I gave up on trying to hide the scars on my body a few months ago. After struggling with self-harm for six years, I said, “screw it” and stopped wearing bracelets or watches that I didn’t care about only for the purpose of hiding my wrist. I wore a broken FitBit for nearly a year just to cover up some old scars. It was scary. I didn’t want people to know this part of my life; I didn’t want to have to explain myself to anyone.
But that’s the thing: I don’t have to explain myself. When you’re out and about and you encounter someone who’s baring scars, you don’t have to say anything. Please, for the love of God, do not ask “why” they do/did it. Please don’t ask if it hurt. And please don’t make any sort of “cutting” motion when having a structured conversation about mental health and self-harm (you’d be surprised the things people have said/done). You never know if this is the first day the person decided to not cover anything up or if the night before, they were curled up on their bathroom floor fighting the urge to break a three-year streak. Just because I’m comfortable showing my scars, doesn’t mean I’m comfortable talking about them.
With the different seasons comes the anxiety-induced decision to show or not show a certain amount of skin. Winter is safe because jackets and long pants are necessary, and I get cold easily. But when summer arrives, I could spend an entire morning reassuring myself that I do, in fact, look OK in this bathing suit and no one will point and laugh at my scars when I go to the pool later that day.
If a friend comes to you, after knowing them all winter long, and says they’re afraid to go to the beach with you this summer, be supportive. Telling people about your struggle with self-harm is intimate and scary because you never know what their reaction will be. If you want to ask your friend questions, make sure it’s OK that you talk about it; please don’t assume they want to even after telling you about it. It’s OK to have questions, and it’s OK for your friend to say they’d rather not discuss it, they just needed you to know.
I still struggle with self-harm quite a bit, and I’d love to say it’s been a long time since I’ve harmed, but it hasn’t. Right now it’s beginning to get really hot, and I’m terrified someone will point them out. There have been times when my jacket sleeve slipped up and coworkers have caught a glimpse into a personal part of my life. I can see their faces when they notice fresh cuts, and I can tell they want to say something but don’t. I can tell when they’re being a little nicer than usual, but what gets me is when they stop and ask if I’m OK. Not just a, “Hey, how are you? Good? Good” and that’s it. They look straight into my eyes and ask how I’m doing, how I’ve been feeling. They don’t ask questions, they don’t freak out, they just make sure I’m going to be OK. And that’s all I could ever ask for.