Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Self-Harm to Self-Love: My 12 Week Therapy Journey and Tattoo Promise

Hello my loves,

Today is a bit of a weird one but one I'm excited to share nonetheless! Obviously from the title a big content warning for self-harm. It's gonna be a short post but pretty much just discussing that, so if you are worried reading this may affect your own well-being please don't read! Scroll to the final paragraph if you just want to hear about tattoos lol.

So as the title suggests, I'm starting a 12 week course of trauma-informed therapy to try and overcome my issues with self-harm. My reward for completing it and hopefully staying clean? Two freaking tattoos!

My history with self-harm

My issues with self-harm go way back, and as a mental health blogger I want to provide a true and honest account of my experiences, even though self-harm in any form is treated as a big taboo and something to stay quiet about. I want to unapologetically talk about my experiences with self-harm and normalise getting help for something that is so prevalent in society, especially in young girls.

Ever since I really learned what self-harm was at around 13, and how I could do it, I used it as a coping mechanism. Like most teenagers, it was something I kept hidden away from my parents, and as I was in a swim team till around age 14, I always made sure I hurt myself in hidden places away from the prying eyes of coaches and other swimmers. I pretty much kept it well hidden until I turned 18. 

"Light" or superficial self-harm (not that this is any less valid as other types of self-harm, it just simply never resulted in needing medical attention) pretty much carried me through my teenage years. Stressed? self-harm. Family issues? Self-harm. Didn't like the way I looked? Self-harm. I will state now my "harm of choice" was cutting, occasionally burning, but I'm not going to provide any details details aside from that, at the risk someone in a dark place may take inspiration from it. Although it was obviously clear I had formed a dependency on it, as it wasn't exactly endangering me I allowed myself to turn to it again and again.  

Understanding how safe-guarding issues worked at the time, I never brought up self-harm once in my brief experience with a CAMHS counsellor at age 14-15, as I knew it would be relayed back to my parents. Of the two or so times my parents caught on, I'd sheepishly provide a variety of excuses as to how it happened. At the time I thought they bought it, but seeing how fucking stupid my excuses were, I'm left to assume my parents were more in denial about it than anything, hoping it was an issue that would resolve itself overtime. If they couldn't see it, they didn't question it, so I made sure they wouldn't see it. 

It was only when I turned 18 and my mental health began deteriorating* that my issues with self-harm became more severe. For the first time as my mood worsened and worsened I had stopped caring about hiding what I'd done, the self-harm became more frequent, more visible, more severe. 

In April of 2020 I hit my lowest point, I was experiencing an extremely low period of mood, I felt suicidal, and as I didn't want to be around anymore and I left the house and let self-harm consume me. That day resulted in a visit to the hospital, a (useless) visit from crisis team and a very awkward conversation with my parents.

Though that incident did result in me beginning therapy, visits with a psychiatrist, new medication etc, I still "casually" self-harmed to cope, and it never really stopped. This combined with the new freedoms of university meant I probably engaged in it more regularly than when I was a teen. In this last year it has truly transformed from a coping mechanism to a borderline addiction. Sometimes I'd engage in it with no true reason, just a mixture of desire and habit.

*(you can read more about my discussions on bipolar disorder, medications, and body image by clicking the mental health tag at the bottom of this post). 

Why do I want to stop?

I'm honestly unsure I know the answer to this. What often comes to mind is the fact that I'm turning 20 next year, and if I'm still engaging in self-harm behaviours I will have been doing so for 7 years. Of course this is not me saying it's shameful or embarrassing for people 20 and over to self-harm (as self-harm can be an issue at any age), rather I don't want to carry on something I started when I was 13. I'm entering a new decade of my life, and I don't want to still be using the unhealthy coping mechanisms that teenage me used, and I most certainly don't want this addiction to spiralize into something even worse.

Another thing that comes to mind is I'm tired of hiding it. One thing I really want is to be able to do is teach my lovely swimmers without having to layer up and constantly worry that my uniform is hiding both scars and fresh injuries. I don't want to be responsible for a child's first exposure (though this has never happened) to something as unpleasant as that. I also want to be able to rock my short sleeved clothing without the awkward stares from friends and strangers alike.

Overall, I want to feel comfortable in the skin I'm in. I don't want to feel like I'm hiding a secret or having to cover myself up. I know I will likely carry scars for years, but I don't want to add to them anymore.

So what's happening now?

I am very fortunate that my city has a dedicated self-harm service. Although it actually wasn't something I was considering, it was recommended after my appointment with a psychologist. I think knowing the NHS wait times for my referral to psycho-therapy and psychiatry services, this 12 week programme is definitely something that will help tide me over as I wait.

I'm writing this post a bit late, so I'm actually about to enter week 2 of using this service, but in essence it is a 1:1 hourly session each week, where we can look at coping mechanisms, emotional regulation, a bit of art therapy etc etc to really help create a toolkit of skills and alternatives I can turn to instead of self-harm.

How do I feel about it?

Honestly, I feel pretty optimistic. I've attempted recovery many times, and even was clean for 200+ days at one point, but I've realised this is an issue greater than I can handle alone. I think this support service will provide me with enough to finally overcome my reliance on self-harm. 

Just before the first appointment I did have a relapse that resulted in some butterfly stitches and what will be a pretty ugly scar. As stupid as it sounds, I think because of this dependent mindset, I decided I was going to have "once last time before getting clean, so I should go big or go home", an addict's way of thinking, I know.

Though only time will tell, I'm hoping that this incident in April 2020 will be the last time I engaged in self-harm. Will I likely stop engaging in all harmful behaviours? Probably not yet, but I do want to end cutting and burning specifically once and for all.

So what's with the tattoos?

Now for the fun part of a rather dark post! I have decided that as a bit of a reward, or just something to recognise my achievements/what I'm doing for myself, I'm going to be getting two tattoos in July. One is just a very pretty design I chose from an amazing artist, the other is going to be a moomin tattoo with a hidden semi-colon meaning. I've blurred out the designs as obviously I don't want to risk them being stolen (not that I think anyone would). But I'm so excited to share these with you in July!

Isn't this just replacing one form of self-harm with another?

Sometimes you hear the narrative that tattoos are actually just another method of self-harm. Although I can understand the concern if I had let's say, almost covered all of my arms or legs with tattoos in under a year, I don't think its necessarily true that tattoos = just another form of self-harm. In fact I think it's quite the opposite, I think tattoos can be a beautiful declaration of self-love and self-expression, a commitment to covering yourself with what you find beautiful. 

So I hope my post in July will be a positive one, and I can't wait to share with you the improvements I will have made in how I treat and take care of myself.

Take care and stay safe x

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