The title of this will probably be enough to make you turn away and cringe, and that’s exactly why I’ve written it. World Mental Health day was recently upon us, which happened to coincide with my own personal 10-year anniversary, so I felt like it was appropriate for me to say the following; something I’ve been needing to talk about for some time.
While we’re making such progress with talking about mental health these days and awareness is growing, I want to push that even further by shining a light on something within this bracket that still has a huge stigma around it today. I’ve been back and forth as to whether this is something I ‘need’ to write about, or ‘need’ to share, because, maybe it’s TMI for some people, or something too personal no one ‘needs’ to know about, or worse, something that will alienate me from friends or family – or at the very least, make them think differently about me. Nevertheless, despite all of the above factors, I owe it to myself and to everyone who has ever suffered with depression, suicidal thoughts or self-harm, especially that last one, to spread awareness of it for all of the right reasons.
When I get on the tube in London, more often than not you’re fully in other people’s personal space. Generally, it’s boiling in there, so I roll up my sleeves to cling on to the bars for dear life. For me, though, there’s always a bit of hesitation. It’s quite horrible to know the scars on your arms are never more visible to the naked eye than they are in that compressed space under the unrelenting lights of the tube. And people stare. People stare as if you’re an axe-wielding psycho killer about to lunge for their throat. Or that’s how it feels.
I get it, it’s quite a startling thing to see on a Tuesday morning, if not upsetting. Maybe they have similar scars. Maybe they know someone who has. Or maybe it’s something utterly alien to them because no one talks about it/they don’t even realise it’s something that happens. Either way, I’m confident if we can talk about self-harm as openly as we do with depression and anxiety today, it will improve the lives of many, and may even saves the lives of many more.
People can talk about depression and where to get help today (in the media and education especially) as if it were a topic as trivial as treating a cold. Ten years ago, that wasn’t so. Depression (and anxiety) were topics that anyone would pay to specifically not talk about, and I remember so vividly because I had them both and I didn’t even know what they were/what it was I was going through, which sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I was 15 and had never felt more alone. I am so happy to see how much we have progressed with suicide and depression becoming more and more destigmatised these days, but we have so much further to go with the stigma behind self-harm.
I was bullied throughout primary school and high school, which led me to the inevitable depression in year 10. I was spat on, I was called anything from ugly to fat to weird to smelly on a daily basis, preposterous rumours were spread about me, friends turned against me and some even ended up laughing with the bullies. Every day felt impossible, but as a natural disciplinarian I still went every day in an attempt to just get my GCSEs and get out of there. I developed unhealthy eating patterns, among other unhealthy coping mechanisms then came self-harming. I had convinced myself that I was not worth anything to anyone and that I deserved to hurt. What I later discovered was anxiety/social anxiety, answered a lot of questions as to what was happening to me as well as the, at times debilitating, depression. I was afraid to go outside, and when I did, this figurative inner voice would tell me ridiculous things like I was walking stupid, that I looked disgusting, that people were laughing at me, to the more heart-breaking things like I would never find anyone who would want me, that I was worthless.
On a school trip mere months later that same year, I met two people who are now two constants in my life and always will be. Without sounding melodramatic, they changed my life. I was completely myself around them and they showed me what it was to have a real, caring, loving friendship – and that I mattered. This was the catalyst to me beginning my path to healing.
But as I later discovered in college a few years later, depression/self-harm isn’t something that just disappears like a poof of smoke. It’s something that will keep coming back and is something you have to manage. At 17, I still found myself going back to self-harm and drinking and feeling isolated as I had a few years before.
At university, despite making friends for life and equally having the time of my life, I went on anti-depressants in the beginning of my second semester in first year. Self-harming is something I did relapse with but I’m now ‘clean’ as of August 2018. Nevertheless, it’s something I am learning to manage and something I know I must talk about. Not just for myself, but for anyone else who is stuck in that same place I was when I was 15 – no doubt there are so many younger people out there going through the same thing today.
I soon turned 18 and was at the point where I was tired of waking up every day feeling that I just didn’t want to live anymore. So, with the support and suggestion of a close friend, I made an appointment to try and do what I’d been endlessly stalling. I sat across from the doctor as I tried to come up with some kind of sentence to explain what was going on inside my head. I broke down crying, feeling humiliated while the doctor sat there with what I can only describe as an expression of indifference. He wrote a prescription for antidepressants and… That was it. All that provided was even more sleeping problems.
And it’s this stigma that made me worse and the same one that exists for God knows how many other people today all over the world. I may be able to manage it better now, but it’s exactly for that reason that I haven’t been able to bring myself to therapy. I know I will get there one day, but what about everyone else who doesn’t find themselves in my position? Who are still just as alone, who are still at risk as I was then, because they feel like they can’t talk to anyone in fear of being shamed?
I heard someone say once that nothing worth doing comes without fear, which is why I’ve finally decided to share my experience. Part of me wants to apologise if this has made you uncomfortable, if you now see me differently. But in the same token, I don’t want to apologise. Experiencing this is something no one should have to be sorry for, and the notion that it’s wrong to share something because it makes people uncomfortable is quite honestly, so 10 years ago (if not many more).
We need to talk to each other now more than ever. I appreciate it’s easier said than done, but if collectively, we can make depression and self-harm more understood, I guarantee it will change the lives of many for the better.
I must emphasise this over anything else that my writing this does not make me a martyr. It’s something that will hopefully start the conversation to end the stigma against self-harm, for good. I know this blog is only minuscule and the reach may be tiny, nonetheless, I’m hoping me publishing this will provoke some kind of positive ‘Butterfly Effect’ wherein this rotten thing will affect fewer and fewer people as time goes on.
We must debunk the myths that self-harm is attention seeking. We must dismiss the stereotype that it’s something only ‘emos do’ (which is a horrible stereotype in itself). We must eliminate the fact self-harm is something to be ashamed about.
And finally (if you’ve made it this far) while it’s all good with preaching ‘It’s ok not to be ok’, we must now also start preaching in the same urgency that ‘It’s ok to talk about it [be it depression or self-harm], with anyone’.