TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains general information of a self-harm event but has no graphic details. There are no images.
I said it was small, and it is. But it’s gigantic for me.
This week I swapped which wrist I wear my watch on.
Earth shattering, isn’t it? And surely not much to do with the stigma against mental illness. But there’s more to it than what meets the eye.
Fifteen years ago I was self-harming pretty regularly. It was probably a daily occurrence at the time of this event. Sometimes I knew what I was doing, but others I was dissociated and really not aware of the harm I was doing to my body. I would realise afterwards when I was mopping up the damage.
On one occasion I cut my (right) wrist. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but I know for certain that it was not some kind of suicide attempt. But don’t ever believe that this makes it better. I don’t believe this [although I acknowledge that some readers might find my thought concerning].
I realised pretty quickly that this large wound was going to need sutures and I didn’t seem able to control the bleeding, so took myself to the local hospital. At the Emergency Department, I encountered a doctor who had perhaps had his fill of self-harmers. I’m not going to make excuses for him, even this much time later but I do acknowledge that the job of an emergency doctor is a difficult one.
He told me what he thought of me in no uncertain terms and that I was completely wasting his time. There were, apparently, more important people than the likes of me. He said that as I had cut myself without anaesthetic, he was going to suture my wrist (15 sutures) without anaesthetic too. He proceeded to do so, although he left me waiting for what I’m guessing was as long as he possibly could.
That night I was vulnerable and scared. It was the first time I had gone to an Emergency Department after self-harming and had no idea what to expect. What I did know was that my self-harming was getting out of control, and I desperately needed help.
What I got was stigma. Against self-harmers and against mental illness. I concluded what I guess I already knew but was hoping that help might tell me otherwise. That I was a bad person, and I had wasted his time.
As soon as the wound healed I switched to wearing my watch on my right wrist for the sole purpose of hiding my scar. I knew some people would think I had attempted suicide. Others would think it was self-harm. There was little chance that anyone would think it was accidental. I was best to hide the evidence. From the world, and also from me. Hiding it from myself as much as possible would save me from the graphic reminder of the person that doctor had said I was.
Fifteen years later and most people in my life wouldn’t know that the scar even exists. I’ve hidden it that well, from everyone. But this past week I came to the conclusion that it’s time to stop hiding the scar from myself, and from anyone else who might see it. I’ve switched the watch back to my left wrist. It just seems right.
I don’t self-harm anymore. I’ve been about five years free. I know that if I got myself into a bad space then maybe I might again. I hope not, but I’m just honest with myself.
Because I have shifted cities and changed friends, most people aren’t aware of either this scar or the many others that litter my body. I’d have to virtually tattoo my whole body to be able to hide all of them and I don’t have that much money or that many ideas of what designs I’d choose.
But I’ve come to a conclusion. Those people who really matter will cope with the sight of my right wrist if and when it comes in front of them. For anyone who doesn’t cope with it, won’t matter anymore. And for those who don’t know me, they don’t matter anyway.
This is one small part of my voice against stigma. People who self-harm are important and do matter. Every time I see the scar on my wrist I am saying that doctor’s attitude doesn’t count because it was so wrong. I don’t have to let him keep telling me that I’m a bad person. And that’s what was happening every time I put my watch on.
Okay so that’s easy to say, but in reality this week I have felt exposed and vulnerable. Everytime I see the scar, I want to hide it again. It’s going to take a while to be comfortable with it. One day… it will come.
And that doctor? Well, he could have helped me that day, and probably avoided a few more scars. But he chose not to and I believe that was because he had stigmatized his patient. He didn’t see me as a person in need of help. God, I hope there aren’t too many doctors like that in Emergency Departments around the world. Sadly, I know better.
“Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re part of my history that’ll always be there.”
— Cheryl Rainfield (Scars)
Thanks for reading