Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever ever feel
Like you're less than perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you're nothing
You are perfect to me!
P!NK - Perfect

So, I’ve just had a little day trip to London for a meeting with the Richmond Fellowship Working Together Committee and my outfit has included a really oversized t-shirt and I’ve struggled to find a jacket/cardigan to fit over it PLUS it’s been really sunny today! So, my scarred arms have been on show for all the world to see.

When I left my house this morning I didn’t think much of it until I was talking with my taxi driver (just like I usually do!) and he said that he was feeling down because of working so much then he said - in a careless manner and with a nod at my self-harm scars – “I mean, you understand. You’ve obviously got mental health problems too.” I think that at first, I was a little taken aback by the… I don’t know… lack of tact? But then I realized that he was just calling it how he saw it. He probably could’ve phrased it a bit better but then he might have assumed that if I was open enough about my mental health to have my scars on show, then perhaps I didn’t mind someone being blunt and forward about it. 

In the three years that it took for my mental health to deteriorate to the point of my long-term psychiatric hospitalization, I rarely self-harmed through cutting but I still hid the few scars that I did have. Even on nights out I’d wear cardigans! Up until that point (ages 18 – 21) I didn’t know a single person who was open about their mental health. I mean, as far as I knew, no one in my life even had a mental health problem (I won’t be naive enough to believe this was actually the case though; with it being that every 1 in 4 people have experience of mental health problems).

When I was hospitalized in 2012, I was surrounded by other service users with self-harm scarring and barely any of them were bothered about covering them. I guess, because it was almost the ‘norm’ in that situation. But making self-harm scars normal also normalizes the actual act. Feeling like I had been stripped of my coping strategy of overdosing, cutting became my only ‘option’ – at least while I learnt the healthy and safe coping skills from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) – to cope with the hallucinations. There was another girl who was admitted to the ward after me and she came in with literally no scars because her coping mechanism had been abusing her medication for her Diabetes. By the time I left the Hospital in 2014, she was meeting with a Plastic Surgeon after a particularly horrendous cut. A member of staff told me (with no direct reference to the service user) that it’s difficult admitting people to Hospital because sometimes, it can end up making that person ‘worse’ as they can be vulnerable to being influenced into self-harming behaviours. It made me really sad though; that this girl had spoilt her blank canvas arms. I think that my sadness also came with the realization that I’d forgotten there’d been a time when I’d done the same thing. The past three years with my scarred arms had me convinced that I’d always been this way; and it certainly felt like the hospitalizations, self-harm, suicide attempts, sectioning, had always been my life. 

I guess the most saddening thing was that it was the first time it struck me that this coping strategy that – in that one moment – felt like the only solution for how I felt or how loud the voices were, actually had quite permanent consequences… With sight of my recovery, came the sobering realization that I might feel like my wedding dress might need to have sleeves! It almost seemed cruel that the moment it appeared like I had the chance of having a healthy, safe, and happy life; I was tackled back to the ground with the thought of living with the consequences of my actions during my poor mental health. The thing is, self-harm – for me, at least – was all about trying to survive; and trying to see a way through challenging obstacles like the voices or memories of the abuse. So, it becomes ironic that the desperate acts I did in order to survive would now making it difficult to live a happy life. I think that it just illustrates the lack of hope that self-harm can cause. 

I talked to my Mum about the taxi driver’s comment and she said that whilst she understood why I’d interpreted it the way I had, rather than look on it like that; I could see it as a good thing. To think that my self-harm scars had sparked a conversation about mental health and that’s something that’ll be crucial in diminishing mental health stigma. I’ve also turned my thinking around into recognizing that covering them could seem that I’m ashamed and I’d rather promote the outlook that self-harm scars should be viewed as battle wounds; a testament that you’ve faced some horrific and challenging things in life and have come through it.
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