young woman standing at doorway of kitchen looking out at sunrise with arms and shoulders uncovered

How I'm Trying to Exist in My Own Scarred Skin

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

When I was 23 years old, on a cold night just after Thanksgiving, I sat on the floor of my kitchen sobbing — a fierce, deafening cry. A kind of cry that didn’t come often for me. I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment, and even though I could hear people all around I felt utterly alone. I knew there were people who I could easily reach out to, but for some reason, I felt as though drowning in my own pain was my only option.

For months, I felt the walls crumbling and I was not quite sure what was happening to me. My head was a chaotic place to be and I could not for the life of me decipher the thoughts that bounced around, threatening the very breath I breathed. I needed something to break through the darkness and silence the noise. Anything to make the pain go away. On that night, I harmed myself in an attempt to heal the breaking I felt inside my chest. It worked — momentarily, at least. It did not bring feelings of instant joy and contentment flooding back, but rather I felt hollow. The feelings had been carved out of me and thrown away. It was startling at first to feel nothing at all but at least the pain had ceased for a moment.

Winter was closing in on us and the thought of scars did not for one second occur to me; the relief of this foreign pain was all that mattered, so I continued. I secretly scarred my skin in increasingly harmful ways, in places people would never see — at least not in the dead of winter.

Months passed and the mess in both my head and on my skin grew. When summer hit, I had a collection of scars and a new diagnosis. It explained the fog of the last six months but did not take away the permanent and public reminder of the valley I had just walked through. I struggled to find mental and medical health professionals who would listen to me and when I finally did the cycle of halting emotional pain by inflicting physical pain was in full swing. It took a team of A-plus friends, patience, grace, roughly 1 to 905 medication changes, a lot of Steri-Strips and some stitches to get through those months and to a point where I feel balanced — where I feel like I am putting myself back together. But those months left an impression and man did they leave scars.

My thighs each have about a dozen thick but fading and clearly deliberate scars on each. My ankles have obvious and parallel lines just above my bone and there are other various scars on hips and inner arms. The scar people find most curious marks both the lowest point and the turning point in this story. I have a two-inch scar down the side of my left wrist. I have these scars on my skin which tell a story that is obvious to most. In many cases, it leaves me feeling as though I need to have an explanation for being. I have these scars that tell a profound story of grace, healing and recovery but somehow make me consider hiding them away just to go to the grocery store. I contemplated, questioned and considered many times what my stance was on covering my scars and ultimately I decided not to. In some cases, I choose to keep them covered but in most cases, I am just trying to exist in my own skin.

I am just trying to go to the grocery store without having to change out of my favorite shorts.

I am just trying to not be hot on a hot summer day.

I am just trying to wear my favorite shirt that falls just above my most obvious scar.

I am trying to exist in my own skin after my journey of self-harm, just as I did before.

It’s summer and it’s hot and when self-harm is in your story, choosing what to wear can be hard. We all have scars both external and internal, but these ones make even a pair of shorts feel complicated and shameful. I wrote a lot of stories on my skin this year, in a language you might not understand. Sometimes I feel a shame about them that I am compelled to keep hidden under long sleeves and jeans, but shame shouldn’t be a part of this equation. This is my story and I fought like hell to be here. If you have these scars, you fought like hell too. Please hear me when I say this (and remind me if I forget):

It’s OK to cover your scars.

It’s OK to let them show.

It’s OK to answer questions about your scars but it’s also OK to decline.

We are just trying to exist in our own skin. Make the decision that’s right for you but do not for one second feel ashamed of your story. You are here, you are alive and you’ve clearly fought a long, hard battle. You, my friend, have earned every second of standing proudly in your own scarred skin.

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.

Thinkstock photo via lolostock

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What Happened When My 9-Year-Old Asked Me About My Self-Harm Scars

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When my kids were born, I knew from the start I wanted to be 100 percent upfront and honest with them. I wanted to answer any questions they may have without lying, but putting it at a level they can understand. I’m not one to sugarcoat anything — ever. Both my son and daughter know this and seem to like it.

Recently, my 9-year-old son had noticed a bunch of scars on my thigh and chest while we were at the water park. He knows — in his words — “Sometimes Mommy gets super crazy sad,” and has to get some extra help. However, I never thought he noticed my scars. Luckily when he asked, he didn’t do it in a rude or disrespectful manner. By nature, my son is a very curious kid.

