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…





Who are you?  Tell me a little bit about yourself.  Even if you don’t normally comment, and even if you do.  I know I’m toss at responding to comments but I do read them.  And I wonder where you’re all from.  Where do you live, do you like films, what’s your background, how has your day been?

It would be good to hear from you out there, in the great beyond.

I’m Seaneen, by the way, aged twenty seven standing four foot eleven inches high in my stockinged feet, , with a penchant for flamboyant men and equally flamboyant women.  My lifetime’s ambition is to out-sarcastic Charlie Brooker in a TV-watching competition.  My favourite films are the nigh on stock student response- Brazil, Withnail and I and Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.  I also love Bedazzled, the original Cook and Moore version, not the godawful Crazy Frog lookalike Brandon Fraser’s version.  I want to watch Gaslight again and I’m very fond of Blithe Spirit.  In general, though, it’s music, comedy and books that tickle my fancy and I really don’t have much to say about films.

Please carry on talking to me here so that I may be deliciously nosey about you all and compile a dossier about you on my return.  For all those suffering from paranoid psychosis out there, I mean YOU.

Operation You Make Me Sick

I spent a good hour on the phone this afternoon to an eating disorder charity, Beat. I initially rang them to ask one simple question- “If I begin eating again, will I gain weight?” The answer was, “Maybe to begin with you’ll gain a few pounds as your body adjusts”. Looking down at my bruised and scarred knuckles, I felt my stomach plummet into my shoes. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted.

My knuckles roughly look like this, on a scanner at least:


There’s a bruise there, under my forefinger, and those scratches and scars are due to abrasions from my teeth. My hands feel very rough as I scrub them often.

Time ticks on, and the elephant in the room is about to “Ta da!”

There is one thing I do every day that I never discuss.

I have a serious eating disorder. And I have to say something about it to a professional. So far, I have backed out of mentioning it. For a year and a half of being cared for by the community mental health team, I have mentioned it maybe twice, then immediately dismissed it. On Thursday, I have my first meeting with the team psychotherapists.

Oh, I know I have an eating disorder. Every body has an eating disorder. I don’t know very many people who don’t agonise over every scrap of food that goes into their mouth. Who don’t say, “I feel bad eating this” as they nibble a biscuit, who are afraid of putting sugar in their tea, who eat their lunches self consciously in suicidal offices, buying a salad, but they wanted a sandwich.

It’s all very cloak and dagger. I’ve come up with some ridiculous lies as to why I can’t eat that and why I need to throw up right now, so that when I return from the toilet (in public places, disabled toilets are a godsend) I can just smile apologetically and eat a mint rather than rub soap all up my arms and inside my fingers and chin, panicked about the smell. I’ve had so many mysterious tummy bugs, I can’t count them on one calloused hand. Rob found out recently that I had been lying to him.

He is worried about me. He is very worried about me. We have lots of pleading conversations in which I promise to try. I did not realise until recently that this had stopped being something I had a handle on. I have totally lost control. It is an automatic reflex. I don’t binge eat. In fact, when I do eat (and it is rarely), I eat very healthily. But even that is not good enough. I throw it up anyway. My trying lasted three horrible days. During those three days, I took laxatives. I have to get them from two different chemists after my usual place began asking questions. Why would I need two packs in three days?

It is panic. Pure panic when I eat. I feel it clogging up in my blood stream. I feel it attaching itself to my flesh, making me fatter. For about two months, I was on a meal replacement diet. I thought it would make me better. I thought it would be so controlled that my old habits would disappear. They didn’t. It has become so much worse.

I have lost weight- I am 8st 12lbs now, as opposed to the 12 stone I was at the beginning of the year. I know this because I have two sets of scales that I weight myself on at least seven times a day. I haven’t really been on that diet since April. On, then off, then on. Alternating between drinking shakes and then eating and throwing up. One is safe, the other is safer.

