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 💖

What Autistic Meltdowns Look Like In Adults (For #AutismAcceptance Month)

A stock photo depicting two wooden artists' mannequins on a chess board, one seated and one standing. The mannequin who is standing has its hands on its head in dismay and the chess pieces are scattered haphazardly around them both, representing autistic meltdowns in an adult. The background is black, like my soul after dealing with neurotypical douchebags.

Content note: since this post is about autistic meltdowns in adults, it’ll go into detail about how I experience meltdowns, and briefly reference self-harm.


The shopping centre is too busy. Too noisy. The lights are painfully bright. Every smell is violently nauseating. I try to push through; I have things to buy.

Two shops into my three-shop plan, I am disoriented. I’m in Clinton’s for a card, I know that, but everything is an assault to my senses. The cards are indistinguishable from one another. I am losing the ability to read. This sounds hyperbolic but it isn’t. I can recognise individual letters and, with a great deal of effort, entire words, but not phrases. Contextualising the words on the cards is near to impossible.

My breaths are short and sharp and I feel like not enough air is reaching my lungs but I don’t know how to rectify that. My joint pain, usually distracting but bearable, is now so close to the front of my mind that I could cry with it. I feel like I can feel every stitch of my clothing, scratching my skin, rubbing it raw. Simultaneously, I can’t quite feel any of my extremities – a combination of dissociation, and the very last of my proprioception abandoning me. My feet are too heavy and they thud clumsily underneath me as I stumble around the shop, unsure whether to ask for help or walk out but unable to soldier on like this. I know people are generally unfamiliar with autistic meltdowns in adults, so I know they all just think I’m weird.

I identify the shop’s exit. Leaving the shop means re-entering the shopping centre, which is busier. It takes several long moments to remind myself of the route out of the shopping centre and into fresh air. I sway on the spot in Clinton’s, vaguely aware that I look as crazy as I feel. I stare at the exit.

I leave the shop without buying anything but my chest and throat tighten as I enter the mass of people navigating the main body of the shopping centre, all desperate to reach their destinations. People brush past me and the sensory input makes me want to scream; I can’t discern whether that’s because it’s painful or because I simply cannot process anything any more. I make a series of guttural noises in the back of my mouth, a combination of humming and grunting, as I walk towards the exit onto the pavement outside. I don’t know it, but I’m weaving, unable to walk in a straight line. My vision is a tunnel but still a bright, ugly one. People’s faces are menacing blobs – if my own mother were to approach me now, I wouldn’t recognise her, and I would probably shriek at her proximity to me. (Fortunately, she is an entire county over and at home, so this will not happen.)

It’s only when I make it outside that I realise quite why my eyes were stinging – tears. I draw a deep, shaky breath and pull my phone out. By the time my partner answers my call, I am already sobbing.


Meltdowns related to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) look different in everybody, and autistic meltdowns in adults look different than those in children. For me, they are additionally complicated by my other mental health problems (namely: depression, anxiety, PTSD, borderline personality traits and as-yet-undiagnosed paranoia). But it’s impossible to separate the symptoms out from one another, by halves because of my own alexithymia and because of the frequent co-morbidity of autism with other mental health issues. To an extent, it doesn’t matter: a meltdown I’m having which features anxiety symptoms is still an autistic meltdown, because I am autistic and because I would be able to manage my anxiety more effectively if not for my ASD.


I am curled up in a ball on my partner’s sofa, my head on his knee. My eyes are so tightly shut that later I will complain of muscle fatigue in my forehead.

After every breath I draw in, I scream.

I wail at various pitches and volumes for what seems like hours. A steady stream of snot coats both my face and my partner’s jeans. He knows better than to touch me unless I directly ask him to, but he tells me, again and again, “It’s okay. You can make as much noise as you like. I’m right here. You’re safe.”

I don’t feel safe or unsafe. I just feel overwhelmed. So indescribably overwhelmed that the only way I can release any of it is to scream, and scream, and scream.

I don’t have these screaming meltdowns often. I suppress them in favour of other, less obnoxious coping strategies, like excessive stimming (in the best case) or self harm (in the worst). But I have gone too long without any form of self-regulation and I feel like I could break in two. So I scream.

Eventually, I run out of screams. I revert to vocalising in the back of my throat with my mouth shut. My partner keeps kitchen roll by the sofa in part for these occasions; ordinary toilet roll won’t do the job. I scrub as much of my face dry as I can and pull myself into a sitting position, still humming.

He makes the same suggestion he made half an hour ago: “Do you think you could take a promethazine?”

Promethazine hydrochloride (brand name: Phenergan) is an antihistamine that has a sedative effect. My doctor prescribed them on a PRN basis once she realised that handing diazepam (brand name: Valium) to someone with a history of substance misuse was a spectacularly bad idea, but getting me to take them is a struggle every single time. When I’m sufficiently overwhelmed, I become paranoid. When I’m sufficiently paranoid, I think medications with sedative effects are poisoning me slowly and that everyone who suggests I use them wants me dead.

But now I have no energy left to be paranoid. My throat and face hurt and tiredness cuts straight down to my bones. I nod, and my partner springs out of his seat to find a little blue tablet for me to take. He is gracious enough not to mention the huge patch of my snot that darkens his jeans.


When people tell me that I “don’t look autistic”, I have to restrain myself from slapping them. The truth is that whenever I “don’t look autistic”, I am living on borrowed time. I am suppressing stims, carefully regulating the volume of my voice, calculating the appropriate length of time to make or fake eye contact, and fending off countless sensory inputs imperceptible, insignificant and occasionally even pleasant to the neurotypicals around me.

I expend a great deal of energy to look just not-autistic enough to get through my day without being harassed, belittled or made fun of, and then I spend evenings hurting myself or screaming. I live in a prison of sensory overload and lack of self-regulation for the comfort of, and to avoid bother from, neurotypicals. And then they have the fucking gall to tell me I “don’t look autistic” as though they’re telling me I “don’t look ugly”, as though it’s a compliment.

I don’t look autistic because looking autistic, in this world, is less safe than looking neurotypical, blending in, and then melting down in private. This is why autistic meltdowns in adults aren’t represented all that often: they’re hidden from view.

But you can bet your ass I look autistic when I rock back and forth in my seat, sobbing and unable to verbalise to my partner that I need to blow my nose but have forgotten how, waiting for my promethazine to kick in.

And he thinks I’m cute as hell.