Susannah

@susannah-tapp | contributor
I got my PhD in criminal justice and criminology at Georgia State University. I have four cats whom I love.
Susannah

I Shouldn’t Have to Wear Long Sleeves to Hide My Self-Harm Scars

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . I’ve always been an insecure person. I didn’t have many friends in high school. But when I went away to college, I wanted that to change. I tried to be friendly and happy and “pretty.” Of course, I had to hide the fact that I had a history of self-harm. I swore I could keep myself from cutting and no one would find out. It actually worked pretty well in the beginning. I made a ton of friends and was even kind of “popular.” It was everything I had ever wanted for myself. I always wore long sleeves, so I looked perfectly “normal” on the outside, even though I dressed differently than everyone else. One day, the girls in my dorm were making fun of me for wearing long sleeve shirts. One said something like, “What are you horribly ‘deformed?’ Are you a cutter? I’ll show you there’s nothing wrong.” She grabbed my wrist and pulled up my sleeve in front of all of my friends, and the room went silent. It turned out that yes, I was ‘horribly deformed,’ at least by “ college girl standards.” Yes, I was a cutter. And yes, she had just showed everyone there was something wrong with me. Things went downhill from there, which felt largely like my fault. As soon as my scars were revealed, I knew my run as a “popular girl” was over. I stopped working at trying to be happy and friendly and perky all the time. If I couldn’t be popular, at least I could make myself forget. When the other girls became closer to one another, I became more of an outsider. That incident was a long time ago. Cutting was not well understood then. I knew a few people in high school who had cut themselves, but none of them had scars like I did. Those college girls and I never really talked about what happened. I never wore short sleeves, and no one ever mentioned it again. But I knew I had been marked as “different.” I felt like I would always been an outsider. People liked the fake me, but not the real me. I still struggle with telling people I’m someone who cut. People might think I’m lucky because I can pass as someone who doesn’t cut, but this leaves me feeling like an imposter. I can pass for “normal,” so I am given “normal treatment.” But I know it will come crashing down someday. Every day, there is a chance someone will grab my wrist and pull up my sleeve and I will be revealed like I was in college. I wish I was brave enough to show my scars all the time and not care, but I hide my scars at work, at formal events and at school. I’ve never really learned a good way to tell people about my scars, and if they find out, I often feel like I have a lot to lose. Even though I have fears about my scars, sometimes I try not to hide them. That way, no one can expose me. I wear shorts and short sleeve shirts because I’ve learned it’s easier for people to know what I’m going through right away so they won’t be surprised later on. At least then I get to choose if I want to tell them about it. I know sometimes people who cut get criticized for showing scars, but I just want to go to the pool or the park and enjoy summer days. It is not my responsibility to make other people comfortable with my body. Other people don’t have the right to tell me to cover my scars. And it’s not their right to show others my scars. 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 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image via fakes_designer

Susannah

What to Say to Someone Who Thinks You Cut for 'Attention'

Article updated August 5, 2019. I get home from school and my best friend asks me how my day was. “Oh you know, school was great, except I severed a tendon or something and my hand is numb.” I probably say it with a hint of a challenge in my voice. The questions I am really asking are: am I too scary for you now? Are you going to leave me because I am too destructive? Can you still love me even though I am damaged? I only said something because my therapist told me I needed to tell someone. I sounded flip because I did not know how else to say it. “Well X says you’re only doing this for attention anyway,” he says. “Look at you, you’re proud of what you did.” I am not proud of what I did. But I long ago lost the ability to use words to explain what is really going on. I cannot properly express my emotions, so I cannot explain the real reasons this is happening again. My best friend is tired. My best friend has been told that cutting is only the manifestation of the deeper issue. My friend knows this, but his friend speaks with such confidence. Someone who barely knows me, who has never had more than a five-minute conversation with me, has succinctly and unequivocally decided my fate. I am a bad person who is behaving badly and will not be seen until I can behave properly. I wish that person had understood cutting can be a sign of a mental illness. Cutting releases endorphins in your brain. It takes away emotional pain. While physical can be healed, emotional pain lingers. I cannot always handle the emotional pain, so I deflect it to physical pain. Physical pain I can understand. Physical pain is something I can control. I wish that person knew I am ashamed of being a “cutter.” I am ashamed of the way I look. Strangers ask me what happened if they see my scars. My college roommates teased me for always wearing long sleeves. I am constantly asked if I am hot or how I can wear that in the summer. When I don’t wear long sleeves children stare and sometimes even point at me. What I am saying is a get plenty of attention for cutting and I would prefer not to have any. I want that person to know that if someone is seriously harming herself, the best thing is not to ignore her and assume that will motivate her to change. If I could change because someone else wanted me to, I would have changed a long time ago. It is not about love or respect or being a bad friend. Ignoring problems, especially mental illnesses, makes them grow, not go away. I want that person to know it’s OK if your friends make you sad sometimes. If your friend is hurting, it’s OK to hurt, too. If your friend is struggling with an illness, including a mental illness, that causes pain, and it is natural to feel sad for them. Avoiding people who have sadness in their lives leaves everyone alone. In fact, when this person goes through a difficult situation a year later, my friend cries because he is sad for her pain. I do not say, “Well if it makes you sad, just ignore her until she is happy.” And had I, people would have been appalled I would suggest something so insensitive. I have not been able to forgive the person who told my best friend I only cut for attention. I realize it was a comment made of ignorance, not malice, and that I am responsible for not seeking medical treatment on my own. I realize I should not hold a grudge. However, to this day, this person does not feel she was wrong for what she said, and my best friend says she was only trying to help. This shows how much people who cut are not accepted in society. They are not seen as deserving of help. They are seen as “bad” or “disobedient” or “attention seekers.” Punishment is seen as an appropriate response. Cutting is one of the most stigmatized behaviors because people do not even try to understand it. If we look at the history of addiction, we know blaming the individual does nothing and costs us more in the long run. We should learn from this. The ignorance this person displayed can spill over into insurance companies that will not pay for treatment, funding taken away from mental health programs and research on treatment, and leaves families, friends and those who cut without somewhere to seek help. This attitude can stop people from asking for help and stop people who want to help from giving it. Ignoring a problem rarely makes it better. Usually, it just leaves everyone alone. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via contributor.