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To the Nurse Who Laughed About My Self-Harm Scars

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Article updated August 19, 2019, 

I know you probably didn’t mean for me to be offended. In fact, you probably didn’t think I would hear you. But I did. And what I heard was complete mockery of my illness.

I went in for my monthly appointment with my dermatologist to get my self-harm scars injected, because they are keloids. Keloid scarring is when your body produces extra scar tissue, which can make the scars really puffy, itchy and painful. Injecting a steroid solution directly into the scar is one of the few forms of treatment to flatten out keloids.

You were kind to me inside the exam room, and I was grateful for that. I had come to the appointment on my own, and it made me feel anxious. You asked me to sit down and went over some of my medical history with me to make sure your charts were up to date. I felt as if I was important to you, not just some small, incapable 16-year-old sitting in this room with you.

You told me the doctor would be with me shortly, and as you left the room, my body was fully relaxed into the chair. I felt confident and capable. I saw I could go to a doctor’s appointment on my own, and I felt proud and grown up.

But as I was sitting there, I realized how thin the walls were and how clearly I could hear conversations outside my room. I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was trying to listen to see if I could hear when the doctor came near so I was ready when he entered.

I did not hear the doctor because he was elsewhere helping another patient, which was perfectly fine with me. I don’t feel entitled when it comes to doctor’s appointments. I understand they have other people to help, so I patiently wait for my turn to be seen.

As I was sitting in silence, I heard something that caused my ears to perk.

“…She’s 16.”

Now, I wasn’t assuming it was me. I knew it was me. I had sat in the waiting room, and there were no other 16-year-olds who were being seen at the same time as me. I listened closer, because after all, they were talking about me, and I decided I should be able to know what they were saying.

What I heard caused my heart to sink deep inside my chest.

“…Yeah, she has a lot of them,” followed by a laugh. At that point, I stopped listening. The nurse was talking about me, and not in a respectful manner. She was pointing out my self-harm scars to the other nurse, which I have nothing against. They’re out in the open for people to see, so I expect people to acknowledge and notice them. What really bothers me is the nurse’s laugh following her statement.

What’s so funny about self-harm? What’s funny about my scars? Maybe I just can’t take a joke, but honestly, I don’t see what’s so funny about a suicidal and depressed teenager who has so much emotional pain they mutilate themselves in order to cope.

I’ve done really well in terms of accepting my self-harm scars as a part of myself, and that’s one thing I’m proud of myself for, because it took a lot of work and I know it’s not easy. But sitting in that room, I felt so small and ugly. I glanced down at the scars laid across my arms, and I was overcome with shame, thinking back on all the times I went somewhere in short sleeves that exposed my scars. And above all else, I hated myself.

I’m not angry at that nurse. I know she doesn’t fully understand my illness. My point in writing about this is not to point out her faults and strike back in any way, but instead to educate. I don’t know if she’ll ever come across this article. But I know others will, and if they take it to heart, then hopefully fewer people like me will have to sit in an empty exam room alone, hating themselves and all their scars.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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