You know how they say you can’t smell your own perfume, so you have to careful now to wear too much? I feel a bit like that about my body. Specifically, my scars.
I’ve lived with the damage for so long that I cannot judge how severe it is. Mostly, I don’t think about my scars at all. They’re not a consideration in dressing anymore. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of what they may signify. I usually find any rudeness engendered by my patchwork skin says more about the observer than the observed.
However, every once on a blue moon I have a moment. Often it’s my own doing. I catch sight of my reflection at an unusual angle or change under different lighting and I’m shocked. Horrified maybe. Not so much at my appearance as the fact that I did this to myself.
More rarely it’s as a result of another’s extreme reaction. A gasp or frightened look stirs much more than judgemental comments. When my battle scars scare others it stirs the old guilty feelings.
In either case it is doubt that knocks my confidence. I find it impossible to determine if my body is hideous or merely slightly disfigured. Without a clear grasp of what I have done I feel adrift. It takes me back to my days in the self harm trenches; never knowing how serious a wound was. Unable to grasp onto any equilibrium.
Am I a dramatic fool over nothing or inflicting horror on innocent parties? And which would be worse? The uncertainty shakes me. I feel an imposter. For all my proclamations of body confidence there are times when my self inflicted seams run deep.
I’m stuck in a moment right now. I fight the urge to hide. Steal myself against thoughts of splitting those seams open. It’ll pass. In the meantime I’ll have the long sleeve weather to regain my surety.
Today is self injury awareness day. I’ll be honest I’m fairly jaded about awareness days. Especially those of the mental health variety. Too often they seem to me to be highlighting the wrong things. Today hasn’t broken the mold. Almost everything I have read in relation to self injury awareness day (SIAD) has focused on the usual stereotypes. Some have just missed the point entirely. So, I have decided to share a little of what goes on in the head of a person who is hurting themselves Specifically, this person.
I don’t fit the stereotypes. I didn’t hurt myself as a teen. I wasn’t bullied & had a picture perfect childhood. I was never desirous of attention or seeking care in the form of dressings & kind medical professionals (ha!). I’m not stupid or dangerous or crazy. I have fought this battle as an articulate, independent adult. I’ve hidden wounds & scars through university & work alike. I kept a secret shrouded in stigma. Constantly confronted with the idea that my problem was one that should only face little girls. Shamed by the opinion that I am an incompetent drama queen.
I am none of the above. Rather, I am woman who suffered trauma that altered my life. In the depths of anguish I stumbled upon a solution; a maladaptive survival technique. An act sought out to gain control when I felt powerless. Lamentably, my source of control rapidly overtook me & established dominion. Self harm is so complicated. It’s scope is different for each individual. For me, it become all encompassing. My daily thoughts circled around if/when I would cut. Being proficient was paramount. Every cut had to be ‘better’ than the last; I sought deeper wounds, more blood, more damage, more more. Self harm entangled itself into my identity.
Admitting that & asking for help felt like relinquishing part of my self. Not only was I facing the loss of self harm, but also the strong, capable parts of myself that made me feel worthy. Admitting that I could no longer cope was the most vulnerable I have ever been. Believe me when I saw that to face stigma & prejudice in that state is crushing. To gather all your courage to tell a therapist the ugly truth & be faced with a ‘just stop’ attitude is soul destroying. Equally dragging your blood soaked self to a&e only to be treated with disgust can break a person. That the is the problem I & many others most need addressed.
I believe SIAD should be about acknowledging the complexity of the issue. We should be focusing on changing the attitudes within the medical profession. Yes, let’s educate our communities about mental illness, but let’s also change the entrenched attitudes within the institutions that have the power to destroy lives. The worst stigma I have faced has been from dr’s & nurses who ought to have known better. Stigma is never positive, but I’ll take a hundred ignorant strangers over one cruel dr. Being unable to safely access treatment can kill. We need to take the fight to that front line.