I was horrified to learn last week that almost a quarter of 14 year old girls self harm or have self harmed. I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post as it’s such a misunderstood side of mental health and I’m also very conscious that writing about it is difficult because I don’t want to glamourise it or trigger something for someone. But it’s a side of my mental health that I have never really spoken about in great detail and one which I think needs more understanding and conversation.
I went through a period of self harming in my twenties when I was at my lowest ebb and the emotions, consequences and feelings it evoked were some of the most complicated I have ever had to deal with. To be in a position where you want to cause yourself physical pain to try and drown out the feelings in your head is not a pleasant one. And not one that should be taken lightly or trivialised.
Those months of self harming still haunt me now; the all encompassing anguish I felt, the visceral pain and sadness that was seemingly trapped in my head and my body. The only thing that helped relieve it for a nanosecond was cutting. The act of hurting myself and the physical pain acted as a moment’s rest bite and release from the torture inside my head. Because that’s something that unless you’ve been there you can’t imagine. The feeling of claustrophobia from your own mind and thoughts. The never ending conveyor belt of of pain and distress that no-one can see.
And this notion that it’s attention seeking is so misguided and ignorant. People do not wear their scars from self harm like a badge of honour; that’s why we go to extreme lengths to hide them, so no-one sees them and asks questions. And trust me when I tell you that most people’s reaction to seeing those scars aren’t all that considerate and tactful anyway. Society still doesn’t understand self harm and I can’t help but think it’s because it shows a brutal physicality to mental health struggles and is harder to ignore than someone saying they have anxiety or depression because it can be seen and once seen, can’t be unseen. It’s an act that doesn’t conform with the idea that you should just “put a brave face on it” or indeed to the idea that “you don’t look depressed”. It makes other people feel uncomfortable and more than anything, this is something most people can’t hack.
There’s still very much a sense that self harm is “emo” and the portrayals in the media don’t do much to help with this. How often have you watched a film or a show that depicts someone who self harms as someone who wears nothing but black, has a pale complexion and listens to My Chemical Romance on repeat? I recently watched the HBO series Sharp Objects and whilst I enjoyed it I was irked by their portrayal of Amy Adams’ character. Without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, she’d had a traumatic childhood and turned to self harming. They have her dressed in black throughout with smudged eyeliner and a very unconvincing drink problem – a lazy characterisation I felt. It would have been a great opportunity to draw attention to self harming but show it in a more realistic manner i.e. move away from the outdated stereotypes associated with people who self harm.
The scars on my arms may have faded – but the memories of sitting on my bedroom floor, blood dripping down my arm, feeling like it was the only answer, haven’t. It will pain some people to read this, but I still think about doing it sometimes when I’m in the midst of a particularly bad episode and the world feels like it is caving in. And probably more tragic is the reason why I don’t – the reminder of a “friend” seeing my arms and proceeding to grab them and say “God you’re such an emo”. The embarrassment and hatred I felt in that moment has stayed with me, never have I felt so inadequate. And that’s what stops me – the fear of judgement from others.
I am 33 years old, I have a degree, a good job and I like to think a certain amount of intelligence and understanding around mental health. Yet here I am telling you that I still feel like self harming sometimes because life gets that shit. I don’t because of what other people might think. How on earth are 14 year old girls who aren’t equipped with the same insight and life experience, and have so much more pressure from peers, meant to deal with that?
11 responses to “The first cut is the deepest….”
Thank you so much for writing this as thoughtfully and honestly as you have. You are someone I very much admire for pushing on through some horrendous times and am privileged to have spent a snippet of time with you. Please keep saying and doing everything to help me and many, many others have a modicum of insight into some tragically everyday sources of pain xxx
Great article again your insight and honesty are I hope a huge help to those who struggle daily or to those who wish to understand and help those around them.
The act of hurting myself and the physical pain acted as a moment’s rest bite and release from the torture inside my head.
