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OCD and Cutting

**This post may contain things that make you uncomfortable as the title implies. If cutting/self-mutilation bothers you, please stop reading and check out some of my other posts.**

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while because it needs to be said, but I wasn’t sure how my husband would feel about me mentioning it up until recently when he told a bunch of teenagers that I was a cutter and if any of them needed to talk about it–to ask me. I wrote about a cutter in an unpublished YA and banked my agent’s approval to talk about this because I suspected if it was ever published, people’s first question would be: are you a cutter?

Hey, my name is Wendy, and I’m a cutter. Yep, I AM a cutter, but I haven’t cut in sixteen years. Once you’re a cutter, you’re basically always a cutter. Out of the many females with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I’ve spoken with, a huge portion of them are cutters. More than you’d ever guess. It’s just a very verboten subject.

I’ve been a cutter since around eleven or twelve. I used it to atone for things I perceived as mistakes and to stop my brain from obsessing about them. It started with stabbing myself with needles in my fingertips. It felt like the only way I could finally make up for things. Words and thoughts weren’t enough…I needed something tangible. It graduated to more painful and scarring things as I felt like my offenses became more severe. I mentioned in a previous post that people with OCD often suffer from dark thoughts. As those got more frequent, I needed something to keep a hold of sanity.

The most addicting thing about cutting is that it helped. The endorphin rush from the pain would give me a brief feeling of euphoria. Plus, I could control something–I could control the pain I was feeling. Also, it felt like I was atoning for something. I picked my current doctor based on the fact that when I told him about being a cutter, he asked, “Did it help?” not “Were you suicidal?” I consider myself still a cutter because I fight the urge to cut to fix things even today at age 37. And I see aspects of it in some non-cutting, but painful things like punishing runs or clenching my fists until I leave marks on my palms.

The most destructive aspect to cutting is that it didn’t help. I didn’t learn long-term coping mechanisms and my OCD symptoms got worse over time. Controlling pain doesn’t actually provide you any more control in the greater world than you had before. As my symptoms worsened, the addictive aspect to cutting increased. Using needles and creating quick-healing wounds wasn’t enough or frequent enough. And I began feeling guilty about cutting. Using cutting made me feel like a failure…and if I was a failure already…what was to stop me from worse cutting?

It built. When I met my husband, I was coming off the worst bout of cutting I’d ever gone through. I was in an abusive relationship that I felt I’d brought upon myself. My OCD symptoms were the worst they’d ever been, and my need to atone was just as bad. Most of the scars I still carry from cutting are from this period. (Including the one above that I did with a razor.)

Another destructive aspect to cutting is that it lowered my inhibitions in regards to physical injury and opened me up to depression. Cutting, for me, wasn’t a symptom of depression or an indication I was suicidal, but it was a poor coping mechanism of my search for unreachable perfection. The cutting made me feel more imperfect which lead to depression. At some point, those brief moments post-pain were the only times I felt like I was okay. And being depressed and having no resistance to injuring myself…is a very bad place to be in. Being depressed and viewing my body as not worth preserving while in an abusive relationship…well, you can imagine how that could go.

My husband, after we met, asked me not to cut and so I stopped for him, and I haven’t cut in sixteen years. And while I’m on medication for my OCD, I’ve made more progress in finding healthy coping mechanisms since I stopped using cutting.

If you’re cutting to cope, I get that…I understand…and maybe you’re in such a rough place that it makes sense to you. The release you get from cutting helps ease the stress and pressure you’re under. But the honest truth is that it’s a poor coping mechanism and you’re not solving anything.

If you’re cutting to cope, I’ll admit that I’d still be cutting today if not for one thing: someone loved me enough to ask me to stop. And I can tell you right now, there is someone in your life who loves you enough to do that too…if they knew. If you’re like me, you’ve either hidden it or you’re using it defensively to show that you’re broken. I did both. If you can stop for them OR stop for yourself because you deserve to have a body that is healed emotionally and physically, do it.

If you are cutting to cope, the control you feel is an illusion. That rush and relief you get from controlling through pain eventually controls you. You need it more and more. It’s foolish to ever see addiction as a method of control. It’s a piss-poor method too because that rush is short. You need something that lasts more than when the chemicals fade.

