R U OK? I wasn’t.

 *Trigger warning: This post may raise issues for readers who have experience with self-harm, depression or suicide.*

This is the most difficult post I have written on my blog. It is a side of myself that I keep very private. What I am writing about will come as a surprise to most people I know including some very close friends.  And that is kind of the point. Mental illness is not black and white. It is not always obvious. It can be very dangerous. It is possible to survive it though and come out the other side stronger.

R U OK? Day 2013September 13th is R U OK? Day. A day to encourage people to ask friends, family and colleagues ‘Are you OK?’  Not just on this one day but regularly, to open the channels of communication around depression, anxiety, suicide.

People often assume that they know what depression looks like. People like to think that they would notice if something was wrong, really wrong, with someone they are close to. That they don’t need to ask “Are you OK?” because surely a friend would tell them if they weren’t.

A few years ago, I was so far from OK that I thought I’d never be OK again.

I have always been honest and upfront about my depression on this blog. Regular readers are aware of my ups and downs, my battles with the Black Dog.

What I have never shared though, what I have been too ashamed to share, is that for three years I was a self harmer. I regularly cut myself. I was not a teenager, an ’emo’ or outwardly depressed or morbid. I was in my mid twenties and worked as a coordinator. I would walk around the office, smiling and joking with my colleagues, with bandages on my thighs hidden by tights and long skirts. I had close friends who I would regularly see during this time, go out to dinner, movies, have D&M’s about relationships. They still don’t know that I was a ‘cutter’.

The first time I cut was a few days after I left my first husband. I felt so sad, so lost, so out of control. I just didn’t know what to do. There was so much pain inside of me that I felt like I was being consumed. I don’t know what thought process occurred that night when I picked up a knife and cut my upper arm, over and over again until it bled. To this day I can’t tell you why, just that I felt better after it. It was almost like a release, to see that blood, to feel the tangible pain of cutting as opposed to the conceptual pain inside that ate away at me.

It became my coping mechanism. It was a way I could control my pain on my own terms. I became smarter about it. I cut my upper thighs, which could be easily hidden. Once I finished, once I felt that release, I was taken over by the most incredible sense of calm. I would clean myself up, wash away the blood. I would apply antiseptic cream to avoid infection and would tightly bandage my legs up to stop the bleeding. The next day I would replace the bloody bandages and get dressed for work. If someone watched me very closely they may have noticed I walked a little more slowly, perhaps more stiffly. They may have noticed a slight wince cross my face as I sat down and stood up. They would have thought I’d probably gone for a run the night before. Maybe to the gym.

I cut myself on and off, for about three years. Sometimes I felt like I was watching myself from a distance. I was horrified at what I was doing. This was crazy. I was crazy. Who does this to themselves? It was dangerous. Sometimes the cuts were deep and it was hard to stop the bleeding. I used to think to myself, “Is this what you want? To die like this, and everyone to find out how insane you are?”

But I didn’t know how to stop. I hated myself, I was disgusted by myself. A voice inside my head would tell me over and over ‘you are so fucked up’. I felt damaged beyond repair.

I was leading a double life. On the outside, I was so ‘normal’. There are people probably reading this right now who knew me during that time and I imagine they will be pretty shocked. The only outward difference was that I stopped wearing short skirts and shorts, stopped wearing bathers and started wearing long board shorts. Certainly nothing that would raise any alarm bells. There were a few people that I told at the time. I don’t think they knew what to say, how to help, understandably. Self harm is not something that is spoken about or if it is, there seems to be a perception that it’s something teenage girls do for attention.

Did I do it for attention? I don’t know. I didn’t think so at the time but maybe it was a cry for help? A scream for help? Looking back at that time of my life, I feel like I was balancing on the edge of insanity. On the one side there was the part of me that understood how crazy this was, how stupid, how dangerous. And on the other side was the part of me that had given up. That had decided that this was my life, this was all I was worth. That things would never get better and it would always hurt this much, just to exist.

Then one day, I stopped. I was in an emotional state where I would normally resort to cutting and I remember, so clearly, just thinking ‘No. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ I lay my head down on the table, and I cried and cried. And without realising it at the time, I chose life. I got rid of all the knives and scissors in the house and eventually the urge to cut faded away. (I don’t mean to simplify what I went through, I was seeing a psychologist on and off throughout this time and worked on a lot of issues. I am just trying to be succinct and to the point for the purpose of this post, otherwise you would be reading for days!)

Fast forward a few years and how my life has changed. I am married to a good, kind man and a mother to an almost three year old child. That time of my life is like a nightmare, I can’t quite believe that it was real. Except I carry the scars on my body, to this day. I still can’t wear bathers. If I buy a dress or shorts, I have to test them sitting down first, to make sure they don’t ride up and reveal my scars. I wont get my legs waxed or spray tans, in case someone asks about them. One day I will have to explain to my daughter how I got them, just like I had to explain to my now husband, when we first started dating.

My scars remind me every day how far I have come. How close to the edge I was and how lucky I am to be living the life I am now. Believe me when I tell you, I never thought I would be where I am today. I didn’t think I would make it.

