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Struggling With Self-Harm: My Teenage Daughter Was Cutting Herself

I am the mother of an ex-cutter. From a young age, Lisa* ex­hibited strange behavior that prevented her from making friends and resulted in her being pulled out of class for aggression problems and causing class disruptions. By the time she was in the sixth grade, she was being brutally teased at school. When Lisa turned 13, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Struggling With Bipolar Disorder And Self Harm

To cope with the pain of her disorder and the bullying at school, my teenage daughter started cutting. As her mother, her behavior was terrifying. I was forced to hide knives, scissors and other sharp objects, but she would find other things to use. I would notice broken glass and pieces of CD cases around the house and in her room.

Lisa’s behavior deteri­orated. At home, she was constantly throwing tem­per tantrums and breaking things around the house. She would get angry and threat­en to cut herself or attempt suicide. The cutting contin­ued at school. The principal would call me at least once a week to pick her up after an episode. The episodes were so frequent that I almost lost my job. During this time, she had several hospitalizations in psychiatric facilities but she would return seemingly unchanged. She was even­tually redirected to a school for children with behavioral problems because the public school system could not ad­equately educate her.

My Daughter Was A Cutter

Lisa did not completely stop cutting until she turned 20. She is doing much better now, however, she still strug­gles with the challenges of her disorder. Her arms are covered in deep scars. She also has a third degree burn on her arm from pressing a hot spoon on herself after heating it under a flame.

As a mother, I felt desper­ate to help my daughter but I also felt helpless and inade­quate. I tried everything. We sought professional help. I checked out library books to understand her disorder. I’d confide in friends as a way to cope. I turned to prayer. It felt like I was failing as a mother. I lived with the constant fear that one day she would carry it too far. It hurt to see my daughter suffer so much; it felt like a knife in my heart and the worst part was that I couldn’t help her.

For the time being Lisa is stable, but there is always the uncertainty about the future. Some days, I worry that it is only a matter of time before she starts cutting again, es­pecially when anything trau­matic happens in her life. She copes by cutting. But right now, my daughter is a happy, positive person with enthu­siasm for life. Seeing a smile on her face instead of a frown is a blessing. This experience has made me stronger as a mother. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have no other choice.

*Name changed

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