What picture does your mind conjure up if I say the words ‘self-harm?’
I’d put money on it being the stereotypical image of a morose teenager with a penchant for emo music and too much black eyeliner.
Not for a minute would you imagine that it’s something that I, a late 30s mum of two, a professional writer and active member of a church community, still struggle with.
But I do. And my mental health problems are evident whenever I roll up my sleeves or put on a swimming costume: some scars faded and barely visible; others still livid and unmistakable.
There are no definitive statistics on how many adults in the UK self-harm, but given that according to the Mental Health Foundation, up to 10% of English people will experience depression in their lifetime, it’s safe to say I’m not alone.
Self-harm is the source of intense shame, and it’s particularly acute when you’re an adult who battles with it.
‘You’re so pathetic and immature,’ my mind tells me. ‘You really should have grown out of this by now.’
It’s a vicious circle: the more ashamed I feel, the more inclined I am to punish myself – and on and on it goes.
There are many different forms of self-harm, from hair-pulling to overdosing. My particular ‘poison’ is cutting – something I share with around 15% of self-harming adults, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
One thing I’ve discovered about being an adult who self-harms is that it’s far easier to ‘get away with it’ than it was when I was a teenager.
No longer do I have my parents hovering outside my bedroom door or demanding to check my arms for signs of self-injury.
And these days, no one asks for my ID when I go to the supermarket and buy a packet of razors.
With no one putting the brakes on, I’ve self-harmed far more often than I ever did as a depressed teen, and far more severely.
I’ve needed hospital treatment for my injuries on many occasions.
But while the act of self-harm may be easier to accomplish as an adult, the consequences are much, much harder to deal with.
I don’t pose a risk to anyone but myself, yet I see people looking at my scars in the school playground.
I see their reluctance to let their kids come over for play-dates.
I’ve been investigated by social services – an automatic process in our area for people who attend the hospital with a mental health issue – to assess my suitability as a mother.
And how do I explain to my children that sometimes, mummy feels so bad that she cuts herself?
It’s been four months since I last self-harmed, but still, my mental health struggles are written all over my body.
The scars are ugly and disfiguring, but I’m not an ogre.
I’m a woman who’s battling mental illness every single day, living with the stigma of being an adult self-harmer.
There are many of us fighting this war, alongside getting on with the normal business of adulting.
We are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters and friends.
We are employees and unemployed, travel fanatics and homebodies, gym bunnies and book lovers.
But whoever we are, from whatever walk of life, we are not freaks.