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What People Asking About My Self-Harm Scars Made Me Realize About Their Significance

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Article updated July 22, 2019.

I was recently down in New Mexico for a service trip. When I found out I was going to be working with kids at a bible camp, I was thrilled. I love kids and spending time with them, especially when it makes their day. Seeing the joy on their faces makes my day as well.

What I didn’t know was how difficult being around those kids when I had visible scars was going to be. We all know how blunt kids can be at times. In my hometown in northwest Iowa, we have this unwritten “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. People are less likely to ask personal questions, and people are less likely to tell unless they’re asked.

I pass so many people in the hallway at my school and see their eyes flicker to my arms, but they let it go and keep walking. They don’t think it’s their business. I’m always prepared for remarks on my scars anywhere I go, but I wasn’t anticipating the unpleasant amount of focus the kids would have on my scars.

It started in the van on the way to the park. This little girl, around 10 years old or so, started staring at my arms and legs and asked me what happened. I told her it’s OK because they’re just scars. I explained they were old and she didn’t need to worry.

The girl sitting next to her, who was also around 10 years old, spoke up and asked me if I cut myself. Shocked with how much she understood at her age, I calmly told her I had before. She looked me in the eyes and told me her sister cuts herself too. I was taken aback with how calmly and matter-of-factly she said it to me.

The first girl then asked me why I did it. I asked her if she knew what depression was, and she nodded her head. I explained I have depression and I used to cut as a way of dealing with how I felt. I then told her I haven’t cut in seven months. So I’m dealing with it better.

The two girls’ eyes continued to linger on my scars for a while. Soon they started talking about other things, like their pets and such. After chasing kids around the park for hours, we piled back into the van, and a girl about my age, asked me to sit by her. Pleased this girl wanted me to be next to her, I accepted her offer and sat down. After introducing ourselves a bit, she grabbed my arm and began touching my scars.

I prepared myself for the bombardment of questions. To my surprise, after the girl asked why I did it, she rolled up her sleeves and showed me some of her scars. She explained each of them, and by the time we reached the bible camp, we were friends.

Lunchtime rolled around and one of the girls from earlier asked to see my arm again and asked more questions, like whether or not it hurt. What happened next played through my head for the rest of the day. It brought on an onslaught of depressing thoughts.

I got up to dump my trash, and a boy, who was about 12 years old, grabbed my arm. He shook his head, his eyes examining the scars on my arms and then my legs. He looked me in the eye, called me crazy and walked away. I tried to blink back the tears as I began thinking about what he said. Eyeing my scars and touching them, I felt worthless. I felt crazy. I thought maybe I felt this way because what he said was true.

The rest of the day was difficult and I talked about it with some people in my youth group and my leader. It was decided I wouldn’t go to the camp the next day, but the boy’s words weren’t forgotten until I went to go help feel the homeless.

Afterward, as people were starting to clear out, a man walked up to me and the first thing he said was, “I can’t help but notice your scars. What is their significance?” Because of the different way it was said, I thought for a while before I replied — their significance was depression. He nodded, told me to keep my head up and proceeded to show me his scars, which showed different stories. It was left at that.

It was then that the young boy’s words stopped playing through my mind. My scars tell a story. They aren’t beautiful, but neither is my story. The main point is what was hurting me isn’t strong enough to make me hurt myself anymore. And that’s beautiful enough.

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. 
Originally published: July 13, 2016
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