In a big city, it goes without say, there are a lot of people. After three months away, I’m living in London again, enjoying the sights, (not so nice) smells, and buzz that comes with being one of seven million inhabitants.
Having lived around this city for most of my formative years, I was proud to be a ‘Londoner’ – happy to identify myself to a place with such life, intellect, culture and diversity. But for the first time in my life – yesterday – I was ashamed of being one of the seven million people who walk the streets of London and fail to notice the next person silently in need of help.
While standing on a crowded tube train during evening rush hour, a woman, no older than 35, walked on and stood next to me. She was overweight, had dyed black hair with grey roots and unfortunately fitted a stereotype by sticking her hand into a plastic bag for more crisps than could fill her palm. I like to think I don’t judge and I most certainly didn’t take in her physical appearance until I saw her left arm.
Self harm scars
There were parallel scars, close together, from her wrist to at least 10 centimetres up her forearm. I’ve seen so many types of people on London tube trains, from pervy foreign men to performing unknown rappers. And it is very easy to look away, and continue on with one’s day without a second thought.
It’s been over 36 hours and this woman is still on my mind. Who is she? Why did she ever feel the need to self harm? Does she have anyone to talk to? Will she do it again…
Oxford English Dictionary
deliberate injury to oneself, typically as a manifestation of a psychological or psychiatric disorder.
The last time the word self-harming meant anything to me I was 16-years-old and my best friend was in a very low place and too far away from me for me to do more than send a supportive email or phone call. That was a scary time for me and I thought I felt very strongly against self-harming.
But then, one day, years later, I had a moment when I was so upset and hurting inside that I wanted a more physical pain to distract me. I took a knife and pathetically tried to cut my thighs. I couldn’t even attempt my wrists because I’m funny about seeing my veins and the thought of blood. I barely broke the skin. Like I said, a pathetic attempt and thankfully I’ve never felt like that again.
Self-harming is different to suicide because it’s not usually an attempt of suicide but just a way of expressing a deep emotional state of unhappiness or low self-esteem. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s not given nearly enough attention by medical services or support lines beyond the teenage years by my understanding anyway. Once I’d hit 20, I almost forgot that some people still feel the need to hurt themselves beyond the turbulent hormonal age of 16. Some people’s lives don’t improve or find solace in something greater.
Research shows that self-harming is most common among 15-19 year-olds while some start as young as 11. You might be finding work or school hard, suffering in an abusive relationship or even coming to terms with one’s sexuality. And self-harming isn’t just cutting oneself; it could be alcohol abuse, starving yourself, pulling out your hair, hitting yourself or burning your skin with a cigarette. It doesn’t really matter what brings someone to do it, the fact that they feel doing something to themselves is the only option they have, that is serious.
And this unknown woman on the tube is just one of possibly many that continue hurting themselves into adulthood. What do we do as nation, city or community do to reach out to someone like her? Does she even want someone to notice her scars or has she got used to them being there?
Would she have thought I was patronising or nosy if I’d said something to her? Or would she have been touched that a stranger could care? I don’t know and I think a lot more needs to be said on this hidden social problem that affects more people silently than we even know. We can be our own worst enemy, and if no one notices, it will not stop.
I for one, will hopefully say something next time. It never hurts to try.
Self harming awareness ribbon
If you come across the blog and need help, please ask someone.
Read this help from Mind, a mental health charity, or visit Harmless, a voluntary organisation for those who self-harm, their friends and families.