Self-Harm and Bodily Autonomy

Stock photo of a brown teddy bear with a bandage around its head and another on its leg, and two band-aids crossed over one another on its chest. I mostly chose this image because I didn't want any graphic self-harm pictures and because it is adorable, like me.

Note: This post is, naturally, going to talk about acts of self-harm in detail, and also refers briefly to suicidal ideation and surviving abuse. You can feel free to give this one a miss, and at the weekend I’ll be posting something sexier and less commonly triggering, so watch this space!


The first time I can remember hurting myself on purpose, I was five years old.

I didn’t jump straight to sharp objects. There was a misunderstanding, and I was upset, and whilst I was alone in my room I bit into my own wrist with such sustained ferocity that I left two perfect little crescents, indents of my baby teeth in my flesh. Of course, my mum noticed and was horrified, and I learned quickly that people did not like it when I hurt myself.

This did not stop me.

I have a collection of fuzzy memories from that age onward of hurting myself in various creative ways. I would give myself friction burns by running a belt back and forth over the back of my neck, where my long hair would cover the raw, reddened skin. I would scratch and scratch and scratch the same spot on my arm until it was too sore to even touch. I would pick at everything – spots, scabs, dry skin – and sometimes, when I was really upset, I would still bite myself until my jaw hurt.

When I was thirteen, I progressed to a pair of sewing scissors. These hurt instantly, drew blood instantly and had me breathing a sigh of relief instantly, but they also robbed me of plausible deniability. The wounds couldn’t have been anything other than self-harm. It was only a matter of time until somebody found out.

And they did, of course, and it was a whole Thing that I won’t go into here, and I started having counselling and also having sharp objects confiscated and hidden from me. Counselling was hard for me to engage with in a lot of ways (at 13, I knew they could break confidentiality if they were worried for my safety, so I had to self-censor a lot, and I didn’t hugely trust adults in any setting), but I hit a major roadblock that I still haven’t quite overcome: I couldn’t see why I needed to stop self-harming.

I was a smart kid whose mum had thoroughly instilled in them a sense of autonomy. I knew all the risks of cutting myself: I could misjudge it and catch a vein; the wounds could become infected; I would have scars forever. But, even at 13, I weighed it up and felt very strongly that cutting myself was safer than not doing so. I know that the first time I recorded a suicidal thought, I was 10, but it’s very probable I felt that way a lot earlier and just didn’t write it down in my Groovy Chick diary. At 13, self-harm was a pressure release valve that kept me alive from day to day.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve only become more perplexed about why, exactly, I shouldn’t harm myself. I’ve come to understand that it isn’t a constructive coping mechanism and doesn’t address the problems at hand, but most of the problems at hand have been so vast and complicated that I simply couldn’t address them. Being told to treat the root cause of my distress was not helpful when I was a teenage victim of domestic abuse, and it continues to be unhelpful now that I’m a traumatised adult with super fucky brain chemistry. And I was watching other people, in media and in real life, engage in equally non-constructive coping behaviours like drinking, self-isolation or bullying the autistic kid in their class for not knowing what a Pandora bracelet was (ahem. Not that I was the autistic kid in this example, or anything). And nowadays, I’m doing therapy, I’m practising self-care, but that doesn’t negate the need for self-harm all of the time.

I want to be very clear here: I am not advocating for anybody to take up self-harm, nor to continue doing it when they very much want to stop. Lots of people hate the fact that they self-harm, and I fully support any choices they make to quit and find alternative coping strategies. (I will lowkey judge people who recommend the rubber band method, though – the one where you wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it against your skin whenever you have the urge to self-harm. You’re still reinforcing the connection between emotional distress and physical pain, you’re not addressing the root problems, and it’s not even a terribly effective method of harm reduction because most self-harmers find it so lacking that they end up relapsing anyway.) However, few people understand my frustration about the ways self-harm is addressed, so I want to articulate it. And I want other people in similar positions to feel less alone and weird.

The thing about self-harm is that it’s kind of… viscerally upsetting to other people. Like I mentioned in my post about blood and kink, we’re instinctively shocked by wounds and bleeding, and I think people are even more perturbed when you’ve caused those things on purpose. It also externalises your emotional pain, so your wounds are confronting the people who care about you with the reality that you’re suffering, and that’s hard for people. My mum sometimes tells me, “I’m not upset that you’ve self-harmed, but I’m upset that you were that distressed.” My mum is better at separating these two factors than most other people on the planet.

Joining the BDSM community only added to my confusion. People were supported in doing all sorts of viscerally upsetting things, like needle play and being beaten, as long as they were making informed, risk-aware decisions. I felt even more indignant about the way people responded to self-harm – I was making informed, risk-aware decisions! About my body, which everybody told me was mine to control!

I have no idea what makes BDSM “okay” and self-harm “not okay”. Maybe it’s the lack of another party’s involvement. Maybe it’s that one is motivated by pleasure and another is motivated by emotional pain (although, if I’m being real, people do use BDSM to address emotional pain, and I, for one, derive some degree of pleasure from self-harm). Maybe it’s just that we talk so much about autonomy and consent when it comes to sex and kink, but relatively little about those things in other contexts. Whatever it is, it still escapes me.

I self-harm a lot less than I did as a teen. (I used to bring my trusty sewing scissors to school every day. This was very reckless of me, since I did not also bring disinfectant. Also, I would not recommend pulling your tights back up as soon as you’re done mopping blood off your thighs – they stick.) That’s not because I’ve come to see that self-harm is Bad and other coping mechanisms are Good; it’s simply because I’m not quite as acutely distressed quite as often as I was then, thanks to being in a much safer environment and getting medicated. Sometimes I do try to use lower-risk coping strategies before I self-harm, like distraction or crying or going for a walk, but that’s not because I’ve learned that self-harm is, for some reason, bad – frankly, it’s largely because it’s inconvenient. I have bondage to do and I don’t want to bleed on nice, expensive rope.

Telling people that they shouldn’t self-harm is undermining their bodily autonomy. It’s obviously always important to respect someone’s autonomy, but when they’re self-harming because they’re dealing with or recovering from abuse, or anything else that makes their life feel outside of their control, it’s especially crucial that you don’t urge them to refrain or “quit”. You can remind them of the risks if that’s appropriate (like if you’re a medical professional, or their mum) and you can ask if there’s any other coping strategies they’d like to try first, but ultimately, every person has autonomy even when they’re using it in ways that others disapprove of. If you’re someone who self-harms and you’ve felt alone in the fact that you don’t see why you should stop: I see you. Know the risks, be as safe as you can, but know that I am not judging you. I’m as confused as you are. We’re going to be alright.


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Being Alone With Arousal

Note: this post talks about my eating disorder, including mentions of purging through vomiting, and my experiences of being sexually abused, including subsequent dissociation and general difficulty being alone with arousal. If any of those are tough for you, give this one a miss – I’ll be back on Saturday with a post about why you might find more autistic people than you’d expect in your local kink scene!


My fear of wanking came up in eating disorder therapy.

This is not wholly a surprise. Lots of things come up in eating disorder therapy, because eating disorders are deeply rooted, born of decades of cultural conditioning, dysfunctional coping mechanisms and adverse childhood experiences. But the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve come to realise that my fear of wanking and my fear of food are two heads on the same beast.

One common starting point for eating disorder therapy is to consider what we’re actually afraid of. In my first round of it, two years ago, we unpacked a lot of my internalised fatphobia and my fear of taking eating to its extremes, which is an offshoot of my anxiety: it’s pretty common to consider the logical, if unlikely, extremes in any scenario. But I only got six sessions, and we didn’t have time to dive any deeper.

This time, I get a whole eight.

The thing that scares me about food is that I enjoy it. Enjoying things, I have learned, is scary and dangerous and often has real and terrible consequences. Having lived with abusers during a few critical formative periods, I learned and internalised that nothing good is without cost and that the more pleasant the calm is before the storm, the more devastating the storm will be. Best not to let my guard down, enjoy anything too much, or trust my senses to tell me when something is safe or nice.

Then there’s the complicating factor of having learned to wank through being groomed. As well as reinforcing my existing belief that my own sensory pleasures must always come at a cost, it created some really specific associations between the physical act of masturbation and a strong sense of danger. Specifically, fucking myself with an object when nobody is watching feels so wrong that it’s akin to practising a secret handshake on your own,  and fucking myself with fingers is very much the same. If there’s no webcam between my legs, nobody watching my face and nobody talking dirty to me – if there’s no audience to validate my pleasure and benefit from it – it not only feels asymmetrical and disconcerting, but dangerous.

Indulgence has always led to violence in my life.