I love the fact that people tell me how nice I look. I hate the fact that I can see absolutely no difference in myself. Rob thinks that I never will. Another conquered thing, I thought, was body dysmorphic disorder. Because I wear less make up these days. Because I go out in daylight.

It is not.

I think about my appearance and my weight constantly. I am in a state of paranoia and panic twenty four hours a day. I can’t watch most films because the actresses are so much more beautiful than me. I can’t look some of my friends in the eye. I am back to self harming. I tremble as I pass people in the street, silently praying that they won’t remark on my appearance. I am The Monster. I will always be the monster. I am still torn up inside by self hatred that refuses to diminish. I could be the most successful writer in the universe and I don’t think one shred of it would shimmy way. It is as though it is threaded into my veins.

Of all the things I am ashamed of, I am most ashamed of this.

I’ve never considered my eating disorder to be serious. I’m not thin. I’m not even underweight. To me, that marked “serious”. Me, I’m fat. You’d never guess I had an eating disorder by looking at me. You’d probably assume that I ate to much. You’d probably assume that I was going back to my lair armed with donuts. I could go to a forum and talk there, but I’d feel like they could sense through the screen that I was fat, that I didn’t belong there.

The woman on the phone said, “It is serious. You are seriously ill”.

“No, I’m not. I’m not ill, it’s not serious. I’m not thin”.

“You are doing so much damage to your body. Damage you can’t see. You’re going to end up in hospital”.

I see the logic. I say I don’t know why I’m exhausted and can barely walk half a mile. But I know why. I know what I’m doing to myself.

I throw up about three times a day. I throw up normal amounts of food. I don’t binge.

The lining of my throat bleeds. It hurts to swallow.

My teeth are rotting out of my head.

I have so little energy. The lack of physical energy is at odds with my overt mental, slightly manic energy at the moment. It is killing me.

I can’t have sex. I don’t have the energy. I get exhausted after walking half a mile. I don’t have the energy.

I am having heart palpitations. I am getting breathless.

During the times I have tried to eat solids and not throw up, my body’s reflex was to gag, and I would throw up over myself.

I feel dizzy all the time.

I strongly suspect, and so does Rob, that I have developed anemia.

My rationale goes like this:

I don’t care. I’m fat.

But you’re going to end up sick.

I don’t care. I’m fat. If I stop doing this, I will become fatter.

And I hate myself for the fear that puts into me.

As if I need any more problems. I am already contending with manic depression.

The woman on the phone said I had an illness. I never considered that I did. Not bulimia.

She gave me the number of some places that could help me. I do not know if I’m ready.

I hate smelling of sick and I hate, more than anything, what it is doing to Rob. How we can’t enjoy anything because I am so paranoid about my looks. No lovely meals out because it’s a waste of money. I just throw it up. I like food. I want to enjoy food. I want to enjoy something in my life because manic depression has stripped me of that. It should not be minutes or hours, it should be days, weeks, months, years. I hate the sad look on Rob’s face when he realises that I have only been lifted for a moment, and there is hideousness swirling in my head.

My first therapy meeting is on Thursday, after a year and half of saying nothing.

I have to say something. And I am terrified.

What if she looks at me and thinks I’m lying? I’m fat.

What is she thinks I’m vain? I’m ugly.

What if she thinks I’m an attention seeker? I am covered in self harm scars.

It is trivial, it is vain.

Hannah brings it up, I dismiss it. I am scared. It means admitting to it in front of another human being. And it means I will not be allowed to continue anymore. It means that someone else is in control. And that is already the case, with the medications, the psychiatrists, not being able to drink, having to sleep. My whole life is ticked and measured week by week. The pressure to be well, to get better, to be insightful and helpful when sometimes all I want to do is retire to self abandonment, it is incredible and it is constant.

This is all so frightening to me.

But I’m looking at my knuckles again. I have no choice. There are so many mental mechanisms that are trying to kill me. And I know, deep down, this is one of them. I just can’t have another conversation with Rob where he pleads with me, and where I do nothing, where I confess that he can do nothing.

I have to do something about this.

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