Need soundingboard; the line of normality


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Ache has been home for closer to two weeks and is heading off tomorrow to visit his girlfriend and one friend abroad for couple weeks and then will be back for a week before heading his new city. Him being here has given me an opportunity to observe his current behaviour and have few more meaningful conversations with him. There are some good, some worrying and some plain weird stuff going on.

The Good

He is actually functioning quite well. he is doing things he probably should be doing and he has even been encouragingly social. He has been around laying on sofa and playing video games, sleeping late, listening music and doing nothing, but he has also been hanging out with friends, watching some extremely bad reality tv show at home while live chatting about it in two different whatsapp-groups with two different set of friends (the way these kids watch tv nowadays...), clubbing, going to a concert of the band one of his friends is connected with, went to a game of other sport than his own with others, played tennis with Joy and golf with his dad and is currently at gold course with a friend. And he has seen few extended family members, had lunch with his godmother, spent a couple days helping father in law with firewood, helped a bit with some spring repairs with our boat and helped with some chores at our cabin to prepare it to summer. So actually rather active and social couple f weeks.

He has also started to make plans for summer weekends with friends and so on. So superficially he is doing all the right and expected things. The way he juggles all that, and for example how complex his travel plan to meet a girlfriend and friend actually are, just making those kind of plans and being able to execute them suggests that there is nothing wrong in his functioning.

The Worrisome

He is definitely still self-harming and doing it regularly. Or I do not know if I should call it self-harming considering he is very careful not to actually harm/cause damage or even long standing marks. It is more self-hurt. He hurts himself in ways that cause a lot of pain, but do not mark nor cause any long or middle term damage. He is very secretive about it, but knowing what he has done in the past makes it easy to spot the marks.

It is obviously not attention seeking nor can it really be playing with suicidal ideas, because methods he uses can not cause serious damage to one's body, just lots of pain.

The Freaky

Everyone has different roles in life. And we are in different moods from time to time. Person's pattern of speech, behaviour, how we carry ourselves and so on can differ a lot between those roles. For example our professional role may be very different from who we are at home and then again very different from who we are with old friends. That is normal and common.

But Ache is seriously testing the lines of normality in this. I think I wrote already two years ago here how Ache seemed to have three different persons in him; enthusiastic young on heart kid, rather thoughtful and insightful young man and sullen teenager. At the time it seemed normal and I was expecting those to integrate to one in time. Instead there seems to be even more personas and they seem to be more different with each others.

And 'persona' really is the best way I can come up to describe it. It goes way beyond the role or mood and I never really know which one I'm getting at, but how he talks, his mannerism, non-verbal language, attitude, everything changes between these personas. It feels almost like there would be several different people living inside his skin. There is 'the jock', a person very much expected from him, then there still is that 'enthusiastic kid', who can get lost to all kinds of bizarre and cool things. Then there is this disillusioned, caustic and callous guy, who doesn't seem to care much about anything and other, sensitive, almost fragile guy who can get very emotional over many things. And the sullen, passive-aggressive one. Then there is this totally another guy who helps his grandpa and takes a dig for a long walk and seems to be stable and grounded. And so on.

I'm not talking about any multi-personal disorder of the movies and tv shows, he certainly is aware of what happens or what has been talked with these different personas. And while he does lost time at times and his memory can be very wonky and partial about the times he has been very anxious or upset and both of these are dissociative symptoms, neither of those things seem to have anything to do with these personas. When he has lost time, he seems to appear to others as absent-minded or 'being on autopilot' and apparently he is lost to some inner worlds of his during those times. And when he is upset he either behaves upset or withdraws or bolts and later on has difficult time to come up with any kind of coherent memory or timeline of what he did.

But these personas are something I see with him all the time now. It is totally unpredictable which kind of Ache I see any given time he comes to my view. It is very difficult to explain, but it really feels like they would be different people all together.

I'm not sure if it is just that he tries to play some role so hard that it becomes a obvious caricature or fake, and changes the roles he plays or is he actually really messed up and should I freak out. And even if those are roles he is playing, what is it, he is trying to hide behind them?

Scent of Cedar *

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Could it be that he is 21, and is trying on roles to see which is most comfortable for him? I feel badly about the hurting himself.

I sense you are watching, being aware, being a mom, but not taking action or even sure you are seeing anything specific or deeply worrisome?



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SuZir -- Wow. Interesting post. Lots to consider in there. As I read, I feel many questions arising. I have no answers (sorry). But I can certainly see where your concerns lie.

