Self-harm is spoken about regularly in the media, more often that not however it is linked to teenagers and young adults as a symptom of the 'new' mental health issues ravaging young people today. Self-harm may be rising among young people but it is not a new problem and it is not limited to them. What I am going to tell you today is something the news stories rarely if ever talk about. Adult self-harm.
I first started self-harming as a toddler, I would bang my head against things, furniture, doors, the wall. Of course I barely remember this now, I have been told. But the situation I was in as a young child was not fantastic and it is not surprising that I was self-soothing.
Let me take an aside here, I have referred to self-harm as self-soothing. When you are surrounded by things which are painful and scary and you have no control over them. To cause yourself physical pain can be soothing, it makes no sense to say it out loud, and I'm sure to someone who has never self-harmed it makes no sense at all. But the feeling of calm that comes over you when you feel pain is very soothing. This is something I learned very young.
As I grew older, banging my head wasn't sufficient and escalated to scratching, pulling my hair out, and biting my tongue or the inside of my mouth. I didn't start cutting until I was about 16 or 17. There were times where my self-harm escalated to taking overdoses or my cutting was so bad I had to wear jumpers even in the height of summer. I have scars on my legs, arms and stomach.
Self-harming can become an addiction, this is something many people don't understand. The feelings you get from releasing your sadness, anger, distress into the self-harm becomes addictive. It becomes a need. I have been addicted to drugs and alcohol and self-harm has been far harder to kick than either of these.
I have received a lot of help over the years, been taught skills in distracting myself from self-harm how to avoid hurting myself. I'm currently being taught mindfulness which involves embracing your feelings and getting through them rather than being overwhelmed by them, which is what leads to self-harm. It is difficult and takes time and commitment but has been useful in some sticky situations so far.
I'm now 36, I hate being covered in scars, I've learned not to hide them any more though. My scars are part of me, they are a part of the battles I have been through and a part of the illness I have. I work hard to stay in "self-harm remission" and not to punish myself if I slip up.
It is not unusual to meet someone like me, I know of far more people my age and older who self-harm than younger, the difference is that few of us talk about it.
It's important that people understand self-harm is often part of wider mental health issues and like those mental health issues is likely to last a lifetime. This is not always the case but I have read so often in the past couple of years self-harm referred to as a "phase" or a "trend" and it is not. It is a painful and dangerous part of mental illness which needs to be taken far more seriously.
If self-harm is rising among our youngsters then this is a serious issue as these youngsters are the adults of tomorrow and their problems aren't suddenly going to disappear because they've aged.
There are some really good charities who can offer help and guidance to those with experience of self-harm: