Self harm and the attitudes of medical professionals

Self harm and the attitudes of medical professionals


self harm

This week I heard from a friend who had to attend her local hospital to receive treatment as a result of self harm and her treatment was unfortunately not very helpful. This led me to thinking about the times I either attended A & E or was taken there by the police for treatment, usually as a result of self harming or being deemed mentally unwell and requiring treatment.

It is nearly ten years since my first ever hospital admission, but for many months before I had hidden the self harm that was taking place. I tried hard to wear long sleeves to hide the cuts and dressings which I needed to stem bleeding etc. I was determined not to require anyone to know that I felt so desperate and confused that I could only survive by self harming. This was in the form of cuts, burns, starvation, restricting my fluid intake or overdoses, by the time I was admitted to hospital my self harm was a daily occurrence such was the turmoil I found myself in.

I hid my self harm from medical professionals, my family and my friends no one but me; I thought, knew I was living this life. I can recall going out for days with the children carrying implements in my bag ready to harm, and hibernating in bathrooms and cutting during these days out. I would feel myself getting so distressed during the day that I couldn’t survive any longer and so self harm took place. Yet once it was done and I felt a wave of release that I had punished myself which I felt I deserved I could then calmly walk back out and carry on with life.

I was confused to such an extent that I believed I needed to punish myself because that way I would be safe from others hurting me, and I was terrified that past abusers would come and hunt me down and hurt me. I even had a notion that because one of my abusers was my mother that I was bad as I had her blood inside me, thus if I bled enough I would rid myself of her badness.

Now all this time no one knew how much I was struggling, the GP knew I wasn’t too great but all they kept saying was ‘take time out and relax more’, and ‘all women go through these phases’.
They never asked if I felt suicidal or what scale my mood was, they did eventually arrange for me to see a doctor and thereafter just told me I was on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. Yet in the meantime I was continually told to ‘hang in there’, occasionally they’d tell me things would improve.

Of course things just kept getting worse and when I attended the GP one day and I saw a different doctor who asked to test my blood pressure; because I looked like I was going to faint, he saw the wounds that by now littered my arms. Recent cuts had been deeper and the blood loss alongside starving myself wasn’t helping me feel any better. It was then that he made the call and I was suddenly being sent to the local psychiatric unit for assessment. At this time I realised my eldest child had sensed something was wrong and had suspected I was self injuring, but we had both said nothing until I was en-route to the unit.


A & E staff from the start were slightly arrogant and mainly uncaring, if I had to attend as a result of cutting I lost count of the times I felt to blame by their attitude towards me. It was as if they weren’t best pleased to be treating me after all in their eyes I had self inflicted this injury upon myself, they never looked beyond the injury to the person. On only one occasion can I recall a doctor being helpful, he was actually concerned for me wanting to know why I hurt and was I getting help for my mental health. He treated me like a human being and not an attention seeking time waster which is what many other medical professionals seemed to treat me as.

The sad fact is the attitudes that I faced ten years ago still exist today, that means the medical profession has failed to learn about or understand self harming behaviours in a decade. That concerns me because I am aware of the efforts of so many different groups including government health organisations whose aim was to educate about self harm and improve outcomes for patients. A decade ago these organisation were trying to produce guidance to end the stigma that exists around those who self harm, if attitudes haven’t changed does that mean their efforts failed?

Self harm is not something we should ignore or take for granted for behind every scar, every injury there is human suffering. I didn’t harm for the fun of it and if I wanted to seek attention believe me I can think of lots of better ways of doing that. I wasn’t time wasting either, I was in acute emotional distress and I needed help. I couldn’t explain the anguish I was going through, the only way I could find to deal with the turmoil that was my life was to inflict injuries upon my own body.

Be that cutting, burning, overdosing or restricting the amount of food or fluids I took in, each act was either an attempt to deal with intense pain and turmoil, or the result of irrational thoughts. I wasn’t doing this because I enjoyed it, truth be known I hated myself for doing it, in fact I loathed my scars. The reality was I tried so desperately to avoid seeking medical attention as the last place I wanted to go to was A & E where I would be made to feel even more ashamed and be stigmatised.

Self harm controlled me a decade ago and at times of crisis it can still take control of my life today, it is sadly my default position when the pain is too much. Now when I lapse back into self harming I tend to injure in other ways in the hope it’s less visual, but it’s still harming all the same. Now I am not proud of the fact I self harm and I don’t want these feelings either, I would like to be free of self harm and yet I now understand it is a symptom of the life I lived as a child. A life which caused untold damage and will take a long time to deal with and heal from, my self harming is a symptom of my mental health not the cause.

The cause is my past and today I am having to face the harsh reality that I was betrayed, abused and psychologically damaged. Currently I am feeling emotions for the first time and I am starting to grieve over the fact I was hurt, I’m starting to come to terms with the dawning realisation that the horrific memories I hold and continue to recall don’t belong to my alters at all. They just carry my memories, and it was this body, it was me as a child and a teenager who the abusers defiled. Believe me that’s tough, it’s a harsh journey survivors walk there is a lot of pain and anguish that has to be processed and dealt with.