If you do stop, you’ll find a curious thing about OCD sometimes happens…our obsession with patterns becomes a benefit. At five years, you find that you’ve achieved five years–and you don’t want to mess that up. Even at a month of no cutting, I felt like I’d accomplished something significant.

If you don’t believe me or you’re not interested in stopping or ready to stop, you know…that’s fine too. My main goal in writing this wasn’t to change anyone’s mind, but to say that cutting is an aspect of OCD for many. It’s a compulsive behavior that some of us have that no more proves or disproves our sanity any more than hand-washing does. OCD is, at its heart, a brain chemical imbalance and there are many symptoms of that.

OCD is not your fault.

The things you do in your attempt to control it might be ridiculous, harmful, and, hell, they might even be crazy, but they are what they are: coping mechanisms for a crappy hand you’ve been dealt for the most part.

If you want control, take up something that gives you that rush: run, bike, or swim. Exercise increases endorphins. As does sex and some foods. Eat some strawberries, grapes, peppers, or bananas. (You can do a websearch for more endorphin-providing foods.)

If you want peace, look for it in meditation, yoga, or pilates. If you’re an artist, pour your emotions into your art and find peace that way. Find a good book and disappear into that world until you’re ready to cope in this one. And if you’re religious, search for it in prayer or in devotion to your religion.

Find someone to listen to you–to invest in your happiness. If you need help from professionals, there is no shame in asking for help–there is only control. You can control your OCD and your response to it. That is true control. There is control in realizing your potential as a person. You are more than you believe. You are stronger than you believe.

If you ever need to talk about any of this, you can reach me via my contact page or chat with me on Twitter (@WendySparrow.)

If you know me personally and this post upsets you, don’t let it bother you. This is another aspect to the love story that is my life. Once upon a time, I thought I could fix me all by myself and through destruction…but now I’ve found someone who cares enough to support me for EXACTLY who I am. And the fact that my husband supports me talking about this shows you that neither of us is ashamed about who I am. Besides, my past hopefully will help others, and it helps me know how to help B so that her coping mechanisms for OCD are much better.

And I take a breath…and post this…

 

*None of these posts on OCD can replicate or replace a visit to a health care professional and are my own personal experience and opinions. Please seek help if you feel you or someone you love needs it.*

33 Responses so far.

  1. Wendy, you’re an amazing person for sharing this and I’m so happy you found the motivation and the strength to stop cutting and find more healthy outlets. Yay for your geeky knight in shining armor knowing the right thing to say!

    And it is a crime that YA story is not yet published.

    -Jay

    • Thanks, Jay. I’m hoping someday Secrets will be published. Sarah mentioned it just barely and I’m thinking we might tackle a revision again soon. Piper deserves her day in my opinion.

  2. thank you for this post. I cut thanks to my OCD, and I don’t tell people because I’m afraid they won’t understand that I cut for control instead of being I’m suicidal and depressed.

    • I didn’t mention it in any of the therapy I went through prior to around age 28 because I discovered that was what most people thought. I also didn’t understand it myself back then…and I didn’t know it was a symptom of OCD until I started talking with other people. Geez, there’s just so much we feel like we can’t talk about…I’m glad you commented. *hugs* And I hope you can keep a handle on your OCD. I’ve been really struggling the last two weeks, but I think a lack of sleep contributed and I can finally dig myself out of it. For what it’s worth…I think you’re awesome and I’m glad I’ve known you for…what…four years? I think it’s been four years. : )

      • I started my Twitter account in 2009, and I think you found me shortly after I created it, so yeah, four years. I think you’re awesome too and so, so happy you found me! (or I found you–who cares, we’re friends, that’s all that matters :))

        It’s quite interesting to talk to other OCD people and realize that sometimes they have the same symptoms as you. If only we were the talkative type 😉

  3. Thank you for being brave enough to share this with your readers. (((hug)))

    • Thank you for commenting. It’s a little strange to be open about something I hid like a guilty secret up until my daughter was diagnosed with OCD nine years ago. But it changed my whole outlook when B was diagnosed. I didn’t want her to feel ashamed. My kids make me brave.

  4. Princess Fi says:

    Thanks for sharing. My mother is a cutter though she hasn’t had an incident in over twenty years.

    • It’s good to hear she shared that with you. I’ve debated talking about it with my 12 year old daughter who has OCD. I wanted to her to know that I’d been there…but I didn’t want her going down that road. Have you always known or did she discuss it with you at some point?

