What I Want Someone Struggling With Self-Harm to Know
There’s a quote that circles around the mental health world: “I’ve got scars on my body and stories I’ll never tell.” I used to stand by this quote, after seeing it for the first time a few years ago. However, now I never thought I would be as open as I am today about my struggles with my mental illness and self-harm.
I’ve struggled with self-harm on and off since I was 16 years old. It started with just my left arm, but by the time I was 22 and in the worst place in my life mentally, the scars spread to my arm, ankles, the top of my feet and from my knee to the bulge of my right hip, covering my entire right thigh. At first, I was extremely insecure and embarrassed. How could I ever show myself in a bikini at the beach again, change in the same fitting room with my best friend at the mall during a girls shopping day, or be intimate with my boyfriend without feeling ashamed, insecure and ugly?
It wasn’t until I started embracing my scars and sharing the stories I never thought I’d tell that I became more comfortable with how my body looked. Thanks to a newfound positive attitude and good friends of mine who are photographers, I did a boudoir shoot, which extremely upped my self-esteem. I started wearing make-up and putting effort into my appearance — I even learned how to curl my hair. Most importantly, I became an advocate by spreading positive messages of hope on social media, sharing my story and becoming a voice for people who struggle and can’t find their own.
Throughout all of that, people have reached out to me and shared their story — telling me how much of an influence and inspiration I was. Since I was a teen, my hope was that if I could help save one person from going through the pain I went through, then my purpose here on earth would be fulfilled. By opening up about my self-harm, an eating disorder and mental illness, I think I’ve accomplished that purpose given to me by God. Now, thanks to my faith, my self-esteem (which is increasing more and more each day) and a few life lessons learned along the way from when I was younger, I am not ashamed of my scars or my mental illness. I’ve discovered and realized meaning in the struggle.
Being in a society that revolves around body image and the pressure to be something you’re not, it’s important to remember to simply love yourself. Having low self-esteem is extremely difficult to deal with and I’ve had my fair share of it, especially over the last few days when the feelings of worthlessness and not being good enough have crept their way in. God gave me this opportunity, however, to see myself through a different lens and I’m grateful for it. I promise you accepting yourself and your body isn’t as scary as you think. To me, self-harm is a journey. It shows strength, beauty, rejection and the passion to move forward and toward recovery — and I am now almost a year sober. I never thought I’d be able to say that; but if I can do it, you can too.
My scars are fading with a skin bleaching topical provided to me by my dermatologist and fading along with the scars are my memories of despair as I turn a new chapter of my life and forget the past — I am stronger and capable of bettering myself and my emotions through outlets other than tattooing myself with scars I’ll regret. Now, I’d be lying if I say I still don’t get embarrassed sometimes or think I’m ugly because of what scars still remain on my body, however, the message is to stay positive and to remember you’re still beautiful, despite whatever you may think of your body. Whether it’s scarring, a medical device from a struggle with chronic illness or a physical deformity, it doesn’t matter. You are beautiful, please never lose sight of that.
While it may seem like a viable out at the time, self-harm is not a healthy outlet for excreting anger, depression, etc. Believe me when I say, I get it. I understand the anger, hopelessness and insecurities that can come along with anxiety, depression and mental illness. However, the biggest thing I’ve learned from my stay in a behavioral health hospital and through self-examination and trust is that people care and are there. My friends and family are my biggest support and I would be nowhere without their undying desire to listen and to help whenever needed.
This is my biggest piece of advice to anyone struggling: don’t punish yourself and your body because of emotions you feel like you can’t control in the moment. Simply ride the wave of emotion, acknowledge your emotions and credit that they’re there and overcome what you’re feeling, whether it takes a few minutes or an hour. Stay calm and know you’re not alone. Talk it out, write it out, sing it out, scream into your pillow or allow yourself to just cry. Please find a different avenue to let out whatever it is you’re experiencing. Stay mindful, stay positive and know that it gets better. Believe that from somebody who has lived through and continues to overcome it. Don’t give in and keep fighting — you’re worth so much more.
Today, thanks to my kick-ass tattoo artist, I’ve tattooed over my scars, except for the worst ones on my thigh. I left those as a reminder — they’re tattoos of their own. They’re a reminder of my strength, courage and my journey of finding who I am. It was a tough journey but I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without experiencing it. And while that may seem encouraging, remember there are other ways than self-harm to find yourself. You can do it, just have faith.
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 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.
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Unsplash image via Aldo Delara