He asked me, “Mom, what are those white marks all over your leg from? Did you get hurt?” I figured I could handle this one of two ways. I could either lie to him (and him call me out on it) or I could be honest and try or explain this to him at a level that he would understand.

I looked at him and said, in a quiet voice, “For a really long time, Mommy was really sad. I was so sad, I couldn’t get out of bed. My brain was telling me to do awful things to myself, and unfortunately, I listened.” I stood there, waiting for the game of 600 questions I was sure were about to erupt from Monkey. After he processed what I had told him, he simply got a really serious face and said, “OK, Mommy.” I kept walking the stairs with him in silence thinking, That’s what I was worried about? Once we got to the top of the stairs and waited our turn, Monkey turned, looked at me and said, “Mommy, I really hope you never get that sad again. I don’t wanna see you hurt!”

Granted, there may be some of you out there who may not agree with my approach. However, once my son knew what the scars were, he wasn’t so much worried about the outward appearance of them. He was more worried about the fact that someone can get so sad, they do harm to themselves. He was concerned that depression is a dark, ugly place that is awful to dig your way out of.

He hasn’t asked me anymore questions about it. I’m sure though it’s only a matter of time before my 5-year-old daughter starts asking questions. I will answer her with the same honesty I did my son. If your children ask, be honest. I’m not saying to go into details, but don’t lie to them. And tell them it’s OK to not be OK and to ask for help. The more we are able to educate our kids about mental health, the less stigma there will be.

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.

Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz.

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Why We Need to Be Honest With Kids About Self-Harm

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I started self-harming when I was around 19 for around a decade or so.

I stopped cutting regularly about six years ago and haven’t cut at all for over two years. And only twice at all in the last four years. At one point in my life I was cutting daily, as well as abusing my medication. I had therapy and I still take medication but I consider myself in recovery from the worst of my mental health problems.

I still struggle with anxiety and bouts of depression, but those days of daily self-harm and suicide attempts are long behind me. I am left with a lot of scars however. I stuck primarily to cutting my arms, but that does mean they are always visible because I no longer hide them. I’m not ashamed of my scars, my past or any aspect of my mental health.

It is who I am. I worked hard to be the person I am today and have the life I live.

The scars aren’t going anywhere.

People stare. I don’t mind. I’ve always had people stare at me for one reason or another. I’m fat, talk to myself, sing in the street, run around like a “loon,” whatever. People stare at other people. I stare at other people. It’s human nature.

Kids make comments. Ask questions.

OK, so adults do sometimes too. I’ve been derailed in the past by a few adults making comments about my cuts and scars, but nowadays I just take it all in my stride. I used to cut myself. It’s that simple. I’ve had questions at work, in the street, wherever. I try to be an advocate for awareness about self-harm.

It’s not that easy to explain to kids (and some adults), but I think it is worth explaining.

I used to lie to my nephew about my self-harm scars. I told him I was attacked by cats and that’s why I didn’t like them. Or I made it a joke and said it was bears. Or I had an accident. Whenever he asked, I didn’t tell him the truth until he was much older.

I don’t think it was the right thing to do, because now he’s 13 and he knows the truth he just questions why I lied to him and I don’t really have a very good answer.

At the time it was too hard to talk about, and then I just didn’t know how to answer or what to say until I was older and I had already managed to explain it to some adults. To myself. It’s not his fault he had to be part of my process of sorting out my explanation and my feelings towards talking about it. But he was, and now I have to help him understand the complexities of why I lied more than I have to explain the complexities of why I self-harmed.

When I was living in Leicester, I was in the middle of therapy, so I was still cutting sporadically. I was waiting for the bus one day and behind me a kid asked his mum why I had marks all over my arms. He must’ve been about 6 or 7. Without missing a beat, his mum explained that some people hurt themselves when they feel bad or instead of hurting other people.

She didn’t lie, she didn’t hesitate and he accepted it.

I nearly missed the bus. I was stunned that she was so open with him about something I was still struggling to get my head around. I’ve never forgotten that woman and her kid. I wanted to say something to her, but I didn’t. I just got on the bus and went home feeling something different in terms of talking to my nephew about it all.

Once I had lunch with my aunt and my two cousins, who were about 12 and 8 at this point. My 8-year-old cousin Scott asked me about the scars on my arm. I panicked for a moment, then turned to my aunt and asked her what she wanted me to say. She said I could tell them whatever I wanted.

So I told them the truth.

