23 Honest Confessions From People Who Self-Harm

For me, it was all about control. Over my life, my body, my emotions.

Nicole Xu for BuzzFeed News

To help others better understand self-harm, we asked the BuzzFeed Community what they wished they could tell people and what misconceptions they wanted to clear up.

By the way: Just because self-harm isn’t uncommon doesn’t mean it’s a healthy coping mechanism or that recovery isn’t possible. If you are dealing with the urge to hurt yourself or have thoughts of suicide, the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. A list of international suicide hotlines can be found here. And if you prefer to text, you can message the Crisis Text Line by messaging 741741. Lastly, here is a list of things that have helped people in the BuzzFeed Community resist the urge to self-harm.

“I wish that people knew it was not for attention or to be edgy. I started self-harming as a teenager as a way to punish myself. It was never to show off or to seek pity. It was a private thing that I did because I was feeling so much emotional pain, I didn’t know how else to express it.”

-Jen, 22

“It was a cry for help – the only way I thought people would actually notice me. Many people who cut themselves hope someone will notice, so they can actually get the help they need.”

-Autumn, 19


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The World’s Most Notorious Anti-Vaxxer Wants A Second Act

Andrew Wakefield with his wife, Carmel

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

At one point in the new documentary The Pathological Optimist, Andrew Wakefield, the man best known for promoting the myth that the MMR vaccine can cause autism, likens himself to the South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

Wakefield was speaking at a chiropractors meeting in southern California, where he had just raised more than $50,000 in a single evening. The fundraiser was ostensibly held to pay for legal fees in a defamation suit Wakefield had filed against Brian Deer, a British investigative journalist who alleged that Wakefield’s infamous 1998 study not only falsified data, but also made him money – nearly 435,000, paid by parents hoping to win a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers.

Broad-shouldered but hunched over, Wakefield addressed the group with a steady gaze.

People say to me, ‘Listen, you can’t win this can you?’ he said in his demure British accent. I say, that’s not a reason not to fight. Mandela was in prison for 27 years in solitary confinement – how many people told him during that time that he couldn’t win?

He was sitting at a table of the biggest donors at the event, some of whom had been shown writing him checks for $1,000. What I’d love to do is come back in one year’s time, two year’s time, and say, ‘Guys, we won the case. We won it thanks to you. And now the world is never going to be the same again.’

Wakefield didn’t win the case. And given that he filed the suit against a British writer from his new home in Austin, Texas, he probably never had a real shot at winning it. But that doesn’t matter. As this provocative, five-year documentary makes clear, the desperate parents who follow him will follow him anywhere. Just like every martyr, he only needs a righteous cause.

To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one, J. B. Handley, co-founder of Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue, told the New York Times in 2011. He’s a symbol of how all of us feel.

To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.

The filmmaker, Miranda Bailey, originally intended to focus the film on the defamation suit against Deer, whose investigations led not only to the retraction of Wakefield’s 1998 paper, but to the loss of his UK medical license in 2010. But when the judge ruled, in 2014, that the case had no jurisdiction in the state of Texas, Bailey had to change course.

Miranda’s film had no third act – there was no story. So then it became a different story, a character piece, Wakefield told me on Thursday, from a swanky hotel room in New York City’s Soho House where he and Bailey were doing press interviews. It’s not the film I would have wanted, because I’m not interested in me.

And yet, it’s clear he was game for a rebranding. Most people know Wakefield – if they’ve heard of him at all – as the British doctor who was stripped of his medical license and booted from the scientific community for hatching the bogus link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and autism, but not before launching a lasting, dangerous panic in parents across the world. Over nearly 20 years, Wakefield has never backed down, even as dozens of studies have refuted his retracted original, which looked at just 12 kids.

Cold Iron Pictures / Via Facebook: ThePathologicalOptimist

The image of me that’s been painted in the media is of this child-eating, horned monster, Wakefield said, sipping tea. (He’s been profiled, sharply but fairly, by several big outlets.) And the value of [the film] is, it’s just a guy trying to do a job.

Wakefield’s job has changed several times since the scandal broke, when he moved his wife and kids from England to a sprawling Craftsman with a pool tucked away in the bucolic hills of Austin. Initially, Wakefield opened an autism treatment center there called Thoughtful House Center for Children, on a reported salary of 164,000 a year. He abruptly left that post after his medical license was revoked. Since then, he’s written books and made a movie of his own, claiming a massive cover-up by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. And through it all, he’s been soliciting donations from his devoted following.

