I had quite an interesting experience yesterday and I wanted to share what happened, and what I learned, as I think it will really help me to improve my mental health and hopefully by sharing I will be able to help some of you too. For many years, I have taken responsibility, and blamed myself for some of the decisions or life choices other people have made in their own lives.
To give you a couple of examples and to put us in context, if a friend of mine was mentally unwell, I would take it upon myself to keep them safe from themselves. If I failed – as I inevitably would – and they managed to harm themselves in some way, I would blame myself, feel useless, unworthy, and end up punishing myself.
If I saw someone with signs of self-harm on their body, no matter how much or little I knew them, I would make it my personal mission to get close to them and support them. I could not see at the time that all of this was at the expense of my own mental health. Perhaps I was seeking respite from my own issues by concentrating on other peoples – but either way, I did not help me to recover and heal – it often triggered me, made me feel bad about myself, allowed me to form inappropriate and sometimes co-dependent relationships with people, and we all know they never end well.
Anyway, back to tomorrow, and what happened to finally realise this. Hannah, the girl who WAS my best friend up until late last year, had borrowed some Wii games from me and I asked her if I could have them back. A quick re-cap on the relationship between myself and Hannah – it was never a very equal relationship, I felt quite used by her a lot of the time, mainly because I earn more money than her, and am better with it, so it always ended up that I paid for things whenever we went anywhere. Also, it always seemed to be me making the effort in the friendship, as I am so afraid of people not liking me, and I suppose she played on that a little. As time went on, and she met a new boyfriend, she started contacting me less, so instead of me chasing her, I let us drift apart, glad that we did not have a big explosive row to end the friendship, rather than we went our separate ways. Hannah also had her own issues with previous self harm, anger, probably some sort of personality issue – but who am I to diagnose. Nonetheless, it wasn’t very healthy when I was living at her house spending most of my time with her, whilst Lyn, her mother, was acting as my carer.
Anyway, back to current events. Yesterday, I went to Hannah’s house to pick up the Wii games. I did, against my better judgement, ask her if she would like to drop them off and see my new house at the same time, but she declined, and said I needed to come and pick them up myself, which I did. When I got there, Hannah opened the door and in all truth she looked rough – poorly, ill. She was still in her dressing gown but I wasn’t surprised seeing as it was the morning after new years eve. I went in, and as usual, the house stank of smoke, so much that it was almost unbearable. I can’t believe I actually lived in that house, but then I suppose I was smoking at the time so I was used to it.
We all sat in the living room and chatting, and it transpires that a lot has gone on at the house over the past couple of weeks. I won’t go into it on here as it isn’t really my business to publish but it will be enough to say that Hannah has had it hard over the recent weeks, which would explain why she looks rough. As we were chatting, she went into the kitchen, and came back in without her dressing gown on, and short sleeved pj’s. Anyone who has no experience with self harm may have taken a little while to spot it, but me being the way I am saw her arms immediately – and the fresh cuts on them.
I had a split second to decide how I was going to react. Do I do what I am so used to doing, my normal reaction – any one who has self harm wounds on them obviously needs my support and of course I must give it wholeheartedly without a second thought to my own mental health? Or do I step in the opposite direction, take a step back, protect myself from being triggered and potentially becoming ill myself? I only had a second or so to decide and for the first time in my life I took a big step away from the only thing I know. I decided not to bring up the self-harm, in fact, I didn’t even acknowledge it.
As we sat there, she seemed to step up her effort to get a rise out of me. She started pointing at things, showing me things, each time practically shoving her arms under my face. I could see, finally clearly, what she was doing, and it reminded me of ME, in my younger years. It was clear attention seeking and I could finally see how desperately sad it appeared to be. It was clear she needed my attention but for once I was not going to give it. Ignoring my own inner thoughts that were practically screaming at me that I was a bad person for not supporting her, for not supporting ‘someone in my situation’, for acting like I don’t care when I do, I made my excuses and drove away.
A big part of me is so proud of myself for making this big step, another part of me is very sad that I still feel like I should have supported her no matter what the situation, because that’s what people like ‘us’ do – we are supposed to stick together. Maybe I am only now starting to understand that there is no ‘us’, there is n ‘special club’ – we are all out there on our own; whether we support each other is our own decision, but we all need to understand that we are ALL responsible for our own actions – no one else is – and we are not responsible for anyone else’s either.
If your friend decides to cut herself, she made that decision, not you, and so you, or I, cannot blame ourselves. If we make them do it – by torturing them, hurting them, driving them to it – that is a different story, and if that is the person you are then I strongly suggest you look at yourself and your own values – but by just being there and being unable to help someone see a better way – well we cannot take responsibility for that.