It’s not just the first of March. It is, as I discovered this morning when I read Mary Hamilton’s article in the Guardian, Self-Injury Awareness Day. So that old rhyme is, perhaps, a tad ironic.
And this morning, I was lucky enough to wake up in a bed with new clean sheets that weren’t stained with layered streaks of blood. I love my new sheets. I bought them before Christmas, spending much more money on them than I could afford, because I knew they were going to stay the colour they’re meant to be.
I don’t normally tell people about my history of self-harm. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed about it, although I still haven’t managed to show anyone my scars except a wonderful counsellor at Harmless in Nottingham. I just don’t think people would understand. Or they might think I’m so fragile I’m about to fall apart. Or something. To be fair, it’s only recently that I’ve started to understand it myself.
I’ve been depressed on and off for much of my life, starting when I was a teenager. I tried all sorts of tricks to get the attention I thought I needed. I remember I first cut myself with a pencil sharpener blade on my fingertips so I could write bad poetry in blood. Someone at school noticed, so I started cutting my forearms just enough for the blood to soak through my shirt sleeves. My parents ignored it, apart from one time when my mum screamed at me, ‘WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?’ It wasn’t long before the cutting itself became the end rather than the means – I started to hide it, and to cut deeper. I thought I was a bad person for doing it, just a spoilt brat looking for attention. But that wasn’t what was happening. I was using the cutting as a coping mechanism. The release from stress was magical – drawing a razor blade down my skin and watching the blood drops form, grow, and run together down my arm was the most relaxing sensation I could imagine.
Eventually it stopped working, so I gradually stopped doing it and started drinking instead. And after a thoroughly miserable year at university I pulled myself together, after a fashion, and thought I was OK. I pretty much was OK, apart from post-natal depression after both the hairy brats were born. I read about Princess Diana self-harming, and felt a little better about myself, and after a while I only thought about it once in a while.
The feeling OK didn’t last… you don’t need to know the details, suffice to say I had what they used to call a nervous breakdown towards the end of 2007. I was off work for nearly five months, during which time I did very little other than watch TV and look after the kids. And within a couple of months of going back to work I was made redundant. That didn’t do much for my state of mind.
I did pick myself up with the help of a cognitive behaviour therapist (who I had to stop seeing because I no longer had BUPA through work) and limped on for another couple of years. I enrolled for a creative writing degree and started to build myself a career in the writing industry. But by the beginning of 2010 I was in a mess again. And I didn’t have the luxury of six months paid leave from a relatively high-paying job. I had to get on with it. So I started cutting again. I cut one of my arms, once, every evening. Then I started cutting more, and it wasn’t long before I’d make as many as thirty or forty cuts at once. I started carrying a blade round with me so I could cut myself if something bad happened.
It was a coping mechanism, no more and no less.
In mid-2010 I was lucky enough to be accepted for a clinical study which involved a year’s cognitive behaviour therapy and direct access to a psychiatrist. I think, in a metaphorical and possibly even a literal way, that saved my life. I think, without it, I would either still be cutting, or I’d have got to the point where even cutting wasn’t working, and at that point I don’t know what I’d have done.
But now I’m full of energy, relentlessly cheerful and optimistic, and I reckon I’m strong enough to cope with anything – stronger than I’ve ever been. I know the danger of slipping back into depression is always going to be there, but I know the signs now. And if I get to the point again where I have to cut myself to feel better, then I’m going to look for help, and I’m going to try to get well again, but I’m not going to think badly of myself for cutting.
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