Warning: This piece contains references to self harm
Today is an important date for me. It marks an important anniversary and an achievement which I am immensely proud of myself for managing to accomplish. It’s not the date I graduated from uni, or found a job, home, pet or significant other. Nor is it the kind of anniversary people usually make a fuss about or celebrate in the public eye. But it is a very important date for me.
Today marks one year to the day since I last self-harmed.
The following piece of writing (and it may get a tad lengthy) is my own attempt to explain my experiences of recovery over the past year and to spread awareness of the significance of today in my life.
I know some people reading this might roll their eyes and think “pfft so what? She stopped deliberately hurting herself does she expect a medal? Common sense would have been not to do it in the first place!” and to not care and not have sympathy. To those people I say this; I don’t want or need sympathy or attention. This piece of writing is purely to allow myself to have a reminder of what I’ve been through and a chance to be proud of all the little successes that have led to this moment. I have chosen to make this writing public for 2 reasons. The first is so that the people closest to me can see for themselves examples of the battles I’ve faced and to give them an understanding and a platform they can use to celebrate and talk about it with me if they want to and the second is to raise wider awareness of self-harm and the other issues that can and usually do surround it.
Friendly disclaimer for any strangers reading this and considering getting in touch. I am not a mental health professional. This writing is merely a round up of my own experiences and should not be used as a “how to” guide for stopping or starting self-harm. My advice to anyone reading this who may be a self-harmer also wishing to stop is to seek professional help and advice. I am happy to be a friend and to listen to other people and share my own experiences if this helps but I am not qualified to help, dispense advice or suggestions in a professional manner.
So onto my story! I have lived with a variety of fun conditions since early childhood many of which were un-diagnosed until recently. These are anxiety and depression as well as dyscalculia and dyspraxia (look them up if you’re unsure what these are or ask me). Each of these conditions affect me differently and have done since early childhood but it was in my teen years where they became most problematic. I was always a very quiet person and as a teen that did not do me any favours. I went through the usual mild torment that less popular kids go through in high school, nothing terrible or particularly awful but for me it felt like Hell. I was terrified of what might happen and dreaded every single day. On the odd occasion where there were mild incidents I lacked the confidence to stick up for myself making everything feel 10x worse than it actually was.
As well as what happened at school I also had a fairly intense home situation that I thought was my sole responsibility to deal with. It should never have been a problem a teenager should have had to deal with but I was too afraid to speak out about it so carried the burden of that as well as my school stresses in one big bundle of stress.
That was when I first began to self-harm. At age 14 I already hated myself for being so quiet and letting fear rule my life. I became depressed dwelling on my faults and every little mistake I made, not understanding why I couldn’t just be like everyone else. At best I wanted to be left alone and at worst I wanted to die.
Self-harm became my vice. I used it to deal with multiple problems and it became a part of my life routine.
When I was anxious or panicky I found comfort in the routine that cutting myself offered.
When I embarrassed myself or felt I’d failed in some way the pain and ugly scarring became my punishment
When I felt numb, empty and incapable of feeling anything when the depression took over, the pain and blood reminded me I was human and alive
The cuts were never in places people could see. I knew self-harm was bad, that people viewed it negatively, that if people knew about it then there’d be questions, my parents might blame themselves or worse be blamed for being bad at parenting (despite a tricky home situation this was ABSOLUTELY NOT the case) and the truth was it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. The cutting was my way of dealing with MY issues and emotions, it was personal and private and sharing it meant it would no longer be my safety blanket. Just another thing about me up for judgement. So I kept it hidden.
Self- harm offered me a means of coping, it allowed me to continue my day to day life knowing I had a vice I could turn to. As I got older I faced new problems. Exam stress, discovering I was gay, trying to plan a future post-school, uni, relationships, friendship dramas. The list goes on. Each of these issues I remedied in the only way I knew worked for me.
Then a miracle happened. I met my current best friend. A mental health nurse in training at the time she barely knew me from any of the other people we were mutually hanging out with. Yet after several nights out with our mutual friends this almost stranger to me cornered me after a party. She told me she was worried about me. Had noticed I was quiet, kept to myself and displayed worrying behaviours. She asked me if everything was okay, and not just in a casual “how’re you?” way. She really meant it. At first I fobbed her off said I was fine and just a quiet person. I was still too scared to be honest. She didn’t pursue me further but I knew she didn’t believe me and every time we met there was always the same question asked “how are you doing?” Always asked with the same genuine care and concern as the first time.
Her gentle patience paid off. Eventually I confided in her. Lately things had been getting worse, I was harming more often than normal and more carelessly than before with several cuts actually visible. I was losing the control and comfort I’d once gotten from it and I was afraid.
There was no shock, no judgement passed, no berating me. Nothing negative at all. She actually praised me for being so brave as to admit to it then asked what I wanted to do next. It was then that I finally admitted to myself as much as her what I’d known for a very long time. I needed help.
It took a bit of time for me to take any other steps, but with her support I eventually worked up the nerve to contact and see my doctor. I was put on a waiting list for specialist counselling with a charity called Penumbra who specialise in helping adults with self-harm issues. The waiting list to be seen was a long 6 months but it was worth it.
I saw the same counsellor for about 6 months and we discussed everything to do with why I self-harmed and possible ways I could stop or cope differently. In that time my friend continued to support me working her way up the ranks from friend to bestie and I began telling some of my other friends what was going on as I was emotionally quite a wreck and needed all the help I could get.
I still continued to harm once the counselling was done but it was a LOT less frequently and it worried me a lot less than it had before as I had developed the skills to forgive myself. The last time it happened was 1 year ago today following an argument with my then girlfriend for which I’d blamed myself. After that I swore I was done with it for good. No more self-harm. I’d said it before of course so wasn’t sure how long it would last but I said it again and meant it all the same.
In the 12 months since I last harmed I’ve had to come face to face with my anxiety and depression without a vice for the first time in 8 years. I’m on medication for the anxiety and continue to see a counsellor once a week. My uni work suffered, I almost got fired from a temp job, I’ve had anxiety attacks, a relationship breakup and have seen my social life take a bit of a nosedive. But despite all that I’m getting better!
I no longer want to die, I know my stress limits a lot better, have several wonderful friends including my super awesome bestie (whom I absolutely could not have done this without). I have help in place at uni for studying which I had no idea I even needed and could have done with a long time ago. I do yoga, dancing, knitting and reading. I am single and braving the dating scene again. I’m looking to move out and live independently. Many of my scars are fading and the rest are now hidden beneath some beautiful tattoos. I look forward to my future rather than dread it and most days I find myself feeling happy and content. I still struggle and feel the urge to cut occasionally. Maybe I always will but for now I can proudly say that as of today 18/11/2015 I am 1 year self-harm free and love myself for it.
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