The first thing you need to remember if you discover someone you care about has self harmed is not to panic! I can’t tell you about everybody’s self harm, or what it means for that person, I can just tell you what I have learned over the last few years. I had no knowledge of self harm before B and her mental health other than the odd episode of casualty growing up where the slightly dodgy teenage girl in a black hoodie would have marks on her arms and shifty looking parents!
B has self harmed in her past, and also occasionally still does so. For B it can be cuts on arms and legs, or scratches on her face. The arms and legs are done with anything sharp she can find, the scratches on her face are done with her nails when she’s laying in bed. Sometimes it could just look like little scratches, but other times it can look much more nasty which can be quite scary. For me, B self harming is a sign she is currently struggling, or at least has been recently. We have spoken about it, and she doesn’t typically try and hide it from me. Sometimes she tells me when I come home that she has done it, and sometimes she doesn’t.
She had told me it can just be a way of dealing with how intense everything is in her head. I read up on it when I first discovered B had done it, lots of people use it as a way to regain some control when they feel they are loosing it. I mentioned B’s self harming to several counsellors I have had over the past 2 years, and B’s mental health team know about it, and none of them saw it as a warning sign.
Self harm does not equal suicide.
Please don’t blame someone who has self harmed, or say it was “stupid” or “selfish” or “attention seeking” it typically isn’t. I’ve seen how nasty some of the cuts are, and I just think about how intense her thoughts must have been to make her feel that this was the better option. Even when I see people in films doing the whole “We need your blood to cast the spell” and they swipe a knife across their palm I always think surely that just hurts and can’t they use a syringe… it’s still their blood!
I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to do when I found out B had harmed herself. There was part of me that thought I’d failed her that she’d got that bad but not spoken to me. But I’ve come to realise that it is simply another way for her deal with things on her own, which is important for her to be able to do. I now remind her I am here for her and that I love her. I also ask her if she is okay, if she needs anything, and whether we need to do anything practical such as put cream on, or clean any cuts. Which sounds daft, but I image cleaning the sharp thing wasn’t top of her list!
She has wanted to hide cuts from other people, which to be honest I completely understand (As always, B has given me permission to publish this). The thought of having to explain why I have cuts all over my arm to someone would scare me! Long jumpers etc. can normally do it, but that gets a bit harder in the middle of summer. Part of me wants her to start using things such as “Oh, the aliens did it” or “I just woke up and they were there after a nightmare”!
So I repeat. Don’t panic. Just remember that as shocked or scared as you might be to find out someone has done something, imagine much worse they must have been feeling to be able to do it!