Her wounds would re-open during training
Canoeist battled self-hatred, self-harm, even after being chosen for national team
One would think that someone like national canoeist Suzanne Seah would be brimming with confidence.
After all, she had steered her kayak through some of the choppiest waters and had won three South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold medals.
But the 24-year-old admitted she once lived with self-doubt, starting at the age of 15.
She developed an eating disorder and her self-harm escalated to cutting at 17, when she was in junior college.
"I wouldn't say it was a progression. It was more of a deterioration. But I suppose it was another form of self-control or punishment," she told The New Paper in an e-mail interview on Dec 30.
Being what she described as "non-confrontational", Ms Seah said she would cut herself whenever someone made a remark about her and she could not rebut; or when something bad happened and it was beyond her control.
"I would be filled mostly with self-hatred. There would be a constant feeling of loss of control over everything in life, while I cut myself every night," she recalled.
Even after she was drafted into the national canoeing team, Ms Seah continued to battle her demons.
"I still needed to be in control of everything, and the feeling of incompetence and self-loathing still existed. I guess I had yet to prove to myself that there was a reason to live or love life," she said.
Not only was her eating disorder affecting her training, but her cutting also meant that the wounds would reopen when she was doing weight training.
"Because we are often in water, they got infected and never healed properly. You see, I was cutting over the wounds that had yet to heal almost every night. If I kept this up, I wouldn't be good at my sport. I really wanted to be good at it," she said.
In 2010, she met her boyfriend and fellow canoeist Lucas Teo. They started dating seriously a year later.
Having found love, Ms Seah has since stopped harming herself - she is also eating regularly.
Ms Seah admitted that the urge to harm herself will always be there.
She hoped that by sharing her story, she would be able to encourage those facing similar issues to seek help and appreciate life.
"People should just force themselves to go out and do something outside of their comfort zone. It was a dark and confusing place to be in. But once you find something you love over hating yourself, it really becomes a lot easier," she said.
CUTTING TO COPE
Self-harm is not always cutting.
It includes burning, headbanging and intentionally swallowing poisonous chemicals.
Psychotherapist and counsellor at Womancare Psychological Services Cathy Livingston said self-harm is a means of expressing and dealing with internal deep distress and emotional pain.
"Many who harm themselves are experiencing anxiety, depression or have experienced trauma. They do not have healthy emotional regulation coping skills, therefore they harm themselves to cope with these feelings," she said.
Ms Livingston said self-harm releases endorphins, which compensates for the pain inside.
"But it is very temporary. The addiction probably comes from the release and distraction from the emotional pain," she said.
SIGNS OF SELF-HARM TO WATCH OUT:
- Sudden mood changes
- Easily irritable
- Unexplained cuts or bruises
- Wearing long sleeves and pants when it is really hot
- Hidden sharp objects in their possession
The trend of self-harm has become apparent in younger children, and among boys.
BY THE NUMBERS
50: Number of teens who harmed themselves in 2014 in an attempt to cope with emotional stress or frustration. The figure is up from 44 in 2013, according to data from the Singapore Children's Society.