Self-Harm Awareness Day: My Story

Content warning: mentions self-harm, depression, mental health, trauma, emotional abuse, suicide and suicidal thoughts

By Sofia Sabatino, 2nd Year Psychology with Mental Health NTU Student

Hello. My name is Sofia and I’m a second year student studying Psychology with Mental Health at Nottingham Trent University. March 1st is Self-Harm Awareness Day and so I wanted to share my experiences here, in part to help others feel less alone, but also in part to finally speak out.

I first self-harmed when I was 12, I think. A bit of context I was living with my mum and step-father at the time. He had/has schizophrenia. Because of his condition he would get in what we would refer to as one of his “moods”. When he was on his medication, he was a lovely dad and only occasionally would get in those moods, and when he did he would always apologise afterwards. But when he stopped taking his medication his moods happened more frequently, and eventually every day. During his moods he would become violent, hostile, rude, verbally and emotionally abusive, he would yell, shout, swear, insult etc. – he became nasty and scary.

The first time I self-harmed, it was shortly after an incident with him. We would always watch a movie on Friday night. But there was this one Friday night where I didn’t want to watch a movie because I was tired and wanted to go to bed. He flipped out. Most of this I can’t really remember because it was traumatic, but essentially he called me pretty much every swear word in the English dictionary, and was verbally abusive towards me. It was relentless, he wouldn’t stop. Even when I cried, which always happened when it was like this, he didn’t stop, he would just continue to yell abuse at me, and say that I was manipulative for crying. It was like this for the next few days, or even longer I don’t really remember. He also ignored me – I couldn’t even say hello to him when I came back from school like I usually did, he wouldn’t even look at me. The first couple days I tried to say hello, but because I was getting nowhere, I stopped. I was terrified of him.

I remember my mum coming in my room and she said something along the lines of “I’m so sorry, I know you didn’t do anything wrong but please can you apologise to him otherwise he won’t get out of his mood”. This was a few days after the incident of me not wanting to watch a movie. I didn’t understand, but I knew all I wanted was for him to stop hating me. So I went into the room, my knees were shaking, barely carrying my own weight and I was crying. I was thinking so hard about how best to apologise because I wanted him to forgive me for what I did – not even knowing what I did, but it was obviously bad enough to warrant him to hate me. Looking back I know I did absolutely nothing wrong but I said “I’m so, so sorry about what I did. Please can you forgive me.” I didn’t look at him at first, I was made to feel ashamed and like I did something bad, but when there was no response, I did. He just raised his head as an acknowledgement of what I said. I ran to my bedroom, and slammed the door shut. My thoughts were everywhere and I was so confused. I didn’t know what was happening or what I was feeling. I thought he wasn’t going to forgive me and that he hated me and I didn’t even understand why. I wasn’t an angry child, at least not until I was abused, but I lost it. I pushed everything off my desk in anger. Everything was on the floor and this was the first time that I had self-harmed.

During this time I had no one. No friends. I would miss school constantly because of my illnesses when in reality I was so depressed from being abused constantly. I didn’t even know I was being abused; at the time it took a while for me to realise it was abuse. But what I did know was that I couldn’t cope with this any longer. I had already attempted suicide because I couldn’t cope with it all. The guilt. The shame. The confusion. The sadness.  I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t even know what I needed help for. If he had thrown me down the stairs, I would have bruises, and maybe I would understand what was happening and ask for help. But how do I explain to someone that, even though he didn’t physically hurt me, he made me feel so bad about myself that self-harmed and attempted suicide at the age of 12.

For a long time, I didn’t talk to anyone any my struggle with self-harm. My mum eventually found out and I was too exhausted to make up a lie, so I told her the truth. This was a few years ago. My school soon after found out and I then went to my GP and they referred me to CAMHS, where I was put on medication and got some help. Since then, it’s been a rocky journey, but I’m slowly but surely recovering.

I’ve been self-harming ever since going through the trauma, on and off, and the frequency varies as urges come and go in waves depending on my mental health and life situations. Today, as I write this it has been 5 days since I last self-harmed. It’s a constant battle, the urges and the thoughts. But every day I get through and every urge I resist I feel myself becoming stronger and stronger.

I feel myself winning my battle.

If you or someone you know is in need of support with self-harm or suicide please check out the following for sources of support:

  • Harmless – support for anyone affected by self-harm within Nottinghamshire and Leicester
  • The Tomorrow Project – support for anyone affected by suicide within Nottinghamshire and Leicester
  • Mind – general information on self-harm
  • Papyrus – support for anyone affected by suicide
  • Calm Harm app – an app that provides tasks to help you resist or manage the urge to self-harm.

For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.

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