I am now, of course, free of all the abusers who have made and reinforced that connection, but that doesn’t undo it. It’s wired into my brain like the connection between an object flying at one’s face and one’s inclination to duck. And because I’ve had so much else going on, and so many spectators available to me, I haven’t had time to rewire it.

Being horny alone feels like being in pain. It’s frightening and distracting and I don’t want it. If I do attempt to masturbate, I usually dissociate, failing to orgasm and also failing to feel my own face or entirely remember where I am. If I don’t, I have this constant nagging sensation somewhere in my physiology that feels like an alarm going off, reminding me that indulgence is possible, and therefore, so is danger.

I am fucking sick of it.

I wrote out a plan for a Masturbation Boot Camp (and yes, I titled it exactly that) which instructs me to spend day zero practising mindfulness, day seven touching my body and exploring sensation, and day fourteen actively attempting to come, with every day in between requiring an incremental step towards these goals. I showed it to my tipsy, dyslexic girlfriend, who saw straight through me and said, “And how much of this is procrastination so you don’t actually have to wank?”

It’s a great idea and it’s one I’m going to try, but she’s right. I live in fear of my body and the pleasure I can experience within it, and even the idea of self-massage or watching porn for fun fills me with sickening dread. I suck at most mindfulness activities because, between the chronic pain, the chronic trauma and the violations I’ve been subject to when I have indulged in pleasure, I don’t want to be in my body. I don’t want to ground myself in it. It’s a horrible place to be.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any other vessels to contain my soul (this is a Kingdom Hearts joke), so I’ve got to get used to this one.

I’m getting better at indulging in food, and even at indulging in food without punishing myself. Sometimes I devour cheap kebabs with gusto, and sometimes I go halvsies on a £27 Hotel Chocolat Easter egg with my partner and savour tiny mouthfuls of gourmet chocolate. I’ve managed to bully myself out of the bulimic practice of purging my meals – at first, this was because I was and am on oral hormonal birth control, and consider it a consent violation to jeopardise that without notifying anybody who might jizz in me, but over time, once I’d detached the act of eating from the act of puking, the mere hassle of purging became enough to deter me from it. Eating can still be a challenge, but it’s a rewarding one.

I’ll get back to y’all about my success with Masturbation Boot Camp. I’m hoping it’ll be a challenge, but a rewarding one, and I’ll learn to indulge in self-pleasure like I’m about to indulge in a sliver of salted caramel chocolate.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

Image is a selfie of Morgan, a white blue-haired nonbinary person with multiple facial piercings, who appears to have been crying very recently: their nose is pink, their face is damp and their mouth is sort of pulled off to one side because they are too sad to smile. They're holding two fingers up to the camera in the peace sign and their face is framed by the fluffy hood of their coat.

I’m going to have to start this post with a disclaimer. I was referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment as to whether I had BPD in 2017, and their conclusion was that I had borderline personality traits but didn’t meet the criteria for an actual diagnosis. My theory is that this decision was reached in part because my existing diagnosis of autism accounted for some of my symptoms and my trauma-related stuff means that I suppress or downplay some others. Regardless, I don’t want to position myself as an expert on BPD, and I’m using it as a piece of vocabulary which explains my experiences whilst trying not to attribute everything and anything to a diagnosis I don’t actually have.

With that out of the way, here’s the post proper:


I sometimes refer to my BPD as “Big Emotions Disorder”.

If you’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan, you might recall that Tinkerbell, like other fairies, is so small that she can only experience one emotion at a time, and she experiences it so intensely that it clouds her judgement and she seems to forget anything that she has felt or experienced in the past, as well as forgetting the possibility that she might feel or experience anything different in the future. That’s how I feel emotions.

It fucking sucks.

It doesn’t always suck, of course: when I’m happy, I’m Big Happy, and that can be really pleasant, as can other Big Emotions such as Big NRE, Big Stoned and Big Inspired and Determined. But even those have their pitfalls. Big NRE can cause me to lose all sense of perspective, ignore or misread red flags and rush into relationships that are, at best, not well-suited to me and my circumstances (and are, at worst and alarmingly often, abusive). Even plain ol’ Big Happy can be detrimental in that it causes me to forget that I am, in fact, mentally ill, meaning that I over-commit to things, insist to medical practitioners that I’m doing fantastically and am horrified when I plummet back into depression and/or anxiety. This doesn’t just occur if I’ve been Big Happy for a number of days or weeks; a few hours of Big Happy is all it takes for me to become convinced that I was faking the depression, anxiety and PTSD all along.

