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To the Receptionist Who Made a 'Gentle Suggestion' After Seeing My Scars

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Dear Miss Receptionist,

I was 17 when I showed up at your desk in a t-shirt and a hopeful smile, with my application for a childcare course. My self-harm scars were multiple and clearly visible.

You looked me up and down and asked me to take a seat and hand in my application, which I did with great pride. I’ve always wanted to work with children. Children make me smile, and they’re one of the few types of human who don’t scare me half to death when we interact. My grades were all there, but still you chose to look me up and down and suggest I should find a different course to pursue.

I didn’t know it then, but I suffer with borderline personality disorder (BPD), a mental health condition that affects how I think about things, how I view the world and most noticeably, makes me feel extremes of emotions. (Everyone experiences BPD differently, but these are my most noticeable symptoms.) I’ve been self-harming in one form or another since I was 11 years old, so I’m aware my arms are scarred all to hell.

I have also been a guide leader since I was 14. I have been a Brownie leader since I was 15. I have worked with children, parents, guardians and other adults in charge of a child’s care. Not one of them has ever had a problem with my scars.

So I explained that to you. And I explained I had a child friendly explanation for my scars, an explanation that had been commended by a social worker. I even told you the explanation.

“When some people get sick, they cough or they sneeze. When I get sick, I get these marks on my arms.”

The way you looked at me, I might as well have said what I did in explicit detail. Again, you reiterated I’d probably be better off on another course, and that I might “struggle” with this course.

I’m ashamed now that I bowed to you and switched to an animal care course. I’m extra ashamed that after four months, I had to leave that course after one too many trips to the emergency room.

I’m 21 now. I still want to work with children, but I’m too afraid to apply again. I don’t need more of your “gentle suggestions” that maybe I’d be better off somewhere else.

Your words convinced me to abandon my dream, and every day I think about how different my life might be if I hadn’t listened to you.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 7, 2016
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