Why I've been cutting myself up since age 6
Young men are harming themselves in increasing numbers according to doctors. When new guidelines for health professionals on the treatment of people who self-harm were issued by the NHS watchdog NICE in July, one psychiatrist said the problem was 'substantial and growing.' Jim Pollard met Charlie from Nottinghamshire, a managing director of a building firm who has been harming himself since the age of six.
'It's very difficult to say outloud the words "I self-harm" so I don't. I'm too ashamed. I disguise it. I can't do it unless I have an alibi. I store it all up and plan it for when nobody is around.
'I'm in the brick-cutting industry so it's easy to have an accident. I've cut my face, my hands, my arms on the saw. The urge is overwhelming and it's such a relief afterwards. There's no pain. Not at first. There's such an adrenalin rush. You're sweating as you build up to it. But I don't think about suicide. It's nothing to do with that for me. I'm not depressed. I just have a different way of coping.'
Charlie is in his thirties, has been married for ten years and has two kids. He has been self-harming since the age of six.
'I had a very aggressive father and my parents were always arguing. Dad used to hit us for the slightest thing and my mum was too weak to fight back. He overwhelmed everyone. You were just scared. You couldn't fight back. You learned not to cry and to suppress your feelings but then you had to find an outlet for them. You turn the emotional pain into physical. I started off scratching in between my fingers.
'All the criticism damages your self-esteem. I'm a black-belt in karate and I need that and all my other certificates on my wall to prove to myself I'm not a shit.'
It seemed obvious to Charlie to invent a reason for his injuries. 'When my dad pushed my mum through the back door, she made up an excuse when she went to hospital,' he recalls.
Two years ago, Charlie finally told his wife that he self-harmed. 'I'm MD of my company and when I was travelling for work I'd start thinking about things which would make me angry. I'd start hitting the steering wheel and crying. But often I'd bring it home too and I'd kick doors and punch walls because I was under stress. And the kids would see this which I didn't want so I went to a therapist.
'He concentrates more on the underlying causes than the self-harm itself but he advised me to tell my wife about it.
'I'd never spoken to anyone I knew about it. My wife was sympathetic but she doen't really understand it and it's hard to talk to her about it. Now I just leave her a note or send her a text saying 'had a bad day' and then she doesn't pry. She's quietly supportive.
'Telling my wife was the hardest thing I ever did. Even a scratch from the cat she'd be suspicious about. But if you can find that courage you'll get a lot of support.'
Charlie also gets a lot of support from the website run by the National Self-Harm Network. 'There aren't many blokes on the Forums, About 70-80% of people who post are women but I think they browse and don't post. Blokes are very cagey. They don't go online and say what's happened to them that day like women do but they do join in. The website is great because you think you're the only one. You're not. You see there are many other out there and they're coping. The Forum have 4-500 members, people from all walks of life.'
Charlie welcomes the NICE guidelines. 'Most people see people who self-harm as nutters. We need to remove the stigma. The guidelines need to go further, not just to doctors and nurses but to teachers too. A lot of teenagers self-harm and they don't always get a good reception from their schools. This brings the issue out in the open which is good but I think some self-harmers will be worried that with greater awareness people might guess what they've been doing.
'I fight my urges but I don't see it ending for me. The only thing that worries me is my cover being blown but this is not the first interview I've done so I think it's going to happen. So far, it's my secret shame. People just think I'm clumsy.'
- Want to know more? Are more men self-harming and why? Click here for the facts and the theories.
- 'Well, you cut yourself without anaesthetic so why should we use it?' Doctors dodgy attitudes to self-harm.
- The National Self-Harm Network website includes forums for survivors and for friends and family. There's also resources, links and useful stuff like a letter to give to the triage nurse at the hospital if you self-harm.
- Download the NICE leaflet for people who self-harm, their families and friends and carers.
Page created on September 1st, 2004
Page updated on June 17th, 2010