Sorry to be critical but don’t you mean respite. 🙂
This resonated deeply. I got so used to dealing with my inner pain, that I just don’t externalize it. It’s all through my writing, or my music (which I keep very well hidden). There’s a world of pain inside, and I just wish I was able to let it all out, with people who understand and care. Reading this was thus so helpful, knowing that it happens to others, who do exactly what I do — coping with everything by themselves, being quite defensive, most of the time.
Even worse than that: wearing armour, which makes people believe you are untouchable, strong, resilient. They have no idea what it’s like being in here. And I’m glad they don’t have to, because it’s horrible.
Thank you for your courage, Michelle. Wishing you all the best.
I have thankfully never self harmed in this way, but this post moved me very much. I hadn’t thought so much about the glamorising of self harm (and alcohol addiction actually) in media like Sharp Objects. I liked the series actually and was happy that this female character had flaws, but your explanation has made me rethink that. I guess the same thing applies to Jessica Jones if you have seen that? She is not cutting herself, but is an alcoholic. Both the characters always wear black, are really very attractive and have a very exciting life.
I hope you are well. If you ever need an online ear/friend you can email me email@example.com or find me on twitter @featherytravels
I am a good listener. 🙂
The title of your blog got me by surprise
I think I chuckled a bit
Followed link to here from the BBC website article that appeared today (01/10/2018) Very brave and open, admire your courage in detailing (and dealing with ) this sort of anxiety and depression and bringing it out into the public arena. Not discussed or talked about enough in my opinion!
Thank you. Thank you for these blogs. I relate to much of what you post. The lonliness (even when surrounded) depression, anxiety and self punishment.
I’ve used social media (mostly facebook) to express my feelings. To a degree it helps. People are mostly symapthetic and understanding. But it’s all at a distance. That 1 to 1 sense of depth is missing.
I’ve been lucky in life in many respects. I do what I love for a living, get to meet and work with creative, entertaining and interesting people. But the black dog lingers.
Thank you again.
I just found this blog through the bbc website. Great article on loneliness, I’ve suffered it mixed with social anxiety and depression for most of my life, now at 50 I’ve got proffessional help and taken up cycling. I’ve also started a local cycling group at the weekends. I cannot stress how much a mere bicycle has saved my life! Definitely recommended.
I don’t self harm but I do struggle with depression. I have done since I was around 12 when it started with bullying at school. I’m now 46, divorced past 8 years after 24 years together and 2 amazing teenage boys.
I’ve always managed my depression, I used to get bad days when I wouldn’t leave my bed, but those were few and far between.
The past 8 years, since I split with my ex wife, have had massive ups and downs due to loneliness, I’ve got fantastic friends around me but the loneliness is drowning but I’ve never even contemplated self harm. I’ve thought about suicide on several occasions but never cutting myself.
And the past 8 years I’ve worked for the ambulance service and self harm is becoming a daily occurrence. And I’ve never seen one male that’s done it. Almost always young girls, teens, with a few women in their 40’s. And it’s always the same answer when you ask why. ‘it helps to release pent up anger, aggression, pain of being depressed. How? I really don’t understand. How can harming yourself ease anything apart from causing more pain? And I still don’t understand why it’s girls that predominantly do it. Like I’ve said, I’ve never seen one male and probably around 50 females now. When you talk to them about past help, the majority have had some kind of counselling, sometimes several times, yet they still regularly harm themselves.
Is there some information being passed around women via social media regarding self harm? Is it becoming fashionable? Or are women and girls just socially and emotionally inept now, that they think the cuts will make people see them?
No one who’s ever self harmed has ever been able to give me an answer but the thought going around staff in the ambulance service now is ‘girls, you need to sort your shit out’. Only you can change who you are and what you want in life.
It’s turning into an epidemic.
I assume this is your blog, Michelle. It was connected to the BBC article today. Such a beautifully honest read and one I reasonate with on so many levels. Female, London-based, good job, anxiety, lonely, figure lots of things could help but also share the same fears. I hope you do organise that group of music lovers in London. Would happily be a part of it. You are not alone 🙂 xx