The first cut is the deepest – ‘Mum I’ve been cutting my arm’

black and white scissors

The phone rings…

 

“He’s asked me to write him a note to say that he can’t do PE because he’s ill. He says he’s cut his arms and doesn’t want people to see”

 

“Oh”

Teenagers. Steroetypically bottomless money pits, frequently good at lasting hours on end without actually speaking, occasionally smelly and a tad emo. In reality intelligent budding adults, under immense pressure from ever-increasing educational goals whilst coping with the hormones that come with teenagehood and the generally unbelievable imagery of their peers as portrayed by the media. Hands up who would like to be a teenager again? Not I. Ok so maybe I do have fond memories of my first bottle of lemon Hooch and a quick frenchie with Eddie Hitchings in the field at the end of the road I grew up in but I also recall endless homework, body image issues and the pressure of the dynamics of being in an all girls grammar school.

 

One of my teenage sons is suffering from depression. On hearing this his father asks me to speak to him about it. I settle down, pour myself a glass of wine and dial the number, my son answers, he sounds nervous. I go out on a limb. I talk openly of  my struggles post rape and domestic violence that led me to no longer live with him and of the subsequent self harm. ” I would cut my arms” I tell him “I’d close the curtains, put on some music, Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm album I believe it was and take a razor blade from under the bed”.

 

This approach could be seen as risky, but I am far from glamourising the act, I was opening up to him, holding a hand out and letting him know that I may not know exactly how he’s feeling but I do know how it feels to feel helpless, lost and desperately wanting to grasp an ounce of control. For me that was what cutting myself was, control and coping with pain. I explain to him that people do it for many reasons, it doesn’t mean necessarily that he’s got a mental illness and I pause, waiting.

 

And then he speaks. He speaks of his friends troubles, depressions, cutting and of how he feels. Openly. We talk and it helps us. It helps him, it helps me.

 

Cutting can happen for many reasons, experimentation, peers doing it, depression, loss, anger, the need for control, mental illness, self expression and even boredom. It can be scratching with a compass to cutting with a knife or razor blade.Talking about it is a huge step in the right direction. I have opted not to judge, not to chastise and not to over- react. I understand that it’s not the actions of someone who feels life is peachy however I also understand that it’s an outlet. It’s not taking drugs or consuming alcohol to cope.

 

I explain of the long term drawbacks of self-cutting. Even years after you stop from time to time people will mention the scars. If you cut yourself you need to accept this and take responsibility.

 

I’m happy for a note to be written to say that he can’t do PE. But not because he has a cold but because he has cut his arms. I believe that the more people around a person are aware of what is happening that the less likely it is to happen.

 

We hang up. Minutes later a text comes to say that talking has helped. Talking always helps, don’t ever be afraid of it.

 

I sit and I think that I am a bad mother, that this is my fault, this is what happens when a mother leaves her children at a young age. And then I snap out of it, accept it, take responsibilty. It’s not a question of blame, it’s a question of helping him deal better with his emotions. I pour the rest of the wine down the kitchen sink and heat some milk in the microwave and draft a blog post, this blog post and it sits in the backend of my blog until it’s not too raw to publish.

 

Related reading:

 

Understanding Self Harm – Mind.org.uk

More young people are self harming, say children’s charities - BBC.co.uk

Understanding Teen Cutting and Self Injury c/o Parenting.org

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    What a hard post that must have been to write. You’re right not to blame yourself for what has happened, it’s your sons way of dealing with his emotions right now, not anything you have done in the past. He will get through this and he’s very lucky to have you on his side.
    Mum Reinvented recently posted..Meal Planning MondayMy Profile

  2. says

    Very powerful post. Sometimes as parents, it can be easy to blame ourselves but more difficult to realise that by moving the focus off ourselves and onto our child that we’re really helping them.
    Jennifer Howze recently posted..Silent SundayMy Profile

  3. says

    *Huge massive hugs* I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to deal with it as a parent. You dealt with it amazingly, I can’t think of a better way to have handled it at all.
    If you ever need someone to offload to or anything just shout me.
    *More hugs*
    Mrs Teepot recently posted..Down the Rabbit HoleMy Profile

  4. says

    Annie, you are an AMAZING Mum, I wish I’d been able to talk to my mum when I was a teenager like your children can talk to you.

    I hope together you can work through the troubles. xxx

  5. says

    Talking is so underestimated. If only someone had spoken to me when I self harmed rather than passing judgement, maybe it wouldn’t have gone on for so long. Like you, my Mum was open and honest. She hasn’t self harmed but she had suffered depression and just known that I wasn’t alone helped me profusely.

