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

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Editor’s Note: The man described in this story found the piece and realized it was him. You can read his response here.

I have struggled for many years with self-harm in many different forms but, like many, I struggled the most with cutting. As a result, I am covered head to toe in scars, some of which are very noticeable. All of which I am not ashamed of, but I do wish they weren’t there. I live in Scotland. It’s never really “beachwear weather” here, so I generally have most, if not all, of my scars hidden on a daily basis without really trying or having to be aware of hiding them on purpose. Still, when I am at work in uniform or on those rare sunny days when I go without sleeves or — heaven forbid — shorts, I have gotten pretty used to the pointing and staring and whispering or even outright interrogations. So when I went on holiday to New York, I was terrified as I packed those skirts, those crop tops, those shorts with no tights and all of those revealing clothes. I told myself it would be OK and that New York was way too busy a city for anybody to bother finding the time to gawk at little old me. Oh, how wrong I was.

I had it all. I had people pointing, nudging others to get them to look as well, laughing, staring, judging and even one boy who walked past with a group of friends and proceeded to nudge them and say loud enough for me to hear, “Damn, look at the state of that.” I walked around in a constant state of anxiety, always being on edge, looking at every passerby’s eyes to see if they were directed at me, terrified of judgment while knowing perfectly well it was near constant. So when a man came up to me and directly referenced my scars, I immediately felt my heart sink.

But he was different. He asked if he could shake my hand and he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a warrior.” He gave me the most genuine smile and, with a final squeeze of my hand, walked away. I noticed he had a semicolon tattoo on his wrist.

So to that man in New York with the semicolon tattoo who approached the girl with scars and red hair — I can’t thank you enough. You taught me all that judgment is incomparable to one kind compliment. You made me feel comfortable in my own skin despite all of the reasons that had recently been given to me. You reminded me my scars are not flaws, they are not an exhibition to be gaped at — they are a representation of where I have been, the war that I have had to fight and I should not be ashamed.

Thank you, Man from New York with the Semicolon Tattoo. Thank you so much.

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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Thinkstock photo via IakovKalinin.

Originally published: July 10, 2017
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