Scars — **Trigger Warning : Self-harm, cutting, suicide**

**Trigger warning: Self-harm, cutting, suicide.**

scars1

Scars.

Everyone has them.

The one above your eyebrow from when you walked into the coffee table, age 2. The one on your knee from when you skidded across the gravel-laden driveway on your way to the perfect street hockey save, age 13. The one on your heart from the first boy who broke it, age 17.

Some people say scars give you character; others, that they give you lessons.

I think scars are whatever you make of them. But some are a little harder to live with than others.

I have my fair share of scars. The knee one from above is one of mine; still have some of the gravel embedded in that m-effer to prove how dedicated I was to the save. I have one on my lip from a baseball injury. I have a few from practicing karate.

I have more than a few on my hands and wrists and arms and thighs that I don’t ever want to talk about.

The thing about self-harm is that it is really misunderstood. It is vastly and horrifyingly misclassified over and over again. And along with leaving scars, it leaves a sense of overwhelming shame that doesn’t ever go away.

I’m breaking my silence today and it scares the shit out of me. Bear with me, please.

My scars stare up at me every day. As I type, the crescent moon patterns on the meaty part of my right hand wink at me like eyes with a dirty secret. My hands know how deep the pain goes. They know so well because I’ve bled the pain out of them.

This is my favorite Stephen King quote. So damn true.

This is my favorite Stephen King quote. So damn true.

I have fake stories for all of them, ingrained in my memory to save me from the awkward pause as I try to think of an excuse. Part of me hates myself for the lies. But what other choice do I even have?

“Oh, that? Yeah … totally scratched myself until I bled.”

*cue awkward silence*

I vacillate between wanting to educate people and needing to hide. Even as I write this, I’m cringing at the spotlight I’m shining on myself with these words.

When you talk about cutting, there are a lot of gut reactions. People do it for attention. People do it because they are suicidal. It’s a fad. It’s fake. They’re just crazy.

There is very little empathy or compassion in the general public for cutters. It is a misunderstood side-effect of depression and anxiety. Lots of people talk about cutting, but very few people actually understand what it is.

And it’s not surprising. There are a glut of romanticized images of cutting out there. If you go on Tumblr or Pinterest you can find thousands of images of delicate wrists bleeding, of intricate white lines up and down an arm. They’re triggering and they only show either the act or the consequence. They don’t deal with the cause or what leads a person to cut. And they certainly don’t deal with the aftermath.

I think that is really dangerous.

Like any mental health issue, self-harm is unique in each person. I can only talk for myself here. I don’t cut because I want to die. Or to get noticed. On the contrary, I hide those scars from everyone.

myself

I cut because I cannot take the internal pain anymore. Because the inner hurt is so great, so unbearable, that it needs a physical outlet.

The internal scars that lead to a cutting episode are so much more pervasive than any scars I have on the outside. And that is what is so hard to explain. I ache inside for so long. I push it down and let it build until the black, smoking pile of hurt takes up almost all of me. I feel like I might burst from being full of pain.

And it comes out at the worst times. It’s not A + B + C = D. It rarely ever happens at the moment of pain.

Have you ever read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? It’s a kids’ book where the entire alphabet piles on top of the poor coconut tree until it literally bends in half from all of the weight. It’s kind of like that. An entire alphabet of circumstances pile on top of me until I break from the pressure. The cuts are the fissures in my brokenness.

I guess that sounds a little romanticized. I assure you there is nothing romantic about locking yourself in a bathroom and digging your nails into your own skin so that you no longer feel like you’ll explode from the pressure. There’s nothing romantic about watching yourself bleed and knowing that you did it to yourself. There’s nothing romantic about looking down at scabs that bleed again and again and knowing that they will scar and knowing that you fucking did it again.

There’s nothing romantic about it; it’s just sad and painful and full of personal shame.

I’ve been self-harm clean for over six months now. I wish I could tell you that it is getting easier, that I’ve found something else to release the pressure and get me through those tough times. I wish I could tell you that, but I don’t like lying.

The thought is there in the back of my head all the time. I sometimes have to use all of my energy to fight that impetus to excise my pain. There are times when the scars help: I see them and I remember “no more.” There are times when they call out like a siren tempting me to let it out again. Because it’s so easy in that moment to think that cutting will ease the pain. I have to tell myself on loop that it isn’t that simple.

my reminder ring: I am enough

my reminder ring: I am enough

I have a few talismans that help. The first one is this aluminum ring I wear on my left thumb. It wraps around just tight enough that it leaves a ring indent, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable. When things get bad, I look down at it and read the fading inscription on it: “I am enough.” I can turn it around on my thumb and feel the metal move against my skin. All of that helps.

There are other things that sometimes help, but my biggest talisman is actually hidden from most people’s view. In August, I got my largest tattoo finished. It takes up my entire right side, from just below my breast all the way to my hip. It’s a gorgeous color piece of a phoenix rising from its own ashes and bursting into a bright explosion. In the swirling smoke, the words “Still I Rise” are written.

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You can’t get a more poignant reminder that you need to rise above the hurt than looking at almost nine hours’ worth of intricate artwork forever etched on your side. The bumps of the line work have long since faded, but I still often run my finger over the area and remember. There was a ton a pain involved in getting that ink. It covers my ribs and the very sensitive side area; not an area I would recommend getting inked unless you were really committed to having artwork there.

I knew exactly what I was getting into pain-wise when I chose it, but that was where I pictured my phoenix rising. The time it took to get it and the recovery from it were really hard, but that image is always with me now. I look at it before and after every shower, every time I get changed … I see the words and I remember. Still, I rise. I can do this.

It’s the most powerful reminder I have and I’m grateful that I was able to do that for myself.

