I’m putting this image here now because even though this blog is hard to write, there is light at the end of it…

It’s June, it’s summer, it’s 22 degrees outside and it’s hot!  For most people it’s the time to whip off your top and slap on that suntan cream and bask in the glory of that big fat ball of fire in the sky.  

Summer makes people smile, it brings them together and it’s a chance to get our legs out of our jeans and give our arms the ability to break free of the sleeves of our woolly jumpers because nothing beats the feeling of the sun on your skin.  It’s glorious…

…unless you’re a self-harmer…

I’ve never written about this subject.  I’ve never documented it in a journal or gone into the intricacies in one of my presentations.  It’s a section of my life that I’m not proud of but it’s a part of me that I can’t hide.

I’m not looking for sympathy or even understanding, especially when it’s something that I don’t fully understand myself and I can’t pinpoint a reason or event or a pivotal moment where I…

“…made the decision to hurt myself…”

…but I can say that when your life is consumed by self-hatred and confusion and you have no concept of mental illness or what it even looks like; when all you want is to be able to feel something, then pain is sometimes the only thing that makes sense because how can you feel joy when all you feel inside is pain?

I know very little about self-harm.  I barely know anything about my own variation of it, except that in the moment, in those few minutes, I felt relief.  I was relieved because I could see something that hurt and I was also relieved because the pain I felt echoed the pain in my soul.

In my early to mid-twenties I would dip in and out of the self-harm habit, just like I would dip in and out of hospital.  When Bernard the Bipolar brain was medicated and caged within the realms of sanity I didn’t feel the need to hurt myself.

When I look back on my self- harm history I can only describe it as moments of madness that made sense at the time.  It was desperation, it was like drowning in a lake of cement and it was the one thing that pulled me out.  It was a few minutes of blind self-inflicted rage, self-pity and a way of pleading with life to just stop! Stop what it was doing and just make sense again.

In the moment I didn’t think of the future.  I didn’t think to myself…

“What do I do when its sunny outside and everyone is taking their tops off?”

“What do I do when I want to roll my sleeves up to wash my hands and there’s someone stood next to me who doesn’t know I struggle?”

“What do I do when I meet a boy and he sees these hideous scars?”

In the moment I didn’t think…

“What do I do when I get a job and there’s no aircon in the office and I’m frying like an egg.”

I didn’t think…

“What do I do in eighteen years’ time when I get another job and I’m working with patients who have done the same thing but they have no idea that I am anything other than Admin Kat?”

In that moment, at the age of twenty I didn’t think of the future; I didn’t think of the future because I didn’t think I had one. 

Contrary to popular belief self-harm was not a form of attention seeking for me; how could it be when I had to go to incredible measures to hide what I have done to myself because no-one really understood it.

It’s been long sleeves at social gatherings so people don’t stare.  I put my arm behind my back when I’ve been at the end of a row of people and a photographer makes a spontaneous appearance.  I make up elaborate and ridiculous lies like…

“I used to be a Piranha fish tamer.”

“I had an altercation with a seriously angry cat.”

“It’s an unusual birthmark.”

“It’s a new form of tattoo art.”

(No one believed any of them, can you believe?)

Mr Piranha Fish

It took me years to find the courage to roll up my sleeve at my last job.  In the end the defining moment was the office was just to damn hot and I couldn’t take the heat.  People stared, they whispered, some even stopped speaking to me for a while; one person refused to make me a cup of tea because they didn’t want to touch my self-harm infected mug.

I had a friend once who told me I was in the running for being her bridesmaid but she had to make a decision on what would look better on her wedding pictures.  Unfortunately the dress she’d picked out for the bridesmaids didn’t accommodate a hideously scarred arm.  I had another friend who told me it would be better if I could cover my arm so that she wouldn’t have to explain the state of it when we were supposed to be having a nice evening out with her friends.

Once I tried to explain to someone how difficult it is to keep up the act of normality when life is constantly throwing curveballs in your way to make it less normal.  They said…

“Well you made that choice, now you have to live with it.”

They are of course right.  Whatever spin I put on this, eighteen years ago I made a decision to hurt myself and that decision has affected my life ever since….


Had I not made that particular decision, the only one I was left with would have been a whole lot worse because…

…I would not be here to tell the tale.

