The Stigma of Being a 'Recovered' Self-Harmer (TW)
Despite the rise in awareness about mental health issues, there still remains a serious taboo around self-harm, in my opinion at least. There's still the idea that doing it makes you part of some weird cult, or that you do it for the attention, amongst various other inane theories. But it's just not like that. Anyhow, I'll save a lil rant on this for another time. Today I'm talking about what it's like to be branded as a recovered self harmer.
You probably (possibly?) noticed that I put the word recovered in apostrophes in the title of this post. Recovery is an odd thing, and it's simplified far too much in my opinion. We've probably all seen the graph with an arrow that's full of squiggly lines and swirls, suggesting that recovery isn't a straight road. Which is fab, because it's not. But there's always a definite end to the road on the graph. And that's the part that I struggle with.
You see, when I first considered recovery as a thing, I struggled with even the very concept of it. I had come to rely on self harm as an outlet to stress and anxiety and negative feelings. I was terrified about what I'd do without it. So when people were telling me how amazing it was that I'd gone one, then two, then three days without it, or even a whole week, I felt tricked. Recovery wasn't amazing, it was shit. I felt worse than I did with my outlet of self-harm.
I had managed to rewire my brain (not on purpose obviously) to see my self-harm as useful, as a crutch for me getting through everyday life, and as something that I couldn't live without. So trying to live without it was really damn hard. It felt like a constant struggle between the desire to self-harm and the desire to get better. And it sucked. I expected it to get easier quickly, but six months passed before I found that I could surpass the urge without a mammoth struggle. No one had warned me about that. The squiggly lined graph didn't give me a time frame.
What was even worse was that other people didn't get the warning about the time frame either. It was hard being faced with the expectation that once I had decided to quit I would just be able to stop. The pressure didn't help: it made me feel like I was failing in my recovery, and ultimately, I felt like I would always be trapped, that I would never be able to stop self-harming.
Eventually, I did stop, mostly. But my scars didn't fade away. I had expected recovery to have a finite end where self-harm would never play a role in my life anymore. But that hasn't ever happened. The problem now was that my scars indicated to people that I had recovered. That because I wasn't self-harming anymore I wasn't impacted by it. I was never plagued by thoughts of reverting to it, or ever upset by the scars covering my skin. I was, obviously.
This stigma about being a healthy, stable, 'recovered' self-harmer really had the ability to set me back. Self-harm has such an impact on the state of your mental health, and this is so long lasting. Every time I had a really bad day my brain started to think about doing it again. The scars were frustrating because they were a physical reminder of this problem that I was trying to get rid of. And it was a double edged sword because everybody thought the scars meant that the problem was gone.
I was honestly petrified about seeking help at the doctors. Because if I wasn't actively self-harming I didn't have a problem, right? Except I did, and it took me so long to realise that.
I've spent so many hours crying, wondering when I would ever be rid of the urges and the thoughts about self-harm. I wanted to recover from those too, but they seemed like they weren't a problem, as nobody else could see them.
After I hit six months self-harm free, I was over the moon and so scared at the same time. I was now officially 'recovered' in the eyes of the world, but all I could think about was how disappointed and confused everyone would be if I relapsed. They thought I had recovered, and I was at a finite point of no return, but I'm not sure now there ever is one.
This idea of there being no end isn't a positive one, I admit. But whenever I have to explain why I have scars to someone new who's noticed them (moving to a new town has been tough), or deciding whether or not to cover myself up for an event or outing, it's a reminder of the fact that my body hasn't recovered completely, and nor has my mind. But that's okay. I've learnt to accept that now, but it has taken me so long to do. I just wanted to be free from the stigma of being 'that girl who self-harmed' for the longest time, but I've realised that it's part of my history. It's an unfortunate part, yes, but it's part of who I am.
Recovery isn't a quick road, with a tangible destination. It takes time. I still get people judging me for my self-harm, staring at my scars and asking me personal questions. Which isn't okay. Just because somebody doesn't actively look like a self-harmer doesn't mean they aren't struggling, and that you can treat them harshly.
I think the hardest stigma I have to deal with sometimes is from other people who self-harm. I'm judged with the idea that it must have not been serious, or a fad, or I must have an easy life because I recovered. But I worked damn hard to be in this situation, and it took everything I had to get here.
So yes, I don't self harm anymore, but to say that I'm recovered carries with it a stigma that I never struggle anymore. It suggests that I'm detached from my self-harm, it no longer impacts me and I don't even think about it anymore. None of that is true.
This post wasn't meant to be the most negative thing I've ever written, but it is probably one of the realest. To end mental health stigmas we need to stop sugar-coating things and accept that sometimes life gets shitty, and times are rough, and that's all part of what suffering with mental health problems is about. I definitely feel the pressure to talk positively about how I dealt with my self harm, but it's not realistic. It's not easy, and I don't want readers to come away from this and trivialise another person's recovery story because I lied and said it was easy. Everybody's recovery is different, and important, and something that should always be supported, even if you think they're 'recovered'.