And then, of course, there are the “bad” Big Emotions. Big Sad feels like an all-consuming tidal wave of despair and can be brought about from something as simple as Tesco running out of my favourite cookies. Big Scared triggers my fight-or-flight response in mundane situations such as visiting a new restaurant. Imagine every unpleasant emotion a human can feel multiplied by ten and made much, much easier to trigger – that’s my constant, day-to-day, exhausting experience of emotion. The one that seems to have the biggest impact on my relationships, though, is Big Insecure (and its cousin, Big Self-Hatred).

When I’m Big Insecure, I cannot see anything good in myself. Even the things I’m usually proud of, like knitting tiny hats for premature babies, are warped beyond recognition in my mind until I convince myself I’m only doing those things to earn praise or to hide my true (disgusting) nature. I grow to firmly believe that my partners only stay with me out of fear of the consequences our break-up might have, even though I’ve tried hard to make clear that they’re not responsible for my mental health or safety, or that they stay with me because I’ve manipulated them, taking advantage of trauma-bonding and their individual insecurities and sometimes-low self-esteem to ensnare them, so they can’t even see how despicable I truly am.

On average, I attempt to break up with at least one partner at least once a month. I explain that it’s for their own good, that I love them so much I could burst but that’s why I have to turn them loose from my machinations, that I never meant to manipulate them but I know that I have done so and that soon, once freed from me, they’ll realise exactly how awful I was and be unspeakably glad to have escaped. And my partners, every single time, have to spend hours reminding me that they are autonomous adults, that they love me, that I am not all that my brain says I am and that I do this all the time. They promise me that if I ever want to break up with them for my own reasons I’m welcome to do so, but firmly remind me that I can’t just break up with myself on their behalf: that’s their call. If I continue to spiral, sometimes they get me to take the PRN medication I keep on my person for acute episodes of anxiety, and sometimes they prompt me to phone my mum or get another partner’s opinion on the situation.

They do all this knowing that in three hours’ time I’ll be right as rain, planning my next sixty blog posts or an entirely new project that will most likely never see the light of day.

My BPD can put a strain on my relationships because I experience my lows so intensely and require so much reassurance to dig myself out of them, but I work hard to make sure my partners aren’t walking on eggshells around me. I remind them that even if they’ve done something that sparked a Big Emotion, it’s not their fault that the emotion is so Big. I tell them often that I want to be told when I’ve upset them, done something inconsiderate or otherwise could change my behaviour, but I also provide them with templates for how to convey that information to me in a way that minimises my unhelpful Big Emotional response. I go to therapy and I do my best to implement CBT techniques in my self-talk as well as teach my partners how they can help me to use them: they often ask me what evidence I have that I’m a terrible person, remind me of evidence that suggests I’m not, and gently suggest I may be misinterpreting evidence so it better fits my schematic beliefs. I also find healthy outlets for my Big Emotions, like baking bread (which is a constructive way to beat the shit out of something for ten-plus minutes), singing loudly, ugly-crying at documentaries or films, long walks, bad sketches and, when all else fails, screaming into cushions until my throat hurts.

It’s a lot of work and it’s never-ending, for both me and my partners, but I like to look on the bright side. My engagement with therapy coupled with my determination not to become the self-centred delicate monster I fear I might be means that I have a huge amount of insight into my emotions and my thought patterns, as well as some sophisticated ways to communicate about them. My Big Emotions make me fiercely loyal, unreservedly affectionate and as emotionally available as it is possible to be. My disordered personality isn’t a bad personality, or even an especially difficult one: having BPD as part of my vocabulary means that I know what challenges I face in relationships and can come prepared with reading material and my own bread flour, which puts me at an advantage over neurotypicals who haven’t done such intense introspection and research. It doesn’t make me a better partner, but it does help me be a more prepared one.

I wanted to write this because so much media regarding BPD and relationships is about how to be a good partner to people with BPD, except for the truly unkind stuff which argues that people with BPD cannot be good partners at all. I wanted to put into the world something from the perspective of a borderline person who is doing their fucking best and who does, whatever Big Insecure says, have a number of fantastic qualities that make them an excellent friend, partner, family member, employee and whatever else they want to be. I wanted to be a voice that says, “I’m borderline and it’s hard as hell but it’s worth it, it’s so worth it to pursue relationships and love people in the unabashed, unreserved and totally unconquerable way that us borderlines do.”

I’m Big Hopeful that I’ve achieved that.