It was easier than I thought it was going to be. I told them I was when I was ill I used to hurt myself to make myself feel better, but it didn’t work very well (definitely the truth). They accepted it easily. And then we had lunch.

Since then, I’ve always been honest. With my niece, my nephew and I’ll be honest with my son when he asks me about it. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out what the best thing is to say. The best way to describe it to a kid. Hell, the best way to describe it to an adult. I think it depends on the child. I could tell my niece why I have scars quite easily — that I was ill and I hurt myself to feel better — and she would accept it, but I can’t say that for every kid.

I do think it’s best to be honest regardless though. I believe lies don’t get you anywhere. I could’ve given my nephew a fear of cats with my lies (he adores cats). Self-harm was a big part of my mental health illness and that is definitely something we need to be honest with our kids about.

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.

Thinkstock photo via sergio_kumer.

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For Those Who Think Self-Harm Makes Them Unworthy of Love

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During my experience with self-harm, it’s safe to say that I never believed I would have a relationship or fall in love, simply because I believed I was unworthy. But then a relationship did happen and I ended up marrying the person of my dreams. I am still struggling to understand how and why this happened to me, when self-harm can make me feel so undeserving of this love. This is a letter to past me, to you and to anyone whose experience with self-harm makes them feel as though they will never experience the relationship they deserve.

Dear you,

Despite the worthlessness you may feel, this is not a true representation of you. Despite the horrors and depths to how much value you may give yourself, remember your perspective is only one. You exist to other people and you also exist beyond your doubts and fears. And these other entities, beyond your pain, they can see you beyond the darkness you feel. They can see your potential to be, the potential in who you already are and therefore your innate value. It’s immensely greater than you could ever imagine.

You are not your condition. Just as you are not a merely common cold when you experience a cold, or just as you are not an apple when you eat an apple, you are not self-harm. You are more than the limitations and pain of self harm, and you exist beyond this one season of your life. You are an accumulation of your values, your experiences, your favorite people, your best memories and the songs you sing along to. You are so much greater than merely one aspect of your life, despite how all encompassing and overwhelming it can be. As my therapist once said to me, “You are a fiancee, a daughter and a friend. This is just something you are experiencing.” You are not limited to the boundaries that self-harm makes you believe you deserve.

You are more than your physical appearance. Self-harm, being a physical manifestation of mental torment, can sometimes harm our bodies in a visible way. Although our bodies are shells and are transport for all of the other aspects of ourselves, they are important. It is OK for somebody to not like your scars, for they may see them as constant reminders of the pain you endure. However, anybody who reduces you merely to your scars is not somebody who deserves to be part of your life. When it comes to a good, healthy relationship, having scars will not make or break that. The scars will simply be.

If somebody else was in your shoes, what would you say? We can all too often be our own greatest critics, our biggest demotivates and largely magnify our flaws. Taking a more outside perspective can often help. We wouldn’t believe that our best friend, sister or second cousin’s neighbor would be prevented from being in a relationship due to their experience with self-harm. This is no different for ourselves. Self-harm does not limit you in the way that your doubts relay to you.

However, it is also important to understand that only you can save yourself. Within relationships, we cannot save each other. It’s crucial that I understand that I cannot cure my husband’s allergies, just as he cannot save me from self-harm. And this knowledge hurts, because all we want to do for the people we love is help them. It can be both frustrating and heartbreaking to learn that we cannot take self-harm away from them. A good partner can support and encourage you. A good partner can be with you while you go through self-harm recovery. They can be someone to cry with, to hold you accountable and to celebrate your successes in recovery too. However, they cannot save you from this journey, as only you are capable of climbing that mountain.

Furthermore, pain echoes. The pain that is the catalyst for your self-harm will in turn be painful for someone close to you. Just as when your best friend, or your dog is upset, that makes you sad too. This isn’t your fault. However, within your role of being a partner, this also means that it is your responsibility to reduce that pain for them. This happens by beginning to heal. By getting professional help, engaging in therapy or learning strategies to mitigate the self harm, this will lessen the pain that you are experiencing, and thus too the pain that echoes within those close to you.

Love from,

A person who is learning to believe she is worthy of love

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.

Thinkstock photo via Max5799

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How I Wish I Responded When a Co-Worker Said People Self-Harm for Attention

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Recently, something happened at work that really struck a chord with me. And when I say “struck a chord,” I mean it really pissed me off.

