To the Woman Who Saw My Scars and Told Her Daughter, 'We're Too Pretty for That'
To the woman I rang up at my register,
Before I go any further I want to introduce myself once again. I’m Claudia, I’m 5-foot-3, I have brown hair and brown eyes. I am sarcastic, at times a little loud and like to observe people.
I saw you come in the store the other day. I saw you walk in with your daughter and proceeded to shop around. You walked into my line, and I saw you interacting with your daughter. When I was ringing up your stuff I saw your daughter, maybe 10 or 11, peering at me. I saw her watch my arms carefully as I scanned the items. You saw her looking at me and followed her gaze. And that’s when you saw them… the scars on my arms. You pointed to them and said to your daughter, “We’re too pretty to do that.” I prefer to wear long sleeve shirts, but at my job you aren’t allowed, hence why you saw my scars
I certainly hope my face didn’t show any type of astonishment. I just had to keep going and say to you, “Have a nice day!” but I really wanted to open up your eyes.
You see, self-harm is something I have dealt with since I was 12, just about your daughter’s age. For the most part, it’s been a constant in my life and I’m not proud of it. My arms look splotchy, especially when I’m hot. Those are scars (luckily they have started to fade.) My forearms and stomach still have visible scars.
But that’s not where my battle with mental illness ends. You might not know this, but I also deal with an eating disorder — anorexia nervosa more specifically. Recently it hasn’t been going well, and I’ve dealt with other symptoms. I’ve spent other weeks inpatient and at a day program for eating disorders.
I was diagnosed with depression in high school. For a while it was managed, but in the past two years it’s been harder. I’ve been on all sorts of meds to try to help it.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is my most recent diagnosis, which came after my trauma. That is something I have to deal with, but it feeds directly into the eating disorder.
I have anxiety and am on multiple anti-anxiety meds. It became so bad at one point that I stopped leaving my house. Even now, I still throw up from being so anxious.
I have been in the emergency department and emergency petitioned. I have had panic attacks, and flashbacks, and I’ve dissociated.
Why the heck am I telling you all of this? Am I bearing my soul so you can feel bad about what you said or something along those lines? No. Please don’t feel bad for me. This is the life I was given. Instead I want you to understand that nobody is “too pretty” to have a mental illness. Nor are they too strong, too old, too young, too sweet, too smart, too rich, too anything. Mental illness does not pick the person you “think” or picture would have a mental illness.
Mental illness is not easy to deal with. I have lost many friends over the course of several years. But I’ve also met other people who also have a mental illness who are some of the strongest people I know. I do have a few good friends who are there for me, but it’s hard to be honest and open about everything. Not everyone wants to hear the ugly details that go through my mind. My parents have dealt with a lot in the past few years. Mental illness is terribly misunderstood, and there is no one type of person associated with it.
So when you saw me, what was your first thought? Did you look at my arms and think, “I bet that girl has struggled with an eating disorder, major depression, PTSD, anxiety, self harm, and other things.” Am I what you picture when you think of mental illness? Maybe I am, but I’m probably not. There is no one picture associated with mental illness.
Mental illness is tricky. It makes you lie to others, and hide things, and feel like you are worthless. But I am trying hard. Right now I am in a day program for people with mental illnesses. In the evenings I work (which is where I met you). I finished college last December with a 3.9 GPA. I have helped take care of my younger brother when he had cancer. There’s nothing more I love in the world than dancing in the car and turning the music up loud. I’m told I’m good with kids, and I aspire to be a fantastic child life specialist (they work in hospitals).
Ma’am, I am just like you. Maybe you have high blood pressure, diabetes, allergies, or seizures. I’ve had none of them, but I do have a mental illness. Some people have broken bones. It is what it is. They go to the doctor, he/she diagnoses them, they have treatment which includes setting a bone, a cast, surgery, or PT. It eventually heals back together, but it takes time. During the recovery period there is pain and uncomfortableness, but there are also some interesting parts. Some people’s broken bones heal quicker than others. In the end though, that bone may be a bit weaker and easier to break, so you have to be careful and sometimes get it checked. That’s exactly what a mental illness is — just a broken or chipped part within my brain. I have a doctor who diagnosed me. Some of us have treatment (which may include therapy, inpatient stays, medicine, day programs, etc.). The healing process is a painful one filled with many highs and many lows. Some people are able to recover or even have periods of stability. But just like a broken bone, one has to be careful with triggers, events in their life, and what they do. It’s a lifelong condition, but you can still live a life.
I really hope more than anything in the world you are able to talk to your lovely daughter about what she saw. Don’t wait. I started self-harming at age 12, but I thought about it earlier. It is never too early to talk to your children about what’s going on. Symptoms can easily be masked, so always be on the lookout for them. There is nothing to be ashamed of if your daughter has a mental illness. It might be uncomfortable, but this may prevent your daughter from feeling like you don’t think those with mental illness are of value. Because the reality of it is, 1 in 5 people have a mental illness. Do not make it a taboo subject. Even if you or your daughter doesn’t ever have one, chances are some of her friends and even your friends have struggled with it.
So yes, your daughter is a beautiful girl, but mental illness doesn’t discriminate. And if nothing else, I hope you teach her compassion with anyone she comes across.
The girl who has scars on her arms.
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Thinkstock photo by Grigorenko