Friday, 25 September 2009

Cutting It

I watched Meera Syal's documentary about self-harm recently.

It didn't particularly give me any clues as to how to deal with this alarming problem but it was very helpful as a resource into the thinking behind it and the knowledge that I was not the only mother whose child seemed to have been drawn into this inexplicable method of 'coping' with the stresses of their daily lives.

My daughter is a part of the statistic that says one in three teenage girls abuse themselves. I have known about this for some time. When I first became aware of her activities, I tried to ignore it, in the hope that it was 'just a phase' and she would 'snap out of it'. Several years on, I have to accept that this is not going to happen. However, just as with my own anorexia, if you ask the sufferer what causes it, why they feel the need, they are unable to articulate the reasoning behind it. If you try to push the issue, they become defensive and refuse to communicate on the subject. All you can do is monitor.

I think the most startling interview within Meera's programme was with a young woman in a unit addressing the issue. Initially, she had been removed from all instruments that could be used to break her skin. No knives, razor blades, glassware, sharp implements of any kind. Even cd boxes. So she resorted to ever more risky methods to achieve her goal. Ligatures made from pillowcases around her neck. Breaking light bulbs and swallowing the glass. The current stage of her rehabilitation was that cutting was permitted but that she had to fill out a detailed report stating and depicting how, when and where and then discuss the issue in 'circle' afterwards. It had not cured the problem, but it had decreased the frequency of the incidents.

One of the interesting things that my own daughter did say to me was that she learned about cutting at school in their PHSE lessons. Her feeling was that it was almost rammed down their throats but she came away with the impression that it was an expected, almost acceptable means of coping with the misery and depression in their lives.

So, when she felt one of the black depressions coming on, she followed the example she had been given at school, felt the release from the sight of her own blood and became addicted.

I wanted to cry when the programme explained that it was almost normal within their society to carry a razor blade in the battery compartment of your phone. And no-one batted an eyelid when their classmates' arms and legs were ripped to red stripes as a result.

However, I cannot blame the current education system totally for the rise in its popularity. There were older women on the programme, women of my age who had been cutting since they were teenagers back in the 70s and 80s, long before this habit became known and almost fashionable - Princess Diana being a prime example. And I do recall at school being part of a group who regularly scratched at their arms with pins and razor blades - normally the name of their current beau - but scarring our flesh nonetheless. Many of these girls also went on to have numerous body piercings (often self-administered) and tattoos which tends to suggest that there may be a progression in terms of more socially acceptable methods of coping.

It is thought that the problem may have increased because of the deterioration in family closeness over the intervening decades. Previously, the family was at the centre of all activities for a huge part of a growing child's life. Nowadays, our teenagers live almost separately in their rooms with their computers and family life is fractured. Their exposure to civilising, considerate living together is limited. They seem to have far more homework, far more exams than we ever did so the pressure upon them to perform rather than have fun is definitely increased. In their eyes, the needs of the one outweigh the benefit of being part of the group collective.

Looking at the scars on the arms of these women was horrendous. Each mark bore a story of an attempt to cope. In some cases, there was virtually no normal skin.

I fear for my child because, as with my anorexia, there is no external cure.

It has to come from within.

Pictures Courtesy of and


Polar said...

Yes, Joanna, you are right to fear for your child!
The Bright Side of that shining star is: You know the damage and know where the only cure can come from.
Because you have Come So Far, that gives indications that "Like Mother, Like Daughter" healing and recovery are OBTAINABLE.
I'm Pulling for you! Now I will Also be Pulling for Her!

phallatio said...

A fascinating but very distressing subject, and incredibly sad. I can understand why middle-aged people get depressed but, when you're young, your whole life is ahead of you. I sure wish I could turn back the clock and be a gawky teenager all over again. And it's a difficult issue to deal with as it's a virtually depression plus danger; a self-harmer is one step away from a vital artery.
Hope things work out. Lx

Brian said...

God that's tough on everyone. Best wishes to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

My sister cut herself, particularly badly in the first year I'd moved out. She maintains that she suffered "holding it together for our family," that of all of us flawed people she had it the worst. It's incredibly hurtful, to be on the receiving end of that and that she thinks as much. I hope that there are other traits and strategies and rituals that you can share as common ground with your daughter. I think it's important, in whatever ways you can learn about and manage, to be supportive and sane for her now, as she is going through this horrible thing - kudos to you. I got the message that my sister's problem was a private matter and a threat, and while it may have been a boundary issue I don't know how I could become someone she counts on now. Very best wishes to you,

nitebyrd said...

We will always fear for our children but not everyone in a way such as this. I have no insightful words but my heart aches for you and your daughter.