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Look at me, again

written by Jess Matthews 19/09/2017

Warning: This post contains references to self-harm which some readers may find triggering.

Self-harm is a subject I have tip-toed round for a long time; at any mention of the subject I have found myself closing in on myself because I feel so overwhelmed with shame.

Jess MatthewsI can physically feel myself shutting the windows and locking the doors to my soul when anyone has tried to broach the subject with me, including my GP and counsellor. And because of this, my shame has grown beyond measure, and the fear that surrounds the subject for me has also grown.

And so, I’ve decided it’s about time I change that.

I think the greatest difficulty I’ve had is due to the misunderstanding and related stigma that surrounds self-harm. It is a subject that is not by any means well understood, which encourages fear and shame to grow and fester.

When I was around the age of 16/17, I was aware that some people in school self-harmed. At this age, it was never an issue for me personally, but I was aware that it was for some of those around me… or at least, I heard whispers that it was.

And that right there is the problem… whispers.

Whispers, rumours, and eye-rolls… “They’re doing it for attention” was the most common whisper, and there within lies a breeding ground for shame and misconceptions.

Having been through what I am experiencing now, if I could transport myself back to that age, I would speak up to and challenge those judgements. But I cannot and therefore I have to suffer through the stigma myself.

If just one lesson can be learnt about my self-harm, it’s this: I didn’t begin to self-harm for attention. Goodness knows, if I did, I wouldn’t have gone to such great lengths to hide it. I wouldn’t clam up when someone made a joke about it (and trust me, I’ve heard many over the last few months). My heart wouldn’t skip a beat when someone asked me about how I had got “those marks” on my arms. My mind wouldn’t race to find a plausible explanation for those questions.

No, if I wanted attention, I wouldn’t feel shame or fear like I do. I can only speak for myself, but the belief that those with a mental illness “just want attention” is a belief that means those of us that are suffering are met with endless amounts of discrimination and stigma… whispers and rumours.

I do admit, at times I have wanted someone to see the marks on my arms and ask me about them because I desperately needed to tell someone how bad I felt. But yet, the times someone has pointed them out and asked me about them, my responses were always the same:

“It was the cat.” - The cat I don’t even have.

“I caught it on the edge of *insert inanimate object name*” - The object that just wouldn’t leave those kind of marks in the places they were.

The tattoo is going to be there as a reminder of how strong I am… That self-harm has just been a part of my journey, and doesn’t in any way define who I am.

For a long time, I didn’t understand what I was doing or why; it was something I did in my darkest moments and then ignored once the darkness had lessened. It’s such a difficult concept for me to understand, so how can I expect others to understand?

My self-harm is something I have hidden for a long time. It’s something that during the winter months was easy to hide; no one questioned why I wore long sleeves all the time. But over the last few months, particularly during the last few weeks of our British “heat wave” I had to give in and dig out my short-sleeved shirts. This meant of course, that my scars were visible. Perhaps it’s just me being paranoid, but I noticed so many people look at my scars… and not just look, but stare. It made me re-live and experience all the shame I thought I had gotten over by talking to those closest to me about it. It made me want to dig out a jumper despite the sweltering heat.

But I didn’t. And as someone pointed out to me, just because someone was looking at my scars doesn’t necessarily mean that they were judging me or thinking badly of me… perhaps they were thinking of the time they themselves, or someone they know, had gone through something similar.

Soon, I will have a tattoo that will cover the scars on my arm. But they will always be there to remind me of what I did and how I have felt. I’m not having a tattoo necessarily to hide my scars, because that I think would mean that I am in some way still very ashamed of them. I’d prefer to think of it in a way which means that the tattoo is going to be there as a reminder of how strong I am, and will just be prettier to look at than a line of scars… and hopefully, the tattoo will help me accept that self-harm has just been a part of my journey, and doesn’t in any way define who I am.  

Look at me, again

 

Look at me, look at me,

Tell me now, what do you see?

Do you see the tale I’ve hidden?

So full of shame – speaking it has been forbidden.

Do you see my scars left uncovered?

Do you feel uncomfortable with what you’ve discovered?

Because I see the flicker of disgust flash across your face,

And, I see you thinking “what a disgrace!”

Do you wish that I’d keep them covered?

Keep it a secret long after I’ve recovered?

I wish I could make you understand,

That this discussion should not be banned.

Keeping this secret has filled me with shame,

And I want you to know, I am not to blame.

You should know that these lines on my arms,

Don’t define who I am; I am not “self-harm”.

Please don’t be afraid to ask,

And please don’t be put off by my mask

Of happiness – it’s hard to tell the truth,

when I live in fear of being labelled “a troubled youth.”

But I need to share with you this burden,

Because life often seems so uncertain.

 

Look at me, look at me,

Tell me now, what do you see?

Do you see how much your stare makes me cringe?

When you stare at my arm, it makes me feel unhinged.

Do you notice how my hands shake?

Because my reputation is what’s at stake.

Do you see the fear in my eyes?

Its embedded deep within as a part of me dies.

Do you see the ways my eyes roll?

When you say to me “just get out of this hole.”

I wish I could make you understand,

I hate this part of me but am under its command.

You see, the darkness is all around me,

And the demon within laughs in glee.

You should know that often I feel alone;

It feels like no one understands my pleas and moans.

I have been in an unbearable state of mind,

And to the road of recovery I have been blind.

Please know that it’s difficult to ask for help,

When all that it sounds like is a pitiful yelp.

I’m afraid of your judgement,

And so, I opt for detachment.

 

Look at me, look at me,

Tell me now what do you see?

Look carefully, look closely,

Can you see I’m “getting better” slowly?

Shame and fear made it hard to speak,

But speaking it makes me feel less weak.

Hiding it filled me with shame,

And my decision to share was to help take away all blame.

You see,

Recovery is a long road to follow,

And some days, I still feel oh-so hollow,

But this battle can be won,

And with you by my side, it’s mostly done.

But first, you must really see,

So, look at me, look at me,

Tell me now, what do you see?

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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