I’ve avoided this topic for longer than I care to admit but here it is. For the sake of not chickening out I’m posting this without fully editing it, so if it’s comes across as a bit raw, I apologize. This post addresses self-harm and if this is a topic that could potentially be triggering for you, there is absolutely no shame in skipping it.
So here we go.
My battle against the voices in my head began at the age of 12. I have this memory of standing in the outrageously pink bathroom on the ground floor of our house in Westridge, butter knife in hand, staring at my reflection in the mirror. I’ve no clue what exactly lead to this moment but no one was home and suddenly the knife was in my hand and let me tell you, the discovery of how good it felt to drag a dull knife across the tender flesh on the inside of my left arm was positively monumental and the ultimate solution to the pent up pain I’d been carrying around inside me for months.
The pain was infinitely more manageable when there was a physical representation.
I continued on with minor scrapes and bruises and the occasional “accidentally-dropped-weight-on-my-toe” and moments of “I-forgot-the-pan-was-hot” until I was assaulted. From that night on my casual flirtation with self-harm evolved into a full-blown and completely toxic relationship. From age 19-22 it was this massive burden that I fought valiantly to hide and for the most part I succeeded. But there were times when the beast took over and I became a mere spectator in my own life. I was a junkie and razor blades were my drug of choice. There was this one party, a Mexican night at a friends house where I blacked out in a manic episode. At the time I was sleeping with a man who was, in retrospect, the worst man I could have ever possibly chosen to engage in intimate activities with and on this night in particular it really showed. After a quickie in a less-than-private setting, I locked myself in a bathroom, took apart my friends razor and slashed away. It is perhaps the night that I am most ashamed of in my entire “black-hole-history” and it ended in an emergency psych evaluation that I only just managed to pass. When I returned to the apartment the next morning he was still there and in a state of sheer disconnect and apathy I learned the real meaning of the term “being fucked into a mattress”. I was hurting and manic and let him use my body in an attempt to forget for just a little bit longer. It was the last time I ever saw him and while at the time it added more fuel to the fire that was my self-hate, him cutting off all contact was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at that point.
In my lowest moments I was hyper-aware of just how far I had fallen and that made me keener than ever to hide it. I was so utterly ashamed of the methods I had chosen to deal with my trauma and dodgy mental health yet was completely powerless to change them.
And maybe I didn’t fully want to.
When you’re in your early 20’s it’s easy enough to hide manic mannerisms. The self-destructive behaviours and actions can be easily misconstrued as just living life to its fullest. The one-too-many one-night-stands, the ever-growing collection of empties under your bed, the forgetting to shower and eat and sleep; these are all behaviours that healthy 20-somethings partake in from time to time. What makes these actions self-destructive is the intent behind them and their frequency and let me assure you, the intent behind my near weekly benders could not have been further from just having a good time. I drank to become numb to the physical pain I was subjecting myself to and cut myself to provide the inner demons an outlet. There was even a routine to it – I’d come back from base or work and swing by the off-license to collect my weekly bottles of wine. I’d get home, change into pajamas and take apart a razor. (Disposable razors are surprisingly easy to pick apart). A bottle of wine would be consumed, ‘Breathe Me’ by Sia would be played and before I knew it I was waking up hours later on stained sheets, my left arm stinging. I’d bandage it all up, eat a pita with hummus and don a long sleeve shirt and a smile, ready to act as though nothing had happened.
Most people bought it. Every time someone would notice a cut I’d promise that it was the first and last time it would happen and steer clear of them for a while, making sure to be completely covered up upon our next interaction. My family were far away and dealing with their own complications and I had no desire to add more stress to the already abundant heap they were buried under. Eventually, over time and with medication and therapy and hard work on my part, I stabilized. I picked up other habits. For a while I wore a rubber band around my wrist and snapped it whenever I felt the urge to find a blade. Now, I can hardly remember the last time I felt the desire to harm myself.
(I’m really proud of that)
Like most shameful habits, my self-harming left me with physical scars for the world to gaze upon. White lines adorn my left wrist and thigh, some of them raised, none of them faded enough to go unnoticed and they are a constant source of shame. As a nanny, I’ve yet to find an age-appropriate way to address them with curious children and their attentive eyes. As a woman, I’ve yet to find a comfortable way to address them with dalliances who question their origins. As a person, I’ve yet to forgive myself for inflicting lingering damage.
But I’m working on accepting that it was not a choice made from a healthy place. It was an addiction formed at a young age (because an addiction is what it is), not addressed until it was much too late to simply give it up. I’m working on forgiving myself and getting rid of the shame. A dodgy mind is not something to be ashamed of and if I could say anything to my younger self it would be exactly that.
This disease is not something to be ashamed of.
Your struggles do not make you weak.
Nor are they a burden.
You deserve the help you are too scared to ask for.
You do not need to struggle in silence, help is out there waiting for you.
Those who judge you for your past are not worth a single second of your time.
It’s OK to relapse so long as you try your hardest to pick yourself back up and get to a therapy session afterwards.
While the scars on your body may not make you a fierce tiger (damn you Instagram and your ridiculous ‘inspirational quotes’) they are not something to be hidden away beneath long sleeves in the height of summer.
You are not a victim but a survivor.
You have a future and it’s pretty damn bright.
Don’t let the scars of your past keep you from rocking that perfectly flattering tank top.
That’s all the cheesy cliches I’ve got for now.
My new resolve is to stop avoiding the topic. It’s one I typically brush off mostly out of fear for your reactions but honestly, that tactic feels pretty damn hypocritical. So if you want to know, ask away. Preferably not in a public setting but hey, whatever you feel is appropriate pub conversation.
If you find yourself struggling with any of the feelings I’ve mentioned above here are some resources you can avail of. Confidential services, an anonymous and virtual shoulder to lean on. People who understand and will help you find the support system that best suits you. And as always, should you so desire, contact me. I will talk you through whatever dilemma, big or small, mental health related or not, your heart so desires.
Girl Guide Honour.
Samaritans : 116 124 (UK) 116 123 (ROI)
CALM helpline : 0800 585858
No Panic : 0844 967 4848
Papyrus : 0800 068 4141
SANEline : 0300 304 7000
Take care of yourselves darlings and never let your dodgy mind become a point of shame. x