“Wear long sleeves.” As I read those three simple words my cheeks began to burn with shame. All these fears of judgement that had put aside when I chose to share my story resurfaced with vengeance. I had been judged. I had been misunderstood. The reality that world was indeed filled with people who lacked the empathy to realize the depth of the pain behind my scars was driven home yet again by a spiteful comment posted on Facebook.
I chose not to respond to that comment, but at the same time I knew those words were said to shame me. Silence could not always be my answer because I believe in acceptance. I believe that the world needs to know that people who have lived through depression are strong and courageous. We contribute to our communities from a deep knowledge that there is a purpose to our being here. Our survival is a story of hope, not of shame.
I thought about that comment for days —not because I felt ashamed. It was not the first time I had been verbally put down because my scars were clearly self-inflicted; it won’t be the last. It angered me because they were just so off-base in their judgements. I was angry at myself for saying nothing. So, I decide to work out a response for my critics and to settle in myself the reasons why I do choose to forgo a “summer” jacket and expose these scars to the scrutiny of society.
Five reasons why I won’t cover my scars.
- It is HOT around here. I willing where long sleeves during the winter, but it is too hot for hiding in as Illinois summer. This reason alone is a valid counterpoint to the comment that I should “wear long sleeves.” Feel free to wear long sleeves all summer if you want— but I would probably sweat myself into a state of dehydration and develop heat exhaustion if I wore long sleeves. So no thank you.
- I won’t hide to be accepted. In any society, there will always be judgement. Not everyone will like you, not everyone will be kind. Several years ago, I was advised by people who love me dearly to hide my scars so I wouldn’t expose myself to rejection. “But,” I questioned, “if people won’t accept all of me, can they really accept me at all?
I am just too rebellious to try to fool the world into believing I have never had a mental illness. I would rather be open and face rejection, than close myself off to others and refuse to give them the chance to accept the whole me.
- I am not ashamed of my story. Self-injury was a coping mechanism that started for me at very young age. I had no other coping skills. As I grew into young adulthood I learned more positive coping skills and I did better. I am not proud of the choice I made to hurt myself, but over time I have realized the choices I made were made to help me survive a painful situation. When I see pictures of me growing up, I always look straight in my eyes. There I see determination to protect my family and to survive.
I am proud of that girl who fiercely grasped on to the sliver of hope she had and refused to let go.
- My transparency creates safety. People seek me out because of my scars. They tell me their secrets because they know I am safe. They tell about their struggle to find the right medication for their depression or about their sister who hurts herself and how powerless they feel to help her. They tell me about abuse they went through as children and how their hearts still hurt. I don’t have answers, but they know that I will listen without judgement because my skin is scarred. When this happens, when people are open with me about mental illness because of my scars, I am thankful for the scars.
- Scars are evidence of healing. These scars are over a decade old, they have healed, and so has my thinking. For a long time, self-hatred fueled my depression and resulted in self harm. The fact that I learned to love myself means there is hope. Hope for you, for your daughter, for your friend— and hope is so powerful because it stands in the way of giving up.
These scars are a testament that there is help for mental illness. I have not cut myself in over a decade. For years, I did not think that was possible… but still I clung to hope, I advocated for myself. I faced my pain and came to a place of healing. That is my wish for anyone who finds herself facing the same kinds of pain and anguish I did, that they would find the hope that leads to healing too.