The Good --- Social interaction and planning ahead sound good (if I'm reading your take on that right). Sounds good to me, too.

The Worrisome --- Worrisome, indeed. Self-harm is always worrisome (on any level). Your note that it's more hidden from public, but clearly designed to bring him pain is insightful. Very insightful. Do you mind if I ask what kinds of things he does (preserving anonymity)? And how did you happen to discover his acts of self-harm when he goes to such great length to hide them?

The Freaky --- Well, now, that dilemma is a big ol' ball of complicated wax. Hmmmm..... I was just thinking about our son and his "personas". His sides tended to be "Checked In", "Flagrantly Checked Out" and the third disturbed me (by far) the most.......... "Inhabiting An Entirely Different Planet". Our son's "personas" sound different than your son's.

Do you remember how old your son was when you first registered his "personas" emerging? And.........have his personas shifted/inflated/deflated over time?

I have no answers. But I do send support your way in whatever ways I can. That's a lot on your plate!


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Self-harm is always worrisome (on any level). Your note that it's more hidden from public, but clearly designed to bring him pain is insightful. Very insightful. Do you mind if I ask what kinds of things he does (preserving anonymity)? And how did you happen to discover his acts of self-harm when he goes to such great length to hide them?

During his last crash he wasn't able to keep up his usual hiding things and secrets. There were some mild signs and he actually told about self harm to his doctors and us. He did say he had been doing it at least a year, but looking back I think it is way older maladaptive coping mechanism. You see, this is a kid who always had odd injuries and things 'just happened.' Looking back some were bullying, some were actual accidents and all kinds of weird ideas and experiments, but some were likely self-harm. But his excuses were just so very believable, well, for him. They usually involved: "I just wanted to try what would happen if..." But this is a kid who planted his tongue at least three or four time to metal when it was close to 0 F way before school age and just because of scientific curiosity (i mean, how he was suppose to know, that if his tongue would get stuck to barn door handle, it would also stuck to chain of his swing? And no, that mom and dad and grandpa and grandma told so is not good enough reason to assume that would happen.)

It seems Aches 'favourite' way to hurt himself involves capsaicine. Just adding it to the mucosas (eyes, nose and so on) or existing or made breakages of the skin. His occupation basically guarantees that he has any given moment some small cuts or abrasions, so he uses those. He also knows his anatomy so he uses pressure points and other vulnerable to pain parts of his body to cause pain but no injury. But he has also stuck pins under his nails and so on. Capsaicine irritates mucosas and those abrasions in his skin so when keeping an eye of him, one can spot a cut that seems irritated and so on. Nails of course get irritated too and I have seen bruises under his nails. Or he may first walk just fine be somewhere for a moment and come back limbing, not give any real reason and walk fine again in few hours. Of course, he is an athlete in the sport that is not gentle to his body. It is uncommon if he does not have some bruises on his body in any given time or if something is not hurting. So it makes it easy for him to hide it. If we didn't know, we likely wouldn't suspect anything.

And for example Tuesday he did our groceries. He had forgotten receipt to the shopping back and I noticed he had bought hot chili peppers that are not in my cuboards and what we don't usually use (we eat mildish food and Ache doesn't like particularly hot food either. We only use milder chilis in cooking.)

Do you remember how old your son was when you first registered his "personas" emerging? And.........have his personas shifted/inflated/deflated over time?

This is again difficult to pinpoint. As a child Ache had very vivid imagination, had imagery friends, he seemed to almost believe existing and for example took couple whole weeks insisting that he was one of our dogs and to be treated like them. Or another instance when he decided he was a combine harvester. (Do not ask.) I didn't know at the time, but found out lately that that vivid imagery life as young child can be a sign of high dissociative capacity. And dissociation certainly is one of his biggest mental issues.

But it was maybe close to three years ago, when I started to pay attention that he seemed to have these different personas that went beyond the roles people usually have and that he was switching rapidly between them. That would had made him 18 at the time. Around that time they were bit less distinctive, still closer to different roles or different maturity levels than so real cut personas they are now. So while they are similar, it seems they have become more intense over time.

Someone suggested via private messages if this could have something to do with bipolar and mood swings of that. That is certainly worth a thought. I do have bipolar in my family tree. Though I can honestly say, that it would be difficult to see how any of his moods would qualify mania or hypomania. And this personas, or moods, or roles, also switch really rapidly, several time a day even.


