Monday, 12 February 2018

Living with Scars & Stigma

Disclaimer - This post heavily talks about Self-Harm, Scars and the Stigma surrounding Mental Illness and can be triggering, please don't read if you're feeling vulnerable as the last thing I want is to have a negative effect on your well-being.

When we were young, we were told to love ourselves and to accept our imperfections as they are what makes us unique. When we got ill, we were told to learn to live with our illnesses without being defined by them. When we got older, we grew up accepting tattoos as they can make us unique and they are a piece of art. It takes time to change stigma and it takes time to change people's viewpoints and we have to remember that not everybody grew up in a world where tattoo's were accepted and talking about mental health was inspirational and courageous. But in today's society, people of all generations are getting tattoo's and have learnt to live with the idea that everybody has their own interests, hobbies and personalities. We have all grown to admire the idea of individuality so why are all of these things so easily accepted, forgiven and forgotten yet mental health is still a very taboo subject. Thankfully, the stigma around Mental Illness is getting better, day by day and year by year but there is still one big aspect that hasn't quite been addressed and accepted yet, which is Scars; not just scars because single scars can be seen as a sign of bravery and being fearless, they may tell a story of a time where that person had an accident, an operation, or even brought a new life into the world. Despite all this, I can't get my head around the common thought process that Scars that were formed from Self Harm are often seen as not pleasant, attention seeking and a sign of weakness. What baffles me even more, is how quite a large amount of people in today's society feels that due to the fact that there are numerous scars, they have the right to comment on them and ask questions about them even though they are most likely very aware of what caused them.

I am sick of people trying to be sympathetic when in reality they can come across as patronising, I am fed up of people asking me pointless questions and making statements like "didn't that hurt?" - Yes it did, that was sort of the point, "they're quite bad" - Yes I am also aware of that, and no I wasn't thinking rationally when I did it so I didn't think about the consequences, "are you still crazy?" - I wasn't crazy in the first place, just poorly so I don't think i'll be answering that question, "do you still do it?" - you're a stranger so what do you expect me to say? "But you're a pretty girl" - I have heard this time and time before, just because you feel that someone is attractive, doesn't mean that they avoid all bad things within the world and thank-you for making me feel even more insecure, "will they go?" - No, they wont so it would be good if I could stop getting questioned by multiple people every time I wear short sleeves.

I find it so odd because at home and around my close family, short sleeves is all I wear, I am still me, I am still a human being and I am still a part of their family. My family are so used to my scarred body that they don't even notice anymore, they just have accepted me for who I am, what I went through and supported me through my illness, despite it breaking their hearts. On the other hand, when I go out in public, it is a rare occasion that I will wear just short sleeves, it's not something that I am comfortable and confident in doing, especially around people I don't know. At work, despite all of the staff being aware, I will only wear long sleeves because I am so self-conscious of my scars, I don't want questions from customers and I am worried that people will complain that it is disgusting and putting them off their food because we live in such a divided community when it comes to Self Harm. Even the people who don't say a word, but proceed to stare, thinking that I haven't noticed, I am very aware of you staring at my scars, it is making me self conscious and it is bothering me about what you might be thinking.

Don't get me wrong, I can completely understand people not wanting to see Self Harm wounds as they can be disturbing, triggering and not pleasant. But when it comes to having fully healed scars that I have to live with for the rest of my life, scars that might fade a bit more but wont ever disappear, scars that leave permanent dents and bumps in my skin and scars that will only not be noticeable if I have tattoo cover-ups or operations, I have a right to wear short sleeves on warm, sunny days without feeling self-conscious of people staring and without worrying that someone will say something and make me doubt myself. It would be nice if people would try to be a bit more sensitive and understanding of the topic. Some stranger belittling me into feeling that showing my scars is wrong cannot change the fact that I have scars, they cannot magically make them disappear.

I have seen the fear in an older lady's face after seeing my scars, she might have been wondering if I was going to hurt her, considering that I am clearly capable of hurting myself, she could have been thinking how if I was around when she was a little girl, I would have been thrown into an asylum where I would rot away into nothing. I have experienced so many young children being genuinely intrigued about my scars, how they got there and what happened and I have had to hope that they will firstly, not end up in a position where they are self-harming and secondly, prepare for that one day where they find out about self-harm and it will click in their brains that they've seen it before but didn't know what it was, I dread the future conversations between myself and younger relatives when they know all about my scars and are sad to find out what really caused them but I can only have faith that maybe their generation will grow up without the stigma, more understanding and are able to help people who carry scars, feel confident within their own skin and to not be ashamed. I have witnessed doctors becoming queasy when fixing my wounds, I have seen nurses become squeamish over the sight of a wound that I did to my own body, I have been refused numbing anesthetic because I did this to myself, so why would a bit more pain make any difference? There is such a misunderstanding surrounding self harm and scars, they are seen as bad when at the end of the day, when we're recovered, we'll look down to our scars and they'll remind us that we are brave, we are strong and we deserve to wear our scars with pride instead of with guilt, shame and negativity.

I think one of the scariest things within today's society, alongside the stigma is the confusion and worry on some people's faces when they see my scars, I have been asked how I ended up with scars so big and so wide, how I managed to do it and that they didn't think that it could be a possibility to willingly slice down to fat, muscle and veins. I actually have a phobia of blood and veins, but whenever I tell someone close to me this, they laugh which is understandable. I am always asked how and why my self harm got so severe, so quickly when in reality, everyone saw my self harm as severe when my wounds were classed as superficial. It took under a year for my self harm to be classed as scratches, that I could easily blame on the cat or a fall to cause it to a drastic change of wide, exposing wounds that required immediate medical attention. Self Harm can escalate extremely quickly, I was oblivious to how severe it could actually become until it happened to me. I was naive and I wish more than anything, that I had someone to educate me on how serious it could become, on how even if I didn't want to believe it, I will be someone who spends a lot of their time in the A&E waiting room, waiting for my wounds to be put back together. If only I had known how quickly this coping mechanism would spiral out of control, I could have prevented it from getting worse and saved my skin a lot of damage.

One day we wont be surrounded by stigma and shame, but we have to do it together. When you feel confident in wearing short sleeves, then go for it because the more of us who come out of hiding, the more people will understand and hopefully it'll eventually disappear and we wont be made to feel like we're doing something wrong.

Thank-you for reading, Tay x

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