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Roisin

Age at interview: 45
Brief Outline: Although she was shocked to discover her daughter’s self-harming, at the age of 13, Roisin was able to understand her daughter’s feelings and to find effective help for her. She is 17 at the time of interview and hasn’t self-harmed for a year.
Background: Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Roisin discovered that her daughter K. was cutting herself at the age of 13, when one of K’s friends told her K’s father about it. Roisin was shocked, but her reaction was measured and calm as she focused on how to understand K’s problems and get help for her. They didn’t tell many people about it, just a few friends and K’s school, who were very supportive. 
Roisin felt guilty at first that K. had ‘inherited’ from her a predisposition to self-harming behaviour—Roisin through eating disorder and alcohol, K. through cutting. Roisin sees them both stemming from the same origin, which she thinks is a chemical imbalance in the brain which is genetic. She recognised that she couldn’t be responsible for this and the feelings of guilt wore off. Roisin talks about her own experience of depression, alcoholism and eating disorder and her family history of alcoholism. She thinks that she and K. now understand each other’s experiences better, as a result of talking together about underlying feelings about self-in-the-world which provoke self-harming behaviour.
K. wanted to try and stop self-harming by herself, but Roisin and her ex-husband insisted on getting help for her from outside agencies. They tried a local counselling service at first, but Roisin didn’t think their approach was appropriate and sought help through the GP and private psychiatric treatment. K’s father has health insurance which paid for weekly sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for a year. Roisin was not confident that local NHS adolescent mental health services would provide the help they wanted and she knows from her own professional experience that weekly CBT is not available on the NHS. She says they would have paid for the CBT if they had to. It has been a very effective treatment for K, who hasn’t self-harmed for over a year.
Looking to the future, Roisin thinks that CBT has equipped her daughter to cope with emotional challenges. She is excited for K, who is taking her final year college exams next year and looking forward to going to university. 
Roisin’s messages to other parents are: ‘Try not to over-react’, and ‘Don’t feel guilty.’
 

Roisin said her daughter hated the way that she felt, but didn’t understand why she felt like it.

Roisin said her daughter hated the way that she felt, but didn’t understand why she felt like it.

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Did she talk about it again later or at other times and give you any more kind of concrete information about what was happening to her?

Yeah, this is going to sound strange, she did but she wasn’t able to necessarily articulate in a way that was clear but I totally understood it. I still think her dad is completely none the wiser. But I think I got it because that’s how I feel most of the time. She, you know, sort of said things like about just feeling, just didn’t, hated the way that she felt but she didn’t understand why she felt like it. Never felt like she, she didn’t feel like she fitted in anywhere and the way that she felt was sort of like, sort of almost a self-loathing but not understanding why. And I was like, well, yeah, welcome to my world [laughs]. 

And that’s exactly how I felt at that age and that’s exactly how I feel now at the age of forty five, most of the time, quite frankly, and there are a lot of people around who do feel like that. But you just have to learn to deal with it. And we have like a bit of a, sort of joke about it, like a private joke between us now that, you know, that we’re both sort of a bit strange and a bit awkward and we’re both a bit nerdy [laughs]. But, you know, nerdy is now the new sexy, apparently, so that’s all right [laughs]. 

So yeah, in a way so she did go on to explain it and I was like, “Yeah, but I understand that completely that’s it, it’s, you’re not the only person that feels like that. That’s how I felt.” And, you know, she now knows that, obviously, she’d known about my drinking, yeah, but she now knows about the fact that I had an eating disorder and stuff and that she, you know, she can see that what she did was just a different way of expressing what I did through an eating disorder. So she sort of, now she sort of, now she’s seventeen, she’s nearly eighteen now and she’s got a much better understanding of, you know, sort of almost acceptance I hope, in the way that I have, that, you know, okay, I’m a bit different. I’m not necessarily like everybody else and I don’t necessarily deal with things in the way that other people do, but that’s all right as long as I recognise my behaviour and recognise why I think I want to behave in certain ways, then you can deal with it.
 

Roisin thought her depression was caused by a genetic chemical imbalance. She linked her daughter’s self-cutting to her own early eating disorder and said this brought them closer.

Roisin thought her depression was caused by a genetic chemical imbalance. She linked her daughter’s self-cutting to her own early eating disorder and said this brought them closer.

