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To the Woman Who Approached Me About My Self-Harm Scars

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Article updated August 5, 2019.

I have struggled with self-harm for a few years now. As a result, I have scars covering my arms and parts of my legs. For a long time I felt nothing but shame, and there are still times when I do; because of this I will wear long sleeves or pants. Since the summer has started, I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone. Not only because of the heat, but my job as a lifeguard. The first few days I was terrified of what my co-workers and patrons would say or do. While I was on stand, scenarios would go through my head of everything someone could say or do. There were a few times I even had nightmares about being at work and someone approaching me about my cuts or scars. Each day, I tried to tell myself that it was OK and people were too busy with themselves to notice.

Not only did parents take notice, so did the kids. For adults, the look is often more judgmental and/or confused, but for kids it’s often more about curiosity; they just want to know why you look like that or what happened. Of course it makes me uncomfortable no matter who is asking, but when a kid asks what happened to my arm, I know they mean well and usually don’t know any better.

One night, a dad approached me and as he walked closer I looked down at my watch figuring he would ask me what time it was, as most parents do. Instead, he looked directly at the cuts and scars on my legs and said, “Why would you do that to yourself?” “Do you know how bad that looks?” and before I could barely get a word out, he kind of laughed and finished with, “It looks like you got attacked by a tiger.” He then called his kid to follow him to the other side of the pool. I stood there in panic, wanting nothing more than to run — run far away from where I was. Trying to get my mind off of what just happened, I searched for something to distract myself, but nothing was working. Already being self-conscious of my scars, I worried someone had heard our conversation or they could see the tears falling from behind my sunglasses. While still on stand and trying to watch my water, hundreds of thoughts kept spinning around in my head about the comments that patron had just made.

A week or so had passed since that night and I had tried to forget about what was said. I was walking off stand to go on break when a lady came walking up to me. I figured she just wanted to know the time or when we closed. I was wrong when I heard the words, “This probably isn’t my place and I am sorry for being nosy, but I hope you know how proud I am of you.” I stood there for a second thinking about what she said and before I could answer she continued, “I couldn’t help but notice your scars. I want you to know that whatever it is your are going through, you should be free of that burden, it shouldn’t define you,” and ended with a big smile on her face. Through the happy tears I replied, “That means so much to me, more than you will ever know, thank you.” She then explained she was a counselor and couldn’t just not say anything and check to make sure I was getting the help I needed. She gave me a hug and went back to her kids.

So to the mom at work who approached the girl with scars, I can’t thank you enough. You taught me that through all the shame and negativity, it only takes one compliment to change your outlook. You made me feel better about taking that job in the first place and made feel OK in my own skin after all the reason I have been given not to. You let me know that scars aren’t something to be ashamed of or disgusted by but rather, something that tells your story. While you may never see this, thank you for reminding me I am worthy.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Getty image via cassinga

Originally published: December 9, 2017
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