The film frequently shows mothers of autistic children hugging him, asking to take photos with him, and, more than once, crying. At one event, mostly filled with moms who believe Wakefield’s assertion that the MMR vaccine was the cause of their children’s autism, he banks over $130,000 in donations. At a Starbucks after the event, a few of the moms, who refer to him affectionately as Andy, say that their goal is to raise him a million dollars by staging monthly fundraising events in his name.

The film portrays his wife and kids, too, as true believers. In a jarring scene, they gather around the kitchen table to cheerfully defend one of the most shocking stories included in the Deer investigation.

For his 1998 study, Wakefield found a control group of children who did not have autism in a strange place: the 10th birthday part of his oldest son, James. Wakefield took blood samples from kids at the party – some reportedly as young as 4. (He did this without the approval of his university’s ethics board, but allegedly with the consent of the kids’ parents.) The children were given 5 in their goody bags for participating.

The film shows the whole family happily looking through photos from that birthday party, joking about the events that would so shock the public. Wakefield’s fiery wife, Carmel, refers to a recording that had surfaced of Wakefield talking about the party, where he joked that two of the children fainted, and one threw up over his mother.

It was just a standard 10-year-old’s birthday party, James tells the camera, laughing. And then, yeah, I read about it in the news as some horrific bloodbath. It blows my mind, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a great day…We were fighting to get in the front of the line. I pulled the birthday card and got to go first, gave blood, and that was it.

Cold Iron Pictures

Deer, whose investigation led to the discovery of the birthday party, is portrayed in the film as the embodiment of Wakefield’s many critics. Yet Bailey never interviewed Deer, nor any scientists, doctors, journalists, or anyone else outside of his trusted circle. Part of that, she says, is because no one would agree to be in a film with such a controversial subject. (In a series of back and forth emails all posted on Bailey’s blog, she and Deer have been arguing about whether she misled him about the point of the film when he declined an interview in 2012.)

The whole thing is a commercial for Andrew Wakefield, from beginning to end, Deer, who has now seen the film, told me over the phone. It’s a scam to sell a product.

The film does valorize the guy, sometimes resulting in cringe-worthy moments. Several sequences in the movie show him flexing and dripping sweat during yoga, or chopping wood in his backyard.

The whole thing is a commercial for Andrew Wakefield, from beginning to end.

But if Bailey intended to make a piece of anti-vaccine propaganda, it’s certainly subtle. She consulted with scientists to get the science right. The many scenes of Wakefield claiming slippery defenses for why his research has come under fire are frequently juxtaposed with black cards stating the reported facts refuting his claims.

For Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the film shows that Wakefield is a true believer whose arrogance motivates everything he does.

Here’s a guy who went to medical school, trained in classic manner, published a paper, and was proven wrong – in 17 studies, performed in seven countries, on three different continents, said Offit, who gave Bailey feedback on the film before the final cut.

And yet he insists he’s right, to his own detriment. Why? he said.The reason is because he is Andrew Wakefield, and he can’t go wrong, because he’s Andrew Wakefield.

Whatever you believe about vaccines before you watch this movie, you’ll feel all the more strongly after. It’s slick like that. Which left me wondering: What about Bailey? How did she convince Wakefield to let her embed with his family for five years? What does she really think about vaccines?

When I asked her, she said it shouldn’t matter, that the movie isn’t about her feelings. But I believe that it’s not black and white, she said after a pause. I feel that it’s complicated. It’s a complicated issue. And in 2015, Bailey opposed a California bill that barred parents from skipping vaccines due to personal beliefs.

Twitter

In some respects, it doesn’t matter what they believe: Bailey and Wakefield will both financially benefit from the fringe of parents who believe anti-vaccine myths, no matter what. Wakefield says he’s now devoted to being a full-time filmmaker, and when I emailed him after our interview, he – confusing me for someone else – encouraged me to make a tax-deductible donation to support his new film.

Nearly 3,500 people are following the film’s Facebook page, and almost all of the comments thus far are from anti-vax parents, delighted to have an hour and a half of footage devoted entirely to Wakefield.

As the film says in its opening sequence, quoting Mark Twain: It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

17 Ridiculously Common Insecurities, According To Therapists

AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO- Nope.

When you feel depressed, anxious, insecure, angry, paranoid, or otherwise shitty, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Am I the only one who feels like this?” at least once.

