Darkness

The darkness was comforting, like a loving friend wrapping a blanket of stars around your shoulders.

It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the air was crisp with cold, but not uncomfortable. Underneath the music in my headphones, I could feel my feet pounding the pavement  I was walking with intent, but without clear direction or purpose, across parks and through maze-like housing estates.

Occasionally, I would stop to sit on a bench, smoking four or five cigarettes, before gathering my thoughts and continuing my nebulous journey. The faux-fur hood on my navy coat was pulled over my head, covering most of my face. I felt protected and hidden from the occasional passerby – if I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me.
After an hour of striding through the outskirts of the quiet city, I came to stop at the foot of a busy bridge. The orange glow from the the street lights masked the starry sky and I felt my comfort blanket quickly snatched from my shoulders.

I removed my headphones to be greeted by a torrid of traffic noise. I had walked as far as the city allowed. This was the end of my journey and the air felt colder now.

Dandelions

I gazed vacantly at the exam paper laid out in front of me. The words blended into a swirling pool of black and white that cascaded from the small wooden desk onto the dusty, tiled floor below. The only thing that was permeating my viscous mind was the incessant noise. I imagine it would have seemed silent to anyone else, but I could hear everything – papers rustling, chairs creaking, invigilators pacing, sniffing, coughing, breathing, sighing, tapping, scratching.

I was all too much. I jumped to my feet, causing an almighty screeching noise as the chair pushed backwards. My breathing quickening as I felt the eyes of three hundred students glare up at me. I swiftly turned and marched away from the desk towards the exit, discarding my untouched exam paper. I could hear ‘eyes forward!’ echoed behind me as I grabbed my bag and pushed past a nervous invigilator, who quickly jumped out of my way.

As I opened the doors to the outside world, the cool air hit me like a hurricane against battered cliffs. I gasped and looked up at the grey sky with tear-filled eyes. The words ‘you are useless, you are worthless, you are pathetic’ echoed in my mind like a record stuck on repeat. Three years of my university education, slipping away with each exam I failed to complete.

I proceeded to walk home, disconsolate and alone. The litter and discarded leaflets swept around my feet, emulating my scattered and fragile thoughts. The tears fell heavier as I took a detour through the playing fields, picking dandelion heads on the edge of the path. I squeezed the seedlings in my hand, extinguishing any form of life they once carried.

I came to rest on the bridge overlooking the river. I peered over at the beautiful torrid below and combed through the established catalogue of questions that resided in my mind – will I ever be happy? Would anyone notice if I disappeared? Should I just jump?

I took a deep breath and dropped the crushed dandelion into the river. I watched it disappear amid the silver torrent, wishing my worries would do the same.

The First Cut is the Deepest

Children often want their pain to be recognised. They want that colourful cast on a broken arm or a big purple bruise after a fall. They need their suffering to be acknowledged and appreciated – ‘I fell over and it really hurt – look at my plaster!’

So when people ask me why I self-harm, I explain using a similar analogy – ‘I hurt myself so I can see physical evidence of the pain inside and know that my suffering is real’.

I remember very clearly the first time I self-harmed. I don’t think I have ever shared this with anyone, but I have come to believe that by sharing our own parts of history, however painful, it can help shape the future for others in a more positive way.

I sat on the back porch after school, sneakily smoking a cigarette whilst trying to stop my boisterous labrador slobbering all over my jumper.

‘Get the hell off me, I’m not in the mood.’ I mumbled whilst pushing his wet nose out of my ear.

I had thirty minutes to get ready and leave for work. I was only fourteen years old, so I just washed dishes and waited tables in the local pub a couple of nights a week, but it was a nice escape from school and home. Not that I had a tough home life, on the contrary, I had a very loving family. I just felt more at ease and free to be myself at the pub. It was a place where I could smoke, swear and talk about whatever I wanted without fearing the wrath of my Mother or God (the former being much worse of course).

I threw my cigarette butt over the back wall to hide the evidence, but while I walked back to the porch, I felt a wave of unhappiness wash over me. I had been experiencing these waves more and more recently, but I just put it down to hormones and crash dieting. ‘Get over yourself you freak’ I thought as I walked through the back door, into the kitchen. I could hear my little brother playing his video games in the TV room next door, but I still felt completely isolated and desperately alone.

