Today is self-harm awareness day. It’s not something I’ve really written about before but I think it’s so important that these discussions are had. This post may be triggering to some, please don’t read if you may be affected.
My favourite black jumper came from a shop whose name I no longer remember, its long sleeves that flared from the elbow were my daily armour. I remember my floor length denim skirt from Topshop, tricky to walk in and impossibly heavy for a skirt. The changing rooms at Miss Selfridge were still communal; one carpeted room with bright lights and mirrored walls, lined with girls and clothes and bags, frosted lipstick kisses on the mirrors and empty cans of Impulse discarded in corners.
Sixteen, my arm in a sling, standing in front of my tutor; ‘I fell down the stairs’. She assumed I’d been drinking, it was a light-hearted exchange that was awkward unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I don’t remember why I was telling her.
That was the first time I ever self-harmed.
Clueless, not even knowing it was something with a title, I sat alone in my bedroom the day before and all the feelings that swelled inside of me were translated into tangible, physical destruction. It felt good. A release. The more pain I felt, the more swollen and bruised and bloodied that my skin became the more calm I felt. Relief.
In disbelief I pulled my sleeve down, wincing, and descended the stairs. I didn’t understand what I had done; I didn’t know where the urge or the idea had come from and the calmness frightened me, surely I shouldn’t feel a release like I did, surely I was a bad person.
I don’t remember what I told my mum or what I told the doctor, only the vivid feelings and the lies I told my teacher the next day.
That was thirteen years ago and over those years the urge has come and gone in waves, sometimes hardly licking at my subconscious, sometimes so overwhelming it’s all I can see.
For me it was always a release. The transference of extreme mental anguish into real physical marks. The more obvious the sign of injury the more my inner hurt would seep from the wound. Seconds, minutes of relief, a rest bite from my own m
When my arms couldn’t take any more I would move to my thighs, legs, feet, my torso, the back of my neck…Anywhere that I could hide. My parents, my doctor and my boyfriend at the time were the only people who knew. Everything can be hidden underneath clothes, make up, a smile.
I would sit at friends’ houses, college, anywhere, absent mindedly picking at the scabs as a way of relieving the anxiety that I didn’t understand.
The part that is always the hardest for people to understand is that I always knew what I was doing; I never ever did anything that I couldn’t control because I knew exactly what I needed for the release. I never wanted to cut deeply enough to bleed to death.
It wasn’t about dying, it was about surviving.
Self-harm stirs strong feelings in the people who care; I was on the receiving end of a lot of anger. I suppose my insistence that ‘I know what I’m doing’ didn’t do much to relive any worry.
I last self-harmed last year, I don’t remember exactly when. Before then I hadn’t for four years, maybe five.
It’s not something I want to do; it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m still conscious of my scars, I still feel shame if my arms are bare.
It’s not something I would ever recommend or advise. But I understand.
I understand when pulsing feelings or a total lack of feelings become too much to bear for even a second longer. I understand that it’s wrong and that it shouldn’t happen but I understand that it does and I understand why.
There are ways that you can help yourself to cope with the urges, I know that now. There are ways to do things safely and there are people to talk to.
Believe me, the release and the lightness that can come from talking to the right person for just five minutes is so much more powerful than that of cuts or burns or bruises.
If you need to talk, The Samaritans are at the end of the phone 24 hours a day, call them on 08457 90 90 90.
For more information about self-harm and the support available, click here.