Battle scars are the hardest part to explain of a mental illness. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some fade into mere nothings while others remain part of you as a constant reminder. What’s worse? They come internally as well as for the whole world to see. I have both. I have had all of the above.
Visible. I self-harm. I’ll say that up front and start with that. It isn’t something that I’m proud of. It isn’t something I am happy to admit to. It leaves both internal and external scars. So… why do it? What do the scars mean?
People self-harm for different reasons and in different ways. For me, my anxiety leads to obsessive thoughts of it. The worse the anxiety becomes the more obsessive the thoughts. The thoughts don’t go away until I do it. That, however, doesn’t really explain it. The anxiety calms for at least a short time after I do it. After I cut. A sense of relief washes over me. One that becomes a craving when it feels like my world is spiraling into depths that I don’t want to go. The need to cut is one that I fight when it rears its ugly head. I don’t go right to the knife. I take a walk and attempt to pray for everything to go away. In most cases I have waited too long for this to work- not prayer, but the ability to truly focus on anything other than the cut that is already in my mind’s eye. I will come home and attempt to stretch out on the couch or curl up in its corner. I break down and go into the kitchen when the feeling of discomfort, which ultimately comes, reaches a point I can no longer take.
I don’t cut deep. I’m not in danger of doing any life threatening damage. The scars that are left on my wrist aren’t bright red or thick or ones that someone’s eye would go directly to. I see them. If someone knows that I do it they may look. In that case they could see them… Well, they once could. I had talked to my therapist about getting a tattoo to cover the scars. This last manic episode, I did it. I have my horses name and two flowers that match my shoulder piece. The tattoo is the picture up top.
The two questions were: Why do it? And what do the scars mean? I answered the first, so here is the answer for the latter- I hate the scars. I know they haven’t vanished because of a tattoo. They’re still there underneath. The tattoo is a permanent bandaid. I am ashamed of them. I hate them. They mean failure to me. As a perfectionist, failure and I aren’t exactly friends. The scars are a constant reminder of weakness.
Internal. The internal scars are just as marring as those left on the the skin. Last Saturday I had one of my failing moments. By Tuesday, I felt myself going down. Not back to normal, but down past that. Depression was setting in. I felt a little better after my therapy appointment, but that didn’t last. Wednesday morning brought it on full force. For those that haven’t experienced depression- it isn’t fun. I had PrayerOne at church that evening; and was attempting to explain the feeling to a friend afterwards. When I felt better on Thursday I sent her an email better explaining it. I hope. I told her this:
Yesterday was miserable. Obviously. It stemmed from a down day; and I realized trying to explain the exhaustion was hard… You aren’t tired, but you have no energy. Nothing seems worth the effort. Even eating- I managed a bowl of soup in two days. A “depressing feeling” are the phrases I’m NOT supposed to use, but it was a depression-type day.
I gave her the best explanation of scarring that I can come up with even now:
Tuesday and Wednesday stemmed from this weekend. I know that. I was tired- of feeling broken, of needing fixed, of not liking myself- wanting to be someone else, and tired of being tired. Guilt over not calling anyone on Saturday and guilt from the lack of being more upset over the cuts beyond Sunday was eating me alive on Tuesday. Mental illness has a way of depriving you of your self-esteem and self-worth… It can care less.
Mental illness doesn’t care about the damage left behind its wake. If it did… if it did it would be far kinder. After a spat with your own mind, there is a bleeding that needs cauterized. It’s a hard thing to do. You feel weakened. You feel defeated. Picking yourself up again over and over is strenuous. It feels redundant.
WHY would anyone want to be that person? No one would ever choose it. It is a life lived in a never ending war. One fought with weapons far more dangerous than guns.
These scars… these scars are the ones we have SOME control over. How deep they run. How visible they are on the outside. We can take charge of this by things like working with our mental health team.
I am NOT good at hiding how I’m doing. I try to hide how much my cutting, for example, bothers me. I think I do myself more harm than good. I know I do. My therapist and I have discussed this. I would rather deal with my scars for a minute in my life and then pack it away. Marks left over the same spot doesn’t erase the previous mark. They combined to make a deeper one. A more prominent one. I don’t want that to be my new mantra per se, but I do think I, personally, need to try to remember that more.
Whether the scar is shown on your skin or left to your own mind, they are ugly. They aren’t pretty. They are, however, a part of us. A part of our story. I laugh as I write this last sentence coming up. The thought is sad and amusing at the same time… These scars are things we should be PROUD of.