This post obviously comes with a massive trigger warning because I am going to be talking about self harm. I won't, however, be discussing the intricate details of my self harm. I think saying how often it was/how bad/what I used would do way more harm than good in terms of this post. I know for sure that when I was self-harming someone discussing those aspects of it would encourage me to compare myself to them, and it would all be very triggering. The one detail I will give is that my self harm took place via cutting myself, rather than any other type.
I'm writing this post to go hand in hand with the video I filmed all about it last week, and I'll link the video to you all at the end of the post. Unlike the majority of the other pieces of writing I publicise on this blog, this is more for me than anyone else. I've reached a point in my life at which I can talk about my experiences self-harming and recovering. Yet, it's something that I rarely (if ever) discuss in person. It's something I've avoided talking about for years, and I've only recently come to terms with it enough to be able to tell friends that yes, I did used to self harm. I do however hope that this post helps some of you, and encourages people to discuss this taboo subject with greater care and frequency. I've split the post into various segments, or steps on my mental health journey, mostly to help me arrange my thoughts on this topic.
How and why I started
I first started self-harming when I was 16. I was feeling distant from my boyfriend at the time, lonely at school and for some horrible horrible reason I took the conscious decision to start self-harming. Thankfully I didn't get too 'hooked' (if that's the word to use; I can't think of a better one), and stopped again until I was half way through my 17th year of life.
When I was in Year 12 at school life suddenly got really really shitty. I decided to do five a-levels rather than four, and got obsessed with getting perfect or near-perfect scores in everything we did. I worked during my lunch breaks, morning breaks, weekends and right up until I went to bed. This also meant that I cut myself off from everybody socially. Not a good combination. And then, on the 8th December, my Granddad died. And I couldn't cope with school anymore. I simply couldn't handle the thought of getting out of bed in the morning, and making my way in to a day of school. So I stopped going all the time, and ended up only making about 2/3rds of my classes for the remainder of the year. I remember my best friend trying everything she could to get my to come in and to open up to her, but I just couldn't. I'd started self-harming again in the November and it was getting out of control.
I've had some amazing reactions to telling people that I was self-harming, but I've also had some terrible ones. When I started university I opened up to my best friend there and my boyfriend, and they both did anything and everything they could to support me and try to help me recover. It was just incredible, and I am so so thankful to them.
Then I had an incident one day. One of the boys we lived with saw my cuts, and got incredibly aggressive. He pushed me up into a corner, shouting in my face, and asking me what the fuck was wrong with me. It was quite frankly horrific, and it made me scared to ever go out without covering up first for a good two years.
In the end, I think that the people I trusted always came through for me with their reactions, and anyone I haven't trusted has always disappointed me. Even now I get it with my scars: I told my work colleagues a few weeks ago, and they were so so lovely about it, and it reminded me that people can be kind.
My biggest problem with this one was that it wasn't always my choice. Now that I'm just left with my scars most people don't even notice that I used to self-harm, or if they do they rarely say anything. Sadly when I was at my worst it was hard to cover up, and when my parents found out I was devastated. It's something that to this day I can't talk to them about willingly because it was forced out of me all those years ago. It created a massive rift in our relationship, and the mental state that I was in at the time made sure that it took a while for that rift to be repaired.
Opening up about something so personal, so taboo, and so generally misunderstood is always going to be tough. Choosing whether or not to open up to someone is really hard, and as time has gone on I've tried to do it more and more. You see, now I want people to understand what I went through, so that they can realise that someone they know self-harmed: it's not a far off crisis that exists in an alternate world, but something that real people have to deal with. Now I don't mind people asking me what makes them curious about it, as long as we're good friends, because I hope that it can help them break down the stigma to others. Back when I was in my deepest darkest mental health pit, however, I wouldn't have been able to answer any questions, and I wouldn't have wanted to.
This was something I struggled with for so long. I found that when I was self harming I was stuck in this paradox of not wanting to get better and desperately wanting to get better. It sounds confusing, but it was my coping mechanism: I couldn't imagine what I would do without it. The very notion of recovery was terrifying, and it took me a long time to accept that I simply couldn't carry on living in the way I was.
Being at uni meant there were a whole host of things I could do in terms of getting help, but I was too anxious to try any of them other than speaking to my GP. Unfortunately for me this didn't go to plan. I was turned away twice from the GP and refused help because I had no plans for suicide (seriously). I was distraught, and it just made me think that my self harm wasn't really an issue, when in fact it was taking over my life. Any self harm on any level is concerning, and if you need help to deal with it then you need help.
After another two years of not wanting to see any more GPs, I went to a completely different doctors and was finally offered all the help I needed. I got to choose whether or not I had therapy, what form of therapy it would be and whether or not I wanted tablets to help me. It was so so much better than my first attempts at seeking help, and I only wish the first set of doctors I saw could have been more understanding.
Recovering and relapsing
In truth, I wouldn't be able to turn around and say 'this is what I did to recover, this is what worked and what didn't work for me and here is a step by step instruction of how to recover'. Recovery was (is) a long process for me, and I started off in a truly scary place. I read tonnes and tonnes of infographics all about things you could do to help stop self harming and none of them worked. That was really quite demoralising. As well as this, I didn't have any help from the NHS, and my mind was genuinely trying to convince itself that it did want to recover.
At the beginning I spent far more time convinced that I would never be able to recover than I did spending time trying to recover. It just seemed impossible, made me stressed, upset me and made my self-esteem go crashing down. But, I had an amazing amount of support from my boyfriend. I wouldn't even be able to count the number of times he just held me whilst I cried, upset that my mind could turn against me in this way. Or times that he encouraged me to look to other things to help destress. Or stayed up with me so I didn't have to fall asleep first. Or stayed in with me so I wouldn't be alone and therefore able to self-harm. And it was really shit at first. I was angry that someone was trying to take my ability to self harm away from me. And I mean really, really angry. I couldn't understand why he couldn't just leave me be and accept, like I had, that I just wouldn't be able to recover.
It's a weird thing to look back and wonder if you would have even made it this far without one person. I'm not saying that he was the be all and end all of why I recovered. I worked really fucking hard to do that every day for a good three years. And I still have to fight the urges, recoil from triggers and give myself an internal pep talk about it sometimes now, almost four years on from when my self harming was at its worst.
The weirdest thing about recovery was that I expected it to be a process rather than an on/off switch of self-harming. I'd seen all those little pitcures of graphs with the squiggly arrow going in a mass of directions rather than diagonally up in order to show what recovery is like. But I only expected it to be like that for a short time. I expected that squiggly line to straighten out within a few months. I wasn't ready for the fact that years on, I might relapse, and get a good ol' squiggle in my line. It happens, and I'm learning to live with that. I've accepted that I might not stay self harm free forever, but it's been a year since my last relapse, and I'm happy with that, for now.
I hope this was helpful to people that are struggling. Here's my video all about my story: