Interview with “Kelly” a Self-Harmer

NOTE: If you experience suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harming, this post could be potentially triggering. Please do not read this post instead, you should contact 911 if you are in crisis.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous and misunderstood symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is that of Self Harming. My therapist used to say that, in regards to Self-Harming, it is anything that a person does to themselves’, in a physical way, to cause soft tissue damage. I address this topic more in my book “Searching For Grey”, as it is such a big topic for those of us with BPD and those that love and care for us. This is just a “taste” of what it’s like to live with self-harming.  ~ Alice M. Pirola

I interviewed a self-harmer and she has allowed me to share her story, yet she wishes to remain anonymous. This interview offers insights into the thoughts, feelings and reasons for situations where self-harming ideation exists.

Kelly is a 31 year-old young woman. Growing up for her, like most of us with BPD, was a nightmare. She came from a very hostile home environment and dealt with all forms of abuse, including sexual, emotional, physical abuse and general neglect. Most of the abuse she suffered came from her family members while family friends and strangers caused some. Kelly has dealt with abuse her entire life. 

 When Kelly turned 14, she began suffering with suicidal ideation, which continued through to age 28. She confessed that it was a daily struggle not to try to commit suicide. She’d made many attempts and thus, many visits to the hospital and psychiatric wards. 

 When Kelly was 24 she was diagnosed with Bipolar and given tons of psychiatric medication for it - up to 16 meds at one point. She knew about BPD but for some reason, her psychiatrist did not want to give her the diagnosis. Kelly believes that her psychiatrist knew of the stigma attached to a diagnosis of Borderline and this is why she hesitated to “label” her with BPD. Kelly learned of Dialectical Behavioral Training (DBT) from her therapist and she engaged in DBT for about 1 ½ yrs, no group therapy, only on an individual basis. 

 When she later moved to Tampa, FL, she found the same therapist that I (Alice M. Pirola) personally used for my own DBT therapy and counseling. Kelly met with her on an individual basis for a year. After the year was up, the therapist convinced Kelly to attend a segment of group DBT training. There is an important dynamic to group DBT, which is essential in the use of DBT skills.  At the time, Kelly was still on all the medication. Her therapist told her, “If you attend group therapy you can get off meds”. I would like you, the reader to know, that I do not agree with EVER going cold turkey off your psychiatric medication, nor, do I necessarily agree with going off medication completely. However, everyone walks a different path and Kelly wanted to get off her medication.

 It took her 14 months to withdraw. It was her opinion that, no matter how hard the withdrawal was, the medication was making her more prone to suicidal ideation and the self-harm episodes much worse. She would punch herself in the head repeatedly, and cut herself with car keys. My note, I have found from personal experience that, during withdrawal from psychiatric medication, you can have a severe symptom flare up and exacerbate the situation. Kelly was defiant to come off ALL her medications however, and she achieved that goal. 

Her personal relationships were typically up and down, as with most of us with Borderline, one minute she would be best friends with you, then she would hate you as if you were the worst person in the world. Kelly had a very hard time with Kelly’s inability to regulate emotions. DBT training taught her much in the way of being able to self-sooth instead of self-harming.  She was also able to manage her relationships better. 

Kelly remembers the first time she felt the urge to self-harm and acted on it. She would deal with urges that were very strong, due to emotional distress; then take a pen cap and dig it into her legs. There is a rule in DBT therapy that, if you self-harm, your therapist will not engage with you for 24 hours. Kelly was well aware of this rule and it would often deter her from acting on the urge to self-harm herself. 

Kelly says that when she would indulge in self-harming, there was a sense of relief in the pain she felt. Almost like a euphoric emotional feeling of relief. There was also a self-punishment element to the harming. She felt she was punishing herself for whatever she felt she deserved at the time. She shared with me her feelings that one of the biggest misconceptions is the perception that people with BPD are ALL manipulators. Or that all BPD’s are cutters or self-harmers. She explained to me that in her opinion, “No one size fits all in Borderline”. She went on to say she feels there are many variations as to how people experience BPD. 

 More recently, she says she just tells people that she has Panic/Anxiety Disorder and/or Depression instead of BPD because people get scared when they hear someone has BPD. When she tries to explain her symptoms in her personal relationships, she gets frustrated and goes back to Panic/Anxiety or Depression or PTSD.  Kelly explained that she often feels rejected or misunderstood when she tries to get someone to understand what it means to be Borderline. 

 Due to her feelings of anxiety with sharing about her BPD, she has never allowed herself to be in a long-term physical or romantic relationship. Due to a common result of heterosexual/homosexual vacillation experienced by some BPD’s, she went through 3-4 yrs of dating only women. She will usually only be in relationships with women because of all the emotional and physical abuse she has suffered throughout her life, mostly at the hands of a man, for which she has a large distrust. 

One of her fears is in knowing how difficult any relationship can be because of her BPD. “How do you tell someone what you go through with BPD”, she asked me.  She does has support with one good friend, a woman who is a mother figure to her. For the most part though, she feels misunderstood and rejected because of her BPD diagnosis. She found a Church and was able to connect for a bit, but she doesn’t share her emotional and/or psychological struggle at Church.  Her youth pastor used to pray over her suicidal and self-harming urges and depression. Yet when it didn’t just “go away”, she again felt misunderstood. They would say to her, at Church, “If you pray hard enough it will go away”. She felt, “Then I must be crap to God”. This only served to put her into a deeper depression. 

One good thing is that she has been able to stay away from alcohol and drugs as a way of self-medicating. She has also been able to hold a full time job in property management for an Apartment Complex and acts as the Community Administrator. She does not like her job however, as she deals with resident calls where disgruntled residents yell at her and there is much confrontation. She feels it is an unhealthy environment for her with having BPD, but right now this is her job and she is thankful to be able to hold it down.  She agrees that each day is a struggle as she deals with her various symptoms with BPD. 

I want to thank Kelly for sharing her story with me so candidly. The reason I chose to interview another self-harmer, is that I want YOU to know that you are not alone. There are many of us and we suffer in silence with our urges and unfortunately with our acting on those urges. There is much help to be had in retraining your brain and thought patterns to deal with the urge to self-harm through Dialectical Behavioral Training (DBT). I encourage you; if you deal with this as one of your BPD symptoms, to seek out a true licensed DBT trainer. Ask your therapist if he or she has gone through the training and if they received certification in DBT. 

May God Bless all of us that continue to heal in this journey. I hope that Kelly’s story has helped you in some way. 

Alice M. Pirola

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