Living with mental illness: 'By the time I was 15, self-harm had become my best friend...'

See Change ambassador Siobhán Brady speaks about her experience with self-harm

Earlier this week, SpunOut.ie launched Ireland's first self-harm awareness campaign. As a youth information website, SpunOut.ie is aiming to challenge the misconceptions people often have about self-harm, and give better support to everyone involved. Supporter of the campaign and See Change ambassador Siobhán Brady speaks about her experience with self-harm... 

As I am sitting here typing this article I find myself staring down at my arms looking for some inspiration to appear. As I’m staring down at my arms I am forced to look at the countless scars, straight lines delicately positioned from my wrists to my shoulders, some are white others are pink, some are faded while others are risen. I find myself losing my concentration and being brought back to the times where I pressed the blade to my skin in order to cut myself in the hopes of feeling some relief.

Relief from what you might ask? Relief from the negative emotions, the intense hatred I had developed towards myself, the jealously I felt towards people who had an ability to truly feel pleasure and enjoy life. I was 13 when I first began to experience depression and I was 13 when I made my first cut.

Why?

You’re probably asking yourself what could be so bad in a 13 year old’s life that would make her want to cut herself? Well, the honest answer is that I’m not sure. It wasn’t that my life was crap, it wasn’t that I didn’t have people around me who cared for me, it was my mind.

It was my mind fighting against me, attacking me and working to destroy me. I began to feel low within myself, hopeless, isolated and lonely. I felt worthless, like I was nothing, I didn’t feel good enough, brave enough or strong enough. I didn’t have an ability to enjoy life; nothing allowed me to experience pleasure. I found myself running through the motions day in and day out, doing only what was expected of me and nothing more. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t have the strength to do more than what was expected as my depression was wearing me down bit by bit. I was not living but rather I simply existed.

I needed control, control I didn’t have. I needed peace from my thoughts, peace I couldn’t find. I needed to escape but I was trapped. I was trapped until I found something that helped, I was trapped until I found self-harm. My life was in turmoil; I had nothing left to lose and what was the worst that could happen by cutting myself?

I had already considered suicide so if something went wrong, it wouldn’t have mattered. I began to cut at the age of 13 and what started out as something seemingly simple - a scratch here or there - soon developed into something much more. The control I had when I began self-harming soon diminished and I found myself at the mercy of my self-harm - I was hooked.

Self-harm was my best friend...

By the time I was 15 self-harm had become my best friend, by the time I was 17 my life was dependant on self-harm as without it I truly couldn’t cope. There was no longer a thought process, I was no longer trying to stop myself. If I got an urge I acted on it, I didn’t have the strength to fight it any more. Cutting myself was my lifeline, my reason to keep living and it was what allowed me to cope with life and to get through each day.

Four years after I first self-harmed it felt like I had exhausted all avenues with regards to help and support. Following my suicide attempt at 15, my secret was no longer a secret. But when I was 17 and at rock bottom, I felt like things couldn’t get any worse.

Acknowledging the issue

Somewhere deep inside me I knew this was not a positive way of coping, I knew I needed help, and I knew things needed to change and somehow I managed to find someone who pointed me in the right direction. After a stay in an adolescent psychiatric unit I found myself learning more about myself and my self-harm. I wasn’t ‘fixed’ but I was beginning to get that control back. I was beginning to be the one who was in charge.

My journey didn’t end when I was discharged from hospital - in many ways it was only beginning. I still faced challenges, I still had to deal with urges but I had begun to identify new positive coping skills. When I received a new diagnosis of borderline personality disorder at 19, I was presented with more opportunities to understand and overcome my self-harm and that is exactly what I did.

Now I’m not going to say that I never have bad days but I have learned to accept the bad days when they come and move on from them. I have learned how to take control and how to be in control of my self-harm and that is a huge part of the reason I am still alive today.

You're never really cured

Self-harming doesn’t just stop - it takes time, energy and persistence.  Self-harm is like a twister, rushing in and breaking you down. Afterwards, you have to be built back up, stronger than ever with a team of supporters around you, cheering for you, guiding you, and helping you. It took me a long time to accept that I needed help and it took me even longer to ask for that help. The lack of understanding around self-harm is what prevents people from seeking help. The fear of judgement and ridicule can be too much at times for people and they continue in silence. But I hope and I feel positive that with campaigns such as #knowselfharm we can help more people.

I’ve self-harmed since I was 13, I’m now 21. I’ve spent time in psychiatric units; I’ve done different therapies and engaged with different services, and even now at the age of 21, I have recognized that I must continue to work towards a life without self-harm. I have to accept that I can have bad days and those bad days may include self-harm but I know now that that doesn’t mean I have to let it control me.

I know I will never be free from self-harm, I will always have the scars sprawled across my body, which tell a story and show a journey that remind me each and every day of what I have gone through. But I’ve come out the other end, I have learned about myself, found new coping methods and after many years and many cuts later, I have finally got control over my self-harm.

With each day I don’t cut I claim a small victory. I may not have won the war against my self-harm just yet but I am well and truly on the way…

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Siobhan Brady writes about mental health issues on her blog.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ieto find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information atwww.yourmentalhealth.ie