*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.
September 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.
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)
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?