Self Injury

If you are easily triggered by discussions around self injury, self harm, self mutilation, or suicide.

Please skip this post. 

Were you aware that March is Self Injury Awareness month

I’m just going to be really upfront and say that this subject triggers me in the most stressful way. I hate talking about it. It is probably the hardest thing for me to talk about and even write about. So why do I bring it up? Why put myself through something so immensely uncomfortable?

I bring it up because I have experienced thoughts of suicidal ideation. I have a child who has expressed suicidal ideation. I have a relative that took their own life. So YES this subject affects me because I have experienced it in the most intimate ways possible. I never want anyone to experience the pain I have felt. So I will talk about it until it is no longer hard to talk about.

What is it?

Self Injury Awareness Month recognizes that self harm happens across all genders, races, beliefs and ages1. As per Doorways an Arizona counseling clinic, here are some common questions surrounding self injury. 

What Forms Does Self-Injury Take?2

There is a variety of ways to inflict self-injury. The most common methods are skin cutting (70‑90%), head hitting or banging (21-44%), and burning (15-35%). Less common ways of inflicting self-harm include scratching so that bleeding occurs, punching objects or oneself, breaking bones purposefully, inserting an object into a body opening, and drinking a harmful liquid such as bleach. Most individuals engaging in NSSI hurt themselves in more than one way. For instance, many “cutters” also suffer from an eating disorder.

What Causes Teens and Young Adults to Injure Themselves?

People who self-injure report a variety of negative feelings—they may feel one or more of the following: empty inside; lonely; bored; fearful of intimate relationships; unable to resolve interpersonal difficulties; unable to express how they feel; misunderstood by others; under or over stimulated; afraid of responsibilities. Read this National Institutes of Health (NIH) report entitled Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in Adolescents.

Physical Pain and Psychological Pain

Self-abuse is used as an outlet to relieve psychological pain. It may also be regarded as a means of exercising control over one’s body when you have no control over other aspects of your life. Unfortunately, relief is only temporary, and without appropriate treatment, a self-sustaining cycle often develops with urges to self-injure growing in frequency and becoming harder to resist.

Self-Injury and Suicide

While those engaging in non-suicidal self-injury do not mean to commit suicide, they may bring about more harm than they intend and end up with unanticipated medical complications. In severe cases of self-injury, the sufferer may become so desperate about the addictive nature of their behavior and their inability to control it, that they carry out a true suicide attempt.

What are the Warning Signs of Self-Injury?

If you are a parent, the appearance of unexplained or inadequately explained frequent injuries such as cuts, burns, or bruises, should definitely trigger concern. Don’t simply take at face value “I fell” or “The cat scratched me.” Be aware that your adolescent will attempt to conceal these physical signs of self-abuse with clothing, so pay attention if they start wearing inappropriate clothes such as pants or garments with long sleeves in hot weather. The physical symptoms will go hand-in-in hand with one or more of the following: low rate of self-esteem; difficulty handling feelings; avoidance of relationships; relationship problems; poor functioning at home or in school.

What is the Treatment for Self-Injury?

Effective treatment for self-injury sufferers usually takes the form of a case-appropriate mix of cognitive/behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and medication. In difficult to treat cases, other treatment services may be necessary. These could include partial-inpatient therapy of several hours per day or even hospitalization under a specialized self-injury hospital program. Services for accompanying problems such as eating disorders or substance abuse should be integrated into the treatment, depending on individual needs.

Seek a Professional Diagnosis

A teen or young adult who engages in self-injury should be evaluated by a mental health professional. Self-abuse behaviors may be symptomatic of other mental disturbances such as personality disorders (especially borderline personality disorder), anxiety disorders (especially obsessive-compulsive disorder), bipolar disorder, major depression, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts or plans of self harm, reach out to someone you feel safe with immediately and call 911. 

If you can not think of a person you can trust, here are resources for you to get immediate support you need. Self harm is not the answer – EVER. There is hope even if it doesn’t feel like it.

  • Call your local law enforcement  or dial 911
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
  • Lifeline Chat
  • Veteran Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
  • Veterans Crisis Chat 
  • Hospital Emergency Room
  • Mental health facility 

Out of the Darkness

Last year was the first year I’ve fundraised for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Out of the Darkness Walk. I was extremely emotional that day but I had to walk in person because I knew others needed to know they were not alone in their suffering. I walked in honor of my relative who took his own life. I still have my beads and bib from that day. It actually hangs in my closet where I can see it to remind me why I am so vocal about mental health.

