I’m a pretty complex creature. I have good days, bad days, days of all kinds of things. I’m an extroverted introvert and I could list a ton of labels that would go on for days. What I wanted to be, for a very long time though, is frank. Just very up-front, not wishy-washy. i want to call things like I see them, and have other people understand it as I meant it.
Which is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s why I tell the hard stories, the ones that are personal, the ones that enrage. Because if no one else will say anything, I have to. And that goes double for the topics I am passionate about: mental health and ending rape culture. This should come as no surprise-I talk about pretty much nothing else.
Something came up recently that crossed my mind and I thought I’d share it here. It’s a mental health blog day, so I want to be upfront with that. I’ll be talking about self-harm (although only about scars-no descriptors or pictures) and I will be talking about moving forward and healing. I’m going to start with the story I just submitted to The Mighty.
“My self image has always been a love-hate relationship. I grew up in a world where a woman who was headstrong, opinionated and loved herself just didn’t exist. That’s not to say that I had no support to be those things, but rather that I listened to everything else. Everything that was telling me how not good enough I was, how unacceptable it was to be me.
“I started self-harming as a freshman in high school. It wasn’t a cry for help, or a plea for death. It was a desperate attempt at a reprieve. I didn’t want to die, I just had no other way of expressing the pain and the level of emotions I felt on the inside. And although my skin has been forgiving, I avoid looking at my arms. I can see each and every scar and I think that hurts more than it did making them. The few people who know say that they can’t really see them, but it doesn’t matter-because I can.
“So I decided I was going to get a really pretty tattoo-something to cover them up. The most of them were on my left arm, so the location choice was easy. I spent weeks designing, critiquing and reworking until I had everything I wanted. It was a beautiful representation, the most lovely piece of artwork I’d ever made. I chose to remind myself that if I am unhappy, I can change. So I made a promise to myself that whenever I was frustrated or I didn’t like the choices I’d made, the situations I was in, I’d move on to something I did love, and that made me happy.
“When I was explaining my choice of design and placement, I picked my words carefully. I wanted to remind myself that life was beautiful. I picked the placement so that I would never self-harm there again. Why? Because I’d worked so hard on that art and destroying it was something I absolutely could never do. The hope and love that it represented were things that simply had to last much longer than the pain of a blade, or the pain on the inside.
“Later that night, as I reflected on what I’d said, I cried. If I could have such reverence for art-why couldn’t I have it for myself? I’ve spend decades becoming the person I am. A piece of art that takes that long is something that should be treasured far more than something that takes a few weeks and yet I’d spend half that time tearing it down, devaluing it and ripping at the very fabric of its creation.
“The thing is, I only let four people know I was getting my tattoo. I told two of them the meaning behind it and I kept the final design a secret from everyone except the artist. I sat down in the chair and when I got up again, the art on the inside was finally reflected on the outside. I keep looking at my arm, not seeing the scars that reminded me of how sad I was, how fragile and full of self-hate I was. Instead, I see hope and the promise I made to myself that unless I can say “I wish for this” to my choices, I have the power to change the situation, the duty to make myself happy, and the courage to be exactly the wonderful artwork of a person that I am.”
With that in mind, I went to work yesterday and my arm was uncovered-so everyone saw. I’m quite frankly very proud of the art, and the meaning and I had no problem telling everyone about it. I even told them why. And the looks I got back were, well, they were interesting. And that’s what got me thinking.
I wanted to tell them the story of courage and beauty and love–self love. And the reactions were varied-usually some place between a pitying “I understand” or a shocked “I didn’t know that about her”. I’m not upset at either of these, but it made me think about why I was telling people in the first place. I’m not a “sharing” person, but I wanted everyone to know about it. So where was the disconnect?
I was so frank about what I wanted people to know because if no one is going to start the conversation, then I will. And as I said, if that means people give me looks, ask nosy questions or change their opinion of me, then that’s fine. Because maybe it’s the first time they’ve come in contact with these issues-and I want them to know that their preconceived notions might be wrong.
**Disclaimer-my work people are really great. They weren’t judgy or nosy, nor did they look down at me-I’m just saying that those are the reactions I’ve had from others.