Living in a Scar Suit- the summer edition

Edit: Before I start, I want to say that these are my feelings on my own self harm. I’m not talking about yours, or anyone elses’. This is my post about my body and my experiences.

Just a bit of a whine really.  When I’ve written about self harm here before (take a wee look at the comments page of this entry, it’ll lead you to the others), it’s been with reflection and optimism. I don’t feel that way today about my scars. Just pissed off. Stupid. Now that the sun is out, I look like a bloody zebra. A slither of sunlight on my arms turns my skin red and the scars whiter. Freckles pop out. It looks terrible, and it makes me feel like a fucking fool for what I’ve done to my body.

I can’t buy into all this, “your scars are a reminder you’ve survived” stuff, and all the other things self harmers tell themselves so they can live in the scar suit. I don’t view them with any profundity, though I’ve tried to. Increasingly, I see my self harming as a teenage folly gone way, way too far. Perhaps that’s just me trying to protect myself from the reality of what I did- to distance myself from it so I don’t get lured in again.  I would have stopped at the self-conscious scratches in my early teens, I think, if I hadn’t been practically dared to go further as a way of proving that I was in real distress, not just faking it. People dismiss scratches but not the deep, lacerating gorges I eventually wrought onto myself. I was only 13 (or 12?!) and was experiencing the start of getting mentally unwell, and the anger imherant in encroaching “womanhood”. What a stupid thing. A stupid thing especially because after the experimental scratches  (the reason I started self harming was because I’d read an article about how self harm was awful yada, but what I focused on was that they said it helped them when they were depressed) which got a, “What the fuck are you doing?” responses, I hid my self harm.  I was proving nothing to no-one, I was just getting deeper into a terrible coping mechanism for my mental health. And when it was discovered by my parents I was still self harming, they went mental, my mum especially. Having pleaded, cried and hidden all the razors, she kicked the crap out of me in angry fright.

I haven’t self harmed in years.  I have sometimes been close to it, but present enough in my mind where I can think about the pain, the embarrassment, the difficulty hiding.  Not the pain during- it rarely hurts during for me- but afterwards.  Of getting clothes on and wincing, fabric getting stuck and reopening the cuts like a zipper every time it needs to be torn off (every time, every day, every night), of crying from pain the bath and shower, of shrinking away from touch and not being able to stop myself yelling out if someone touches me, of trying to get into bed covering my cuts and being so ashamed of them I put pyjamas on that I have to peel off in the morning. The embarrassment of feeling like a dickhead, of people noticing and giving you that look (I’ve never gone to A&E for my self harm though on multiple occasions I should have. But I’ve heard enough stories of how shitty people are treated there to put up with the disfigurement and pain than to get myself help- I do not advise this and I wish I had gone sometimes). It was, to put it bluntly, a pain in the hole.

But the scars haven’t faded as much as I hoped they would. They’re still pretty severe, and there’s no way I can pass them off as anything other than what they are. There’s no hiding them if my sleeves are up. Crucially, most stupidly of all, I cut my face once, and I have little cat-whisker type scars on my cheeks. What a stupid fucking twat I was for doing that. Suffice to say, I was hardly thinking straight.  I was going through one of the worst times of my life, mentally. So I could let myself off the hook. But I can’t. Every time I look in the mirror, I think, “You stupid cow.  You’ve hated your face and your body all your life and you gave yourself a bloody good reason to”. Maybe that was half the point. I grew demented having body dysmorphic disorder but people telling me I’m beautiful. Liars, liars!  I *wanted* them to tell me I was hideous so I didn’t feel as if I were losing my mind. Well, here, you can’t keep lying to me now. Knowing, in retrospect, that my beliefs were quasi-delusional, makes me want to scream at myself even more for what I’ve done to my body.

Now it’s summer and the world is out in thin cotton dresses and short sleeves and I am, as usual, hoodied and cardiganed up in increasingly dark and dour clothes (having gained so much weight, I’ve completely lost my style, too. No idea how to dress myself at this weight. No money, either).  I have worn my sleeves up a few times outside, and in the garden.  I roll my sleeves up at work if I’m too hot (often, because I chronically overdress, and don’t feel comfortable or safe unless I’ve got a coat), which is progress.  But then again, I work at a mental health charity so you would expect them not to be shocked or discriminatory about self harm, which they aren’t.  No-one has ever commented and I’m sure I’m not the only one who works there who has self harm scars. But when my sleeves are up, I’m so aware of it, and so distracted by my own awareness that I tend to eventually roll them back down again.  When I was doing my nursing degree (I quit that last year- did I ever write about why? If not, maybe I will), I wanted to shrink into nothingness when I had my sleeves up.  When one nurse demanded of me when I was in a patients’ room with her (and the patient had taken a fucking overdose!), “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR ARMS?!” I wanted to disappear. I didn’t know what to say. I hated that, here was a patient and yet now because of my very visible marks of past distress, I’m the patient. One of my placement coordinators was also very rude about them and I felt humiliated. I have a good sense of humour- it’s my best defence- so responded in quips. But I felt like crying when she left the room.  Crying from shame and also anger.  Crying that for the rest of my life, I’m going to get comments on something which is as relevant now as an old leg break is. Permanent. Forever.