      • Princess Fi says:

        She didn’t discuss it with me until I was an adult but I always knew. She varied in intensity. She also did cigarette burns at one point. She was in mental institutions several times when I was young and some instances required hospitalization. After the last incident in 1991 my husband and I built a granny flat and she’s lived with us ever since.

        • I’m glad you could bring her to live with you. This almost feels like a glimpse of what might have been. The bad relationship I was in…he later came back into my life and asked me to marry him. I was with my husband by then. I was headed down that road…and I did the burns too for a while. I’m glad most of my adult life has been spent attempting to learn coping mechanisms that I never learned as a teen…instead of continuing cutting.

  5. Thank you for such a candid blog about a very distressing condition. So glad you have found a way through it. You are amazing.

    • Thank you. I’m very lucky to have so much support. My family would have been supportive if they’d known but my husband was the first person to know I had OCD and that I discussed my cutting with. Since the average age of diagnosis of OCD is 28, I think a lot of people are in my situation…hiding it until they can’t…which shouldn’t be the case. I’m hoping being open about it will help my daughter if no one else.

  6. Wendy, you’re amazing. This post is amazing. I understand cutting as an act of rage or despair, to show physically the pain you are in emotionally, but I never realized it could also be a method of–somewhat illusive–control. You’ve opened my eyes. Thank-you.

    And kudos to your DH for giving you the love and acceptance you needed in order to stop.

    • Unfortunately with OCD most of the disorder isn’t as obvious or even visible. The dark thoughts and then the less obvious motives for our behavior…it’s not the Hollywood version of OCD. It’s a shame because a lot of people with OCD don’t realize that these other parts are a symptom too. They assume they’re “just that way” and don’t realize they can get help for this sort of stuff.

      Thank you for commenting and for reading. *hugs*

  7. Josey says:

    Atonement is what I have tried to make the few who knew about it understand. It wasn’t attention-seeking, or being suicidal, it was coping the only way I knew how. Your post felt like a pair of arms coming around and saying ‘It’s going to be okay. I understand. You are not alone.’ thank You

    • It IS going to be okay, and I really do understand. And, most of all, believe me when I tell you that you are not alone.

      It wasn’t until I was around 28 that someone told me they’d had a friend with OCD who’d confessed about having dark thoughts and was a cutter that I even realized those were related to my OCD. I’d always assumed those were “me.” Since then, I’ve found a lot of people who share those symptoms and it’s been a huge relief to me. In my experience, the majority of women with OCD become cutters. I don’t know as many men with OCD, so I don’t know, but it’s very common among women–or at least the women I know. So, you’re very much not alone. *hugs* I’m glad this helped.

  8. Matilda says:

    My sister, who suffers from major clinical depression, was also a cutter through her junior high and high school years. She also used it as a way to stop her emotional pain and focus on a different, less scary (at least for her) kind of pain. When my OCD came on, I was almost 30 and immediately called a psychologist. The scary, irrational fears & the compulsions seemed to just click on one day, out of no where. (Looking back, I’d been highly anxious my entire life and it finally broke.) Because of my sister’s journey, mental illness was always talked about in my family. I was so afraid and knew I had no tools to deal with my anxiety & OCD on my own. If I had been a terrified 13-year-old kid when this happened, I know I wouldn’t have been able to ask for help so quickly. But the more mental illness is talked about and not seen as a “weakness” or something you can just “get over,” the easier and less scary it will be, at least I hope, for people to seek treatment. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • I think the fact that my OCD doesn’t have the typical Hollywood symptoms is part of what kept me from getting the help I needed earlier…and why I could hide it so effectively, but there was also that stigma I was up against. One of my family members was very against anti-depressant use–though he’s since reversed his decision, but I believed that I could handle it myself and keep it from everyone…and I was ashamed. I’m not anymore. I can’t be. Once my daughter was diagnosed at around age 3…I was ashamed of being ashamed. It’s one thing to expect an adult to cope with mental health, but blaming a 3 year old…. It changed my whole outlook. And I also realized that I was stupid for not getting help when my kids needed me to be a parent.

      I’m hoping that talking about this will help others out there reevaluate what they think OCD is and help others cope…I hope so anyway. At the very least, it was time for me to admit that, yes, this happened…and I did that…and that doesn’t make me a bad person…it makes me a person with OCD.

