Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

This post is about self-harm. Some may find it triggering.

Self-harming is often misunderstood by people on the outside. It is seen as attention-seeking or the sign of an extremely disturbed mind – after all, why else would someone deliberately set out to hurt themselves? Equally there are some Western subcultures that have veen accused of seeing self-harm as a badge of belonging or a rite of passage, and it is treated as nothing serious.

To me, self-harming is serious. And idiotic. I know that it is an unhealthy way to deal with emotions and stresses and yet I continue to do it. It is a compulsion. When I was 19 I hesitantly confessed this to a grief counsellor that I was seeing, only for him to reply that if it helped me to cope then it was ok, it wasn’t harmful. I was horrified – I wanted someone to tell me to stop, that I shouldn’t do it, that it was wrong. That was the last time I saw the counsellor and the last time I spoke about self-harming to anyone in the healthcare system.

I began self-harming at about 7 years old, while being bullied by my school teacher. My mother recalls finding bitemarks all over my arms and realising that I had done it myself. I soon moved onto breaking the skin – I would get a small plastic hairbrush from one of my Barbie toys or similar and scrape it along the skin of my forearm until it bled. By the age of 10 I had discovered my father’s disposable razors in the bathroom. By the time I started university I was using kitchen knives, or my fingernails if I got the urge while I was out.

This may be horrifying reading for someone who has never felt the urge to self-harm. But it helps, counter-intuitive as that may seem. I self-harm when I am in a state of heightened stress or emotion, when my thoughts are frenzied and I feel trapped. Pain helps me to focus – not only does the knife cut through my skin but it also cuts through the fog in my mind. It’s a way of regaining control. It’s almost equivalent to slapping someone who is hysterical – it shocks me out of the mental frenzy. By the time I have staunched the bleeding I am calm, rational and focused again.

Of course, there are many different ways of self-harming. Cutting is perhaps the most obvious, along with burning. Some people take up sports and push their bodies to the limit. Some people drink to excess or take illegal drugs. However I have recently come to realise that my compulsive overeating is also a way of self-harming and one that I seem unable to control. I haven’t cut myself in almost 2 years despite battling the urge almost every day; I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that it is normal, that it’s ok and a legitimate way of dealing with stress. However I comfort eat like you wouldn’t believe. At the first sign of stress my thoughts turn to food, usually sugary. I am unable to focus until I have eaten and once I start eating I struggle to stop.

This post has turned into somewhat of a confessional for me – I have never been this honest with anyone but DH. And now I am about to fire it into the ether for anyone to read. :-S But in a way I think it is just as important to be honest about self-harming as it is to be open about mental illness. (I have no doubt that for me the two are related). If this post makes one person feel less abnormal and less alone, or if it makes one person more compassionate towards self-harmers then it will have been worth it. So I am going to take a deep breath and press publish. Here goes.


Comments on: "Mental illness doesn’t just leave scars on the mind" (28)

  1. Michelle Woodward said:

    I’m so proud of you. xxx

  2. Candi Nook said:

    Thank you for being honest. You are an inspiration.

  3. Brilliant and honest. Thanks for sharing. Hope it feels good to do so.

  4. said:

    I think you’ve done so well and think its a good thing to write/talk about self harm xx

  5. Well done and thank you. I have not managed to talk about this side yet on my blog! It is so difficult to explain!

  6. This is probably going to be a long response. I hope you find it helpful/comforting.

    I started cutting 15 years ago. I was an anorexic at the time (and by anorexic, I weighed 76 lbs), and a control freak of epic proportions. I like the way you say it can be about control. While I never really realised it, it could very well be part of my controlling tendencies.

    I agree with the “slap to reality.” as well.

    As horrified as some of your readers might be, this one might even take it further. Here’s part of a confessional of mine:

    I used to cut three times a day, minimum. I carried a kit with me. Every day. I was so numb in my feelings, and overmedicated from all the psychotropic drugs they were putting me on, that in order for me to “feel” I had to “see” it. The blood was a face too the pain. The blood made it real. The song “Iris” for me sums it up “When everything feels like the movies, and you bleed just to know you’re alive.” Thats it. I felt so dead, that I needed that reminder to know that I was alive.

