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