Twelve years ago I may have braved the office with my naked arm but when I started public speaking in 2014 everything I did to every single audience was done in long sleeves.  I would sweat, my skin would itch and I would stand in front of the crowd and tell my story but I would never bear my arm. 

Long sleeves

I was ashamed.  When you’ve spent so many years being made to feel like a leper because of the things you’ve been through and the decisions you’ve made, it’s difficult to get out of that habit.

On the 5th May 2019 I went to see Rose McGowan do a reading and interview about her book Brave.  There’s something about Rose McGowan that I’ve always admired.  When she was in Charmed I wanted her hair.  When she became a voice for all genders in the Me Too movement I admired her bravery and her courage.  She’s someone who has suffered but she’s never given up and that’s what I admire the most.  She uses her pain to give others the courage to carry on.

The Lowry – Salford

Anyone who worked with me at the Edinburgh fringe festival will tell you that I can talk to anyone, actually everyone who knows me will tell you that, but my Edinburgh friends will tell you that when it comes to talking to celebrities I shrivel up and die and I turn into a ridiculous gibbering idiot who can’t form sentences… and for a public speaker it’s not a good look.  But in 2019 I was not going home without my copy of Brave being signed by Rose McGowan.

So I stood in a queue for 45 minutes, which didn’t feel like 45 minutes because I spent the entire time texting my mum asking her…

“What the hell do I say?”

It was a warm day and I’d walked into the Lowry dressed in a woolly jumper and my winter coat, so coupled with the fact that I was nervous I was also getting that jittery sweaty look…but let’s cut to the chase…

I got to the front of the queue and this beautiful person was sat in front of me and she asks me what my name is and we start talking about Greece and where my family is from because she’s just been to Greece and then…she clocks my arm!  She clocks it because in my Sweaty Betty panic I rolled up my sleeve for some temporary bare skin relief but I forgot to roll it back down before I was stood in front of her.

In that moment I had two choices, tell her the piranha fish story or…

…just tell her the truth.

So I said…

“I have Bipolar but I’m a public speaker now.”

She said…

“Do you show your scars when you speak?”

I said…


And I will always remember her reply because it was a lightbulb moment.  It was like a rough sea becoming calm or the clouds parting after a storm.  It was peace resting on a troubled soul.

“You should show them because you survived them, you should be brave.”

With tears in my eyes I nodded and I said…

“I will, I’ll be brave.”

And she said…

“I’m proud of you, I’m so proud of you.”

I wish I had a picture of myself being wrapped in Rose McGowan’s arms when she said those words, but even photographic evidence can’t explain what I felt in that moment.

It was validation from a complete stranger.  It was permission to stop being ashamed of my behaviour and a reason to move on from it. 

I look at my arm sometimes and… guys it’s a mess, so some days I am still ashamed but other days I think to myself…

“Damn right Rose, I survived them!”

So now in my presentations I talk about it and no matter how cold it is in the room I whip my top off or I roll up my sleeve and I strut that stage and do what I’ve always tried to do, I try to make people proud.  I try to make Rose proud.

Short sleeves

I’m not saying any of this is easy and sometimes when life is really difficult and things don’t make sense, the urge is still there and I’m not proud of that; but I am proud of the fact that I manage to resist that urge.

These days I try to write it out.  I try to write blogs or I rant in my designated “bedtime rant” notebook.  I write stupid fiction where I make the lives of innocent characters miserable because it makes me feel better, it’s a release.  I have an abundance of notebooks in my little library that are filled with the deaths’ of the most beautiful people of my own creation but they die because they are part of me, parts of myself that I couldn’t save at the time.

At work I was chatting with the drama therapy student and he asked me what write I about, was it romance or sci fi or crime? That kind of thing.  But I couldn’t give him an answer, not properly.  I couldn’t give him a simple answer because there’s more to my words than just a genre.

Since the age of eleven my words have only ever been a way for me to cope with the world.  They give me air by suffocating my pages.  My characters represent the parts of me that are still here and the parts that are gone.

As I’ve got older and hopefully wiser, I’ve found ways to channel those feelings of self-loathing, sometimes I’m not always successful but writing this particular piece right now has helped me understand the way I’ve been feeling. 

I’ve spent the last four hours writing this – believe it or not – and now I know exactly what I write about…

I write about darkness and I write about light, because…

…in order to survive, I write about pain.

Now I am brave…or try to be.

Dedicated to Rose McGowan, although you may never see this you gave me the courage to be brave.