I replaced my eating disorder with self-harm

Marie was glad she had overcome her eating disorder. But she replaced it with another problem - self-harming. She tells The Mix about how, with time, she learned to conquer both.

True Stories

girl with guitar

"Music helps me relax"

Although I didn’t realise it, the first time I self-harmed was one of those life-changing moments. I was 18 and going through a particularly tough time in my life: battling an eating disorder which had left extremely depressed while doing my A-levels at school.

I remember one night feeling stressed about my exams, and overwhelmed by the deep depression that I had fallen into. Even now I have no idea why, but I picked up a pair of nail scissors and ran them across the top of my arm. I was feeling so crap on the inside, that in a warped way it made sense to balance it out with a physical pain on the outside.

It was as if I was trying to let all the anxiety, depression and hate seep out of my body. I felt cleansed, and strangely euphoric, but the next day I was extremely shocked by what I had done.

Over the next few months, scratching my arm became something I did regularly. I had a really poor body image and low self-esteem and self-harming became my way of showing my disgust for my body. Although I didn’t realise it at the time I was replacing my eating disorder problem with self-harming.

Getting help

At the time, I didn’t think I had a problem: cutting was something that I chose to do, and thought I could stop whenever I wanted to. But I was very wrong. That first time I had scratched my arm with those scissors I had changed everything.

During this time I started to see a counsellor for my eating disorder, but never told her about my self-harming. It appeared that I was making great progress, but things were far from fine as I was just using a different coping mechanism. I had been scared into stopping throwing up by the fact that my teeth were badly damaged and I had developed stomach problems. Cutting seemed like a safer alternative for my body.

I hadn’t planned on the self-harming getting out of control, but soon I was so worried about it that I told my counsellor as I felt that it was becoming dangerous.

I was scared of her reaction, but I needn’t have worried. She began to help me understand why I was cutting, and helped me with coping mechanisms that I could do instead of cutting.

Unfortunately, I had to change counsellors when my other one moved, and have struggled to find someone I clicked with.

Family reaction

When my family found out they were initially shocked as they hadn’t realised I was in so much pain. They were extremely upset at first, then angry and then confused as to how I could inflict pain on myself. I gave them some websites to check out which helped them understand better, and although they still don’t really ‘get it’, they are supportive.

A few close friends know about it, but it’s something that I keep private and only talk to them about when I really need their support. Dealing with depression and self-harm is extremely overwhelming and lonely, and some support can make things so much easier; a counsellor, friend, family member or even an online forum.

Dealing with it

I’m now 24, and despite making huge progress over the past few years I still struggle with self-harm. During this time I have managed to stop cutting for months at a time, and at one stage had not cut for almost two years. But I realise that it’s something that I may have to battle with for a while, and like with any habit there will always be times when I fall off the wagon.

I now recognise how important it is to look after myself and to try to prevent myself from getting stressed, as this is when cutting becomes a problem.

I have found that it is extremely important for me to put things in place that help me unwind, as my depression and self-harm becomes unmanageable when I am stressed. Exercise, music and writing are things that I find relaxing and that I find are essential to me feeling well.

I also have a box full of things to cheer me up when things are tough. I have a few of my favourite dvds, cds, books and anything that cheers me up. I also have some inspirational quotes, pictures and some letters from my friends which are guaranteed to put that smile back on my face.

Although things can still be extremely tough, I have found that life is worth fighting for and I hope one day that I will be able to say that self-harm is something that is far in my past.

Photo of girl with guitar by Shutterstock and posed by model

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015