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Dot

Age at interview: 57
Brief Outline: Dot was devastated when her, apparently happy, 15 year old daughter told her that she was cutting herself. Dot thinks that her daughter was helped by counselling. She herself was helped by getting information about self-harm from experts that she worked with at the time.
Background: Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Dot’s daughter, now 32, started self-harming at the age of 15. She seemed to be a happy and successful teenager so Dot was devastated when she found a note her daughter left on the kitchen table before walking to school one day saying she was really unhappy, hated herself and her body, felt a failure and had been cutting herself. Dot immediately got in her car and followed her, catching up with her before she reached school. Her daughter willingly got in the car and went home with Dot where they talked about what was happening to her. Her daughter had been to the GP and Dot thinks that either the GP, or her daughter’s friends, prompted her to write the note, or somehow let her mum know what was going on. 

Dot was devastated by this news, and still feels the shock of it when talking about it 17 years later. She worked in a hospital with experts on suicide and self-harm so was able to get information about self-harm from them, which she says was enormously reassuring. She thinks it would all have been ‘ten times worse’ if she hadn’t had access to that information. She talked to her then husband about it, but not to anybody else, including her other two children or any of their relatives. She feels that a Helpline or some other contact with people who didn’t know her daughter would have been supportive.

Dot thinks that her daughter’s self-harm, through cutting, was fairly short-lived and, although they talked together about her feelings and problems, her daughter never talked about how she cut. The GP referred her for counselling which Dot thinks helped her. In later years her daughter suffered periodically from low mood/depression and has been prescribed anti-depressants. Although she seemed to stop cutting, Dot thinks her daughter ‘self-abused’ in her later teen years by drinking too much.
 

Dot’s feelings of guilt about her daughter’s self-harm eventually passed.

Dot’s feelings of guilt about her daughter’s self-harm eventually passed.

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Yes, it’s a hell of an impact. It’s like you never think you’re a perfect parent, you’re always questioning judgements that you make and things that you do, but when you hear that your child that you think is happy is not happy, to the point where they, their self-esteem is so low. I mean I don’t think she would have ever committed, um considered suicide, but you’re looking around those sort of lines of low self-esteem and self-worth where they don’t value their lives at all. And you just think that’s, that’s terrible. You know, it just makes you feel a complete, not failure, but, well, I suppose that’s one word for it. But definitely guilt sets in. You really do start thinking, “What have I done? Where have I failed her? Where have, you know, what could I have done differently?” 

I think that goes with time. I think looking back now I can say, “Okay, we did our best. We weren’t perfect parents. We certainly weren’t bad parents.” And she was a young teenager, she was making her way in life and of course she did lots of things on her own. I don’t know what brought this on or whether it was going to happen, whether it was anything to do with us. But if it was, it was just ordinary families going on in ordinary ways. So I don’t feel that guilt thing anymore. But I remember the feeling of it. I remember it now. And you just keep thinking, “What could I have done differently? You know, how could I have changed this?” But I’m not sure I could, because I don’t know why it happened. And maybe that’s why it will stick, because it’s an unanswered question. Maybe.
 

Dot decided not to tell many people because she respected her daughter’s privacy.

Dot decided not to tell many people because she respected her daughter’s privacy.

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And likewise did you or did you not tell your mother about your daughter’s self-harming?

I didn’t, no.

You didn’t?

I would have felt that was completely, yes, not allowed. For one thing, we didn’t talk about things, my mother and I. We had a very good relationship but it was just old-fashioned, very old-fashioned, and there were just certain areas you didn’t mention. And the other reason is I think it, I had, I felt I had to keep it kind of secret for my daughter’s sake. I’m not so sure why I felt that now. I think if things happen now I treat it differently. But I’m an older, wiser person now and times have changed a bit. I don’t think there was the same stigma then at all. I’m sure that’s not why I said it, um why I decided not to tell people. I think it was just a bit of respect for my daughter. I didn’t want anybody saying to her, “Oh, dear, I hear you’ve been having trouble” or… That’s probably why I didn’t mention it to friends and relations. I probably didn’t want them talking to her about it.
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