I had always found school really tough and, for heaps of different reasons, never really felt like I had a place. Eventually I began to feel like things were much too difficult. I was tired of pretending everything was fine and tired of having to wake up everyday and face myself.
To deal with the pain I started self-harming. It began as once or twice a week but then gradually increased to a couple of times everyday for the next two years. Two of my closest friends found out about what I was doing but unfortunately they actually thought it was a good thing. A while later I realised that they had started to self-harm as well.
Gradually I started getting more depressed and started contemplating suicide. It got to the point where I would be thinking about self-harming all the time.
So….. Why was I doing this to myself? When I harmed myself I felt less numb, I felt that I deserved to be hurt, and I hurt myself because sometimes physical pain is easier than facing emotional pain. In some twisted sense it gave me confidence because I felt it was the one thing I was actually “good” at. For once I thought I could actually do something right. The fact that my friends were engaging in the same behaviour made things a million times more difficult.
At this time I felt extremely ashamed; I didn’t want anyone to know that this was how I spent hours of my time. I was terrified that I would be admitted to hospital and put on drugs. I was scared that my family would hate me and I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problem. I went to great lengths to keep it a secret.
Unfortunately things definitely got worse before they got better. I was starting to get more and more anxious, to the point where the only thing that gave me any relief was the thought of killing myself. On a few occasions I tried, but one night I came closer than I wanted to.
Fortunately this incident frightened me so much that I decided to call it quits. I guess I got too close and I realised that I couldn’t go through with it. I also realised that I wanted to live. Although this was a hard way to find out, I am so glad that I did.
That night I made a promise to myself that this was the end of self-harming.
Swapping one harm for another
Although I had ceased self-harming in one particular way, I still had to deal with the insecurities and problems that were in my life at the time. I went on to find other ways to abuse myself.
I pretty much stopped eating properly for the next nine months. Depriving myself was again another method I used to avoid facing things.
My family were pretty worried but they never confronted me directly about it – in some ways this made me feel like what I was doing was normal, or maybe even okay. One day a close friend approached me and asked me what was going on. This conversation pushed me back into reality a little bit and I started to work towards getting myself back together.
The thing that I found really hard was once I actually started to get my life back on track I still had to deal with the physical scars left from my self-harming days. The scars really upset me. I thought that no one would want to be friends with me or be in a relationship with me. I thought if people found out what I had done they would think I was a freak or they might think that I needed to be treated with extra caution. For 3 years these thoughts controlled the way I was living my life. In summer I got so depressed because I didn’t feel like I could go outside and do simple things like wear a t-shirt. I was again starting to feel like there was no point in making a life for myself.
Somehow, through desperation, and with the help of a very close friend, I eventually got the courage to go and ask a doctor about getting the scars removed. I was so scared; I was still certain that people would call the mental health crisis team on me, but I was also desperate for some relief, so I took the risk.
That day I was lucky to meet a great doctor who treated me with total respect and didn’t make me feel crazy. He told me about some procedures that would help minimise the scarring but explained that this would cost about six thousand dollars to do – money I didn’t have.He said that he had seen heaps of people with my same issue – this made me feel so much better, I never thought this would be the case.
He then told me something I would never forget “just get on with your life, life is too short”. Although this may sound like a harsh thing to say, he said it with complete compassion. When I walked out, for the first time in 3 years, I felt that I could maybe start living again, I had told someone about my self-harming and they had understood.
Faith in people
Gradually I got the courage to tell people and I was shocked to find out that most people actually were okay. I had to put some faith back in other people because I think during this period I had decided that no one would possibly understand. I wish I had told people sooner, and then I wouldn’t have had to carry the burden on my own.
At peace with me
In terms of my scars, I never thought I would be at peace with my body ever again. If you had told me 2 years ago that I would one day be okay I would have laughed. I am writing this now 5 years after I stopped self-harming and can say that I am happy within myself and even content with my scars. Even if someone invented a magic way to get rid of them, I would definitely refuse to have them removed. Now I have learnt that this is a part of me and it is something I don’t want to forget. My scars are a reminder to me of how close I came to the edge. Having them there gives me strength and reminds me how far I have come.
What helped me
I would like to share with you some strategies that I used to get myself through this really intense period in my life:
The best (and obviously the most difficult) thing you can do is tell some one else about what’s going on. I only started telling people 2 years after I stopped, I wish now that I had done it sooner. I lived in fear for 3 years before I decided that others would understand.
Self-talk is also really important. I started to consciously monitor my thoughts and think about how negative self-talk was impacting on my quality of life. I gradually started to change the way I was thinking about myself – even if at first I didn’t believe what I was saying, very slowly it started to stick.
My other major outlet was through my art. I spent a lot of time taking photos, writing poetry and playing music with friends. Being able to channel energy in a creative way helped me build up more confidence within myself.
Visualising a future for all of me
Dealing with the scars was tough. I always visualised myself in the future in a certain light; unfortunately my scars were never a part of this picture. I gradually started to consider a future that included my scars; by picturing myself in different circumstances I began to see that there was hope. Doing this for a while really helped me come to terms with my situation. I could now see a future that included these parts of myself, rather than one that wanted to forget any of it had ever happened.
Funnily enough punishing myself through self-harm ended up causing me heaps more problems than what I started out with.
Looking forward to the future
These are some of the strategies that I still use almost every day – even when I am feeling really good. I am now more aware that I am someone who can go from being really happy one minute to getting depressed the next; so it’s extra important for me to keep these things in my life.
I am now in the 3rd year of a social work degree. I am doing social work because I want to make a difference to other people’s lives in a positive way. I hope that in some way I can turn this experience into a positive thing, even if it means making one other person feel a little bit less alone – then it would all be worth it.
If anyone reading this suspects or knows that their friend or family member is self-harming, don’t ignore it. Self-harming is serious and people who engage in self-harm need support and lots of understanding. With the right support and strategies, I know form personal experience that it is possible to get through this.