"Today marks one year since I last self-harmed"
Our great friend and all-round great guy, Carl Burkitt, tells us about his experience of self-harm and how he learned to treat himself with compassion and understanding.
Today marks one year since I last self-harmed.
One whole year. Blimey.
In truth, I never imagined that I would write this blog. Not just because I never imagined going 365 days without hurting myself, but because I never imagined ever feeling comfortable or safe to tell the world that I self-harm.
You see, before you reading this, I had only ever told two people: my ongoing therapist (thanks for everything) and my wife (hello! I love you).
I didn’t tell anyone for the usual, sad reason: shame. I was ashamed to be someone who hurt themselves. I was ashamed for being weak and useless and an attention seeker. I felt I just needed to keep it to myself, stop being silly, ignore it and eventually it will stop.
But of course, it didn’t stop. I’d been self-harming since my mid-teens while pretending everything was fine. And then in my late-20s it became progressively more frequent, until, from the age of 30, it was an everyday occurrence.
One year ago today, I woke up in immense physical pain. The night before I was at party and got talking to someone. As can often happen with alcohol, the conversation took a bizarre path which led to miscommunication. I went home feeling terrible about myself and how I allowed that person to make me react in such a negative way. I eventually fell into a self-esteem spiral and hurt myself more than I ever had before.
Feeling the pain in the morning, I knew something had to change. That week I told my therapist (seriously, thanks for everything) and my wife (hello again! I really do love you) the full extent of my self-harming, and it was then that my journey really began.
It’s not easy telling other people that you self-harm, but telling the right people can be amazing. And I’ll never take the fact I have those people for granted.
What those people did was not only listen, but they helped me see that I had the power to stop. They helped me see I was not weak for self-harming, or useless, and I was not attention seeking. They helped me see that it had become my way of dealing with difficult emotions and that over time it had turned into an addiction, of sorts. It was a habit that I was not just suddenly going to drop overnight because it had become my coping mechanism. But they helped me see by accepting all of that, I could discover a new coping mechanism.
A big part of me developing my new coping mechanism was to start spotting the signs of when the urge is on its way (eg. being furious at myself when making a basic human mistake, which brings with it hot and itchy skin, tense muscles, aching hands, claustrophobia and a kind of overwhelming blurred vision, etc.)
Once I spot those feelings, I now talk to myself with compassion and understanding, like I would anyone else going through a tough time. I go for a walk around the flat or outside. I hold my wife’s hand and tell her what I’m feeling. I read the little cards in my wallet that remind me I’m human and it’s normal to experience these feelings. I write. I play my favourite music. I run on the spot. I tell myself it will pass (because it always does). And then I forgive myself.
I make it sound easy. It’s not. It’s a constant struggle for me and I can’t guarantee I won’t self-harm again. I can guarantee, though, that I most certainly don’t want to do it again, but if I do I will remember I need to be forgiving, understanding and accepting, and then crack on with my new coping mechanisms.
Take care, you deserve it.
Carl Burkitt works for Time to Change by day and is a poet, writer, performer and pool player of some renown by night.