What it's like to live with self-harm
Guest blogger Jane shares her experiences.
“Why is it that sometimes the bruises on your arms embarrass you, and sometimes they make you proud?”
Sometimes I wished my friends were a bit less observant. You see, the bruises I was pleased with were sports injuries, but the ones I was ashamed of were from self-harm. It took a long time for me to identify what I was doing as self-harm. After all, I wasn’t cutting or burning myself, didn’t have any scars. Looking back, I think I was being prejudiced. I didn’t want to think of myself as troubled, or broken, which was how I saw people with mental health issues back then.
It wasn’t just that, though. I was nervous of being told I was just playing at self-harm, or that I shouldn’t be drawing attention away from people with real problems. Friends with eating disorders have described similar problems. What if I’ve only purged a couple of times? It can’t be serious, or a real eating disorder, can it? None of us wanted to admit we were having problems.
Without admitting what the problem was, or seeking any advice, I started to find or invent coping strategies. If I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell her to look for help. There should have been support available, from on-line resource centres, from my school, from the NHS. But I didn’t want to publically ask for help so I had to manage on my own.
I put together a support network. People who didn’t mind taking phone calls at 2am if I needed them to. (And, yes, people who called me in the middle of the night, for help or support.)
I wrote, a lot. Everything from bad fiction and poetry, to rants and articles.
I’ve been studying Taekwondo (a martial art) since I was a little kid. When I was in a state, I tried running through technical exercises, or doing a load of fitness training, to clear my head.
I’d put on music and spend ten to twenty minutes sitting still with my eyes shut breathing deeply
Where possible, I avoided things that would trigger me. I know, it seems obvious, and it’s not always possible. But it’s worth saying.
Every time I think it’s behind me, something happens that draws me back. Earlier this year, on my first day at a new job, as a joke, someone made a show of looking at my wrists for signs of self-harm or injecting. My only scar is from a play fight with my brother, not my self-harm. But still, the shocked disbelief in my colleagues’ eyes hit hard.
“I knew you didn’t seem the type,” one of them grinned, relieved, when I explained the mark.
People think of self-harmers, and people with other mental health issues, as visibly falling to pieces. Some of us are, of course, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But a lot of us simply look “normal”, whatever that means. In my case, I was hard-working, quiet, and academic. But I’ve equally known popular, sociable, apparently happy and bubbly teens, who have mental health issues.
I say “us”, despite the fact that I haven’t self-harmed in years, apart from a single brief relapse. Maybe I shouldn’t. But it still affects my life. I still work to avoid situations which might set me off. Whenever things are going wrong, I have to remind myself why I don’t want to go back to that. It’s hard work, yes, but it’s worth it.
I just wish I’d been able to talk someone who could help me when I was a teenager.
I just wish there wasn’t a stigma attached to mental health problems.
I just wish this wasn’t embarrassing to talk about, even now.
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