I opened the fridge and had a good rummage around. I eventually decided to slice up a large block of cheese, and before I knew it, I had wolfed down the lot. I put the knife back down on the chopping board and stared out of the kitchen window. I could see into the back garden, where a tiny blue tit clutched onto a feeder and two collared doves bobbed their heads as they strutted through the neatly cut grass. My mind drifted away for a second, before I quickly realised I felt full and wholly repulsive.

I ran to the bathroom, slammed the door behind me and forced myself to be sick. When I felt completely empty, I sat down by the toilet and wiped the mascara and spit from my face, wondering if this cruel, daily routine would ever end. I stood up, turned the tap and splashed some cold water on my face. catching a glance of myself in the mirror. I hissed at the tired reflection that starred back at me, haunting me.

As I reached for a towel, I noticed a small scrape on my wrist. I must have caught it outside without realising. I proceeded to gently run my fingers over the tiny nick, soothing the broken skin. When suddenly, an overwhelming urge forced me to fiercely scratch at the tiny cut, making it much larger and bloody.

My mind just took over and I ran from the bathroom, back into the kitchen. I picked up the knife on the chopping board and continued to gouge at the wound with the tip of the blade. I couldn’t stop. It was like all the pain was finally coming to the surface and I was able to control it. I was the one with all the power and I finally had something to show for all the misery and suffering inside.

The sound of my brother moving in the next room, woke me from my frenzy. I put down the knife and frantically wrapped my arm in some paper towel. I paused and looked out of the kitchen window once again. As I peered through the glass into the tranquil garden, I became consumed by the beauty of the lush grass and colourful flowers. My mind drifted away from the agony inside, to a better place. I even caught a glimpse of the blue tit, as he flew away through the branches of the conifer tree.

Invincible

I often will outrightly refute any suggestion from friends, family or doctors that I may be experiencing a manic episode. I immediately believe that they are trying to turn my rare piece of happiness into a symptom of my illness. I am unable to see how damaging my elated mood can be.

“You haven’t done any work for this presentation and it’s tomorrow, we need to meet in the library in one hour. If you don’t turn up, I’m doing it without you. Bye.”

I rolled my eyes and threw my phone on the bed. A had been hassling me about this project for weeks and it was boring me. I understood the mark would contribute to my finals but couldn’t A just enjoy our last year of University? I downed a glass of vodka and lemonade left on my desk from the night before and raced to the library.

“I’m here!” I proclaimed loudly to A, who was sat in silence, surrounded by piles of well thumbed books.

“Yes, that’s great but can you actually do some work?” A coldly whispered while keeping her eyes fixed on the notes in front of her.

I sarcastically saluted her as I backed away from the table, almost knocking over an elderly librarian lady who loudly tutted.

Within an hour I had tracked down every book on the Cuban revolution, drawn up a plan and produced a basic powerpoint. A looked pleasantly surprised and seemed to forget my distinct lack of effort from the previous weeks. We continued to work for hours and by the evening, it was complete. I legged it home and got ready to go out for the night.

I stumbled in at 7am the following morning, giving me an hour of sleep before I had to leave to give the presentation with A. I fell out of bed and wiped the mascara from my cheeks. I didn’t have time to shower, so I quickly brushed my teeth, tied my hair back and chucked on some clean clothes.

Before I left the house, I thew back a couple of diazepam and did a line of coke, both washed down with the remnants of a warm glass of white wine left in the kitchen.

I turned up at the lecture hall with minutes to spare. 30 students and two of my lecturers stared up at me as I delivered the near-perfect presentation. As I left the hall, I felt like I could do anything I wanted. I was unbeatable!

I got home, put my music on and danced around my bedroom, closing my eyes, soaking up my brilliance. I spun around until I fell to the floor. I lay on my back, laughing at the weird shapes in my bedroom. I jumped up and opened the draw in my bedside table, pulling out a razor blade. I rolled up my sleeve and repeatedly dragged the blade across my arm.

