This is a subject I knew nothing about up until a few years ago when I discovered my daughter had been cutting.
I never saw it coming and to be honest I initially didn’t handle it well at all. I completely freaked out! I was shocked, upset, disappointed and afraid. I completely panicked and rang our doctor (I had no idea what to do). I got an appointment for that afternoon and bundled my daughter in the car. What was happening?
If I was shocked initially, I was just as shocked when we met the doctor. I can remember so clearly him telling me this was normal. What! Are you joking? How is this normal?
I couldn’t understand why my beautiful smart child would do this to herself. She had told me that people in school were doing it, but I never thought for a minute that she would. Then I wondered if it was a way for her to be the same as these other girls. I thought maybe she was doing it for attention, I just couldn’t get my head round it. I knew she was being bullied and I had been at school countless times to try and get it resolved but was this the reason?
Self-harm can be in the form of many behaviours including cutting, scratching, over-eating, under-eating, overdosing, poisoning and burning. I struggled to understand this, and in some respect, I guess I still do.
The self-harm has been going on for about 3 years and has included cutting, scratching and overdosing. The cutting was at one point an everyday thing. I had a constant supply of antiseptic, bandages and micropore tape. I hid all the sharps, but where there’s a will there’s a way and she would use whatever she could. She says this was because she was using it to deal with a lot of emotions she didn’t know how to deal with. These included anger, frustration, depression, anxiety and school stress. Self-harming felt like a release of all the negative emotions. She saw the blood and felt alive.
She would cut, arms and legs. All superficial cuts, but a lot of them. I tried so many different techniques, but it wasn’t until she met a counsellor, she really trusted did the self-harm begin to improve. Validating her feelings was huge for her. Someone saying it’s ok to feel this way was also huge. I could say this stuff till I was blue in the face, but a stranger saying these things must mean they were true! Understanding CBT also made sense to her and she slowly began to make steps towards a better way of managing her emotions.
I think she found it difficult initially to open up about her emotions for fear of judgement or disappointing me. This child could never disappoint me. She is amazing.
It’s been a difficult journey, but she is so much better now. She has been on medication for the last two years and after 16 months of therapy she is a lot happier. She has learned that she can sit and wait it out and the emotions will pass. She also knows that she has other options and usually goes for a walk, plays a game or texts me or a friend. She enjoys guided meditation and she loves the Buddhist centre and lots of holistic therapies.
She is much better at communicating and I’m lucky we have such a close relationship and she trusts me completely. Nothing she says freaks me out now, I have learnt coping techniques to deal with her actions and reactions to difficult situations. I know sometimes I need to take a breath before I deal with things because my initial reaction needs to be the right one.
The last time she self-harmed was 54 days ago and she can’t remember why she did it. Outwardly you wouldn’t realise there was a problem. We do have a plan in place when she feels as though she may self-harm, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. In the last year she has self-harmed 5 or 6 times.
Her message – To anyone thinking about self-harm – Don’t do it, don’t start it. It’s harder to stop once you have started. It’s like an addiction. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but there are other ways to get the release of emotions. Emotions are all normal and even if you think you are the only person feeling a certain way, you are not. To parents who have a child that self-harms. Find a balance between protecting and keeping the child safe and being overbearing. If you are over-protective or overbearing, it’s like being trapped and the child will struggle to escape the only way they know how. Through self-harm.
There is help there, although I know sometimes it’s a struggle finding the right help. I know for people who self-harm it sounds scary but please talk to someone. Someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. Sometimes just taking the power of the thoughts away can help.
I am proud of the work my daughter has done to get to where she is. I know she tries her best every day and I hope and cross my fingers that she continues to talk to me and keeps moving forward. I do think she will speak up if she begins to struggle again because she doesn’t want to go back to where she was. All I want for her is to be happy and healthy and know that and I love her millions and millions x
Some helpful contacts in the UK if you need them
For people who self-harm, and their friends and families.
Self-harm help and support network.
Helpline and online support for people aged 16–25.
116 123 (freephone 24-hour helpline)
Emotional support for anyone feeling isolated, distressed or struggling to cope.
Support and information about mental health problems, including online support.
08088025544 (parent helpline)
Information for parents and young people about mental health and wellbeing.