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Going back to what I said earlier about me not being altogether, necessarily, surprised, what I mean is I’ve got a, a history of  episodes of clinical depression. Not for any reason. Not that there’s anything wrong with my life. It is a chemical thing, as far as I’m concerned and that started when I was a teenager, a young teenager and I also, you know, had an eating disorder when I was a lot younger. So the fact that my thirteen year old daughter would be doing something, to me, cutting was just another expression of how I expressed myself with eating. I mean it’s the same thing just doing something different. So the fact that my thirteen year old daughter ended up doing something like that wasn’t really an enormous surprise.  It just sort of further cemented my belief that there’s a very big hereditary, genetic factor, not necessarily environmentally hereditary, but I believe there’s a big factor, genetically, that some people have a genetic predisposition to do these sorts of things. I believe I have that because I come from a long line of people like me. So that’s what I mean when I said it wasn’t really an enormous surprise.  Yeah, and in a strange sort of way, it’s brought us much, brought us a lot closer, strangely enough.  Yeah, so I think in a, in some ways, like she’s going to be going off to university next year. She’s doing her A levels now. She’s a very bright girl and perhaps her having done this at a younger age, of course I would rather she didn’t have done it and hadn’t done it, but perhaps, having had the experience and going through the CBT, will better equip her to deal emotionally with whatever she faces, when she, you know, flies the nest next year. I don’t know.
 

Roisin found out her daughter was cutting herself when a ‘sensible and caring’ friend told her daughter’s father.

Roisin found out her daughter was cutting herself when a ‘sensible and caring’ friend told her daughter’s father.

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Yeah, my daughter is seventeen now and when she was thirteen, one of her friends told her dad that she’d been cutting herself with glass that she’d been collecting somehow and she said that, she said that she knew she said that she told my daughter she was going to tell us and, obviously, she tried to persuade her not to but her friend, being, you know, a very sensible girl and obviously caring about her, said, “No, I’m going to tell them because it’s the right thing to do.” And so she told her dad and obviously, the first thing he did is phone me up because, obviously, we’re divorced and we split up when she was four. And, you know, we have a very good relationship and we’ve never been one of those people who when they’ve divorced that they use their child as a pawn and we’ve always continued to have a good relationship with each other, obviously, because she’s the most important thing to both of us. So we do communicate a lot about her, which she doesn’t like [laughs] or she never used to like [laughs]. I think she appreciates it now. Yeah, so he phoned me and told me.
 

Roisin wanted information, not emotional support, from online forums but couldn’t find any.

Roisin wanted information, not emotional support, from online forums but couldn’t find any.

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Yeah, I still did try and look for some other stuff because I thought, oh well, you know, it’s been a few years. Perhaps there’s other thinking and stuff behind it so, you know, I did go online and have a look and try to look for like sort of like forums for parents of people who, cos it’s one thing being aware of it and knowing why people do it and that and it’s another thing when your own daughter is doing it [laughs]. But I couldn’t seem to find anything. I don’t know if I was looking in the wrong places but I certainly couldn’t seem to find anything so I just found a couple of like reports and stuff like that into, you know, self-harming and what the current, you know, what the current thinking is, the reasons why and, you know, about treatments and stuff like that for it. So I sort of looked at it from that standpoint. You know, and, and again that’s typical of me. I didn’t look at it for, you know, the emotional support bit. I was looking at it, well what does the current research say [laughs]. So yeah, I did look for, look for some stuff.

So you were you were looking for information, not emotional support?

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I did, I did try and look for, I wasn’t, when I was looking for forums or, you know, some sort of char thing, it wasn’t necessarily for emotional support. It was just to sort of try and find out what other people, what other girls of her age were doing and how other people find found out and what other people what other parents did, rather than anyone, you know, because I don’t, I’m not really one for looking for emotional support. That’s just another one of my things [laughs].
 

Roisin kept her daughter’s self-harm secret from her family because she feared they’d over-react.

Roisin kept her daughter’s self-harm secret from her family because she feared they’d over-react.

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Did you tell anybody else? Did she tell anybody else? How widely disclosed was it?

No, no, some of our friends knew. I think probably there may be one or two of her dad’s family may have known. My partner at the time, I told him but nobody else, not really any other extended family mainly because my family are massive over reactors [laughs]. I’m not [laughs] but they are massive over reactors and, in a way, it was a sort of selfish thing really, I certainly didn’t tell my mother because I thought, she’s the last person I’m going to tell because I’m going to have her on the phone to me every five minutes going, “Ooh, what’s happening? How’s [daughter’s name]?” Oh I couldn’t stand all that and it’s the same with my sisters and stuff, I would have got that so it was probably for selfish reasons why I didn’t tell them because I just couldn’t stand the aggravation. Yeah, but that’s, you know, that’s, that’s okay but I didn’t, I didn’t feel like I needed their support at all because I don’t think I’d have got it. I’d have just got this [hand movements demonstrating repeated talking].
 

Roisin’s daughter was helped by CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).