FOX / Via pandaanene.tumblr.com

To help you feel less alone, we asked therapists what feelings and worries come up again and again in therapy, no matter what specific unique issues a client is dealing with. Turns out, no matter what you’re going through, more people than you might think can probably relate, and maybe there’s some comfort in knowing that other people are going through it, too.

Special thanks to the mental health professionals who provided intel for this post: clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, PhD; clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, PhD; former clinical psychologist and author Alice Boyes, PhD; Beth Rue, MSS, LSW, primary therapist at Summit Behavioral Health; Vancouver, Canada-based clinical counselor Joanna Boyd, MCP; psychologist and director of medical services at Delphi Behavioral Health Marc Romano, PsyD; clinical psychologist Amanda Zayde, PsyD; Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine; clinical psychologist Jennifer L. Taitz, PsyD; clinical social worker Gabriela Parra, LCSW; Barbara Nosal, PhD, chief clinical officer at Newport Academy; and several therapists who wished to remain anonymous.

You ruminate on the tiniest shit, even though you know it’s irrational.

You ruminate on the tiniest shit, even though you know it's irrational.

Like, you’re often really bugged by a small thing someone said in passing or find yourself overthinking something your boss wrote in an email to the point you convince yourself it MUST mean something negative. As annoying as these thoughts are, tons of people deal with them. (And, sidebar: learning how to deal with those thought patterns is a skill you can pick up in therapy!)

onlytwitterpics / Tumblr / Via onlytwitterpics.tumblr.com

You still don’t feel like an actual grownup.

You still don't feel like an actual grownup.

Don’t worry, pretty much everyone doesn’t automatically feel like a functioning adult just because they’re technically the age of one. Most people tend to secretly assume that everyone else feels more put together than they do.

Nickelodeon / Via troyesivan.tumblr.com


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7 Things I Wish People Understood About OCD

1. First and foremost, OCD isn’t necessarily an obsession with cleanliness and order.

Almost every representation of people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I’ve encountered portrays us as fearful of filth and obsessed with being clean. Melvin Udall (As Good As It Gets) keeps a stash of soap bars in his bathroom so he can unwrap a fresh one every time he washes his hands. Adrian Monk (Monk) is so crippled by his obsession with contaminants that he needs an assistant to perform basic functions, like opening doors.

Gracie Films / Via imdb.com

These representations build on – and give power to – the stereotype that OCD is just a fear of dirt and an obsession with order. This limited definition of OCD makes it difficult for people whose OCD manifests in other ways to be recognized. There are few things as frustrating as working up the courage to admit to someone that you have OCD and have them doubtfully respond, But you’re so messy!

The crux of the problem with most representations of OCD that revolve around obsessions with cleanliness? They mistake the compulsive behavior for the fear that triggers it.

They also help sustain a culture in which people feel comfortable making offhand comments like, I’m a little OCD when they admit that they like to keep a clean house. These comments may seem innocuous, but are minimizing to someone who struggles with OCD because they frame a disease that can be debilitating as a simple issue of being fussy.

In reality, OCD is so much more than that. While some OCD patients undoubtedly are obsessed with cleanliness, it is only a side effect of what really goes on in the mind of someone with this disorder.

The crux of the problem with most representations of OCD that revolve around obsessions with cleanliness? They mistake the compulsive behavior for the fear that triggers it. As someone who was diagnosed with OCD at age 11, I can explain.

2. OCD is an anxiety disorder shaped by avicious cycleof fears and ritualistic behavior.

OCD has two basic components: obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. According to the Mayo Clinic, OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent, and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety. These obsessions could be almost anything, but as the Mayo Clinic points out, they often have themes, which could include unwelcome thoughts about traumatic memories or being contaminated by distasteful objects, people, or ideas. Many people with OCD also experience persistent fears that they will hurt themselves or others.

For me, these obsessions usually manifest as irrational fears that I am somehow unsafe. Remember the monsters under your bed when you were a kid? Remember how, no matter how often your parents explained to you that there were no such things as monsters, when they turned off the lights and shut the door, you still had your doubts? Unlike most people, I never grew out of that creeping, irrational sense of danger that, even when all the facts tell me I have nothing to worry about, keeps me believing I’m always at the cusp of peril.

With intrusive thoughts, simply doing some research and discovering that your fears are unwarranted doesn’t help – or it helps for about three minutes until the intrusive thoughts push back in.

