By Hazel Cornhill

For months I would go to the areas of town where lone women were told not to go.

I would purposely go to the places and do the things that I knew were putting me at risk. I fooled myself into thinking I was in control, that it was a calculated risk.

I wasn't finding people on a dating app and getting to know them before meeting them, I wasn't going on blind dates or finding people through mutual friends. I was going to the bars that people would advise me to avoid and actively looking for a one night stand, the type of one night stand where names were not even exchanged, the type where there were no feelings, no connection, and in many ways the more anonymous and the rougher the encounter the better.

I believed I was in control, but the reality was that I was vulnerable and “acting out” due to my mental illness.

At first I think going out and getting wasted then going home with someone was a distraction, was much easier to ignore my thoughts, ignore the hallucinations, and ignore my life falling apart around me when all my focus was on finding different ways to self-destruct (even if at the time I'm not sure I saw it as self-destruction).

Over time though it changed, the drink and drugs were no longer the focus, the part of the evening in the bar singing, dancing, flirting, appearing to be having fun were just part of the routine, the focus was on finding someone, anyone, to spend the night with.

Casual sex and promiscuity are rarely talked about within our society, these behaviours are judged, looked down on, and heavily criticised (especially in women), it's very rare that anyone will ever ask why people do these things or look beyond the behaviours.

Instead those of us who have had periods of these behaviours feel like we cannot discuss it, we often get made to feel shame and have it made very clear to us that the behaviour is inappropriate, inappropriate to do and certainly inappropriate to speak about.

I think at the time when I was doing this if I had been asked why then I would have gotten defensive, I'd have said I was just having fun, exploring my sexuality, having new experiences, or something else along those lines.

In reality though I think I knew that this wasn't the truth. If it had simply being a case of having some fun (which is a legitimate reason for casual sex) then surely I wouldn't have been going out of my way to artificially make the situations as dangerous as I could.

The reality was that I wanted to be hurt, or even killed. I wanted to feel something, but also to feel numb. Wanting to feel in control, but also to be dominated. And I think I wanted to have a “connection” to another human, while at the same time to deny that I was even human. The complexity came in wanting all these things at once. I also wasn't thinking entirely rationally nor objectively at the time, to be honest I'm not sure I was able to think rationally or objectively.

When people think of “self harm” these think of a person physically hurting themselves, of people cutting or burning their skin, of people hitting themselves or overdosing. What people don't think of is the other ways, the perhaps less obvious ways, that we can cause ourselves harm.

For me “casual sex” was one of these, I wasn't “having fun”, I wasn't “exploring new experiences” or any of the other justifications I made. I wanted to be hurt, I wanted to be killed, I just wanted someone else to do it. I had been taking risks and putting myself in dangerous situations for years, and had been hurting myself in the more commonly known ways for even longer. Nothing seemed to work for long, and I felt so alone. I wanted to die, but I didn't want to die alone.

Do for months this was my life, a whirlwind of sex, drink, and drugs, with me actively seeking out more and more dangerous encounters.

To an extent I knew what I was doing was dangerous and I think that part of me knew that I wasn't in control, but a larger part of me knew that if I told anyone what I was doing or why I would be judged and I just couldn't handle that. Each morning I already hated myself, each day I would tell myself that no, tonight I would not be offering myself up as someone's sex toy, each evening I would find myself sitting as a different bar with a drink and trying to figure out which person to flirt with first.

For me casual sex was definitely a form of self harm, by acknowledging this, am I perpetuating the myth that people who choose to engage in various forms of sexual activity have deeper emotional issues? I hope not... Just like how not everyone who drinks does so as a form of self destruction, or not everyone who spends time in a gym has an unhealthy view of their body, not everyone who engages in casual sex does so as a way to hurt themselves. What we need to consider is the motivations, feelings and thought processes behind the behaviour, and for me the aim was definitely not a healthy one.

Had I felt more able to speak to someone about what I was doing would I have continued for so long? I honestly have no idea, what I do know is that when I finally did get to a point where I knew I needed help I found it far easier to talk about how I cut myself, took overdoses, or starved myself than what it was to discuss my risk taking – especially my sexual risk taking. It took me a very long time to realise that self harm does not have to be physical in nature, that self harm was not limited to the self inflicted injuries that we hear about in the awareness campaigns, that we can be damn creative when we feel the need to self destruct and that even within the mental illness community some topics may be just too much of  a taboo to feel able to be fully open about.

Hazel Cornhill is a mental health campaigner, blogger and podcaster. Hazel can be found on twitter @AnLasair and is the co-host of the Reality Tourists Podcast speaking to people about their experiences of mental illness.