All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

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30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 20

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
What is the most vivid memory you have of self harm.


The year, 2004.
The month, December.

It had been a rough month. The person with whom I was co-managing a backpacker hostel was on extended medical leave, placing me solely in charge of the hostel in her absence. Although stressful, I grasped the opportunity with both hands to prove to all and sundry that I was magnificent in my fated profession. Day-in, day-out, I cycled the ten kilometers to work the 12 hour shifts that I was rostered to work. Day-in, day-out, I threw myself into my job. Serving customers. Making reservations. Marketing the hostel. Ensuring everything was running smoothly. The odd bit of maintenance. Room checks. My job was part manager, part receptionist and part general dogsbody, but at the time I loved it. I relished the challenge and loved spending time in the hostel that, over twelve months, I had slowly made my own.

But working 12 hour shifts day-in, day-out started to take their toll. Being on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week was exhausting. When I wasn’t in the building, I was on the phone to people who were, extinguishing spot fires and making sure everything was ticking over nicely. Although I didn’t let on to the staff how stressed I was becoming, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work it out. I hadn’t had a day off in nearly a month, every day was spent at the hostel, or on the phone for hours on end to the staff on duty, or attending meetings at head office with management. And it was after one of these meetings that I snapped.

Four and a half weeks of working every single day, sometimes as much as eighty hours a week, had frazzled my synapses. All I wanted was a day off. All I wanted was a little time to myself. No hostel. No guests. No staff. Just me and my thoughts. But it wasn’t to be. For on the one day off I had organised for myself, I was called in to head office for an ‘urgent’ meeting with the marketing department. So instead of relaxing in my unit, I was cycling the ten kilometers to head office to have a meeting with a staff member I despised, a staff member who never took my comments or opinion seriously. For nearly an hour we bickered about the best strategy for advertising the hostel, all of my suggestions falling on deaf ears, all of her suggestions being treated as if they had been spoken by the second coming of the messiah. After ten minutes I knew it was pointless being at the meeting, but being manager in my co-manager’s absence, I wanted to prove I could handle whatever was thrown at me.

At this point in my life it had been nearly four years since I’d last self-harmed. I was in a happy, fulfilling relationship. I had people to talk to, people to spend time with. Aside from overwork, everything in my life was rosy, everything in my life was as I wanted it to be. But something triggered in me during that meeting, that fateful meeting of conflicted minds. After four and a half weeks with no day off the emotional turmoil was at its peak. Something had to give. Something had to ease the tension. And with no other option, I fell back into old habits. As I left that meeting, stressed, tense, emotionally unstable, I realised I not only wanted to self harm, I needed to self harm. Not later. Not hours after the event. But right then.

I walked from head office to a 7-11 convenience store. I purchased a pack of smokes (at the time I was a non-smoker), a box of matches, and left the store knowing full well what I was going to do. I was going to take a cigarette from the pack, place it in my mouth, light a match, light the cigarette, and then place the lit match back into the box. So I did. And as soon as the match was back in the box I closed it, gripped my hand around it, and waited for the inevitable. Within seconds the lit match ignited the other matches in the box, and in that split second, the entire box exploded in my hand. The pain was instant. The fire burning into my flesh. I immediately dropped the flaming box and stamped it out with my foot, ignoring my fellow pedestrians who had witnessed the incident during their busy lunch hour. I stood in the street, the city moving quickly around me, and stared at my hand. A large blister had erupted on the palm of my hand, smaller blisters popping up on my fingers and thumb. It burned. It hurt. But the pain wasn’t intolerable; it was beautiful. In that moment, as I stood amidst the hustle-bustle of city life, I felt completely and totally at peace. All of the stress. All of the frustration. All of the emotional distress. All of it ceased to be. In that moment I was lost to the magnificent pain that throbbed on my flesh. It was just me and my pain; me and myself.

I stood in the street for nearly five minutes, smoking my first cigarette in over a year, flexing my left hand, enjoying the pain that burned on my skin. After finishing the cigarette I walked to a bin, disposed of the butt, and casually began walking to a nearby public convenience. I could have run. I could have walked briskly. But I wanted the journey to be as slow as possible. I wanted to feel the pain for as long as possible. Eventually I reached the toilet and began drenching the blisters with cold water. It still hurt. It was still beautiful. But it helped ease the pain a little. After several minutes I left the toilet and visited a chemist, purchasing some plasters that are intended to cover burnt skin. I had self-harmed enough to know you should take care of yourself after an incident. After all, the moment had passed, I had relieved the emotional distress, and was focused on self-care.