You think that you know the people around you. The people you work with, the friends in your social circles. You think you would notice if someone was struggling with life. But maybe you wouldn’t. And that is why R U OK Day is so important. Not because that’s the day where you go around asking everyone “R U OK?” but because it raises awareness and encourages people to start talking and more importantly to start listening.

You can learn more about R U OK Day here.

If you need urgent support, or are worried about someone you can contact the following agencies for help:

13 11 14 – 24/7 telephone crisis support, as well as online one-one-one crisis support (8pm-Midnight AEST)

Kids Helpline
1800 55 1800 – 24/7 telephone counseling for young people 5–25 years, as well as online and email counseling (check website for hours)

Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467 – 24/7 professional telephone crisis support for people at risk of suicide, carers and bereaved, as well as online resources and information

I am OK now. Are you OK?

20 comments on “R U OK? I wasn’t.

  • Nyree Hunter , Direct link to comment

    Thank you once again for sharing your experiences. I am regularly amazed by your tenacity, resilience and true inner strength. You are an incredible survivor, and. I am so happy for you, and your beautiful family and the life you have built for yourself. Thank you also for bringing awareness to this issue and for providing information on support available to people who may need it. What you are doing will make a real difference to many, and will likely save someone’s life.

  • Melissa , Direct link to comment

    Hi Jane,

    I am so so sorry to hear what you went through in the past. I had a best friend who did this to herself and I didn’t know for months until she told me about it one day in an argument telling me I didn’t know her at all. I have to admit I didn’t know how to deal with it when she told me. I didn’t know how to talk to her about it or comfort her and that resulted in our friendship falling apart. I am glad to hear you are healing from this time in your life. You should not be afraid of your scars. They are a reminder of how far you have come. I hope one day you can embrace your body fully for all it’s quirks :) much love and light to you Jane xo

  • Emma Fahy Davis , Direct link to comment

    Thank you for sharing so honestly, every time we talk about depression and mental illness, it sheds just a little more of the stigma and shame that shrouds it and offers a little more hope to those who aren’t ‘okay’.
    Emma Fahy Davis recently posted…A loss reflectionMy Profile

  • Saz , Direct link to comment

    I’ve known cutters all my life. I don’t judge them, but neither do I understand it. No better than I understand drug users, people who use sex as their escape, those who are angry, or those who withdraw. None of it makes sense. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love them. They are all orbiting in and out of my life, as I am in and out of theirs. I know that I can’t always help them, but I do hope that my friends all know that I am a ‘safe’ place to fall, to crash, to come to be hauled, kicking and screaming, back from the edge.
    It takes strength to fight those demons, the ones that tell you that if you give in, cut that little bit deeper, let it bleed a little longer, that you won’t be so out of control, and it wont hurt as much. I am glad YOU fought those demons Jane. You make me smile. You make me realise how frail our humanity is. You make me realise how strong the smallest acts of love can make us.

    You are a special person. You are able to look at yourself and see, not only your faults, but the amazing person underneath. I see you. I know U R OK. xxx

  • Alex , Direct link to comment

    You are so brave for putting it out there because the more I look around the more I find most of us are struggling. My anxiety is going crazy and I hate it.
    Alex recently posted…The Mummy Melt DownMy Profile

  • Elephant's Child , Direct link to comment

    I know that RUOK day is September 13. Which is excellent – and so very wrong. It is something we need to ask every day. To ask, and to listen.
    Equally, and this is much harder, we need to be honest when someone does ask. I have been in some very dark places – and got very skilled at hiding just how bad I was feeling, and how precarious my grasp on life was.
    I really admire your courage in putting this post forward. Thank you. So very much.

    On September 13 I hope to do Lifeline’s ‘Out of the Shadows and into the Light’ walk. A walk which starts just before dawn and goes forward into the light of a new day and which encompasses hope that we will reduce the number of people who die by suicide, recognition of the people who are struggling, support for survivors.
    Elephant’s Child recently posted…A book which made me think….My Profile

  • Kirsty @ My Home Truths , Direct link to comment

    Jane, thanks for sharing this. I can’t imagine how hard it was to write this with such raw honesty. I have never self-harmed myself but I have suffered depression and anxiety and I can understand in a way why that would have given you such an emotional release from your pain. I’m glad you were able to move past that to find new happiness with your husband and Milla.
    Kirsty @ My Home Truths recently posted…I Must Confess…My Biggest RegretMy Profile

  • Rhianna , Direct link to comment

    Thank you for being so brave as to share your story. A few of my daughters friends have cuts on them. They are 12 years old. I worry so much about it all. People like you sharing stories like this help people like me and many others I am sure. Fairy wishes and butterfly kisses to you lovely
    Rhianna recently posted…Things I Know With RhiannaMy Profile

  • Dear Milla... - The Hesitant Housewife , Direct link to comment

    […] my world. One day, when you are older, I will tell you more about my life before I met your Daddy. I was very very sad, and very very lost. Your Daddy found me, and then you came along, and you loved me. You make me believe, for the first […]

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