  9. Heather Allred says:

    I don’t really have anything to add to the conversation. I just wanted to send you a *hug*.

  10. […] This is my third post on OCD. I also posted on OCD and Dark Thoughts and OCD and Cutting. […]

  11. kristina says:

    I can so relate to this post. I’m not a cutter, but I am a self-harmer. There are peaks and valleys to this thing called depression and anxiety…and my valleys always have self-harm in them. (Either wanting to or actually doing it.)

    What is normal? I think I’m pretty normal. I just learned some really bad coping skills as a child that I just can’t shake all these years later.

    Thank you for this post Wendy.

    • I’ve had a lot more peaks and valleys since becoming a writer. I feel like I’ve left the dark parts of my soul exposed through my characters. I swing up and down over the course of a day. I’ve never been this temperamental before.

      Normal might be a myth, but that doesn’t prevent me from chasing it. In the meantime, it feels right to tell others that they’re a normal version of abnormal.

      *hugs* Thanks for commenting.

      • Ann MG says:

        This part: “being depressed and having no resistance to injuring myself…is a very bad place to be in.” Does kids help with this? I feel profoundly my place as their guardian, and less temptation to risky behavior.

        Writing, oi. It’s good to have a venue, but then you have to wrangle all that stuff. I call the writer my Inner Diva and buy her bling.

        Hugs, ladies. You’ve both reached my little corner of the universe and are part of why I love being here.

        • Yes, I’d have to agree on that. Having kids adds an extra layer of resistance to some behaviors. I have a very strong sense of responsibility for them…and for not teaching them some things are okay. Also I feel like I need to be “okay” for them. I’m no good as a mother if I let my demons win.

  12. […] and too much willingness to not talk about these things. Inspired lately by a few writers who have come out about their struggles, I thought I might have something to […]

  13. Gustav F.H. says:

    I have a friend who has OCD and cuts. I did not know until recently, and it has gotten to the point that I don’t know what to do when she cuts herself. Because she sends me text messages once she does it. And I want to help. This post has made me realize why she does it (I think), but how can I help otherwise than to be there for her, talk to her about it, and offer other methods of coping (an example, writing a line with a red marker where she wanted to cut). She already goes to a professional to talk about this, but how can I help further? Thank you so much in advance for your answer. I know this post was posted a long time ago, so hopefully you’ll answer.

    And as a last piece of my comment. Thank you for sharing, and I wish you all the best in the future! 🙂

    • Coping without cutting is complex..especially for someone else to help with. While you can never take the place of a health care professional, there are probably a few things you can do to support them.

      First, you should make sure they know your support is unconditional–they don’t need to earn it–you’re there for them. Make sure they know how much you mean to them–that they have nothing to prove in order for you to care about them. If you’re really close, you can even ask them to stop and offer to help them get through it. It’s a very addictive behavior, though, and if anyone outside of my husband had asked, I probably wouldn’t have listened.

      Second, many people cut due to the rush you experience when you do, and this rush can be found in other activities like running and physical activity. Take them for a run or a walk with you. Get them to go places to get them outside their head and be active. Help them find an outlet outside of the obsessive side of them like painting, drawing, writing, etc.

      Third, help them limit their stress. Stress makes everything escalate and makes things in their life seem out of their control. Help them gain control in their life. The more control they feel like they have–the more they’ll be able to ease up on cutting.

      I hope this helps. Since cutting is an addiction, many coping mechanisms for other addictions might help also, so you might be able to find help with internet searches that way also. I’ve heard of people dealing with cutting with the rubberband method–where they snap a rubberband around their wrist to give them the pain rush and acknowledgement without having to cut, but I’m not sure how well that works on a regular cutter, and I’m not sure it would have worked with me. Thank you for commenting and I hope you help your friend. *hugs*

  14. It’s very brave to talk about your experiences, and hopefully someone will find it helpful in the future. If you do publish your YA novel, I’m certain there is at least one person out there who will be able to put themselves in that character’s place and see help in their future. Congratulations on finding your way out of the cycle, and for finding the peace that allows you to offer help to other people as well.

    • I’m hoping that book is someday published. There are so many things that need to be talked about and dragged into the light because hiding them in the dark just makes some of us slip there too. Thanks for your comment. *hugs*

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