When I was 14 years old, I was suspended two weeks before the official start of the Christmas holidays. I’d been self-harming for months at my boarding school, while firmly believing that I’d been exceptionally secretive.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by a group of people who pulled away every lie and excus
e until I had no choice left but to accept help. At the time, I hated them all. Despite the hours that these people had spent trying to understand and support me, I felt deeply betrayed.
“But you had a lovely childhood,” said my tearful mother on the excruciating car journey home, in an attempt to make sense of what I’d done.
“Maybe I didn’t,” I replied, feeling simultaneously cruel and vindicated.
This was not true in the slightest. It seems obvious now, but the harm I was inflicting extended far beyond my body. Giving in to my addiction left me feeling scared and lonely, which outwardly manifested as spite and aggression when my secret was exposed.
Discovery was inevitable - behavioural changes don’t go unnoticed for long in the close confines of a single sex boarding school. The first people to intervene were my dormitory friends, who would extract me from bathroom cubicles at 1am and let me talk or cry until I fell asleep. Every morning, I would tell them that it wouldn’t happen again and assure them that no one else needed to know.
One of the most dangerous aspects of my self-harm was that it made me feel smart. During the day, I was outgoing, focussed and high achieving, which must have validated my promises. Reality hit at night, when I relied so heavily on a certain group of friends that they practically had a rota for keeping an eye on me. They gave their time and care selflessly, whilst I piled emotional labour on to them without ever really thinking about their health or wellbeing.
After weeks of trying to help me on their own, my friends were brave and rational enough to tell a member of staff. I was called in for a meeting with the deputy head and referred to the school counsellor. This was my nadir, a period where I constantly lied, continued to self-harm and swung wildly between mania and depression.
Despite my increasingly antisocial behaviour, the support network I had only grew. My older cousin became my big sister, even as her A-levels loomed. My chemistry teacher gave me bags of glow sticks and red marker pens after researching distraction techniques. When I refused to remove my jumper at a cross-country race, my P.E. teacher signed me off sport for as long as I needed. The friends who’d been there from the start continued to endure my rages, tears and silences.
When the school couldn’t legally handle the situation any longer, my parents were called in. My world imploded. I realised that by distancing myself from them, I’d made the ultimate wound. Without time for apologies or gratitude, I found myself unwillingly deposited into the hands of professionals at a mental health treatment centre.
I believe in the remedial effects of psychiatry, but I don’t think I was healed by clinical therapy. In fact, the only thing I remember from the sessions is a swirly brown carpet pattern. My breakthroughs happened because of the support I was given at home, conversations with my friends and letters from my teachers. I returned to school in January for three and a half years of recovery lapses, which ended with a place at a top university. My success is irrefutably tied to the help I received from those people.
I doubt that any of them know how much I appreciated their support and non-judgement. I never told them, perhaps because I was waiting for a significant end point. Nearly ten years on, I still haven’t reached this fabulous conclusion where I am completely free from doubt and depression. All I know for sure is that the level of stability I have now would have been impossible without the care that they provided. It’s as good a time as any to say thank you, you brilliantly kind humans. I was extremely lucky to have you all in my corner when I didn’t want to help myself.