All this week YouthNet are sharing a series of blogs by young people and professionals with experience of self-harm in the lead up to Self-harm Awareness Day (1st March 2014).
- Image posed by models
Here, Charlotte (21) interviews Rosie* (23) about her experiences of self-harm.
Charlotte says, Rosie and I have decided to write a joint blog about self-harming. As the interviewer my job should be the easier of the two but, staring at a blank page, I start to wonder where to begin. What should I ask? What shouldn’t I ask? Why I am worrying about it so much? Well, I suppose it’s because like a lot of people I’m nervous about asking the wrong thing or being inadequate at giving support when I find out the answers. Sadly, I think, that’s the roadblock in many important conversations. It takes courage to answer the questions; it takes bravery to ask them. In all this doubt that’s the only thing I know for sure.
Actually that’s not true.
I know that Rosie has courage. That inspires me to be brave.
Charlotte: What form did/does your self-harming take?
Rosie: It ranged from taking painkillers to alcohol and cutting.
Charlotte: Do you know why you self-harm? Is it something that you can explain?
Rosie: Explaining why is always going to be difficult because sometimes
the reasons for your self- harm are unclear to you. It can take a long time to
The intention for me to self-harm was a form of ‘punishment’ to myself for what I perceived as my own failings in all the different roles I have taken on through my life; a sister, a girlfriend, a friend, a daughter or a future daughter in law. I felt I needed to release the emotional pain that overwhelmed me 24 hours a day, which always left me questioning why I couldn’t commit to university, why my marks continued to slip, why I refused to be comforted by friends and family and why my heart felt it was repeatedly being stamped on from the ending of my first relationship. I couldn’t understand why I was in certain positions, how my world literally had done a complete 360 leaving me at continual war with myself.
The pure content of all my emotions was impossible to handle and I felt, almost in the strangest way I needed to release it physically. I would draw myself in a complete out of state mind with painkillers and alcohol leaving me nearly numb, which is when I would physically cut myself and drift into a bitter-sweet sleep. That for me was my peace from the world as I knew it. Waking up in a tear soaked pillow and realising I had escaped from feeling this way for a few hours was joyous, but once awake and resuming back to normal life the self-infliction started all over again.
Charlotte: Have you told others that you self-harm? If so who did you tell and how did they react?
Rosie: I would always wear long sleeved tops and pretty much never showed my body in anything. Sometimes my Mum would notice my wrists but I would say I had a rash and would conceal cuts with make-up.
It was around six months later I decided I needed to seek support and I found solace with the counselling services at my University. Even with the tranquil environment I still felt like a patient, and it was only until my third session did I begin to share and see that things started to change. The reaction I received was the most shocking. It wasn’t pity and it wasn’t trying to remedy me into a new ‘normal’ person. It was comforting words, words that would sit in my mind and crop up after the session kindly forcing me to question what I was doing. It was the use of imagery she used, not the comparison of pain or circumstances but to make me re-think things in my head (strange because all I did was think!). She listened in a way that made me feel love for myself again.
Charlotte: What’s the best way for someone to support you?
Rosie: Listening to the bottled up emotions and understanding that this
(no matter how temporary) is a reflection truly of what I am going through is
the best support I received. The next step is speaking to you with no judgement or pity but instead helping you question why you are in this state of mind.
Charlotte: One of the myths about self-harm is that it is ‘a phase’ or ‘attention seeking’. Why do you think these stereotypes have come about and what would you say to someone who accused you of these things?
Rosie: To say someone’s self-harm is a phase or a way of attention seeking is completely irrelevant to what can be one the most difficult times in somebody’s life. How do you know the person self harming doesn’t question their own actions? How do you know how real this is to them? Your judgement impairs on how you will treat that person and possibly impact that person in a way that can worsen their situation. Self-harm is completely individual and is a reflection of that person’s trauma and experience. It is nothing anybody can completely understand and, with that being said, it deserves respect and sensitivity regardless of anybody’s reserved judgements and feelings.
Charlotte: Do you think that having a more open dialogue about self-harm would help to change these attitudes?
Rosie: YES – It must be spoken about if we want anything to change. Having an open dialogue could bridge an understanding between those who feel isolated through self-harming and those who have judgements about it.
Charlotte: What advice would you give to someone who self-harms?
Rosie: Find something about yourself you love … look at photos, memories, journals, diaries, birthday cards, personal messages. It doesn’t have to be something you perceive as big as building a school for a third world country, it can be tiny- like if you’ve made a friend laugh when they were on the verge of tears or you’ve made a cake for your Mum’s birthday (even if it is a cake mix!). Whatever it is, hold on to it and say these five things:
1. I am valuable in this world and there is no other me (we are all unique!)
2. I want to love myself because somebody in this world loves me (they do!)
3. I am more than self-harm; I can have dreams, goals and ambitions (you can make your life!)
4. I want to help save myself so I can have a healthier life (everything can and does get even a little better!)
5. I am not alone (there is so much support out there, the hardest thing
is reaching out for it)
A note from the interviewer, Charlotte:
I have taken many things from what we have discussed but something which especially resonated for me was the importance of ‘having an open dialogue could bridge an understanding’. I believe the conversation that we have had here is an invaluable part of building those foundations whose aim is to create a mutually trusting, compassionate and informed dialogue.
Above all I hope that our blog will encourage others to have these kinds of discussions and that, in doing so, people might find support which may otherwise have been lost in silence.
*Name has been changed.
Our thanks to Charlotte and ‘Rosie’ for sharing their personal insights and experiences. More information and support for self-harm is available on TheSite.
Self-harm Awareness Day (1 March) is a global awareness day aimed at breaking down some of the myths and stereotypes around self-harm and raising awareness about the support available to people. This is the fourth year that ChildLine, Selfharm.co.uk, YouthNet and YoungMinds have come together to ensure young people experiencing self-harm have access to information, support and advice whenever and wherever they need it.
Follow #selfharmawarenessday on 1 March.