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My realisation that the opposite of self-care is self-harm

TW: Self-harm, mentions of being overweight. 

This summer it got really hot. It was about August and we had a proper heatwave. In our land of stiff upper lips and no air conditioning, I would sit on my bed in my birthday suit and try to be still, to not expend any energy. And I developed a rash.

It was nothing to worry about, I would eventually discover. It was partly due to sweating, and partly due to my beautiful squishy belly. A steroid cream twice a day for about 2 weeks would sort me right out. 

However, I’m not just writing about the weather and my skin – although I know that fits with my British identity too. No, I want to talk about the way I behaved around my rash. A bizarre sentence, I know, but go with me. Because although my rash turned out to be basically nothing, I had left it so long that it was very much something (okay, this may get a little gross). 

As with most people, I can’t generally see the underside of my own belly. Failing developing the skills of a contortionist, it needs a mirror and a concerted effort. So I’ve no idea how long I’d had this rash before my skin started flaking off in the shower. That it felt rough, that it peeled in that most unattractive way that skin does. Peeling a sticker or the lid off a yoghurt pot: fine, peeling skin: awful. The redness stretched right across the top of my groin, beginning to crack and bleed where it met the creases for my hips. And if you think I’m oversharing it’s because I want you to understand that this was a definite problem.

It took me much too long before I called the doctor. I know there’s a pandemic on and I didn’t want to go to the surgery for a little rash, but I knew they were doing phone consultations so it wasn’t really that much of an excuse. I suspected (incorrectly in the end) that he’d want a photo to be sure, but he just over-explained as he’d taken to doing, and pinged my prescription over. Job done.

Or not done. I’d forget to grab it out of the fridge (where it was supposed to be stored, I didn’t choose to put it there), or I’d lie in bed knowing it was early enough to go downstairs and grab it, but just not. I would apply it once and feel as though that covered me for a day or two even though the instructions said otherwise. 

I’d bargain with myself “I will 100% do it tomorrow if I can just go straight to sleep now” and self-justify “steroid creams thin you skin anyway, that’ll only make it worse”. 

I basically did anything other than what I was told to do.

Why am I oversharing to this ridiculous degree? Because I realised what I was doing. I saw a facebook post from a relative, and I read Laura Dockrill’s book about her own (maternal) mental health and they both mentioned it. I was self-harming.

Now, I experience a lot of pain – I have fibromyalgia, some of my joints bend the wrong way, I get that all encompassing fatigue which feels like an ache in your heavy body. I’ve never deliberately cut myself, I couldn’t deal with the mess. I’ve never seen physical pain as a release for the emotional pain like I know some of my friends did. But make no mistake, it’s still self-harm.

We talk a lot about self-care these days – usually in terms of expensive candles, spa treatments and bubble baths (and I definitely indulge in the latter). But self-care is also the most basic thing of taking care of yourself, ensuring your needs are taken care of. Washing yourself, feeding yourself, looking after your rashes. And a lot of that can fall by the wayside when you’re depressed and the most you can do is get up to go pee because otherwise you’ll have a piss filled mattress.

When you deliberately don’t perform self care even though you know you should and you have the drive to do it – that’s self-harm. Actively choosing to “leave it till tomorrow” while knowing you won’t do it then is self-harm. It may be a more socially acceptable form of self-harm, but that’s what it is nonetheless.

Of course, you can realise the opposite of self-care is self-harm and then actively choose to not do anything about it in a kind of self-harm inception. And I say that because I did just that. But healing isn’t linear, and realising what the problem is is the first step. So realise. Treat your rash. Care for yourself. 

Because the opposite of self-care is self-harm.

If you are struggling with self harm in any of its forms, please seek help. Contact your GP, or visit any of the websites below for help. 

Mind – Self-Harm

Self Injury Support – Support for Women and Girls

Self-Harm Support from Samaritans

If you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself, or have already hurt yourself and need immediate medical attention, call 999 (or the equivalent emergency number in your country) and ask for an ambulance.

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By Caroline McDonagh-Delves

Deputy Editor

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