“I am invincible!”

I continued to laugh as I cut through my skin.

It was a sudden sharp pain that brought me back down to earth. I had cut too deep and the wound was gaping open. I gasped and fell to the floor, clutching my arm as the blood poured through my fingers.

My flatmate took me to the hospital, where I continued to deny anything was wrong. When we arrived home, I heard her talking to her boyfriend on the phone. I sat on the stairs outside her room and listened to her describe what had happened. It was hearing her experience of what I had done, that shocked me into accepting that I needed help.

I certainly was not invincible.

Let it Be

Four days had passed and I still hadn’t left the flat.

I hadn’t washed or eaten and the only contact I’d had with the outside world was a 30 second phone call with my mum. I just lay under my duvet for hours at a time. No music, no TV, no fags, just my whirring thoughts and the polka dot sheets. Occasionally, I would get up to use the toilet and sip some water, but even that felt like a mountain to climb.

I was restless, something was crawling underneath my skin. I clawed at my neck and chest, leaving crimson scratches and bloody fingernails. I fell from the bed onto the bedroom floor, crying out for mercy, but no one was listening.

I couldn’t take it anymore, it was unbearable. I lay on my bed, pleading, crying out for some relief from the agonising pain that plagued my mind. I felt like a dying animal trapped in a snare, praying for the hunter’s dogs to come and end my misery.

I jumped up, with tears falling down my face I frantically started to tidy my flat. I organised my clothes into bags and washed up dirty plates in the kitchen. I got a bin bag and began disposing of old diary entries and angry letters I had written over the years.

When everything was in order and I had removed anything personal. I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt nothing but contempt for the reflection staring back at me.

“You are disgusting”

I turned and walked back to my bedroom. I picked up a pair of scissors and began cutting the leather strap from a handbag. I then attached the strap to a scarf and made a noose. I took out my notepad and wrote a brief ‘I’m sorry’ note and left it on the bed.

I carried a chair into the hall and made sure the flat door was locked. I put my favourite Beatles track on, placed my phone on the cabinet beside me and turned off the lights. With my back to the front door, I stepped onto the chair and tied the makeshift noose to the door mechanism near the ceiling. I then placed the leather strap around my neck and closed my eyes.

I was shaking and my heart was racing but I knew it would all be over soon. I took a deep breath and kicked the chair from underneath me. I felt my body drop and the leather strap snap tight around my throat but the scarf didn’t hold and I came crashing to the ground within seconds.

I lay on the floor gasping for breath. I was winded and it felt like I had been punched in the throat. I must have been on the floor for 10 minutes before I got up and limped into the kitchen. I think it was the shock, but my mind stayed completely blank as I made myself a cup of tea.

I sat on the sofa and just stared at the wall in front of me. I could hear ‘Let it Be’ eerily playing in the hallway and I felt a tear roll down my cheek.

I went to the window and looked down at the people on the street below. I could see mothers dragging reluctant children along the pavement, an old lady struggling with heavy bags and a couple of teenagers waiting for a bus. I watched cars speeding past, illuminating my flat with their yellow headlights. Nothing stopped.

Life goes on.

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The Incredible Journey

I sat on my bed in my parents house. Although I had lived there for 23 years, the room felt alien to me. I had been discharged from hospital two days ago, after a painful and testing six month stay. Just before I was admitted, I didn’t believe I was going to be returning home.

My mum called me from downstairs, it was time to leave and go to a new therapy group I had been enrolled into. It was a 12 week programme for young people with mental health problems and so soon after coming home, I was terrified.

I was wearing my favourite dress with my white long sleeve cardigan that covered the scars on my arms. I had washed my hair and put an extra layer of make up on to try and disguise my pale hospital skin. Mum and I stayed fairly quiet in the car, filling the silences with talk of passing farm animals and interesting foliage.

As we arrived at the community centre, I took a deep breath, said bye to Mum and jumped out the car. I was trying my hardest not to show my anxiety to people passing in the car park, hoping I would spontaneously combust before I reached the entrance. I walked into reception where an old security guard guided me towards a room where ten other anxious looking faces looked up at me from their seats.

