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…