‘Bullies made me do this to myself’
Bobbi Black’s scarred skin is a constant reminder of her tormented teenage years. Now she’s stopped self-harming, she bravely reveals the devastating effect it’s had on her body
‘Running my fingers along the hundreds of translucent scars that criss-cross my body, I know that people must wonder what has happened to me.
They might think I’ve been in a car crash or a really bad accident. They might pity me or think I’m brave.
But I did this to myself. From the age of 11, I cut my skin with whatever sharp object I could find.
As the blood seeped out of my jagged wounds, I’d feel relief. Relief that I had some release for all the pain inside me. Relief that I was feeling something.
Growing up in Middlesbrough, I was always shy and a bit lonely. My parents were separated and my mum, Sarah Jane, 42, sent me to a different school from my primary school friends when I was 11.
Because I had no friends there, I was an easy target for the bullies, who used to steal my lunch money and torment me for being overweight. I was a size 12-14 when I was 12 years old, and to escape the taunts of ‘fatty’ during the day, I would comfort eat at night.
I asked my teachers for help - but it made things worse. Too embarrassed to confide in my mum or the few mates I did have, I grew more miserable.
The first time I cut myself is etched in my memory forever. I’d had a particularly bad day, and after school I lay on my bed sobbing. But crying wasn’t enough. I spotted a rectangular glass plate and I ran its sharp edges across my forearm until I drew blood. It hurt like hell, but at the same time I felt a massive release. It was like the blood was draining away all my hurt.
After that, I’d regularly self-harm. At first it would be once or twice a week, but it soon increased to the point that I’d self-harm every day.
I’d use anything sharp I could find. Broken CD covers, razor blades, pins… I’d even burn myself with lighters or lit cigarettes.
The blood was draining away my hurt
I continued doing this for almost two years, cutting the tops of my arms and thighs - places I could hide. I thought no one knew, but one day my home-economics teacher kept me behind after class. She’d spotted the scars on my arms, and was so sympathetic that I ended up confessing everything to her.
When my mum came to pick me up, she was distraught to find out that I’d been doing this so long, and she hadn’t had a clue.
I was referred to a psychiatric nurse, and the school arranged for me to see a counsellor once a fortnight. I was also prescribed antidepressants, but none of it really helped and I kept on cutting.
Meanwhile, the bullying continued. After my 14th birthday in July 2004, I read a message scrawled in the school toilets: ‘Bobbi is a stupid cow. Why don’t you just get on with it and die?’
I decided I didn’t want to go on any more. Back at home, I took all the pills out of our medicine cupboard and swallowed them.
The next thing I remember is my mum screaming, shaking me awake. I was rushed to hospital, where I stayed for six weeks. They kept me in because I kept saying I wanted to die - and I meant it. I was then sent to the adolescent psychiatric unit in Middlesbrough, but I was still cutting myself. It was the only way I could cope with the way I felt. But finally, after 13 months in hospital, thanks to a combination of medication and therapies including art therapy, I slowly began to recover.
I’d always been artistic and I started to find drawing a real distraction. I hadn’t completely stopped cutting myself, but it wasn’t as severe as before.
In February, I was discharged, just a few months before my 16th birthday. I felt elated and wanted a fresh start. So I enrolled at college to do art and design as well as photography. I also found a flat share with some girls on my course.
Of course, it wasn’t easy to make friends initially. I still felt so shy and uncertain, but I learned that not everyone was a bully. Some people actually liked me, and I started feeling quite optimistic.
It felt so good to be putting my energies into something creative. While I was drawing or painting, I’d forget completely about the cutting.
When I found out I’d got a place at the University of Westminster to study art, I was ecstatic. Three months after moving to London I felt strong enough to come off the medication, and gradually the self-harming stopped.
It’s been 10 months since I last cut myself - the longest I’ve ever gone. Like any addict, I can’t promise I’ll never do it again. But it used to be the first thing I’d turn to, and it’s not any more.
As for boyfriends, one ex did see the scars. I was nervous about showing him, but he said they were beautiful because they were part of me.
I’ve been happily single since moving to London, but when I meet someone I like I know I’ll have the strength to look him in the eye and tell him what I’ve been through.
When my new friends have asked about my scars, I’ve simply said: ‘I used to self-harm,’ and left it at that. They don’t ask prying questions, but some have confessed how awkward my scars used to make them feel.
I don’t ever flaunt my scars on holiday - I would never wear just a bikini, I always cover up with a kaftan. So posing like this was a nerve-racking decision. But being able to do it just shows me how far I’ve come in the past few years. And if it makes other young girls think twice about self-harming, then it’s worth it.
I’m now 21 and it’s still hard for me to look at my reflection without feeling regret. But as much as the scars bother me, I also know that the intense misery and pain that I used to feel have faded. For me, that’s what really matters.”
Self-harming: the facts
- Almost one in three young women have tried to self-harm.*
- People who self-harm are 50 times more likely to kill themselves.*
- The UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, at 400 per 100,000 of the population.*
‘A physical wound is easier to deal with than an emotional one’
Dr Charlie Alcock is a clinical psychologist, and founder and CEO of the young person’s mental health charity MAC-UK.
“When someone goes to the extreme of self-harming it’s usually because it’s the only way they can deal with a stressful or upsetting situation.
They may feel they can’t control what happens around them, but they can control what they do to their body.
As it’s generally quite a secretive illness, it’s sometimes hard to spot a self-harmer. They often hurt themselves in places that can’t be seen, so only they know they’ve done it.
If you’re worried that someone you know is self-harming, get help. The main port of call should be a GP, who can refer them to a trained expert. But if the sufferer doesn’t feel ready to talk about it face to face with someone there are many online support groups. If an injury is severe then always go straight to A&E.”
- For help and support, visit Selfharm.co.uk, Mind.org.uk or MAC-UK’s site, Musicandchange.com. Alternatively, call the National Self Harm Network on 0800 622 6000.