At this point, I realised everyone was wearing outdoor clothing. Waterproofs, boots, wellies, the lot. I looked down at my pink floaty dress and thought “shit”.

A young, chirpy blonde youth worker appeared in front of me and cheerfully said;

“Did you know we’re going mountain biking today?”

I stared at her with complete contempt and replied;

“Um no, no I did not know that.”

Inside, my brain was repeating various expletives but the cheery youth worker maintained her annoying positivity.

“Well you’ll be the most glamorous mountain biker we’ve had!”

Part of me wanted to kill her but I abstained from violence as she introduced me to the rest of the group and the one other male youth worker. They all seemed quite nice actually.

I sat next to a girl on the minibus who looked about excited as I was. We didn’t say anything to each other but I could tell we shared a mutual feeling of general unhappiness about the situation. We eventually arrived at what seemed like a lumber yard. The youth workers assigned us each a bike and helmet and we started our journey across the Welsh countryside.

After cycling across rivers, over hills and through vast woodland, we arrived at a park where we all sat and had sandwiches. By now, I had forgotten all about my ill-chosen clothing and initial anxiety. We didn’t want to admit it, but after chatting and laughing about how muddy we were, it seemed our outdoor activity had proved a valuable and uplifting adventure.

Food

I hate food. I hate eating food, talking about food and even watching food. So after noting the title of this post, you can understand this is going to be difficult for me to write.

Here we go.

I was 14 years old, at the beginning of my summer holidays, just before the start of year 10. I was starting to find myself and become more aware of how important body image was amongst my peers. I wasn’t huge by any means, but I was ‘chunky’ and the boys in school certainly made me aware of this, through nasty remarks and cruel jokes.

I made a decision at the start of that summer, that I was going on a diet to reinvent myself. My parents were all for it, they always thought I needed to lose weight and be more healthy. I don’t think they realised how destructive and painful this weight loss would turn out to be.

I started by using a points based diet, which worked really well. I was shedding the pounds, still eating healthily and I began to think that I could lose more weight if I skipped the odd meal or cut some more calories. I was right. The weight dropped off me and by the end of the six week holiday, I had lost two stone.

I received so many compliments and my parents just turned a blind eye to my injurious methods. I felt great when I went back to school. I had new popular friends and boys were actually interested in me. I became obsessed with becoming thinner.

It wasn’t long before the elation turned to misery. I kept cutting out meals and hiding food. The first time I made myself sick was awful. I drank salt water and cried for an hour afterwards. I just lay on the kitchen floor and sobbed;

“Why am I so fat and disgusting?”

The longest I went without food was a week. Not one morsel passed my lips, just water. I felt weak, like I would faint any second and I had constant headaches. My friends started to notice I wasn’t eating and asked me to stop. I kept thinking;

“How dare you tell me to stop this, you are only friends with me because I lost the weight in the first place!”

I had lost nearly four stone and my friend’s Mum became concerned. She made an appointment for me to see a doctor. The only reason I agreed to go, was so I could ask for diet pills. When I arrived in the doctor’s office, I asked for the pills but was suprised when he asked me to get on the weighing scales.

I stared at the scales, frozen with terror. I weighed myself three to four times a day but never in front of anyone. Eventually I got on and started to cry. The doctor said he wanted to refer me to a psychiatrist and he would give me a letter to give to my parents.

I was a mess. I didn’t want help, but I was exhausted and tired of being controlled by food. I decided I would leave the letter on my Mum’s bed and head out for the night. I should have just told my parents face to face but I was young and scared of what they would say.

I returned home the next day and lay on the sofa. My Mum came rushing in.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!”

she was holding the letter in her hand and shaking it wildly at me.

“THIS IS TYPICAL! YOU’RE ALWAYS AFTER SOME DRAMA, A BIT OF 999!!”

All hope drained away from me. I looked up at Mum with immense sadness. This was the one person who was meant to throw her arms around me and tell me everything was going to be OK.

I kept quiet and we never spoke of it again. I can’t eat with my parents now and I have put on a lot of weight after constant secret eating. Food, to me, will always feel like an affliction.