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The First Time I Realized I Couldn't Hide My Depression Anymore

Usually when someone says this, they’re talking about the first time they told someone. The first time they had to ask for help. The first time somebody called them on it. That isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the first summer after I started self-harming.

I self-harmed for the first time in the fall. I didn’t time it on purpose, at least I didn’t at first. By summer, I had actually gotten help and I was in “remission” from self-harm. But I still had my scars. They lined one arm, carpeting my forearm. And when summer came around, I didn’t have a choice except to wear short sleeves. That was hard. Really hard. Unbelievably hard. Harder than I ever would have thought.

Wearing short sleeves every day not only made my mental health struggles obvious to everybody around me, a fact that I was all too aware of, but it also forced me to confront that I was still clawing my way out of that place every single day. Sometimes, I wasn’t ready for that. Sometimes, it just made it worse. But I didn’t have a choice, so I kept wearing short sleeves. Long sleeves weren’t an option. It was also the first time I wasn’t able to simply put on a smile and soldier through with nobody any the wiser. For the first time, I was literally wearing my depression on my sleeve. And that was honestly the hardest part.

The next summer was no easier. I had relapsed in the meanwhile. A lot. Now I have scars carpeting the entirety of one arm and a good portion of the other as well as some on my ankles. There was absolutely no way I would be able to hide them. Not from others, not from myself.

Being forced, essentially, to expose my most personal struggles taught me something important. I usually don’t give people enough credit. Most people don’t ask about my scars. If people stare, they’re discreet enough that even I don’t notice. The few times I’ve been asked it was usually either because I had fresher scabs or because it was someone younger, a kid. I got very good at a short list of one- or two-sentence explanations. And then people usually don’t have any follow-up questions. I learned I care far more than they do.

By now, I’m an old pro. Most days, short sleeves don’t even bother me. I barely notice my scars. But there are still days when seeing my struggles every day is hard, when it still hurts. In all these months, there is one important lesson I had to teach myself. I learned that sometimes, a lot of the time, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. I learned that being comfortable in the temperature and the clothes I’m wearing is more important than whether my scars might make the barista uncomfortable or if a middle-aged woman I’ll never see again gives me a judgmental look. Because they don’t live with me every day. Sometimes, maybe once in a long while, seeing my scars will open a conversation with somebody who needs it. If my openness can help even one other person, then that’s even more of a reason not to cover up.

These are my battle scars. My tiger stripes. These show that I went someplace dark and survived. They show that I can beat the darkness that threatened to drown me. They show that I’m a fighter. And now I don’t hide my scars. They aren’t something for me to be ashamed of because they’re as much a part of me as my nose or ears or hair. So I won’t hide them anymore.

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