The first time I self-harmed I was sixteen. I had been struggling with my mental health for a while, and felt low, anxious and overwhelmed on a daily basis. I was desperate for a release from the distress I was experiencing and from what was going on inside.
At the time, the physical pain felt easier to deal with than the emotional pain I was experiencing. It gave me a sense of control, when I felt I had so little control over the distressing thoughts and feelings I had. However, it became my ‘go to’ way of coping, and it felt impossible to stop.
I never thought I was the ‘type of person’ who would self-harm; but this is one of many misconceptions about self-harm and the stigma surrounding it.
Just like struggling with your mental health, self-harm is something that can affect anyone.
One of the most common misconceptions around self-harm is that it is ‘attention-seeking’; however, for many people who self-harm, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nobody knew about my self-harm for a long time, and it was something which I kept a secret. At the time, I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I was self-harming and felt having turned to hurting myself as a way of coping with how I was feeling made me weak.
For others, self-harm might be a way of communicating the distress which they are feeling. For someone to turn to hurting themselves as a way of coping with how they’re feeling, this is so much more than ‘wanting attention’, and this stigma around self-harm can make it even harder for those who are struggling.
Another common misconception around self-harm is people are choosing to do it, and therefore can choose to stop.
The reality is, it’s not that easy. Self-harm became my ‘go-to’ way of coping with the difficult thoughts and feelings I was experiencing, and it felt like I would never ever be able to stop. I self-harmed for six years and stopping was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. However, I’m proud to be able to say I haven’t self-harmed for over two years – which is something I never thought I’d be able to say!
When thinking about how I was able to stop, it was a combination of getting to know myself better, gaining a better understanding of the underlying feelings I was experiencing, and finding distraction techniques, alternatives to self-harming and other coping strategies. The prospect of not self-harming seemed impossible, but through the combination of support, determination and time, it is something which I have been able to do.
When reflecting on the time I struggled with self-harm, I can recognise how far I have come. Although I wish I was never in a place where I was struggling so much that I turned to hurting myself, I now don’t regret or feel ashamed about it, as I know at the time it felt like the only way to cope with how I was feeling.
At times I still think about it, still experience urges to self-harm, and sometimes miss this ‘go-to’ way of coping when things feel difficult; but my relationship with and thinking about self-harm now is very different to what it used to be. I use different ways of coping when I’m struggling and things feel difficult, I know the difficult thoughts or feelings will pass and am able to remind myself I don’t want to fall back into the cycle of hurting myself.
I know there were times when the people around me found it difficult; difficult to understand why I was self-harming, and difficult to know how they could support me. It’s okay not to completely understand self-harm; as every experience will be different and nobody expects everyone to be an expert.
Providing a listening ear and being someone to talk to without fear of judgement or being made to feel bad, can be such valuable support.
When someone is struggling, it can feel such a lonely place and as though nobody understands. Struggling with mental health and self-harm rarely has a ‘quick-fix’; however, for someone who is going through this, knowing they’ve got people around them can provide much needed support. Nobody should have to struggle in silence, and I would encourage anyone who is struggling, to talk to someone and reach out for support.
I now work with Time to Change as a Young Champion, where I share my personal experience of struggling with my mental health; with the hope of raising awareness and reducing stigma. It’s okay to struggle and things can get better. Never underestimate the power of talking about your mental health, or listening to someone who is struggling.
“This too shall pass.”