Before I start waffling on about what I meant to write about this evening, earlier on I added a copy of the note I wrote on Facebook to my about page, so people who contacted me because they don’t have FB accounts can read it if they want 🙂
Friday was the day that the non-profit suicide prevention organisation To Write Love On Her Arms asked its supporters to help them raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide, by literally writing “love” on their arms. I think they should hold this day in July, because there is no freaking way I am walking around in short sleeves in Newcastle in mid-November, but for the sake of solidarity I got my pink highlighter out anyway!
The act of writing on my arm made me think. How do I feel about my body now? When I was a teenager I hated it for being demanding and making me eat when all I wanted to do was starve myself. When I was raped I hated it for attracting rapists. When my digestive issues were really bad in 2007 I hated it for getting sick and tormenting me when I was trying so hard to stay well. When I relapsed and ended up in the depths of my non-body dysmorphic anorexic phases I hated it for being weak and falling apart on me, when other people seemed to be able to get to lower weights before everything went to hell. Of course, I ignored all the people who ended up in hospital at higher weights than myself. When I began to recover I hated being reminded that I had a body. It wasn’t about what it looked like, it was about how it felt to inhabit my body, physically and emotionally.
I don’t think I would say that I love my body now, but neither do I hate it. I appreciate some parts but resent others. I like the fact that I can walk for a couple of hours without getting even a little bit tired, because it’s such a change from the exhaustion of being underweight and ill. My digestive problems annoy me because they are painful, uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking. My hair amuses me because it’s rebellious, unpredictable and gets into states that make me giggle. I’m not a fan of my skin, because it’s rebellious and breaks out regardless of which skincare products I use, although that may be because I’m lazy and cheap in regards to my skin, and don’t spend enough time or money to see a result (not that I care all that much!). Most of the time I think my face is quite pretty. I dislike the way my skinny top half doesn’t seem to match my muscular bottom half, like someone has glued two different people together at the waist.
And then there are the scars. They cause problems for me sometimes, but for the most part I’ve learned to live with them. I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable wearing a short-sleeved dress at formal events, but I am okay with walking around in t-shirts during the summer. I would find it hard to get a job where a short-sleeved uniform was mandatory, but if someone is going to discriminate against me because of my history of mental health problems I don’t think I’d want to work there anyway.
More than ten thousand scars cover my body, mostly on my right arm and leg, but I also have “bitch” and “bad” on my left leg, a few deep parallel scars on my left arm, and short raised ones on my stomach. They’ve faded in the sun and after a few months of using bio oil, but they will always be there. My right arm in particular is deformed in many places, where the muscle knotted itself back together unevenly. No amount of vitamin E oil will change that. Sometimes I regret that I am permanently marked by my experiences, whereas other mental health problems leave no outward signs once in remission.
But I don’t lose sleep over this, and I am not overwhelmed by grief every time I look at my body. I have accepted that I wear my history. My scars remind me that I’ve survived much worse than whatever stress I’m going through at the time. Not that it’s usually my intention, but every time I wear short sleeves in public it makes a statement. On a personal level, my scars tell other people something about me – not that I am/was crazy enough to do that to myself, but that I was strong enough to stop. On a public level, I like to think that I am scoring points for the cause of destigmatising mental health problems by having the audacity to walk around as if there is absolutely nothing different from anyone else about me. By wearing short sleeves I am showing the world that I am not ashamed of having a history of mental health problems and that I will not hide myself away. Of course, I might not feel that way – I might be scared and insecure and worried about being judged – but actions speak louder than words.
So it’s a strange thing, having to live with permanent scars. I’m not proud of them but I am proud of managing to stop adding to them. The scars themselves don’t make me sad anymore, but I am saddened by the memory of how desperate and alone I felt when I used to harm myself. Many of them have stories behind them. For the most part, they will only hold me back as much as I allow them to. I guess they’ve just become another part of me, like my hair colour, my sexuality, my temperment. They just are, and I make of that what I can.