Self Harm: A testimony of recovery
--- I remember the sense of peace that would fill my mind and body after I’d done it.
I’d do it in the bath tub with the bathroom locked.
My muscles would relax and sense of calmness would wash over me.
It was as if I could finally breathe – I felt safe, calm and still.
‘It’s ok, I’m going to be ok now’ I’d say to myself.
It also happened in the school toilets. And occasionally on my bedroom floor.
Yet it’d all build up again, and the need to harm would return. So, self-harm became a part of my lifestyle.
It was how I coped when everything became too much. An antidote to an overwhelmed mind. Yet no one understood. Family and doctors would ask ‘Why do you do that to yourself?’ in a disgusted tone. Or confusingly they’d say ‘Just stop it! You have nothing to be sad about, so why hurt yourself?’
But I couldn’t tell them an exact reason. It was too difficult to share my dark thoughts. I didn’t know how they’d react or how to stop harming myself. ---
My journey of self-harm was brief. There were all sorts of factors that helped bring that journey to a close. That included seeing a helpful GP and getting a diagnosis of depression and anxiety. Along with my loving parents paying for private counselling so I had a neutral person to speak to. Over the months I began to learn healthier ways of identifying and managing my emotions. This gave me a platform to be able to stop self-harming and tackle my depression and anxiety.
Parents, as a daughter I tell you that it is possible to come through self-harm and out the other side. Your constant love and support does make a difference – even if it doesn’t seem like it. To know you are loved as a child is vital for recovery, and I champion every parent out there. My heart aches for you and I cannot thank my family enough for loving me through the painful process it is to see your child hurting.
I’m living proof that recovery is possible. It has now been over a decade since my self-harm journey. Even though it was brief – months rather than years like other peoples – it was still a poignant part of my adolescence and shapes my practice now as a youth worker. I use my story as a way to debunk myths like ‘self-harm is just attention seeking’ and lies from the church such as ‘Your body is a temple, so God will be hurt you’re harming yourself.’
Through my work I realized that I was meeting more and more young people who were having similar thoughts like I had, harming in similar ways to me. I wanted to help them and thought there must be support out there. After searching I realised that both in and outside of the church, the little support that was on offer was either hard to access and/or inadequate. Young people were still being pushed off as attention seekers and told others lies like ‘Your body is a temple, so God will be hurt that you’re harming yourself.’
After connecting with others who work with young people, I learnt that those who did want to talk about issues like self-harm, didn’t know how to. They felt ill-equipped and, like me, couldn’t find many helpful resources. Christians shared with me how they rarely engaged in conversations about God and emotions, let alone tackle a taboo topic like self-harm in their youth groups.
Through frustration and passion, I decided something must be done. A change needed to happen. I could no longer sit still and offer ad-hock youth work to vulnerable young people. I listened to what others had said, started a freelance career and began writing about young people, mental health and the church.
My desire to equip other youth leaders, along with my professional practice and academic knowledge, resulted in my debut book ‘Exploring Emotional Health: six workshop outlines for youth leaders.’ It provides youth leaders with crucial information and practical workshops on 6 key topics; anxiety, depression, self-harm, self-esteem, identify and coping with emotions.
I firmly believe that it’s time to break the silence and engage in vital conversations around our emotional health and faith. Youth leaders are in a unique position to talk about young people’s mental health without it being a school lesson or a poster in a GP’s surgery. We can talk about how Jesus expressed his emotions and how God wants us to be healthy beings in the same sentence.
As I reflect on my journey and read again in the news that self-harm is on the rise, I still believe there is hope for every young person. Hope that they’ll be offered helpful support. Hope that engages their emotional health and faith. And finally, hope that shows them they are deeply loved and wanted.
Check out Liz's book here.
For more about recovery from self harm, go to selfharm.co.uk