To the Young Woman With Red Hair and Self-Harm Scars

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Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to the piece, “To the Man Who Approached Me About My Self-Harm Scars.”

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder along with anxiety and a few other issues a number of years ago. I struggled with self-harm when I was teenager and early adulthood. It’s something that never goes away after all these years.

But this story isn’t about me, it’s about a story I read on The Mighty earlier this week. Reading the story, I quickly realized she was talking about an interaction I had while in New York City with my family. I’ve gone back and forth about sharing this story. I’m not thrilled about the attention that may come my way. I just want everyone who feels alone to know there are people out there who understand what others can’t comprehend.

So, we walked down to Times Square and looked around for a while and decided to get a little better view and to sit and rest. The bleachers had some people relaxing taking pictures and enjoying themselves. We sat down about half way up and took in all the sights. Very quickly someone caught my attention and nothing else mattered.

This piece is for the young woman with red hair and noticeable self-harms scars. My first thought was, She’s a fighter. But I also thought about how brave and courageous she was. But the more I watched you it became very clear how uncomfortable and anxious you were. You sat with your legs up against your chest and your arms wrapped around them like you wanted to hide. A few people walked down the bleachers past me and nudged each other when they saw you. It was then my heart sank and hurt for you. I understood the demons that gave you those scars, but also how difficult it must be just to be in a pair of shorts and a top.

That’s when I knew I had to say something to you. I sat there wondering what to say, and a million things went through my head. I wanted to sit next to you to tell you that you’re not alone in your fight and to please keep fighting and never give up. I wanted to tell you how beautiful you are on the outside and on the inside. I didn’t see what everyone else saw — I just saw a young woman with red hair.

My family decided it was to time to leave. They headed off in a different direction down the bleachers. As I came up from behind you, I still didn’t know what to say. When you turned and looked at me I saw dread sweep across your face. The only thing I could muster was, “You’re a warrior.”

You saw my semicolon tattoo, but not what’s tattooed next to it — the phrase: “You’re not alone.” Don’t ever forget that.

My only regret while visiting New York City was not saying the things I wanted to say to you but didn’t. After reading your story I now know, I achieved my goal. I just wanted to make you smile.

tattoo

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.

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Lead Thinkstock photo via lolostock.

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How I Talk About My Self-Harm With My Daughter

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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.

It started with an innocent enough question: “Daddy, what are those white lines on your arm?” 

“Those are scars.” 

“How did you get them?” 

“I harmed myself.”

“How did that happen?” 

“I did it on purpose.” 

“Why?”

“When I was younger, I used to harm myself when I was angry or sad.” 

I am not ashamed of my self-harm scars. They’re just a part of me, like my brown eyes, my depression and my sense of humor. I knew Namine would one day notice them and ask about them. I just didn’t think that day would come so soon. (Although now that I think of it, “soon” is all relative. Namine is almost 9 years old.) 

Namine and I talked about sadness and depression. We talked about the talking: about having someone you can trust. It’s not the first time that we’ve discussed her being able to talk to us about anything without fear of getting in trouble, and I’m sure — as she gets older — that it won’t be the last. It bears repeating.

Namine has a self-love I’ve never felt for myself, and for that I’m thankful. She’s never shown signs of clinical depression, but since it can be hereditary, she may someday. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and though you can never truly be prepared for depression, talking about it is a good first step. 

Namine knows about death, having come so close to it personally. Not only she herself, but she’s lost a grandmother and a great-grandmother, and she was extremely close to both. She knows about suicide; the topic was touched on in one of her school books last year, actually. (Had I known ahead of time, I’m not sure I would have let her read it. But she did read it, and so we discussed it.) She knows people hurt themselves on purpose, sometimes badly, when they’re not thinking straight. She also knows I get sad sometimes, without cause or reason. (“Sad” being her word, and although it isn’t quite right, it’s close enough for her vocabulary and our discussion.)

It’s all we can do sometimes to surround ourselves with people who love us. Jessica was with me on the night I harmed myself, and without her present, I may have died. I believe in honesty with my daughter, but on a level appropriate for her age. I won’t tell her now that I almost died, but as she gets older, she may learn it; I don’t have a problem with that.

For now, it suffices for her to know her mommy took care of me. I count myself beyond blessed to have a wife who loves me, despite my depression. And that’s the point I wanted to get across: I am not in this fight alone. I have someone on whom I can depend. I want Namine to have the same trust in us, as her parents — the same assurance that she can depend on us.

So the most I can say about depression to my daughter — and to you, dear reader — is that communication is probably the most important thing you can have. Be there for the people you love. Be willing to talk. More importantly, be willing to listen. Just be there.

This post was originally published on eichefam.net.

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 Sasiistock

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To the Man Who Approached Me About My Self-Harm Scars

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Editor’s Note: The man described in this story found the piece and realized it was him. You can read his response here.

I have struggled for many years with self-harm in many different forms but, like many, I struggled the most with cutting. As a result, I am covered head to toe in scars, some of which are very noticeable. All of which I am not ashamed of, but I do wish they weren’t there. I live in Scotland. It’s never really “beachwear weather” here, so I generally have most, if not all, of my scars hidden on a daily basis without really trying or having to be aware of hiding them on purpose. Still, when I am at work in uniform or on those rare sunny days when I go without sleeves or — heaven forbid — shorts, I have gotten pretty used to the pointing and staring and whispering or even outright interrogations. So when I went on holiday to New York, I was terrified as I packed those skirts, those crop tops, those shorts with no tights and all of those revealing clothes. I told myself it would be OK and that New York was way too busy a city for anybody to bother finding the time to gawk at little old me. Oh, how wrong I was.

