Self Harm, and Scars

Below is a post I made on the wonderful Minds Like Ours forum, and wanted to share it on my blog. It’s an issue I’ve touched upon in a previous entry, but felt it deserved its own post.

 

Something that’s been on my mind a lot recently, is my self harm scars. I recently saw this tumblr post and it made me think about how people perceive self harm scars, how many people hide their own, and the stigma surrounding self harm in general. People are finally starting to talk about mental health in a positive way, thanks to the amazing work of organisations like Mind, Minds Like Ours and lots of other fantastic charities. There are also lots of celebrities getting their stories out there in an effort to stop the stigma against illnesses such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders and so on.

Something I’ve noticed, though, is the lack of mention of self harm. I haven’t seen all of the BBC’s ‘It’s A Mad World’ season but I was very interested to watch a few of its programmes, such as ‘Diaries of a Broken Mind’ and ‘Failed by the NHS’. I was happy to see Borderline Personality Disorder mentioned, as well as a good, broad range of other illnesses. However, I was quite surprised at the lack of coverage of self harm. I do appreciate that self harm is a tricky thing to include… it can be very triggering, and something to be handled very delicately. But the problem I have, is that whilst I begin to feel better and more open about my disorder (BPD), I still struggle with my self harm scars.

I believe that a huge stigma still surrounds self harm, that hasn’t been addressed anywhere near as much as it should be by now. With all of the coverage and awareness that’s been created around mental health, why aren’t we talking about self harm more? We know how common it is, especially with young people… wouldn’t it help to know there were others, to see people’s scars and to know you don’t have to be ashamed? I remember when I was a young teenager, there was a documentary featuring the website Recover Your Life. At the time, I was a young, depressed teenager who had problems with self harm and just knowing there was a whole community out there of people dealing with it, and actively trying to overcome it, was such a huge comfort.

It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve had scars that are very noticeable. I used to self harm very ‘lightly’, and the scars were very faint. However, last summer I made cuts that were much worse and much deeper, which has led to bad scarring on my upper arm, and one large scar on my lower arm. I now cannot bring myself to wear short sleeves in public. I never minded this as a teenger when I had fresh cuts – I knew it was just for a few weeks. But my scars are still severe after over a year… and the idea of always wearing cardigans isn’t very appealing. I’m slowly starting to become less ‘ashamed’ of them but it’s not easy.

It’s not like you can walk down the street and generally see those kind of scars on someone – I’ve only ever met one girl who openly shows her scars, and her attitude about them is so admirable. Privately, I’m not ashamed of my scars as I’ve survived some really, really tough stuff and they are a part of my past – almost similar to how my tattoos represent parts of my history, so do my scars. The main thing that I struggle with at the moment, is keeping up that attitude in public and daring to bare them.

Do you have scars that they are self conscious of, or are you proud to bare them? Do you have any thoughts on the stigma surrounding self harm… and should we be doing more to raise awareness about self harm?

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Recovery

Sometimes, you don’t really know how well you’re progressing in your recovery, or how far you’ve come. You don’t really have anything to measure it against, and it’s hard to have an objective view of your own mental health. For me, I won’t think about how I’m getting better for ages, and it’ll suddenly hit me.

That just happened now, and prompted me to blog about it. I checked out BBC iPlayer to see if there were any other ‘It’s A Mad World’ programmes available, and noticed a couple of mental health related documentaries. I’ve just started with ‘Football, Madness and Me’. It follows three people with various mental illnesses, who take part in a football league where everyone has a mental health problem. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t completely gripped by the premise of it (I’m not the world’s biggest football fan), but I didn’t want to dismiss it too quickly. I also noticed in the blurb that one of the people featured had problems with self harm – something I’ve rarely seen in mental health documentaries.

I hope that self harm gets a fair representation in this documentary. I think it’s very often overlooked in mental health programmes, I haven’t seen or heard much about it for a long time. It’s a huge issue that affects so many people, and needs to be better represented. Not just because so many people suffer from it and could benefit from seeing others’ experiences, but also to help those who are recovered, but struggle with their scars. I myself have some significant scars on my arm and find it really hard to show them in public. If there was less stigma around it, perhaps I’d feel less self-conscious about them. Who knows.

