***TRIGGER WARNING*** This post discusses self-harm. It doesn’t go into detail, but please don’t read if you think it could negatively affect you and/or trigger you to self-harm.
I self-harmed on and off (but mainly on) for over 15 years. I tended to cut my forearms, so it was easy to hide the wounds and scars under long sleeves. It got a bit awkward when I was sweating in woollen jumpers on hot summer days, but I pretended I felt the cold. Besides, I already avoided short sleeves in order to hide the large birthmark on my right arm so I didn’t arouse too much suspicion. Some people claim that self-harm is all about seeking attention but in my experience, people who self-harm are ashamed and go to great lengths to hide the evidence.
It took me a long time to stop being ashamed. Sure, the scars aren’t attractive and hiding them might avoid intrusive questions, but I hid my scars because I was ashamed of having self-harmed, because I was ashamed of having mental health problems and because I was ashamed of who I was. Now I’m proud to have reached a stage in my recovery where I can wear T-shirts on a sunny day without dreading what other people might say. I’m proud of overcoming my problems and becoming a self-proclaimed spokesperson for people who have experienced mental illness. If anyone asks about my scars, I don’t lie or make excuses: I say they were caused by self-harm during bad episodes of depression and anxiety.
If people ask further questions, I’m happy to explain that cutting myself used to bring me relief from the intense anger, stress and numbness I felt. In fact, once you get me started on the topic, it’s difficult to get me to stop! I like to think that speaking out helps people who currently self-harm and those who have self-harmed in the past. Raising awareness is always helpful as the more visibility a mental health problem or symptom of mental illness has, the more it can help sufferers to feel less isolated. Sometimes, it can have a direct impact. I have spoken about self-harm to friends of other self-harmers and to friends of my own who have self-harmed. I hope they benefitted from the increased understanding brought by sharing my experience, even if it had no other effect.
But do you know what? Very few people mention my scars. I suppose they grow less visible as time passes and they fade, but I also think there is more awareness of self-harm. People are less likely to grab someone’s arm and shout ‘oh my god, what happened to you?’ and are more likely to react with sympathy than disgust when they find out that someone has self-harmed. I love my scars because they are a symbol of my strength. I got through some very difficult times – and I’m not entirely sure how I survived some of those times – which is something I should celebrate. I think we should also celebrate my scars being less remarkable, since it suggests that fewer people want to shame or embarrass those who self-harm.
I want to encourage everyone to love their scars, but I understand why a lot of people want to keep them hidden. I hope that by speaking out, there will be no reason to hide self-harm scars (or any other scars, for that matter) in the future. All scars are proof that you have overcome trauma and if you have scars, you should be proud of how your body and mind have recovered from trauma – regardless of whether the recovery is total or, as in my case, continuing.