I’ve considered asking for surgery but they are too multiple, and it would leave me with new scars.  When I met another blogger who also self harms, she gave me some camouflage make up, which did a great job of hiding the colour (but not the texture). I may use it this summer. It’s not that I’m afraid of peoples’ reactions in the street (and you do get them), it’s the feeling of difference. My scar suit doesn’t suit anything. There’s nothing I can wear that makes me feel confident. Even with the (hot, itchy) make up, I know they’re under there.

I hate my scars. I think they’re ugly. I hate that when people see them, I can see their mind working. They’re filling in my past for me, and my future.  Abused, they think, unstable, they think, angry, they think, impulsive, they think, attention seeking, unsafe, unwanted, mental, violent, aggressive. They fill in the space where I’m standing with someone else.  Literally marked for life.  And it’s maddening.

It’s happened a lot with doctors and nurses, especially. Before I even open my mouth, they’re telling me my life story.   And I want to reply:

It’s one of the reasons why I find myself asserting all my little trappings of the Normal Person. LOOK, I’M MARRIED! SEE? FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP! We watch Netflix! We do boring bullshit together! I don’t just sit there whacking chunks of my arm while he plays a sad song on a cello in our dank basement! LOOK, I WORK FULL TIME! AND WORKING FULL TIME IS WHAT THE MENTAL HEALTH GATEKEEPERS SAY MEANS YOU’RE A NORMAL SHINY RECOVERED PERSON WHO HAS NO PROBLEMS AT ALL! I’m not going to eat your babies! I’m worthy of being treated like a human being!  etc.

Yeah, I hate them. If I could go back 15 years, I’d do two things.  One, I’d smack the first cigarette I smoked out of my paw and say that I’m going to regret inhaling that more than anything else I’ve ever done in my life, even if Dearbhail looks cool doing it. And two, I’d have become distracted by a cat or something when I picked up that article. I never stood a chance, though, given I was also a fanatical Manic Street Preachers fan. Then I’d have scrawled somewhere in the notes of the Holy Bible, “Look, Richey was brilliant, but he was fucking miserable and he went missing.  If you’re struggling to cope with your mental health, and all the trappings of adolescence that will make you hormonal and even more unstable and confused and looking for something to cling to, then take up a nice, socially acceptable way of coping, like drinking heavily.  And then, in 15 years time, you can look back and laugh at it all with your mum and da…



15 Responses

  1. I understand how you feel. My scars cover the entire length and breadth of my arms, stomach, thighs, calves, some on my neck and back of my hand (that was really dumb). There is no way I can look scar free unless I’m wearing full length sleeves and leg coverings.

    I used to be terribly ashamed, hated myself because of them. I still struggle with the act of selfharm. One night I was out with a friend and I reached for something and my sleeve slipped and a person I’d just met loudly exclaimed ‘what the fuck happened? There’s so many!’ I burst into tears and ran away.

    I then made a decision. I was no longer going to be ashamed. It was my past, no one else’s business but mine. I started getting tattoos symbolising hope and love on the worst affected areas. I started wearing short sleeves. I found that the less you were self conscious about them, the less people commented. I started making funny excuses for the marks, ‘I was playing chess with Captain Hook, he’s a sore loser’.

    I also decided that if someone couldn’t figure out what caused the marks, they didn’t deserve to be told.

    I hope you can learn to accept them as a part of you, it doesn’t make what happened ok or right, but it’s your past. They’re souvenirs of an old life. What’s important is you don’t do that anymore. What’s important is that you are alive.

  2. Wow – just wow – and love – lots of it xxxxxxx

  3. Can’t stop thinking about this post – I thought I’d better clarify my WOW comments as it could probably be read a few ways. I meant wow as in what an evocative piece of writing. I guess I really didn’t know what to say because I usually have some ‘wise’ words to try and help but as much as I can relate to the body hatred, and I did have this thing when I was 14/15 where I used to carve symbols in my arm but it never got past that. I’m really lucky that I didn’t go down that route.

    I feel completely self-conscious about my own body – no matter how much therapy or self-talking I do, it’s something buried very deep down and far as I’m concerned no amout of coaxing, PMA or feel the fear helps. I think I will always feel ugly and I ain’t got scars. However, I did like the lady’s comments above about the tattoos. I wish I could afford them as I would cover myself if I could. Maybe if you got some well placed tattoos – they may change the focus on that area – not just for anyone external but for yourself. Get something that you will get pleasure in looking at – the one tattoo I have so far is on my wrist – and seeing my son’s name there reminds me to keep it going for him when I visit the ‘dungeons’.

