Neglect: A Different Kind of Self-Harm
Summer is over. Gone too are most of our memories of it. A few things stick out inside our brain, either because they were really good (like when Sis visited) or really bad (I injured my leg and walked on crutches for weeks), but for the most part we can’t remember May-August. We were given some advice as to how to remember the day-to-day events–Our psychiatrist told us to write everything down on a calendar so that I might be able to keep up with when things happen. This includes every detail, such as eating and sleeping. This is how I know that K didn’t take care of us properly during that time. According to the calendar, K has not washed her hair since August 24. It was around that time that we quit writing in our journal, so I’m not sure what triggered this episode. I can only guess how long it’s been since we’ve showered; I’d say about 5 days. I’m basing my estimate on how hairy my armpits are. That’s really disgusting, and I apologize for that, but I’ve always tried to be as honest as possible in this blog. This lack of cleanliness is just one symptom of the self-harming behavior we’ve engaged in throughout the Summer. This is a different kind of self-harm which involves no physical injury per se, but does indeed have terrible effects on K. This is self-harm through neglect.
Usually this neglect starts in one or two areas but always ends up encompassing every aspect of our life. Sometimes I feel an uncontrollable urge to punish myself for being “bad”. Withholding is the first step. I will withhold nutrition from my body. I won’t let myself eat for a day or even several days. Sometimes I won’t allow myself anything to drink; I’ll go thirsty until I’m completely parched. In the past I’ve even ended up in the hospital for dehydration. But this is only the beginning. It gets much worse.
I will not allow myself the luxury of sleeping. I will drink coffee and sodas and energy drinks and take diet pills and over-the-counter stimulants-anything to keep myself awake. I will stay awake so long that I begin to suffer hallucinations from sleep deprivation. I figure these visions aren’t any more frightening than the ones I see on a regular basis anyway, so why bother worrying about them? Sometimes I misbehave and must be punished. In those instances, when lack of food and water and sleep doesn’t seem harsh enough, then I will forgo sex. I don’t feel worthy of pleasure. My only regret during these times is that my poor husband is made to suffer along with me.
The second phase of my plan of neglect involves cleanliness. It usually starts with the housework, which I will completely give up. First comes the clutter, then the dust, then finally the cobwebs. I am oblivious to all of it. I simply do not have the energy to care. It gets worse still. This is embarrassing and I’m ashamed to admit it, but during my darkest times I will quit all forms of personal hygiene. I won’t shower, I won’t shave my legs, I won’t brush my teeth for a week or more. (Obviously these behaviors were more common when I was living alone; they are harder to get away with now that I’m married) The longest period of time in which I neglected myself came just this year; I went 2 months without washing my hair. I can’t believe we did that, but it was back in January and I was dissociating to the extreme and I’d just been diagnosed with DID and it was all too much for us. We snapped.
There are forms of neglect which I practice frequently, such as wearing the same clothes for days on end. I will sometimes wear the same outfit 24 hours a day for a week, longer if nobody says anything about it. We can’t be bothered to change into pajamas at night; I just sleep in my dirty clothes. Granted, once I do get myself into some pj’s, then I will wear them day in and day out until the mother forces me to do laundry. You probably think that I have a problem with body odor just because I don’t shower or change clothes at times. That’s not true at all-I mean, it’s not like I’m working out or getting dirty or sweaty; I pretty much just lie around and journal when I’m going through these difficult periods.
Withholding needed things is something I do often, as it’s a punishment I can easily hide. When I cut, people can see it. When I starve, nobody knows. Obviously, if I’m neglecting my hygiene I don’t leave the house. That in and of itself is a form of withholding-not allowing myself to leave the house. I deny myself medical attention when I am sick. I deny myself personal grooming; I will not wear makeup or jewelry or paint my nails or fix myself up in any way. I guess I should point out that I’m completely embarrassed and ashamed of myself for all of these behaviors. In fact, it’s amazing that I am admitting these actions (or inactions) at all. Guilt is my constant companion. However, I can write about these things now since the Summer is over and a new K is taking charge of our life. She is quite the opposite of what I’ve described here. Thank the heavens–she showed up just in time to save us from ourselves.