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The First Time My Friend Saw My Self-Harm Scars

Article updated August 5, 2019.

For a millisecond it escaped my thoughts to keep my sleeves down. It was a ridiculously hot day in a lecture theater as we waited for the lecturer to begin the presentation on “professionalism within the workplace.” I briefly rolled up my sleeves to try cool down, but as I did I caught a friend looking at my left arm. I could feel myself filling with shame, a flush of embarrassment slowly creeping from inside me, all the way up my neck, my cheeks and my forehead, making me feel even hotter.

I quickly pulled down my sleeves and used them to try and cover the nervous sweat that began to perspire on my face.

For the whole of that lecture I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think was, “What if she doesn’t want to know someone as ‘messed up’ as me?” “What if she tells everyone else?” “Is this going to change her opinion of me?” “What if she goes to the university and tells them I shouldn’t be here?”

Similar questions went around and around in my head all morning, thinking up different scenarios of how it could all pan out. I could barely hold a conversation because I was so distracted.

It came to our lunch break and as my friends walked ahead I was still in a daze and didn’t realize  the friend who had been on my mind all day wasn’t with them. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and as I turned around I was met by a huge embrace. She held for a moment and then very quietly she asked, “Can I ask you something?” I hesitated but nodded into her shoulder as the embrace continued. “Are you being safe?” I nodded. “Are you keeping them clean?” I nodded. “You know I’m here if you need to talk?” I nodded again.

The embrace tightened.

We released, smiled at each other, and continued walking to catch up with the others.
I had to hold back tears when rejoining the group, as this was the first time I had ever spoken about my self-harm, albeit just three simple questions, followed by three nods. I’d spent my day worrying about how a friend would treat me because of the way I cope. She’d spent the day waiting for the right moment to catch me in private and show her support and understanding.

She did not make a huge fuss. She did not make me feel bad. She did not dramatize the situation. She simply made sure she knewI was safe and that I knew that she was there for me. She has not brought it up since. I get the occasional, “Are you OK?” with a tone of voice showing there’s more meaning behind the question than when used as a conversation starter, but she knows I will approach her if needs be.

That support, love and understanding will stay with me. I am thankful for her kindness, more thankful than she will ever know.

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.

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Thinkstock photo by eugenesergeev