When Squidge was about a year old I went through a crisis with my mental health; something which I’d not experienced since the dark days of my pregnancy when I honestly couldn’t see how having a baby could mean anything other than the fact that my life was over.
During this latest bout of mental instability I had three months off work, appointments with my GP who then referred me to a psychiatrist and multiple changes to the combination of antidepressants I was taking to try and help me gain some sort of foothold against the onslaught of flood of sadness and panic where my brain used to be.
It was during this frightening and difficult time that I first deliberately harmed myself.
The first few times, when I locked myself in the bathroom, slowly and deliberately slicing at my own skin, the cuts that I made were shallow, superficial and healed leaving only the very faintest of lines to show where they had been. After a couple of days of covering the marks with plasters all that remained were angry red lines that could have been made by brambles or a particularly unfriendly cat or any number of innocuous things.
The last time, however, was different.
I was so angry with myself, so full of self-hatred and truly believing that I deserved the punishment that no one seemed prepared to give me that I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands. I don’t know why that day was so difficult or remember what I’d done to induce such rage in myself but it burned, flooding my brain with white hot fury and leaving behind only the knowledge that I deserved to feel physical pain.
At first, like all the other times the cuts I made were shallow but the slow drain of my boiling emotions just didn’t come. Instead I dug the corner of the razor blade into the same cuts again and again until the blood ran down my arm and dripped into the bath water, turning it a delicate shade of pink that, at the time, it didn’t occur to me to be scared by.
Each time the bleeding slowed, my body beginning to try and heal itself of the damage that I had inflicted, I scrubbed at them until they reopened and only then did I begin to feel the anger seep away until the only thing left was the burning in my arm and a growing sense of shame about what I had done.
I thought that the cuts would heal leaving the barest shadows of themselves but as one week turned into two, then three, then a month I realised that the damage I had caused was far more permanent. I am now left with five livid pink lines on my upper arm, each about an inch long, a couple of millimeters wide and far too straight and uniform to have been caused by anything other than myself.
Most of the time they are hidden by my sleeves but occasionally I end up wearing something that doesn’t quite cover them and then, looking down at Squidge or to pick something up or at myself in the mirror I catch sight of these marks that I’m still not yet used to. They remind me of the awful place I was in, the sheer force of the anger I directed at myself and the numbness that came after when I vaguely wondered if I would ever return to being myself again but decided that I didn’t really care.
I never really worried about anyone else seeing them however, convinced that no one would really look closely enough or, if they did spot them would not be particularly bothered about how I had come by them. The Northern One knows that they’re there but he already knows why, my uniform means that no one at work ever sees them and most of my friends are sufficiently aware of my mental health issues to put two and two together and know not to ask.
Over the weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to the MAD Blog Awards ceremony; a wonderful evening at an upmarket hotel that involved wearing of a pretty dress and hoping that I didn’t trip over in my attempts to be a grown up and wear some (not very) high heels. I knew that the marks on my arm would be visible when I first tried the dress on but I hoped that they were sufficiently small and uninteresting that no one would comment on them or even notice them.
I was wrong.
Throughout the night I caught glimpses of myself in the mirrored walls of the reception room but I barely noticed my scars, so fixated was I on the not entirely irrational fears that I had an enormous ladder in my tights or that I’d somehow managed to tuck my dress into my undies on the way back from the loo and that everyone was smirking at me rather than telling me about my inadvertent faux-pas.
I honestly thought that no one had noticed, or at least that no one cared about my scars that were so clearly, so obviously self-inflicted until I was stood taking to another blogger whose gaze suddenly flicked to my side and who grabbed my arm to inspect it more closely.
“What on Earth have you done to yourself?” she said.
I floundered for words, unable to decide whether to try and brush her question aside or to make up some sort of believable story as to how I had ended up with cuts almost exactly the same length and width apart. In the end all I managed was to turn bright red, make a couple of panicked noises and feebly flap my hands in an attempt to deflect her concern that I didn’t know how to respond to without humiliating us both.
“Oh” she said, “Oh”
The conversation stopped, no one entirely sure how to carry on now that we were both embarrassed; she for having stumbled upon something so difficult and painful and me for having managed to put myself in such an awful situation through something I did months ago. We both drifted away from each other after that and I didn’t see her again for the rest of the night but her words have stayed with me and played on my mind, asking me questions that I just don’t have the answers to.
If this woman noticed then who else has seen my scars and stayed silent?
Do people see my arm and, knowing what I must have done look at me with pity or disgust or something else?
Have I now made my mental turmoil obvious to everyone when before they would probably never had known?
The biggest question of all is wondering what I tell Squidge when he becomes old enough to notice and ask me how I hurt myself? I don’t to lie to him or try and fob him off with some made up story, partly because I’m convinced he’ll be able to find some flaw in my account in the way that only small children can and also because I don’t want him to realise that I’m not telling the truth and worry about why I’m making things up.
At the same time I can hardly tell him that sometimes Mummy gets so angry and stressed with herself that they only way she’s able to let the feelings out is to attack herself with razor blades.
What if he thinks that I might kill myself, either accidentally on or on purpose?
How is a child of any age, even one that is grown up supposed to cope with the fact that their parent hates themselves so much they deliberately hurt themselves to the point that it leaves visible scars?
I don’t know what to tell him; how to help him to understand and yet keep him safe from all the awful, frightening, miserable things that I wish he never had to find out about. I know I can’t protect him forever and that hiding things will only teach him that some things should be hidden even when you need help but how do I know if he’s ready?
My poor little boy.
I’m so sorry.
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.