Even though I’m not obsessed with monsters under the bed anymore, when something unpleasant comes up, like getting called in for jury duty, my mind automatically brings me to the irrational worst case. The thing is, I have a very hard time discerning between what’s likely – or even possible – to happen and what isn’t.

That’s how I end up crying on my therapist’s couch because I really believe that I’ll be stuck in jury duty for months and will lose my job and my apartment. No matter what she says to allay my fears, I never really believe that I’m safe, so the thought of losing everything keeps returning to consume me. I become absolutely convinced that whatever I’m afraid of will come true.

This is where the compulsive behaviors come in. When you’re drowning in anxiety, you want to be able to do something to control it, right? With intrusive thoughts, simply doing some research and discovering that your fears are unwarranted doesn’t help – or it helps for about three minutes until the intrusive thoughts push back in. Thus, OCD patients develop repetitive behaviors that help us feel like we’re in control, that we’re actively preventing something bad from happening.

Kipras treimikis on Unsplash

3. An OCD patient’s intrusive thoughts can manifest in seemingly unrelated behavior.

Sometimes my compulsive behaviors are a practical response to my anxieties, but usually they’re not.

In the case of the jury duty anxiety (and I should stress that jury duty is not the only thing that triggers my OCD – the list is long, with most items being a little too personal to share publicly), I might stay up far too late combing online forums for horror stories about the jury duty that never ended, or compulsively call my boss, my HR department, and my union to confirm that I’ll still get paid on the days I miss work. These behaviors usually allay my anxiety briefly, until my brain conjures up something else that could go wrong. For example, if HR assures me that I won’t lose my job while I’m on jury duty, I might find myself, half an hour later, on hold with my union because I’ve been overcome with the thought that HR was wrong and I want to confirm that the union will protect me.

Usually, however, my compulsive behaviors have nothing to do in practice with whatever I’m afraid of. This is because they are not a rational response to a real problem they are compulsive manifestations of an irrational anxiety.

For example, if I’m worried that jury duty will snowball into an apocalyptic scenario of joblessness and homelessness, I might respond to these intrusive thoughts by getting stuck washing my hands over and over because in my irrational mind, washing my hands while envisioning a positive outcome (dismissal from jury duty) will make that outcome a reality. If I spend twenty minutes washing my hands, it’s not because I’m afraid they’re dirty.

Lolostock / Getty Images

4. I do rationally understand that a compulsive behavior won’t solve whatever I’m worried about. That doesn’t mean I can stop.

I often think of living with OCD as having two minds: the rational mind, which knows that hand-washing will have no impact on the outcome of my jury duty, and the irrational mind, possessed by that same monster-under-the-bed terror, that makes the idea of a long jury duty feel like both a catastrophe and something whose outcome could be mitigated by how many times I wash my hands.

Rationally, I know that my compulsive behaviors will have no effect on what I’m worried about. I’m even able to admit this while I’m stuck in a cycle of repetitive behavior. But irrational fear usually wins its battles with my rational mind, and the magical thinking that my compulsive behaviors will keep me safe influences my behavior more often than not.

5. Getting lost in compulsive behaviors can feel like torture.

Unfortunately, the compulsive behaviors my brain uses to process these anxieties often have the effect of intensifying them rather than making them more manageable. They catch me in a cycle where my fears seem immediate, and thus become quickly overpowering. This is how I end up standing in the doorway of my bedroom for five, ten, fifteen minutes past when I wanted to be in bed because I have to keep switching the light on and off until it feels right.

OCD is often described as an obsession with control, and it is. But there is a dark side to imagining that you have control over everything.

Even though I consciously know that my bedroom light has nothing to do with what I’m worried about, the little doubt at the back of my mind But what if it does? What if switching off the light while imagining the perfect outcome will make everything okay? Did you do it right? Did you really imagine it? Do it again grows louder and more insistent. The more room I give to that doubt, the more urgent the compulsions seem, until the idea that I can make everything okay by switching the light off the right way and, conversely, that everything will be a disaster if I don’t dominates me.

OCD is often described as an obsession with control, and it is. But there is a dark side to imagining that you have control over everything. I constantly feel the pressure to do even small things, like washing my hands or flipping off the bedroom light, in a way that will magically enact a positive outcome in something I’m worried about.

