How the silent scream was stilled (self harm part 2)

January 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm 1 comment

Reading Time: 10 mins

WARNING  –  This contains material that either could cause offense or be a trigger to someone who self harms.

I was recently contacted by author Tony White who is writing a book about suicide.  He wanted to ask me some questions about my experience of self harming*.

Here’s how it went:- (T = Tony, S = Sarah)

T = I am interested in why you self harmed. I understand that you felt under great pressure and that you found a solution to that was to self harm. Is this what you are saying? If it is why didn’t you use other stress reduction solutions that do not involve self harm?

S = I’ve never really thought about it from that angle.  My immediate thoughts on how other uni mates let off steam are that lots drank a lot of alcohol and a few took drugs.  I wasn’t one of the brightest one’s in my class by a long shot and had to work long hours just to keep up, let alone do well!  My lectures started at 9am finished at about 5pm and I’d start work at home about 7pm and often worked until midnight.  I did this Monday to Friday.  Saturday I’d work all day straight and on Sunday’s I’d go to church in the morning and work from 2-12 again.  I did this week in week out for the whole three years with very little time out from it. Even in holidays we’d have loads of work to do, the only real break I’d get is the summer holidays which I’d spend earning money to go towards the next year.

Where I’m going with this is that I didn’t have time to unwind and even if I had allowed myself the time I didn’t have the money to go drinking as my mates did.  I was brought up to be very frugal with my money – generous with what I had but careful also, so I managed to get through Uni without getting into debt.  Bare in mind they had tiny grants in ‘those days’ (which makes me feel ancient ;)), it was ’95 when I graduated and I lived off of £800 for a term, 11 weeks.  £500 went on rent, £200 on books and compulsory field trips (I studied Geology) which left me with about £10 a week to live on!  Hence I lived off of Tesco’s Value range along with the odd parcel of chocolate sent to me by my parents.  I was also a Mars bar addict and restraining myself managed to keep it down to one or two a day.  These certainly provided a small sense of relief for me, I’d use them as a reward system.

So stress relief that involved money or much time was out of the question for me.  I’m a bit of a ‘door slammer’ I think, if you know what I mean, and some of my stress relief involved throwing things, although the frugal, careful natured side of me wouldn’t allow myself to break things!  So I’d punch a wall or kick it to inflict that lashing out feeling on myself instead of other people or other things.

Having said all that it sounds like it was all so calculated – I can analyse it fairly well being able to look back and having grown up so much since then (I’m 36 now and stopped self harming when I was about 24), but at the time there wasn’t a calculated thought process that was going on in my head thinking “I’m really stressed how can I relieve it” it felt more like a raging river going on inside which exploded sometimes, but I didn’t want people to know how screwed up I felt on the inside – I was a minister’s daughter trying to keep up appearances, well to some extent as I was a biker in appearance too.  I bottled it up without realising what I was doing.

Another side to it is that my parents both have very calm exteriors to their characters, they don’t show much emotion, particularly my Dad.  He was brought up in the 2nd WW and was very much of the ‘stiff upper lip’ generation who don’t show emotion.  I’m fairly sure I went through my teens not really knowing how to deal with extreme emotions be them good or bad, so the bad ones got ignored, shoved away until I couldn’t cope with them any more.  I guess I found devious ways of letting it out (I lied an awful lot to cover up the truth) and getting people’s empathy was a pleasant bonus.  In my mind the end justified the means.


T = Can you describe the type of self harming that you did , was there a ritual involved and so forth?

S = No there wasn’t a ritual that I followed, they were all separate events with sometimes weeks or a couple of months in between them as the stress built up.  I felt in a very particular kind of mind set each time though and one which I came to recognise over the years.  I didn’t self harm in the stereotypical way that one hears about these days, as I’ve said in my original post I’d never heard of the term or knew that anyone else did anything at all similar.  I certainly considered hurting myself with blades etc but always wussed out!  Now that I think about it punching or inflicting pain with a blunt tool such as a hair brush or edge or a piece of furniture was by far my preference.  This created bruising rather than cuts as I felt it easier to do to myself.  Twice I created a scene that appeared as though I’d passed out and made sure that I was found by someone.  This had a similarly good feeling as it caused people to be really concerned for myself and give me some attention.  Other times I created bruising and lied about how I had got them, pretending that I’d been beaten up or similar.


T = How the actual relief came. Was it before, during or after the actual act of self harming? And was their thinking about the self harming going on in your head at that time of self harming and if so what was it?

