My body comes with a trigger warning – Self harm and stigma

Hello!  I wrote a blog for Mind on self harm,  stigma and conflicting messages.

“Stigma” has two meanings. One is religious- they’re the literal marks on the hands of Christ at the crucifixion, and then bestowed upon those whom were holiest- and by extension, those who suffered the most. The other is social- a mark of disgrace. Self harm is both. It is highly stigmatised in society and within the health system, and it is a mark of suffering.

Suffering only has cache if it’s quiet, or, “dignified”. If you make people uncomfortable with your suffering, then there’s stigma. And therein lies the rub.

How do you combat stigma on something that makes other people uncomfortable?

How do you say people who self harm should be treated with kindness when their bodies are seen as attacks on others, to say that self harm shouldn’t be a problem hidden in the dark, when we do exactly that by not allowing representations of self harm?

I just have scars now. They’re very noticeable but also very faded.

Recently, I had a baby. In the postnatal ward, a midwife wrote that I was sitting on the bed holding my baby, “scars on arms”. That’s six year old self harm scars, as relevant to my medical history as a broken leg, and yet so very present, because they were, on a hot stuffy ward, visible. That’s what I was reduced to- “scars on arms”, the loving arms holding my newborn son, the arms of a new mother, a person, exhausted, elated, and ordinary.

If you’d like to rest the read,  it lives here.

3 Responses

  1. A brilliant blog on a difficult subject.

  2. That was a great post. Like you, I self-harmed from childhood (6/7?) into my late twenties. It kept me alive, it was an outlet for stress that was cheap, it was quick, and it gave me a smidge of control. Control that I didn’t have.

    Disclosure is Hell. 12 years ago I disclosed, to one of my closest friends. She was shocked, you’d think I’d confessed to killing puppies. We stayed good friends, but I wished I’d kept the sleeves on, and the scars under wraps

    People who’ve never wanted for anything don’t get what poverty does to you, how it seeps into your pores. People who’ve never experienced depression or mental illness, who’ve never felt consumed by the inky blackness of utter despair, trivialise MI and see it as a failing, a weakness. Those two factors colliding can just wreck you, make you feel like you’re drowning in front of someone who doesn’t know what water is, and how deep it can drag you.

    The following year things changed. I was in a house share (renting a room from someone who was just awful on so many levels!) and working. I met a fab woman online, we had everything in common, spookily so! We had the same health issues, upbringings, and class consciousness. She was funny like me, had similar interests, and crucially – she had a history of depression too.

    The second date ended… um.. the next day ☺. In the morning light I noticed scars on her arms. I was simultaneously elated and devastated because she would get me, but it broke my heart (even that early) that someone so wonderful should know that pain. I fell asleep with a huge weight lifted. The same thing happened when she woke up, saw my skin and the story it told, and was saddened by that.

    She saved me. I was still a recently active self harmer (within that last 4 months) but she’d not done it for 15 years. She said “Never feel like you have to hide anything. You own your own body and if cutting eases your pain then go for it, but try and use clean, sharp equipment, and stay as present as you can. If you go too far and need help let me know so that I can help you out, and don’t ever feel ashamed, don’t be scared to tell me, I will never, ever judge you for it. I moved in officially after 3 months (lunofficially after that second date, lesbian cliché alert!) and 11 years later here we are.

    I haven’t cut since. I’ve done some hair-pulling and skin-picking, ‘cos OCD+depression and anxiety = huge tension., but she’s still supportive and empathic. She started wearing half-sleeved tops, and went swimming for the first time in twenty years, knowing that she had the strength and determination of us both to be able to show her skin. I was, and am, very proud of her, because I know how hard that is.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope, maybe vainly, that one day we’ll be treated with understanding and compassion, instead of suspicion and derision.

    Sending hugs to you and yours, especially your gorgeous baby. We got a shock in June when my wife’s niece had a surprise baby. She’s in her late twenties, but has PCOS, so having a podgy tummy and no period was normal! Our new great niece is just fantastic, and I hope that your baby and ours (you’d think she was our kid, we’re so enamoured of her) grow up in a world where mental illness is given the same treatment as diabetes or asthma, where the stigma and judgement are replaced with understanding and genuine offers of help. I want to make that a reality for them, and for all the future children and adults touched by mental illness.

    BTW – I wrote a much longer comment but I snipped it because there’s some deeply personal stuff in it that I don’t feel comfortable spilling in public. I think you get to see commented email addresses, and I’m more than happy to share it with you, so give me a shout if you’d like to read it.

  3. […] Source: My body comes with a trigger warning – Self harm and stigma […]

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