“Being ‘depressed’ is just part of being a teenager, you’re fine!!”
“Your mum’s done such a lovely job of managing to raise daughters without them doing something silly like self-harming!”
I was sixteen when I first started self-harming, but even before then, when I was around twelve or thirteen, I would find myself digging my nails into my skin and scratching myself. In those early stages, scratching myself was a punishment – I felt I deserved to suffer. When I got older, however, it was almost like a type of purging. I felt so numb and isolated that hurting myself was a way of making the way I felt on the inside physical, it was something tangible that I could see, something that in a way, justified the way I felt on the inside. I’m still not quite sure how I got to that point; it’s all a bit blurry. From what I can gather, it was the feelings of isolation and I’m-not-good-enough that accompanied my friends slowly pushing me away, causing my schoolwork to slip and everything else to crumble with it. And as you’d expect, this became a vicious cycle, with me feeling like hurting myself was the only thing that I had control over.
I was self-harming for a good six months before things came to a head with my parents, and it was only then that they told me that they’d noticed what I’d been doing, and that they weren’t the only ones. I remember feeling so hurt and angry; to me, it felt like people had actively been watching what I was doing and were doing nothing to stop it. I felt like they were letting me get worse. But that was also a turning point for me: if people weren’t going to reach out and help me, then I was going to have to do it on my own. If hurting myself was the thing that I had control over, then I wasn’t going to let it control me.
Simply deciding not to self-harm sounds way easier on paper than it actually was. There was a lot of sitting in my room, writing out everything I felt, then screwing up the paper and hurling it in the bin, and a lot of listening to angry music, and perhaps most importantly, there was a lot of tears. I did a lot of creative writing in that time, writing stories about characters who were struggling with what I was struggling with, and I invested my energy into thinking of solutions for my characters. Without even realising it, while I was looking for a solution for my characters, I was looking for my own solution.
But the real saving grace for me was martial arts. The dojo was the one place where I was allowed to be angry and hit things, and it was a controlled environment where I could get all of those negative feelings out of me. Whenever I started to get urges, I would practice, or if I couldn’t get there, I would put my headphones in, blast my music as loud as I could bear it, and go through my moves in my head. For me, it was all about cultivating a safe space in my head that I could escape to, and knowing that within that mental space, everything I was feeling was valid – and most importantly – I was allowed to feel angry, or upset, or hurt. Because that’s what I was underneath it all: I was angry.
The real truth of it all is that recovery isn’t a one-stop thing. It’s not like one day you’re just cured and you never feel sad or self-harm again. I relapsed after about three years of being clean, but because I knew what worked for me, I was able to dig myself out of it. I started trying to appreciate the little things that happened: I found an empty jam jar, and whenever I had a moment of ‘yeah, I’m really glad this happened’, even if it was just ‘I saw a really cool dog today’, I would write it down and put it in my jar. Whenever I felt like I was spiralling, or starting to slip, I would open my jar and go through the contents. For me, it was all about knowing that what I was feeling was valid – while I wasn’t using the best coping mechanisms, I was still allowed to feel angry or upset or hurt – and knowing that I wasn’t alone. All of the bands I listened to had spoken out about depression or self-harm or mental health issues, and I met one of my best friends through a shared love for All Time Low. I slowly started learning that I wasn’t alone – there were other people who felt like me out there. There were people out there who cared.
I look back on those times at the ripe old age of nearly 22, and it breaks my heart to think that I was ready to end it all. But I also think about all the things I’ve learned between now and then: I know that I have my karate family around me, and that I am allowed to be angry, and I am allowed to go to the dojo and hit things. I still turn to music, and I still listen to the same songs that I did when I was sixteen, but they mean something different now. They mean that I can – and will – survive. I text my friend, and we talk about what we’re feeling. I’ve come to learn that there’s no shame in saying that I’m not okay, or that I need help.
If there’s anything to take away from all of this, please know that you are never, EVER alone. There’s always someone who will be there for you. And hey, self-love is punk rock.