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I sense you are watching, being aware, being a mom, but not taking action or even sure you are seeing anything specific or deeply worrisome?

Answer to that it complex. I'm certainly not detached, not in the "it will be what it will be"-way. I do watch, I do observe, I do think and I try to influence to things to what I think is a right direction. It just is, that I have to be rather careful and stealthy in how I do it.

When we have time and Ache is calm, I can reason with him. I can explain my ideas and opinions and make him think things. If careful, I can usher him to the direction I think is best. To be honest, I could likely browbeat him to a lot of things. We have good relationship in some ways and he trusts me. but of course browbeating him to anything would maybe make him do it, but do it to prove I'm wrong, this would be counter-productive. It would also hurt his trust on me. So I'm more cunning. I talk with him, listen to him, introduce ideas, lead him to bring up things I want him to consider himself and so on.

Because I really do not want to run his life for him, I try to stay away from things that are not my business, but his health and basic well-being still feel like my business too.

Currently I'm working on him recognizing self hurt as maladaptive coping mechanism and trying to make him think that it is something he absolutely needs to take high to his agenda when he goes back to therapy in May. While him hurting himself does freak me out, showing that to him would not be way to go, nor would be confronting him. That would simply make him withdraw. So I'm trying to introduce an idea that it is just a maladaptive behavioural pattern, nothing big and shameful he needs to hide from everyone, but just something he needs to work with his therapist to find better methods for.

But you are right, it is very difficult to pinpoint what are the real worrisome behaviours and what are just his quirkiness.

But to be frank, I'm also always worried about suicide with him. If that would feel an immediate risk, I would be forced to act more directly. Contact his psychiatrist or of course take him to ER if it were an immediate situation. But that would harm the trust he has on me. So I try to influence him in less obvious ways.
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SuZir -- Wow. That's a whole lot to consider. A whole lot. Thanks for sharing more in-depth. Didn't mean to pry, just wanted to understand better.

Hmmm.... Capsaicin for self-harm. Honestly, I've never heard that before. Unusual. He ever do any big damage with it that required significant medical attention? Pins under nails is also unusual (although I have heard of that, at least). I did know someone who carved in his arm with glass. But capsaicin is a new one for me to hear.

Bipolar is always a valid consideration when things go into extremes or oddities. Our son is bipolar. "Persona" may differ in denotation and connotation. I don't know. Something to research (in terms of DSM, etc) or consult a professional about.

Again, that's a whole lot to consider. And he's right at the age where those things may bloom wildly. I send you best wishes for more clarity, understanding and options. It's quite a maze trying to figure it all out sometimes!

Wishing you all the best, SuZir!


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Ache hasn't discussed his self-hurting behaviours in depth with me. He did blurt some out during his crisis last fall, have given couple titbits since then and rest is more or less my guesswork.

What I do know for sure, is that he did have some self-hurting behaviours (hitting and scratching himself and so on) as a young child when he was very frustrated with himself. He has always been perfectionist and very high-strung. Those early signs of self-hurt were not too serious. I talked about them first in his well child checks and later also with psychologists, paediatric psychiatrist and neurologist when he was referred to more specialised care and evaluations for other reasons. At the time we got him to stop that behaviour by redirecting, helping him to express his feelings with words and directing him to use other physical outlets when needed.

I again caught him self-hurting in adolescence. He was hitting his hands to objects like table edges or dropping the piano lid to his fingers etc. He was seeing a counsellor at the time for school and social issues and I of course told about self-hurting to her. It seemed to end and he said that it was just a stupid idea and he would not do it any more. We checked his fingers and hands quite often for some time, but it really seemed, he had stopped that. However I now have to wonder, if he just changed to other methods and how many of his injuries over the years may have been self-inflected. He always had a good explanation for them, but I now do know that some were from other kids bullying him and it is very possible that some were also self-hurt.

It is just very difficult to know, because none was ever anything clearly self-inflicted like cutting etc. He was very active kid, who always did first, thought then, if even then and he did several sports that were likely to cause bruises and small cuts time to time. So how can you know if he had his knees bloody, lip cut and arm bruised because he accidentally fell with his trick bike or because he fell in purpose or because he was beaten by other kids in trick bike and skateboard park? Especially when it now seems likely that in different times the reason for the injuries could had been any of those. Or if he had ball made bruises in his torso? How to know, what were inflected by normal play in his sport, which may have been inflected as peer discipline and which may have been self inflected (when you play catch by throwing a ball to the wall and then catching, except that you do not catch.)

