When you smiled at me and told me you thought my broken body was beautiful, I was afraid. Most people who bring up my scars aren’t entirely sober. I understand that. When they point them out or say “thank you,” it typically means they’re outing themselves as self-harm survivors. There’s an understanding that flickers between us, and I know somewhere on their body they probably have scars, too.
But you were different. It had been months since we’d seen each other and I had missed you. You came home to find me wearing a pair of shorts, happily baring legs that hadn’t seen sun in years.
“I’m so proud of you,” you told me. “Thank you. You look beautiful.”
I was so happy to see you I had almost forgotten my legs were exposed. I blushed, I think, and changed the subject. Thank you? When people say kind things about my body I get confused. This summer someone told me my scars were beautiful. I laughed and brushed it off.
But it takes a lot to bring that up, especially without a bit of liquid courage.
Community is an amazing thing. It can make you feel as if you’re not broken, alone, different or wrong. It gives you people to rely on when life is hard. For people with chronic illnesses, finding others like you is huge.
Mental illness can be especially isolating. It’s totally invisible, which means unless someone discloses to you, you could have no idea there are others like you. The only form of mental illness you can see are scars from self-harm.
It makes showing these scars feel like an invitation to the community.
There’s an instant connection between two people who have both hurt themselves. It’s an understanding no one else can have. When I see someone else with scars I feel a strong urge to hug them, high-five them or just say “I get it.” It’s scary to show those scars — many people don’t understand or think that showing them is glorifying them. When I don’t feel safe discussing my past, seeing others like me in the world makes me feel a bit safer.
Sometimes I forget I can make other people feel safe, too. Every “thank you” is a reminder I have that power. I have the power to create community. I have the power to be brave in the face of a society that still stigmatizes mental illness. I have the power to tell my friends, families and people on the street that I hurt myself but I’m still here, I’m happy and I’m healthy now. I have the power to give other people the space to speak and ask and be without judgment. More than that, I have the power to be a model for others who share my struggles. I have the power to exist.
Existing openly is the beginning of creating a community. It’s the first step to talking, supporting, helping and creating resources. It says to others, “You’re OK. You can exist here. You don’t have to hide.”
So to my friend who said thank you: I appreciate the reminder. I had forgotten how powerful I was. I had forgotten I can be a positive influence and a person who gives advice and support. I had forgotten my survival isn’t just for me.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.
The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Tell us about a moment of kindness that moved you as someone living with a mental illness. Did someone show you compassion or patience when you really needed it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.