At work, I keep myself covered up. Still, there are the occasions when my sleeves slip up and I wonder whether anyone- staff or resident- has noticed. Nobody has ever said anything but I have my defensive responses at the ready:
What do you think happened?
Well you know [insert resident name]? I used to do the same.
It’s nothing to do with you.
I did battle with a tiger.
[burst into tears]
It’s a long, boring story.
I have no idea, if it came to it, which of these things I would say or do. I also have no idea what the response would be. There would probably a lot of “whys” and so on. Probably a lot of judgement, too. You would think that there was less judgement when working with people with mental health problems. There isn’t. My workplace is as judgemental as any other place. Sometimes more so.
Summer. Both at work and outside of work, summer has always, always, always (we’re talking sixteen years of always) been a problem for me. I want to wear short sleeves, do what other people do, look how other people look. But the truth is I don’t- will never- look how other people look. In certain situations (work, certain family gatherings, meeting family of partner) it is basically the smarter thing to stay sleeved (and wearing long trousers). The thing is, that starts to seem unusual as the year grows hotter and hotter. People start to ask, and the excuses tend to get more and more bizarre (“I’m cold,” I tell people as sweat starts to bead at my hairline). Truth be told, I am dreading the hotter months at work because I don’t know how long I’ll be able to lie. People have a terrible habit of intruding on personal space.
I am planning a wedding (yes readers, you heard it here first- Becky Bee is engaged!) Yet I have fears around buying a dress. Why? Because I want a long-sleeved dress to cover my arms. Because I want a short-sleeved dress because I have seen some I liked. Because I don’t want people looking. Because I don’t care if people look. I don’t want my partner’s family to thing that she is marrying some kind of a crazy (although, of course, she is). And I don’t want my own family to feel embarrassed/ surprised/ hurt/ whatever. But I do want to be able to choose a dress that I love because I love it, and not because it adequately covers parts of me of which I am ashamed.
What is it that fascinates/ horrifies/ alarms/ disgusts people about the scars of self-harm? I know for many people it is simply inconceivable that a person would want to hurt him/herself. It doesn’t make sense. Sometimes even I, when I think about what I’ve done, feel a kind of detached disbelief.
But as M (partner… fiance) always says: every scar represents a story. A story where you might not have made it, but you did. When someone asks, you can say “I fought a long battle with myself, where I could have lost, where I could have failed to make it through, and these are my battle scars… because they remind me that I made it.” And, she says, “you’re my tiger.”