The other day the topic of cutting came up. A guy I work with was retelling a story about his ex-wife and how she used to cut herself. He said he divorced her because he couldn’t deal with her mental illness. But that wasn’t what made me mad. The comment of another co-worker is what really got to me. Because I’ve heard it before, and each time I do, I get upset.

“The people who cut across their arms are looking for attention and the ones who cut vertically are the ones who really mean it.”

To my surprise, no one laughed — a reaction I have witnessed before. The guy who made the comment then awkwardly said that it was a joke, but then another co-worker followed up with, “Well, it’s pretty true.”

My first reaction to the conversation was to call the guys ignorant, among other things. After a few deep breaths though, I held back those few choice words and just walked away without saying a word. But looking back, I wish I had the courage to say something constructive and insightful about the situation to educate these people on the topic of self-harm, something I struggle with. Although I have been harm-free for over a year and a half, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about doing it when things get tough.

See, when I used to cut myself, I assure you the last thing on my mind was getting attention. After an episode, it would take weeks for my cuts to heal and scar. During those weeks, I would spend hours of my life trying to hide my cuts and scars. Boxes of band aids were used to cover up the evidence. I wore long pants and long sleeves all the time and constantly had to remember to keep my sleeves down, even when I got hot and sweaty while working out. I tried to get the cuts to heal as fast as possible, using every remedy under the sun to make the scars fade. And I made terrible excuses when anyone did happen to see something. It was exhausting. So when someone thinks cutting is done for attention, they are truly mistaken and most likely misinformed about the underlying mental health condition.

If I had wanted attention, I wouldn’t have done any of those things to hide the fact I was hurting. The one time I did bring attention to it and asked for help, it seemed to make things worse. Thankfully things worked out in the end, as I have written about previously, but those experiences, when combined with some people’s ignorance around self-harm, make asking for help harder than ever. This is something I still struggle with today.

For those of you who have never self-harmed or can’t understand why someone would actually do it, the best way I can explain it is that it’s my form of emotional release. For some people, crying is enough; or maybe they scream into a pillow or punch something. Some people ask for help, or have someone to talk to. But for me, when things seemed hopeless, when crying wasn’t enough, when it seemed like I had no one or nothing — cutting provided that release. The emotional release it provides in the moment is no longer worth the guilt and distress that comes after.

Mental illness doesn’t just go away. It is just that — an illness. And unfortunately, that can be a common misconception among people. It’s so frustrating to hear and witness firsthand comments like the ones my co-workers made. But at the same time, it does give me the opportunity to educate others, to make them see the truth and to hopefully change their opinion on mental health and self-harm.

I always say that when I write, if my words touch one person, then I am a successful writer. I hope my words spark something in your mind, or make someone question their views. I want my words to help expand the horizons of others and help educate everyone in some way, shape or form so that one day, no one will make uninformed comments about others who struggle with mental illness.

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.

Thinkstock photo via kieferpix

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Why I Decided to Stop Hiding My Self-Harm Scars

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

The remaining white lines are always going to be a reminder of when I felt hurting myself was my only option. A reminder of when I was numb and felt nothing, and felt there wasn’t anything I felt was worth living for.

I didn’t want to die though, I just wanted to feel; to feel something other than nothingness. And that’s what self-harm provided me.

At first, I would feel relief… then anger and sadness because I broke down and did it when I told myself so many times that I wouldn’t.

The following weeks, I would wear long sleeves or long pants to cover up the fresh marks. Sometimes I’d cover them with makeup. I’d do all I could to make it appear as if the marks didn’t exist.

I didn’t want anyone to know. I felt I’d be judged. No one had the slightest idea what I was going through and I didn’t want to let on that I wasn’t as put-together as I appeared to be.

But here’s the thing: Trying to hide them and cover them caused so much stress, so much anxiety over what I assumed people would think, over how it would change the way people saw me. So, I stopped. I tried my hardest to stop self-harm in general and I gave up trying to hide the scars already on my body, because yes I have had my struggles, so why should I make it seem like I haven’t?

Years of severe anxiety, severe depressioneating disorders and self-harm really took a toll on me. But you know what? I made it through. I am here. I am strong and I am still going. I have goals and I have a purpose. Those scars are a part of me; they reflect a difficult time in my life, but I hope those who see the faded white marks can look past them and see the woman I am today.

Maybe instead of being ashamed, I should consider the fact that I overcame most of those troubles. I have a type of strength that some people may never understand. I am alive and I am well. Why hide that?

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.

Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages

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