I self-harmed when I was younger, my most dangerous symptom of distress came in the form of an eating disorder. I came very close to needing to be hospitalised. Most days were a haze, I felt barely conscious, I had all sorts of weird symptoms such as a constant ringing in my ears.
One of the scariest parts of it was how it took over my personality. I became withdrawn, quiet, very rigid in terms of what I could and couldn’t do and any disruption to my schedule would cause me to become so panicked that I would hurt myself.
I took comfort in feeling unwell, if I still felt weak, and my mind felt foggy, everything was on track and okay. I felt rewarded when I felt like this which is really disturbing to think back on. Eating disorders and other types of self-harm can act as a coping mechanism which is why they can be so difficult to treat. To have your coping mechanism taken away from you is a scary thing.
It all started when I was around 13. I had a rough time transitioning into adolescence and all the physical changes that comes along with it. I started getting unwanted attention from older men which was uncomfortable and scary at that age. It made me feel that my body was something to be ashamed of and that I needed to cover it up. My mood became very low and I became overwhelmed with all the pressure that I put on myself to be the perfect daughter and perfect student. There was probably two years where it was really really bad. Then after 17 things started getting a little better but I still felt controlled by these harmful patterns. It’s not until I was about 22/23 where I really felt free from it. For a long time I did feel “stuck” and that it would be like this forever, it was hard to see a way out.
I felt like I had no control over it, as much as I wished I could stop I didn’t think I could.
When my parents realised that something was wrong they put a lot of pressure on me to get better. They threatened to pull me out of school, they sent me to see doctors, they pleaded with me to just stop. This was all very overwhelming for me because I felt like I had no control over it, as much as I wished I could stop I didn’t think I could.
The turning point for me came when I started to realise how much of an impact this was having on my life. I was tired of being controlled by it and missing out on having fun and just enjoying being young. It was when I started to see that there was hope for me and my future that things started to get better. My desire to be happy trumped the comfort and the positive feelings associated with the eating disorder.
This was a slow process, It did take me awhile to get over the feelings of discomfort associated with getting better and it took me years to finally feel free from the harmful thinking patterns that trapped me and caused me so much distress. I had to literally rewire the areas in my mind responsible for producing positive emotions so that the feeling of hurting myself didn’t cause me satisfaction, comfort and safety. Getting excited about the future and all the things I could do helped spur me on.
I changed the way I saw food, from being something that I had to have to live, to something that I looked forward to, that was exciting, and that I needed to nourish my body. I have learnt to respect my body and the signals that it sends me. Not being so food focused gave me SO much more time to focus on my goals, my friends and family and most importantly having fun.
I started running and strength training which really helped me as well. In order to run well I needed to fuel my body properly and I started to appreciate the way that food helped me to feel strong. I also gained an appreciation of my body as something strong and functional rather than seeing it as being something ornamental.
Over time I have become more familiar with my thinking style and have become much more accepting of what I need; knowing this helps me to deal with my emotions more proactively. I am definitely high on the anxiety “spectrum”; now that I know this when I have an anxious response to something I am able to reframe things so that my mindset is more objective. I reflect on whether this amount of anxiety is needed or whether it is even realistic based on the situation I am facing. That’s not to say that everything is perfect now- I definitely still have ups and downs – I just feel much better equipped to deal with the lows. I am also incredibly fortunate to come from a loving family and to have friends around me who I can talk to openly about things and having this support has played a big role in helping me to overcome my patterns of self-harm. Even when things seem hopeless or it seems like you are stuck, just know that things can change.
If you are experiencing self-injurious thoughts or behaviours, don’t suffer in silence, you can get in touch with any of the following, for professional help or just to speak about how you are feeling:
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
0161 705 4304
Maintains register of accredited CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapists.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
01455 883 300
Lists accredited therapists.
A safe, supportive online community where you can listen, be heard and share your experiences with others.
User-led organisation for people who self-harm, and their friends and families.
User-led self-harm guidance and support network.
0808 808 4994 (helpline)
Helpline and online support for people aged 16–25.
National Self Harm Network (NSHN)
Survivor-led closely monitored forum for people who self-harm, and their friends and families.
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