For Anastasia, self-harming was a control thing that got out of control.
The first time I saw self-harm scars on girls at school I thought then what you probably think now: That’s crazy. Why would anyone do that to themselves?
But when my life felt out of my control, what those girls were doing didn’t seem so crazy.
My parents had been through a messy breakup and I was feeling overwhelmingly anxious and stressed about this and life in general. My thinking spiralled down to a place where I thought I had no control over my life.
The nights were the hardest time to distract yourself from these thoughts – you can’t go for a run, or call up someone for a chat. It sounds stupid – and it was – but one night I decided to try what those girls were doing.
There’s a weird kind of tribalism for teenage girls who cut.
It started a cycle that was hard to break – you’d feel overwhelmed, self-harm to make you feel like you were in control, then feel shame at what you’d done, which would trigger thoughts and feelings that were overwhelming, and it would all start again.
I now know there are other ways to release those emotions that don’t take you through this cycle.
There’s a weird kind of tribalism for teenage girls who cut. Sharing a secret is a way of bonding. And when you’re a teenager, having friends is everything. Looking back I can see we kept each other in the cycle by talking about the behaviour not what was really behind it – the things that were keeping us up at night.
I was good at hiding the scars from anyone outside of the group. Basically, long-sleeve tops were the only thing in my wardrobe. But after a while, I actually wanted people to see. I was embarrassed about it, but… I also wanted someone to notice that I wasn’t coping.
Elon Gersh, a clinical educator at Orygen, explains why some young people resort to self-harming, and what you can do to help them.
The first person to say something about the bandages I had on my arm was a guy I worked with at my afterschool job flipping burgers. He was a dick about it. I’m pretty sure he knew what was under the bandages, and he wanted me to say, knowing that saying it out loud would make me look dumb.
But it wasn’t his attention I cared about. My best friend also worked with us, and it was her attention I was aiming for.
She stuck up for me and told him the bandage was to cover a burn. I now realise I wanted someone to stick up for me. And she did.
And she went one better. She pulled me aside a little later and said, “I know what that really is. I’m worried about you. What’s going on?” I answered truthfully, “I don’t know.”
I also wanted someone to notice that I wasn’t coping.
She urged me to talk to someone. I didn’t heed her advice straight away, but it got me thinking.
Not long after that, my sister saw the scars and sat me down on the steps outside our kitchen. She really tried to understand why I felt this was something I had to do. We chatted and we cried, and it felt good.
The cutting had got to the point where it was no longer something I had control over. It was an urge that happened whenever I felt stressed or emotionally wound up.
After that conversation, my sister talked to my mum. They organised for me to see a psychologist, who, over a few months, taught me how to manage my emotions. We started with little things like flicking an elastic band whenever the urge arose, exercise, deep breathing, and music as distractions. I also learned how to articulate my thoughts and emotions.
I’m so grateful to my best friend and sister for asking me how I was.
The sense of release I now that I know how to talk about how I feel is so much sweeter - and safer - than cutting ever was.
The thing is, my sister and my best friend loved me the whole time. I didn’t need to cut myself to get them to prove that. We all need to remind our friends a little more often that we love them. And if they need our help, offer it. If the help they need is bigger than what we can give them, encourage them to tap into professional support. Doing that could change their life, it did mine.