Anyone who, like me, has self-harmed there is one thing you inevitably have to deal with: scars.
When I was at the ward, I saw a wide range collection of gutters of misery on legs, arms, sides, across chests. Someone’s hand had been left permanently crooked because they had severed a tendon. I was always scared of that, so steered clear around my wrist, about three inches up my left arm because I’m right-handed. This is where all my scars are.
Even though they have faded considerably, there is still no mistaking that the cuts have been done on purpose. They are so systematic and there are so many of them. I always made sure to cut myself in an area that was easy to cover up with clothes but as we approach summer, the topic of scars becomes more apparent.
Like with everything else, people have a variety of reactions regards to their scars. Some consider them battle scars and themselves as survivors. I’m glad that they have been able to take it into their stride so well. Some people don’t like the survivor mentality and I understand their arguments too. Some cover theirs with tattoos. Some just hope they’d disappear.
When I was at the ward, one of the nurses took me to the hospital pharmacy to buy some oil I could use in hopes of fading the scars. I’ve always liked going to chemists’ because the space tends to be brightly lit, airy and attractive.
Also it was just nice to get out of the ward. We were behind three different sets of locked doors so the sense of freedom you got, even from walking down the corridors, was exhilarating. As a swipe card opened one set of doors after another, I felt in control of my movements again. Less restricted. Free.
It was weird to massage the oil onto my skin. I was forced to look at the scars, properly look at them. Come to the realisation that I had made those. The touch was so different to how I had been treating my arm when I was self-harming. If the cuts had stopped hurting too soon or weren’t hurting enough, I’d pour hot water into the open wounds or scratched them with my long nails.
Since I got out of hospital, I’ve had a few relapses but I self-harm so much less than I used to. My scars are faint but you can still see them, white whisks like on birch tree bark. Self-harm scars are the only physical reminder I have of how ill I used to be. I understand why so many people feel self-conscious as the weather forces them to wear less covering clothes. To a person who hasn’t experienced mental health difficulties, self-harm makes just about the same amount of sense as suicide.
Nevertheless I thought I’d share the mindset I’ve taken towards my scars in hopes of possibly easing someone else’s anxiety. I put the scars into a context. I was very unwell when I did this, and at the time it did help. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. It wasn’t the healthiest of ways but it helped.
I remember how ill I was, and the relief the pain brought. I didn’t choose this particular method of dealing with how horrible I was feeling consciously, rather than I tried it and it worked. It could’ve been anything.
So I understand why I did it. Now that I feel better, I can appreciate just how unwell I was at the time when I’d self-harm every day. It was my way of surviving the external and internal pressure I was under every single hour of every single day. I’m at peace with it.
I hope that everyone struggling with any insecurities or anxieties regarding their scars are able to put them into context and be as kind to themselves as they would be to a friend in the same situation. You did what was necessary at the time. It’s not necessary any more, but at the time it was. And that’s OK.
Bearing your scars to the world is scary as it’s one of the only physical manifestations of a mental illness, leaving you vulnerable to prejudices and judgement. Still I hope that everyone is able to view them like surgery scars: This was deemed necessary at the time in order for me to be well now.
Today is going to be a hot day, and I’m going to wear a sleeveless sundress.