Perhaps when dealing with a person who is self harming instead of vilifying them and judging them medical professionals should remember to gently seek out the cause of this symptom. They should in my opinion treat those who self harm with the dignity, care and respect they so badly need, and they should afford them the right treatment to help them move forwards.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014




Meltdown moments

Meltdown moments



Meltdown moments are difficult they creep up on me from nowhere, they just simply overtake me and without warning I dishevel into a sobbing wreck. They are difficult even when they happen in my own home safely surrounded by familiar things and those who both understand and care. However when they happen in a busy crowded public place it’s even harder to deal with, harder to explain to others and to contend with.

I regularly seem to have meltdown moments, but they mainly happen when I’m safe at home, then I can simply just let my tears flow and allow the tension and emotional stresses an outlet. At times I take myself off to my room, lay on the bed and sob quietly into my pillow and I may hug Ted she’s used to getting wet from my tears.

At least two parts of me seem to cry, one is the emotional part of me who seems to carry a lot of my feelings and who can simply overwhelm me with feelings of anguish, low mood, desperation and pain. I am learning to communicate with her and I find that doing so is helping me at times to take control over the immense emotional turmoil she carries. The other part me my family describe as vulnerable me, this part seems to get overwhelmed with small things, is very sensitive and yes she’s my vulnerable me. These are the parts of me that I believe are susceptible to melt down moments, and currently between them we have a few every week.

Meltdown moments vary in duration and intensity, I find it hard to utilise the techniques I have to help with self talk, internal dialogue, grounding etc at such times, how do you think when all you can do is cry.

In the past few days I encountered a meltdown moment at the most inconvenient time one could imagine, surrounded by so many people and with no place to hide. This week I have been at a worship conference along with over a thousand other people, it was busy all of the time and there really wasn’t a quiet solitary place to hibernate too.

I was sitting on one of the sofas in the exhibitors hall, there were seminars going I and so quite a few people were attending these including my daughter, but I had felt unsettled and had decided to sit out and take some time for me. I thought I was doing ok, I had chatted to a couple of people and gazed at my phone. Then it started to build and I sensed it happening but couldn’t stop the feelings that were overtaking me, I felt overwhelmed and was ruminating over things. I hadn’t any control over this plus being in a busy environment meant I didn’t have any space to communicate with the other parts of me. I wasn’t able to take myself away either as I’m currently on crutches I walk at snails pace and I’m a bit unsteady on my feet.

I tried hard to hold in the tears which I could sense building up, I realised my gaze was now downwards and I was avoiding eye contact with everyone around me. Random strangers sat on some seats near me and I didn’t feel able to ask for assistance from them. I was focused on time and I guess clock watching as I knew my daughter would be back in a while, all the time I tried to counter any negative thoughts and the obscure thoughts I was having as a result of ruminating. I was feeling as if I was a bad person, that people for whatever reason didn’t want to be my friends, I was to blame for everything. My vulnerable me was struggling.


I managed I’m unsure how to hold in the tears until my daughter arrived, she sensed something wasn’t right and I was able to share my thinking pattens with her and she tried to counter my irrational thoughts. We set off at my snails pace walk to try and find somewhere to hibernate close by, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold in the tears long enough to get back to our hotel. I hobbled along with my face downwards to try and avoid people seeing how upset I was, the tears were by now starting to fall.

We found a bathroom and I hid inside as I cried and tried to compose myself all at the same time, it’s hard to cry in silence though. After a short while I felt I was able to leave the sanctuary I had found, my tears wiped away but by now it was lunchtime and even more people filled every space. I hadn’t really stemmed the flow just tried because as soon as we left the bathroom I could feel the tears building up again but now there wasn’t a place to hide. People sat at every table, queues were building and people congregated in almost every place it seemed.
I knew I was losing this battle and as the tears fell once more we found a table I could sit at, but I was surrounded by so many people they were on every side of us. I kept looking downwards as my daughter tried to offer comfort and reassurance, I tried to wipe away tears hoping that no one saw me crying.

My daughter phoned my son who was volunteering to ask for his car keys as his car was the nearest safety point we could think of, even though he was busy he managed to come over and helped too. Together the children gave me support and also hid me from others view whilst I shed some more tears and then regained my composure. The feelings of being overwhelmed still flooded me but I had at least gained control over the tears, talking things over with the children had enabled me to stop blaming myself.

We sat for a short while, I managed to have a drink, calm down a little and even had a brief walk back through the centre to see my son, who had gone back to his volunteer role. I felt exhausted though, physically and mentally drained my vulnerable me had had a tough time and that meant of course that all of me had a tough time.

In the end my daughter and I decided that it was best for me to leave early, I had and was in truth still struggling with a meltdown moment. They are never easy wherever they happen but in a public venue filled with hundreds it is so much tougher.

I realise that this part of me is just as entitled to express their feelings and tears as any other part of me, I only wish I could help them to cope better with the vulnerability that they seem to hold after all if I wasn’t fragmented we wouldn’t have such meltdown moments.

I’m slowly recognising the different parts of me, their characteristics and mannerisms it’s a learning curve I wish I didn’t have to go through yet I know I need to learn about me. I need to learn to understand who I am, what makes me me and all the different parts of me are important.

Meltdown moments are not easy, they are however a part of my life currently I wish I didn’t have them but then I still have days when I wish I didn’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder. No amount of wishing however can change the fact we do it is a legacy of the past, a past that means I have alters who are different parts of me.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014