If I could go back a change one moment of my life, it would be the first time I self-harmed.
If I knew at the time that this one small cut would be the start of, what I’m starting to see as, a life-long battle, I maybe would have thought twice.
However, self-harm quickly became a crutch for my emotions, my only friend through crises. You rapidly get sucked into the cycle of emotional pain, self-harming, relief, guilt and shame, feelings of worthlessness, and then self-harming again.
Whether it was to punish myself for eating too much or as a way to deal with emotional pain, whether that’s the blame of surviving rape, depression, or anxiety, it was the only constant I knew. My body became the visible battleground of the ongoing war in my mind.
Self-harm will never be something I escape, I know that everytime I have a bad day it will be there calling me back, telling me that it’s the best way to deal with my feelings. For anyone who has never self-harmed it becomes very easy to say “well, why don’t you just stop?” or “you know this is causing you more damage in the long-term”, and if only it was that easy – but it’s an addiction. You start to crave that short period of relief even if you know the shame and guilt that inevitably follows. I became dependent on it as a way to cope – and I’m lucky, it was never ‘that’ bad.
Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I try to tell myself that I never ended up in hospital or that it never became something I couldn’t hide – and I do feel lucky, but then in the back of my mind creeps the darker side of ‘luck’ and the question of authenticity. It tells me that I never properly self-harmed because I didn’t cut that deep and that I was weak for not doing so – if only I was braver, then I would be entitled to tell this story. The fact that I felt the need to cut myself or bruise myself or burn myself surely is justification enough – I did things to myself that I would never do to another person, why can’t that alone be enough for me to feel valid telling this story?
Is it because when I told my parents about it they never mentioned it again? Or that when I went to the GP asking for help they just gave me a leaflet listing all the reasons people self-harm and how they do it? Or that people assumed I was doing it for attention?
I spent years hearing people describe self-harmers as attention-seeking, I still hear it today – and that really makes you start to think that about yourself. Always questioning whether this cut is about attention or if its ‘valid’ – but this misses the crux of the issue. If someone feels that the only way they can get the attention they need, whether its help or just someone realising that you’re not okay, is by harming themselves, something is very clearly wrong. Nobody should have to go to those lengths.
I want to go back and change what I said at the start of this article – I do wish I had never started self-harming, I wish it more than anything. However, if I could go back a redo one thing about my life, it would be to talk. Talk about my experiences with self-harm. Talk about my rape. Talk about what is going on inside my head when someone asks how you are, rather than just saying fine.
This one change would have had the biggest impact of all – and it’s a shame it took me 22 years to realise that.