That night I told my girlfriend that I had burnt myself on a stove. She didn’t know about my self harm, no-one did back then. It was something I had kept to myself, my own little secret, my own little coping mechanism. She didn’t suspect my lie. She had no reason to. She merely scolded me for being an idiot and carried on with her day. A week later, on Christmas day, the blister was still prominent so I showed it to my girlfriend’s mother, a GP, and she passed on some self-care tips and once again chastised me for being so stupid. For placing my hand on a lit stove top. She didn’t suspect my actions either. Why would she? I had never given her, or anyone, reason to suspect my secret methods of relaxation and psychological coping.

Even though other events have been more painful (the infamous self-flagellation incident of 2000, the even-more-infamous knocking myself unconscious on a tree incident of 2007), that moment, that blissful, beautiful explosion in my hand has remained my most vivid memory of self-harm.

I have never repeated the action, I have never even considered it. That moment was the only time I have ever ignited a box of matches in my hand. At the time it was exactly what I needed. It was exactly what I deserved. And I have never – ever – regretted doing it. If I hadn’t done it my emotional distress would have overtaken me, I would have been flooded with suicidal thoughts and rendered unable to do my job, the job I was so desperately trying to prove I could succeed in. It is a moment in my life that I will never apologise for. However much I dislike self harm, however much I hate who it turns me into, I will never apologise for doing something that, at the time, felt so right, so perfect. But I will, until my dying days, urge others not to repeat my actions.

So if you’re thinking about it. If you’re sitting there thinking now there’s an idea I could implement. Don’t. It really isn’t worth it. You deserve better.


Unsent Letter #7: And before you think it – no, I’m not trying to flirt with you!

The idea for this series came to me last week whilst writing about how social anxiety has affected my life. How my inability to share myself with others prevented me from saying the things I really wanted to say. So, last night, I tore a sheet of paper into 100 pieces and upon each one wrote a name. These names were partners, teachers, acquaintances, ex-work colleagues, family members, old friends and random strangers who made a significant impact on my life.

Each day this week I will draw one of these names at random and then write them a letter.

The only rules for this challenge are:

1) The person will remain anonymous.
2) The letter should include unsaid things I always held back.
3) It shall be written as a sixty minute stream of consciousness. (i.e. no painful seven hour editing sessions, so please excuse any grammar and/or spelling mistakes)

So with all that in mind…[shakes beanie, shakes beanie again, once more for good measure, plunges hand into sea of scrunched up piece of paper, selects, reads name]…okay, this is going to be a little interesting. And difficult. Apologies in advance if I lose my way on this one!

9 September 2012

Dear ——–,

I know you’re not one for taking orders, you’re stubborn like that, but for the first time in your life you will do exactly what I tell you to do, understand? Trust me, you’re gonna want to.

Okay, I want you to grab a couple of bars of chocolate, a mirror and a bottle of water (it’s very important that it’s water) and then you’re going to walk to the Castle. Yes, there! See, told you I knew you! Not every day you receive a letter from someone who knows exactly what you’re thinking, is it?

You are not to read any further until you are safely nested away in your Fortress of Solitude, got me?

I’ll see you in about twenty minutes.

Okay. Settled in?

Good. You may proceed.

——–…I’m Addy, aka, you in twenty years.

I’m writing to you because in September 2012 you come up with a crazy idea to write a series of unsent letters on your blog (you’ll understand in time) to important people in your life. You don’t decide who will receive these letters yourself, but instead write down a hundred names and then draw the lucky recipient at random. You’re supposed to keep them anonymous, but given I’m writing to little-me, I’m bending that rule from now on!

Today, Andrew, your name came out of the hat. And yes, you are important to me, even if neither of us believes it.

So, before I go any further, I want you to pick up the mirror I asked you to bring. I want you to spend the next five minutes just looking at yourself. Look at your hair, your nose, your lips and the funny little scar above your eyebrow. Look at your eyes, I mean really look at them. Now stand up and take your top off, look at your chest and nipples, look at your back, your freckles and muscles. Unbuckle your belt and take a gander at your penis. No need to strip fully, just look at it. Run your hands over your body, feel your skin, your hair, your earlobes. Squeeze your buttocks. Wiggle your toes. And before you think it – no I’m not trying to flirt with you!

I know you Andrew. I know how much you hate yourself. All those hours you spend sitting in your room carving patterns into your leg with those scissors isn’t just because of the emotional pain. I know you’re telling yourself that, because I did.

