a blog about daughters in crisis and the moms who love them

Archive for the tag “self harm”

Let’s Dissect a Myth About Cutting

I’ve never met a cutter who views it as an optimal long-term lifestyle choice or a best practice for coping or relieving stress. They ALL say it’s something they want to quit doing. This must mean, then, that it does not provide the lasting sense of relief, peace, or atonement it seems to promise in the beginning.

Cutting betrays itself as an unsustainable approach to managing one’s emotions and circumstances. Rather than it working better and better, the longer and more frequently people do it, they instead find it multiplies their problems and swells the weight of their burdens. Rather than a tool that makes life easier, it is a weapon aimed directly at the self.

Cutting does not lead to victory, but to defeat. Guilt and shame. Temporary relief. Obsession. A cycle that always ends at regret.

Jesus, though, really could say, “It is finished,” and mean it. He paid the price once and put an end to sin and death. His blood does have power. His wounds really can heal.

Not long after my daughter, Tessa, turned to God for help to stop cutting, she realized something profound: she was trying to accomplish on her own what Jesus had already accomplished for her. She realized that she had shed her own blood in an attempt to purge herself of what she saw as undesirable within herself. Although she initially felt better each time she did this, eventually the undesirable things piled up again and the urge to atone for them returned. Bloodletting became a circular trap she found no way to spring on her own. Short of perfecting herself, there was no way to permanently get rid of everything undesirable.

I’m grateful to Caroline Kettlewell for writing down and sharing her experiences with cutting. I read her memoir several years ago, near the beginning of my quest to find some way to comprehend something I’d never heard of or encountered before. She is a terrific writer and was willing to uncover a very difficult aspect of her life to help the rest of us understand what takes place inside the mind of someone dealing with self-harm. It was a comfort to me to find in her words a first-hand expression of what my intuition was telling me about self-injury and the path toward true healing.

I cut with painstaking, deliberate slowness and a mounting sense of —excitement? Anticipation? Expecting to cross, at last, some final threshold, to realize some permanent escape. A blood sacrifice substantive enough to articulate the depth and breadth and conviction of my despair …

… Once again, I wanted to kill something in myself, wanted to bleed it out until I was left with the bare, clean baseline, the absolute zero from which point I could rebuild a better version of myself. 

~Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

I’ll never forget the joy I saw in Tessa’s eyes when she described what it meant to know that atoning for her sin was not up to her.

Jesus — the Passover Lamb, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth, the Lamb of God — offered Himself and His own blood on her (and our) behalf as the final sacrifice to atone for sin. No other sacrifice since that day has purged anyone of any sin in God’s eyes. The Book of Hebrews tells us all about this in detail.

How To Read The Signs An At-Risk Girl Gives Us

One of my greatest regrets is failing to intervene sooner when my daughter’s trouble started. If this blog can help even one family confidently take action before their daughter starts walking through the Valley of High-Risk Behavior, it will be more than worth every keystroke and late night. As a disclaimer, I do not pretend to be a credentialed expert on this topic. My assertions, however, are backed up by research and I will gladly share my sources.

Looking back with accuracy is much easier, sometimes, than seeing the present correctly. I noticed issues that seemed relatively small and amorphous early on. Tessa had a hard time interpreting “girl politics” as early as kindergarten. We worked on it, but nothing seemed to stick too well. She complained about it from time to time, but she also formed a couple of close friendships and seemed happy in general. Until 5th grade. That year, some of her classmates reached the cusp of puberty. A child’s brain transforms from primarily “black and white” thinking to abstract thinking at this juncture. This takes girl politics to a whole new level.

My daughter had not entered puberty yet, but she picked up on the new and different ways her peers were behaving. It was difficult, I’m sure, to articulate her concerns. Tessa was undoubtedly even more bewildered than ever by the cattiness, strife, positioning, and subtle bullying. She began asking if she could be homeschooled. We talked about it and considered it as a family, but it didn’t seem like the situation warranted such a dramatic change. It all seemed like normal kid stuff at that point. I should have listened better. If there were do-overs, I would take one for this decision. Giving a child the opportunity to step away from what, to her, is an overwhelming situation can lead to great strides in social development, self-esteem, and happiness. With the vast array of choices we have now to educate our children, it really can be a terrific option.

It seemed we were muddling through the transition from elementary to middle school. Tessa wasn’t elated, but she wasn’t completely miserable, either. She always made the honor roll, had a variety of interests, and thought often of the future. By 7th grade, however, we had a situation on our hands. The social environment at school had very definable fissures by now. Tessa, like nearly all of the girls, was in a group. Her group was populated by only a few: smart, sensitive, artsy types who made a point of eschewing their “preppy” peers for an endless string of reasons. In and of itself, this type of group is perfectly fine. But Tessa felt like it was her only option, and that WAS a problem. This, along with timing, cultural influences, and peer pressure were the breezes that built into a storm of darkness.

For my girl, the hormonal changes of puberty, the popularity of the emo subculture and its accompanying associations with self-harm / cutting (I realize that many insist quite forcefully there is no correlation. Based on my experience and my research, there certainly is in our case. Perhaps your experience is different. I’m sure it can vary by geography, age, how seriously one devotes themselves to it, etc.), and the modeling of risky behavior by some kids she looked up to all converged quickly and destructively.

Jumping forward, Tessa was diagnosed with major depression her 8th-grade year. Below, I’ve listed the symptoms of depression. When I found out that sustained anger and irritability can often be the loudest signals of depression in a child or teen, I was surprised. Please take note. Your daughter will thank you later. Many of the other symptoms on the list were absent or transitory, but chronic irritation stuck around and, I’m sure, contributed to the social marginalization my daughter felt she was experiencing.

There is some family history of depression, but what I saw in my afflicted relatives looked very different from what I saw in Tessa.

The bottom line is that we got behind the curve. It’s been much more difficult to catch up, clean up, and get ahead of it again than it would have been to stay in front from the outset. It sounds trite, but it really is better to be pro-active than reactive. I am not one to be an alarmist. I think far too many kids are put through the wringer of misdiagnosis and over-reaction. But the transition into puberty is a fragile time for girls. Some are more fragile than others. Stay connected even when you are pushed away and be ready to intervene decisively if concerning signs persist. She is worth it.

Signs A Child or Teen Is Depressed

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, any of these symptoms occurring over an extended period of time may mean a child is depressed :

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, and/or crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased interest in activities or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities.
  • Persistent boredom; low energy. “The hallmark of depression is this inability to have joy,” Dolgan says. “There’s this low energy, this shutting away, shutting down.”
  • Social isolation, poor communication. “A child given the opportunity to play with friends who prefers to be alone” may be depressed, Dolgan says.
  • Low self-esteem and guilt. “The kids feel they’re not good or not worth very much,” Dolgan says. “I often ask, ‘Are you important to somebody?’ Depressed kids say no.”
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches. “A lot of these kids have physical illnesses for no real cause, especially stomachaches and headaches,” Dolgan says.
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school.
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior

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