I am walking again this year because it is important to me, my family, and to our community. If you would like to join my team or donate to AFSP, here is my donor page. My goal this year is $750! I’d love your help with donations, prayers, and getting the word out. 

Resources

If you want further information surrounding mental health, substance abuse, or self harm. I have linked some very informative sites. 

Remember – It is ok to NOT be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!

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Darkness during the holidays

As we enter the holiday season and the end of year, I would like to talk about unpopular, heavy subjects – self harm, seasonal affective disorder, and triggered feelings. Before you think that I should talk about all the lovely beautiful things during this season, I want you to know that not everyone feels the same way.

**TRIGGER ALERT: If you are triggered by talks of self harm ideation, please skip the end of this post.**

Triggered Feelings

In the Filipino culture, we celebrate the holidays with the entire family, like eeeerrrbody. We will pack 50 people in the smallest space possible. Its the only way to spend the holidays, amirite? Seeing family you haven’t seen since the last “family party” or even the year prior is my favorite parts of the holidays. Its always a time when I love to catch up with cousins and eat all the delicious staples dishes of the holidays until an Auntie says, “come on, eat some more.”

This season also brings inappropriate comments, questions and unsolicited advice. Lord help me, this was the hardest part of theses get-togethers.

“Ay nako (OMG), you got fat/gained weight!”
“When are you having kids?”
“Are you going to try for a girl/boy?”
“When are you guys going to get married?”
“Anak (baby), tell Tita (Auntie) about your job?”
“How much did you buy your house/purse/car for?”
“Why are you breastfeeding? Bottle feeding is better.”

“Why aren’t you breastfeeding? It’s free milk.”
“Who made the [insert dish here]? Mine is better.”
“Why don’t you become a nurse? It’s a good job.”

“You put your kid(s) in daycare? Why?”
“When are you going back to work?”

While your Aunties, Uncles, and Grandparents mean well, these statements can be internalized negatively especially for those of us who were not born in the Philippines. Contrary to western culture, where we would never bring up touchy subjects such as weight, socioeconomic status, and marital affairs, it is common practice to talk about when everyone comes together. I would like to offer you some help to enjoy the holidays despite the hurtful conversations.

How to survive hurtful conversations

  • This is how they show their support.
    • I will create an entire post – in the near future – about how I internalized comments/statements/questions from relatives. For now, I want you to understand that theses statements are how our family members show their support. While this doesn’t erase the hurt you receive, know that this is their way of showing they care about you. I promise, it is true.
      • My husband is a great at doing this! He has heard many times that he has “gained weight” or “you got fat”. He just politely says “thank you” gives them a kiss on the cheek or a hug and makes his way towards the food.
  • If a conversation becomes too much, it is ok to politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
    • Setting boundaries is important especially when the conversation becomes uncomfortable. While you cannot change the relatives’ words towards you, you can control your reactions and responses towards them. If you are not able to continue in a constructive way, excuses yourself as politely and as quickly as possible. Even better, have another person be your scapegoat for excusing yourself from the conversation – your partner, sibling, or cousin. In this way, you will be able to have support while setting a boundary.
      • I’ve done this by excusing myself to tend to my kids and it works like a charm. It is one of the perks of being a mom since kids always need something. I have also been the person to “rescue” a relative from an uncomfortable conversation by asking them to help me with something.
  • NO. – Is a complete sentence.
    • As I stated in the last bullet point, you are allowed to set boundaries around conversations and ‘no’ or any form of it is an acceptable answer. You are not required to explain your life decisions. While I absolutely understand that Auntie wants to know why you are [insert life decision here], she does needs to agree with how you are living your life right now. Again, this is their way of showing they care but an explanation is not warranted.
      • When the husband and I decided to move to Arizona, we were grilled by almost every relative imaginable. In fact it was probably a daily occurrence once our house was on the market. “Don’t you want to stay in California?” “No.” Over time, the husband and I became very good at just saying no or a version of it. It wasn’t easy but it was a great way to practice boundaries.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

I only learned about this mental disorder when a relative reached out and talked to me about their symptoms. While I am familiar with depression, I never knew that individuals would experience this disorder during certain seasons. Here is some great information from the Mayo clinic:

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Fall and winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

Spring and summer SAD

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder

In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.

When to see a doctor

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.

Treatment

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor — this is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.

