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”
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, I accept it, I 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.
Understanding Self Harm – Mind.org.uk
Understanding Teen Cutting and Self Injury c/o Parenting.org