    Anyway I just wanted to express that though I don’t know how you feel – I totally get it and your shared experience helps me in some way deal with my own demons. Thank you for continuing to share after all these years – big love xxx

  4. you can often self refer to camouflage make up services for scarring (including self harm scarring) – used to be run by British Red Cross, now Changing faces but it’s not just for facial scarring. Once you get it matched to your skin can just order it on repeat prescription, it doesn’t solve the problem but makes can make a massive difference cosmetically. Definitely worth getting it properly matched

    • I tried that. It took months and months for them to get back to me and then lost my referral. I gave up in the end.

      • You might be able to get it without going through them – I know at the pharmacy I used to work at we had colour swatches, and at least one patient came in and picked from the swatches themselves and just told their doctor which one they needed, and then got it on prescription. (Or you can buy it direct from the pharmacy if your GP’s an arse about it, but it’s expensive as fuck) – Obviously this isn’t ideal, cause you have to figure out what you need yourself, but it might be worth a try.

        Anyway, just thought that was worth mentioning. Thanks for the post. I was getting upset today because of my scars, and worrying how I’m going to handle them this summer, I’m going on holiday with my parents and they don’t know I’ve self harmed, and I’m not sure how they’d react. Anyway, it helps to be reminded other people are handling this shit too, and feelings the same kind of feelings.

  5. Hey,
    I’m wearing Gauntlets (blame it on google translator if this word is wrong- I mean “legwarmers for the arms 😉 ) made of silk to hide my scars in public.
    Not because they’re ugly- because of the higher risk for skin cancer on scars

    Also- sometimes its just the fucking time to be who i am and to look how i look with this selfharm-marks and scars.
    Nobody has the right to blame me because i hated myself – hello? who’s the crazy then?

    You have the right to tell everybody: WRONG WRONG WRONG
    its called “self_harm” not: “oh please give me all your harm, years and years after ich harmed myself_harm” (uh- i hope you understand what i mean)

    best wishes

  6. Thank you for this post. I only have scars on my arms, and I was never ashamed of them earlier – although I did not want anyone to see new cuts as I felt that was too dramatic and too personal in some way. But my scars – I felt, and still feel som kind of proudness, or at least an accept of what I have experienced, and how I chose to express myself. I really see it as a way of expressing myself; expressing feelings for which I had no words at that time, and if I had, there were no one I could talk to, and if there were, I was so ashamed of feelings and my inner world that I couldn’t talk about these things anyway.

    So this was the only way for me to express myself, and I have been thinking about it as something that I had to do and I have respected myself for that. Until I started reading psychology. During my studies I slowly realised that this was a maladaptive coping strategy, and that my mentalizing skills probably were far below the average. Now, as I recently finished my studies and started working as a clinical psychologist, I don’t dare letting my colleagues seeing my scars. (Not my clients either, but that’s another story, I’m ok with that.) What I’m not ok with, is my sens of lack of freedom; the discrepancy between my own view of my scars and the feeling that I need to hide them because of the views and stances others (psychologists) might have. Maybe I have to do something about it…

    Thank you again for writing about scars, there is so much to think and say and feel about this.

  7. Thank you for this. My scars make me cry when I have to get dressed, when they itch, when I catch sight of them in the shower. I feel like I have to overcompensate for them by making sure people know how “normal” my life is now. I wish I could make them go away.

  8. Thank you for writing all that you write. I only discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have been back-reading. When I came across a photograph of your arms that you had posted quite a while ago, I burst into tears, not because of the pain that you had clearly sustained, but because they were the arms of a woman who is STILL ALIVE.

    And I know you may be sick of hearing it… but you are, you are, you ARE so incredibly beautiful. And you are ALIVE.

  9. Great blog, Just found your blog through other blogrolls. I was looking up self-harm/mutilation and stuff. As I have a sibling who suffers from It. You’re an inspiration because you obviously found blogging these stuff out to be an therapeutic outlet. Thanks.

  10. I feel your pain. I recently moved back in with my parents and am having to hide my scars as they don’t know about them. Sometimes the stress of it makes me feel suicidal.

  11. I understand and can relate. I’ve never been able to relate to others’ feelings on their scars, but mine are extensive and it makes me regret my past even more. If anything, it might give me the slightest urge to move beyond my past, but the emotions involved are anything but positive. And a hot summer only makes it worse. I hope that you ate doing well.

  12. […] Filed beneath: Mental health Tagged: Body Dysmorphic Disorder, self harm The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive […]

  13. […] Filed underneath: Mental health Tagged: Body Dysmorphic Disorder, self harm The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive […]

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