You’re self-harming because you hate yourself on every level.

You despise the way you think; the way you can’t talk to people, the way you can’t talk to girls (especially Kathryn, but we’ll get to her in a minute), the way you think you’re useless at everything you do.

You hate how you look; your thin lips, your unmanageable hair, your weight, your chubby backside.

You abhor yourself so much you just want to end it all. No need to fake denial, Andrew, I’m you remember!

Well, I need you to understand that it’s all wrong. You’re suffering from an illness that’s all. It’s not an illness that affects the body – like mum’s diabetes or dad’s asthma – it’s an illness that affects the mind – like Kathryn’s anorexia or mum’s depression. I know you don’t know this yet, but you will, and I really, really, need you to start changing the way you think.

You are a beautiful boy, Andrew, really, truly, honestly. In a few years you’re gonna have girls wanting to strip those clothes off right where you stand but if you continue thinking the way you do you’ll bottle out and miss out on seeing their cute backsides!

You are not useless. You are not worthless. You are not stupid. You are not ugly. You are not grotesque. You are not evil.

You are the exact opposite.

Think of you’re writing, how creative you are, how you spend hour upon hour drawing portraits of Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton. They’re good, Andrew, really good! Think of how imaginative you are, how your fantasies run so wild you spend weeks writing story after story. Think of how much you care. How you’re always trying to help people – mum and dad, Kathryn, your classmates. Think of when you helped that man cross the road even though those prats ripped the shit out of you for days afterwards. Think of when you helped the old woman on your paper round when she slipped on her front steps. Not everyone would do that, Andrew, but you do.

You spend so much time worrying about everyone else’s happiness you don’t leave any time to think of your own.

And you need to!

You need to be nicer to yourself. You need to stop berating and beating on yourself. You need to be kind to the only person you will spend your whole life with you. It’s not fat, it’s a challenge. Your hair isn’t unmanageable, it’s rugged. That butt of yours isn’t chubby, it’s spankalicious. Your nipples aren’t pathetic, they’re Super-Nipples (you’ll laugh when she says that, but it will make you so happy!)

Before we go any further Andrew you need to promise me that whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about yourself you’ll stop, take a breath, and twist them around just like I did above.

Because if you don’t do that you’re going to start self-harming more and more to get the same hit. You’ll move on from scissors to knives. You’ll start pondering matches, and then entire boxes, and you don’t want to go there Andrew, believe me, I speak from bitter experience.

OK? We got a deal?


Now, Kathryn. Not your sister, the other one. The one you’ve been dreaming about every day for the last eleven months. The one with the magical eyes, heart stopping smile and excellent bottom. You’ll learn for certain as you get older that women are scary, and enchanting, and terrifying, and amazing, and frightening, and the greatest thing on Earth. Seriously, Andrew, women have it all worked out. They are smarter than boys, funnier than boys, better looking than boys and you get on with them far better than you do the males of the species – even if that’s hard to understand right now.

What you’ll also learn over time is that, no matter what the media tells you, women and men are basically the same. We all want the same things; love, affection, care, compassion, orgasms and ice-cream. Not necessarily in that order.

They’re not going to bite your head off and feed it to their offspring. They’re not going to stab you in the eye with an ice-pick if you say something stupid. And they’re not going to chain you to a wall and whip you to within an inch of your life unless you ask them to and/or pay for the privilege.

What I’m getting at Andrew, is your anxieties over talking to Kathryn are powered by the same issues that’s clouded your opinion of yourself. You’ve convinced yourself you’re a terrible person so you can’t imagine how she could ever be interested in you, whereas you’re an awesome person (change your thinking, remember) and she’d be lucky to have someone as amazing as you in her life.

So stop umming and ahhing and convincing yourself it’s all too hard, just walk up to her and say ‘hello’!

That’s all you need to do. After that, it’ll be second nature.

As for the other Kathryn, there’s nothing you can do about her right now other than what you’re doing. Although, in a few years, when the family goes to Great Ormond Street – do whatever you can to convince mum and dad that she should be in there! She won’t get the treatment she needs where she is, regardless of what anyone tells you. So if you want to help her, make it happen! Okay?

POP QUIZ HOTSHOT (you’ll understand that in a few years) Fill in the blank….your feet are                                 .

The reason I’m saying all this Andrew is that you think you won’t always be like this, but the way you’re thinking at the moment is only going to get worse if you don’t take care of it now. In a few years you’ll be thinking of killing yourself, a few years after that you’ll be running away from home, and a few years later you’ll be so caught up in the cycle of negativity and self-harm you won’t know how else to live. You’ll end up homeless, isolated and alone.

