Imogen’s Story

“I began self harming when I was 15, confined to a hospital bed whilst battling anorexia in a general children’s hospital.  I received poor treatment and little empathy and I was told that my hospital stay would be indefinite; I felt like a prisoner. When I think back to the loneliness and the bleak future I was told I would be facing it doesn’t really surprise me that I began self-harming. They say caged wild animals turn on themselves out of frustration, anger and distress, to which I can totally relate. The iron posts of the hospital bed that symbolised my incarceration and the prejudice I faced became my weapons of protest. It wasn’t attention I sought; it was some form of justice and the bruises over my face that I inflicted represented this. With the craft scissors left behind from art therapy I scored my arms, desperate to escape from the constant inner pain that was drowning me. For my safety I couldn’t walk and was confined to a wheelchair and had to be escorted everywhere. Even with a 1 in 5 chance of sudden heart failure, I felt I didn’t count, especially when I was told by hospital staff that they had really sick patients to look after, rather than someone like me who they believed was just being difficult and deceiving. With my self-esteem already at rock bottom, this neglect rendered me worthless and unlovable, a fault that I believed lay with me and for which I deserved punishment.

After six weeks in hospital and a legal battle with the hospital board, which had threatened to separate me from my family permanently, I was finally granted treatment at a specialist clinic in London. Taken from the hospital by ambulance to the clinic, I was overcome with relief. For the last six weeks I had been imagining my escape from the postage stamp window of my hospital room and I was now free from that nightmare. Despite the pain of moving away from home and the strict programme of re-feeding that the clinic advocated, I was happy to be surrounded by other people who knew what I was facing in an environment where recovery wasn’t just a possibility. For the next five months the clinic became a version of home; I attended school there, I made friends and more importantly, I was rescued from the depths of anorexia. Whilst at the clinic my self-harming improved greatly, largely due to the fact that if you were suspected to be at risk you were put on 24-hour supervision, which involved being accompanied everywhere (including the toilet) by a nurse. Despite this, there were times when psychologically the feeling of weight gain became difficult to bear and I would struggle to not harm myself.

I was discharged from the clinic in the December 2005 and went back to the life I had left behind six months before. Needless to say, it was a difficult adjustment. Learning to live in the ‘real world’ was hard; I was so happy to be reunited with my family but felt a pressure to resume the life I had left before and make a success of my recovery.  I found that many people, certainly at school, assumed I was ‘better’ because my weight had been restored and took my new appearance to be a sign that all was well.  In reality I was struggling; the pressure of GCSE’s and the undiagnosed depression I had been battling left me alienated and burdened with dark thoughts. I began self-harming again in response to the huge pressure of exams and, I think, as a physical demonstration (to myself) of the inner pain I was experiencing. I didn’t want anyone to know for fear of judgement or intervention; the marks were a silent reminder of the personal struggle I was facing. After one exam and a culmination of anxiety, isolation and distress, I took an overdose of paracetamol, not with the intention of ending my life but rather out of sheer desperation and having reached breaking point. The experience of visiting a busy A&E and the potential consequences I faced was enough to shock me. That night, lying on the landing outside my parents’ bedroom, I felt scared for the first time by my actions and realised things had to change.

After adjusting to anti-depressants and talking with a counsellor, things began to improve slowly. I also began to talk to my Mum about why I felt the need to self-harm and I felt really encouraged knowing that she understood and wanted to support me. She sought advice and information and the initial shock and anger she had first felt was replaced with a real empathy and belief in my recovery. When I would feel particularly vulnerable, she would stay with me and make sure I wasn’t on my own and most importantly she helped me to find practical solutions to my problems that were positive. I found going to sleep a particularly effective way of managing the urge to self-harm, as it would take me away from my thoughts and give me a new sense of clarity – almost like pressing the re-set button. Naturally I experienced setbacks during my journey to recovery, which in a way taught me that you can’t apply perfectionism to issues surrounding mental health and helped me to take every day as a new opportunity. However, perhaps the most important factor driving my recovery was university; I wanted to start a new chapter in my life where no one knew of my past. It was a liberating prospect and I wanted to enjoy every minute of it without self-harm or anorexia getting in the way.

I graduated last year with an honours degree (2:1) in English Literature and have been recovered from self-harm for over four years. I know that recovery is possible and I hope that my website will give sufferers, their families and all who support them the encouragement and practical tools to overcome self-harm.

“When I realised I needed help I turned straight to my parents. I hid it from them for about a year and a half so they were heartbroken when I told them and showed them what I had done to myself. I think actually talking to someone about my feelings and everything going through my mind helped me so much as it was such a relief that I didn’t need to bottle all my emotions up anymore like I had been doing. After that initial talk with them all the stress and the worries of what they would think just went away as I then understood that all they wanted was for me to get better. It will always be a part of me but I feel incredibly strong now and don’t feel ashamed anymore. Talking and time are the best healers.” Katie

“Despite having completely recovered from self harm, there are times when I can feel overwhelmed and the thought of hurting myself can resurface if only for a second. Can you be totally free from self-harm? Yes, completely. However, like any repetitive behaviour, it takes time before you can disassociate the feelings behind it from the action itself. Learning to recognise when you are most vulnerable and identifying which emotions are trigger factors is key to recovery.” Caroline

“I used pregnancy as my catalyst for change in my life – freedom from self-harm. Realising that I was now responsible for another life, an innocent and pure life, made me put my own feelings of low self worth in perspective. I wanted to be a positive role model and go forwards rather than re-visit the past.” Sophie

“During my recovery from self-harm I joined a local body combat class which allowed me to release my emotions in a healthy way. It strengthened me physically and mentally and being around other people kept me from hurting myself anymore; I wanted to invent a new me, without any emotional baggage.” Alex

Photo by Ayomide