As someone who used to engage in self-harming behaviour I am now left with marks all over my body, marks which will remain on my body for the rest of my life. These marks were once something which I looked forward to seeing, something which I felt I needed in order to get through the day and something which I wanted but now, now this is not the case and these marks are for life.
I try very hard not to let my past define but it is hard, how can I not let it define me when the pain and suffering which I experienced is written all over my body in the form of scars? Lines from my knees to my hips, from my stomach to my chest and from my wrists to my shoulders. Lines which symbolise a time in my life where I experienced nothing but pain, I struggled to see the good in each day and a time when I was ready to take my own life in the hope of finding some peace and removing myself as a burden to my family.
These lines aren’t just any lines, it’s clear they are scars and it is clear that they are scars from self-harming, I can’t hide that fact, it is obvious what they are! But I’m letting them control me, I am letting my past keep me from moving on. For fear of being judged and ridiculed I hide my scars as much as possible but I can’t hide them for the rest of my life. Yeah from time to time I will wear a t-shirt without long sleeves, when I’m competing in athletics I will wear my singlet without sleeves and if I am too warm I may roll up my sleeves or take off my jumper but then things get awkward. Then people begin to stare and it is clear what they are staring at. I try hard not to let it get to me but it is hard, very hard. What’s even harder than dealing with judging me and staring at me is knowing when it is ok to not cover my scars. I question wheatear its ok for children to see my scars, it is ok for me to expose young people to self-harm so early in life, even if they are not aware of what the scars are from? And is it ok that I am lying to them when they ask what they are should they see them?
When I volunteer with an organisation and even in my job I am usually open and honest about my previous self-harming behaviour and two out of the three organisations I volunteer with have told me not to tell anybody who asks that it was self-harm. Is this right? I know that really young children will not understand self-harm and for my own benefit more than theirs I usually make up a story nut for older children, for young people, for people who know what it’s from should I really avoid using the term self-harm? Should I make up a story? It’s like I’m being forced to be ashamed of my past, like it’s something to be hidden and if I continue to hide it am I not feeding into the stigma surrounding mental health? And it’s more than just being ashamed or feeding into the stigma it’s the lying about what my scars are from. I spent most of my teenage years hiding my scars and cuts and lying about my self-harm and I don’t want to go back to those old habits and again it goes beyond that, it’s the trust I have built up with young people and to lie straight to their face, what kind of youth worker does that make me?
I still have a long way to go in fully accepting my scars but being told not to admit to what has caused my scars limits me that bit more from accepting them. I understand the damaging effects a person seeing scars like mine can have should they be experiencing self-harm but when I look at myself, when I move beyond all my scars and really look deep down I see what I have accomplished, how far I’ve come and I see that I didn’t let my mental illness and self-harming destroy my life completely and I see that I gained back control. Sometimes I feel if a young person can see I came out the other side then it’s worth not covering my scars, even if it only gives them a glimpse of hope that things can and really do get better.