I’ve held off on posting this because of the personal subject matter. I always intended to post it, just wasn’t sure when, and, well, since I’m shaking off a virus and am therefore pretty bored, seems like a good time for final edits. I was going to make it one post, but it’s pretty big, so I think I’ll take it in steps.
About 3 months ago:
Fuckety-fuck. I’m not sure if I’ve done the right thing. I told my parents I used to self-harm today.
I’m putting a read-more on these posts because I’ll be talking openly about the appeal that self-harm/cutting had for me at one time. I’m making a massive assumption that anyone will read this and, if they do, that they would be interested in my take on it. Nevertheless…
Telling them (parents) wasn’t something I intended to do, it sort of slipped out in conversation. I thought “What the hell?” …and just told them.
Okay, this is my history of self-harm.
The first time I did it was after reading or watching a TV show that mentioned it, can’t remember which. It was adolescent curiosity, I wonder what that feels like, mixed with the first inkling of psychological distress, which had increased as a teen.
I was fourteen or so. I scraped at one of my legs with a razor, sat on the floor of the bathroom, whilst running a bath. I was scared to do it. My fledgling attempts resulted in barely a scratch. “Sod this! This isn’t going to make me feel any better,” was my approximate conclusion.
I had a few more attempts after that. Not many. Just now and again. When I felt extremely upset I remembered this ‘technique’ that had been described as easing psychological pain and I experimented a bit.
I left school at 18 and couldn’t get a job because I had a ream of GCSEs but no life skills. I started to feel really low. Between 18 and 20 I started to self-harm properly. When the psychological pressure reached boiling point in my head, I calmed myself down by taking out my ‘kit’ – a razor/knife, antiseptic, plasters, lint, bandages – and attacking my skin.
Whereas my early attempts resulted in nothing more than a scratch and feeling foolish, my 18-20-year old attempts were helpful. I could assuage the psychological pressure by transferring it to physical pain. There were a few elements to the process that calmed me down.
The first was the ritual. Just getting my things ready to do it took my mind to a different place. Then the actual act. If I felt angry, swiping at my skin aggressively was an outlet for that anger. I also found the flow of blood calming. Like watching a stream of water, a red stream against white skin. It’s a cliché, but it was hypnotic. Finally, there’s the clearing up. Stopping the flow, dressing the wound, washing the knife or razor. All these elements drew my attention away from the previous head pressure that had built.
I self-harmed in this way, on and off, for a couple of years. I don’t remember it being everyday. More like a pattern of binges when I was particularly depressed or upset about something. So, I could cut myself three times in one week and then have a month where I wouldn’t cut at all.
Why Did I Stop?
I stopped for a few reasons:
Intervention: When I was 20 I was finally referred for psychological help. I was given anti-depressants, valium (a short course, until the anti-depressants had time to work) and talking therapy.
Another reason I stopped was that it became less effective over time. It just didn’t seem to help as much anymore.
New Coping Mechanisms:
Before I was put on drugs and talking therapy, I was sort of swimming out there on my own. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, so I was trying to treat myself, and self-harm was one of the very few tools I had to make the psychological pain ease off.
I didn’t stop self-harming as soon as I was referred for therapy and put on anti-depressants. It wasn’t as linear as that; life never is. My first experiences of treatment in the mental health system were not wholly positive. It was a start, but I had a long way to go, and at that stage I didn’t see self-harm as a primary problem. The primary problem was that I was going mad.