I'm always shocked when I find out the event I've been helping to organise is in aid of one of these elected time periods - mainly because I never remember when they are, nor do I understand what they do. Wouldn't just walking through the streets shouting "Mental illness!" Have the same effect? Well, perhaps that depends on where you live. I simply go ahead and shout about things I believe need to be heard, whenever the hell I feel like it. It works for me, and it makes it a lot easier when it comes to diaries.
I've been actively trying to defeat stigma for what seems like forever. Back in the late nineties during an ill-advised pseudo-rebellion, I walked through the high street of my village in rural Somerset with my scars on show - it was summer, I wasn't about to stay covered up to pander to anyone else's squeamishness. Of course I hadn't quite prepared myself for the inevitable staring and loud enquiries of young children, who thought I'd obviously had an accident involving a lawnmower, or that I had a particularly feisty feline friend. I felt shamed that I'd exposed innocent young minds to something I didn't even understand myself yet.
It's odd when you think that I'd spent the first six months of my serious cutting hiding it for all I was worth. Tubigrip was my friend, and I could blame it on the tendonitis I'd got from too much violin playing. But a couple of times I'd slipped up, and being that my mother was alarmingly astute despite her inherent skill in appearing distant and disinterested, she busted me. I think by that point I'd started to almost want someone to find me out.
Once the cat was out of the bag (please excuse me, I can never resist a play on words) I lost all of my ability to care about other people seeing my cuts. On many occasions I turned up to the pub where my underage companions and I drank on a daily basis with open wounds I hadn't bothered to even dress. My GP made me visit the nurse at my local surgery weekly to at least try and avoid infection, and I'm sure they thought I was a lost cause, such was the look of pity I got at each visit.
During this time I met another cutter, who acknowledged me but we never discussed it. She never let anyone see her arms, but we all knew. I remember thinking "But this isn't a thing, is it?" Because I genuinely didn't know anybody else did it. I was hooked on the high, the release, the sense of strength it gave me. I disliked her at first, because she unintentionally made me feel inferior by having more than me. A prime example of just how messed up it all was.
I only recently found out (well, just now actually) that there is a 'self injury awareness week', and this led me to thinking what that might consist of. Is it a day when the self-injurious throw away the bandages and run naked through neighbourhoods the world over? Should we wear our scars like the badges of honour and bravery they sometimes feel like? Are parents suddenly less likely to wrench their toddlers out of our paths in Tesco? I'd imagine not. It's never going to be an acceptable way to express emotions that can be so hard to define in any 'normal' way, like crying or shouting, stomping or sobbing, wringing hands and gnashing teeth etc. just as a skunk is cute and fluffy until it propels a stinking cloud from beneath its tail (I got that information from cartoons).
It's obviously good that most of society don't accept physically harming oneself to be a 'normal' thing - but treating those of us who do it like lepers isn't 'normal' either. The idea that I ever chose to scar myself for life whilst realising I'd be scarred for life is frankly ridiculous. I wasn't thinking. I was acting on an impulse - and one that had provided a way for me to open a valve and release the pent up pressure. I was in the moment each and every time. I was saving my own life.
I used to take photos before things got more serious, I thought it'd help me not to do it again (or perhaps deep down I thought I had achieved something I wanted to record). There were other far more triggering things I did to feed this sense of pride, but I still haven't decided if I should go as far as to describe them here. I desperately want to just go all out, but the last thing I want is to give someone else my twisted ideas. That's the problem with honesty really - I would willingly tell you all about it because I'm not ashamed, but I also have a conscience. Sometimes a trigger warning isn't enough if someone is actively looking for triggers. I did that, and at certain times I felt I was somehow in competition with others who also did it, and talked about it. I cannot stress enough that however I felt in those moments when I was medicating myself with physical pain, it was nothing in comparison to the shame and guilt I feel now every time a stranger asks me why my skin is completely messed up. It's still visible even under my tattoos.
During my pregnancy, many midwives saw the scars on my belly and my legs; most probably confused them with stretch marks, but when the health visitor came for the first time after my son was born she had notes saying I had a history of mental illness - I'm pretty sure someone had clocked what they were during a scan and made a note to ask me if I had 'a low mood'. I know how to lie frighteningly well simply to deal with those unwanted questions from strangers, so after the second visit they left, never to return. It's pretty shocking to think that one question was the only time anybody made the slightest attempt to gauge if I had post-natal depression. I went on to reach breaking point just after starting back at work. Why on earth would I ever volunteer the information that I was convinced would be enough for them to take my child? Had it been the doctor I see now, he would've sussed me straight away. Scarily though no drugs would've helped.
I struggle with motherhood. I'm not afraid to admit that. But I'm never EVER neglectful either physical or emotionally and I love my child so much it hurts. I would rather die than find out he'd harmed himself. And that's why I want to talk about it.