    I pray that some day, everyone will have a mindset like yours. I can’t imagine how doff icily those words must be to hear from your own child, and you’re stronger than most. He’s a lucky kid x

  6. says

    Hugs and well done ou for writing this post. Well done you for talking so openly to him. Not many mums will do that. And you are a god mum! Remember that always!
    I read somewhere that depression could be hereditary…that scares me. I don’t want to believe that.
    Xxxxx
    Romanianmum recently posted..Strawberry cupcakesMy Profile

  7. says

    Huge huge love to you Annie, the way you’ve dealt with this is totally admirable. I’m so sorry your son is going through a rough patch. I think with things like this, the only way through is to talk. Honestly. Being on the “angry and react” camp will never fix this sort of thing, and will only prolong the confusion surrounding mental health… I truly hope things get better for him xxx
    MummyNeverSleeps recently posted..StripesMy Profile

  8. says

    A very moving post. From very limited experience I know that people find self harming a difficult issue and this is professionals. Your matter of face approach and being able not to judge shows that you are a caring mother. I hope to be able to approach any issue the teenage years may throw up with my son in such a calm and non judgemental way.
    Brinabird and Son recently posted..Getting closer to natureMy Profile

  9. says

    I didn’t cut myself, but I did attempt to take an overdose at 16, spent 3 years in an abusive relationship with boy much older than me, then ended up with anorexia, bulimia and anxiety attacks. I loved/love my parents but don’t think I could ever have been able to talk to them so frankly, and I don’t think they’d have been able to talk to me and be open and honest with me. You are helping him, he’s talking to you, you are walking this with him. He is a very fortunate boy. Not all teenagers can feel they can reach out and trust their parents.
    Hugs. Parenting is hard, when you see them walking a road you have walked, it hurts.

  10. says

    I didn’t cut myself, but I did attempt to take an overdose at 16, spent 3 years in an abusive relationship with boy much. older than me, then ended up with anorexia, bulimia and anxiety attacks. I loved/love my parents but don’t think I could ever have been able to talk to them so frankly, and I don’t think they’d have been able to talk to me and be open and honest with me. You are helping him, he’s talking to you, you are walking this with him. He is a very fortunate boy. Not all teenagers can feel they can reach out and trust their parents.
    Hugs. Parenting is hard, when you see them walking a road you have walked, it hurts.

  11. says

    Sharing and talking does always help but when you have to share such things with your children it requires enormous strength. You did an amazing thing for your son by showing him such openness, and also for us by sharing these very personal and difficult times here. Brilliantly honest. xx
    Sarah Hill recently posted..Spring with a Hint of Slow Cooked PorkMy Profile

  12. Rach says

    Hi Annie, I work in a boarding school with teenage girls years 9-13, and self harming is a real hot topic. I have come to understand that it really is a symptom, and not the issue that really needs the most focus, if that makes sense. I have attended many seminars all over the country with lots of different speakers, and the general consensus is to not only talk, but to listen. And the only type of listening that is any good is to listen 100%. You have suffered some horrific things in your past, but this makes you understand the need to be heard, and this is probably what your son needs more than anything at the moment. Self harming is not an illness or something to be ignored, but it is something that makes us aware that there is a real issue that needs our attention and opening up to your son would have paved the way for him to trust ou enough to communicate openly with you, I feel. Time and distance is irrelevant. A mum is a mum, and we all need one of those xx

  13. says

    I only hope that, should I find myself in a similar situation with either of my Girls, I will be able to deal with the situation as openly. I can’t imagine it was an easy conversation for either of you and yet you ended up closer rather than further apart. That’s all I want: for them to feel they can tell me whatever they need to tell me.

    Big hugs. It can’t have been easy.
    Domestic Goddesque recently posted..Mother’s Day Gift suggestionsMy Profile

  14. says

    Fuck

    Sorry, but fuck.

    You are an amazing mum. Don’t ever doubt that. Your kids are stronger than they realize and will come through this because you are there for them. Maybe not as geographically close as you would like but emotionally. Closer than many who live in the same house

    You are one of the most amazing people I know. And your son is going to get through this. By talking to you and reaching out that hand

    I love you both

    The end

  15. says

    I’d never be a teenager again. I don’t think many would. Hooch, Two Dogs – yum. Being a fatty, changing friendships, educational pressure – not so yum. I didnt cut myself, but I certainly knew people who did. And precisely because of everything that is piled on you, plus those hormones! And I think lots of people think it doesn’t affect boys as much as girls, as we are the ones with PMT once a month, so our hormone imbalance is out there and accepted. Whereas I don’t think it is the same for boys. People assume their hormones are kept in check by a magazine under the bed! Not so. It’s deeper than that. My close boy mate suffered with depression, and he used to talk to me about it, and you’re right, talking does help. And what a mature lad he is to text you so. Just in that little act he shows himself as a credit to you. I don’t know you, but from what I have seen of all you do in the blogging community I can safely draw the conclusion that you are a fantastic mother (I’m a lawyer and we don’t draw conclusions easily without seeing the evidence :). And the fact you got a teenage boy to talk to you, properly, is testiment to that. Much love x
    Lorraine recently posted..Dad’s the word…My Profile

