related but looking back at that time,it probably was. I didn’t know i had MS in that time but i had a lot of health issues and didn’t know what was wrong with me.
    As I’m an ex hairdresser,i used to cut my hair very short and kept cutting. To the point it looked so short and horrible.
    I would go through phases when feeling miserable and just cut away.
    I sometimes still want to do it,but i can stop myself now. In a way of being control I guess.
    Thanks for your story.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thank you Mascha, the things we will do to find some control when we often feel so out of control are truly amazing.

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