Mental Matters,  Speak Up

There Is No Age Limit On Self Harm

The first time my mum saw the angry red welts on my arms she walked away from me, her head held down and tears in her eyes. I guess she didn’t understand the whys and to be honest, neither did I.

I don’t remember the first time I drew a blunt pair of scissors (my favoured instrument of pain) across my arms or legs. I knew that to make sure I didn’t need medical attention I’d have to use something that wouldn’t necessarily cause the skin to open and bleed but the pain and the raised red welts it left was enough of a satisfying outcome for me. I didn’t cut to die. I didn’t cut to sad music all dressed in black, or even because I was depressed and emotional. I cut because I was angry. It wasn’t a slow dragging across the skin once, it was almost like I became possessed, hacking at my arms and legs until the rage subsided and I could finally let out the tears my anger had held at bay.

I remember, I raised suspicion when there was a girl (Gemma Atkinson) on Hollyoaks who self harmed and I retorted in my teen angst state that it doesn’t happen like that – something to that effect anyway. I distinctly remember sitting on the living room floor in my childhood home, mouth agape and waiting for my parents to ask me how or why I would know… it didn’t come and so I extricated myself as quickly and innocently as I could.

I remember, I was arguing with my mum in my room. I was angry, as was the everyday norm back then. I’m pretty sure I was ranting about my boyfriend or my friends and my mum just grabbed my arm, rolled back the sleeve of the baggy jumper I’d borrowed from said boyfriend (it smelled like Jean Paul Gaultier) and the silence filled the room, suffocating us both. I was promptly marched to the doctors the day or so after.

You know what I did when my mum and doctor discussed my ‘predicament’? I laughed. The whole thing just seemed so absurd. It wasn’t a big deal surely!? I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t doing it for attention because (in my mind) nobody knew about it. It was just something I had to do to release the rage.

I promised I would try to stop. And I did.

In its place I resorted to banging my head and fists and feet against every hard surface in my way. I began to rip out chunks of my hair. I picked the skin from around my fingernails until they bled and swelled up. I drank more. I used more drugs. I had more risky, reckless sex and then begged forgiveness from whichever boyfriend I was with at the time. I placed myself in stupid situations just because I got attention or booze. I began being violent against my parents and friends. It was literally the red mist clouding my mind and eyes as the rage-filled Jodie took over, fists flying and screaming until my throat burned, throwing anything within reach; destroying my room, my body and mind. It would only end when ‘crazy Jodie’ ran out of steam and I would crumple to the floor. Too numb to cry. Too sore to be soothed and touched. Too embarrassed and ashamed to accept comfort.

Even when I relapsed with my rusty old scissors, or moved on to the small serrated knife I could hide in my room, the other outbursts of pain and rage didn’t abate.

As I have grown older my self-harming has evolved. I’m not really the angry teen (or early 20 year old) that I was. Sure I still get angry, feel angry and hold one hell of a grudge, but my anger manifests in other ways. Sometimes I’ll scream and shout, others I’ll let the volume of my silence and scorn work for me. I can spend hours ranting inside my head, biting my tongue, saying nothing. I will feel the urge to cut, to cause myself harm, to lash out at others, to be reckless; but as a 33 year old in a stable relationship, I am able to acknowledge that urge and distract myself.

So, my scars only surface in the sunshine – silvery lines criss-crossing my arms and legs; a flashback to my former self. But the binge-drinking remains during times of duress. I still pick and pull at the skin on my fingers and now pretty much anywhere I can. If you look closely you can pinpoint the second my jaw clenches and my eyes glaze over. I’m trying to either count away the urge or making sure I don’t offend by offloading my vicious tongue.

Self-harming is much, much more than cutting. It can be anything from scratching to overdosing, pulling their hair to breaking their own bones. It is any behaviour that will harm and negatively effect a person and according to the United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of self harm in Europe.

You may think your teen is just being a twat, throwing their proverbial and physical weight around, but could it be more? I urge you not to ignore it. I know its not a comfortable conversation, but its something that has to happen.

It seems to be on the rise with regular stories in the media highlighting statistics of both pre-teen (0-12) and teenage (13-18) girls being treated by medical professionals; plus the latest story to hit our screens of the older generation deliberately harming themselves. According to the University of Manchester, the older people partaking in self injury are actually at the highest risk of suicide. Women and girls are more widely reported to harm themselves but males can be more likely to ‘hit out’ during self-injurious periods – punching walls, instigating fights.

There are a million reasons people hurt themselves. It can become a compulsion, something they have to do before they can move past an emotion or a situation. Make sure they’re safe. Help them with acknowledging the pre-feeling/action before it rises into something they have to indulge. Provide safety measures – antiseptic, bandages, a non-judging hug.

But just remember – there’s no age limit on self harm.

photo credit: The little fawn* * via photopin (license)
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