Wednesday, 16 March 2016

An Honest Look at Self-Harm

If you mention self-harm to people, it's quite probable you'll get the following response:
- attention-seeking
- not serious
- not a real cry for help
- childish
- emo
- only happens in teenagers

**Trigger warning - this post mentions self-harm**

Despite the progress in eradicating stigma around mental illness, albeit slowly, the topic of self-harm hasn't achieved the same openness when it comes to discussion.
Self-harm just isn't taken seriously. There is a stigma attached to committing such a violent act against yourself. It's seen as shameful. And so it is often ignored, even if it is a common pre-indicator of suicide.
Oxford Dictionaries
Self -harm is a coping strategy. It provides short-term release. When it presents as a repetitive action or a routine it becomes especially worrying. It can be a way of gaining a sense of control. More often than not, it is done in secret. It can be easily concealed. And not broadcast to seek attention.
It takes many forms and it can manifest itself as anything from cutting, punching and hitting to binge-drinking and drug use.

I would know. I've been through it.
And because it's such a huge part of my past, I wanted to tell my story as part of my Embracing Your Past month. While I was telling the world in national newspapers and on TV about my mental health, I would not speak about suicide or self-harm. Even when I started my blog, both topics felt off the table for me. I thought it would be too difficult a story to tell - both for me and anyone hearing it. It is difficult to talk about something that can be triggering. It's a side of my past that I have tried to hide away.

There are many reasons why people self-harm. For me, it became a way of  externally displaying my internal pain.

Self-harm stops the internal pain momentarily. It's replaced by the physical pain, allowing you to focus on the here and now. I found it could finally pause those thoughts that consumed me for months. But the internal pain and the thoughts return. And so you self-harm again, and again, and again. It's a vicious cycle.

I was immediately struck by Lucy's story in the Guardian on her self-harm. She summarised perfectly why self-harm is so common in people with mental health difficulties.
“When you keep all your problems in, it feels like you’re screaming inside,” Lucy says. “But when you cut or burn yourself, the pain is more physical. You feel like you’re releasing that scream.”
I self-harmed over a period of years. And just as these occurred in a many forms, they were also triggered by a multitude of reasons.

At one period in my life - it was because I wanted someone to notice the scars and to ask if I was okay. It was a cry for help.
At another - it was because I thought I was worthless and I deserved it.
At another - it was because I liked the pain.
At another - it was to stop feeling and thinking.
At another - I just wanted to feel something.
And another - it was because I wanted to die.

Self-harm is as much a part of my mental health story as my insomnia or my weight loss. Hiding it away doesn't mean it didn't happen - it means that I was not ready to accept it as part of my story. Nor was I ready to move on.

I still find it difficult to speak about self-harm. I am ashamed that I deliberately and intentionally hurt myself. Repetitively. I wish I had known my self-worth. I wish I had been strong enough to resist the urge. I wish I didn't have scars. As I wrote on Monday, my mortality has been tried and tested.

But I don't want to continue to live in shame for my actions. I don't want self-harm to be a 'no-go areas' for me. It is a part of my story, and it is a part of my story that needs to be told to eradicate the stigma.

If you, or someone you know, needs help you can find support at my Getting Help page.

No comments:

Post a Comment