Posting about this subject is really difficult for me. Thinking about it and ruminating over how to talk about it puts cutting foremost in my mind. I know that isn’t great for me. It makes staying clean harder. But … I can do it.

My other, and perhaps worst, fear is that something I say may trigger others. It is really, really hard to be in a situation where self-harm is part of your self-care. It is twisted and seems so foreign to those who do not engage in it, but for many cutters, it is actually a way we care for ourselves when the pain gets too much. If you find yourself hurting yourself in any way (cutting, scratching, hair pulling, hitting….), please, talk to a good therapist.

It was the best thing I ever did for myself. I found it hard to admit my habits, even to a therapist. But when I did and I wasn’t met with disdain or anger or misunderstanding, I began to forgive myself.

enough

I really believe that forgiving yourself for the impulse is half the battle in getting better. Letting go of some of the shame I feel for my impulses has helped me stay clean. I no longer have that huge, dark cloud hanging over me. Or, at least, not as prominent. It’s still there, but it’s dissipating.

Talk to a therapist. Confide in a trusted friend. Find someone you can call at any time and say, “I’m in danger.” They’ll know what you mean by that and they’ll show you the compassion you maybe can’t show yourself.

Compassion, my friends, is where the healing needs to begin. Compassion for yourself, for your pain, for the impulses that you try to control but cannot always fight. Compassion.

Try it with me.

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Shining a Light on My Truth

This is a special week: Mental Illness Awareness Week. While I have some issues with including “Illness” in the name instead of “Health,” I think this is one truly important week. And I am honoring this week with daily blog posts, guest writers, and lots of real talk. It’s time to speak the truth, my truth, and not be afraid of the stigma. I hope you join me.

stephen_fry_on_mental_illness___by_rationalhub-d5ebmuz

Today as we kick off the week, I want to answer a really important question: What IS Mental Illness. It’s not an easy question, and so I’m going to start with defining what is NOT Mental Illness.

  • Mental Illness is not the result of personal weakness.
  • It is not the product of poor character or dodgy upbringing.
  • Mental Illness is not a bad day or even a bad week.
  • It is not crying for no reason once in a while.
  • It is not an isolation sentence.
  • It is definitely not a death sentence.

Those “nots”? Those are characteristic of the stigma that surrounds Mental Illness. Those of us who suffer from invisible illnesses, like Mental Illness, bear the burden of that stigma daily. It’s why we are often silent. It’s why we shy away from telling people we see a therapist, or take medicine, or cut, or have suicidal thoughts. People hear those things and assume SO MUCH. Giving up on assuming is the first step in truly helping your friend or lover with their struggles.

Mental Illness is unique for every sufferer. There are endless combinations of diagnoses that someone can hold and every diagnosis manifests itself somewhat differently for each person. I can only talk about my own illness, but for once I am going to be painfully honest. Here goes nothing.

I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Syndrome with Acute Panic Disorder and mild Agoraphobia. And I am a cutter. Big words, those. Basically, I struggle daily with every blasted thing I need to do. It’s hard to get up sometimes. It’s really hard to be in a crowd. It’s hard to settle my own mind and stop it from racing. It’s just hard. And sometimes, when I can’t take it anymore, I physically hurt myself in a twisted attempt to make the invisible pain stop.

surviving

Outside factors absolutely weigh on my mental health issues. When my kids are sick, when I argue with anyone, when things don’t go as planned…. I suffer. These are issues that medicine helps, but cannot control completely. We all want a magic pill that we swallow and become normal. It’s a pipe dream and it is discouraging to know that we can’t have that.

A depressive episode or a panic attack is not something I can snap out of at will. Adding pressure to act normal only exacerbates the issues in someone who is suffering. When I am told to get over it, to fake it till I make it, to just deal…. Immediately I’m filled with a sense of overwhelming disgrace. I’ve let someone I care about down. I’ve burdened them. I need to try harder.

The fact of the matter is this: I can only hide for so long. I can only fake it for so long before I burn out and crash even harder than before. It’s at those times that I am most at risk of cutting. It’s really not easy to admit that I do this. SO many people look at cutting like an emo fad. That people who cut are just looking for attention. Time for a little bit of honesty. Are you ready?

So fucking what if that teenage girl with cuts all up and down her arm is doing it to get attention? Imagine the deficit of attention she must be feeling in order to slice her own skin to get you to notice her pain. When you hurt so bad that you take a razor, or a needle, or your own nails to yourself in order to escape the pain, you are in terrible shape. The last thing you need is judgment. But that is so often what we receive. Harsh judgment. Derisive laughter. Painful sarcasm. Easy answers that mean nothing. And people who think you’re going to kill yourself.

I don’t cut because I want to die. I cut because I hurt so bad that I need an escape. It is twisted to a normal brain, but the reality is that cutting helps diffuse the inner turmoil for just a second. And then the guilt piles on and it is even worse than before. But for a moment, the cutting helps. It is an attempt to care for myself in the most unnatural way possible. And I have scars on my body now that remind me daily of that pain. Harsh reminders of why I need therapy and good friends and a daily cocktail of meds to keep me stable.

rough days

I haven’t cut in four months. I’m damn proud of that, but it has been really hard. There are days when every moment requires concentration NOT to scratch at my own skin. I’ll finger my scars. I’ll text my friends. I’ll keep my hands busy with cross stitch. ANYTHING to keep from allowing myself the opportunity to slip up. With counseling and a lot of vigilance from a good friend, I remain self-harm free. For now.

But the monster is always there waiting. And frankly, it’s terrifying.

Tomorrow, I’ll explore ways friends and family can support those with mental health issues in a healthy way. If there are any topics you feel should be touched on, please let me know here or privately via email. I’ll do my best.