The first time I hurt myself my intention was clear – it was a test run for how easy it would be to slit my wrists. The second time I hurt myself was different. I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. No ready explanation presented itself. I was sure it wasn’t a coping mechanism, because I certainly didn’t feel any better for doing it. It neither eased my pain or provided relief.
I was told unequivocally by loved one’s, “You are not to do it again”. Sharp objects were removed from the house and I was closely monitored at all times. It didn’t help though, the seal had been broken and I continued unabated.
I took to hurting myself in the shower, one of the few places where I couldn’t be watched if my wife wasn’t around. I used anything that could be grasped and scratched repeatedly on my skin until it cut and bled. I did it when I was only slightly anxious, I did it when I was completely overwhelmed. It became my default mechanism in times of stress.
For a while, nothing stopped me. Not the tears, the upset, the pain, the embarrassment of being seen in public covered in cuts and scabs. And why would it? I didn’t know why I was doing it, so why would I know what it was going to take to stop it?
Of all the things that have happened to me during my illness, self harm is still the most surprising. I never thought it was something I would resort to, naively dismissing it as the domain of teenage girls desperate for attention. But there I was doing it. When I look back now, I’m horrified at myself. Admittedly it was at a time where I was really struggling with my medication – I was all over the place, but still, how on earth did I get so low – so irrational – that I was willing to do it?
Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress – NHS website
Eventually, realisation dawned. I was ‘expressing overwhelming emotional distress’. Self harm was my way of showing people that I really wasn’t well. I wasn’t coping. Unable to express the feelings verbally, I was instead making a visual display. A display that quite clearly said, I am not alright.
Most people battling illness have physical signs. Quite often you just need to look at someone to know that they are not well, be it a runny nose, clammy skin, stitches or a plaster cast – there’s generally something you can see. I had nothing. To look at me would not reveal the distress I was in, the depths I was plumbing. That is, until I had my scars. My scars were visible, they were my battle wounds. It was pretty hard to ignore them.
Once I had finally worked out why I was hurting myself, the key to stopping it became fairly obvious. If self harm was expression, I needed a better way of expressing myself. I needed to talk. So I did just that. If I felt anxious, I told somebody. If I was upset, I let people know. I started writing about my experiences and chose to raise money for a mental health charity (more on that below). Finally, it was out there. People knew I was ill, so I didn’t have to show them anymore.