And you deserve more than that!

You are an amazing kid, Andrew, looking back now I can see that – and I wish I had someone telling me all this when I was your age. Hence, why I’m breaking the laws of space and time to try change things! Although I can’t give too much away – partly because of the time-continuum, partly because I don’t want to spoil too much – here’s a few things to keep in mind:

– In 1995, when it comes to choosing your A-Levels, listen to your HEART not your anxiety!

– In 1997, phone home first.

– In 1999, don’t question the woman with the left-hand side obsession.

– In 1999, remember the word Walkabout.

– In 1999, listen to what Alice tells you instead of thinking it’s a joke.

– In 1999, tell the person who paints your face what you’re too afraid to tell Kathryn right now.

– In 2000, the woman who slaps you in the face needs your help. Do everything and anything you can!

– In 2000, don’t listen to your ethical code; you will regret it for the rest of your existence!

– In 2001, remember the initials V.S.P

– In 2002, listen to your heart and punch you’ll know you in the face.

– In 2004, suggest you wear a wedding dress as a form of protest.

– In 2004, don’t worry, she’ll be back.

– In 2006, trust the taller one.

– In 2006, remember to say what you’re thinking when you’re eating soup.

– In 2007, if you’ve forgotten all of the above and things play out exactly as they have, remember:

– In 2007, do not drink the Gin and Tonic. If you do, and it happens (believe me, you’ll know what), tell someone.

– In 2007, triple bind the scarf to stop it stretching.

– In 2008, someone will offer to repay you in kind, accept it.

– In 2008, call her! Just fucking call her. Do not let anything, anyone or any anxiety stop you!

– In 2009, the person who shares the name of someone in your past needs your help. Do everything and anything you can!

– In 2009, remember a synonym for rocky pinnacle; not a flightless bird.

– In 2009, do not click ‘publish’ when mentally unstable.

– In 2010, they are not offering Salvation!

– In 2011, if you’ve forgotten all of the above and things play out exactly as they have, buy a new belt, yours is getting weak!

Hopefully you’ll only need to remember the first item to give you the life you want; I’m just trying to cover all the bases!

Now, with all that in mind, and without trying to embarrass you, I need to talk briefly about you know what. If I remember rightly you’ve already started thinking about it and you’ve already started convincing yourself that it’s wrong, bizarre and downright disgusting. But remember what I told you? CHANGE YOUR THINKING!

POP QUIZ HOTSHOT: Fill in the blank…your thoughts about this are                                                                 .

I told you to think positive! Now, given I know you won’t want this written down anywhere – prying eyes and all – I want to let you in on a few things. Firstly, you are not alone! There are many people who think the same way you do – millions upon millions of them! Secondly, in about five years you’ll discover something called the Internet and when you do you’ll berate yourself for wanting to type something in. Don’t! Because you’ll finally learn that I was speaking the truth when I said you weren’t alone. Thirdly, there is nothing wrong with it! Fourthly, never, ever, ever, let anyone stop you from experiencing it.

Life is meant to be lived, Andrew, never forget that! You don’t want to get to my age and still have this as a fantasy! It will invest you like a parasite and devour you from the inside out! Just embrace it!

You see Andrew, like all those body issues and mind fucks you give yourself, this is just another part of the anxiety; another reason to hate yourself, another reason to convince yourself you’re the world’s most grotesque human being.

Whereas in reality, it’s just another reason to love yourself even more!

Like your writing, your art, your imagination, your compassion, your creativity, your passion…this is just another small stitch in the multi-coloured tapestry that is you!

No-one will ever define who you are Andrew, trust me on that. People will try. Oh, believe me they’ll try! But no matter what gets thrown at you, you don’t let them. You channel your strength and keep trying to be the best version of yourself you can be. This is what you need to start doing now.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. Don’t let anyone control your destiny. Not those cunts at school, not your sister, not your teachers, naysayers or abusers. You – and you alone – are in charge of your life.

So as long as you believe in me like I believe in you, we’ll be just fine.

Take care my friend, be nice to yourself, always.

With love and hugs,

Addy xx

PS…In 1996 you will become disheartened and question your faith…just remember 2005!

PPS…POP QUIZ HOTSHOT: Fill in the blank…The freckles on your hand are                                                  .

PPPS…Yes, I still write dozens of PSs!

PPPPS…Please stop hating yourself so much, no matter what you or anyone tells you, you really are a good person.