Why do so many young girls self harm
Below is the frank, open and honest retelling of one girls story of her self harm. When I read this my heart breaks a little and tears stream down my face and I wonder if it is the right thing to share. Then I read on and realise how powerful it is, how much I learn every time I read it and the open and honest plea it makes ,not only young people but the very systems that are set up to support them. I have chosen to keep her identity off the blog, but do know her and I am happy to pass any questions or comments on to her.
The Beginning of my Self Harm journey
I think the first time I thought about self-harming was when I was about eleven and I got in trouble for something I didn’t do and I remember being so angry but knowing I couldn’t take it out on my mum and dad, so I took a sewing needle and scratched at the back of my hand with it. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong or what self-harming was, I just knew I was angry and that the pain took it away.
I didn’t do it again or even think about it again until I was 13 and I was spiralling into self-destruction.
I think at that point I was self-harming indirectly anyway by putting myself in dangerous situations and acting up in any way I could, but a fall-out with a friend triggered me to cut my wrist with a pair of scissors. At this point I did know what self-harming was as another close friend of mine was using it to cope with problems at home.
“Are any of your friends doing this?”
She’s always blamed herself for me starting to self-harm and actually any teachers, doctors and councillors who tried to get to the bottom of it would ask, “Are any of your friends doing this?” Looking back I had a really bad experience in these professionals who were supposed to be trained in dealing with this kind of thing. The pastoral care team at school would call me an attention-seeker and would tell me to get a grip because so many people had it worse, the doctors would look at the cuts and say that they weren’t a cause for concern and my CAHMS worker at the time would play down my issues and tell me that we all had some unhealthy ways of dealing with life. But that’s not what I needed to hear and hearing that what I was doing was almost normal behaviour encouraged me to carry on rather than deal with my self-harming as an issue.
I’d see things in films or on TV where someone would cut themselves and I’d compare the severity of their self-harm to mine and see myself to be failing when my cuts couldn’t get as deep or severe. I thought I was doing this all wrong and that’s why it had stopped helping.
It became an addiction
By the time I was 16 I was pretty much dealing with an addiction, I wasn’t hurting myself to deal with my problems anymore; I was doing it because I had to keep going. It was like a ritual and I would do it every night before going to sleep. Everyone who knew me knew I was dealing with this because of things like getting changed for PE and having to roll my sleeves up in practical food tech lessons or science and I did face some bullying because of it, which of course only made it worse. My self-esteem was so low, I hated everything about myself and I had no one to talk to and no real friends to confide in and so I began cutting hateful words into my skin. I used a blade to write ‘fat’ on my leg and ‘worthless’ on my stomach and yet I was still being told this was no cause for concern.
I didn’t want to stop cutting but I didn’t want to carry on either. Because I was confused I didn’t see that what I was doing was going to affect my future or make people worry about me but at the same time I was so low I needed people to worry about me and worsening the self-harm was the only way I knew how to.
So the cutting got worse again, I was more or less challenging myself to get deeper and deeper each time I cut and would spend hours extracting blades from razors and pencil sharpeners and finding ways to make them even sharper, my internet search history was just filled with me trying to find methods to cut deeper or sharpen things.
Someone saw me as a human not an attention seeker
When I left high school and went to sixth form my support system improved a lot. The pastoral care team were far better trained in this area and for the first time ever I spoke to an adult who actually listened to what I was dealing with and wanted to help me rather than sending me on my way because this ‘attention seeking’ behaviour was unimportant to them.
The cutting became less habitual and I went back to using it as a coping mechanism in times of crisis rather than every night. The scars began to heal, most were disappearing and the occasional cuts I was doing were hardly deep enough to scar at all. At the end of last year I had another massive relapse though, which was triggered when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up and I was cutting deeper than ever before. I think I had to have first aid treatment on them a few times when it was picked up in college that cuts from the night before were still bleeding through my sleeve. I think the reason I was cutting so deep was because it wasn’t working anymore, it wasn’t numbing the emotion like it once did and that lead to me taking an almost lethal paracetamol overdose. I wasn’t trying to die but more stop feeling things. After that day I didn’t cut for a very long time. I think I had had sort of a realisation that I’m ruining my body so much for something that doesn’t even help anymore. I still have occasional relapses and sometimes they aren’t even triggered by hurt or feeling depressed, but more an urge to do it.
Why did no one see it as a problem?
It’s difficult to say, even now what will or might have helped but when I think about how much the issue was just pushed aside rather than addressed, I wonder if things would be different now. If people like teachers, doctors, parents or even my friends had seen it as a problem that needed dealing with rather than seeing it as something not yet at crisis point and choosing not to waste time with it, because by the time it did get to crisis point it felt almost as though there was no turning back.
My plea to young people
I’m always desperate to be able to talk to people who are thinking about cutting or who have maybe just started because I know they aren’t thinking of the impact now, but if I could just show them my arms, show them what I go through every morning having to specifically pick outfits based on both the weather and who I’m going to be around that day, I wish I could tell them how hard it is to do a dance class in a hot room with long sleeved tops on or how family holidays become anxiety-ridden because you don’t want grandparents seeing your cuts or scars and worrying about you. And now I have to think about my future because there are people and professions that would avoid employing me if they saw my scars and I could only cover them with tattoos, but then would employment become even harder? I just need young girls and boys to know the extent of the impact and the length of time that it will still affect you for when you deal with emotions by cutting into your skin.