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Why I Decided to Stop Hiding My Self-Harm Scars

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

For two years, I was actively self-harming; this means most days or multiple times a day. It began in the darkest year of my life, which also happened to be the last year of high school — where so much pressure is put on students to do well. I didn’t deal well with the intense emotions I was feeling, to say the least.

As hard as it was to deal with my own emotions, so was the stigma. I felt I always had to hide myself, both figuratively and literally, so that I wouldn’t be rejected or scare off anyone. So of course I tried to hide it. I was scared of being called “crazy” or “emo.” And I was surprised to find that the stereotype of “self-harming for attention” was actually still believed. In fact, before he knew, my brother once walked in on me with bare arms and suggested I was doing it to “be interesting.”

Although I could somewhat keep it hidden, I felt isolated by it. I couldn’t go swimming, summer was terrible (I kept getting heatstroke), my clothing was restricted, and I flinched every time someone would try to touch my arms. The unspoken rule was that no one was allowed to see.

I thought I had to hide it because it was a sad truth; you see, others might see a sign of struggle from scars, but I saw a death sentence. I’d never seen anyone with scars like mine before. never healed ones. I figured no one had healed scars because no one would live that long. I thought self-harm always ended in death.

It was only after a long while that I saw her; the first survivor. I was working retail when a lady walked in with scars on her arms. Old scars. Just like mine, but dulled by time.

Only then did I see a future; a possibility to get through that time to something… more.

After those two years of hiding, I decided to finally wear whatever clothing, regardless of whether my scars would show or not. It was difficult; of course, it was difficult. Some of it was better than I thought; people wouldn’t always say things and I was never “accused” of anything. But some was unexpected and hard. People would ask, “What have you done to yourself?” I would get stares, and sometimes I even saw mothers directing their children away from me.

I still did self-harm on occasion, or during tough times. I decided that although I wasn’t hiding my scars, I would still be sure to hide “fresh” wounds for the sake of others who might be shocked or triggered.

I began to get more embarrassed, and found it hard to not self-harm; the looks and words got too much for me. And although I had always feared the permanency of tattoos, I felt I needed something beautiful on my body.

Once I had designed and put something meaningful, something beautiful on my arms, I felt better. It distracted from my self-stigma.

I didn’t think of my arm as having scars but having a picture. It gave me more confidence to do what I had wanted to do.

So now that I felt that I could show my scars, why did I want to?

As I said earlier, I thought self-harm was a death sentence; that wasn’t exactly depression talking, but that was what the world seemed to be projecting.

So, I wanted to show that self-harmers survive. But more than that — that people with self-harm scars don’t need to be ashamed of them. Yes, they’re there. People will ask about them. You’ll feel self-conscious sometimes.

I know you might be scared, but it’s OK. You don’t need to feel ashamed. Not hiding them is not the same as “showing off.” Not hiding them is accepting them and not feeling like you don’t have less worth because of them.

I show my scars so that other people know it’s OK.

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Originally published: July 24, 2019
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