Trigger Warning: Self Harm
I have my blood taken most weeks. This time, I had a new nurse. She asked about my scars (nicely) and I replied, “self harm.” She exhaled sympathetically and said, “it certainly left it’s mark.” Ain’t that the truth!
There are the obvious scars all over my skin, there’s the toll on my body that you can read about in my medical records, and then there’s the indelible marks on my mind. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that self harm has permeated throughout my life. I have so many habits, rules and thoughts that all loop back to a time when I was routinely hurting myself. The depth of it is both a revelation and strikingly obvious. This is confusing, so I’m going to unpack it here. Someone once told me that they read my writing because it’s the best way to work out what I’m actually thinking. That’s often why I write. So, excuse me if I explore my insides with an audience.
The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that self harm has permeated throughout my life.
There are seemingly trivial things that, at first glance, appear to be casual preferences. I only buy dark bedsheets. All my bedding is black or red or purple. Sure, I like those colours, but really I switched to exclusively dark tones because you can’t get blood stains out of the lighter ones. You also can’t see the stains between washing. I realise how gross that sounds, but when you always have open wounds, your sheets are continuously bloody. You get used to it. Ditto all of the above for dark coloured jammies. Along similar lines is my constant manicure. I’ve always liked to paint my nails. However, I didn’t need to keep my nails painted at all times until cutting came along. It’s really hard to clean the blood from under your fingernails. You can scrub for hours and still see red. Covering the tell tale crimson tinge became routine. My love of shiny black polish on my toes has the same origins. My toes don’t see a lot of blood these days, but necessity has grown into habit. My cardigan collection also has secret origins. I have a million cardigans, shrugs etc. Whenever I buy any outfit I immediately run through what cover up I could match with it. I don’t even keep my scars covered anymore, but I still find myself buying items to hide beneath. Again, precaution has become ingrained.
Sure, I like those colours, but really I switched to exclusively dark tones because you can’t get blood stains out of the lighter ones.
The tentacles extend further. Years of self harm has skewed my perspective on a number of things. For instance, if you accidentally injure yourself I am the best and worst person to ask for help. I’ll definitely give top notch wound care advice. I know what dressing you need and how to clean every gash. I’ll also almost always think you’re making a fuss of nothing. I’ll probably think you can manage without medical assistance unless your leg is hanging off. When you cry or complain about the pain, I will be outwardly kind, but inside, I think you should cowboy up. Your ‘call an ambulance’ is my ‘stick a plaster’ on it. I know I’m wrong, but that’s how my mind works. Furthermore any accidental injury that anyone ever tells me about will arouse my suspicion. Same deal for most scars. I spent years lying about cuts and breaks and burns. I have concocted excuses of every kind. No matter how plausible your story is, I will have a moment’s doubt. It’s no reflection on you. I know you didn’t do it to yourself. It’s just that I also know that people lie. I lied. To everyone. Repeatedly. Habitually. For a very long time. It warped my thought process. Oh and if I have an accident, I spend a lot of time carefully crafting how I will explain it. My head’s first assumption is that everyone shares my doubts. I’m always scared that someone will think I’ve fallen off the recovery wagon. Logic kicks in and throws the crazy out, but there’s always a delay.
Your ‘call an ambulance’ is my ‘stick a plaster’ on it.
I never answer the door in short sleeves. Everyone knows they can’t just drop by my house. In the past I didn’t know if myself or my home would be fit for visitors. The anxiety of unexpected guests lives on even if the pools of blood do not. My first aid tin is always extensively stocked. I still can’t go anywhere without a cover up. My days of hiding every scar are gone, but my brain needs to know I have the option.
Self harm leaves one hell of a mark.
Watching cinematic portrayals of gore annoys the hell out me. I know that slash wouldn’t produce so much blood. Blood doesn’t stay wet that long. Cutting your wrists is nowhere near as easy as films would have you believe. Cold water and salt is how you remove a blood stain. Rotting blood smells a bit fishy. A troponin test will determine if you’re having an actual heart attack. Stitches in the stomach don’t really hurt, don’t bother with local anaesthetic. The body takes 4-6 weeks to replace the red cells when blood is lost. Doctors will usually insist on a transfusion when haemoglobin drops below 7 g/dl. Learning the topology of Langer’s lines allows for cuts to be made in the correct direction to reduce scarring. Inadine patches will prevent infection. Anti bacterial gel stops scars from itching. Scalpel blades can be bought in innocuous places. Ice can burn. Arterial blood pulses. My brain clings to all of this and more. Information, dictums & routines that no longer serve purpose, but retain a hold. That nurse was more right than she could ever imagine. Yup, self harm leaves one hell of a mark.
ly is a freelancer and blogger based in Glasgow. She writes on a variety of topics, but specialises in body liberation, mental and chronic illness. She writes with passion from personal experience. If you enjoy her writing you can support ly on Ko-Fi.