SENSITIVITY WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS DESCRIPTIVE CONTENT AROUND SELF-HARM. ONLY READ ON IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS TOPIC. THANK YOU.
Interview by Stuart Graham
Answers by Laura Goodwin
Q- What is the first word that comes to your head when you hear the words ‘Mental Health’?
Q- And why would you say that is?
A- It’s just instinctive, it’s the first place my mind goes I guess.
Q – Is there a specific time in your life that you felt most affected by your personal mental health struggle?
A- There are two ways I can go about that. 2011 was when it was at its worst, when I just had a total mental breakdown and started self-harming. I just completely got out of control. I couldn’t regularly go to school, I was going 2 days out of 5 because I couldn’t get out of bed and it was seen as not depression, it wasn’t seen as anything. Flash forward to now, when I’m at my worst again, but I don’t want it to be like 2011 so I’m trying to push myself.
Q- Before you yourself experiences mental health issues, did you know much about the spectrum of the way people can be affected by mental health problems?
A- I don’t think so, no. I think it wasn’t very openly spoken about, it was very taboo, especially because I’m from a small town and it seemed no one had ever heard of it. It wasn’t until I saw that Demi Lovato, and it was what she talked about that kinda sparked something in me, hearing it I thought that was what I was going through, that’s me. But I think it was always there, stuff like suicide was always joked about and mental health just seemed to be something that wasn’t taken seriously.
Q- Do you have things you do on a daily basis or in times when you are struggling, as a means of coping?
A- Self-harm, I guess, is the worst way to cope with it but it’s the only way I’ve found any refuge in. Since 2011 I’ve tried lots of ways of coping but self-harm has always kind of been able to stop me in a moment like that. But that’s why I’ve gone to the doctors here at uni so see if I can get something that isn’t going to be that. But there are other coping mechanisms, like listening to sad music for some reason kind of gives me the need to cry, cause when I get to my worst I go completely numb. So I think that’s why the self-harm works, cause it makes you feel pain and that’s why sad music works cause it makes me cry, and once that’s over with it’s almost catharsis.
Q- You mentioned self-harm in your last answer, so when you say ‘self-harm’ what is it that you actually mean by the phrase?
A- Using an instrument of choice to harm yourself with. So for me that was using knives and scissors upon any part of me I could get a hold of, I guess.
Q- Would you associate the word ‘cumulative’ with self-harm or do you see each incident of bodily harm as an event of self-harm in itself?
A- I think it’s a long-term thing, really. Because no matter what I’m doing, when I really get hit by my depression, no matter what I do, it’s bad. Whether it is smoking or direct bodily harm, it’s these things constantly harming me, but they are helping me as well so it’s not a fixed event – it’s a totally long-term thing.
Q- Would you say a bottle of alcohol holds the same potential for self-harm as a blade or a razor?
A- Oh, 100%. I don’t personally drink but my birth mum was an alcoholic and that’s her way of coping as well as self-harm, which I discovered. I definitely think it is self-harm as well.
Q- Mental Health has arguably seen quite a progressive shift in the last decade as to how it is regarded, would you say self-harm has also seen the same shift?
A- I think it’s still lagging. I definitely think it is still a taboo topic. People are happy to talk about depression, anxiety and any other mental health issues but when it comes to self harm – it’s still seen as taboo. Whenever I mention it I still sort of hesitate to say the words ’cause of how I think people will react, but I definitely think someone needs to come out and say, ‘look, this is what happens, it’s not a good thing, but this is a coping mechanism and we can’t keep cringing whenever we hear it’.
Q- Could you talk me through your mindset in those minutes, or hours, before the incident of self-harm?
A- Usually when I self-harm there has been quite a few things happening, and I can’t cope anymore. So if I’m getting to that point in my mindset when I’m on a short trigger, it could be as simple a thing as someone uses my glass, for example, because there has been so much happening beforehand. In my head the noise gets too much I guess, it’s as if there are too many people talking, and suddenly it goes silent and that’s when the problem arises and that’s when I pick up the scissors and it starts.
Q- Would you say you are quite open about your history of self-harm or would you say there is an aspect of “hiding your scars”, literally or figuratively?
A- When I was younger I didn’t know what to do, because in my head no one had ever done it before. I’ve got a thing when I’m always quite warm, so always pull up my sleeves and I didn’t know what to do because I was afraid if I stopped pulling up my sleeves people would begin to notice and wonder why I was keeping them down. So I showed them but not purposely, just to pretend that everything was alright. That seemed to be seen as attention seeking though, so later I tried to hide them.
Q- The fact that you’re now happy to sit down and be interviewed about your experiences with mental health, would you say that indicates you are better, or at least getting there?
A- I think the only reason I sat down for this is because I’ve been to the doctors and officially been diagnosed. Five years ago I went to a therapist and he said it was for attention, and that all teenage girls go through that phase. At that point I didn’t want help, so I went along with it and didn’t push for a second opinion. But now that’s I’ve been to the doctors and received a diagnosis, I feel like I can actually sit down and talk about it. I feel like it got harder this semester, but now that I have the diagnosis I can keep going, knowing that I’m not crazy.
Q- So what did that mean to you then when you were finally diagnosed?
A- When I went, I was afraid of going back to how I was in 2011, but my flatmates encouraged me to do it and when I was finally told I had depression I thought “finally, I’m not crazy”. But now a few weeks have past, it feels like a weight again. There was a relief with the diagnosis and that was good, but then I remembered it wasn’t a good thing this was the diagnosis of.
Q- Finally what made you come forward to be part of this project?
A- I want people to know that it’s… it’s something everyone struggles with, in a way. It’s about how people deal with it. Especially with self-harm. I want it to be known that it’s a thing, and that we can’t keep brushing it under the rug and pretending that it’s not something. I feel like self harm is just as addictive as smoking or drinking, it’s one of those things that you immediately go to, it’s a comfort blanket that you go for. Also I just want people to know that it’s a good thing that we are talking about mental health, and it needs to be spoken about in all these different ways.