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The First Time My Little Sister Asked About My Self-Harm Scars

Most of the time when somebody asks me about my scars, it’s someone my age or older. They’re asking probably because I have new scabs or because they don’t know what they are. In either instance, when someone asks me, “What happened?” my go-to response is something along the lines of, “Me, I happened,” and I then continue the conversation where we left off. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t do that and it caught me entirely off guard.

I have an absolutely adorable little half-sister. She’s clever and smart and funny and just wonderful. She turns 8 this year. But because she is so smart, I had been silently dreading the day when she asked me about my scars. Last semester I wrote a short story in which an aunt weaves an elaborate fantasy story to explain to her young niece where her self-harm scars are from. Obviously there was some self-insert happening. When I was actually faced with the question, I was much less elegant and creative. I tried to just give a short answer. A sentence or two and then move along, the way that I’d always been able to in the past.

I told her that I did them to myself. Then she asked why. So I said that I was very sad and I thought it was the only way to make myself feel better. I said that I was wrong and that it isn’t a good thing to do. She just looked at me for a moment. Then she asked why I was so sad. I didn’t really know what to tell her. I said that I didn’t know why I was sad, which is sort of the truth. Then she asked if I’m still sad. I said no, I’m not sad anymore. And she just smiled at me and said, “Good.”

During this exchange, her mum, my birth mother, was in the next room. She could probably hear me, hear us. The whole time that we were talking, that I was explaining to her my scars, I was worried that somehow I was crossing a line. I was worried it wasn’t OK for me to be talking with her about this. That she was too young. But I didn’t know how else to explain myself.

I’m going to have to have this conversation with her again. I know I will. Maybe she’ll talk to her mum about it before she talks to me, but it’s going to happen. She’ll get older and she’ll get more mature and she’ll see more of the world. And then she’ll have more questions because that’s how she is. She wants to understand everything. Next time, I think I’ll be caught just as off guard. But that’s OK because she’s family and because we need to have more conversations about mental health.