Imagine your child rolled up their sleeve, showed you their arm and it was covered in cuts and scars. Can you imagine the horror, revulsion and absolute fear? The dismay, the self questioning and the screaming 'Why?' at the back of your brain?
Please just stop and imagine for a second before reading on.
Well that happened to me. Although we didn't know it, my son had been self harming quite badly since long before any of his 'symptoms' became obvious. When I looked at his arm there was barely a square centimetre that wasn't scar tissue, and there were scars on top of scars.
I don't think I've ever seen anything that I found so profoundly shocking in my life, I really don't.
It was so out of the blue. He'd been talking about it to his wonderful psychiatrist at the YPU (Young Persons Unit) he was attending at the time and they'd decided between them that it was time he told someone about this particular problem and he'd summoned up the courage (it must have taken one hell of a lot if you think about it) to tell me. In the way that these things are often blurted out he said he wanted to tell me something and showed me straight off. I was completely shocked as I never suspected he may be self-harming for a second. But he was.
It was one of those moments where my reaction was going to govern how he coped with this and fortunately I managed to stay perfectly calm and just asked 'Does it itch?' Quite possibly the stupidest possible first question but also quite possibly the best as it calmed things down and he noticeably relaxed a little. He told me it did sometimes and sat down.
I really didn't know how to handle things but fortunately I knew enough to know the difference between the symptoms and causes and this was definitely a symptom. He managed to explain a little about why he did it, and that was because when he felt he was going to start to hallucinate it sometimes stopped it happening.
In the end I found that in many ways I was more worried about him getting infected from not cleaning the cuts properly (some had been quite deep) than the actual cutting itself. Apart from anything I couldn't stop him cutting but I could stop him from getting blood poisoning, so we agreed that I'd keep him in wipes, plasters etc to deal with the little cuts but if he did a bad one he'd let me help clean it.
It seemed to work pretty well and gradually the frequency reduced to the point where (as far as I know) he's only done it once in the last few years and whilst other treatments were far and away the main reason it declined I do hope I managed to help in a little way.
Obviously it was quite a dark experience but even there you sometimes find humour. A little while later I was encouraging him to help prepare our food to make him less paranoid about eating and he was helping me cook. I needed some cheese grated and asked him to. A few moments later I turned around and he was just staring blankly at the grater. He told me he couldn't do it and when I asked why he said he was worried he might cut himself. Well, we had been having a laugh and joke before hand and I just cracked up at the irony of the statement. Fortunately he immediately saw the humour in the situation and it's still something funny that is mentioned from time to time.
You've got to laugh sometimes.