This makes basic tasks really, really difficult, especially because my compulsive behaviors could be anything. On my good days, I can clean my apartment, organize my desk, and cook dinner with minimal problems. At other times, it takes me hours to do the dishes because I need to put the same cup in the cabinet five times before I feel safe enough to move on. I’ve become a night owl because the process of getting ready for bed brushing my teeth, taking out the trash, changing into pajamas, turning out the light, getting into bed can be so time-consuming and stressful that I procrastinate doing it.

Asbe / Getty Images

6. It is possible to live with OCD and be very high-functioning, especially with the right treatment.

One of the biggest objections I have to the way OCD has been traditionally represented in the media is that, for the most part, characters with OCD are presented as misanthropic, consumed by their obsessions and, even if they’re brilliant or good at their job, are otherwise not equal to the basic challenges life presents.

Surely this is true for some – it has even described me at certain points in my life. But a troubling effect of these representations is that they make an OCD diagnosis seem like a kind of death sentence. When I was diagnosed at age 11, I was terrified it meant that I would not be able to live a full life.

Yet, thanks to consistent therapy and the right dosage of anti-anxiety medication, I am able to keep my OCD in check enough to live a relatively normal life (whatever that means). For the most part, the worst of my OCD symptoms don’t come into play when I’m at work or with friends and family. When I started writing about it earlier this year, most of the people in my life were surprised to discover that I have OCD at all.

7. It actually has its benefits.

Would I get rid of my OCD if I could? It’s a moot question: as every therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker I’ve seen has reminded me, the goal of OCD treatment isn’t to cure it, but to manage it. However, despite the suffering it has caused me, if someone presented me with a magical cure for OCD and all its related symptoms tomorrow, I would hesitate.

Of course, I would want to get rid of the anxiety, the fact that I can’t really trust myself when assessing risk, the compulsions that occasionally embarrass me in public and keep me up at night. I don’t know what it’s like to encounter the world without an anxiety disorder on my back, and I would like to try it.

At work, I’m the note-taker in every working group, and I stumbled into labor activism because I was anxious about my eligibility for health coverage and annotated the union contract.

But I have also come to understand that the pitfalls of OCD come as part of a larger package. Because I have had OCD from the beginning – and it wasn’t triggered by a specific trauma later in life, as some cases of OCD are – I have developed with and around it. As a result, some aspects of my personality and the way I think are of a piece with my OCD.

From childhood, I have obsessively-compulsively deconstructed and responded to arguments: if I had an opinion about something, I searched ruthlessly for potential counterarguments in order to control the responses of my naysayers before they even opened their mouths. I won awards as a leader of the Model UN debate team at my high school, and now I teach argumentation and rhetoric for a living.

I am meticulously organized, obsessively thorough, and deeply inquisitive. It’s a running joke among my in-laws that, if they want to schedule something with my husband, they should just call me because I’ve got a color-coded calendar that runs six months out. At work, I’m the note-taker in every working group, and I stumbled into labor activism because I was anxious about my eligibility for health coverage and annotated the union contract.

My perfectionism makes me an excellent student and teacher – I am easily engrossed in new tasks, excellent at managing my time and completing projects efficiently, and as a result, am a natural leader and delegator. I have an uncanny memory for dates because I track the landscape of my life in terms of what I was obsessed with at any given point. For example, I remember the exact start date of every job I’ve ever had because I remember the ways that my anxiety about starting new jobs manifested at different points in my life.

It would be shortsighted to say that these attributes are separate from my OCD, because the habits of mind involved in these strengths are very similar (and in some cases, are the very same) as the habits of mind that drive me to brush my teeth five times before going to bed. I’ve come to view OCD as a (very) rough downside to characteristics that I otherwise quite like about myself.

So, while I’d be kidding myself if I claimed that I’d turn down a cure for OCD wholesale, I’ve learned to stop trying to separate my mental illness from the rest of who I am, to be ashamed of it, or to shun it. In some ways, it’s convenient that my OCD isn’t going away, because it means that I can continue to learn to draw on it as a source of strength, while minimizing the ways that it can hurt me.

Shannon Azzato Stephens is a writer based in New York City, where she teaches college-level writing and spends most of her free time at the dog park.

To learn more about OCD, check out the resources at the National Institute of Mental Health here.

And if you need to talk to someone immediately, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. Suicide helplines outside the US can be found here.

Follow along at BuzzFeed.com/MentalHealthWeek from Oct. 2 to Oct. 8, 2017.

Follow along at BuzzFeed.com/MentalHealthWeek from Oct. 2 to Oct. 8, 2017.

Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News