My name is Laura and in March I joined the LifeSIGNS team as Blog Manager.
My story with self-injury started ten years ago. After struggling with anxiety from the age of 7, certain events triggered a breakdown, at which point self-injury became my coping mechanism. At 13 years old I didn’t understand what I was doing – all I knew was that in a moment of overwhelming panic and fear, I wanted those feelings gone, I couldn’t handle them any longer, and pain seemed like my only option left. At the time it was the only ‘solution’ strong enough to distract my mind from those feelings.
That was the first time I hurt myself, and to add to my distress, it wasn’t hidden from others; unfortunately I was in a classroom full of my classmates, and they saw everything, from the build-up to the breakdown and the self-harming. In hindsight of course I realise how unusual this is, as self-injury is normally such a private and ‘hidden’ thing, but at the time I just knew I needed to feel anything except the fear and anxiety. I was never able to attend school again; as a result of the incident I became severely agoraphobic, at times barely able to leave my own bedroom, so instead I was taught at home for the remainder of my education.
Over the following months, hurting myself was more or less a daily occurrence. I was in such a poor mental state that I couldn’t even hide it from my parents: when the urge built up I couldn’t control it or hide it, I simply wasn’t able to at that time even if I wanted to. I recall them physically holding my hands and legs down to try to stop my self-injurious behaviour.
I couldn’t explain to them why causing myself pain helped, and they hadn’t come across SI before. I often wonder how they coped with seeing their only daughter in such a way, they were never given proper support or information – we mostly muddled through my initial months of recovery on our own. It’s one reason I’m passionate about supporting the work LifeSIGNS does, particularly with regards to supporting those around people who self-injure. They need supporting too. LifeSIGNS’ self-injury guidance for others page would have been ideal for my parents back in those early, confusing days. Today these pages are proving useful to my friends who are just learning about SI.
As time went on and my general mental health improved, the SI reduced in frequency and severity, and it was around this time I started making conscious efforts to hide when I had resorted to it. Over the years there’ve been times I’ve not been able to hide it, usually because my hands were often the target, but by and large I’ve become more secretive with the behaviour. I think because everything happened so publicly initially, I feel like I’ve put my parents through enough, and now it’s my battle to fight. I don’t want to upset them any further.
My friends and family are aware it’s an ongoing struggle, and they know of my work with LifeSIGNS and how I speak out about my experiences with SI, but presently my feeling is still that the actual act of SI is a private one that I need (or want) to deal with myself.
My self-injury urges develop when severe anxiety or panic attacks occur, and as I still have ongoing issues with anxiety disorders, SI is still a coping mechanism that comes up from time to time. I’ve learned to accept this, though, to accept that it’s part of how I cope with overwhelming fear and anxiety. My counsellor of three years has seen me at my worst, immediately following an episode of self-harm, and she just sat and held my hand. Through her accepting it with such compassion and understanding, I learned to accept it too.
This was a pivotal moment in my overall recovery, and for this I will be forever grateful to her. Acceptance doesn’t mean ‘giving up’ or giving in to a life of self-injury; it means forgiving yourself when it does happen, understanding why it happened, and knowing that you can explore other coping options but shouldn’t be ashamed if none of them work all the time. It’s about learning to love yourself as you are.
SI is a significant part of my life story; it’s not who I am, but it’s part of my history and who I am today, and it is a relief to be able to say I’m not ashamed of it and to be able to talk about it.