    I hope this…helps some how. I don’t know why it would. But I felt the need to tell you this.

    • Thank you so much for sharing. Yes, I’ve strongly identified with that line in Iris as well. For a while when I was a student my anthem was Last Resort by Papa Roach, which I felt summed it up fairly well too.

      How are you these days?

      • Ah yes. Last resort. I actually had made up a graphic of all the songs and put it on my folder in high school. this is a much happier version lol the one I had written was all the late 90s alternative like Jumper and all those kind of songs.

        These days they are what they are. Its fewer and farther between, but more violent. My lower arms are pure scar tissue. And now, because of the way I did it a few times ago, there is a pronounced scar on my arm on top of the other scarring. Its ongoing, but you know how that is.

      • Yes, I know. I’m sorry you’re still suffering. Do you have much support?

        I like that graphic, and recognised most of the songs on it. 🙂

      • My friends know whats up. They deal with me. It ended up putting me on probation in college (the bipolar).

        The graphic designer in me is cringing, but that was like, 10 years ago or something LOL.

  7. Well done, I have no experience of this and have really learnt from what you have written.

  8. This would make a great article on any of the mental health charity website, so if and when you’re ready to go further than your blog then I can give you some friendly people to email. It’s an excellent piece and has help me to understand a little more, a subject that I’m less familiar with – so thanks again for taking the brave step to publish it :))

  9. Liam at Black Dog Tribe has now left but email the team with a copy of your blog. Ed ( works for the Time To Change website although they prefer an original piece and a short profile about you – although you can blog without it or with a psuedonym like Wendy. Mind and Sane are also looking for good bloggers – and personally it can be therapeutic for the writer and the reader 🙂

  10. Self harm releases endorphin’s, this can be and is addicting. That rush. Yes a coping mechanism. So many say to cut through the fog or fugue, or to pull back into reality from a dislocative episode.

    Many find ways to “taper off” using ice instead of blades, or foil that doesn’t break the skin.

    To understand it though, Not many will. To judge what is not understood is so wrong too. This is where it becomes so difficult and why it is hidden.

    So saying it is ok, like that therapist did.. well that is delicate. yes it is ok, because often the alternative is losing your mind or worse. Should it be encouraged, hmmm, no, but not judged or frowned upon. More time should be taken to see why the need exists and understood. Work at the why to eliminate the need.

    it is hidden. long sleeves. not discussed. you know, it is like the stigma of mental illness. We should all be talking about it, and understanding, not hiding. 🙂


    • Thank you. Yes, I realised a while ago what the counsellor must have meant – it just wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. But of course he had no way to know that (we’re back to therapists not being psychic again!).

      • lol, well as I said before.. some are or seem to be psychic, when you get into someones head surprising things happen.

        So, my point is. when in therapy, tell all. When things go in an unexpected direction. when you hear things that are unexpected, ask. Some therapists see a lot of patients a day, perhaps fluff people off a bit in haste, or seem too, expecting that the patients know where things are going or that they have treated things correctly, but perhaps the patient doesn’t know this or feel comfortable.. often they stop going. You are boss, you ask, talk seek answers question everything, but listen too. preconceived notions or self diagnosis’s often make the patient feel the direction is the wrong one. communication is so important. Communicate before discontinuing treatment.

        It was a great post. Self harm is in shadows, often late at night, alone obviously. with great frustration. I wonder if not hidden, and understood how things would go.

  11. I have blogged about something similar this week as I comfort ear. I never thought about it as self harm before but now it seems so glaringly obvious. Well done for being so brave and so honest. Sometimes it’s easier to be honest on a blog than to tell people face to face.

    Keep going. I will keep reading.

    • It really is – I struggle to be open face-to-face. To the extent that sometimes I have to email my husband to explain what’s wrong (he’s a patient man!). Thank you for your encouragement.

      Your blogpost about comfort eating is very insightful.

  12. A brave intelligent post. I’ve had terrible problems with comfort eating and certainly would agree that it is a form of self harm. I was starting to make myself pretty ill with it up to a year a go, I have now lost 4 1/2 stone and feel much healthier but still battling the sugar demons. I look forward to reading more of your blog 🙂 take it easy and good luck with everything.

    My blog is here – if you fancy a read 🙂

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