S = When I was inflicting the bruising at first it hurt but after a few minutes it almost became easy as I guess I became used to the pain and managed to block it out.  This allowed me to continue inflicting this injury on myself long after I otherwise could have beared I think.  It felt good to actually hurt myself like that, in doing it I felt some form of relief, but with it came a huge chunk of guilt knowing that what I was doing wasn’t good, but the ‘need’ to do it was far stronger than any feelings that tried to make me feel bad about doing it.  Having created the injury I then liked telling people about it, lying all the time obviously, but their compassion made me feel good so the more people I told the better I felt about it.  I certainly don’t go by ‘the end justifies the means’ ideas at all on the whole but in this case that went out the window!  It was a completely cold calculated decision that I made each time.  I didn’t consider the long term effects of what all the deception was doing to me or others, or whether this was a long term solution, it just went round and round my own head as I didn’t let anyone in on any of it.  I’ve since found out that one of my best mates from that era was self harming too and equally keeping it to herself!  We were both equally amazed at each other – if only we’d been brave enough to talk about it to each other!

Other thinking going on in my head was finding a secure place to do it such as my bedroom or a quiet dark alley.  Before I begun hurting myself I’d maybe consider what I was going to do, how I was going to do it and what I was going to tell people had happened for maybe several days before I’d actually do it, other times it’d be just a few hours.  I also used circumstances that naturally happened and make it worse for maximum effect.

T = I assume you don’t self harm now, so what changed?

S = I described the basics of it in my original post.  From the moment that I told that friend about it, it was as though a 10 tonne weight was lifted from my shoulders, all the need to hide it had gone, I was now free to talk to people about it all.  Obviously that started slowly and only to the people closest to me at first, but it was the beginning of a big change in me that I can now look back on 10 years later and see the gradual change.  I was a very quiet, introvert who wouldn’t let anyone into their deepest darkest corners of personality.  But the day I opened up it was almost a physical thing not just a mental thing.  Once I’d  found how releasing it was to open up to other people – or at least people at my church who were older, mature Christians who I respected – I carried on doing so.  I don’t think this was necessarily a conscious decision at the time it just happened that way.  After all, I’d told them what I considered to be something about me that would justify them rejecting me as a weirdo and they all seemed to still like me and seemed to be really pleased that I’d told them.  They were all really supportive and encouraging.  I still found that I cried quite often at church for a few months after.   I think it was because I was opening my heart up to God too and a whole load of horrible stuff (all the lying, guilt etc) was gradually coming out and I knew I was being forgiven for all the stuff that I was saying sorry for.  In short I was gradually being cleaned up but on the inside, deep in my heart.  I realised that I was accepted by God and that He was really all that mattered as people all have different opinions so there would always be people who either got on well with me or didn’t like me for whatever reason but knowing that He intentionally made me the way I am, loves me just the way I am, that I don’t have to try to please Him or do anything to earn His favour has just released me to be the way I am – the real Me.  I’m still not a extrovert but I’m not shy any more, I have no problem with the way I am, the way I look or what other people think of me – if they don’t like it tough!

So I have no need to hurt myself any more.  When I’m stressed about something I talk it through with my husband, Mum, sister or close friend before it becomes a big issue.  I look at the issue as objectively as I can, ask their opinions about it, weigh them up, ask God for His opinion on it and act from there.  If it’s something that needs resolving that can be then I act in the way that I consider best, but if it’s just one of those things that you’ve got to just grin and bear it knowing that there’s an end in sight then I just get on with it.  If I find that I’m still getting stressed I talk more about it, eat some chocolate, have a long bath, do some exercise – in fact anything rather than just sit and stew about it!

T = How old were you when you were doing such self harming?

S = The kind of self harming I have described was probably from mid teens to about 22 when I left Uni.  But I can see the early form of it from when I was a young child, maybe only 6-8 years old.  I soon realised that I could play on or exaggerate genuine injuries like cut knees etc. to get the maximum benefit of people’s sympathies.  I guess this is a really common thing among children but I think it only comes out of recognised genuine human needs that we all have like to feel loved, accepted, have attention etc. so the same thing can grow in any young person I imagine with similar needs that are felt to be lacking.  How we find ways of getting what we crave I imagine is as individual as we are.  Children who bully, or are really naughty I imagine are classic examples.

In delving into distant memories I’ve just remembered deliberately cutting my own knee in our back garden with a fragment of broken glass I found, so I guess I did use something sharp once but it did hurt to do it and it left a scar which I guess is why I didn’t follow that route too often!  Bruises and imaginary aches and pains heal up a lot easier and don’t leave a lasting mark!

T = Thanks for all that information it has been most helpful.  Good to hear that things have turned out better for you after having a difficult time in your teens and early twenties.

S = It’s been my pleasure Tony!  Once the book’s published do let me know and I can add a new post on the site about it.

* See comment on my post ‘The Silent Scream, can it be stilled?’

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Graffiti  |  January 8, 2010 at 5:23 am

    Hi Sarah,

    Good post. I have made a comment about it at my blog

    Cheers

    Tony

    Reply

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Sarah Stone










Hi and welcome to my blog!

I write about my business and a mixture of life issues, from cash saving tips, nappies and cooking to self harm.

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