Today is Self Harm Awareness Day, or Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) as it is sometimes called.
I believe huge stigma exists for people experiencing mental health difficulties. However, if you are someone who uses self harm as a coping mechanism that stigma is much greater. Not juts by others who don’t understand why you might want to hurt yourself, but by many mental health professionals too.
So I decided to write a blog post that wouldn’t so much alienate people who self harm and identify them as these other strange people who we should be afraid of, but instead maybe encourage a little compassion for them.
Self harm… The stereotype suggests that it is something that young girls do, something attention seekers do, something ‘emos’ do, something fueled by Internet forums and sites like Tumblr. You must listen to a certain genre of music and act a certain way. People who self harm are referred to as the ‘other’, it couldn’t possibly be something someone you know might use as a coping mechanism, or something you yourself might ever use as a coping mechanism. But the fact of the matter is, there are people who self harm all around you. They are successful people, regular average people just like you or I. I say this as I am one of those people. I am someone who has battled with self harm for 17 years.
This may sound like a long time, and you’re right it is. It feels like a lifetime and I suppose it is… It’s my lifetime and looking back it has been a long difficult journey. But it has shaped me into the person I have become today. It has made me a stronger person, and it has taught me to rise again after every fall.
Self harm began as a way of expressing my hatred for my body and for myself. I hadn’t read about self harm online, I didn’t have friends who engaged in self harm and I wasn’t the type of person who paraded my scars around for people to see. Instead self harm was something that was private to me. It was something that I was extremely ashamed of, and something that terrified me. I had a complete love hate relationship with it. In fact I had a complete hate hate relationship with it.
At times I felt that I needed to self harm in order to survive. I believed it was the only way I could release some of the internal pain I was going through. Like a pressure cooker it allowed me to ‘control’ or release some of the pain and hurt that I had bottled up inside. If I hadn’t self harm at these times I truly believed that I would have exploded with one almighty bang. That would be it forever. No return.
Then there were the times that self harm was my mortal enemy and was something that I hated with a passion. It was and still is something that has taken so much away from me. Relationships with friends and family, many nights in when everyone else was enjoying themselves out, and summers covered head to toe with clothes despite the sun’s rays.
As my depression got worse over the years. So did my self harm. Sometimes I would manage months at a time free from self harm, only to fall off the wagon and be back to square one. The longest I have ever gone free from self harm has been 2 and a half years, which takes me up to recently. Unfortunately in recent months self harm has become part of my life again which I’m extremely disappointed and ashamed about.
The fact I self harm is not something I am proud of. It does not mean that I’m an attention seeker. In fact it means quite the opposite- it is something that is private to me and is a secret I hide from almost everyone I know.
The problem with self harm is that it is something that is almost impossible to understand unless you have experienced it yourself. It is hard to understand why anyone would willingly inflict pain on themselves, but can you imagine how much emotional pain a person must be in, if inflicting physical pain is the only thing that helps?
So how can we tackle something like self harm? Personally I think it all comes down to compassion. I know that if I had more compassion for myself, I might not feel the need to hurt myself, to inflict pain on myself or to treat myself with such hate. I know that if people had more compassion towards mental ill health that I wouldn’t feel the need to feel so ashamed every time I went through another ‘bad spell’. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel the need to internalize it, to keep it a secret, to feel so ashamed that I cannot ‘cope’ with life when everyone else seems to handle it all with such ease.
I know that the reason why many people shy away from self harm is because they’re scared. This goes for many health professionals who are terrified by self harm. There is so much to learn about self harm and I believe one starting point is to show compassion.
I know there is this belief by many professionals that if they show compassion or understanding that it somehow makes self harm an acceptable coping mechanism.
Believe me it doesn’t. Far from it.
But if you don’t show compassion a person who uses self harm prob won’t trust you or tell you what is really going on.
If someone you know is self harming instead of reacting with horror, react with compassion. What that person needs is for you to love them at a time when they are unable to love themselves. Don’t judge them, just accept them for who they are. Self harm might be a part of their life for now but it doesn’t always have to be.
Finally whether you self harm or know someone who self harms, have patience. Unfortunately there is no quick fix. You cannot rush the healing process, but you can definitely help it along. There will be many slip ups along the way- but don’t ever give up. Yes it is easy to say that, but much harder to practice it. But please…. you might not feel worth it now, but you are worth so much more.
If you are struggling with self harm or suicide please contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email email@example.com