Cutting. Emotional Numbness and Pain. (Content/Trigger warning🔴)

Cutting. Emotional Numbness and Pain. (Content/Trigger warning🔴)
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When I was going through puberty, I experienced first-hand the emergence of mood or affective disorder.

Sure, every teenager gets moody, but my mood imbalance wasn’t exactly subclinical, it was diagnosable and extreme. The diagnosis was Bipolar disorder then, long before any psychosis emerged on my clinical picture. I was in High School, not very popular, and very isolated from my peers without a lunch break or a solid clique of friends. As I realized how starved for friendship I was, my mood dysregulation worsened, and I became socially volatile, behaving bizarrely, and very agitated.


Without coping skills, a good therapist, or real friends as supports, my behavior became more extreme. Eventually, the emotional pain I was enduring as an unhappy high school adolescent converted over into numbness. I didn’t want to feel pain anymore. So, my body internalized the emotions until I became so disconnected from them that I felt nothing. At first, this is what needed to happen, I suppose. My body was adapting, albeit, negatively, to the extreme state I was in during that time.


However, like all people with maladaptive coping skills, they collapse on their head. And, so, eventually, I collapsed, reverting to even more maladaptive coping mechanisms. That was when my behavior crossed the line from maladaptive coping to self-harm. Like I said, I was numb. I wanted to feel something again. So, walking into my family’s bathroom I looked in the medicine cabinets and drawers. There, inside the drawers were my father’s razor blades. I knew about cutting from television and the movies.


I applied what I knew about cutting and put theory to practice. I took the blade and drew lines across my wrists. First, minor cuts, tracing along my veins. Then, a bit deeper, feeling the force of the blade tear through my skin. “Ahh, ouch!” I thought. Instead of a good feeling, a rush of pain entered into my system. This wasn’t exactly the feelings I had hoped would return. I thought a warm, comfortable, and intimate feeling would be produced by the cutting. Like memories from happier times early on in my childhood when things were just fine, and I was happier.


Instead, physical pain and lots of it began to emerge from cutting myself. Maybe, I surmised, if I cut a little deeper, I would pass through the hurt and better more satisfying feelings would manifest. I was wrong again. Just more pain. Now, because I cut so deep, the pain was almost as extreme as the emotional pain that preceded my numbness. Now, I was just in pain and poised between two extreme states of physical and emotional pain. I felt out of control at this point.


These are superficial cuts. What we mental health therapists note isn’t very deep. They are done mostly for attention. I was starved of attention from my peers then, and really truly would do just about anything for more. And, when my parents came home after I had just finished cutting myself, I ran outside for their attention. “look at what you made me do!” yelling at them. I was accusing them or suggesting that their behavior made me behave this way and that they were the cause of everything.

My choice to self-harm was my own choice.

As angry as I was back then at everyone, including my family as most teenagers are from time to time, my choice to behave recklessly, and to self-harm, was completely my own.


There is a rule or mantra, we professionals have in mental health that rings true always. It is simply that nobody controls our behavior except, ourselves, meaning, nobody is in charge of anyone else’s actions, except for the individual him or herself. So, before you go blaming someone for your behavior, or engaging in self-harm, remember my story.


Back then, I feared I would always be in pain. Whether you have a long-standing condition or are suffering from a new diagnosis, the fear of symptoms re-activating or worsening is a real problem for us with a mental illness. Most of us want to know

  1. will I always have this diagnosis?,
  2. what if these symptoms persist? Or even,
  3. how do I know when I’ve recovered?


Investigate the nature of your diagnosis and prognosis. With this information in hand, you can now devise a plan to manage your situation. The best way to ensure your worst fears about relapse never become a reality means having a stance about recovery. Folks with a chronic condition, co-morbidities, and other factors complicating the road to better health and wellness should be even more realistic with the stance they hold towards healing.


Here is the irony but also the pragmatic black and white of it all. Let’s say you are having a problem. The fastest and least risky route to fixing the issue is finding a solution. So, when you’ve got several problems happening at once, finding multiple solutions takes more savvy, skill, and more energy. If we are to pursue this logic, as the sheer volume of issues increases, so do all the ‘inputs’ into recovery. By inputs or ‘protective factors’ as some call them, I mean the amount of energy, self-awareness, skill, and savvy around navigating every avenue of your journey healing.


Listen, you can still turn this around, it is just going to take everything you’ve got!


J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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