Welcome, everyone. I’m so glad you’re here. If this is the first blog you’ve seen from the self-harm series, please go to the archives and take a look at the previous interviews after you read this one. If you’re currently self-harming, my hope is that you find someone’s story that you can relate to and see your own possibility for recovery in them.
When I first decided to write this series, I thought I would have a hard time finding willing interviewees, but that wasn’t so. I found Patti, Caren, and Sami who told their stories for the sole purpose of letting others know that hope and healing is within arm’s reach. Now I want you to meet Kate, a young lady who resides in the UK. She is still on her journey to recovery and I’m so grateful she was willing to talk with me.
Could you start by telling me what self-harm coping mechanism you use?
Kate: I struggle with cutting and I’ve been doing it for over two and a half years now. I’ve also been known to slip into some disordered eating patterns (including fasting and purging) and an attempted suicide or two.
Do you know what caused your behavior?
When I started self-injuring, I was under immense pressure to do well on exams and slipped into a depression. A friend of mine told me that she cut herself and felt better after doing so, so I tried it. Since then, I’ve never really been able to stop.
Could you tell me more about the ‘pressure’ you were under?
It was mainly from school. I was on the verge of taking my GCSE’s, which basically dictated the rest of my life.
How were your grades… typically?
I was always an A/B grade student, so my parents were also pushing me to get the best grades possible. Also, my mom has always been a perfectionist so she expected me to do exceptionally well. Her parents were close to us at the time and they added to the pressure. Also, I was putting pressure on myself because I expected nothing less than top grades.
Sometimes I think adults forget how stressful school life can be for teens. We get older and tend to think that kids have it easy until they graduate because they’re not out in the world paying bills yet. How did things go afterward?
My grades dropped in sixth form. I was lucky to be getting D’s because I didn’t turn up for lessons or do homework or anything. I was such a bad student and the information never went in. I was too worried about depression and the scars I was gathering. I almost dropped out after most of my teachers recommended that I did.
But you stuck with it! How are things now?
This year my grades picked up again, which is good. But there was pressure from everywhere… school, home, myself. It was inescapable.
Do you cut when you have anxiety… when things are ‘normal’ (whatever normal is)?
It’s odd, you’d expect that I’d be hysterical… crying, angry. But I don’t think I am. I find I am able to work through the worst of any intense emotion or stress, yet still cut. It doesn’t make much sense, to be honest. Recently I’ve cut when I’m anxious or when I’m down. I tend to use it as a tool to regulate emotions, which isn’t great, and is the reason I’m in therapy.
But I don’t think I know what ‘normal’ is anymore because I’ve been struggling for so long. But I find that I do sometimes cut when I don’t know what else to do, or any other way to deal with what I’m feeling.
How has your family dealt with this?
I’ve been sent to psychologist after psychologist to try and diagnose me. I’m now battling a diagnosis of Bipolar 2.
You’re battling it? So you disagree?
My Bipolar 2 diagnosis is new. Other diagnoses have been suggested to me but this one on Bipolar is new so I’m still trying to understand it. But I don’t think I agree with it.
So you’re still struggling with the urges to repeat this behavior?
I do still struggle because the pressure I felt at the beginning has just gotten worse. I was 16 when I started and I’ve just finished sixth form now and I’m nearly 19. The original cause hasn’t gone – it just got worse, but I’ve been able to reach out to people and admit I have a problem and ask for help.
That is definitely a step in the right direction! May I ask how long it’s been since you last cut?
The last time I cut was July 12th (today it’s the 20th). I’ve dramatically reduced the frequency. It used to be at least daily, but now it’s like once or twice a month. I consider that an achievement.
Absolutely! What person or thing has been your greatest help in this journey?
My therapist is great. He listens and gives as much advice as he can and that really helps.
My friends have also been great because a couple of them understand, or at least know people who’ve been through something similar. They’re less judgmental, which I love.
Who or what has been your greatest hindrance?
My parents, especially my mother, have not been helpful. My dad isn’t the kind of man to talk with about feelings, so I don’t. My mother, however, she thinks she knows what’s best but she doesn’t. I can’t talk to her without her somehow making it about herself. She’s very selfish and invalidates how I feel.
Have you suffered from any abuse in the home?
Luckily, there was no abuse. And my parents divorced which makes things easier as there is no tension between them. But then again it made things unstable for me going in between parents. My mother has always been opinionated, thinking she knows best. But as I’ve become older, I’ve also become more opinionated so she can’t manipulate me as much as she would like. It’s been rough since the divorce, but I’ve always thought I was managing okay. People always told me, ‘Don’t worry, others have it worse.’
You said you tried to commit suicide… do you mind telling me what happened?
The first time, I was sixteen and it was the summer after my GCSEs. I was home alone as my dad had gone away for the weekend with his friends. I took more painkillers than I should have, but I threw them all up and that was it really. Nothing massive.
The second was in the Christmas holiday of that year. My mum was away but she’d left me with the car. I got back from wherever I’d gone and I parked in the garage… Left the engine on but closed the garage doors. I breathed in lots of the fumes but not enough to be toxic. Luckily I stopped because my mum had come home and I could hear her calling my name in the house. In that moment I knew I couldn’t let her find me like that.
Neither time did I have to go to the hospital. I was lucky. I’ve never had to go to the hospital, not even for stitches – even though I probably should have.
I’m happy that it wasn’t your time to go and all your attempts failed. Do you feel like you’re getting enough support between your parents and your friends?
My friends find it difficult to understand what I’m dealing with. They do their best but because they don’t suffer themselves, they can never fully understand.
After I’d cut myself I felt I had to cover it up so I would always wear long sleeves or trousers. Since gaining the confidence to wear short sleeves my friends and family see me differently because I’m exposing scars. They live in fear of ‘pushing me over the edge.’ I also am covered in scars, which are likely to never fade.
My therapist was difficult to access the NSH because of the long waiting lists, and we only get an allotted number of sessions, usually sixteen, and once we’ve had those then that’s it. I’ve just finished my sixteenth. I was getting support, but now I’m not so sure.
A network of support is vital and I hope you have access to other types of help. Maybe some groups… What is the NSH? Is that specific to the UK?
I think so. Everyone pays taxes which fund the National Health System. It funds hospitals, doctors, and GPs (family doctors).
What are your goals for the future as you work on recovery?
I’m taking one day at a time. I’m trying to resist the urges as much as possible. It’s difficult, but I don’t think I’m doing too bad. I’m going to start a psychology degree in September because I want to help people like me who are suffering.
Any words of wisdom for others who are suffering right now?
I would tell them that it’s okay to slip up every now and then, but you gotta jump right back into recovery, even though it’s difficult. Recovery is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it’s worth every moment. It’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak. After all, you’re human. Everyone makes mistakes, just don’t make yours last forever.
As I’ve been typing out this interview and re-reading through the notes, I can’t help but notice Kate’s dismissal of the seriousness of her feelings. Even when discussing the suicide attempts… it’s like I can see her shoulders shrug as she says, ‘No big deal. Nothing really happened.’
Kate ~ It’s good you let your scars show now. In my non-expert opinion, that’s a great sign. You’re accepting yourself as you are. If it makes others too uncomfy… oh well. Your feelings matter. Don’t allow others to minimize them because ‘others have it worse.’ This is your journey. Your feelings and emotions and mental health are top priority. You matter most.
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