Hi! My name is Anna and I would like to tell you I have recently updated my profile picture on Facebook. I really like the picture I chose, too. It’s a picture of half of my face – the good side — because let’s be real, we all have our good sides. My hair is down and I have a tiny bit of makeup on and one of those cute little half-smiles that makes you look mysterious but not like you’re trying too hard. I hope you have a visual of the sort of photo I used.
Now, I feel like it’s safe to say lots of people have photos like this they use as their Facebook profile picture, but I think it’s also safe to say mine is one of a kind.
I woke up the morning after I uploaded my new picture to find it had gotten 165 likes and 19 comments – which I should let you know, is not a common response to my profile pictures (however cute they may be!) These comments were incredibly kind and loving and supportive and 100 percent not what I was expecting. I guess now would be the time to let you in on the secret why my photo is one of a kind.
There are two main focuses to my profile picture. The first, obviously, is my face. The second, not so obviously, are the scars you can see on the top of my left arm.
These are not the kind of scars that are easy to ignore. They are big and ugly. They range in size and area. There are lots of them and every one of them has a story. My story.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I have two sisters, an older brother and a sister-in-law. I have two parents who I love very much and who have been my biggest and strongest cheerleaders since the day I was born. I love chocolate milk and my stuffed giraffe, whose name is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I have a crush on Luke Kuechly, who I like to call Kookelly, but not because he’s a famous football player. I like him more for his assumed kindness. I love to cuss. I am outgoing and I’m loud. I’m also shy and quiet and can be reserved. I, like everyone else I know, have two sides to who I am.
There’s the side everyone sees and then there’s the side only I see.
The most visible version of me can make anyone laugh so hard they cry. She knows just how to make you feel special and loved and like you’re the only one in the room. She is happy and she is available.
The not so visible version of me is a little different. This version can be sad. She worries about things that don’t necessarily matter and she can beat herself up because of the smallest mistakes. She may repeatedly tell herself that she’s ugly and fat and worthless. She can be closed off and timid.
Growing up, I never got things as fast as everyone else in school. I have a learning disability that has always made me feel like I’m not as smart as those around me, like I’m always one step behind. The most common word I used to describe myself when I was younger was stupid.
This one thought I had in grade school provided a trickle, which eventually turned into a steady flow of negative assumptions I made about myself. “I’m not smart” turned into “I’m not pretty,” which turned into “I’m too fat,” which became “I’m not likable,” which turned into negative thought into negative thought into negative thought. Bottom line is, I have never been enough for myself.
After a while, these negative thoughts became a heavy load that weighed me down so much I felt like I was suffocating. I had a huge falling out with a close friend who said terrible things about me my freshman year of high school and her words became my reality. I convinced myself the negative feelings towards me from one were the negative feelings from many. I began to believe I didn’t deserve to have good things happen to me and I felt I had no one to go to who would understand how I was feeling. I was anxious about every move I made and scared to draw any attention to myself. But most importantly I was sad. And I was exhausted.
One night when the pressure became too much, I locked myself in the bathroom. I sat there for a while and contemplated what I was about to do. I think part of me knew this was going to shake up my life completely, but the other part of me was just ready for any sort of release, for any sort of relief. I remember after I created my first cut I started to cry and was ashamed of what I had done. I promised to myself to never do it again. But as life goes, shit comes up and promises get broken.
Cutting became my number one release and my scars became a sort of verification to me I was right. I was ugly and I was worthless.
My parents noticed a change in me and rightfully began to worry. They realized I needed help and found a therapist who I saw throughout high school. I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I started going to group therapy where I got to meet other teens who were experiencing things similar to what I was going through and I started taking medication to help. And things began to get better.
I joined an amazing organization called Playing for Others and I’m proud to say I still work for them today. My experience here completely flipped my world. I learned life-changing lessons about self-worth, acceptance of self and others, the importance of who you are on a day to day basis and I made lifelong friends who showed me what real and true friendship is. I graduated high school and went on to work for an AmeriCorps program called City Year where I got to work in an inner-city school in DC with awesome middle schoolers. And while I wish I could tell you my struggle with depression and self-harm ended, it didn’t. It just became a little more manageable.
When I came back home after my year with City Year, all the progress I had made in high school seemed to slip away little by little. I began to shut myself off from my family and friends. I didn’t feel like myself anymore and I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to and who could relate to what I was going through. I felt as though I was turning back into all the negative thoughts and things I had and was in high school and that’s when the cutting got really bad. I was lost and someone I did not want to be.
After years of living in constant negativity, sadness, anxiety and fear, I decided enough was enough and I asked for help. I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted to and I wanted to change.
I believe every journey has its difficulties and every journey is unique. My journey is a very visible one. It is marked on my arms and on my legs. On my stomach and even on the tips of my fingers. And while it is easy to be reminded of every negative thought I have ever had about myself everytime I look down at my body, I am also reminded of every positive thing that has come out of having my scars.
My scars remind me I am brave. They remind me I am a survivor of my mental illness. They remind me I am strong and beauty is so much more than skin deep. I have learned there is way more to people than what you can see on the outside.
I am stared at and gawked at often due to the scars on my arms. People whisper about me to their friends and point me out. I am asked regularly what they are and what is wrong with me. Usually I am so afraid to give my answer, I just mumble a response and then walk away.
Now, I would like to steer my story back to the beginning when I told you about my new profile picture. There is one comment in particular I would like to mention left by my friend, Derrick. He said: “Standing in your truth shines the light on your personal power and also acts as a beacon for those struggling to swim to the shore. Your willingness to be a lighthouse, even for a moment, makes you brave indeed (and totally badass!)”
Thank you, Derrick.
Today I am tired of being afraid of what people will think. I am tired of trying to hide my scars and my story from everyone I meet. I am tired of being a part of the stigma that says that people struggling with mental illness should stay quiet and ashamed of what we go through on a day to day basis. I am tired of being told to keep my story to myself.
Today I am wide awake and ready to stand in my truth. I am ready to be the lighthouse someone else may need to swim to shore. My name is Anna and I am beautiful. I am kind and I am funny. I am outgoing and loud. I am smart. I can be quiet and I can be shy. At times I am timid. Sometimes I have bad days, where I feel awful and like it’s just not worth it to go on. But then I am reminded there are two sides of me. Two sides that mesh into one crazy and amazing person.
I would not trade my scars for anything. They are not who I am, but part of a story still being written. This is my honesty project.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Image via contributor