Roisin’s daughter was helped by CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).

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Did she tell you anything about why she thought CBT was helping her? What it was that she was learning there or doing there that that was having that impact?

Yeah, yeah, she said it was mainly about dealing with negative thought processes and, obviously, sort of negative thought processes tend to compound each other and negative thoughts tend to lead, lead to particular sorts of behaviours and one of those behaviours would be cutting or burning and the need to, to hurt yourself, feel some sort of pain. So really it was just the, the dealing with the negative thought processes and preventing it getting to a point where it caused the acting out and the behaviour. So it was that really. That’s what she said.

But it took a year.

Yeah.

Of weekly sessions.

Yeah, yeah and that wouldn’t have been available on the NHS, weekly sessions, for that length of time and, if he hadn’t had the insurance, that would have been very expensive, you know, and that makes me really cross, actually, that there’s lots of people out there, lots of young people out there, who weren’t lucky enough to be in a position to get the help that she got.
 

Roisin was not complacent. She ‘kept an eye’ on her daughter’s moods and hoped she would confide in her if she had emotional difficulties in future.

Roisin was not complacent. She ‘kept an eye’ on her daughter’s moods and hoped she would confide in her if she had emotional difficulties in future.

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Some people have talked to me about their son or, son or daughter I was going to say. In fact, it’s all been daughters so far stopping but they don’t, they’ve said they’re not complacent about it.

No.

Because they don’t, they can’t be absolutely sure that it.

Won’t start again.

It won’t start again.

Oh no, no, absolutely, yeah, yeah, yeah and yeah, I’m fully aware of that so no, I’m definitely not complacent. I still sort of keep an eye out and everything and keep an eye on her moods and stuff I think she’d tell me [laughs]. I don’t know whether she will or not but I think she would. I’m not sure but it’s not just that, I’m also aware that, you know, if, I dunno, she finds herself in a sort of difficult position emotionally or mentally over the next few years, it might, you know, end up coming out of some other sort of behaviour. So yeah, as opposed to the cutting it could be something else [laughs]. Yeah.
 

Roisin thinks that what her daughter has been through may help her to understand and deal with emotions when she leaves home.

Roisin thinks that what her daughter has been through may help her to understand and deal with emotions when she leaves home.

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You talked a little bit about what she’s going on to do next. I wonder if you could just talk more generally about how you see the future and her future kind of unfold.

Well, she’s doing her A levels at the moment. She’ll be taking them next spring and summer and yeah, hopefully, next off she’ll be going off to university to do chemistry. Somewhere in the North of England, hopefully. Yeah, she wants to be a research chemist. Very bright girl. So, yeah, really, really exciting time for her. I’m really excited for her and, you know, perhaps like I said, in a way, some of the stuff she’s done and she’s been through may have helped to emotionally equip her while she is away. Yeah, but I think she knows and she understands my views on perhaps that she may have a genetic predisposition to stuff like this I’m not saying I’m right, I think I am but I’m not saying I’m right, but she understands that I believe that we have a genetic predisposition for this sort of thing. I wanted her to be aware of that and she is. I didn’t have anyone to tell me that when I was her age. So yeah, I’m hoping I’m hoping that she’ll, you know, I’m not under any illusion that she’ll just go off to university and be some sort of academic superstar and her whole life will be fabulous because it won’t [laughs] because that’s not reality. But I hope that, you know, she’ll have some of the tools now that she’ll need to deal with it and she’ll also have now an understanding that, chances are, whatever she believes she’s going through, I’ve probably been there, seen it, done it and got the t-shirt [laughs]. Probably.
 

Roisin advises parents not to over-react and not to feel responsible for their child’s behaviour.

Roisin advises parents not to over-react and not to feel responsible for their child’s behaviour.

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I think mainly, and this is easier said than done, to not over react and I know you said everybody says that but just don’t over react. The last thing that that the young person in that situation needs is some hysterical parent, you might feel like that, [laughs] but don’t show it to them and if you’re going to go and freak out, freak out when they’re not there. Yeah, it might be completely outside of your you know, experience and something you’ve never encountered before but, you know, and it’s not attention seeking. That’s another thing that people think, “Oh it’s just attention seeking.” It’s not attention seeking. It’s normally, a demonstration that there’s really something quite wrong and it’s not necessarily anything that you’ve done. That’s another thing that I think people think, “Oh, what did I do? I’ve led, I’ve led her, I’ve led him to do this.” And that’s not necessarily the case. They might be acting out anger towards you but like that’s sort of their job if they’re a teenager [laughs] but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the case. It’s not necessarily anything you’ve done and probably something completely unconnected. 
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