There are certain things in life I’m not particularly proud of.
- I dribble in my sleep
- I know all the words to Nasty Girl by Notorious B.I.G
- I have a crush on Liam from One Direction
Oh, and I self-harmed until I was twenty-one.
Clearly, it’s not a conversation-starter. Whilst most people fear their pre-holiday bikini wax for the moment when the therapist cheerfully exclaims “if you can just hold both cheeks apart…”; for me, it’s whether she’ll notice the scars scattered up and down my thighs.
Smear tests, spray tans and new boyfriends; not normally a trio associated in the same sentence, but all with a habit of inducing the same anxiety.
I can’t help but second-guess what people are thinking; will they suddenly smother me with ill-placed pity? Think ‘Goodness, she must have had a tough childhood’? Or simply assume I’m mentally unstable and should be sent on my way?
Hey, when your body offers daily reminders of the darkest period of your life, it’s hard not to fret at least a little.
The truth is, I’ll never know if they’re judging me. I know, ultimately, it doesn’t matter anyway. Maybe they are merely, silently, asking ‘why?’.
My ‘why’ starts at twelve years old; I believed I was effectively managing a hugely painful situation (a story for another time, perhaps) by cutting. I was not proud; it was simply the only option I thought I had. A way of coping, yet a fiercely guarded secret. As the years passed, it was the one thing that remained constant, dependable.
Naturally the marks became harder to conceal, particularly when I pursued my passion for acting – there are no secrets left untold in a theatre dressing room. Any potential sightings of fresh wounds were pre-empted with a ‘gosh, my cat is violent sometimes!’ (It’s a shame I’ve never been a fan of cats).
Ultimately, I was ashamed of being weak. Years later I would realise that this wasn’t the case at all. If anything, I had been resilient for too long. That’s the thing about self-harm – it doesn’t pick on the feeble, it picks on the strong.
It was my closest ally; a vicious kinship, an illicit affair. I knew what I was doing wasn’t ‘right’ but I refused to stop. We were best friends, after all.
But some relationships are not made to last. Some are addictive, co-dependent, destructive. They fool you into assuming a dishonest identity. For me, this was a brutal sense of insignificance.
It was anything but easy. But once I could entertain the idea of self-worth, I could start to stop hurting myself, mentally and physically.
At 24 years old, I have scars that won’t ever fade. There are days I wish they weren’t there. But Rafiki was right: “the past can hurt… you can either run from it, or learn from it.”
(What a guy. They should prescribe The Lion King on the NHS I swear.)
So I choose to learn. My scars signify a chapter in my life. A difficult one, but one that brought me to where I am now… They encourage me to share my own humble journey, in the hope that it offers a small gentle light to those still surrounded by darkness.
And what would I say to that lost twelve year old girl? There is nothing wrong with you, or who you are. A world is waiting for you, one full of love and happiness, that you can’t even begin to image yet. Self-harm does not define you.
Whilst the scars may never fade, the strength you have discovered will remain forever.