When a friend self-harms
Nisha seemed to have everything going for her, but stress had been building up for years. Anna tells TheSite.org how she managed to get her to open up about her self-harm.
The first time I caught a glimpse of Nisha's wrists I did a double take. Normally she wore long-sleeved tops, but we were trying on clothes after shopping and the scars were clearly visible - shocking pink against her skin. My cheeks went red and Nisha saw that I'd noticed, but we carried on as normal.
The image preyed on my mind all day and I felt ashamed for not being brave enough to bring the subject up. The more I thought about it the more I suspected that she'd shown me her scars deliberately to provoke a reaction. That only made me feel even more strongly that I'd let her down
At school the next day I asked a teacher if he had any information about self-harm. In the booklet he gave me I read that people who self-harmed had often suffered distressing situations such as abuse. I was still scared about bringing the subject up, but now I realised it was important to offer help.
We had only been friends for one summer and Nisha seemed like such a confident person, with a happy family, lots of friends and a nice boyfriend. What could have caused her to self-harm?
The next day, over a cup of tea, I managed to find the strength to ask how she had got the scars. Nisha immediately looked relieved and told me how the stress had started to build about four years ago when she was 12. Her parents had split up and she'd started at a new school where she felt very lonely. Her self-esteem hit rock-bottom and she had bottled up her feelings for months until the pressure felt too much to bear.
"Wrapping the wound, she felt a vague rush from knowing what she had done and she kept this knowledge as comfort."
The first time Nisha hurt herself was almost an accident, she told me. She was playing absentmindedly with a craft knife while thinking about how unhappy she was and it sliced across the palm of her hand. She hadn't even noticed the pain, she said, just a sense of release as the blood trickled out. Wrapping the wound, she felt a vague rush from knowing what she had done and she kept this knowledge as comfort. The idea of cutting herself again made her feel she had something to turn to.
Hearing all this was a shock. I told her I was amazed she had so many problems when her life seemed so sorted. She laughed and said that made her feel better - she'd been reluctant to tell anyone her feelings because her problems seemed small compared with other people's. I gave her the booklet and suggested that she talked to a professional to get some help.
At this point she got upset and said she had the situation under control. It was difficult seeing her clam up after having let me in, but she was worried about being accused of attention-seeking and making a fuss. I told her I'd found out that self-harm was much more common than people thought and that she had every right to her feelings. I offered to come with her to get help and, together, we rang an advice centre and fixed up an appointment with a counsellor.
In the end Nisha decided to go on her own but we talked it through afterwards. She used the weekly sessions to discuss her feelings and was encouraged to write down her angry, frustrated thoughts so that she could tear them up - giving her a sense of release and control.
Ups and downs
Six weeks after she'd started seeing the counsellor I noticed a fresh pink scar underneath Nisha's bracelet. I was devastated that she'd started hurting herself again, but she said the cutting had become less frequent and she was proud of how well she was doing. I realised that, though things wouldn't always be smooth, she was making real progress.
Several years have passed now and Nisha's self-harming has continued to diminish and her self-esteem has improved. I'm so glad I was able to help and I've told her I will always be here to talk if she needs me.
Interviewed by Liz Nicholls