Anyway. I’ve only watched ten minutes of it so far, and hearing about Hayley’s depression suddenly made me realise that I’m a million miles away from being depressed. It was almost a shock to me, I’m so used to having something… depression when I’m not anxious, or anxiety when I’m not depressed, and so on. But right now, I’m happy. I look forward to tomorrow. I look forward to a lot of things. I’m so, so far from the place I used to be in and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

Don’t get me wrong, those symptoms still need to be managed – I have to try to control my impulsiveness (generally!), keep my emotions in check and make sure I look after myself (plently of sleep, regular meals, not drinking too much, etc). And that’s something to always keep in mind with recovery… you can never just suddenly wake up one day, and be cured. You have to work at it, and mean it when you say you want to get better. You need to look after yourself, and try to do so with love and respect.

It’s a long road, and you will have relapses. You’ll have times where you thought you were getting better, have a low point and wonder if you’ll ever get there. You will. As long as you want to, really want to, and take proactive steps towards caring for yourself, you can get better. I’ll leave you with one particular technique that I learnt in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, called PLEASE MASTER. (Oo-er)

PLEASE MASTER

PhysicaL illness (treat) – If you are sick or injured, get proper treatment for it.
Eating (balanced) – Make sure you eat a proper healthy diet, and eat in moderation.
Avoid mood-altering drugs – Do not take non-prescribed medication or illegal drugs. They are very harmful to your body, and can make your mood unpredictable.
Sleep (balanced) – Do not sleep too much or too little. Eight hours of sleep is recommended per night for the average adult.
Exercise – Make sure you get an effective amount of exercise, as this will both improve body image and release endorphins, making you happier.
MASTERy (build)
Try to do one thing a day to help build competence and control.

First Post

And we’ll all float on, alright.

That song has been my anthem for today. I made the twenty minute bus journey from the city centre to my workplace this morning, listening to Spotify on random, and that song came on. In that moment, I knew everything was alright. And that everything would be alright. It put a smile on my face, I bopped along to the music and looked forward to my Monday morning.

That’s what this blog is going to be about, pretty much. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) but I’ll be damned if it controls me, or my life. I intend this blog to be an account of the mundane (my daily life, musings and ramblings) as well as my more serious thoughts about BPD, depression and the mental health system.

So. I’d best introduce myself.

I’m Carla. I’m 23 years old, I have (dyed) red hair, I’m ridiculously tall and I’m a bit of a geek. I’ve lived in Norwich for the past two years, but I’m originally from Lincolnshire (alright, duck?) and I say the words ‘castle’ and ‘bath’ properly. I’ve just started a job in the insurance industry, and I’m really loving it so far. I have aspirations to study further in English, but we’ll see how that fits in with my current career plans. I love RPGs, books, sci-fi, fantasy, dressing up and socialising.

Borderline Personality Disorder was first brought to my attention in around 2009. I’d only ever been diagnosed with depression and anxiety (and a brief period of OCD), and I’d never heard of BPD. I had a one-off appointment with a mental health professional, and she asked me the usual questions… but then, she asked me about my anger. I’d never been asked about it before, and it caught me off guard. I’d been getting very easily and very intensely angry at the time, and this (amongst the other symptoms) led her to suggest that I had BPD. She gave me a factsheet about it, and it was like being given the last piece to an otherwise unfathomable puzzle.

That was the beginning of my journey towards getting better. I started taking Citalopram, and I was already receiving some great counselling from an NHS counsellor in Leeds. Before I could take advantage of some BPD-centric therapy, however, I broke up with my then boyfriend and moved back to Lincolnshire. Therapy and treatment was very patchy there. It was when I moved to Norwich in 2011, that I got the help that I needed in the form of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT).

That’s a very short and very condensed summary of my BPD, and my mental health in general. Hopefully it’ll give you a brief background and understanding, and I can then explain different aspects of BPD in the future. It’s a very complex disorder (and now referred to as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, if I’m not mistaken).

Anyway… I look forward to writing again, and I hope to perhaps reach out to other BPD recovery blogs, or just people in general that might like to talk.

-CJ