    • says

      Thank you for commenting Lorraine. You are right, teenage boys can be over looked – take eating disorders for example, more and more boys are suffering with them. It strikes me that there’s never been such a hard time for youth growing up – the barrage of unachievable images they have before them is epic in scale.
      And it’s always good to know a lawyer – not that I misbehave that much you understand ;)

      Thanks for commenting x
      Mammasaurus recently posted..The first cut is the deepest – ‘Mum I’ve been cutting my arm’My Profile

  16. says

    Ugh. My stepson went through this for a while. It was tough in lots of ways. As you know.

    I really love your thought on the PE note–saying what was really the matter.

    And about you questioning if you’re a good mother or not, leaving your kids when they were younger etc… My mother left when I was 10 months old. We later lived 1000 miles apart when I was growing up but she was always there for me on the phone. Our relationship develop through our many many conversations. I valued her time and conversation through many difficult moments in my life, even into more recent times, through divorce etc. You are giving your children something they may not have had if you had stayed. Trust that to be true x
    Michelle | The American Resident recently posted..Snacky party mixMy Profile

  17. says

    Powerful, honest and in a way wonderful. It is wonderful that your kids can talk to you like this. I wished I could have talked to my parents that way when I was a teenager! But hey we can’t all have amazing parents like you! You’re doing a great job, don’t ever let anyone tell you different!x
    markus recently posted..Wednesday words 27/02/13 #WWMy Profile

  18. says

    What you just wrote in this post shows what a fantastic Mum you are. We can only do the best we can with what life throws at us. One of my daughters does not live with us anymore, but with her Dad. It was her decision, it hurt like hell but ultimately it improved our relationship in a way I never dared to imagine or hope for.
    Being “there” for your kids and supporting them in a caring but smart way just like you do is all that matters, really. xx
    Funky Wellies recently posted..First Sunny DaysMy Profile

  19. Hannah says

    What a great post Annie, it’s so good to hear the way this is being delt with. Self harm has such a stigma attached to it. In 24 I started when I was 13 and only stopped when I was 21 completely. I was laughed at and not taken seriously, I never told my family.
    You are a wonderful mother and person meeting you was something I never thought I’d do and in SO pleased I did, you’re ace xx

  20. says

    I am dreading the teenage years not least because I expect my son’s traumatic past to rear it’s not very pretty head and make that hormonal, emotion-fuelled time even more emotional and difficult.
    Our therapist talks of sharing stories with our son (who’s only 6 right now)…sharing events and our pasts so he knows that we understand, and we’ve been through it and so we can join him in his inner world. If I can do that half as well as you have, then it gives me hope for our family. Thank you so much for sharing this with us xx
    Stix recently posted..Gangnam Style, Goodbyes and GrandadMy Profile

  21. says

    I have had to leave this post for a bit. Am glad I came now though. You are an amazing woman. I used to cut my arms. But there was this older lad and he got put in a mental hospital for a bit because of his self harming. He showed me the state of my arms and told me how lucky he was to be “ok” and that he didn’t want me to do it.

    Fast forward over 20 years and I still have a pair of scissors, pink ones in fact, and instead I cut off bits of my hair – split ends, curly bits. It’s still about the control and I do it more when I’m depressed, but it’s not as harmful.

    I hope, and am sure it will, everything turns out ok your end xx
    pinkoddy recently posted..The Salims 16KidsandCounting Episode 1My Profile

  22. says

    Such a powerful post, you’re an incredibly brave and amazing woman. I wish I had had someone to talk to like you when I went through depression as a teenager. Talking was the best move. I push people away, but in the end as Bob once said “It’s good to talk”
    My Two Mums recently posted..Monkey asks – Mad Blog AwardsMy Profile

  23. says

    This must have been a very difficult blog to post. Don’t even think for a minute that you are a bad mother, on the contrary you are incredibly strong and have years of experience that WILL enable you to help him. I hope that your son is getting all the help he needs at this difficult time.

  24. says

    Being there is being there whether you at the end of a phone or there in person. Being able to talk honestly will hopefully get you both far, that is what I am rooting for my end too. Teenagers have such a touch time, my posts remain in drafts still x
    Ali recently posted..Not so perfect cookingMy Profile

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