As of capsaicin: I do not know, but my best guess is, that he came up with the idea either through honest cooking accident (I think most people have accidentally handled something that will sting forgetting they have this small cut in their hand or forgotten to wash their hands well between handling some hot veggie or product and between touching their eyes etc.) or through some kind of dare. And after that he has noticed that it is an easy way to cause physical pain without it leaving much marks and without much risk to actual damage.

It seems evident that Ache wants to cause himself that pain, but he does not want to get caught doing it, doesn't want attention and doesn't want to cause that kind of physical harm, that would hinder his sport. And because he is an athlete, he wouldn't get undetected if he for example would cut himself. He spends quite a lot of time naked or in very little clothes daily with lots of people around him. While bruises and all kind of chafes in skin are to be expected, cuts made by knife, burns etc. more common self-harm methods would be spotted quickly. Especially considering he is very regularly massaged. Anything evidently self-inflicted would cause quite a hassle and he knows that. And trying to cover something would cause lots of attention. Modesty over their bodies is not something people in his occupation tends to have even the shred left when they are at that level. If someone suddenly would seem to start to care, if there thirty people there seeing them naked, that would certainly draw lots of attention, when usually they need to be reminded to grab a towel with them, if they walk through public areas at days and times when there are likely to be other people, like young kids and their parents also practising at the same arena.

Ache is very ambitious with his sport. He does not want to get caught doing something, that would cause him trouble. Self-harm most certainly wouldn't make him more attractive to the teams and his coaches. So he hides it. That of course means it is not something he does just because he is bored, or wants attention or for any other reason that would be easy to stop. It seems he feels that he really needs it.

I have read that cutting can be addictive, and that cutters kind of teach themselves to deal with any problem with cutting and that it eases the internal pain or expresses emotions one do not have an outlet for, or helps with feeling numb. While Ache doesn't cut, that may actually only be, because he knows he would not to be able to hide it.

Last fall, during his crisis, there were one incident that could had been self-harm, though he doesn't admit, that did require ER visit. He burnt lots of his stuff from his room here at our house (he was at sick-leave after his crash that took him to hospital for over a week) while he was home alone and received a burn, not too bad one, but one I insist taking him to ER with, while doing so. That caused him to miss few extra days after he was cleared for neurological/psychiatric reasons. It still is, and will remain unclear, how much of his crash was psychological and how much neurological. He was diagnosed with conversion disorder, but it is not uncommon for conversion disorder to have roots in actual injury or illness. His conversion disorder mimicked post-concussion syndrome and while his brain scan were and remained clear, it is possible he developed conversion symptoms over actual post-concussion symptoms.

Scent of Cedar *

Well-Known Member
It seems Aches 'favourite' way to hurt himself involves capsaicine. Just adding it to the mucosas (eyes, nose and so on) or existing or made breakages of the skin.

Our daughter would do similar kinds of things.

Early in her teens, she would do things like plug her nose and blow until air bubbled out her tear ducts. She would put Carmex into her eyes. There was a list of things I was going to post, but it felt wrong to do it, however anonymous the site.

I don't think about these things so much. It seems pointless to dwell on them, now. But I know what you mean SuZir, about that feeling that you know something, but you don't really see anything that glaringly wrong, after all.

And yet, you do see.



one day at a time
I'm sorry Suzir. I don't have any great advice, only to say, I would just wait and watch and see what happens.

There were times when I just prayed that difficult child would stay alive, hoping that time and him getting older would in some way decrease the strange behavior. Maybe that has happened, in part.

My best friend's son cut himself for a long time in high school and was subsequently diagnosed as bipolar after several inpatient stays. He is on medications for that and today lives a balanced life, finished a master's degree, got married and works in the film industry.

This is hard stuff, to watch, I know.


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You know what; while I'm dwelling in thoughts like this, the Whelp himself is apparently having grand time at Berlin (for those not up to latest trends in Europe, the coolest city and 'fun capital' of the continent currently.)

It's not, that I would hope he wouldn't have this high functioning side in him, nor do I fool myself that this high functioning side would somehow mean, that the other side has ceased to exist or that there wouldn't be a potential to very bad outcomes with him. But I guess it would somehow be so much simpler, if these two sides of him wouldn't be so far from each other.


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But I guess it would somehow be so much simpler, if these two sides of him wouldn't be so far from each other.
Guess what. Every one of us has two sides. Its the size of the gap that IS the problem. If the two sides were closer together, he would be "normal".