This is one of those topics that people don't like to talk about much, or hear about much. But it's very much a reality for a lot of people. Self-harm is also known as self-injury and is the act of physically hurting oneself, on purpose, without the intent of suicide. Clinically speaking, self-harm is not a symptom of bipolar disorder, and is more commonly associated with young people, but self-harm is linked to a number of psychiatric conditions. People suffering from bipolar disorder (especially when depressed) have been known to self-harm. Impulsiveness, anger and anxiety are connected to self-harming.
Self-injury includes cutting, burning, hitting, punching, biting and more, with cutting probably being the most well known. Why do people self-harm? It's generally one of two reasons: either to relieve emotional pain by causing physical pain, or to cause physical pain in the face of no emotional feelings at all (like feeling numb). When wanting to relieve emotional pain the person is likely in a state of anxiety or trauma with intense, over-whelming emotional feelings. Most self-injury is done to the arms, legs and front torso. This is because these areas are easily hidden. Self-injury not only causes physical scars but also leaves emotional ones as well. The act of injuring may well relieve pain in the short-term but causes more pain in the long-term, such as shame, embarrassment, fear or guilt. Self-harming is not for the purpose of getting attention. It is a means of relieving inner pain. People are often shocked and judgemental when they see the physical scars, which is why those who self-harm go to great lengths to cover their scars.
I had never thought of self-harming. Never until one day I was in extreme crisis. The trauma was so great, the anxiety so high, the pain was so intense that I had to do it. I cut. I took my anger out on myself. I used my sharpest fingernail and carved five lines into my left wrist. Each of them about two inches in length. They bled, they scabbed, they bruised. They scarred. I was surprised at how much it didn't hurt and by how much it made me feel better. It was like they said – a release. But it didn't last. Afterwards I felt embarrassed and afraid. Afraid of what people might think. It was May, but I wore long sleeves for almost two months. No one noticed. The scars are healed now – the physical ones at least. I hope I never feel that desperate again.
(references: WebMD.com, bipolar.about.com, timberlineknolls.com)