Disclaimer: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the NL 24 Hour Crisis Line at 1-888-737-4668.
I’m not open about my scars.
For as dedicated and vocal I am about battling my mental health issues and reciting the stories of the rough roads I have faced over the last seven years, very rarely do I ever talk about the scars left behind. More often than not, I tend to brush over the aftermath of the wounds my PTSD have left behind, instead focussing on the silver lining of my pain, the positive healing that I have experienced.
While part of me knows this is because the remnants of my scars can be easily overlooked, there are also “scars” that are not as noticeable that would immediately make someone jump to conclusions. There are scars from my illness that didn’t raise red flags to friends and loved ones for years.
And even though my scars are something I tend to cover (both figuratively and literally), it is an aspect of my life that I also had to learn to accept, a dark part of my illness that tend to make many others look the other way.
Maybe it’s because a small part of me is still afraid of the hurtful stigma that is attached to that aspect of living with a mental health issue. Part of me doesn’t want to be shuffled into that specific “box”. I didn’t want to be constantly referred to as a “wrist cutter”, or that depressed teenager who was “only looking for attention”.
I’ve heard it all before, which only furthered my desire to keep my scars as hidden for as long as possible.
When old friends didn’t believe me or the circumstances I was going through, they still continued to mutter those words under their breaths with judgemental glares. Not that I can truly blame those fair-weather people, because I was that stereotypical, cliché depressed teenager who blared Linkin Park and My Chemical Romance, and whatever other music blatantly mirrors the words to the hurt aching in my heart.
Regardless, the pain didn’t stop, and neither did my desire to find ways to make it “not hurt” even for a little while. Attention whore? No. Desperate? Yes.
Despite being on the road to recovery seven years later, the harsh truth is still this: I have self-harmed. I self-harmed for many, many years. And while it was something that was more dominant during my teenage years, I self-harmed myself well into my mid-twenties, even after my PTSD diagnosis.
And while the scars left behind tell dark tales and recount haunting memories from a past I am still trying to recover from, my mind doesn’t instantly go to that dark place every time I look at them. On the bad days, yes, it’s easy to rub my fingers over the white jagged lines on my body and feel nothing but pain, but now… now it’s about counting the wins. It’s about totalling the days I kept fighting and surviving.
It started with the hateful words I scribbled into my nightly journal when I was 12 and 13: Worthless. Coward. You shouldn’t have been born. Just kill yourself. No one likes you. No one would miss you. Everyone would be better off if you weren’t around. I took these manipulative words that my father recited to me on a daily basis and started treating them like my own personal mantra. It was the first invisible scar that was left behind, a lesion to my brain that would forever remain.
The first of many invisible scars.
The small, diagonal white scar on my right wrist? That was my failed suicide attempt at 14 years-old, where I sat on my father’s ugly bathroom floor and tried to use a knife to end my life. I was almost caught, so I was quick to scramble to cover it up.
“Nan’s cat scratched me…again.”
Still, the first of many physical scars to litter my tanned skin.
The constant scratches against my shins; deep red lines and scabbed over cuts? These were scars left behind by another panic attack, where I tore at my skin until I drew blood, to remind myself that I was still living even when I couldn’t breathe.
Maybe they didn’t leave jagged white lines against my skin, but still they are scars.
That small bald patches people noticed when I pinned my hair up in a buckle or hair clip? You can blame my PTSD for that one; when muddled thoughts or viscous flashbacks recounted things I tried to repress for years. It felt like my skull was going to explode, and I was pulling out my own hair from gripping my head so hard.
But again, easy to cover up.
“The flux in my hormones during my period cause hair loss.”
“I think I’m having thyroid issues. I know, I know! I should go to the doctor.”
The greenish bruises that littered my forearms and my thighs? You can thank the anxiety for those; from gripping myself so hard when I was trying to stop myself from being triggered into another fight-or-flight response from the constant stress my body was under. And on the really bad days, these bruises would be paired with dented half-moons in my skin, to the point that I had to start cutting my nails down to the skin because too many people were noticing.
“Bumped into a table.”
“Tripped on the stairs.”
“Got too rough playing dodgeball.”
And Lord knows what kind of scars are riddling my insides from consuming countless pills over the years. How many bottles of Ativan would I go through in a month? All the painkillers I consumed when I just wanted to feel numb? Or the countless migraine pills I took so I could just fall asleep, so I could have one night without waking myself up screaming from the vivid night terrors of my past.
These are scars even I can’t see, but I’m sure the black bags under my eyes gave clues.
And yet, despite these scars being forever permanent, they don’t just have to tell of the dark days I faced with my mental illness.
The nasty names I called myself? I was just a young girl who didn’t yet know how strong she really was.
The scar on my right wrist? It was the awakening of finally realizing that my life shouldn’t be a reenactment of the movie Thirteen.
The same goes for the rest of the scars that are hidden across my skin. The white lines on my ribs, just below my right breast, and the ones on my thighs? Despite knowing how unhealthy it was, my mind (unfortunately) knew this: This is not okay, but it will ease the pain for a little bit.
The claw marks constantly marked on my shins? Still not okay, but it was my mind’s way of attempting to “get out of my skin” to escape the pain.
The bald patches? They’re few and far between now (Plus, it hurts too much when you have thick hair.). Besides, it is always important for me to remember this when I do slip: It’s just hair. It will grow back.
The bruises? They’ve been replaced with hugging my husband (or my best friend), who both gently pull my fingers from my skin when I feel that old fear seep back in, and just hold me tightly. Also, I’ve started playing my guitar again, so it helps having to keep my nails short.
Consuming pills? Thankfully, I’ve never let my dark thoughts convince me to swallow full bottles. And maybe that’s also the silver lining to the small scar on my wrist. It reminds me that I really don’t want to end my life, and that this too shall pass. While some days I do still need more than one Ativan pill to come down from a panic attack, I know not to numb myself into oblivion. And on the really bad days, I have dumped the pills down the drain (Sorry, Mother Earth.) as not to be tempted.
So yes, I have self-harmed, and have continued to harm myself even when I knew it was wrong. These were the hardest days for me to overcome. These were the hardest habits to break. Learning to find new outlets for pain (like writing), learning that you don’t need to hurt to feel alive or find relief – those were the hardest lessons my illness have taught me over the years.
Am I still an attention whore now?
Because we should never fault others for their self-harm scars, or the attempts they have made on their lives, or for blaming them for finding unfortunate ways to release the pain they’ve kept hidden inside. Judging others for their scars is not helpful, for I’m sure they judge themselves too. (I know I do sometimes.) And for the most part, we know these were not sound decisions made or healthy habits to create. We know we have done wrong, but when you have no support, nor have the help needed to get better, how are we to be blamed for finding something – anything! – to stop the pain? Even if was only temporary.
So the next time to see someone who has self-harm scars, please ask yourself this before your brain immediately goes to “attention whore”: What’s their story? What kind of pain or hurt are they suffering from that their only solution was the create more pain? And do you have a right to make that judgement?
Because let me tell you this, no one has the right to judge.
And for those of you who still tend to judge self-harm scars, remember this: To you they may tell dark tales, but to that person, their scars are another battle they fought and survived.
Trying to fight another day when living with a mental health issue? That’s the real victory.
Besides, no fighter ever comes out of a battle unscathed.
So yes, there are scars left behind from the pain of my past and through battling my mental health issues.
And even though I don’t talk about these scars often, I’m not ashamed of them.
For my scars tell my story.
I’m still here.
I’m still fighting.
And as always,
Fight the good fight!
September 10th, 2018 is
World Suicide Prevention Day