From First-Aid kits to alternatives and knowing who to speak to - It's important to make sure we look after ourselves and can be looked after when we struggle with self-harm. It IS possible to be self-harming and still keep ourselves safe and cared for while on the path to recovery.
1) When we feel an urge…
Sometimes on the path to recovery we may feel the urge to self-harm, this may be a regular thing for us right now or after some time. Either way, it can be distressing and difficult for us. At this time the first way to look after ourselves may be to try and distract, delay or release this urge using some alternatives to self-harm.
This may look like; trying to express your emotion or frustration by doing some expressive art, ripping up paper or squeezing/shaping a stress ball or clay/playdough. It may also mean trying to do a breathing technique for 2 minutes while the feeling passes (maybe using an app!) or taking ourselves away to do a quick form of exercise. Whatever it looks like this may be the first moment we can look after ourselves.
2) What about When we have harmed…
First stop, first aid...
In first aid the first thing they teach you is to ASSESS the situation. So, looking after ourselves after we’ve harmed means making sure we are equipped and know what to do and where to go. Next, make sure you drink plenty of fluids - staying hydrated will help replace any lost blood.
Whilst we are the last people to encourage cutting, if it's something you're going to do, it is essential to make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit and the means to clean - and keep clean - fresh cuts. It should have:
- Waterproof Dressings
Do I need medical attention?
No-one can diagnose you over the internet, and no-one can assess any injury as well as a trained professional therefore going to health services might be really important:
How does the blood flow? If blood is 'pulsing' you may have nicked an artery which will put your health in grave danger unless you seek medical attention as a matter of urgency. Have you got something stuck in your skin? Leave it where it is, secure the area with a bandage of you need to and get some medical help.
Make sure you immediately reach out to 999 or head to your nearest A&E (you can find out where that is here: https://www.nhs.uk).
Keep an eye on existing wounds too - are they inflamed? Are they oozing pus? Are they getting worse rather than better? Is it affecting a joint? If so - this could be a sign of infection and you may need to see a doctor. Make sure you reach out to your GP or 111 to know where to go and what to do.
Have you burnt your skin? Are your clothes sticking to the area? Leave them alone and get some help. Don't try to peel them off. Similarly, you also cannot do anything about chemical burns - always seek advice if that's the case and tempting though it is... never EVER burst any blisters. Make sure you speak to 111 or go to your nearest A&E if it is an emergency.
Finally - How big is the injury? If it's BIGGER than about a 50p piece then get it checked – make sure you reach out to a Health Professional as soon as possible!
Caring for ourselves…
After harming we may experience shock or negative feelings. When we feel like this it’s REALLY important to care for ourselves and be kind to ourselves.
Going to Health Professionals may feel like a big task, but it is such a big part of caring for ourselves after struggling with harm. However, the quality of care you may experience in different health-care settings may vary – so make sure you be bold, look after yourself, and speak out if you need help.
3) When we have lasting damage....
An important part of the recovery process is learning to live with scarring that may have been caused by harming actions. Scars are permanent - there are steps you can take to improve the appearance of scars, but learning to live alongside them will be a massive part of your recovery. Is it possible to love your scars and view them as an important part of your past? Can we make sure our scars (or lack of them) aren’t triggering for us? How do you manage if people make comments or ask you how they occurred? We can advise you, but the answers will be different for everyone.
It's okay not to like your scars - liking them is very different from accepting them. The caring process of looking after our scars and ourselves can be a big part of accepting them, but once they are healed we may want to continue to cover them for a time – that’s okay. Remember, lasting damage is a result of self-harm, but they are not a reflection of what is happening to you emotionally. Also, not having scars or any physical sign of self-harm doesn't mean you are not having difficulties - you don't need to try and scar yourself to prove you need help, and having lots of scars doesn't mean you can't recover.
Sometimes doctors or psychiatrists will ask to see your scars and you may not feel comfortable with that - again, that's okay, no-one can force you to show any part of your body if you're not happy for them to see. What you choose to tell people who notice your scars is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer; it comes down to how you feel comfortable. Having a history of self-harm is nothing to be ashamed about - we hope that by now you have realised it's more common than you think and that being able to speak to people we trust can be a big part of getting help when we are struggling.
If you are struggling with scars or lasting damage, there are a variety of make-up and skin care products out there that you may feel will be helpful - these have been designed for all kinds of skin complaints, from birth marks to scars caused by accidents. They are suitable for use all over the body, including your face, are waterproof and suitable for use when swimming.