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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Love Letters From Lucid Morgan: Paranoia and Delusions

Stock image of two fluffy dogs lying in bed together, apparently sleeping, because they're calming to me and hopefully to others who struggle with paranoia and delusions, too

Note: This was originally a therapeutic exercise suggested to me by my counsellor after I mentioned that sometimes “Sober Morgan” leaves notes for “Inebriated Morgan”, reminding them of the things they need to do before bed and the like. She put forth that “Lucid Morgan” could write to “Paranoid Morgan” or “Depressed Morgan”, reminding myself of coping strategies and facts of reality as well as providing myself with a much-needed dose of compassion. I figured these letters could also be useful to people who suffer symptoms similar to mine, so I’m posting them here. Also, this letter will refer to the paranoia and delusions I sometimes suffer, as well as self-harm. If that’s hard for you, give this one a miss – this is supposed to be a helpful tool, not another trigger!


Dear Paranoid Morgan,

Hi, it’s me. Well, it’s you. It’s us. I’m writing to you now, while I feel relatively sturdy and in touch with reality, to talk to you during what I know to be a deeply scary moment for us. I want you to know that everything I’m about to say, I truly believe in this moment, and that I’ve felt exactly the way you’re feeling before – but I’m stable enough now to realise that it will pass. It always passes.

I imagine you’ll remember what we’re meant to do in these situations, when you’re struggling with paranoia and/or delusions, but a refresher can’t hurt. Take deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, for a count of at least four seconds apiece. Try to ground yourself in reality with the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 approach (that’s five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can touch, two you can smell and one you can taste), or recite your address, your address from childhood, your mum’s phone number and/or the names of all the Organization XIII members from Kingdom Hearts. You know the drill.

Now, I’m gonna make a gentle suggestion: take your damn sedatives. They are not poison. We know this because we have taken them numerous times and suffered no ill effects. The sleepiness you feel isn’t them poisoning you, it’s them working to soothe your sympathetic nervous system, so that the panic you’re currently feeling wears off. And no, the panic isn’t a good thing. It isn’t keeping you safe, because the thing you’re panicking about isn’t a real danger. And I know you know that, because you identified you were experiencing paranoia or delusions or what-have-you with at least enough clarity to pick up this letter, but I also know that knowing and believing are two separate things.

Here are some more reminders:

  • This feels like shit, and that’s very real. You don’t deserve to feel like shit. This feeling might take hours or even days to wear off, but it does end eventually.
  • I repeat, it does end eventually. We’ve been here hundreds of times and survived it, and it goes away. Even if you wholly believe that the paranoid thing you think right now is the permanent, immutable truth of the universe and you will never change your mind, remember that the panic goes away. Sometimes it does that without us doing anything. Sometimes, you need to take your sedatives and perform some sensory-seeking behaviours until you feel more grounded. But the panic goes away, as do the paranoia and delusions.
  • Bad things that have happened to you were not your fault, and they weren’t caused by that weird evil you think lives under your skin. We know that when bad things happen to other people, it’s not as a result of nameless evil residing in their bodies, and we can’t talk the talk about victim-blaming but then do it to ourselves. The bad things that happen to the people around you aren’t your fault either. I promise.
  • I know I can’t convince you that life isn’t some elaborate simulation or illusion if that’s where you’re at, but remember: other people worry about this too, and they talk about it. If it were a simulation, it’d be stupid of its designers to alert you to that possibility by having other people consider it out loud. And, like we said in AS Philosophy (much to the chagrin of our long-suffering teacher), why does it matter if it’s a simulation? If it’s so detailed and consistent and believable that it seems like real life, then, for all intents and purposes, it is real life. Plus, if it’s a simulation, there’s nothing we can do about that anyway – you might as well eat some simulated Ben & Jerry’s and relax about it.
  • You won’t die in your sleep. We have slept thousands of times in the past 21 years and lived. There is no medical reason to suspect you could die in your sleep and people don’t die in their sleep very often at all. That means that none of your partners will die in their sleep either, and nor will your mum, the dog, your friends or anybody else you’re connected to.
  • You’ve got this. You have. The panic will pass but you don’t need to hurry it along necessarily. You know what steps you can take to help it ease off in its own time, and you know that it’s your body’s outdated way of trying to keep you safe, and you know that we’ve felt like this before, recovered and felt great the next day. You will be calm again. You will be happy again.
  • You are one of the most resilient and tenacious people in the world. We can no longer count on our digits all of the things we’ve survived; nor can we count our triumphs. If today’s triumph is not cutting your face open to extract the supernatural evil that supposedly caused your partner’s recent car accident (or whatever else you think it caused), that’s huge. You should celebrate.
  • I love you. As Lucid Morgan, I can look back on Paranoid Morgan and see a scared, confused human who is trying their absolute best. I can see how hard you’re battling. I am in awe of you and I love you. Give yourself a hug from me.

Thank you for finding it within yourself to read my letter. Thank you for keeping us as safe as you can. Thank you for working so, so hard to examine and recognise the things that you’re feeling and thank you for never, ever giving up.

All my love,

Lucid Morgan 💖

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.