Trigger warning: The following column contains discussions on self-harm, which some readers may find distressing.
I self-harmed for years. It started with my hips. I would wait until everyone in the house was asleep, to take out the tools I would use to harm myself. I was fifteen and I had an eating disorder. Bulimia. I was so poorly that my lung ended up collapsing as vomit got stuck in my chest cavity. I was so mentally unwell that the only way I felt like I could take control over my life — because bulimia made it feel like it was spiralling — was to self-harm.
Even after my recovery, I continued to harm myself. When I was 20, it all made sense. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a disorder where lots of people with the diagnosis use self-harm as a coping mechanism.
I’ve always felt things deeply. Things that hurt me really hurt. And when I love, I really love. My emotions can be hard to control when things are really difficult. I’ve used self-harm as a way of coping. It’s not that I wanted to hurt myself — more that the feeling of doing it when I was in the middle of a bad episode was a way to calm me down due to the dissociation associated with it.
I no longer self-harm. I channel my urges differently. I use mental health medication as a way of coping, and if I feel an urge, I try to distract myself. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve come a long way and have learned how to better cope when things are hard. That doesn’t mean I’m fully recovered or that I’ve mastered mental illness. Of course not. Sometimes, things are truly, honestly, awful. But I’ve found there are things that help me to vent in other ways — such as writing, and cuddling my baby. To be honest, the main reason I don’t self-harm anymore is because of him. I don’t ever want him to see mummy hurting.
I’m discussing self-harm in this column because it’s being talked about on social media a lot right now, because it’s summer. And, because it’s a truly important subject. People are out in short tops and dresses and shorts, and therefore, people who have scars might not be hiding them anymore. And that includes me.
I used to hide mine — I’d wear long sleeves even in blazing heat just to protect myself from questions. I’ve long felt ashamed of my scars and embarrassed. Going out in short sleeves was a no-go for me, because I didn’t want to have to explain my history — especially not to people I didn’t know very well.
This is the conversation being had on Twitter right now. Mental health advocates are rightly urging people to stop and think before asking sensitive and inappropriate questions in regards to scars — whether that be from self-harm or otherwise. And rightly so.
Asking someone about their scars, especially when it is obvious what they are from, is rude, insensitive and ignorant. While many might not see that way, I do. And this is because, by doing this, you are asking about someone’s personal life. Scars are personal. And it should be up to the person who has them to decide when they are ready to talk about it — and if they are ever ready (which is completely valid if not).
Talking about the history of your scars can be painful. And when you’re feeling empowered enough to ditch the long sleeves, the last thing you want is to wish you hadn’t.
People might stare. And if they do, that’s on them. The bottom line is that we know our scars are there — and staring at them won’t make them go away.
When you ask someone about their scars, you are asking someone to open up and to be vulnerable with you, at a time when they might not want to do that — and at times that are often inappropriate. This is not okay. It can lead you right back to those feelings of shame that you’ve worked so hard to not let hold you back anymore.
And so, I’m asking everyone who reads this, to not comment on people’s scars this summer — or ever.
You have no idea the strength it can take a person to ditch the long sleeves and trousers and to wear something that they have *really* wanted to wear for ages, but hadn’t because they were ashamed of their scars.
If you feel the urge to ask someone about their scars, take a step back and think about how you’d like it. Think about how you might make someone feel. Think about the steps it might have taken to have them on display.
These three questions are vital.
Please let us just enjoy this summer, these moments, and our bodies in the clothes we want to wear.
And please, don’t put us in uncomfortable positions for the sake of being nosey.