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Inside the Mind of a Cutter: How Self-Harm Monopolised My Every Thought

10/07/2014 17:10 BST | Updated 09/09/2014 10:59 BST
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PLEASE NOTE: SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND THIS TRIGGERING

For 20 years I spoke through my skin because I couldn't find the right words.

Instead of a best friend to play with, I had a pair of scissors. And instead of a voice, I got stuck on a merry-go-round of bottling things in and bleeding them out.

The question I often get asked is: "Why?" What could make me feel so low that I would want to drag a blade across my own flesh.

Having had nearly two decades to gnaw over an answer, I'm still not really sure, other than - being brutally honest - I think I liked it.

It wasn't about the injury I inflicted though, cutting never deviated towards sadomasochism, it was about searching for contentment.

Just as an alcoholic defaults to binging, or a gambler to spending, my illness/vice is that I'm wired to inflict pain on my body.

While the text book diagnosis of why people self-harm holds some truth - 'it's a coping mechanism', 'it's a relief', 'it dulls the emotional pain' - there is something more abstract that I struggle to put into words. A psychological bond as well as a physical gratification; where I personified an obscure act into my dependable crutch.

The first time I cut myself I had just turned 12, the memory ingrained like a first kiss; I can still picture the weapon I used, where on my arm I did it and the macabre rush it gave me.

With dad working long hours and mum busy battling my older sister's teenage rebellion, it was easy to hide in my bedroom a lot. The more I withdrew, the more detached I became. By the time I started secondary school, I was an easy target for bullies as I never bit back.

In truth, I didn't really understand it at the time, but it seemed to externalise what I was feeling inside.

It was then that the addiction was born; I began to harm myself anything from once a day to once an hour. At home, at school, drunk at a club. Sometimes minor, sometimes needing stitches. Making weapons out of everyday objects, my fists, whatever I could find.

The more damage, the louder my 'voice', just as an anorexic might feel the more pounds they lose on the scales.

I quickly learned how to be crafty at concealing my wounds; soon defaulting to my stomach, thighs or upper arms where it could be more easily hidden. I wore bracelets up to my elbows, lived in a prison of long sleeves and would pretend I was cold all summer long.

The extent of the dependency deepened in my teenage years, when I sunk into a severe depression. I turned into a caricature of the school loner, preferring to be in solitary, enjoying the fact I didn't fit in as I no longer wanted these bullies as friends. I grew tougher, my barriers concrete thick so they couldn't hurt me first.

From having initially cut because I was hurting and couldn't articulate emotions, I then began to do it as I was numb and wanted to 'feel' again having made a statue of myself.

It began to monopolise every thought, every aspect of life, I became possessed. I carried weapons around for whenever the urge struck. I began to write words on myself. I did some very disturbing things while desensitised to the gore under its spell.

Self-harm became the demon I idolised as my 'mentor'; something I'm still reluctant I've had to give up and begrudge seeing as self-destructive.

I've always thought it's no different to smoking a cigarette or spliff when people are stressed, my downfall is that the damage is on the outside rather than inside. Only when I see or hear of other people doing it can I see the problem objectively and realise how I trivialise it.

Maybe it could be likened to Stockholm Syndrome; an irrational love and dependency for something that 'looked after' me in the most brutal way possible.

For a long time, I didn't want to give it up nor did I want to recover. I was in it's grip, I felt like it defined me; who would I be without it? I was loyal to It.

With the right medical care, a career in journalism and finding love, I eventually started to get better. I began using my body positively rather than negatively; playing with clothes, tattoos, even my hair to tell a story. While bright pink dye may look like a symbol of confidence, it's my way of saying I don't fit in - a version of raising the barriers before people get to me.

It can still be a steep hill to climb and people are not always subtle when they stare, but I try to wear my scars with pride. They are a part of me, something I picked up along the way of life's journey, part of my story.

But now I know I cherished It more than it ever did me.