**TRIGGER ALERT: If you are triggered by talks of self harm or suicidal ideation, please skip the rest of this post.**

Self Harm

While the CDC reports that suicidal attempts are lower during the holiday season, I have experienced first hand that these ideations increase in frequency during this season. Last year, sadly a relative took their own life days after Thanksgiving. This year, I had a friend reach out after one of their relative’s attempted to take their own life. So while this is a very difficult conversation to have, please know that self harm is prevalent and needs to be talked about.

If you or someone you know needs help getting to a more positive mental space, please reach out immediately.

  • Call your local law enforcement or dial 911
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, press 1
  • Lifeline Chat
  • Hospital Emergency Room
  • Mental health facility

I also talk about tools and resources on a previous series, Asking for help. Please feel free to read through that series on all the ways you can help yourself or others.

There is hope

This post was quite heavy and may have triggered negative feelings or past hurtful experiences. For those who are triggered, I offer you a virtual hug and the notion that you are still here to help others who are in need or immediate crisis. Know that you are not alone during the holiday season even if it feels that way. Please reach out of you are in an unsafe mental space. You can even reach out to me, I am more than happy to be a supportive person for you. I am thankful for you and appreciate your support of this blog and most importantly, bringing awareness to mental health. Together we are stronger.

And remember… it is ok to not be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!


The Filipino Mom Parenting a child with mental illness

Series: Parenting a child with mental illness – Mama bear and diagnosis

Welcome back!

This is part two of a five part series on parenting kids with mental illness. If you haven’t read my first post, you can catch up here .

I have always been a mama bear. I protect my kids from any nastiness from the world. It’s what my mom did for me and what I’m doing for my kids. However, I knew their stories needed to be shared because shielding them from anything will actually hurt them instead of help them. Allowing your kids to feel pain and moving through it is hard. It is hard because you can not control what is happening to them. I had to learn, through therapy, that I had to allow them to move through their feelings and be there to support them not shield them.

I’ve talked to my kids at great lengths about sharing their journeys and they were very willing to share. Kabayan, we need to learn from these brave kids. If you were to ask them in person they would happily share. In fact, they’ve talked about their mental health journey with classmates and guess what – their classmates share their experiences too. Their experiences with support for their mental illnesses was very different from mine. I didn’t realize it was different until I shared with my kids how my parents reacted to my diagnoses. It was mind blowing to them that my parents weren’t as accepting because I provided resources for them immediately.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Both of my kids showed symptoms and signs of mental illness in their teen years. After meeting with our pediatrician about their symptoms, we learned that mental illness can appear in the teen years because of hormonal changes and physical changes. (WHAT! Yup new news to me.) Once our kids were diagnosed, we started both of them on medication and found a therapist that was right for them. They have also tried alternative therapies just as I have. This process took lots of trial and error but as of today, I think we have dosages correct.

What were the symptoms and signs of both of their mental illnesses, you ask? Well I will list them below but before I do, I want you to know these symptoms look very similar to typical teen behavior. The deciding factor was my gut feeling that something wasn’t right. I felt it in my bones that my kids were struggling with something “else”.

Teen #1

  • Secluding themselves from all activities
  • Hard time getting up in the morning
  • Able to sleep all day
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Crying for no reason
  • Having poor body image
  • Comparing themselves to others while putting themselves down
  • Having inactive self harm thoughts
  • Shutting down when asking to talk about their feelings
  • Dead look in their eyes when you speak to them
  • Not making new friends
  • Not wanting to hang out with friends

Teen #2

  • Secluding themselves from all activities
  • Second guessing everything they do
  • Having irrational fears about everyday activities
  • Checking things multiple times, in particular sequences
  • Rewriting things over and over until it was “perfect”
  • Wanting to be in control of all situation all the time
  • Not making new friends
  • Not wanting to hang out with friends
  • Refusing to change their routine even in the slightest way
  • Mental breakdown
  • Active self harm thoughts

Moving forward

Can we just take three deep square breath after reading all that? It’s heavy stuff.

I can tell you that today, my kids have more of an understanding about their emotional and mental wellness than I ever did as a teen. They understand far more about empathy, inclusion, and compassion. They move through hard feelings and I’m proud of them. I have been there for support but they did all the work.

Are you parenting a child with a mental illness? How did you discover they needed help? Wanna see how we manage our daily lives with mental illnesses? Come back next week and I will share a small snippet of our life.

Remember – it is ok to not be ok, tomorrow is a new day. I’ll see you next week.