Content warning, this blog contains mentions of psychosis, delusions, and self harm which people may find distressing, read with caution

By Hazel Cornhill

When people mention the words “self-harm” people have a very set idea of what this means, even if we move beyond the stereotypes of people attention seeking and only speak to those who have done the awareness training and who feel that they understand the realities of the behaviour there will still remain this association with self-punishment, emotional distress, distraction, and the other causes that you see in almost all the self-harm awareness campaigns. What is almost never mentioned is the self harm and self destruction that can occur during psychosis.

I have a long history of somatic delusions, believing that there are tracking devices within my body, hidden under my skin or within my stomach. What you need to understand is that a delusion is more that a thought or a feeling, it is a belief, an all encompassing belief, which you cannot just ignore or logic your way out of. So when I believe that I have a tracker inside of me I will behave as if there is a tracker, because to me it is entirely real. This has resulted in my doing things such as not leaving my house because I am scared that I will be being watched/followed or sometimes of me trying to “run away” to escape those who are tracking me, even though I know that it's futile.

At other times though I will try things to get rid of the trackers, sometimes this can be things like using strong magnets to try to deactivate the device, but other times this can result in my attempting to physically remove these items. I have multiple scars across my body from these events, from where I have tried to physically cut out trackers that, although completely real to me, do not actually exist. I have one more than one occasion had to go to A&E to get stitches and while there asked the doctor over and over to check that the tracker is gone.

I have gone unhealthy periods of time without eating because I thought that must be how they were putting the trackers into my stomach, through my food. I have eaten and drunk inedible items in the hope of breaking the trackers inside my digestive system. At times I have even considered suicide as a way of escaping the constant feeling of being followed, watching, and tracked.

Until recently I didn't really see this as self-harm, the self-harm I developed as a coping mechanism in childhood felt different to this. That was a way of coping with things in my life, with feeling different, as a way of giving a physical expression to the feelings that I had inside. This though, this wasn't about coping, this wasn't about trying to deal with things that I couldn't express. This was, in my mind, a matter of survival, a matter of escape, a logical way of reacting to what was going on. But the reality is, I was hurting myself, the reasoning may have been different, and in many ways it both felt and was different. What makes this worse though is that no-one ever talks about it. People talk about self harm as a coping mechanism, as self punishment, control, or due to emotional distress, but no-one really talks about self harm in relations to delusions. This makes those of us who do self harm for this reason feel very separate from the rest of the community and almost like we have been forgotten from the conversation, this can be a very lonely and isolating place.

I understand that maybe it's hard to understand, it can be hard enough to understand a person hurting themselves in general, but to understand someone not only hurting themselves but also reacting to beliefs that you just can't understand. However, I think we need to widen the conversation, to include all experiences. Those of us who harm our selves for the less known reasons, those of us who have psychosis, just want to be included in the conversation, to feel valid, and to be able to share our experiences. Sitting on the outside looking in can be a very lonely place, but there are many of out there and if we feel more able to speak, to share, then we can find one another and perhaps start to feel less alone.

Hazel Cornhill is a 35 year old mental health campaigner who hosts the Reality Tourists Podcast where she speaks to people about their psychotic experiences as a way to open up the conversation -

She can be found on twitter @Anlasair