I had it all. I had people pointing, nudging others to get them to look as well, laughing, staring, judging and even one boy who walked past with a group of friends and proceeded to nudge them and say loud enough for me to hear, “Damn, look at the state of that.” I walked around in a constant state of anxiety, always being on edge, looking at every passerby’s eyes to see if they were directed at me, terrified of judgment while knowing perfectly well it was near constant. So when a man came up to me and directly referenced my scars, I immediately felt my heart sink.

But he was different. He asked if he could shake my hand and he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a warrior.” He gave me the most genuine smile and, with a final squeeze of my hand, walked away. I noticed he had a semicolon tattoo on his wrist.

So to that man in New York with the semicolon tattoo who approached the girl with scars and red hair — I can’t thank you enough. You taught me all that judgment is incomparable to one kind compliment. You made me feel comfortable in my own skin despite all of the reasons that had recently been given to me. You reminded me my scars are not flaws, they are not an exhibition to be gaped at — they are a representation of where I have been, the war that I have had to fight and I should not be ashamed.

Thank you, Man from New York with the Semicolon Tattoo. Thank you so much.

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 IakovKalinin.

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9 Facts I Wish I'd Known When I Discovered My Son Was Self-Harming

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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.

As a parent, I wanted to protect my child from all the bad things that might come into his life, but how could I protect him from himself? I discovered my son’s self-injurious behavior when he was 14. I knew practically nothing about self-harm then, but as the years went on I learned a great deal. Here is what I wish I had known.

1. It’s not attention seeking behavior, but rather a cry for help.

I thought harming himself was a way to get attention, sort of a rebellious teenage “badge.” I quickly learned my child was not trying to get attention; he was screaming for help. Self-harm was the only way he knew how to communicate his intense pain. By doing so, he was releasing endorphins into his brain, much like a drug. These endorphins helped to relieve some of his emotional trauma and actually made him feel better. However, the feeling doesn’t last, and then the self-harmer is left with physical scars and a feeling of shame.

2. It’s not a suicide attempt; it is a coping skill for dealing with intense and overwhelming emotions.

It’s called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). NSSI is used as a coping skill to deal with an emotional overload. My son often said he self-harmed to stop himself from completing suicide. This is a prevalent method used for those dealing with suicidal ideation; it is an attempt to alleviate the feeling of wanting to die. The big difference here is intent. The intent of NSSI is to escape the severe emotional pain, but still remain alive. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. Many self-harmers have attempted suicide and even intentionally or accidentally completed suicide. One of the other dangers of NSSI is that it can become obsessive, compulsive and even addictive. Stopping once you have experienced the endorphin release can be difficult and can take years to overcome.

3. Talking about self-harm with your child will not put the idea in their head.

If you have a reason to believe your child is thinking about self-harming, talking to them will not give them the idea. Most likely they have heard about it from friends, classmates or online, and if they have already self-harmed, discussing it won’t make it worse. If they haven’t heard of it, it is important to have an intelligent and accurate conversation about what self-harm is, why people engage in it, and why you think it isn’t the right path to choose. This conversation should include all of the positive coping skills that are available.

Talking about self-injury is important. Do this privately, with compassion and without judgment. Chances are your child already feels confused. Knowing they can come to you and talk, without being judged, can make all the difference in what choices they make in the future.

4. Ignoring it will not make it go away.

When things get difficult in our lives we often want to bury our heads in the sand, hoping the problem will go away. This does not work. Do not ignore your child’s self-injurious behavior. It will not go away on its own. Be the parent you need to need to be for your child. You can help them through this difficult time in their lives and both of you can come out on the other side stronger than you were before.

5. Going to the hospital or doctor every time is not necessary.

This is a time when you need to be objective as a parent. If you think your child’s self-injury is out of control and they are in danger of completing suicide, take them to the hospital. If your child has hurt themselves severely, take them to the hospital. Beyond this there is no right or wrong answer as to when you should take your child to the doctor or the hospital after an episode of self-injury. Discuss their actions with your medical professional or counselor. You must use your best parental judgment and decide what is best for your child in that moment. No two situations are the same and nobody can make that decision for you.

6. Getting angry at your child does not help.

Oh, I have been there. After years of helping my son overcome his desire to self-harm, when I thought he had “beaten” the addiction, he did it again. Oh yeah, I was angry, but it didn’t help. It didn’t even make me feel better; I only suffered remorse later. How could I be angry at my boy who was struggling with intense pain? Getting angry doesn’t help anyone.

7. Validate your child’s feelings instead of trying to fix the problem.

As parents, we want to “fix” problems. Often the best thing to do in this situation is to validate their feelings. Validation does not mean you agree with their choice of self-harm; instead, it’s telling them it is OK to have these feelings and you still love them. This will help your child feel accepted, understood and heard.

8. Finding the right therapist is imperative.

This is truly a tough one. Can you even find the right therapist? Some people say no, but I do believe there are competent therapists out there. Don’t be afraid to interview them in advance and ask questions about their therapeutic process. A parent alone cannot do everything for their child, especially if that child is unwell. There comes a time when you must relinquish control and realize you do not have all the skills needed to help your child move to a healthy place.

9. It’s not your fault.

There is a propensity in society to blame the parents for the “faults” of their children. In a few small cases this may be appropriate, but they are few. When it comes to self-harm and mental illness, it’s not your fault. Do not blame yourself. You did not want this for your child, nobody does.

The majority of parents are giving their children the best care and opportunities they can. Do not judge others in their parenting, instead, offer empathy and compassion. You never know when you might find yourself in a similar situation.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

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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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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