Mental Health Health

My self-harm scars are a reminder of my resilience

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm

As summer draws near in my country and the weather heats up – an uneasy feeling falls in the pit of my stomach. Warmer weather means fewer layers of clothes. It means short dresses and short sleeves. For me, it means that my self-harm scars are open for the world to see.

During winter and fall, my arms are fully covered and no one knows my secret. I can meet a stranger without them knowing about a painful past where I used to self-mutilate because it seemed like the only thing that helped me. But in spring and summer, I am at the mercy of my visible scars. I am exposed, and without my intention, I share my past with the world. 

I began self-harming when I was 12 – unable to cope with the depression that I was experiencing. This is not uncommon as the average age at which someone may first self-harm is 13. When I tried to stop I realized the hold it had on me because it was all I craved whenever I fell into depression. 

My self-harm recovery has been a long, often unsuccessful, journey. But I am proud to say I have conquered it. Although it’s challenging, I try my best to give myself the space to recover and the courage to fight. 

However, I am left with visible scars that bring on strong feelings and reactions from others. A question I often get is “What’s happened to your arms?”. Sometimes it’s a sneaky look of pity as someone gazes past my arms in conversation. I don’t blame them – it’s just a reality that I have to live with. A reality that anyone with self-harm scars is familiar with. 

These reactions are mostly uncomfortable and invasive. Sometimes I lie and tell the excuse that my non-existent cat scratched me. Sometimes I shrug it off and say “it’s nothing”. 

Every year I experience the same guilt, regret, and discomfort when spring blooms again. I have come from the shelter of winter clothing and long sleeves and now I am thrust into the attention my self-harm scars bring. 

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not ashamed of my scars. I simply wish I didn’t have to share my life story with every person who sees me. 

But I do sometimes regret my past self-harm because I should have treated myself and my body with the kindness it needed in my dark moments. Instead, I took to causing it more pain.

At the same time, I’m appreciative of my scars. They show me that despite the storms I have weathered, I’m still here. I’m still fighting, surviving, and winning my journey with mental illness

As much as I feel guilty about my scars and as much as I don’t want to share my struggles with the world so candidly, I am proud of myself.

My self-harms scars are merely a reflection of my resilience and bravery. Some might disagree, pity, or judge me. But that’s what I believe and that’s all that matters.

The complex emotions that come with self-harm scars are not easy to navigate but I am grateful for the way my body both heals and remembers.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress, check out the resources below:

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.

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By Tamia Adolph

Tamia Adolph is a writer and journalist, who writes poetry and fiction writing under the pseudonym, Imogene Mist. She is the founder of a mental health awareness organization called #MeTooButImStillHere, which aims to advocate for mental illness in Africa. She holds a BA in Journalism and BA (Honours) in English Literature. Currently, she is completing her Masters in English Literature. Her passions include musicals, environmentalism, and all forms of art.